Have you ever held onto something for years, something you didn't really need, and then one day, suddenly, this thing is exactly what you need?
That's what happened to me yesterday.
For 45 years I've held on to two hankies, embroidered with my initial, given to me when I was 'sweet sixteen'. Embroidered hankies are a throwback to another era, to a time when long gone department stores like Daytons or Powers sold such things. And a time when people bought them. Probably an older relative or a friend of my mother's chose those hankies for me, thinking a lady always needs one in her purse.
Well, this lady has always relied on travel packs of tissues. But I could never bring myself to toss the hankies. They stayed with me through college. They moved with me as a newlywed nearly 40 years ago. They've been tucked away in a closet or drawer ever since.
I kept them not only because they are a tangible reminder of another time, but because they are a tangible reminder of the sixteen year old I was. Awkward, not cool, but eager to grow up and get going on life, with no clue as to how it would turn out. Only hopes.
For 45 years those hankies sat unused. Until last night.
Our local kids and grandchildren were here for Shabbat, as usual. One family was getting ready to leave today on a long-planned, long-awaited trip to Disney World. Over dinner we heard about what rides they'd go on and what characters the kids hoped to meet. Such excitement!
Then it was time to for them to go home and pack. Our five year-old granddaughter grew clingy and teary. "Nanny, I'm going to miss you and Popsi so much!" she cried. "But it's just five days," I reminded her. "We'll see you next Shabbat and you'll tell me all about Disney!"
Quivering lips and many hugs later, she headed for the car with her family. The tears and sobbing continued at home.
"She is definitely in a Nanny phase!" my daughter said.
I thought back to earlier in the week, when I gave my daughter a dress I no longer needed, but that would be perfect for her.
The first morning she wore it, that same five-year old granddaughter walked into the kitchen, spotted her mother in the dress, and exclaimed, "MOM! You smell just like Nanny!'
Evidently traces of my cologne clung to the dress.
As she plied her mom with hug after hug, she said happily, "I just can't stop hugging and smelling you!" This continued all the way to daycare, so powerful, so visceral is our sense of smell and its bond to memory.
Suddenly, I knew exactly what I needed to do.
I texted our daughter. "Would it be helpful if I dropped off a hanky with my cologne on it? Then she can tuck it under her pillow at night."
"YES!" our daughter texted back, along with a video of our sobbing granddaughter, who said this would definitely make her feel better.
I went upstairs and found the two hankies that had never wiped a nose or caught a sneeze. Hankies that had never mopped a brow or dabbed a tear.
I spritzed them with cologne and delivered them to our daughter.
They are now on their way to Disney.
There's only one more thing I wish I could do.
I wish I could go back and meet my sixteen year old self.
I'd love to look into the smooth, unlined face of that awkward, hopeful girl and say:
"You were smart to save those hankies. There's magic ahead for you. You'll see."