Thursday, March 23, 2017


One of the things I remember most clearly about being a little kid was visiting with my Grandmother Martin.  Maybe it's just mistaken, fuzzy, little girl memories, but it feels like I was at her house more often than I wasn't.  I never minded because I loved my grandmother a lot, and being there wasn't like being anywhere else that I knew.

She grew up hardscrabble, a daughter of sharecroppers, hard core country, but not in that redneck, NASCAR, pop-country music way that people think of as "country" these days.  She was born, lived, and died pretty much all in the same little patch of dirt in Limestone county, and I'm fairly certain that that was exactly the way she wanted things to be.

At her house there wasn't a room set aside, filled with plastic Fisher-Price junk for us grand kids to play with.  Nor did we haul bags of toys or video games back and forth when we visited.  When we were at Grandmother's house (and she would not be called Nana, Granny, or anything else except for Grandmother) we played cards, we played outside, in the barn, in the woods, or we found something she had stashed away to keep ourselves occupied, and boy did she have things stashed away.

Like a lot of people who lived through the depression, my Grandmother kept odd things.  She wasn't a hoarder or anything like that, but she was a very dedicated keeper of things that she thought might come in handy.  She also kept a treasure of "important" objects. It was through her, and the things that she kept in that tiny house of hers, that I developed a love of old things. I'm not talking about fancy antiques, although I can appreciate those on their own merits, but I'm talking more about old pieces of junk jewelry, old coins, old yearbooks, worn wooden tools, old quilts and other things that have stories attached to them. When my Grandmother passed away in 2006, I inherited quite a few of her special things.  It would probably seem like a lot of trash to anyone who didn't know her, but to me, they were all things that were special because SHE thought they were special.

One of my favorite things that she kept was an old, White Owl cigar box full of odd buttons.  I"m sure I've mentioned those buttons a time or two before.  When all of the grownups were in the kitchen talking and I was bored, I'd sometimes go and get that button box just to play with them.  That box had a specific sound, a very distinct smell, and it was endlessly fascinating to me for whatever reasons.  I'm sure they were all buttons from her family's clothes, and not things that she arbitrarily bought, so keeping them made sense. Divorced from their purpose, though, they became something much more interesting.  That box of buttons was the inspiration of my own, albeit less utilitarian, collection.

Whenever I go into a junk shop or an antique store, I always look for the jars of buttons.  Sometimes the ones you find aren't anything special.  It's hard to explain why that is, but you just have to have an eye for it.  Some jars came from people who were trying too hard to be "Shabby Chic" (bleh) and some are really just new buttons bought in a mix, like from a craft store.  The ones you want are the ones that make no sense all together.  There's no scheme, too many colors and shapes, maybe a little dirty, and usually in an old peanut butter or jelly jar. You can usually tell by looking closely if they are old, but sometimes you only find the good stuff once you open the jar.  Of course, I'm not EDUCATED on buttons.  I'm sure that there are people out there that could tell me if I had anything really valuable, but to be honest, I don't particularly care if they're valuable. I like them for other reasons.

I know that buttons must seem like such a silly thing to keep.  They are such ubiquitous things that most of us don't really think about, unless we lose one of course.  They are just a part of your everyday clothes, something you touch without thinking about them, but I think that's why I like them so much.  I like the idea of having something that was used, and that passed through a lot of hands to get to me.  Every time I get a new jar of buttons, I look at them one at a time and wonder where they've been.  I always separate them by color.

There are always more white buttons than any other color, which isn't surprising.  The plain ones got the most wear.  I like to imagine some grandfather's hands, buttoning up the same plain shirts every week to go to church, or maybe someone who had a job interview buying that shirt to look nice.  Some of the white buttons are made from mother-of-pearl, with traces of the oyster shell still visible on the back.  Some of them are tiny and feminine, and I wonder if they were on a long ago wedding dress, maybe a pair of gloves, or a baby's special outfit.

The neutral ones are second most plentiful.  Except for the ones made of wood or coconut shell, those are my least favorite.  It's hard to say why, except that I'm not fond of brown and gray, but occasionally you'll come across an interesting one.

The multicolored ones are my favorite, as they are the ones that are the most varied in size and shape.  I imagine most of these were from women's and children's clothes, or that there were some flashy guys out there back in the day.  There are huge buttons that I know had to have come off of someone's winter coat, and some that I know probably came from a woman's best Sunday dress.  Sometimes there is still a bit of material sewn on to the button so that you can see the fabric that they were attached to, which is fun.  




I also keep a separate jar of buttons I like the best, regardless of color.  These are the ones that catch my eye.  I don't know why, but they are the fun ones, or at least the ones that are the most different.  Some of them are pretty old, I think, and all are interesting in some way.  They also don't always make sense, fashion wise.  There's one in there that is shaped like an eggplant.  I have no idea what kind of thing would have eggplant buttons!

I have buttons which I don't keep with any of the others, but that I haven't taken pictures of yet.  I have some of my Great Grandfather's WWI uniform buttons and one shell button from the around the civil war (which I mentioned the other day.)

I suppose that it seems silly to get excited about something as silly as a button, but these are things that someone touched, used, and they had a history with someone somewhere.  These buttons were saved by someone for some reason, and I like to think about where they've been.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you about my buttons!  


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