Sunday, October 31, 2010

One Hundred Things My Mother Taught Me A Million Times – Chapter 55

(Photo is of me in my Halloween costume - Old Lady Gaga)
#55 – “Always carry a handkerchief. It helps distinguish you from the riffraff.”
Many of the things mom taught me were not as much about utility as avoiding the horrors of commonality. Common is an interesting concept. What is common? Well, by mom’s definition, common is someone that doesn’t have the decency to carry a handkerchief. Of course with the advent of tissues, germ science and our “throw-away” society, we now carry disposable handkerchief’s, Kleenex.

As I typed the word Kleenex, it occurred to me that what I really meant was tissue, but some brands become so entrenched in our vocabulary that we use them generically, like Kleenex, Coke, Xerox and Google. Wondering if there was a word for these types of words (my mind works in truly spooky ways), I Googled and found the word, metonymy. Wiki then proceeded to suck me into its black hole as I further explored polysemy, synecdoche and sobriquet (I adore this word, which means nickname) - but back to mom’s hankies and riffraff.

When I was a kid, I spent a good deal of my time playing in my mother’s closet and drawers (chest of drawers, not under drawers). Her huge walk-in closet was my personal wonderland of dresses, hats and shoes, and her drawers (chest of), were a planet to be explored. I remember her dozens of dainty, perfectly ironed and lacy handkerchiefs; the fabric almost transparent with softness, tatted, and embroidered with initials and flowers. Not long ago I stumbled upon one of mom’s handkerchiefs. Now preserved in a picture frame, it hangs in a guest bedroom – an artifact of a particular, and in some ways very civilized generation. Click on Read More Below...

Ironically, I don’t remember mom ever blowing her nose or inviting me to blow my nose on one of her beautiful handkerchiefs. There was some dabbing of tears or a runny nose, but no serious snot ever slimmed those lovely squares of linen and lace. I remember mother pinching the center of the hanky, then gently closing her gloved hand around the hanky. and carrying it pretty much anywhere she went that warranted heels and gloves. Her hankies were a fashion statement, and obviously a class statement as well, which brings us to the avoidance of appearing to be riffraff.

I know this will come as a surprise, but I Wiki’d riffraff to see what it really meant. Riffraff is derived from French 'rif et raf' meaning one and all, and defined as common people or “hoi polloi” (hoy pə-loy), an expression I haven’t heard or seen used in years, meaning commoners, and synonymous with “the great unwashed,” minions, plebeians, proletariat, and “the working class.”

Lord knows I wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a member of the working class!  So mom was right, always carry a handkerchief as a shield to protect yourself from the unwashed masses.

1 comment:

  1. Never seen that picture of Momy Wade - please email it to me so I can print it and give to my mother. I know she'd love to have a copy.
    Thanks -- Lynda Marie