When I was a wee girl…as opposed to the wee wuman I am now…I loved playing ‘shops’, like most wee girls, I suppose. I particularly liked playing at ‘department store’, ‘shoe department’ being one favourite. We didn’t have a lot of toys back then. Let’s face it, we didn’t have a lot of anything in the late forties: the post WW2 era. Family & friends used to keep any old shoe boxes they came across and they would be my ‘toys’. I loved stacking them up and my imaginary customers always seemed to need the bottom box opened. I became very skilled at sliding that box out from under the stack, leaving the perilous pile standing undisturbed.
No such things as Kleenex back then, we used real cotton handkerchiefs: monogrammed for the more fortunate gentlemen, prettily embroidered or lace-edged for the lucky ladies. Beautiful boxed sets of ladies hankies became THE gift for every occasion. These boxes of handkerchiefs were my absolute favourite things in all the world! The best handkerchiefs were not to be used. That would be sacrilege! How could one possibly blow a snotty nose on fine lace or delicate embroidery? And the boxes! Oh! The boxes! Perfect, uniform, flat, square boxes: eminently stackable! I hoarded them, squirrel-like under my bed, to be pulled out and played with when graceful retreat from trouble was the expedient thing to manoeuvre: I was constantly in trouble, usually inadvertently.
Begged, borrowed but never stolen, my hoard grew. The shoe boxes became houses, wardrobes, beds and tables for my doll. The handkerchief boxes, the dream stock for the shop she browsed in. Most precious of all were the boxes that still contained their precious pearls: handkerchiefs deemed useless by dint of their frills and frippery. Aunts and cousins, neighbours and friends threw their unwanted gifts my way. Unwanted! Unwanted! Never by me. I tenderly took out the pins that pinioned the handkerchiefs in place in intricate pattern in the box, washed them in the bathroom sink, cajoled Mum into ironing them for me, then refolded them as I desired. They were handled and fondled, held and admired on a daily basis, and they tenderly mopped up many silent tears as I licked my emotional wounds.
When I married, the boxes didn’t make it to my new home. The handkerchiefs did. For many years, they rested in a drawer; shown to children and grandchildren very occasionally, still loved by me. I don’t recall what gave me the idea to mount a few of them in collage form. I had made a few collages of other craft materials and bits and pieces of lace and ribbon and hung them in my room.
When I realised how much pleasure it gave me to see my handiwork each time I entered my room, something clicked. My childhood treasure could give me pleasure that way too. It had brought me comfort through painful years, perhaps it could bring me joy through the remaining ones. I didn’t use all the treasured store. I might yet, but, at the moment, I lack the wall space…and I doubt they’d seem appropriate among the decor in other rooms. They belong in mine. Once more, I washed the handkerchiefs, this time it was I who ironed them, and folded and refolded till I found displays that pleased me.
I make no claim to being artistically gifted: these treasures may not be displayed to best advantage. But, what they represent is history: a glimpse of my history, my comfort. I share because I trust you to be kind…and we all need to know we can leave a little of ourselves behind. X