The farm wife hoists the family flag

September 1, 2015

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.