Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Grandmom's buttons

A great building will never stand if you neglect the small bricks.
~Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

My grandparent's house had a small pocket of space adjacent to their laundry room.  Looking back on the intention of it's functionally in constructing the space, I'm sure the home builders assumed it would serve the purpose of a tiny office space or a storage closet.  While my grandparents did utilize the closet within the room closet for toys, coats, and other non-essentials of daily life; to me, that room was 'the sewing room'.

My grandmother was a pretty crafty seamstress in her day.  She was one to go to when you needed clothing repaired, costume pieces made, or the basics of sewing to be instilled.  I would spend hours of my childhood in that small, overstuffed space; watching her sew, and eventually being given control of the pedal myself.  I would find scrap fabric swatches on which to practice sewing straight lines and wavy lines in random patterns; both for fun as well as the occasional 'gift', when I felt like I needed to share the beauty of my abstract fabric art with the nearest family member victim. {now as a mom, I realize how uncomfortable I made my family when I would present them with a piece of 'art' that was honestly more worthy of being kindling than hanging awkwardly in plain sight for an uncertain amount of time}

For as much time as I spent in that small space, I would always manage to view it through the intoxicating lens of a treasure hunter.  I'd poke and prod around the shelves that hung above the sewing machine, peer into the cabinets and drawers; in search of I don't know what...but something new.  Something yet to be unearthed from the historical troves of my grandparents' lives.  More often than not, my search proved fruitless; so much so that recalling my findings now leaves me drawing a blank on the specifics.  But there was one place where I knew I would always be able to strike it rich.

The button can.

An old coffee can, having served it's original purpose years before I was even born, was the perfect place to score when you needed the high of an never-before-discovered treasure.  It was over that can that I would spend a great deal of time, pawing through its contents, sensorially calming myself as the buttons slipped through my fingers.  The tinkling sounds of plastic and enamel and metal merged together to create a cacophony that usually resulted in my grandmother suggesting I pour the can out, so as to be able to see everything better, all the while reducing the annoying sounds of a child playing with buttons in a can.

I'd spread the wealth of treasure over the orange shag rug {the 70's rocked}, conscientious of the smaller buttons that could become lost forever in the depths of the thick, fiery mass of deep carpet pile.  My fingers would amble over the buttons, selecting ones worthy enough to lift from the carpet for further inspection.  Occasionally, I'd choose a button or two to keep; ones that would serve as a worry stone of sorts, meant to be kept securely in my pocket for those times when I needed to methodically run my fingertips over the shape and designs in a feeble attempt to calm my {what would become life-long} battle with anxiety.

Being the oldest child and only granddaughter had its perks.  I was gifted with many hours of one-on-one time with my grandmother; talking, learning, shopping, coupon clipping, cooking, enjoying.  But it was the button can where I could capture her attention in a way that would result in my unearthing more than a button's worth of treasure.

My grandmother has always been thrifty.  A keeper.  A re-user.  Plastic bags, wrapping paper, empty margarine containers, you name it.  Sure, the family liked to razz her about her little quirks, but it is in those quirks that her legacy is found.  Take the buttons, for example.  Each time she'd encounter an extra button on a new article of clothing, she would methodically ensure that button found its home in the can.  Even after the article of clothing was long gone from her closet, those buttons would still remain.  Other buttons found their way in to the mix as well, and each of them held a story.  It was in my grandmother's thriftiness, in her inadvertent button collecting, that I found some unique treasures as she shared snippets of stories while rubbing her fingers over the various designs.  Fancy buttons that had adorned wool women's suits, textured boucle buttons that served their purpose on jackets worn over shift dresses, ornate enamel buttons from various skirts and blouses, and even ordinary plastic buttons from the more commonplace tops of daily life.  Each of them held a story, but as a child, my concern wasn't with the ordinary buttons.  The small, round, white buttons whose job it was to keep the cuffs of my grandfather's shirtsleeves closed when he was in meetings.  The large black buttons that secured cardigans and coats, worn daily by my grandmother as she performed the mundane tasks of running a household.  The no-names.  The left-behinds.  The buttons that didn't encapsulate an evening of dinner and dancing in a fancy ballroom, or a well-loved suit worn the day of a grandchild's christening.  I discounted those buttons, those reminders of what really took up the most space in that can.  They weren't the ones I wanted to hear about; and to be quite honest, I couldn't figure out why my grandmother kept them, with their ordinariness taking up space in the magical wonder of that can.

