Mrs. Benge and Mrs. Jones were salvagers in that time when women - talking with pins in their mouths - spoke of challenging feats of threading eyes and attaching zipper feet. (Really, when you think of it, these were tasks worthy of fairy tale stature.) Their daughters, granddaughters or nieces – almost always the girls - sat at their feet playing while absorbing the lessons of economy. With the wolf at the door, the last dollar spent, women – the ones who collected buttons - could hold the fabric of their family’s dignity together by rummaging through their collections of buttons and transforming old clothes into new.
My Aunt Lucille was such a child. I know because she was a good seamstress and in my inheritance, she gave me a large collection of buttons. She told me that they had belonged to her mother, Mrs. Jones, and to her mother’s good friend, Mrs. Benge.
I sew. Not anything like my fore-bearers could, but I can sew a straight seam, put up a hem or replace lost buttons. My sewing box was at first just a tin and then after my inheritance arrived, I got an old metal box with handles. My little tin could fit inside. Eventually, I replaced that box with a double foldout wooden one that I purchased for two dollars at a Seattle yard sale. Being bigger, it became a jumble over the years. I’ve been meaning to straighten it out.
I like being able to find the right color of thread, safety pins (love them) and needles and, of course, just the right button.
Maybe now I will sew a little row of tiny buttons made of abalone shells on the window curtain (an old twenty-year project) or make a purse with my leather needle and use that huge black and white button to close it. If, however, I get to neither project, I plan to will the buttons to someone in my family of the next generation. And maybe they will also get the wooden sewing box with its button-like black knobs.