I carry a handkerchief.

Men used to do this, years ago, and it’s something I picked up not long after I got out of High School (speaking of years ago). I was in the Navy in fact (and I think they issued me one?). Anyway, got in the habit of shoving a handkerchief in my pocket as I went about my affairs.

Working as a mechanic, skydiving into airshows, tearing around on a motorcycle, other stuff I don’t want to put in print? Had a handkerchief in my pocket.

It’s, what can I say, it’s handy (sometimes the only thing between you and a hot radiator cap). What’s been happening more and more lately, however, is that I give a ton of the things away. I mean whatever, a handkerchief costs less than a can of soda, but I’ll be near someone and they’ll, well, something will happen and I give them my handkerchief.

And they’ll, let’s say dry out whatever has to be dried out, move to hand it back to me and no, it’s a practiced maneuver, to hold the hand up in the “stop” sign and say “It’s yours now,” and mean it. Plus they might need it again in a minute anyway. Gotta’ be a gentleman.

I carry spare ones in my satchel, in my car. No big deal, give one away, grab one from the spares, keep movin’.

This came up, in fact, just the other day, at the Devon Wooten service at the Clinton School Auditorium. Someone near me got a little chocked up and I handed over the handkerchief and it was put to use.

I took a few, not many, pictures while I was there. It’s part of the job to attend things not everyone can attend and I recorded the setting. When the service started, however, the camera was put aside. News-boy or no you got to show some respect.

A lot of people there, a lot of people showing support for the family.

One of the things I find myself explaining about this area to people who aren’t from around here is how it’s Homestead Culture. Because it’s the same old thing where they come in from out of town and “Oh we’re in the South!” and blah blah likes it’s some kind of Hee-Haw episode with worse lighting, the other Mississippi or something.

But no, I tell them, no, you got it all wrong. This, at least up here in the Ozark foothills, this isn’t sweeping plantations and antebellum mansions, oh no. This was people who came in, scraped a plot up out of the land, a cabin and a garden and got to work. People, I go on to explain, can often point to where their people had their cabins where they first came to the area, now marked by some old bricks.

And people were scraping by and if your neighbor needed a hand, you extended it. You weren’t nuts about, it wasn’t sucker time, I tell them, but if they needed help, you helped, you cared.

A lot of people showed up for the Wooten Service, including community leaders, sure, but also the, well, the rest of us. People who cared, who wanted the family to know we cared. You can’t, at a thing like that, go look up the family, shake hands or whatever, it’s not that kind of setting.

Instead you put aside the camera, take a seat, and listen. You just be there, just be there for the family, just be there for the others in the community who are there, to be there, to be there for the community.

Sure, it was a sad event, a family’s loss acknowledged, and at the same time it was a community letting a community know it was a community. You extend a hand, or a handkerchief, or both, but mostly yourself, into the community.