Once full of Mom's favorite sweet pickles, the half-gallon jar with the red plaid lid now catches the afternoon sun on my basement bookcase. It chronicles a lifetime of memories: the pewter-colored buttons from Grandpa's jacket, the lime-green flower-shaped ones from Mom's Easter dress, and the imitation-pearl shank buttons from my first satin blouse.
Over the years, Mom and Grandma snipped hundreds of buttons from outgrown and worn-out clothes and stored them in the safety of the wide-mouth container. I inherited the family button jar and over time have added my own colors, shapes, and keepsakes.
As a small child, I'd watch Mom pour the stockpile into a large flat pan. Together we'd sort through the collection to find the perfect match to replace a lost button from a row on Dad's chambray shirt. I loved sifting through the assortment of fasteners, recalling my sailor dress or Dad's tweed coat.
Mom helped me practice my counting and colors while we refilled the jar.
In my teen years I began sewing, and the jar full of buttons with bits of fabric and thread still attached became my buried treasure.
Mom opened the lid and a slight whiff of vinegar caught my nose as I poured them into the pan. They sounded like hundreds of BB's hitting the aluminum. We'd sort through them and find just the right color and size. We'd see who could remember the original source of the buttons as we sat side by side on the couch.
Years later, Mom presented me with her jar full of memories. She'd come to visit me while I sewed for her. Then I relinquished my spot next to Mom on the couch to my young daughter, Dawn, and the two of them sifted through the buttons to find the right ones for the blouse I had made Mom.
"This one's from your mother's favorite red dress," she told Dawn as she held up a small gold button with a flower embossed on top. They searched for more reminders of my childhood fashions and held up their discoveries for me to see.
I listened as Dawn practiced counting and learned the different colors her grandma pointed out as they carefully refilled the jar.
Mom has since passed on and Dawn now lives several states away. But I still dip into my heirloom menagerie for sewing. One evening, after watching me sift through a pan of buttons, my husband gave me a plastic box with several compartments.
"I thought this might make it easier next time you needed a button," he said. "You could separate them by colors into the sections and not have to keep them all mixed up in that jar."
"Thanks," I said, "but I'd be breaking up the family."