"Mother, why did you keep this old handkerchief? It looks like it has been run over by a car. It's filthy. Look how yellow it is. It's not worth anything. We are throwing this out." Ann was trying to move her 78 year old mother into an assisted living facility. Packing up almost 60 years of memories was difficult physically and emotionally.
"Don't you throw out the handkerchief. It is priceless."
"Why haven't you washed it?"
"It is washed. And it's beautiful just the way it is."
Ann looked closely at the handkerchief. It was brownish with burgundy roses printed on the corners. She guessed that at one time the handkerchief had been white and the roses had been red or pink. Now the entire thing just looked gross. "How can you think this is beautiful? Just look at it."
"I do look at it, often. I know every stain and what it represents. That handkerchief represents my life."
Ann immediately felt guilty. She walked over to her mother, sat down beside her and held out the handkerchief. Her mother took it and began stroking it with the fingers on her opposite hand. She ran her fingers lightly across the roses as if they were made of delicate silk.
"My mother gave me this handkerchief the day I married your father. It was just an old handkerchief that she kept in her drawer. She handed it to me as I was dressing and said, 'you need something old'. So I put it in the sleeve of my dress and walked down the aisle to meet your father. I only carried it because your grandmother was so superstitious and convinced that our marriage wouldn't last if I didn't carry something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. By the end of the ceremony, I pulled that handkerchief out of my sleeve and cried tears of joy. I had never understood when people said they cried because they were happy. But I understood it that day. I looked into your father's eyes and absolutely lost my heart completely."
Ann could see the compassion in her mother's smile. She had always envied the love her parents had for each other.
"Your father was a wonderful man, but he wasn't flawless. Sometimes he could say the most heartless things. He thought I was just over sensitive. He broke my heart many times over the years. Each time I cried into this handkerchief. I think it reminded me of the day we became one. It took us 10 years to have you. We kept trying and I would get pregnant and miscarry. Every time I pulled out this handkerchief and cried my tears of an empty heart. When we got pregnant with you, your father and the doctor treated me with kid gloves I wasn't allowed to do anything around the house. It was almost 9 months of complete bed rest."
Ann had heard this story many times, but she knew her mother wasn't just telling a story, she was living her life.
"About a week before you were born, the doctor put me in the hospital so he could watch me closer. I was a little older than most women having a baby. But I didn't care. I was so desperate to have a child, I'd do anything. One morning the doctor walked into my hospital room and asked if I was ready to be a mother. I told him I had been ready for most of my life. The nurses took me to the delivery room and they put me to sleep so the doctor could deliver you. When I woke up I was back in my room and your father was standing over me. Actually when I opened my eyes, all I saw was teeth. Your father was smiling so big, I couldn't see his eyes, just teeth. He asked if I was ready to see my beautiful daughter and then the nurse laid you in my arms. You were the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. I started crying and your father reached in his pocket and pulled out this handkerchief. He was so thoughtful to bring it with him."
Once again Ann saw her mother lapse into that dreamy state of mind. Ann sat quietly and let her think.
"Then came the day that you were no longer mine alone. I had to share you with a teacher. I drove you to school, calmly walked you to your class, comforted you, and walked back to the car. Sitting alone in that car, I suddenly realized that I would be sharing you with someone for the rest of my life. I broke down and cried sitting in the school parking lot. When I opened my purse for a tissue, I saw this handkerchief. Your father had placed it there before he left for work that morning."
Ann remembered her first day of school as vividly as her mother. She didn't want to spoil her mother's belief, but Ann had seen her mother sitting in the car crying. She had cried and asked to go see about her mother. The teacher had looked out the window, smiled sadly and said, "Your mother will be fine. She is just having a mommy moment."
"As I was getting dressed for your wedding, your father walked in and asked if I had my handkerchief. I laughed at him. He walked over to my dresser, opened the top drawer and handed it to me. 'You know you are going to need this.' he said. I put it in my clutch bag and we left for the church. It was a good thing I brought it. I cried before, during and after the ceremony."
"I saw you with it. I wondered if you were sad that I was getting married."
"No, I wasn't sad. I was losing my baby forever that day and I knew it."
"You didn't lose me."
"No, but our relationship was changed after that. You didn't need me. You had Tommy to rely on."
"I still needed you."
"Well maybe, but in a different way."
"I saw you with the handkerchief at Daddy's funeral."
"Yes and I've had it many nights since then, too. This handkerchief has seen a lot of tears, both good and bad. It has brought me plenty of comfort over the years. Yes, it is old and to some eyes, it might be ugly. But to mine, it is the most beautiful handkerchief in the world."
Ann took the handkerchief from her mother, refolded it and carefully placed it back in the drawer where it had been. She knew her mother's days on earth were quickly coming to an end, but the handkerchief would go with her all the way.