Handkerchiefs were how I learned to iron. My mama started me out ironing my daddy's handkerchiefs. (He carried one every day in the back, right pocket of his brown polyester "work" pants.) After I perfected pressing those white cotton squares into starched, folded rectangles, I got promoted to pillowcases and...much later on...to daddy's shirts.
As a child, every holiday, I would go shopping in my Uncle Walter and Aunt Barbara's small general store for just-the-right gifts for my mama and daddy. Since I was family, I got to walk behind the counter, past the cash register and candy case, down to the very last glass-encased shelf, where...each and every gift-giving holiday...I would reach in and select a plastic-topped, ribbon encased box of three handkerchiefs..the ones for my daddy were stitched around the bottom edge with brown, blue and tan...the ones for my mama were each embroidered with a different flower.
And...each holiday...my mama and daddy acted like that was the best gift ever.
Whereas my daddy always carried a handkerchief, the only time I remember mama carrying one was when she went to a "viewing" or funeral.
Perhaps the reason my daddy always carried a handkerchief was because his mama always had. Mama Kelley was always holding a handkerchief. I can still see her "working" it between her fingers--that is, when she wasn't using it to dab away any telltale remnants of snuff from the corners of her mouth.
(She used to send me on surreptitious snuff runs down to my Uncle Walter's store. She'd say, "If anybody's in the store, just go behind the counter and get me a can of Bruton. Don't let anybody see you. I'll pay Walter later."...Those clandestine snuff-lifting runs made me feel nervous, guilty, special and loved...all at the same time.)
Of course, handkerchiefs played a special role at the Kimberly Church of God. Whenever the Holy Ghost would start moving, men and women all over the church would take out their handkerchiefs and start waving them. (Except, of course, for my mama, who was saving hers for the next viewing.)
But, as I said to begin with, it's been years since I thought about any of the above handkerchief memories...until this morning...when I somehow knew I was supposed to anoint cloths to send with my friends--Marla, Jordan, Tina and Beth--who are all leaving for Ethiopia this week. (Marla, Jordan and Tina are going as part of a Cedar Springs missions team. Beth and her family are going to bring home two of the three newest members of their family; they go back in August to get their little girl. Wow!)
Anyway, as I started looking for a cloth to anoint, I opened the top drawer of my dresser...and there it was...a rose-embroidered handkerchief I bought my mama all those years ago at my Uncle Walter's store. (I don't even remember how I ended up with it--probably borrowed it from her for a viewing.)
Surely God didn't want me to use that?...But, as I started to close the drawer, I knew what I was supposed to do. So...I pulled the drawer open again, took out the handkerchief and cut it into four pieces--one for each of my Ethiopia-bound friends. Then, I anointed each piece and prayed for each friend.
Later, as I was reading Isaiah 61, God gave me a comforting little sign that I had "heard right" when I cut up that sweet, old, rose-embroidered handkerchief. (He doesn't always do that when He asks us to obey but, when He does, it is a precious gift.) Here are God's words through His prophet:
The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.
He sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to heal the heartbroken,
to announce freedom to all captives, to pardon all prisoners.
God sent me to announce the year of his grace—
...and to comfort (and care for) all who mourn,
to give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
messages of joy instead of news of doom,
a praising heart instead of (despair).
(Isaiah 61:1-3, The Message)