The Button Box
In this age of digital, virtual reality entertainment
I fondly recall the quiet hours of my childhood that I spent sorting through
the contents of my mom’s button box. The
button box was not really a box at all; it was a round metal tin about the size
of a one-pound fruit cake. I don’t
really know what the tin was originally used for; it’s only now thinking back
on it that I wonder why I never thought to ask. It had no label or printing; it
was just a simple red tin. Regardless of
its history, it did, in fact, hold buttons when I knew it. I thought at the time that it was the most
marvelous collection of buttons ever.
I had no interest at all in sewing or mending. I may
have noticed and asked about the button box, but I suspect that it was more
likely that my mother introduced me to it.
And I would guess that it was likely on an exceptionally cold or wet day
when it was not fit to be outside, since outdoors was typically where you’d
find me all the years of my childhood.
Now, as a parent and grandparent I’m pretty sure that my mother’s intent
And I would also guess that my mother did what I
always remembered doing when I asked to go through the button box. I always found an appropriately large area –
plenty of floor space – and I would shake the tin first, and then dump all of
the buttons out. What did a 10-year-old
boy do with a pile of buttons? The
possibilities were endless. There was
sorting by color and sorting by size.
There was even sorting by the number of holes in the button – one on the
back, or else two or four right through the button were the most common. You could sort by plastic buttons and metal
buttons; there were some made of glass and some were wood and others were cloth-covered. You could make button towers or try to make
pictures with them – kind of button mosaics.
There were buttons that had been likely used more than
once, because they were so common in size and color. And there were some that were likely only
used once, probably because they were so unique in shape or color that they
didn’t really match anything else.
Still, those were too unique to throw away; they absolutely must be kept
per chance that the need for just such a button would arise someday.
My favorite thing to do with the buttons was go
through them with my mother. She knew
the story of every button. She could
describe the old shirt or blouse or coat that the button had been salvaged
from. She remembered who it belonged to
and even how old they were when they used the button. She would tell me stories about them when
they owned the button. I learned a lot
about my older brother and sisters on button-sorting days. It was fun to picture them as kids too
because it seemed to me as the youngest that they were all just born old. I also learned how much my mom loved them,
because her eyes twinkled and she smiled as she told their stories. She missed them being little and being with
Possibility, imagination, distraction, history, stories
and connection – all found by a 10-year-old boy in a red tin box that supposedly
just held buttons.
His Peace <><