I hadn't thought much about that can of buttons in a long while until just the other day when I was perusing the aisles of the hobby store I all-too-often frequent.  I had a specific Valentine's Day craft in mind, which called for both red and pink buttons, so it was in that aisle that I soon found myself eye to eye with this:

Beckoning me.  Staring me in the face, boasting its random assortment beauty, quietly whispering "pick me up, take me home, search me for treasures".  Of course, when a plastic bag of buttons begins talking to you, it might be a sign of one-too-many coffees and one-too-few hours of sleep; but regardless of how my affair with insomnia has affected me, I found myself placing the bag securely in the front section of my cart, right next to my purse.  

When I got home, Raegan and I spread the buttons out on the carpet, and she immediately began searching for the 'pretty' ones, the unique ones, the magical ones that have the most ornate designs.  She began collecting ones that she regarded as 'pretty', fully intent on keeping them for herself, all the while discarding the ones she considered 'ordinary'.  

That's when I found God.

Right in the mess of buttons; right in the midst of the whining child, who couldn't understand why I would no longer allow her to assign labels and segregate and decide which buttons belonged in which pile.

Everyone has a can of buttons.  Our daily buttons far outweigh the fancy ones, but it is within those fancy ones where we try to find our worth.  We cast aside the mundane, the small plastic buttons, the no-name closures because they don't seem special.  They don't seem worth it.  We find ourselves asking why we even kept those buttons, because, really, will we ever need them again?  When the answer is YES!  Yes, we will need them, yes we will want them, yes we should keep them.  The ordinary, the mundane, the plain little plastic buttons make up the greater majority of your coffee can.  They're the days that you roll out of bed and perform the same dance of life that you do every other day.  They're the days when you look at yourself in the mirror as you brush your teeth before bed and think, "did I really accomplish anything worthwhile today?  Did I make an impact?".  They're the days when you robotically perform tasks and do what you need to in order to make sure your to-do list has received more checks than additions.  

It's in these buttons, these mundane and boring buttons where God meets us.  He sees our ordinary, daily-use buttons and observes them with his God-glasses to see the ornate beauty we may miss.  He sees the perfectly pierced holes, placed correctly so they can be securely fastened to an article of clothing with nothing but a thread.  God becomes that thread.  His strength is what makes something as thin and wispy as a few strands of fiber become the conduit for keeping that ordinary button secured to the uniform we wear to do life.  When we work the buttons each day as we become and unbecome the ordinary life-liver, they can begin to loosen a bit.  They wiggle, they sag, they even fall off.  Soon, those ordinary buttons we so easily overlook and discard become a necessity.  We need them to keep a shirt closed, a coat secured, a pair of pants around our waist.  We need the strength of that God-thread to keep those buttons in just the right place.  We realize just how much we love those ordinary little buttons, the ones without the ornate detail, or textures that make them so intriguing.  While God's in the details of those unique buttons and those special occasions upon which we don our fancy buttons;  it is in the plain and ordinary that we find ourselves needing His strength even more.  

The stories housed within the sparkly, the carved, the bejeweled buttons were always a highlight for me as a child, listening to my grandmother recall a time when she wore the ensemble to which the extra button belonged; watching her eyes soften as she replayed the memory in her mind, wishing so much that I could curl up inside that memory with a bucket of popcorn and watch it play like a drive-in movie.  

I don't recall asking her about the ordinary buttons.  The ones I'd cast aside in exchange for the pretty.  And I'm not sure if I did ask her that she'd even be able to recall the origin of any of those particular buttons, for after a while, they all start to take on similar characteristics.  But she still kept them.  Maybe for reasons as simple as "you never know when you need a button", but I'd like to think she kept them to keep track of the ordinary.  To make each button count.  No matter how plain or how small or how dull and normal they may appear, I'd like to think that my grandmother kept them because she saw church in those buttons.  She saw a time capsule of her life in clothing, a collection of all kinds of days that made up the life she'd lived thus far.  She realized that even though some buttons were boring and not-so-pretty, that each had a story to tell, a purpose, and a place. 

My grab bag of buttons doesn't have the personal history that my grandmother's can did.  Each one does represent a story, a history, a reason for existing...but I can't look at those buttons with my children, let me eyes soften, and replay a memory in my mind.  So maybe it's time to start my own button collection.

I just need to find a coffee can.

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