James Sinks and Brad Knetl's Appalachian Trail hanky

I've carried a handkerchief with me since I was a teenager. I first used one when I hiked a very short section of the Appalachian Trail. When I got home it became a habit. For a while I only had the one hanky. I'd stuff it into my shirt pocket. I'd tie it around my wrist. I'd wipe the sweat from my face with it. I'd sneeze into it. I'd rub my eyes with it. I'd mop up spills with it. I'd wrap creepy-crawly critters in it. I'd look at it and remember the trail. I got other hankies eventually, but that was the one I'd always reach for.

I remember tossing it into the laundry pile a couple years back and looking at it—worn silk-thin and skin-soft, fraying at the corners and edges, almost translucent from years of use and abuse—and realizing that it probably wouldn't survive another trip through the washing machine. I washed it the sink, air dried it, carried it around in my pants pocket for a few days to soften it up again, and then shoved it into the bottom of a drawer. It was too fragile to use, but I couldn't bear to throw it away.

Brad had wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. He went on and on and on about taking six months off work and making the complete trek from Georgia to Maine. He didn't take a single step that would set him on the way, though. The dream was enough, and the occasional trip to Shenandoah or Great Falls would keep the fantasy fresh and satisfying.

After he died, I took my old hanky out of its drawer and gave it to Aida so that Brad could take it with him. Objects have power sometimes. Magic. Real magic. That hanky carried a piece of the trail for me. I hope it did for Brad too. And more: I hope it carried a piece of me.

James Sinks