Friday, September 24, 2021
HomeRecommendedMy grandma saved buttons, too

My grandma saved buttons, too

Old house

My grandparents raised three daughters in the Great Depression. During the dust bowl they had to put wet towels around the inside of their windows to try to keep dirt from blowing in, but every monring there would be a mound of dust on the sills anyway. Also, there was hunger. Mom told me there were times when all they had to eat was popcorn. She told me that was because the hoboes had broken into their cellar and stolen all their food. I wonder whether that isn’t a story she was told to explain why they didn’t get enough to eat. I only learned this long after I had kids of my own, and it is still hard for me to believe that my Mom’s family had suffered through all that. My memories of my grandparents are different, but they may explain why I am a conservative, at least in part.

I cherish my memories of our visits to Wetmore, Kansas as a touchstone of my beliefs, values and principles. My grandparents’ way of living and looking at the world have settled deep into my heart and bones. Gone to their eternal rest many, many decades ago, I still react to situations in ways that bring them to my mind and heart, and always in a good way. Grandma may have had a refrigerator back then, but she kept a drawing of mine taped to the kitchen threshold for probably ten years. She didn’t have to tell me she was proud of me; seeing those Crayola tulips hanging there year after year said so. The stability of their love and attention is a treasure irreplaceable and, as grandparents are wont to do, they filled in the gaps left by day-to-day parenting of Mom and Dad.

A few years back I went on a quest on the internet to see if I could find a button box. Only it had to be a special button box, just like the one Grandma used to let me play with when I was little. It was round, maroon lacquered, with small flowers painted on the top. But it wasn’t the box that enchanted me. It was the pretty and fascinating buttons that she kept inside. There were not many playthings around my mother’s parents’ farm. Just an old kaleidoscope, a metal spinning top, and the antique version of the ViewMaster, called a stereoscope. None of these were my cup of tea, for it was the buttons that delighted me.

I can remember a lot of things my grandma saved. Ribbons discarded from gravesites that she wove into throw rugs; dishes, glasses and knick-knacks that she told us she had found “in the ditch;” old Army blankets she cut and stitched into quilts for the cots and beds we slept in at her house; large juice cans that she covered by the fives together and upholstered to become footstools for her living room. (Footstools were handy in old houses warmed by an ancient stove with a black pipe that disappeared into the second story.) We also learned the use of a chamber pot in winter, which was a darn sight better than visiting Mr. Outhouse in the middle of the night, even if there was a plank walkway for avoiding the mud in the yard.

The wonderland became more pleasurable with better weather. Our favorite haunt was the front porch, where after dinner the family sat in chairs and rockers, watching the tree in the yard get dimmer and dimmer, while Grandpa cracked jokes and laughed at our stories. And, on quiet summer afternoons, there was a seeming fairyland, where I could gaze at the myriad pansy-faces which my grandma’s loving hands had planted under the draperies of the willow tree in the side yard. A play-house and a garden, rolled into one.

Grandma loved to work. She kept a big kitchen garden and canned her own fruit and vegetables. There was a large room on the second floor, lined with jars that she had put up. And, of course, Grandma cooked. A lot. And the first thing you heard on waking up was my grandma, whistling hymns as she made breakfast on the wood-burning stove. It was really a concert, because she also raised canaries in her bedroom. There was a competition between her and the birds in the kitchen cages as to who could out-whistle who, as we rubbed our eyes and realized we were at Grandma and Grandpa’s! And there would be bacon and eggs! No Rice Krispies!

Grandma had a boundless energy. She used a push mower to cut the entire farmyard by herself, partly ‘cause of Grandpa’s rheumatoid arthritis, but partly ‘cause she wanted to. I remember one little new-born lamb Grandma had to care for in the house because it didn’t have a mother. We got to feed it with an eye dropper. Grandma could grow anything. She had tiers of glass shelves in her windows with African violets on them. Grandpa had his prize rose garden, and his sheep shearing. But mostly he tended to listen to his humongous floor-model radio, and later on watched his television. There was very little that transpired without Grandpa finding a way to get us to laugh along with him. His inner curmudgeon was cynical, but not mean about it. I’m sure my poor Grandma prayed for patience many times a day, but in our innocence we thought she probably wanted to pound him on the head with her ever-busy rolling pin.

