Daddy's Handkerchiefs

by Ruth Z Deming


I have no one. No one is left from my family. I've kept a few mementos. Mom left some pieces of pottery she had made. I filled a few of them with flowers from outside my condo. Big bold yellow hibiscus, also called Rose of Sharon, featured in Steinway's book "Grapes of Wrath."

Mom and I had our conflicts. She would say, "You and your stupid ideas." Or, "I don't know how I put up with you all these years."

Dad was my favorite. "Set your mind to it, Caitlin, and you can do anything you want."

True, I was an award-winning author, who went by the name of Margery Cummings.

On a rainy May morning, I was playing the radio. The Blue Ridge Orchestra from western North Carolina. We settled there after Dad got out of the Navy. Don't laugh if you see me wearing his white Navy cap.

When I won the Fairhill Writer's Prize of $5,000, I bought myself a new sofa. It's red as a beet and has a matching ottoman attached. It swivels. I spent many a thrilling moment reading new books I purchased on the internet: the new book called "Rodham" about Hillary and what if she hadn't married sneaky snarky Bill.

And another book by Ann Patchett, who owns a book store called "Parnassus" in Nashville, Tennesse. "Escape Goat," it's called.

Me? I'm working on another book, but I won't give anything away. Ernest Hemingway said only bad writers talk about their new books.

So there!

My condo is part of Hidden Rivers in Nashville. It stands alone, a two-story, and bright with windows. I'd rather sit by a window and read, than put on a lamp, which of course I must do at twilight.

Sitting by the window, which gave onto the large communal back yard, I studied Dad's stacks of handkerchiefs. I pulled out one translucent hankie. It was a whopper! All of 17 inches long. As I held it up I could see American flags through the hankie, outside on the back lawn of Hidden Rivers.

Maintaining my privacy, I use the back door.

Each hankie has a border of straight lines. They are practically indestructible as I have used them for the thirty-eight years I have been living here.

Sipping on my organic green tea, I began a big "think" session.

I strolled around, looking at the posters mounted on my walls: the famous Matisse - Icarus Falling from the Night Sky, body contorted, and a red spot for his dead heart. Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock in 1969. Antiques Roadshow had featured this very same poster which, if original, would go for $4,000.

What about my handkerchiefs? I had no doubt they weren't worth a penny. And yet I must travel to find them.

A silly compulsion or a wonderful one?

Soon we would find out.

As a tall gal, I easily stepped into my white Cadillac truck, wearing a matching Stetson hat, adjusted the chin strap, and turned the A/C on high. Brought a Thermos of hot green tea, turned the radio up high, and we galloped off to Tallahassee, Florida.

Wore my white Stetson hat and got lots of whistles as I passed on the left. Turned on my WAZE app, which helps drivers detect police cars.

"You Can't Rule Me" by Lucinda Williams came on. Such perfect lyrics:

Yeah man, I got a right to talk about what I see

Way too much is going wrong,

It's right in front of me.

I patted my face with Daddy's handkerchief.

Must be that famous moss from cottonwood trees.

It swung lazy as a chocolate bar melting on the front porch.

"Hotels just ahead," read signs.

The usual: Marriots, Hyatt House, and The Key West Hotel and Conference Center.

And me, with my imagination, thought about staying in each and every one of them.

Swimming was my thing. Who knows? Maybe when I got to Tallahassee, I would go snorkeling. Daddy would certainly approve with his "Why, Caitlyn, you can do anything you please."

The one thing I'd forgotten to do was make a reservation.

When I passed a small motel, I pulled in under the bright-colored awning. Next to me was a shimmering blue pool. Was it real or painted by David Hockney?

A Cuban woman was behind the counter. Her black hair was streaked with purple.

"A room, please, ma'am?" I asked.

She looked down at her book and said, "We-a have-a two for rent."

I reached into my striped back pack and pulled out my credit card.

She entered it and told me where to find my room.

It was on the second floor. I passed an ice machine.

The key card slid into the door. A blast of hot air blew in my face.

Quickly, I turned on the A/C and then went out for ice.

Slipping everything onto one of the double beds, I lay down and fell asleep.

When I awoke it was twilight. I looked out the window at the dazzling lights of Tallahassee, the capital of Florida. High up in the sky, I saw a slice of moon that resembled the handle of a cup.

Wide awake now, it was time to explore.

I pulled out my directions to the handkerchief factory.

In my cowboy boots and Stetson hat I walked swiftly and found it within twenty minutes.

Two doors presented themselves: Factory workers, which was closed, and Retail Sales.

I had no idea what to expect.

When I entered, some women were gathered together. These were the days of the Covid-19 virus.

"Ma'am," a short blonde said to me. "You must wear a mask."

I pulled out Daddy's hankie and fashioned it into a mask like a bandito.

"Okay?" I asked.

"Sure," said another woman. "Where'd you get that there hankie? It's one of the finest I've ever seen."

"It was made in your factory, ma'am. It's my Daddy's. He's gone now from this here earth but his hankies abide."

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