Treasures from a button box

Last Saturday morning, my husband lost the waistband button on a pair of khakis. "Would you please sew on another button?" he asked me.

"Sure, that's easy enough," I replied, without thinking about what I was saying.

I was remembering my childhood home, where mending chores were common and easily accomplished. I knew I'd find just the right-size button in a matching color. That's what my mother always did.

Following my confident reply, I realized I lacked the means to deliver on my promise. I didn't own any old buttons. I didn't have a collection of castoffs safely stored in a tin. Flush with new-fashioned ways, I'd forfeited the luxury of finding the perfect replacement, illuminated by memories, at the bottom of a button box.

This was a problem my mother never faced. She was always prepared with a ready supply of fasteners. Her own memories of the Great Depression forever fresh, she cut the buttons off worn-out clothes before they began new lives as rags.

If she purchased a card of new buttons for a sewing project, the extras would join their recycled kin in the box. She still maintains her cache of buttons today, occasionally sharing it with my children and me.

Mother introduced her button box to my children when they were preschoolers. They were crafting paper-bag puppets and debating how to form the facial features.

"I know! We'll find some eyes in here." Mother spoke like a happy conspirator as she jiggled riches above their heads.

She snapped the container open as the children crowded closer around her. Small hands reached inside, and a new generation discovered button bliss. With a flourish, Mother dumped the tin's contents onto her kitchen table. Buttons flashed, crashed, clattered, and rolled.

I relished the anticipatory rattle that rang out in my own childhood whenever I lifted Mother's button box from the closet shelf. The music only got sweeter as I carried or shook the closed tin.

I remember the sound of the lid popping off - a dull bang that heralded tactile joy. My hands would dig into the box, sifting treasures.

Gliding knobs briefly imprinted themselves on the skin between my fingers. Sparkling shapes played hide and seek, creating a kaleidoscope within the box. A sweet aroma wafted from the jumbled contents.

Years later, that enticing scent lingers. My daughter, recently borrowing the buttons for a sewing project, tells me, "It smells like Grandma inside."

Mother's button box served many purposes in my childhood. Besides offering up supplies for restoration, it held memories and created them. I learned to count and to do arithmetic with Mother's buttons. I practiced sewing them on odd scraps of fabric, and later, on my own clothes.

Sometimes I just enjoyed the buttons' colors, textures, and sounds.

I relived moments spent in clothing once bound by particular buttons. I discovered family history lurking in the crevices of others, listening as my mother shared tales of buttons whose active lives preceded my birth.

Unfamiliar buttons prompted me to create my own stories. I fancied buttons that worked magic only when stitched on just the right garment.

Playing with buttons, I reveled in abundance. I learned early that buttons hold a lot more than fabric together. They anchor me to enduring aspects of myself, to my past, and to the people I love. With a gentle twist, a button can define, unite, and transform.

Indulging yet again in my mother's generosity, I tapped her resources to mend my husband's pants. She's an octogenarian, a widow living alone in the house she's kept for 50 years. I carried the khakis to her home, seeking sustenance as much as assistance.

The button tin was still on the closet shelf, and a gentle shake released its familiar jangle. Once opened, the contents shimmered. Amid rhinestone studs and daisy circles, I spied a polished ivory disc. The size was right for a khaki waistband.

I stitched it on, renewed.

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