Eve got off the bus in tears the day her third grade teacher scolded her for using a hankie. “It’s not sanitary,” she said. Miss Pauley had no notion of what a handkerchief means to us: reusable tissue, wash cloth, gripper of lids, wiper of smudgy glasses, emergency bandage, keepsake we carry to the grave. Peekaboo with a hankie triggered Eve’s first laugh, and later she sat through sermons watching Grandma Yoder fold a flat square into a butterfly or mouse. Now Eve does that for her sister and knots Ruth’s Sunday pennies in a corner like a hobo’s sack. She irons and stacks all the hankies in our drawers and brings a bandanna drenched with cold water to her dad who ties it round his neck. Last Christmas she gave me a set of four lacy kerchiefs embroidered by her own hand, each with my initials and a leaf or flower to signify the season. Straight from a city college, Miss Pauley could only count the virtues of a Kleenex. “Like a lot of things, hankies grow softer as they age,” I said, using one to wipe Eve’s tears.
They’re the riddle in my garden What has eyes but cannot see? Like a stone, they fit my hand as I turn their other cheek. With love but no regrets, I mash them into mounds or whip them, scallop them, dice them for rivel soup. Cancer could not lessen Dad’s affection for them fried. He tells how they clustered like sleigh bells in the sand where nothing else but winter squash and zucchini thrived. His mother, Fannie Mishler, fixed them for every meal like some cultures live on rice. My son-in-law from St. Louis splashes hot sauce on their skin, but I fancy even their pockmarked faces that shrivel as they age.