The Last Chivalrous Act

The concept of the pocket square goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. 

hankie_hmw-00sSo says the website, The Gentlemen’s Corner.

The website goes on to say that by the 17th Century, a pocket-handkerchief was common apparel for all classes of men in Europe.

It’s common apparel for my husband. He keeps it in a front pant’s pocket and carries one every day. As long as I’ve known him, and that’s been more than twenty years, he’s carried a white handkerchief in his pocket.

Last night, on HBO, we watched The Intern, “a slight little dramedy” as one reviewer called it, with Robert DeNiro and Ann Hathaway. We both enjoyed it. And while the interaction between DeNiro’s character, Ben, and Ann Hathaway’s, Jules, was interesting and well done, what really caught my attention was Ben’s scene with a young male intern who comes to stay with him.

The young man sees Ben’s walk-in closet, the ties all neatly arranged, suits ditto, and Ben indicates a drawer for his handkerchiefs. And while I don’t remember the exact dialogue, I do remember how surprised I was by the reason Ben carried a handkerchief. It wasn’t for him to blow his nose on, it was to give to ladies when they cried.

“Really??” I said to my husband. “Is that why you carry one?”

Husband put the movie on pause. “Yes. My dad taught me that. Always carry a handkerchief because the woman you’re with might need one.”

We have folded laundry together for years; I have folded his handkerchiefs, put them in his drawer, seen him take one out, fold it again into a small square, and put it in his pocket. And I never knew why he carried it. Handkerchiefs went in the laundry, got folded, put away, and I sometimes wondered why they were never dirty, but it’s what he did so that was fine. And I never knew.

I sat there, looking at him, astounded I’d never known.

I knew he’d offered it to me when I’d been crying. I’d seen him offer it to other women friends when they’d cried. But I never knew.

“It’s the last chivalrous act,” he said. “I’ve given it to young women in class when they were talking to me and crying. It’s what I do.”

Yes. It is.

It’s an interesting moment to learn something new about a man you’ve lived with and loved for so many years. He’s a gentleman, I knew that, he always holds doors open, he opens the car door for me and offers his hand when I get out. I know so much about him.

And yet, this small, unobtrusive, intimate gesture he makes each day for a lady who might need it felt like a candle lighting my heart, and I smiled.

“Thank you,” I said.





15 thoughts on “The Last Chivalrous Act

  1. I never knew the history of carrying a handkerchief, but I have always done so. I was brought up with the certain knowledge that “in our family, feet smell and noses run.” I may need to start carrying two ‘choofs and begin acting as a proper gentleman. Thanks, Janet.

  2. Lovely lovely lovely! To learn something new about someone you’ve lived with for years 🙂 The pocket square as metaphor for courtesy and kindness; the small daily folding of it, and carrying it out in the world, a manifestation of knowing we can’t know what will come our way in any given moment, and provisioning ourselves with a sort of pocket-prayer so that we may be ready for the possibility of sorrow. I love this on so many levels!

  3. Beautiful story. My Grandma Lutes gave me white handkerchiefs as a young man with very similar sentiment, it’s important to have a clean one in case someone needs it.

  4. What a wonderful story. Now, I wonder why my father always carried one. What I do know is that ironing his handkerchiefs was my first chance to be a big girl and use the iron. It pleases me to remember that, and to think of all those small items and tiny gestures that made up a gracious life.

I love conversations! Let's start one.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.