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Handkerchief uses were broad, back in the day

Let’s go back a ways in time to York Avenue NW here in Warren. A few readers of this column have encouraged me to once again hark back to those innocent (?) pre-World War II days when I was a not-so-angelic (Mom and Dad thought otherwise) child of 5 or less.

My older sister was on to me, though. A lot of that time that I spent in the neighborhood was with my partner-in-crime Mary Joyce, and much of that time was involved with handkerchiefs.

The best handkerchiefs (hankies) were to be found in my dad’s top bureau drawer. I could easily crawl up there on a chair – never mind that sinister-looking revolver. Those hankies were huge! I would borrow a few.

What we did with those huge hankies was to make them into wonderful playthings. All that was necessary was to find some string, a big old rusty nut for a weight and one of the Eckenrode boys or Mary Joyce’s big brother Richard to tie four equal length pieces of string in a knot to all four corners of that huge hankie and knot the four pieces of string together to the nut. Voila! We had a parachute!

You would wad that parachute up in your fist and throw it underhand up in the air. Wow! Down came that parachute with our nut of a paratrooper dangling below that canopy. A strong wind made it even more dramatic! The big boys could throw it even higher!

When I was at R.O.T.C. summer training between my junior and senior college years at the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne, they asked me if I had any previous parachuting experience, I almost told them that I had.

Mom’s handkerchiefs served entirely different purposes. The worst was face cleanup. I don’t know quite how I did it, but somehow, after I was all bathed and dressed to go somewhere, I managed to wind up with a dirty face. Mom would notice this just before I got into the car. Out from her purse would come her lacy little perfumed hankie. She would wrap that hankie around her forefinger, spit on it, and scrub at that dirt until I thought my skin would be rubbed off.

It was the practice of the little neighborhood kids to take one of their mom’s old hankies and wrap our very hard-to-come-by pennies in it. Older kids would tie the hankie in a knot for us so we wouldn’t lose our pennies. We would go to that little store at the corner of Ward and Penn and purchase any number of candies for a penny each. I told you about the menacing chained up Chow dog that snarled at us as we ran by.

For Sunday school at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, on the west side of Warren, Mom would give me five pennies wrapped in my (her) hankie. I was instructed to drop those five pennies into the collection plate when it was passed around. All of those pennies? They could buy a five day supply of suckers, or maybe one Sugar Daddy taffy sucker. Sometimes I kept those pennies. Besides, I thought, what would Jesus do with all those pennies? He didn’t even have pockets in his long white robe.

Mary Joyce once had a nickel! She didn’t quite trust her hankie to hold that precious coin, so she put it into her mouth for safekeeping. You guessed it! She swallowed it. She went to the hospital, but the doctor didn’t extract it. He just said something like, “This, too, shall pass.” In a few days Mary Joyce was just as good as ever.

I lived to rue the fact that I had withheld those pennies at Sunday school. Sometimes when I write a check for my church offering I think about adding five cents to the total – but I don’t. The idea of giving up those precious pennies at Sunday school was a tough one to swallow. Just ask Mary Joyce.

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