When I was a little girl, my mother was the original recycler. Nothing was ever thrown away.
When I outgrew my clothes, any buttons were placed in a box, the zippers in a bag, and the
dress torn into rags and stored in the garage. The buttons would reappear on a new article
of clothing later on down the road, as would the zippers. The rags washed the car, cleaned
up after the dog, or wiped off a cabinet. Nothing was wasted.

This habit of saving buttons continued for over forty years. Eventually, she accumulated
literally thousands of them, all shapes, sizes, and colors. I asked her once what she was
going to do with so many buttons. She replied matter-of-factly, "You never know when you're
going to need a button."  This was her simple philosophy. Be prepared.

On several occasions over the years, I caught her "sorting" her buttons. She had a drawer
filled with neat rows of old flip-top cigarette boxes. In white medical tape across the top of
each box, she had labeled them:  small white, large red, jumbo black, and so forth. Lose a
small green button with two holes, or a light brown one with four holes?  One quick glance
and she could find an immediate replacement.

Cancer began to win the battle over her health. Several weeks prior to her death she
became completely unresponsive and unaware of her surroundings. I sat by her bedside day
and night on the small chance of her waking up just one last time. It was then that I
discovered the true value of her buttons - to her.  One night in the quiet of the room and quite
out of the blue, she spoke. Only once. Only one thing.

She said softly, "Oh, I've lost my buttons."

A whirlwind of questions filled my mind. Of all things, why, during this stage of the dying
process, did those buttons seem like the only thing of importance to her? Of such importance
that it had stirred an audible response from her when nothing else had?  It was the last thing
I ever heard my mother say.

Weeks after her funeral, that one statement continued to echo through my mind. Buttons! I
went to look for them in her drawer and they were no longer there. Searching through her
closet, I finally found them. They were no longer "sorted" by size and shape, but rather all
jumbled in a very large zippered bag in the top and back of her closet. What a myriad of
shapes and colors. It was quite impressive!

I sat down on the floor and opened the bag. Never had I ever seen or imagined such a
collection. The tears streamed down my face as I pulled out a handful of them and let them
sift slowly through my fingers. Mom's buttons. Mom's prized jewels. They were so important
to her that she even thought of them in the throes of death. Buttons! I still couldn't
understand. What was it that caused this magical hold on her? They were just buttons. Sure,
there were thousands of them. Sure, there were some very beautiful ones. But of all the
things in life to miss at death's door?  Buttons???

As the last few buttons trickled through my fingers, I saw it.  It wasn't round like the others
and it was very tiny.  I picked it up gently with my fingers and just stared at it.  Shaped like a
bowling pin, about a half-inch long, with two holes in the center for thread, was a black
button from my father's old bowling shirt.  In the late 1950's my father was on a bowling
team.  I remembered it vividly.  He wore a light gray shirt with short sleeves, black trim, a
black collar and pocket and these little black bowling pin buttons.  A rush of memories and
emotions flooded over me as I remembered the days of my youth.  Mother took in ironing in
those days to help make ends meet. My senses became so acute that the memories even
brought back the smell of her spray starch.

Rummaging through her old bag of buttons, I found even more memories. The
orange-flowered buttons she sewed on my centennial dress for our hometown centennial
celebration. The red apple-shaped buttons she placed on my red and white shirt in the sixth
grade. Then years later I used some of those same buttons on a little red summer dress for
my own daughter. The purple rose-shaped buttons that had adorned her favorite Sunday
dress. The memories were more vivid as I sorted through those buttons than if I had been
perusing old photographs.

I sifted through this colorful assortment. My heart filled with both joy and sadness.  Suddenly
I knew!  This wasn't a bag of buttons. It was a treasure of memories!  No wonder she kept
them for so many years. Suddenly it all made sense.

I pondered long and hard about what to do with Mom's buttons. Most of her sewing and craft
items were sold in the estate sale. But I clung to those buttons tightly. They were too
important.  Finally, I knew what I had to do.

The print I found was huge. It's a beautiful print of a large floral garden.  A beautiful white
gazebo stands in the center, surrounded by trees and flowers of every color of the rainbow.  
Placing the print on the dining table, I began sorting buttons by color and size.  I glued white
buttons over the white flowers, red ones, pink and purple, too, over each flower grouping of
that same color.  The brown ones covered the walkway to the gazebo and many green ones
filled in for the leaves on the trees.

In some of the areas that I couldn't find enough buttons small enough, or of the right size or
color, I filled it in with some craft "puffy paint". The bowling pin buttons fit perfectly on some
of the tree branches, the red apples hang from the trees as if ready to be picked and eaten.

Before this project would be complete, it needed just one more thing.  I found a photograph
of Mother, trimmed her out of the picture and pasted her in the garden standing next to the
gazebo.  In her hands, she now holds the floral centennial button.

The warmth I feel when I stare at this print now, of Mother in her beautiful button garden,
brings a great healing peace to my soul.

She has gone on, but she left behind a beautiful garden of memories.

If you would like to see photographs of the completed project, including close-ups for detail,
click here. Please be patient as it may take a little time to load all of the pictures,
depending on the speed of your internet connection.
Garden of Memories
© Ferna Lary Mills
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copying any poems or stories from this website.


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