Joy Writing: Buttons tell history, bring back memories
by Joyanna Love
Jul 06, 2014 | 396 views | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joyanna Love
Joyanna Love
Recently, I had the opportunity to see a collector’s inventory of rare, unique and historic buttons.

I never knew anyone collected these functional clothing accessories, and other types of buttons, except maybe for craft projects or sewing.

When I was in elementary school, I played with my step-grandmother’s jar of buttons.

My widower grandfather had recently remarried, and I was still getting to know “Mom-Mom Marion.”

Marion was the one who gave me my first sewing kit. A little tin shaped like a miniature retail store complete with a red plastic thimble, tiny scissors, thread, sewing needles and, best of all, a needle threader. Anyone who has tried to get a thin strand of thread into the miniscule eye of a needle should understand my dismay when the needle threader broke. I have since learned to thread a needle the hard way, though I rarely use the skill.

My grandmother’s encouragement for me to learn to sew went a lot further than my attempts to get her to teach me how to crotchet — but that is another story.

Most of the buttons in her collection were plain. However, sometimes when I found a special one I liked, she would let me keep it.

My limited skills with a needle and thread will never rival hers. She sews quilts by hand. Two of these quilts made the journey from Maryland to Tennessee with me.

My grandmother’s skills go beyond quilting, though. She is also prolific at stuffed plush bunnies.

One Christmas, she and my grandfather gave me a toy bunny with a dress to match one she had made for me. The dress was dark blue and tan. The bunny had an apron to match the dress.

That bunny is a little worse for wear after all these years, but I still have it.

My grandmother made several of these for children she knew, including my sisters, down through the years.

I doubt any of the buttons I played with as a child are worth much more than what was paid for them.

The collection I saw the other day was like seeing the history of the world through buttons.

Many of the major wars for the United States and some of them for Europe were represented.

There were buttons styled after those of the emergency responders of 9/11.

Painted buttons from the 1800s pointed to the culture and activities of the wealthy. Portrait buttons chronicled the desire to capture an image of a loved one and keep it close. Buttons from Europe featured fairy tale characters and King Arthur. There were buttons made from just about any material imaginable.

I was also able to hold a button from the first president of the United States’ inaugural campaign.

It’s days like that which remind me why I love my job. Those days that remind me why I wanted to get into journalism in the first place — to learn new things and share them with others.

I once met and wrote about a man who had a collection of log cabins in his backyard. I enjoyed being able to walk into the historically styled buildings and climb the stairs to the second floor. I was disappointed in a recent trip to Red Clay State Park when locked bars prevented me from doing the same thing. However, looking into a cabin at Red Clay gave me more of a historically accurate picture than those I had explored.

I never dreamed I would write a story solely about buttons, but that’s where my curiosity led me after seeing a sign for a button dealer/collector.

I haven’t ever set out to be a collector. Nonetheless, I have several collections that have amassed over the years — penguins, souvenirs, candles, graduation tassels and photos — just to name a few. Books full of photos collected from my childhood sit on a shelf. I’ve also collected books from my favorite series.

As a child, I collected rocks. I remember finding a smooth rock that was as big as my hand and painting it blue and red.

Now, one might say I’m collecting news articles. While they might not be as exquisite as hand-painted buttons, they do chronicle local history in the making.