Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » 50 Handkerchiefs

50 Handkerchiefs

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 08, 2013

I’ve debated for days now whether to blog about this. On the one hand, it’s the kind of thing that should be anonymous – “let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” etc., etc. On the other hand, this is the kind of story I would race to share had it happened a generation ago, and if I don’t record it now, how will anyone a generation from now be able to benefit by it? I’m trusting you to understand that I’m sharing it here for the right reasons.

Ten days before Christmas this email was distributed through the ward’s Relief Society network:

A former member of our ward is currently in a Women’s Retreat in [another city]. It is a place of miracles and successes for women who have been addicted to alcohol and drugs. The thing they long for is a good toothbrush, a real tube of good toothpaste-regular size, a nice bar of soap (like Dove-regular size) and hand lotion. … If there is anything else “girly” that you would like to contribute for Christmas, it would be great.

I collect old linen, including linen handkerchiefs, some with lovely hand embroidery and tatted or crocheted edgings, and others with bright designer prints. For the most part, these are hankies that have never been used, the kind of thing women a generation or two ago received as gifts, then put away in a drawer as “too good to use.” I only keep the best of what I find – if there’s any sign that a hanky has been used, I toss it. And I usually carry one with me on Sunday – somehow it makes me feel good to have something in my hand or pocket as fine and lovely as one of these hankies. I own an obscene number of these exquisite things.

The thought occurred to me that I could donate some of these handkerchiefs to this project – even though most women probably prefer paper tissues, maybe there would be one or two who would be inspired by their beauty the way I am. But I was unsure enough – was it too dorky? – that I asked my Facebook friends what they thought. Several friends responded with encouragement, one of them mentioning that even if someone didn’t herself want a hanky, she might be glad of having it to give as a gift to someone else.

So I spent Saturday washing and carefully ironing 50 handkerchiefs so they would be fresh and as beautiful as possible. About half featured handwork and half were bright prints – here’s a picture I snapped part way through, with the ironed handkerchiefs laid flat to dry completely before folding. On Sunday, I folded them and tied them in a ribbon, then set them in the donation box before Relief Society.

And that’s the last I expected to see or hear of them, of course.


* * * *

But about a week ago, I got a note from the sister organizing the project:

I had requested donations of good soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste to take up to [Retreat]. In the box, someone deposited a stack of hankies. Did you offer the stack of hankies? If you did, I will have to tell you a story about them. I know that [you] collect linen.

I replied:

Yeah, I put the hankies in the box … I was afraid they would be seen as dorky since people don’t use hankies any more, but I wondered if there weren’t one or two women there like me, who would appreciate having something beautiful even if it was impractical. So I sent ’em.

And back came this story:

Well, let me tell you the “rest of the story.” I put everything in pretty gold bags. … I added the hankie and wondered how the women would receive the items. They pulled everything out as a treasure. When they pulled the hankies out, “Oh – I’ve never owned one,” “Oh so pretty,” etc.

One older woman pulled hers out and yelled out “oh – it’s a miracle. I’ve been looking for a handkerchief all over town.” Her husband had died a few days before and she wanted one for his funeral. She had been there for four months and was doing so well – Christmas was difficult. … All the women from the retreat took their hankies and attended her husband’s funeral. All shared and showed their hankies as support. She was thrilled and so touched.

The Lord knew days before this sister was widowed what she would need for comfort. He found a way to give her that – and he let me be a part of it.



  1. 🙂

    Comment by Janiece — January 8, 2013 @ 11:54 am

  2. Thanks for posting the result. I was curious to know how it would go over, although I didn’t think you’d ever know. It’s a great story.

    Comment by Amira — January 8, 2013 @ 11:56 am

  3. Lovely!

    Comment by Chris Smith — January 8, 2013 @ 11:56 am

  4. Oh, Ardis, that is so sweet.

    Comment by ErinAnn — January 8, 2013 @ 11:59 am

  5. How beautiful! Such little things remind us Heavenly Father knows our hearts and needs. It’s always so cool when we get to play a part.

    Comment by Jami — January 8, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

  6. That’s a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — January 8, 2013 @ 12:20 pm

  7. So much for dorky. 🙂 I’m so glad you shared this story, partly for posterity and partly because we are happy to know your generosity was appreciated.

    Comment by Ellen — January 8, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

  8. For me, nothing is as humbling–and at the same time ennobling–as recognizing that God knows who I am, with my capabilities, talents and flaws, and still invites me to play a part in His plan to bless the lives of others.

    Comment by The Other Clark — January 8, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

  9. Just goes to show what happens when you follow that little inkling. . . but of course you knew that already. My joy is full having heard this, thanks.

    Comment by Ingrid Hersman — January 8, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

  10. Wonderful, Ardis.

    Comment by Kent Larsen — January 8, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

  11. A great story, Ardis!

    Comment by Mark B. — January 8, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

  12. Thanks for sharing this Ardis. Very moving.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 8, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

  13. Lovely story. Thank you for sharing that, along with the thoughts you shared yesterday.

    Comment by Amy T — January 8, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

  14. Wow — what a moving story. Thank you for sharing it . . . received in the spirit it was shared.

    Comment by David Y. — January 8, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

  15. Very touching. Thank you, Ardis.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — January 8, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

  16. I am in tears. God bless you for being a willing tool in His hands.

    Comment by Chad Too — January 8, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

  17. Now I’ll never look at a handkerchief without remembering this lovely story.

    Comment by Chocolate on my Cranium — January 8, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

  18. I am so glad you shared this. It’s a great story, and it is exactly the kind of thing we come to Keepa looking for. Hits home for me, if you will pardon a personal story. My wife and I recently found in a drawer some old linen napkins, apricot in color, with hand embroidered borders and detail. These were made by my mother sometime in the 1930s as a 4H project, and how I ended up with them I don’t recall. To make a long story short, we decided my two brothers would appreciate having one of them, so we just are in the process of getting them framed in a shadow box, with a complementary color mat set, and the napkins folded so that the detail shows to best effect. An old heirloom and reminder of our mother. These things are always best when shared.

    Comment by kevinf — January 8, 2013 @ 4:21 pm

  19. Aww, kevinf, that’s a treasure! Think of some way, even if it’s just a note slipped in behind the mat or a card pasted on the back, to record your mother’s name and what you know of the napkins, so that they don’t become anonymous relics when they’re passed on to new generations.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 8, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

  20. Wonderful story. Thank you, Ardis.

    Comment by lindberg — January 8, 2013 @ 6:05 pm

  21. You’re awesome, Ardis! Thanks for posting about this. What a great story!

    Comment by Ziff — January 8, 2013 @ 9:04 pm

  22. Very nice, thanks Ardis

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — January 8, 2013 @ 9:55 pm

  23. We do not always know why we are prompted to do the things we do, but thank goodness we do them.

    Comment by Betsy — January 11, 2013 @ 5:04 pm

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