Honestly, the only downside I remember to going there was, their farm dog was pretty unsociable. He took being a guard dog very seriously, did old Tinkie. Oh, and it was a bit creepy going up the long, narrow and very steep stairway to the second floor because we knew there was a rug at the top of the landing with a real bear’s head that looked like it didn’t like kids, either.

After all this longwinded story, I have to disappoint you. I didn’t find that button box on E-bay. But my Dad made me a new one that is very nice, so I can save buttons in it, too.

redneck hippie
Kansas native, reformed treehugger. Restore the republic, revive traditional America. Redneck hippie. Blogger since 2007--Accept no substitutes. twitter: @redneckhip

18 COMMENTS

Leave a Reply

18 COMMENTS

    • Thank you, that is high praise, coming from you. The lessons of the generations before us are made from human lives. My grandparents were nothing unusual, a WWI vet and a schoolteacher who did the best they could with what they had. We conservatives are nothing if not preservers of the legacy that came at such cost. Every time I think about what “change” in the hands of a self-aggrandizing fool has wreaked, well, I’ll just stop there. Our day is coming, and it is through clinging to our constitution and our bible that we will prevail.

      • Red, nicely done!

        It made me recall my grandmother’s button box. We used to use the buttons to bet with in our card games. Back in those days, people saved everything . . . because you might need it some day.

        My wife got after me the other day because I boxed up some old blankets for storage in the attic. I just couldn’t make myself get rid of them. Somebody was whispering in my ear “you might need it some day.”

        Simpler times back then… maybe better. I’m hanging on to the legacy for dear life.

        • Our old ones recycled way before it was cool. We never used buttons for chips. Leave it to a Texan to come up with that! Something tells me we’d have seen a re-enactment of Christ with the moneychangers iffen we’d ever tried using any of Grandma’s buttons in our poker game.

          I have to tell another story. Grandma was religious all her life. Grandpa and the uncles, not completely. One day Grandma was sitting in a recliner in their newer house, and someone snuck an empty beer can onto the arm of her chair, and then took a picture of it. Jocularity ensued.

  1. This is great writing, RH…I continue to be amazed at how much we all have in common…but then again, perhaps I shouldn’t be, because it’s what we have in common that brought us all here.

    My grandmama, mother’s side, had a stereoscope and button box, too! Not maroon lacquered, though…it was maroon cardboard (Old Spice box), but it is a favorite memory from childhood. I have it still, and it is one of my treasures:

    https://i167.photobucket.com/albums/u152/kimberlysschwartz/2011-03-25_19-51-19_156.jpg

    • Very cool, KS, and I do enjoy your writing. Sometimes I remember that I didn’t show my appreciation for my grandparents as much as they deserved. But then again, it helps me to realize that when my own grandchildren seem taken up by their own affairs, that someday when they are old like us, they will remember what is important.

      How nice that you have your treasure! There are a couple of things I ended up with from Grandma’s kitchen that she left to me because she said I always told her that I thought they were so beautiful–a small pink crystal sugarbowl and creamer set. I also have the cedar hope chest my Grandpa made for Grandma before they married, that I’m saving for my daughter and grand-daughter.

      I think grandparents, especially moms and grandmoms will like my little story, because it is so typical of families in general and of our particular century.

      It’s a terrible sign of our times now that only 21% believe their children will be better off than their parents per Rasmussen reports. We have our work cut out for us.

  2. How neat. We have even more in common than I knew.

    My grandma didn’t have a button box, but one of the drawers in her old treadle sewing machine was *full* of neat old buttons. We used to spend hours in there looking through them and sorting them all out.

    And she crocheted rag rugs, gardened, farmed, tatted, and all that stuff too. I was always amazed watching her tat. She taught me to crochet, churn butter, garden, milk, and make home-made apple cider, but she could never teach me to tat. She could make that little shuttle go so fast, you couldn’t even tell she was hooking and flipping it. It looked for all the world like she was just moving it back and forth, but she did it as fast as a fan.

