Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Precious Handkerchief

Like many little girls, I adored my father.  He was a farmer, and I loved trailing after him as he worked around the farm, and walking out to the field to ride the tractor with him.  But the story I am going to share involves playing beside him as he worked at his desk, the desk that had been his own father's and now is his lawyer grandson's desk.  He would spend time there paying bills or filling out farm reports or keeping the church records as church treasurer.  Sometimes he would need to get into his safe, where he kept important things, like insurance policies, deeds, abstracts, his school diploma, his favorite marble shooter, and the most precious thing of all--a special handkerchief.

Verna's initialed dresser set

My grandparents had seven children--first three girls, then my father's older brother and himself, and finally two younger daughters.  The oldest sister was Verna Pauline Beck, who became a school teacher, following in the tradition of her grandmother and her paternal aunt.  It was believed that Verna caught tuberculosis from one of her students.  TB, as it was often called, was a very dangerous disease in that time, and it sickened and killed the poor and the wealthy alike.  For a time Verna was treated in a sanatorium, but eventually she was sent home to be cared for by her family.  Doctors believed that fresh air was the best cure, and Verna was confined to the front screened porch.  From what we have learned with the coronavirus, her isolation may have been as much to protect her family from contracting TB as it was to help her get well.

Verna Pauline Beck, age 3

My father loved spending time on the porch with his beloved sister, Verna, a young adult and my father a pre-teen, twelve years separating the siblings.  The family believed Verna's health was improving, but on January 19, 1926, Verna died.  She was 23 years old.

Verna's Graduation Photograph

My father idolized his oldest sister and they had become especially close during those months together on the porch.  It was during that time that Verna embroidered the treasured handkerchief that my father kept in his safe.  I can still recall the tears glistening in his eyes as he carefully showed me the beautiful gift from his sister--his first initial "R" embroidered in a silk thread of a soft pumpkin color on a silk handkerchief of a muted brown, with a delicate thread border of turquoise and gold.

Ralph Beck's precious handkerchief from Verna

My father was devoted to his family and to service to his community.  He had no hobbies other than the games our family played.  He did not play golf or tennis, nor did he hunt or fish.  The cribbage board my father and brother enjoyed, the ping-pong table, the board games, and other family games had already been acquired.  When Fathers' Day and Christmas and his birthday rolled around, it was always difficult to select a gift for him, and I am sad to admit that too often I settled for a nice cotton handkerchief set with the machine embroidered initial "B" as his gift.  He was always gracious in thanking me for my predictable gift.

When my father died and I was helping my mother go through his things, I found in  the top drawer of his chest a collection of unopened gift handkerchief boxes.  I am sure that he carried a nice handkerchief whenever he wore a suit, but as a farmer he had more need for a red bandana to take to the field with him than all of the monogramed handkerchiefs I had bought for him over the years.

Ralph G. Beck, about age 3

All that I can hope is that my unnecessary gifts reminded him of the hours spent on the front porch with Verna, watching her doing her beautiful needlework.  If my gifts served to cause him to recall those precious days with Verna, then perhaps it didn't matter that he already had a drawer full of unopened handkerchiefs. 


Anonymous said...

sweet story,Lyn. Before we had kleenex, a fresh hankie carried by a gentleman was a standard part of dressing each day. -- Ann M.

Randy Merrill said...

What a beautiful story from a beautiful lady and friend. blessings to you and Larry- after COVID, perhaps we can find a way to get together randy merrill