It was a cradle gift to somebody's grandchild, I think, and nothing for the menfolks to embrace. Needlework and fancywork. Had to do with buttons. Everybody who came by was asked about buttons. She needed three little pearl buttons just the right size, and the sweater for the impending baby would be ready to wrap and deliver with blue or pink ribbons as further information developed.
The stores didn't have any such, nobody did, and eleventeen dozen times I heard somebody say, "If I just had my old button box!"
Somebody would say, "I had just what you're looking for! What became of my old button box! Mother gave it to me, and she had it from her mother. It had a dozen buttons just what you want! I think they were on a charm string!"
I've been told we have whole clubs of people now who collect buttons. They buy and sell and swap, and have a whole lingo of esoterics. My experience with buttons, and button boxes, is limited to our own household necessity, when Mother and the girls made much of our clothing. The button box was appealed to about every day.
We had an Uncle Fred, husband of my mother's sister Margaret, that we called Uncle Buttons. He worked for a garment firm in Boston, and he was in charge of buttons. The firm would buy miles of suiting fabrics and turn out gents' clothing by the thousands of dozens. It was Uncle Fred's job to keep buttons ahead of the tailors.
One time, somebody looked into my mother's button box and said, "Gracious, Hildy, you've got more buttons than Uncle Button!" Mother's button box was so old it had Blastow buttons! You never heard of them?
Blastow Cove is a finger of the Atlantic at Deer Isle Township in Maine. If you have a seasonal mansion there, you can step out in the morning and look over Blastow Cove. As soon as the fog scales off, you can see the Azores.
The Colonial settlers of the region, roughly 400 years ago, considered themselves remote from button stores, so they developed the Blastow button. It's a bit of a willow or alder sapling whittled with a groove around it to oblige a tying string. The wooden piece fitted through an opposite loop to make as good a button as anybody required those days.
When Woolworth opened the five-and-ten, and a card of buttons was a dime, the Blastow model declined. It was brought back by L.L. Bean as a rustic touch on his parkas and snowmobile suits. You'll find Blastow buttons on stylish ladies' wear today at great price, admired as chic, but nobody knows what to call the things.
Besides maybe six or eight Blastow buttons kept as oddities, our button box had about a half-peck of use-again garment buttons clipped from outgrown and worn-out shirts, pants, drawers, vests, and barn frocks to be washed and sent to the rag bag (which is another story).
Her button box was a five-pound packing firkin the Hazelbrook Creamery used for its family-size wheel of cheddar. It was round, with a wooden cover. Quite apart from its sewing-room purposes, it was great for cheating the tedium of a rainy Sunday afternoon.
When things were jumping so Mother couldn't hear herself think, we young'uns would make charm strings.
A charm string had no purpose beyond keeping noisy kids quiet while, say, Daddy caught 40 winks. First, you need a box of buttons, and I wish you well. Dump the buttons on a big table and begin picking out those you'd like on your charm string. Maybe all yellow, maybe green. Maybe blacks and reds. Hunt and choose until you have enough. Daddy is now sawin' 'em off, and Mummy is supervising on tiptoe, and keeps putting a finger to her lips and going "Sh-h-h."
You'll need a length of Aunt Liddy thread or some ganging from Daddy's workbench. Put the buttons on the string according to your own desire. Let yourself go. Now tie off the ends, loop the thing around your neck, and the minute he wakes up, show Daddy what you did while he was asleep.
That's about it, except that sooner or later you must take the buttons off your charm string and put them all back in the button box. Somebody may need a button on a shirt cuff.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society