I save things, all kinds of things, from ticket stubs to rocks, dried flowers, shells, you name it, I save it.
Even when I try to throw things away they stick to my fingers like flypaper and I can barely let go. Sometimes, I must confess, I can't. I might have the courage to take some old loved object to the trash only to retrieve it hours later, in what feels like a guilty moment of exquisite pleasure.
I come from a family of collectors. I remember many warm summer days at auctions with my parents. They brought home boxes of stuff owned by others. My father marveled over used books, tintype pictures of strangers and baskets of crochet doilies; items without much useful purpose but still meaningful, especially to my father. I remember him holding a book in the palm of his hand and wondering out loud about the man before him that had held the same book. He would check it for handwriting, signatures and scribbles in the edges of the pages Ė making the experience of holding the book a rich experience.
My grandmother saved buttons. She kept them in a big hatbox in the corner of her parlor. I loved that box of buttons and spent hours quietly sorting, looking into, and separating out the beautiful fastenings that held my grandmother's history together. I am sure she sewed a fair share onto shirts, although I don't remember any missing from the box.
The color, texture, shine and coolness of my grandmother's buttons spoke to my imagination.
As I grew older I learned that those buttons talked to my grandmother in a different way. She told me the stories of each of them, the dark blue ones with the anchors once held her brothers pea jacket closed on windy days at sea during the First World War. The tiny pearl buttons lined the sleeves of my grandmother's wedding dress and the tiny pink flat ones were from my mother's first sweater that she wore as a baby.
My favorite buttons were dark purple bobbles that looked like bunches of grapes tied together with a white ribbon. They decorated the costume that my cousin Iris wore in her high school play. My grandmother would shake her head and say "poor Iris" and then tell the story of her longing to be an actress, falling in love and not quite making it to Broadway. I never knew Iris but her story was so romantic that I felt as if I knew her.
There seemed to be buttons that represented all the members of her family, including me. She would hold up two silver buttons that were left over from a dress she made for me to wear to my first dance. "Remember they are right here dear in case you need them." The dress was so well made; the buttons sewed on so lovingly that I never did need the extras.
Over the years those buttons became game pieces, projectiles that my cousin and I threw at one another, little people in the world of let's pretend, kite anchors, bracelets and one even ended up in a baby's nose. In the end they mostly ended up back in my grandmother's hatbox.
When my grandmother died her hatbox of buttons vanished with her but the button stories stayed and are now part of me. I never did start my own button collection although I understand why my grandmother cherished hers. It wasn't the buttons but the memories attached to them that made the collection of family buttons an unforgettable experience.
This essay is dedicated to all those who have experienced the loss of cherished things. Losses that on the surface appear to be usual, barely understood by others. In reality they are the precious and irreplaceable spiritual expressions. "Soul Songs" that continue to be sung in the inner place of forever.
Fun for Grandparents and Their Young Grandchildren
(From the web)
A fun learning activity for preschoolers is sorting buttons. Your child or grandchild can learn a multiple of concepts such as colors, numbers, and shapes and sizes, by sorting buttons.
- Colors: Give the child 10 or more buttons in 3 or 4 colors. Have him sort the buttons into color piles.
- Numbers: Have the child sort the buttons into piles according to the number of holes in the buttons.
- Shapes: Try to find 4 or 5 buttons of 3 to 4 different shapes such as circles, squares, triangles, and hearts. Have the child sort them into individual shape piles.
- Sizes: Have the child sort a pile of buttons into 3 piles of small, medium, and large buttons.
- Opposites: You can also set out buttons that the child can sort into two opposite piles, such as plain and fancy.
After the child has had experience recognizing small, medium, and large buttons, let her choose five buttons and name them as characters in a family: for example, a large button for dad, a medium button for mom, grandma, and teenage brother, and a small button for baby.
(More Fun for Grandparents next month.)