By Noreen Gallagher-Brennan
Grandma pushed her tea cup aside and tipped the contents of the round red box onto the table.
“My eyesight isn’t what it used to be,” she said. “Believe it or not. It’s a lot easier to find what I’m looking for, this way.”
My eyes dazzled at the display of colours, shapes and sizes together with all sorts of sewing accoutrements mingled with the fruit baskets on the tablecloth. I blinked to focus.
Picking up the porcelain thimble, I remembered fondly the day I bought it for Gran. We were on a school outing to Yeats Country. I was in my Inter-Cert year. I was surprised anybody could manage to keep something as small as a thimble for over forty years. Not surprising, the ink was faded. Gran kept things. No matter what you ever needed, she could produce it on request.
The picture on the lid was almost bare – more rustic-silver than sailor. Just enough of him left to recognise he was once there. The box was dented and rusty but did a good job holding the buttons and the memories together for all those years.
Each button has its own story but only one spoke to me. I picked it up. “Yes, I’ll keep that till the day the good Lord calls me home,” she said proudly as she picked up the thimble.
Placing it on her forefinger she browsed through the pile, stopping to examine just the odd button. I rolled it through my fingers and remembered how I cut it from the cuffs of a navy jacket when I was a teenager.
Six deep on one sleeve and only four on the other. It caused bulk I didn’t need. The jacket looked great with my two-tone flares and platforms. I matched it with a crisp white shirt and turned back the sleeves to expose the beautiful purple lining. The whole look was complete with white turn-up cuffs. Cool and classy. Those buttons just didn’t suit.
They spoiled the look! Grandma had just finished knitting a waistcoat for my sister Peg. She was looking for a suitable fastener to finish it off. My little trip down memory lane was interrupted when she said in a high pitched tone.
“I spotted a button in that box that would do the trick and for the life of me I don’t know where it went.” Reluctantly, I opened my hand and asked “Is this what your looking for?” “Yes, that is the very one! Great, I’ll get this job finished at last. It’s been on the needles for over six months.
Between the jigs and the reels I am only getting it finished now.” “I wanted to use this particular button as it had a special meaning,” she said. “Yes I know,” I murmured. Grandma looked surprised. “You… You what? I’m afraid not. It was way before your time. That button is from a navy terleyne costume, I bought it for your uncle Tom’s wedding in the early fifties. A lovely suit it was, but your mother insisted on clearing out the wardrobe and giving all about the place to the cancer research after your Grandpa passed.
I wore it just a few times to the chapel and some of the buttons somehow found their way into this box. Of course it wouldn’t fit me now anyway; it was only a size twelve.”
“That’s strange, Grandma. I bought a navy jacket with buttons exactly like this in the Charity shop in town. There was six on one sleeve and only four on the other. They didn’t do much for my cool image. The boys didn’t like brassy buttons. A bit military looking, remember, I like to dress to impress.” We both laughed. “Well, imagine that.”
Gran proceeded to thread the needle. Strange indeed! Grandma gathered all the unwanted buttons back into the box.
“All these buttons have their own story,” she said. “Sounds like that brazen brat wants to stay in this family. I don’t know where the rest of them have gone. That costume could tell a tale or two I’m sure,” She smiled. “So, Gran, when are you knitting me a waistcoat?” I asked. “If you’re willing to wait, I might have it finished by this time next year.”
The following winter, she did knit me a yellow waistcoat. She never got to put the button on it. The good Lord called her. RIP. We still have the waistcoat and the button box. I guess it has earned its right to remain.