It was in a bag of linen I had taken from my grandmother’s house after her death. I had carried the bag around with me on my numerous moves and never given it more than a cursory look. The day came about a year ago when I finally decided that I was going to rid myself of all clutter and it was the bag’s turn to go. Luckily I decided to go through the contents, just to be sure there was nothing I really had to have.
There were mainly dressing table doilies of all types. Crotcheted, embroidered, lace. You name it, it was there and so was the most exquisite silk handkerchief. It was the size of a man’s hanky made in such fragile-looking transparent silk that would never have soaked up any nasal contents. It was a green of a hue that is incredibly beautiful but hard to describe being neither a forest green nor a lime green nor a lemon green. Drawn on it with pencil-like strokes which had then been coloured were pictures of ladies and birds and love messages.
What a find! I decided it was a love hanky from WWI. My grandfather had fought in the war. Injuries from it had eventually led to his death. I must have found a hanky that my grandmother had sent him as a reminder of her to him in the trenches. She probably soaked it in her favourite scent and, as he lay there in the stench of war, he could take it from his top pocket and breathe in my grandmother. The hanky even reminded me of her as I remembered her. She had such soft skin, the type you wanted to touch, like a horses’s nose. She was under five feet tall and had an air of fragility about her.
With great care I folded the hanky and put it in a plastic bag in my bottom drawer where I keep all my delicate clothes and there it stayed until the antique valuer came to town.
The town’s historical society had organized his visit to raise money for a charitable cause by giving the value and possibly the history of articles for a small donation. I ate lunch whilst I waited my turn. It was like antiques road show where the anticipation was palpable and the amazement on the faces of those before me when they found out their treasures’ value was as good to see as the treasure itself had been to look at.
Finally it was my turn. I unwrapped my hanky and he took it reverently. “It’s beautiful” he said “Do you know its history?” I went through what I had surmised. “I don’t think it is that old” he said. “ It’s so delicate it is definitely European. I think it’s late 40s perhaps early 50s. It’s a scarf rather than a handkerchief. The type of thing that girls would knot around their throats in rock and roll days. It is so delicate and the type of illustration makes me think it must be French in origin.”
At that point I saw a little label I had not seen before sewn into the hem of the article. “Look” I cried “there is a label”. Before he could see it I had lifted it up and read for all the crowd to hear “Made in Japan”. You could feel his embarrassment. I could feel Roger’s embarrassment that I had yelled it out for all to hear. I was dismissed very quickly after that. The other article that I had taken was spurned curtly: “not worth a penny”.
I left feeling very happy. Okay, so it wasn’t a love hanky but maybe one of my relatives – maybe Auntie Margot – loved dancing as much as I do. I started seeing the dance halls in my mind’s eye and, if I ever go to another rock and roll night, I will wear my handkerchief which is once again is carefully placed in my bottom drawer.