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As we head into hanky season, this piece feels timely. Of course, we are always heading into, or residing inside of, hanky season, so it’s always timely. Between summer allergies and winter flus, there exists an exclusive group who appreciate the eternal utility of the handkerchief. These days we are a group often maligned, but stoically devout in our belief that a petite piece of fabric can change one’s life.
At my grandmother’s funeral, as friends and family waited to enter the church, my uncle pulled out a hanky to blow his nose. My cousin was quick to jump at the easy opening to ridicule him – carrying around a snotty rag etc. – to gain an easy snicker from those in the immediate area. And my uncle wasn’t doing himself any favours. He revealed a crinkled, stale, rolled-up wad with obviously zero strategy put into how he was using it. He so shamelessly shunned hanky etiquette that I feel he should be banned from ever owning one again, lest he, like his personal handkerchief, stain the collective’s name.
A hanky should exist as a neatly folded square set flat in the pocket to avoid bulging – as for whether it’s back or hip or breast pocket, that’s personal preference. Use the hanky in segments, and afterwards, fold it back into its square, with the most recently used area slotting in as the core layer. This effectively places that segment at the back of the queue, preserving hygiene, and helping the user remember which areas have been used. Keeping a mind map is key to knowing what real estate is vacant, and what is out of commission after an exploratory mission into an itchy nostril.
Sneezes and coughs, allergies and illness, are only surface-level uses. A hanky allows you to keep your dignity during a meal, wiping marinara sauce from your mouth after you’ve exhausted your napkin supply during a messy meatball sub. On a bush walk once I rushed off to a long drop, did my business, and was saved by my hanky when no toilet paper presented itself. And on another occasion, during a searing summer’s day, I came across a blackbird doubled over on the hot footpath. I wrapped it in my hanky and carried it under the shade of a bush. Sneaking onto a nearby property, I soaked the hanky in water from a garden tap and wrung it into the bird’s mouth in a last-ditch effort to save the poor, heat-stricken thing. It reacted with abhorrence, spluttered, and died, possibly drowned. But my heart, and my hanky, were in the right place.
After the funeral procession, as our grandmother’s casket was lowered into the earth, my cousin wept. I watched him wipe his nose on a sleeve as slick as a snail orgy. He was red in the face, ashamed as he tried to hide his mourning. I gripped my clean hanky close to my thigh, and turned away – after his earlier words, he did not deserve its mercy.