Toward the end of her life, my grandmother went shopping for birthday and holiday gifts in her own apartment. Some years I received pantyhose; others, a milk glass vase or a brass alligator nutcracker.

Although I never used the last present I received from her, I kept them: three pristine, precisely creased, embroidered muslin handkerchiefs. They have survived college in one state, graduate school in another, and the arrival of my own family in a third. Aside from the figurative ties they give me to my grandmother, whose nose I have inherited, I have always considered them valuable.

But value has a different meaning when it comes to eBay.

One day I was browsing its “clothing, shoes and accessories: vintage” category when I found a listing for an inordinate amount of women’s handkerchiefs. In fact, 238 lots were for sale that very week. The cheapest, a set of four holly-embroidered Christmas hankies, was going for 99 cents. The most expensive, an assortment of 154 floral “everyday ladies” hankies, was on sale for under $60. At 38 cents a pop each, these weren’t exactly Caspian caviar.

On a visceral level, I was a bit disappointed in these anonymous sellers. I know that many dealers bought these products from estate sales and have no attachment to them other than the scant money they paid. But other sellers are daughters and granddaughters who may have cleaned out closets after the owner’s final stroke or battle with cancer. Isn’t the hawking of these long-held possessions akin to the selling of memories?

And at rock-bottom prices, no less.

Sentiment aside, I have no practical use for these tiny patches of gauze, trimmed with faded cross-stitch and permanently scarred with folds. What does one do with such items? Turn them into appliqué lampshades? They’re more suitable for polishing the furniture than they are for clearing the sinuses.

But thanks to my robust love for fiction and a vivid imagination — something else I inherited from Grandma — I can visualize one of these lace-and-linen confections tucked up her three-quarter sleeve.

Each brings back a piece of her. The off-white one with the scalloped edges reminds me that Grandma Min pickled the neighborhood’s best herring in sour cream sauce, heavy on the onions the way my dad and I like it. The eggshell one, with the crocheted border, takes me back to her fragmented square of a linoleum kitchen table, where I sat in my nightgown, watching as she cooked breakfast. She always salted the eggs before scrambling them rather than after, making them taste so much better. The handkerchief that was imported from Europe — and still in its original packaging — takes me to my grandmother's girlhood during World War I. She escaped in a covered wagon driven by her mother across the continent to a ship that would take them to America.

Although in the final decade of her life, Grandma Min blew into disposable tissues like the rest of us, and these vintage handkerchiefs are no longer intended for use, their personal history will always be nose-worthy.

Chances are, my own grandkids are going to receive them, and while they may be initially puzzled, perhaps in the end, they will discern the handkerchiefs’ true value.

In The Fray is a nonprofit staffed by volunteers. If you liked this piece, could you please donate $10?