This is nothing to sneeze at

Columnist Claudette Sandecki talks about hankies.

The day three boxes of Scottie tissues on sale cost me $5.60 was the day I reverted to cotton handkerchiefs. Only a few years back you could buy tissues on sale at 59 cents a box. And the tissues were larger than today’s.

Paying $1.86 for one box of 92 3-ply tissues – two cents for a single tissue with less life span than a contrail – drove me to retrieve a collection of my husband’s cotton hankies from his bottom dresser drawer.

When I was growing up my family dried our sniffles in cotton hankies. All became softer with repeated launderings  on a washboard,  pinned on an outdoor clothesline to dry in the prairie breeze, then carefully ironed and folded.

Ironing was my Saturday chore, performed with a sad iron heated on the wood-burning range, until Mom updated to a gas-fueled iron.

Both irons produced uncomfortable heat on the hand, but far more distressing was the cup-sized gasoline tank riding under my wrist.

Either my older brother or Mom refueled the gas tank and pumped up the pressure. Even then I was wary of mechanical gadgets I didn’t understand.

When the fresh laundry was perfectly dampened by sprinkling it with water, I enjoyed ironing, even the finicky places like men’s shirt cuffs, girls’ puff sleeves, along zippers that could scratch the  iron, or circling buttons so as not to damage the threads holding them on.

By comparison, handkerchiefs were a breeze. Seamless, rectangular, without fastenings, they could be ironed along one edge before twirling the hanky one quarter turn like pizza dough, ironing along the next edge and so on until the whole was smooth.

Two long folds pressed flat, then folded twice end to end like a tarp, and the warm hanky was ready to stack in someone’s dresser drawer. Thinking back on it, ironing hankies probably helped me learn to take pride in doing even little jobs well.

Dad’s hankies were man-sized squares, blue or red with white polka dots. They served above and beyond the usual task.

If he was repairing a piece of machinery, often he’d polish a metal part clean with his “snot-rag” after he had first wiped the main oil or grease  on the pantleg of his GWG overalls.

Mom tucked white hankies, some with embroidered embellishments, in her apron pocket or up her sweater cuff. We kids carried smaller versions.

The one drawback to cotton hankies was how they rubbed our runny noses raw if we had a cold. The soggier the hanky, the more it scraped like sandpaper. Today Kleenex manufactures Ultrasoft tissues designed to soothe inflamed nasal tissues. Such wimps we’ve become!

Kimberly-Clark first marketed Kleenex in 1924 as a convenient replacement for the unsightly “cold cream towel” that hung in many 1920s bathrooms.

But it wasn’t until 1930, when Kimberly-Clark’s head researcher tried tissues to cope with his allergy sneezes that Kleenex became popular as a hanky following advertising in women’s magazines like McCalls touted by photos of glamorous movie stars.

Fabric hankies have the advantages of not tearing into shreds while damp; reducing garbage; lasting a year or more even with repeated use thus lightening your weekly shopping cart; and free up oodles of shelf storage space.

Because discard-after-use tissues are more hygienic, I’ll continue to keep a box of tissues in every room and stock up when the price is lowest. I’ll also keep one box on the kitchen table for mopping up milk splashes, wiping grapefruit squirts from my bifocals, and for everyday napkins.

But I’ll continue to act proactively taking halibut liver oil capsules.

A bottle of 250 capsules costs less than eight dollars, lasts me two months, and in seven years I can recall having one four-day cold.

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