I’m currently staying with my parents to get a breather from my totally messed up life and help them sort out theirs. My mother asked me to sort out her buttons, and now I am awash in nostalgia.
You see, my mother is not a casual seamstress. It’s not that she’s ever sewn professionally. She’s just sewn mostly by necessity since her early childhood. Until I reached high school, the vast majority of my clothes were sewn by her. It was cheaper, and she had the skill to do it quickly in her tiny bit of spare time within de facto single motherhood.
Since she sewed so much, she bargain hunted her materials against future need. Thusly did she amass an impressive collection of buttons. Some of these buttons were on little paper backings, some were strung like bracelets to keep them together. And still others were loosely kept in boxes and empty spice bottles.
Being a strange child, sometimes I went into her sewing room and played with her buttons. I would imagine a little button making factory, and the buttons would go down slides created from electric car tracks, through lego buildings, attended to by particularly small stuffed animals. Sometimes I just looked at the buttons, and imagined fantastic clothes and the people who might wear them – some of her buttons were very interesting. She had buttons for future Halloween costumes, for Christmas outfits, and for blossoming tendency to be a dandy. I wore a shocking number of poodle skirts in between the jeans and flannel in elementary school. I once used a string of silvery buttons to make myself a pair of mariachi-style studded jeans. They were fantastic. I never a lost a button on them, either.
Now I am sitting at her long white sewing table, a large pile of jars, boxes, and strings before me. The buttons have different textures. They clink in pleasing ways as I shuffle them into different plastic cups for sorting out and stringing. And they have a unique smell. Did you know that? Buttons have smells. There’s the smokiness of wooden buttons. The sticky smell of varnished buttons. The tang of metallic buttons. The void of glass buttons. And the strangely warm scent of old plastic and vinyl buttons. Have you ever caught a whiff of an LP? It’s a little like that, but fainter, less oily. It makes you think of dusty attic rooms that children secret themselves away in, to play with the past.
Smells contain memories. These take me back to sitting on the once carpeted floor of her sunny sewing room, the room my brother was not allowed in, clinking my buttons and humming. It’s a peaceful, creative nostalgia.
I am more than happy to sort her buttons.