    And her tatted lace was beautiful. I still miss those lazy summer days, when we didn’t have TV or air conditioning, so most of our time was spent climbing around in the hay barn, playing outside, or our very favorite, eating watermelon.

    What happy memories you have brought up.

  3. My other Grandma taught me how to embroider, but I taught myself how to crochet before my first was born. Another legacy of both my grandmas was learning to bake, especially pies. If they hadn’t made it look so easy, I doubt I ever would have attempted it. My Dad’s mom used to make the most delicious home-made noodles. We used to eat them raw while she was rolling them and cutting them out on the table. I was thinking about that when I decided to try and make home-made ravioli. Man, that was work, especially because I decided to do it when I was pretty far along with my 2nd daughter. Oh, my aching back!

  4. Redneck, thank you so much for this lovely remembrance! As with nearly all of us, your beautiful word-pictures brought back a wonderful tsunami (not always a negative word!) of memories, many not visited for years or even decades. I find it comforting so many of us have these common touchstones buried in our heritage; it’s one other element which binds us all together.

    My keepsake isn’t a button box, but an outboard motor! Our folks sent us to stay with Grandma & Grandpa for a month (or three?) as they struggled with the difficult pregnancy which resulted in our baby brother. Sis was 2 or 3, so I was around 10 and I got out of maybe a month of school to go live up in Wisconsin. Grandpa fished religiously each night, mornings too on the weekends and did he teach me things! First, rowing the shoreline, how to cast, most importantly how to clean the fish so Gram could fry ’em up for a delicious lunch or dinner the next day. Eventually, my skills progressed to the point where not only could I row, fish and clean, but operate the motor! Skimming along back to the dock at a screaming 5 mph was great, light-years better than *$#^& rowing! Said motor is today proudly displayed, under a spotlight, in my workshop.

    All the things, great & small, explicitly taught or simply by example, we’ve gotten from our family, cumulatively make up who we are today. I shudder to think what the legions of my aunts & uncles, parents & grandparents, all gone now, would say looking at our current political and economic situation. I do know their opinions, to a man (or woman) would not be what you might call ‘politically correct’; I’m with them!

    Thanks again, Red; very nicely done!

    • Teach a boy to fish, and he’ll never be bored. You just reminded me how much Grandpa loved fishing. So much so, he dredged a pond. Me being a girl, and squeamish about worms, I never visited the pond. But my 2 uncles and their 9 boys and my brother and Dad sure did. (I did fish my brains out for 2 years in Umatilla, FL to make up for lost time, though.) Your little motor with a spotlight on it made me laugh. A strange “household god,” but no stranger than a glass rolling pin. Bet it’d look purdy with a spot on it!

  5. Thanks Red, as the comments suggest, we all seem to have so many similar background stories, though we live is vastly separated areas of the country. We owe a great debt to our grandparents who taught many of us how to endure hardships at need and to appreciate the riches we now have.

    Mark, did that little motor happen to be a reddish brown color and started with a pull rope that you wrap around the pulley at the top? My grandpa has a little motor like that. We all loved to motor around the lake when we could get the old thing started.

  6. Oh, red! how your piece took me back in time…… I was just thinking of my own mother’s button box the other day, and lamenting that my own grandkids don’t have one of those to sift through on rainy days. I remember all the “special” buttons, those that were very dressy-looking, like the ones with rhinestones on them, or the ones that had colored stones of some sort. They seemed so mystical to me back then, as if each one held a story that was waiting to be told.

    And I remember my own grandma, who lived in Chicago while we were growing up in Tennessee. She introduced us to the best poppyseed Danish and let us drink “coffee” that was mostly cream and sugar lightly tinted with some caffeine. When she came to visit us in Nashville, her rural upbringing in North Carolina came to the forefront as she showed us how to look for and cook “poke salad” from the edge of the woods around our back yard. She was a faithful southern Baptist who took an Austrian Jew as her third husband, and he was the only grandpa I ever had. They made a truly wonderful couple who adored each other. Thanks for writing this and giving so many of us the opportunity to go back in time!

