The flat gift box, about 10 by 12 inches, was buried between some envelopes of old snapshots and a stack of bags containing Mom’s high school reunion programs, newspaper clippings and other mementos. I lifted off the lid, covered in silvery paper.
Inside were more than 20 handkerchiefs, a small silver jelly spoon and an envelope. Most of the hankies were folded and pressed in full “display” mode to show off the designs on their corners, their labels still clinging to the fabric.
They are all made of linen, I think, some with pulled-thread openwork, delicate appliqué or fine, satiny embroidery. Two or three are almost as sheer as a bridal veil. Some are plain white ones hemmed with lace; several are printed and very soft. A couple look homemade and hand-embroidered, one of them with the letter “C” and a sprig of lily-of-the-valley. In other words, a real mixed bag.
I pulled two hand-lettered poems from the envelope, both of them written in farewell. It turns out that my grandmother Sylvia’s friends, who called themselves the “Wednesday Club,” had given her a handkerchief “going-away” party. After about 15 years in their small town, she and my grandfather were moving into the city, just 22 miles away. My grandfather had a job with the state finance department, overseeing small independent banks across the state.
The shorter poem, just six lines, explained the purpose of the party:
Her husband handles banks
But what she likes is hanks! …
The longer one spoke in a lighthearted tone about the friendship between the women, encouraging Sylvia to remember them and stay in touch. Though I knew the party had happened long before I was born, the delicate hankies called to mind my grandmother’s ladylike ways and how her hair was always done just so. But then some lines in the last two stanzas of the poem struck a foreign note:
So when we get crooked with rationing points
And land in the great big jail,
Please don’t forget to call on us,
And offer to pay our bail!
and the last lines,
…but we want you to save a lot of your gas,
To come back and visit us.
What on earth….??
Then I noticed the date at the bottom. The party took place in January 1943. Right in the middle of World War II, when resources were scarce and the military had “dibs” on most of them. When silk was for parachutes, not handkerchiefs, and 22 miles was a long way because you had to hoard gasoline ration points to drive it.
This is my favorite kind of history lesson… when I can see for myself how a war that never came onto U.S. soil impacted the everyday lives of a group of genteel Midwest ladies.
Have you ever touched the past through some family treasures or photos?
Thanks for reading,
PS: I have yet to find out what’s with the silver jelly spoon…
PPS: If you’d like, come join me at Jen’s for the Soli Deo Gloria linkup.