Cleaning the garage. A rite of spring- all the stuff that gets stashed and piled all winter long is finally dealt with. Among the ice scrapers, jumper cables and other sub-artic gear was a small cardboard box. Inside were some things of my parents that were left behind after they passed on, those items with no worth and no particular sentimental value for my sisters and me. Still, I can't quite throw them away, not after these many months, these traces of their lives that aren't quite grand enough to warrant display. The biggest item is an old peanut butter jar, filled with buttons. My mother's button jar, she had it for as long as I could remember, and she used it occasionally, mostly for a dress shirt that had lost a plain white button, or for a child's hand-me-down jacket that had to make it through one more winter, no matter if the button matched.
But it is the other buttons, the fancy ones, old fashioned, probably from clothes she had bought when she was young and single, working at the arsenal during World War II, that stir my emotions. She had left the farm and gone to Minneapolis, gotten a job, and for the first time in her life had money and things to spend it on. There were a few pictures, taken at night clubs and bowling alleys- out with the girls, in her new clothes and permed hair, but these humble fasteners were the only physical reality that she had of those times. Before she became too ill, I wonder how many times she would open that jar, finger a few special buttons, and recall what once was.
Now, I can buy an armful of clothes at the thrift store for the equivalent of what she spent on a simple blouse, or a few pair of nylons. When I lose a button, I usually toss the shirt. I've never mended a pair of socks, and never had my shoes re-soled. And I have no button jar of my own to remind me of my now-spent youth.