    • So glad you found this, janis, because I was thinking of you and your family as I wrote, as well. Know that long after your flesh has been transformed to glory, your wee ones will memorialize all you mean to them. I kind of wish my memory was as good as yours. All I truly remember about the buttons themselves is that I thought of them as a hidden treasure that only my Grandma possessed. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of those unusual metal ones were from an old military uniform, though the exact appearance of the buttons is lost in the film of time.

      Another thing we did while there was get into a trunk full of old clothes and hats and put on a fashion show for the grown-ups. I think I remember seeing a movie of it.

    • Thank you, that is high praise, coming from you. The lessons of the generations before us are made from human lives. My grandparents were nothing unusual, a WWI vet and a schoolteacher who did the best they could with what they had. We conservatives are nothing if not preservers of the legacy that came at such cost. Every time I think about what “change” in the hands of a self-aggrandizing fool has wreaked, well, I’ll just stop there. Our day is coming, and it is through clinging to our constitution and our bible that we will prevail.

      • Red, nicely done!

        It made me recall my grandmother’s button box. We used to use the buttons to bet with in our card games. Back in those days, people saved everything . . . because you might need it some day.

        My wife got after me the other day because I boxed up some old blankets for storage in the attic. I just couldn’t make myself get rid of them. Somebody was whispering in my ear “you might need it some day.”

        Simpler times back then… maybe better. I’m hanging on to the legacy for dear life.

        • Our old ones recycled way before it was cool. We never used buttons for chips. Leave it to a Texan to come up with that! Something tells me we’d have seen a re-enactment of Christ with the moneychangers iffen we’d ever tried using any of Grandma’s buttons in our poker game.

          I have to tell another story. Grandma was religious all her life. Grandpa and the uncles, not completely. One day Grandma was sitting in a recliner in their newer house, and someone snuck an empty beer can onto the arm of her chair, and then took a picture of it. Jocularity ensued.

  1. This is great writing, RH…I continue to be amazed at how much we all have in common…but then again, perhaps I shouldn’t be, because it’s what we have in common that brought us all here.

    My grandmama, mother’s side, had a stereoscope and button box, too! Not maroon lacquered, though…it was maroon cardboard (Old Spice box), but it is a favorite memory from childhood. I have it still, and it is one of my treasures:

    https://i167.photobucket.com/albums/u152/kimberlysschwartz/2011-03-25_19-51-19_156.jpg

    • Very cool, KS, and I do enjoy your writing. Sometimes I remember that I didn’t show my appreciation for my grandparents as much as they deserved. But then again, it helps me to realize that when my own grandchildren seem taken up by their own affairs, that someday when they are old like us, they will remember what is important.

      How nice that you have your treasure! There are a couple of things I ended up with from Grandma’s kitchen that she left to me because she said I always told her that I thought they were so beautiful–a small pink crystal sugarbowl and creamer set. I also have the cedar hope chest my Grandpa made for Grandma before they married, that I’m saving for my daughter and grand-daughter.

      I think grandparents, especially moms and grandmoms will like my little story, because it is so typical of families in general and of our particular century.

      It’s a terrible sign of our times now that only 21% believe their children will be better off than their parents per Rasmussen reports. We have our work cut out for us.

  2. How neat. We have even more in common than I knew.

    My grandma didn’t have a button box, but one of the drawers in her old treadle sewing machine was *full* of neat old buttons. We used to spend hours in there looking through them and sorting them all out.

    And she crocheted rag rugs, gardened, farmed, tatted, and all that stuff too. I was always amazed watching her tat. She taught me to crochet, churn butter, garden, milk, and make home-made apple cider, but she could never teach me to tat. She could make that little shuttle go so fast, you couldn’t even tell she was hooking and flipping it. It looked for all the world like she was just moving it back and forth, but she did it as fast as a fan.

    And her tatted lace was beautiful. I still miss those lazy summer days, when we didn’t have TV or air conditioning, so most of our time was spent climbing around in the hay barn, playing outside, or our very favorite, eating watermelon.

    What happy memories you have brought up.

