Gifts from the past

My mother visited a friend’s garage sale, and she sent me some little gifts plucked from the past.

There were several brand new linen handkerchiefs, including original department store gift packaging from the 1950’s. Her other find for me was an envelope with four Esterbrook pen nibs from a shop in North Platte, Nebraska, where our friend grew up.

Last year, Mom gifted me with a collection of hand-embroidered towels her mother had made and used in their home. Mom prefers non-iron terry cloth towels that match her bathrooms, and she knows that I love antique linens. During this minor downsizing, I also received the bulk of her linen and cotton hankies. They had been gathering dust in the bottom drawer of her vanity since I was young.

My father carries a neatly ironed and folded white cotton handkerchief every day, and I see it as one mark of a gentleman. Mom switched to the arguably more hygienic and decidedly less labor intensive option of a pocket pack of Kleenex before I was self-aware enough to notice. Her hankies and small collection of silk scarves only saw use in my dress-up play.

Because I’m a ridiculous packrat who also thrills to the textures of the past, I carry a packet of Kleenex for the yucky stuff and also an Irish linen handkerchief, generally poorly ironed, if at all, but trimmed with handmade lace. The latter gets pressed into service when ladylike tears threaten on schedule (weddings and theatrical productions) or eyeglasses want polishing.

The hankies from Mom’s friend included birthday cards she and her brother wrote to their grandmother as children. Don’t worry, the cards had been opened and no doubt appreciated, but their grandmother probably used sensible cotton handkerchiefs every day and saved these colorful linen confections for “a special occasion.”

Well, I, myself, have already laundered them. I plan to use them any day on which they appeal to me.

I spent my childhood wondering why my mother didn’t use the elaborately embroidered works of art her own mother had saved from her own wedding. I won’t make what I see as the same mistake.

Every day is a special occasion in my house. We can wear our finest garments, use our best china, and dry our hands on embroidered linen as we wish. Life’s pleasures are greater when we attend to our work using things that were lovingly crafted by human hands! I try to take every opportunity to do so.

In this way, mundane acts can become prayers of gratitude. At least, they do for me.

As for the nibs, some of you may wonder what they even are. The nib is the part of a pen that actually touches the paper. These are replaceable parts from old-fashioned, refillable pens, which were the norm before the advent of cheap, disposable ball points.

I collect writing implements, including fountain pens. My mother saw these and thought they might relate, somehow, to my hobby.

Esterbrook Pens, makers of the nibs unearthed in our friends’ old desk, has a website. I may just write to them and see if they can tell me when these nibs were made and sold. A quick browse unearthed a few digitized charts of Esterbrook’s nib offerings from my best guess as to their era, but no immediate answers to my mystery have presented themselves.

Contrary to my mother’s high opinion of my general knowledge, I don’t really know much about fountain pens. I own about a dozen. A few were moderately expensive. Most just delighted me with their aesthetics.

I have learned, by writing with many, that I prefer a fine nib and a fairly lightweight and narrow bodied pen. I get annoyed when a pen is too short.

My ink has to flow smoothly, but, if it does, I’m more concerned about its color after drying than any other behavioral quirk.*

Odds are, I won’t find a practical use for the nibs, but it’s easy to appreciate the gift. My mother was thinking of me. She sent me something that resonates with my favorite part of myself—the writer who cherishes carefully made objects that endure.

I’ll endeavor to make my gratitude so persistent.

*Drying time and permanence might be other considerations.

3 thoughts on “Gifts from the past

  1. Love this post… I have an old linen handkerchief with my grandfather’s initials on the corner. It’s never used, but I remember him fondly whenever I run my fingers over its surface.

    Pen nibs eh? Get some nib holders (https://www.wonderpens.ca/Brause_Calligraphy_Nib_Holder_p/b1619w.htm), maybe a couple of wooden ones with an ‘antique finish’ and some calligraphy ink (I tried fountain pen ink on a couple I have… doesn’t work; and don’t try it the other way around whatever you do).

    If they feel scratchy, use the bottom of an upturned coffee cup, and rub the nib gently over the unfinished circle of the ceramic. Keep testing and rubbing gently until you get the smoothness you want; then finish off by rubbing the nib tip on a brown paper bag. If you’re careful, you’ll get a great finish… if you’re not, you’ll get an ornament 🙂

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