Hanky Panky


Grams always had a hanky with her. It was either tucked neatly in her purse, in her bosom, or in her sleeve. She had a drawer full of them. They were fancy, in floral prints, often with lace edges. Some were even personalized with her initials.

She laundered, ironed, and folded each one carefully after they were used, to stack neatly back in the drawer for the next round of service. She would have them handy for whatever small disaster might crop up – bad news tears, a nose with an embarrassing drip, or freshly applied lipstick to be blotted. And if you were a lucky little girl or boy, you might have had the experience of having your mom spit on her hanky to clean off your face if you’d just indulged in a chocolate bar or an ice cream cone.

My other grandma, or Baba, as we called her, also carried a hanky at all times, as did my mother. Back then, it was a sign of the times. Ladies must have either been awfully fragile, known to break down at the drop of a hat, or ballsy enough to cry in front of anyone, as long as the hanky was stylish.

It’s funny how different a hanky was to a lady in the 40’s or 50’s as opposed to a man. First of all, a man would never refer to it as a hanky. No, it was a handkerchief. A gentleman’s handkerchief was either white, or matched his shirt, and was tucked into the breast pocket of his jacket. It was only for show, or to whip out to offer to a lady who might be caught without one in an emotional moment.

There’s also the kerchief, or bandana, which are more commonly used by cowboys and the middle class male, for the most part. These are typically red or blue, with a paisley print, but some prefer the plain white. They are not made of fine silky materials or linen. Just cotton. Good, strong cotton. For the cowboy, the kerchief was used to keep the dust out of his nose and mouth. You also might have seen a bandit or bank robber using one in an old movie to disguise himself (which worked really well, right?) If you weren’t out rustling up the cattle or holding up stagecoaches, you might have been working in the fields, or around the house. For this, you’d need your standard kerchief or bandana, usually stuffed in a pocket, ready to wipe your brow or blow your nose.

Does anyone even know what a fancy hanky is for any more? And be it fancy hanky, kerchief or bandana, aren’t they rather unsanitary for this generation of hand sanitizers and Clorox wipes? I know some who still carry them, but you have to wonder about the germ factor. Do you really want to carry around a small square of fabric, drenched in tears, sweat, snot, and lipstick?


One response »

  1. loved the history of the hanky, at least your family hanky history. As you say, germ laden or not, I say bring back the hanky, along with writing letters with a cartridge pen, and coin purses.

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