Boxes and boxes of canning jars. When my husband helped his family clean out his grandmother’s old farmhouse, that’s what we found in the basement. Grandma Burdick always had a huge garden, spending many hours planting, hoeing, harvesting and preserving. She loved the outdoors and the farm life, and I’m sure must have felt a great sense of accomplishment when she gazed at the glistening shelves of canned goods.
These jars were the older type with the metal bale—the ones that took jar rubbers. The many years of re-filling had caused most of the bales to no longer fasten tightly, the glass on the edges of jars and lids was nicked, and in many cases jars and lids didn’t match up. Like Grandma Burdick, though, I hate to throw out anything that might possibly be useful. So…a big box of old canning jars came to live at my house, along with various other items like a bottle-capper (and a nearly full box of bottle caps), several odd sizes and lengths of stove pipe, some gardening tools and a big tin of buttons.
I love buttons. When I was small, I entertained myself for many hours with my mother’s button box. There were some big, colorful buttons that just begged to be strung on yarn and worn as a fancy necklace. There were smaller, sparkly buttons that could be used for rings and tiaras. Sorting, counting, pretending to be a princess –I still remember what fun I had. I thought of having a “button box” as a sort of rite of passage, I guess: I would know I was a grown-up when I had my own button box!
Years went by, and I wasn’t nearly as careful about hanging on to buttons as ladies of my mother and Grandma Burdick’s generation. They carefully removed buttons from shirts and coats when they were to be discarded, usually stringing like buttons together before adding them to the assortment in a box. These women sewed for their families and often went to the button box for a decorative touch on a child’s dress, a replacement for one lost on a cuff, or just simple fastenings to add to an everyday shift. I sewed a few things for my children when they were small, but often used snaps so I wouldn’t have to make buttonholes—and if I needed a replacement button, I would either buy a card of them, or I would put the item at the bottom of the pile and eventually take it with others in like disrepair to a rummage sale.
Until I saw that big tin of buttons….
First, I poured them all into a huge wooden butter bowl, and just set them on the coffee table. What a conversation piece! Visitors would sort a little, and then exclaim how they remembered similar buttons on a favorite coat, their grandmother’s sweater, or their dad’s Sunday white shirt. Stories were told and memories revived. Button boxes also hold other items, and so old garters were laughed about, delicate single earrings were admired, and interesting questions were asked about long tufting needles encased in narrow needle cases. Some of the buttons from this tin were old buttons made from bone – and when I realized that was why our family dogs also liked to sort through the bowl, I moved the bowl to another, less convenient spot.
Our oldest granddaughter came to visit for a few days. Emma was about six years old, and looking for some fun things to do on a snowy winter holiday. I remembered the buttons, poured them out onto a quilt and gave her some yarn. Just as I had at about the same age, she strung big buttons into necklaces and hairpieces, created imaginative stories, and sorted colors, shapes and sizes. As I watched her categorize the pieces, I thought of the connections between this little girl and me, her grandmother. My mother (her great-grandmother) had given me her button box to play with once upon a time. And now this six year old was playing with buttons that had been handled by her great-great Grandma Burdick.
I remembered the old glass canning jars. With Emma’s help, I washed and carefully dried them, and filled them with the buttons. We filled jars with like colors and sizes, covered them with lids and lifted the bale. It doesn’t matter if they are a bit loose or nicked on the edges.
When we finished, we put them on a shelf in my sewing room, and stood back in admiration. The colored buttons shone in the light on the shelf nearly as brightly as a shelf full of jars of preserves. And…isn’t that what we did? Preserved those memories of another day and another time?
I use the buttons in my sewing now, too. They are right where I can see them, so I can find a replacement button easily, if needed. I often use them on the totes and purses I sew, too, for a special decorative accent.
And, I’ll confess, sometimes I’ll just spill out a jar full of buttons onto a table or quilt to see what’s there. Buttons from a baby’s dress… a single oval with a painted flower in the center…a monogrammed orb of gold…memories, dreams and imagination preserved in a jar.
This post is shared with Thursday Favorite Things Blog Hop 112!