Today, we have a guest blogger- one all the way from heaven. This article was written by my godmother and aunt, Kay Welper. One of the most amazing people I ever had the pleasure of knowing. Having it published in Our Iowa Magazine was one of her many great achievements. Many of us in my family have collected several of her great pieces of writing. Most of them pertain to “life as a Churchtown, IA farmkid” and give us special glimpses and reminders of simpler times. So, without further ado, I give you:
Dad’s Red Handkerchiefs
I can still picture the stack of red handkerchiefs on top of the dryer in the farmhouse where I grew up.
They were in various stages of wear- some still had their bright colors, but most were faded. The brightly colored ones were newer and still a bit stiff. The faded ones were soft and supple- some were nearly threadbare, the result of multiple uses.
Of course, a red handkerchief’s primary purpose was the same as any other handkerchief in the world; the soft ones worked best when I had a cold and tender nose. And since Dad always had one in his back pocket, they were easily accessible and ready to go to work.
Bud Dad’s red handkerchiefs had a myriad of other uses as well. And for some unexplained reason, only a red one would do.
Like when one of us kids jumped off the hay wagon and twisted an ankle. The red handkerchief could be transformed into an elastic bandage, providing almost instant relief so we could finish unloading bales.
Hit a rough patch of gravel with our bikes and scrape an elbow? No problem- the red handkerchief provided a pressure dressing that miraculously relieved the pain and got us back outside and on the bicycle again.
If I drew the short straw and was assigned cobweb-sweeping duty in the barn, the red handkerchief served as a bandanna to keep the cobwebs and spiders out of my hair.
When we helped Dad fix a fence in the wood and discovered a bed of morel mushrooms, we’d bundle them up in- you guessed it- his red handkerchief and transport them safely home to Mom.
I recall when I was 5 and had a bad cold, Mom rubbed some Vicks on my chest and tied a red handkerchief around my neck like a bib to help the soothing ointment do its job.
The red handkerchief became a mask to play the “bad guy” in our backyard games of cops and robbers. This same mask wa put to serious use when operating the fanning mill to clean the oats for spring planting.
As a young girl, I honed my ironing skills on red handkerchiefs… and learned that, although a starched red handkerchief looks great, few people appreciate its crispness.
Of course, the red handkerchief worked well for wiping away our tears- and was especially comforting when Mom or Dad did the tear wiping.
Red handkerchiefs played a vital role on a farm, and I doubt the handkerchief manufacturers had any idea of the impact this seemingly insignificant piece of cloth made in a farm kid’s life.
Recently, my brother’s oldest daughter got married. When it was time for the customary father-daughter dance, my brother tied a red handkerchief around her neck and they danced to a song called Lady in Red.
The legacy of the red handkerchief lives on.
Kay Welper: 2010
Because of the absolute truth in her story, and because of our deep love for Kay and our family, the red handkerchief has become a very meaningful thing to the Welper’s. Some families of great lineage claim to have family crests- tied back across the ocean to their mother country. For my family, the red handkerchief is our family crest. Keep your eye out for it at every wedding, funeral, picnic, Christmas gift, and baby shower that you attend with us.