This will be one of my more interesting articles in recent weeks. Why do I say this? Because I’m going to share with you my varying experiences with hankies. Bet you’ve never read an article about this priceless item carried around in pockets and purses!
Hankies, a.k.a., handkerchiefs, nose rags, snot rags, napkins, bandanas, and so forth, have a rather interesting history.
Having only recently returned from a trip to Greece and Israel, I was curious to discover that in the ancient land of Greece, during what is known as the Classical Period (circa 750-146 BC), the wealthier in society often carried a piece of fine perfumed cotton, known as mouth or perspiration cloths. During the Roman Era, men of stature typically would carry an elongated square of cloth (known as a sudarium) which was implemented for wiping away perspiration from the face and hands. Women would carry a square of cotton or silk. Much later during the Renaissance Period (14th-17th Centuries) it was called a “napkyn.” These became very fashionable, often embroidered or laced and with varying shapes.
A handkerchief or hanky is a square of fabric, usually carried in the pocket, for personal hygiene purposes such as wiping one’s hands or blowing one’s nose, but also used as decorative accessory in a suit pocket. Richard II of England is said to have invented the handkerchief as “little pieces of cloth for the lord King to wipe and clean his nose.” This record appeared in his Household Rolls or accounts, which is the first documented use of them.
In modern history, we have the advent of the facial tissue, or what has become known as Kleenex. The Kleenex Company literally struck it rich when they developed this handy-dandy disposable handkerchief. However, it was not the intent of the company to make a tissue for blowing one’s nose. The cloth handkerchief was here to stay. The facial tissue that Kleenex made was intended to assist women in removing their make-up. Later the company realized that people were using these tissues to blow their noses, and Voila! a new product was discovered. Oddly, some items become so connected with the company name that the company is constantly in danger of losing the rights to the name. Kleenex is one such company. It has become popularized by confusing the company name with the product. “Hand me a Kleenex, please,” we say, when in fact we should be asking for a tissue. Some others are: Coca-Cola (Coke); Xerox (Copies); and Levi Strauss (Levis).
A person is considered to be well-educated in Japan if they use a handkerchief. In our more environmentally-conscious world today, the use of facial tissues is looked upon with favor (although I wonder about the number of trees required to make tissues! How environmentally friendly is that?).
Probably because I watched my step father prepare to go to the office wearing a suit and tie everyday growing up, I just naturally began to carry a handkerchief in my pocket. I even have embroidered hankies given to me by my youngest daughter for her wedding last year that reads: DAD. I almost don’t want to use them!
If you think about it, it is a rather disgusting practice. Here I am, a grown adult, pulling out of my pocket a piece of cloth for the purpose of forcefully expelling the mucusy content of my nasal cavity, after which I ball the hanky up and shove it back into my pocket. My only hope at that point is to drop it in the laundry hamper before I have to use it again.
Then there’s the time when you are about to meet someone for the first time, only to discover as you extend your hand that they have just finished blowing their nose in a hanky. Hurriedly they jam the offending cloth in their pocket while reaching out to shake your hand. Yuck!
Over the years I have frequently offered my handkerchief to someone in need. Usually the hanky never returns to me. I’m okay with that. But sometimes the person to whom it is offered (typically while I’m conducting a wedding or funeral) will use it to wipe away tears and dab at their nose, or (gasp!) blow their nose. They then refold it and hand it back to me. Uh . . . no thanks! Of course I take it and make a mental note not to use this hanky until it has been properly laundered.
This October marks my tenth year as pastor of the Ripon Free Methodist Church. On my first Sunday back then, I was seated on the platform at the start of the worship service. Julie, one of the ladies leading us in our opening hymn, became emotional at one point, so I stood up, walked over to where she was standing and with a flourish, handed her my handkerchief. The congregation laughed and enjoyed the light-hearted moment. Julie thanked me and continued in leading our worship. The following Sunday she presented me with a box of brand new handkerchiefs. Pinned to each bright, clean hanky was a printed card that read: “This hankie belongs to Pastor Chuck. Use it with my blessing. But, please launder before returning. God Bless You!”
So next time you reach for that hanky, remember your Hanky Etiquette!