Each button in the jar had its own story, and she knew them all by heart. The Button Jar.
July 23, 2013
A VG Serial: The Button Jar
For everyday wear for her daughters, Bertha would go to Mr. Daniel’s five-and-dime store on Main Street and buy from his relatively limited supply of cotton cloth and his inventory of patterns and buttons. For special occasions – graduation dresses, wedding going-away attire – she would do her cloth-buttons-pattern shopping in some of the finer stores in Dallas on her rare trips there.
When she finished making an item of clothing for her children, she would put one of the extra buttons from the button card in the button jar. Each button in the jar would have its own story – what her children thought of the item, the response of others who saw it, where she got the idea for it, to what event it was made for.
Bertha knew each story.
She could recite each story in vivid detail.
And often did.
Sometimes quietly out loud to herself.
Bertha had bought the jar for a dime at a yard sale. It was a large jar, a two-quart Ball Mason jar with a zinc lid. The moment she picked up the jar from the yard sale table she knew what its purpose would be – the button jar.
As she finished each dress, each blouse – all the while pedaling her Singer furiously and with singleness of purpose — Bertha would snip one of the extra buttons from the button card and drop it into the button jar.
So in time, the jar would button by button be filled with an array of button sizes, shapes, textures, materials.
Buttons that were of bone and mother of pearl and fabric covered and brass and copper and glass and more.
Buttons that were dyed and painted and ornamental and celluloid and Bakelite and Lucite. Raised, flat, square, circular, tiny, large, in-between.
Buttons of more colors than could ever be found in even the largest, king-sized box of Crayolas; green, orange, black, brown, white, yellow, pink, red, blue. Plus all the hues in between. Maybe some that the people at the Crayola company had never heard of. Or even imagined.
The button jar would not only be filled with buttons.
It also would be filled with memories.
Special, joy-replenishing memories.
Forever memories that were hers.
Inside each button in the button jar was a story, a story that only Bertha could tell with exacting detail, with precise emotion and feeling.
So Bertha’s sewing went on, the making of dresses and blouses went on, the years went on.
Sometimes, as she sewed, she would smile and wonder and try to calculate how many miles she must have pedaled on her Singer.
The button jar became fuller and fuller.
As did Bertha’s life.
And that of her little family that lived there in the little frame house at 2022 Rose Street in Mansfield, Texas.
Until that life was horribly shattered that icy day in February when Bob was making his rounds on the two-county grocery delivery route and his truck slipped out of control and slid into a farm road concrete bridge abutment, sending him head-first through the shattering windshield and brutally hard onto the truck’s unforgiving hood.
The state trooper who investigated said Bob died instantly, limiting the pain and suffering.
Bertha, though devastated, at least found some solace in the trooper’s finding.
Life as she knew it was destroyed, gone in a nana second.
One by one, the children graduated college – their tuition and books provided through scholarships and work-study program’s and Bertha’s seamstress business — and went away; Beatrice to a telephone company headquarters job in Kansas City, Bonnie to a state government job in Austin, Bobby Two to a junior executive’s job in Seattle.
As each one left, the little frame house at 2022 Rose Street in Mansfield became increasingly unbearable for Bertha.
When Bobby Two went away, the last bit of Bertha’s spirit went with him
Where liveliness had dwelled, loneliness – stultifying, erosive loneliness – had come to rudely shove the joy of it, the meaningful purpose of it out of the way.
Bertha also had severe arthritis in her arms and legs. Her strength was diminishing. Her memory sometimes abandoned her.
One spring, after the late-in-winter blooming of the front yard full of yellow daffodils, Beatrice, Bonnie and Bobby Two came.
Time had come, they counseled, for Bertha to give up her home, at least temporarily, and move into the 24-bed care center in Ennis, about an hour’s drive away.
The little frame house would be rented with Bertha’s furnishings.
That way, Bertha could return to live there should she improve, regain her health and strength and once again be able to care for herself.
Bertha and the children agreed to that, though individually each one of them instinctively knew full well that time would never come.
Bertha told her daughters and son she wanted to do one thing before making the change.
Bertha wanted to give her Singer Sewing Machine to the local historical society for its museum.
Beatrice had always placed dibs on the sewing machine, being the only daughter that had shown interest in learning to sew.
But she knew her mother had her heart set in seeing her Singer placed in the museum, so she reluctantly agreed. Besides, Beatrice seldom sewed any more and, if she wanted to, she had a portable, electric machine.
Two men in a truck came to pick up the Singer. Bertha watched them, in silence. Then she picked up her broom, swept her home for the last time, turned to her children and said:
Chapters of the Roger Summers short story, The Button Jar, will be published on Tuesday.
Please click the book title, Heart Songs from a Washboard Road, to read more about the collected short tories of Roger Summers.