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Decode the Meaning of Handkerchief Flirtations

Decode the Meaning of Handkerchief Flirtations
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My great-grandmother was born just before the start of the Civil War and so spent her teens in the postwar decade. Courtship was much more ritualistic in those days, and while I hate to think of my grandma as a flirt, I’ve seen photographs of her as a young girl, and there was a definite twinkle in those eyes beneath the long brown curls.

Among her belongings was a notebook containing full instructions on how to use a handkerchief to send myriad signals to a hopeful suitor.

For those who might like to recall how a “nice” girl could meet a “nice” boy, here are Grandma Libby’s Handkerchief Flirtations.

Drawing across the lips: I am desirous of an acquaintance.
Drawing across the eyes: I am sorry.
Drawing across the cheek: I love you.
Drawing across the forehead: We are watched.
Drawing through the hands: I hate you.
Dropping: We will be friends.
Folding: I wish to speak with you.
Letting it rest on the right cheek: Yes.
Letting it rest on the left cheek: No.
Letting it remain on the eyes: You are cruel.
Opposite corners in both hands: Wait for me.
Over the shoulder: Follow me.
Placing it on the right ear: You have changed.
Taking it in the center: You are too willing.
Twirling in both hands: Indifference.
Twirling in left hand: I wish to be rid of you.
Twirling in right hand: I love another.
Twirling around forefinger: I am engaged.
Twirling around third finger: I am married.
Flirting at your side once: You’re a flirt.
Flirting at your side three times: Go to the Devil.
Flirting over the head: Go to thunder.
Putting in the pocket: No more at present.

It was an intricately subtle language. Pity the poor chap who didn’t know how to decode it.

Excerpt from “Grandma Libby’s Handkerchief Flirtations,” Yankee Magazine, February 1987

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Monday, February 13th, 2012

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