I was talking to a friend one day and I mentioned that I have always admired old handkerchiefs and that I once passed up a Mason jar filled with old buttons at a flea market and have kicked myself ever since. I didn’t know what I planned to do with all these things should I ever happen upon them, just that I could not get the thought of antique linen and buttons out of my head. I guess I envision a utilitarian creation, maybe actually using the buttons as buttons, or perhaps a collage of some sort. As for the linens, I once saw a wonderful curtain that was light and airy and made of old handkerchiefs sewn together. It was really remarkable. I will be moving soon, to my dream house in the country, and I can actually see this fantasy curtain stirring in the breeze.

My friend came today, a surprise visit, with a large box. Inside were seventy-five old fashioned handkerchiefs, some of them lacey and embroidered, others brightly colored with tatted borders and wonderful cutouts, all smelling of this old woman I have never met. I can not convey how happy and touched I was. I told Hans that these old linens, some never even taken out of their lovely boxes, many with notes attached regarding their origin, were probably worth money and I was not sure they should be entrusted to my care. He looked at me, somewhat wearily, and asked me what my plan was. Since I could never blow my nose into a lacey linen square, I told him of my plan to make curtains and his face burst into a huge smile and he told me that he would like that the best.

It appears that his aunt was a bit of a packrat, and her mother before her. The basement of the house he is cleaning out is packed with old things, all archived with little pinned notes. Apparently he has heard from many people about the supposed worth of the quilts and china and old books. He already has a house filled with stuff and found it sad that beautiful and useful things were packed away in 1950, never to be looked at, admired or useful again. He has kept some of the things, most of the quilts for example, but could not process much of the rest.

“There will be a bag, for instance, and it is labeled ‘120 pie tins’, and if I count them there are really 120 pie tins. Or, there is a box, the old store box from Lazarus in 1954. On it there is a note, ‘Uncle Karl’s best night shirt’, then under this is another box which says, ‘Uncle Karl’s second best night shirt’.”

Makes me wonder which night shirt Uncle Karl actually slept in.

I was also given a good quantity of old buttons, which I spilled out on the table and admired. Some are porcelain, some perhaps ivory, others are seashell, gloriously uneven and individual. I took the little bits of old thread from the backs of some of them. I rinsed and dried them, and piled them up and filtered them through my fingers. They make a neat sound when they clink together, something like money.

Hans was giddy that I did not look at these things as precious heirlooms that needed to be locked away for the next generation to guess the use for. I suspect he will enjoy my curtains as much as I will, perhaps more.

Who is to say that a thing is too old or too nice to incorporate into regular routine? Some people are astounded that my ordinary kitchen dishes are flowery with gilded edges and once belonged to my husband’s grand mother. I just feel silly having two sets of dishes when one will do, and I don’t like making decisions such as which day deserves the better plates. Doesn't every day deserve good plates? If I had crystal goblets I would drink my orange juice from them every day, if they were clean.

So I spent much of the day marveling at the fabric of these handkerchiefs, the delicate cut work and teeny stitches, imagining how the sun will shine through, how light and exquisite they will be when parted by a warm breeze. I sat with them spread all around me, a feast for the senses. I marveled at buttons. I felt like I did when I was a kid and got a set of brand new crayons, how hard I worked to preserve that sharp pointy tip! I also felt this way when I knew my labor had finally started, both times, standing on the verge of one thing becoming another.

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