Not long ago I bought some new clothes. As I was hanging them up, I noticed a little packet of spare buttons attached to one blouse. Nothing unusual about that…but for me, time stood still for just a moment as I held those buttons and allowed myself to enjoy a flood of happy memories. This is a scene that is repeated every time I find the spare buttons on new clothes.
To anyone else, they are just buttons. Buttons that most of us probably set aside or misplace. But to me, they are a treasure. They bring back my mother. My mom. My mommy.
For as long as I can remember, and likely before I was even forming memories, my mom kept a button jar. Every time we got an outfit that had a packet of spare buttons, they went straight into the jar where we could find them if we ever needed them. I can’t remember one time when we actually went to that jar to find a specific button. It would have been quite a task to sift through them all to find the right one, but we always kept every button there. Just in case.
Finding a packet of spare buttons whisks me straight back to the kitchen of my childhood home. I can see mom cooking dinner (it’s always her famous fried chicken!) and I am sitting nearby, dumping buttons from the jar onto the floor to see what game they might inspire.
To five-year-old Nancy, that wasn’t a jar of buttons, it was a jar filled with rare and valuable coins. It was a bucket of food for my imaginary horses. It was a treasure chest of rare gems that I could thread into necklaces. It was a jar of shapes and color just waiting to be arranged into hundreds of different murals.
So now, spare buttons are all the more precious to me. When my mom passed away, the button jar was the one thing from her possessions that I really wanted–no, needed. Now it is far more than a jar filled with buttons. It is a jar filled with sweet memories, with laughter, and with innocent joy. I have still yet to need one of those buttons and likely never will. But I will always cherish that jar beyond any treasure my mom could have left for me.
Other family members have given me similar gifts of memory. My grandfather bought me a fountain drink once when I was just a girl and when I removed the paper from the straw, he instructed me to blow through the straw before putting it in my drink. “You want to be sure there’s nothing in there you might choke on.” I smile every single time I open a straw and always blow into it before using it.
My grandmother gave me the gift of a very specific scent–her scent. I can only describe it as a cross between a yummy pie baking in the oven, cinnamon and mothballs. That may seem a weird combination, but it is the BEST smell and I run across it from time to time out of the blue. I know it’s just her saying hello.
My dad’s gift to me comes in the form of a good dirty joke. Odd as it may seem, when I was “at least 21 and weighed a hundred,” as Dad would say, he and I would compete to see who could tell the other the worst (and by worst I mean best) joke. Now anytime I hear a good/naughty joke, I just have to laugh and picture my dad chuckling right along with me. I thank him for giving me a good/bad sense of humor.
My dear sister Cindy gave me the gift of a specific time of day we dubbed drive-time. This was our time…my 30 minute weekday commute home from work and our time to share the day’s accomplishments, failures, frustrations, and triumphs. It was the best therapy in the world after a long day at work and I cherished drive-time, ending every call by saying, “You talked me all the way home again!” I still often use this time on the road to talk things over with my sister, and I know she still hears me.
These people I have loved and lost have left me a gift beyond compare in these special little memory triggers–not to bring back the sadness of their passing, but rather to remind me of the joy of our time together and their impact on my life. In reality, thanks to these memories, I guess I really haven’t lost them at all. They pop up all the time, gracing me with smiles and love from days gone by–reminding me to always stop and cherish every single spare button.