My father always carried a white handkerchief and my mother always stuffed a lacy embroidered one in my little handbags when I was a young girl. It was considered proper etiquette to have a hanky available for those times when the nose runs. Now that I’m getting older (and so are you, my dear friends) I’m starting to experience an age related issue that only a handkerchief can solve. I have developed what is called rhinitis.
As we age the nasal lining becomes thin just like the skin on the back of your hand. This makes the mucus that was once thick now watery. Instead of us swallowing it back down (yes we do that!) it simply runs out of the end of the nose. We simply lose control over this flow of bodily fluid.
You may notice that you suffer more during the day. This is because when we are upright, blood flow increases, just as it does when you eat or drink. Outside temperature, spicy foods, hot foods and even emotions can speed up the flow of this watery fluid.
It is extremely common for people as they age to experience this issue. In fact it has been reported that more than half the people over seventy have the dew drop problem on the tip of their nose. There are many other causes such as allergies and hay fever, but here I’m focusing on the aging of the nasal cavity. It’s not a disease, but a natural part of aging and that is why you always saw your grandparents with handkerchiefs neatly tucked in their pockets or up their sleeves. I’ve become one of those people. I never leave the house without a couple of tissues tucked into my pocket. And you know what? My friends are experiencing the same problem!
We no longer use handkerchiefs which is really too bad. Tissues are quickly discarded and not recycled like a handkerchief. But long before tissues, handkerchiefs were an important statement of style.
It is believed that the handkerchief originated in China. However, it appears the first handkerchiefs were paper. When I was in China many years ago toilet paper and tissues were a luxury. If you did not have your own tissues you could find yourself in trouble. I have squatted over an open toilet in China and been forever grateful for the tissues I had tucked in my shirt pocket.
Fabric handkerchiefs are believed to have originated in Rome around 1000BC. Primarily used by the wealthy to wipe away sweat, they were a marker of status and wealth. King Louie XVI declared that no handkerchief could be larger than his and that they all had to be square. No hanky panky in his court!
White was the color that ruled until about 1920. Then they began to take on color. Women would embroider lace or colored thread around the edges as a symbol of importance.
Handkerchiefs have many used for: blowing the nose, wiping sweat, a head band, a signal device, to be chivalrous(nothing says manliness than a man giving a woman his handkerchief to dry her tears), a container, a bandage, a tourniquet, tie a splint, immobilize a sprained ankle, as a sling, camouflage, dust mask, potholder, toilet paper and on and on…
They have even been used by magicians to perform magic illusions by waving a hanky over an object to distract you from what he was doing with his other hand. This prestidigitation and the fact that the hanky concealed something illicit going on led to the phrase “hanky panky.” What does “panky’ mean? Really it means nothing, but it rhymed nicely with hanky and so we got the phrase “hanky panky” for anything that might be- well you know…illicit.
Whether it’s for style, fashion or the plain old ordinary use of a handkerchief it is like having a good friend who doesn’t judge. It just catches your tears, swipes your brow and your wipes your nose.
A natural health tip: If you want to add something soothing try putting a few drops of eucalyptus oil on the handkerchief and breathe it in throughout the day. Short whiffs of the oil will help to dry the nose and relieve any uncomfortable drainage. Peppermint, and lavender oils can also be used.
How many times do you use one tissue? I must admit I use one tissue twice before throwing it away. With a handkerchief I think I could fold it and reuse it throughout the day and at the end of the day put it in the wash to be recycled. So the next time you see someone with a handkerchief stuffed up their sleeve remember it is less about fashion, more about necessity and a clear statement of environmental concern.
Wouldn’t it be nice if some things like handkerchiefs came back in vogue? We’d save money, recycle and always be prepared for those little moments in life when we all need is a hanky (without the panky) to dry the dew drops of life.