When I was a kid, I was afflicted with annoying hay fever. I would suffer beginning from the first thaw of spring to the first frost of autumn. My eyes would be itchy and red, and under my eyes would swell to almost double the size. My throat would get hoarse and I wouldn’t be able to talk sometimes, and I was a heartbeat away from developing the asthma that kicks in when I am run down.
The only over the counter medication of the day was Allerest, and my mother bought it in 100 tab jars. I can still see in my mind’s eye the tall jar of blue pills sitting in the medicine cabinet, next to the Alka Seltzer and Head & Shoulders shampoo. Although they dried out my saliva glands (causing other problems such as dental and bowel) it did the trick. It usually lasted about 4 hours, evidence of its effectiveness wearing off shortly before the fourth hour. An alarm clock was set so that I would wake up at 5:30 a.m. to take the first pill, and I was given a baggie with 2 more to take to school with me.
Although the clock was set for 5:30 a.m., it really wasn’t needed. My father was already up, having awakened at 4:00 a.m. to get ready for work. He would get up and cook the two hard boiled eggs and toast, the same breakfast he ate every day until the day he died at 73 years old. He put on his suit and always made sure he had a white handkerchief in his back pocket – and an extra one for me. White and folded in fours, it was part of his outfit every day.
“Here kid, take this” he’d say and I grab it as I rushed to the bathroom to blow my nose. Boxes of tissues were worthless and toilet paper was a waste of money; I went through them both way too fast. A cloth hanky was what I needed.
I had always wished that I had dainty, girly type hankies, and certainly not a man’s handkerchief.
One of my chores when I was a preteen was to iron those damn handkerchiefs. Bingo Mary would supervise.
“You missed a spot” she’d point out, if I didn’t iron straight to the corner of the cloth. That was me – always taking the shortest route.
“What’s the difference?” I’d argue, “I’m only going to sneeze into it! Then I’m going to stuff it like this”, and I’d pick one up and stuff it into my size A bra. I didn’t develop womanly curves until I was much, much older. I stood there with one mutant breast pushing out under my sweat shirt.
She’d just look at my mother, who would be choking on her Pepsi by this point. Bingo Mary would just shake her head and go over to the sink to fill up the teakettle with water.
“Heaven help her, Patsy”, she’s announce with a touch of a grin, Irish brogue intact. “She’s a loony one, she is.”
I never did get those dainty girly type hankies. I carried those thick white cotton handkerchiefs everywhere with me. It never occurred to me to just go out and buy my own. By that time, they had become part of my outfit too, just like they had become my Dad’s. When he died, I snuck one from his bureau draw. If I put my nose into it, I can still smell his aftershave. I’ve never washed it.
Nowadays, I get immunology shots. Having been tested for various allergens and food allergies, the infamous hay fever was on the top of the list. I make sure I dust and try to be proactive as far as food choices and other things that can set me off.
Every now and then, however, the sky will be clear and blue, and the summer breezes will blow just right, spreading the particles my way.
“Here, sweetie, take this” he’d say, and my husband will hand me his hanky. Not a white cotton one like my dads, though, but a bandana. He has a drawer full of them for he, too, is prone to sneezing and wheezing.
I smile as I honk into the soft cloth and wipe my slowly reddening nose and watery eyes. The tears aren’t from the allergies, but from the act itself. The gesture reminds me of the gentle smile of my father and the devotion to the routine, as was his nature. Every day, he puts on his work clothes for work, and sticks a bandana in his back pocket.
Folded in fours and part of his outfit.