My mom will be ninety-five on her next birthday. She lives in a nursing home a few miles from my house and I am able to see her frequently. Yesterday I visited and while we talked I straightened her closet and generally tidied up. In the end I had a pile of clothes that needed minor repairs. The gnomes in the laundry seemed to have removed buttons and let down cuffs at random.
One of the items that needed attention was a new blouse that I had given my Mom just a few weeks ago. When I got home, I was still muttering under my breath about how things are manufactured these days. I headed for my closet to find the button jar. No wonder we use Velcro and zippers, no one knows how to sew on a button these days. “I am probably, the only one on the block that still has a button bottle.”, I heard myself mumble.
My button collection is in an old glass quart-sized milk bottle. It’s the kind that I used to find on a wintery day on the stoop at my grandmother’s house. If the weather was brisk enough, the cardboard lid would be sitting up on a jaunty angle above the frozen cream. Over the years, the bottle somehow traveled from my grandmother’s house to my mother’s and now it resides with me.
I moved the computer keyboard and my mouse to the sides of my desk and poured a river of colour into the middle… big, small, rounded, flat, four-holed, two-holed, green, red, yellow. There were buttons from my father’s military uniform, tiny white shirt cuff buttons, the yellow ones from my play suit when I was four, blue coat buttons, and ones large enough for the string game that kept my sister, brother and I busy for hours. Grandpa Francis was great at finding the string and getting us started threading the holes in the big brown coat buttons so they would whirl and whirl.
Little cats-eyes and yellow flowers, little crowns and special diamond shaped ones in a soft, off-white stared back at me. “It’s a lifetime in a bottle!”, I thought.
The more I searched for ones that I could use on my mother’s new blouse, the more the past reappeared.
I was soon wandering down lanes that I had not trod for years. I once again had on my red and white sundress with the tiny stripes and the red, spotted buttons. In my mind’s eye, I followed the path across the field surrounded by daises and buttercups once again.
I asked myself, ”Those little crown like ones, what were they from?” I could not remember. “The leather ones are from Judy’s high school coat.”, I heard myself say out-loud. “The pearly ones are from Grandma’s white sweater and oh yes, those ugly flat ones with the lime green edges are from my vest.” Maybe it was the outfit that I didn’t like and even though I cannot picture it that clearly, even now, I know I didn’t like it. Who knew that buttons could give off vibes like this!
I move my hand through the pile on my desk and listen to the sounds as they slide over and under one another and fall through my fingers landing like gentle rain and sliding to the finish line like my brother playing ball. Someone had meticulously strung like buttons with like buttons. Ribbons of gold, and twists of green sat like erratics on Button Mountain.
I don’t think many folks have button bottles any more. At some level we each know better, but the truth is still that we live in a throw away society where we have been brain washed to believe that buying new is better, and throwing away is good. Even as the dumpsites are overflowing we don’t have time, make time or take time to conserve and reuse to the degree that we need to, if we are to make a dent in the concept of “saving the planet”. We talk about it a lot. It’s in the paper and on the news. But!
Probably there are a lot of folks out there who don’t know how to thread a needle, sew on a button, or even realize that there were button jars in everyone’s house at one time.
Clearly, for me, fixing one poorly manufactured blouse turned into a walk down memory lane. The magic that is found in quilts, where my Grandma’s apron meets my mother’s prom dress and my sister’s baby blanket is also to be found in button bottles. I hope you have one.