  3. My other Grandma taught me how to embroider, but I taught myself how to crochet before my first was born. Another legacy of both my grandmas was learning to bake, especially pies. If they hadn’t made it look so easy, I doubt I ever would have attempted it. My Dad’s mom used to make the most delicious home-made noodles. We used to eat them raw while she was rolling them and cutting them out on the table. I was thinking about that when I decided to try and make home-made ravioli. Man, that was work, especially because I decided to do it when I was pretty far along with my 2nd daughter. Oh, my aching back!

  4. Redneck, thank you so much for this lovely remembrance! As with nearly all of us, your beautiful word-pictures brought back a wonderful tsunami (not always a negative word!) of memories, many not visited for years or even decades. I find it comforting so many of us have these common touchstones buried in our heritage; it’s one other element which binds us all together.

    My keepsake isn’t a button box, but an outboard motor! Our folks sent us to stay with Grandma & Grandpa for a month (or three?) as they struggled with the difficult pregnancy which resulted in our baby brother. Sis was 2 or 3, so I was around 10 and I got out of maybe a month of school to go live up in Wisconsin. Grandpa fished religiously each night, mornings too on the weekends and did he teach me things! First, rowing the shoreline, how to cast, most importantly how to clean the fish so Gram could fry ’em up for a delicious lunch or dinner the next day. Eventually, my skills progressed to the point where not only could I row, fish and clean, but operate the motor! Skimming along back to the dock at a screaming 5 mph was great, light-years better than *$#^& rowing! Said motor is today proudly displayed, under a spotlight, in my workshop.

    All the things, great & small, explicitly taught or simply by example, we’ve gotten from our family, cumulatively make up who we are today. I shudder to think what the legions of my aunts & uncles, parents & grandparents, all gone now, would say looking at our current political and economic situation. I do know their opinions, to a man (or woman) would not be what you might call ‘politically correct’; I’m with them!

    Thanks again, Red; very nicely done!

    • Teach a boy to fish, and he’ll never be bored. You just reminded me how much Grandpa loved fishing. So much so, he dredged a pond. Me being a girl, and squeamish about worms, I never visited the pond. But my 2 uncles and their 9 boys and my brother and Dad sure did. (I did fish my brains out for 2 years in Umatilla, FL to make up for lost time, though.) Your little motor with a spotlight on it made me laugh. A strange “household god,” but no stranger than a glass rolling pin. Bet it’d look purdy with a spot on it!

  5. Thanks Red, as the comments suggest, we all seem to have so many similar background stories, though we live is vastly separated areas of the country. We owe a great debt to our grandparents who taught many of us how to endure hardships at need and to appreciate the riches we now have.

    Mark, did that little motor happen to be a reddish brown color and started with a pull rope that you wrap around the pulley at the top? My grandpa has a little motor like that. We all loved to motor around the lake when we could get the old thing started.

  6. Oh, red! how your piece took me back in time…… I was just thinking of my own mother’s button box the other day, and lamenting that my own grandkids don’t have one of those to sift through on rainy days. I remember all the “special” buttons, those that were very dressy-looking, like the ones with rhinestones on them, or the ones that had colored stones of some sort. They seemed so mystical to me back then, as if each one held a story that was waiting to be told.

    And I remember my own grandma, who lived in Chicago while we were growing up in Tennessee. She introduced us to the best poppyseed Danish and let us drink “coffee” that was mostly cream and sugar lightly tinted with some caffeine. When she came to visit us in Nashville, her rural upbringing in North Carolina came to the forefront as she showed us how to look for and cook “poke salad” from the edge of the woods around our back yard. She was a faithful southern Baptist who took an Austrian Jew as her third husband, and he was the only grandpa I ever had. They made a truly wonderful couple who adored each other. Thanks for writing this and giving so many of us the opportunity to go back in time!

    • So glad you found this, janis, because I was thinking of you and your family as I wrote, as well. Know that long after your flesh has been transformed to glory, your wee ones will memorialize all you mean to them. I kind of wish my memory was as good as yours. All I truly remember about the buttons themselves is that I thought of them as a hidden treasure that only my Grandma possessed. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of those unusual metal ones were from an old military uniform, though the exact appearance of the buttons is lost in the film of time.

      Another thing we did while there was get into a trunk full of old clothes and hats and put on a fashion show for the grown-ups. I think I remember seeing a movie of it.

Must Read