Was it because she had no daughter that my grandmother asked my mother, “Do you want my button can?” Perhaps. However, it was not the reason I heard.
No longer would my grandmother walk upstairs and sit at her sewing machine. Her feet would not treadle like a see-saw under the window. Her eyes would not glance out at what used to be her strawberry patch while freckled fingers deftly told the hand wheel when to go and when to stop.
Accepting she had come to the end of those days, my grandmother offered their last link to my mother. Buttons that for years had been snipped from worn-out shirts, blouses, dresses, coats, and pants passed to Mama. There was unspoken hope they would be revived on new garments.
As time would have it, there came a day when Mama relayed the button can—with her additions—to me. I had already begun my own collection; so I merged them. Watching the aged buttons tumble on top of mine, I was surprised to see again the three mother of pearl shell buttons.
Years before while exploring my grandmother’s button can, I had wondered about those iridescent buttons. Where had they once glistened? Had my great-grandmother sewn them on a special dress for my grandmother? Was it an Easter dress? Was it the dress she wore to the disappointing talent show she shared with me from her rocking chair? Or were they worn on something else forever buried in my grandmother’s memory?
In the end, those buttons from long ago, for whatever reason, had not been selected to adorn anything again. Yet, they had never been discarded. Not like “Family Buttons.”
I discovered “Family Buttons” framed and leaning inconspicuously against a box on a garage floor. When I asked the young mother if it was also for sale, she said yes and added, “My grandmother cross-stitched that for me. When she found out she had cancer, she made one for each of her grandchildren before she died.”
“How much do you want for it?”
Fifteen years later “Family Buttons” still speaks from a wall in my home. More than one guest has valued its words:
A button here from Grandma’s gown
Worn on her wedding day;
Another from mine, a pearl one,
Precious as words can say.
That one is from my husband’s shirt,
A blue one, I recall.
And those are from the baby’s things,
That’s why they are so small.
There’s buttons here from children’s clothes
Discarded through the years.
Buttons recalling happy times,
And some recalling tears.
Counting the different buttons
Sewn here around my rhyme
I see they form a history
Of a family—
On the day of his death, Moses taught the people he was about to see no more a song he had written. Among the words is the instruction, “Remember the days of old, Consider the years of all generations” (Deuteronomy 32:7 NASB).