The Button Legacy by Ginger Marcinkowski
“When the weather was bad and we couldn’t work, Mother would make a batch of chocolate walnut cookies and we’d all gather ’round that old box. Every time Mother pulled a button out, she’d have a story to go along with it. Dad said the button box contained a secret, but I never found it.” [told by young John early in his marriage to Ellen]
This story focuses on an item that in and of itself was not very remarkable. At first glance, it was only a brass colored metal box with a squeaky hinge. Inside were just buttons. Today, we don’t think about saving buttons, because plastic has made this item disposable and ordinary. But in the early 20th century, and hundreds of years earlier when buttons were works of craftsmanship, they were necessary, expensive and saved for future use. As far as legacies go, buttons don’t rate very high on the scale, but in John Polk’s family, the buttons had memories associated with them. Memories, even sad or tragic ones, are potent stories. In John’s family storytellers wove vibrant tales worth retelling because of the life lessons they carried. They moved the legacy forward from one generation to the next.
John’s great grandmother handed down this button box to his grandmother, who handed it down to his mother, who handed it down him (he had no sisters). While he didn’t appreciate the significance of this inheritance at the time, his new wife did. She began adding buttons (and memorable stories) to the box long before he learned to love the tradition himself. Some of the stories were told to his two daughters. But the true legacy wasn’t just the reminiscences of the “good old days.” It was in the intangible element found in those stories.
When John’s girls had children of their own, he continued to collect buttons and tell stories from the special box when his grandchildren visited. He hoped the lessons learned would stay with them the rest of their lives. But more importantly, he prayed for his girls, and he prayed for his grandchildren and their children. When he passed away, the box was given to his daughter Carol. In time her sister Moreen visited, and when she reached into the box and pulled out a button late one night, she finally understood the desire in her father’s heart that he tried so hard to impress on her through those family stories. Even after his death his legacy, tucked in among the buttons and tales became important to her. Before she died, she asked her sister to give the box to her rebellious daughter, Emily. Would the legacy continue?
Reading this book was like experiencing warm honey on a freshly baked biscuit hot out of the oven. I loved this short story! It is a work of fiction but had special meaning for me since I had a grandmother with a button collection I used to play with as a little girl. My grandparents had a pantry/closet in the big kitchen where they kept theirs. It wasn’t in a box, it was a large jar of buttons. On rainy days when I was little, my grandmother allowed me to take down the container and play with the buttons.
Unlike today’s buttons–the usual plastic round buttons–these buttons came in all shapes and sizes and materials. I remember some very heavy coat buttons, metal buttons, pearl-like buttons, ones that looked like jewels, oval ones and square ones, wood buttons, some were covered in fabric, some belonged to furniture, and every other type you could possibly imagine. They didn’t always come with a story, but often taking out the buttons triggered some memories of family members I would never have heard about if it weren’t for these reminders. I think I came about my love of history through those interesting family stories.
What good stories like these encourage are bridges among the different generations within a family. All families need connectedness to help us gain a sense of belonging, our roots, where we come from. Sometimes we don’t see the necessity of that connectedness until we are older. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I have. Perhaps it will stir up some memories of your own to share with your family.
A complimentary review copy was provided to me by the author and Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC). I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.