The Button Box

I opened the tin, looked inside and immediately a flood of happy, wonderful memories came back. A friend who was moving and downsizing gave it to me because she didn’t want to simply throw it away and she thought perhaps I could use it. Buttons. It was a Button Box. A tin where a thrifty and thoughtful mom had kept buttons of all kinds…big ones, small ones, new ones, old ones, all colors, all designs. It reminded me that more than 70 years ago, my mother had a button box. It was wooden, with a shiny lacquered wood, about half the size of a shoe box. My mother kept all the buttons inside that she carefully cut off shirts or dresses or suits no longer bearable. “You never can tell when you’ll need a button,” she’d say, as she added to the collection. I loved rainy days when I was five or six. My mother would let me play with the button box, going through it, lining up the buttons that looked alike, laying some out on a checkerboard, gluing some to a ribbon to make a fancier hair bow. There were the little light blue buttons from my favorite blue dress that I had outgrown; there were the buttons from my red and black jacket that got torn beyond repair when I got caught up in some rose bushes. There were my brother’s fancy buttons from his first tuxedo, my sister’s buttons from the red dress she hated but wore because my mother always said how good she looked in it. There were buttons from my dad’s tan sweater, my mother’s pretty silk dress, my brother’s summer shorts. When I was older, even though I still ran the buttons through my fingers and loved the difference in texture and size, I also sought out buttons. I needed some little white ones when I lost the buttons on my school uniform blouse. I needed just the right size button to fit in the first button hole I made on a sewing machine. I picked out a very fancy gold button for the hoop skirt I made in Girl Scouts. I learned my mother’s habit of cutting buttons off discarded clothing and added to the button box. I didn’t remember having a button box when I left home and got married. I didn’t think I had one. In my early years of raising children, I don’t think I even saved the last two on a sheet of six buttons I bought when I needed buttons four for my daughter’s sweater. Over the years I forgot about the button box; I don’t even know what happened to the one my mother had when I was a child. But when my oldest daughter was a young bride, and I mentioned to her my friend had given me a button box, she exclaimed, “You had one when we were little! It was round, and made of straw!” As I murmured I didn’t remember it, she babbled on. “I used to play with the buttons, I used to put them on a checker board, I used to like to see all the different colors. It was always fun.” Fascinated by her memory, I asked my son. “I remember the button box,” he said, “It was made of straw and round. You kept it on the floor in the front closet next to the louvered doors.” I don’t remember that straw basket at all. But when I opened the gold tin my friend had given me, the tin that once was a fancy gift box filled with chocolates and then served a second life holding buttons, it all came back…the happy memories, the rainy days, the pretty dresses, the hair bows. Not of my daughter and son’s button box. But of mine when I was a child. It brought back special memories of my mother, raising four of us on an extremely limited budget after my dad died. It brought back memories of my mother teaching me how to iron correctly, ensuring those uniform blouses were ironed perfectly and the buttons could fit perfectly through the button holes. I could almost heard the laughter of me as a youngster, the happiness of me as a teen, the camaraderie of my mother, my sister and me with the button box. It all came back. And it was good. Then I thought of the woman who had given me this new button box. And the woman to whom it belonged before her. Neither one knew what it meant to me to get this button box. Maybe they both knew the dreams, hope, laughter, and occasional tears that are caught up in a tin of mismatched, unconnected, variously shaped buttons of all sizes. Or maybe they didn’t. I know now that my daughter and my son, as adults, spouses and parents, remember THEIR button box, the one I couldn’t remember having when I was a young mother. And they had their own special memories, their own hopes, their own dreams. So now I’m keeping that button box with its already made collection my friend gave me. And I’ll be adding to it. And creating new memories. This time not of me as a child, but me as an older adult who still recognizes the magic of a button box…and the love of the women who owned it first.


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