When I was little, if I got sick, there were certain things I knew would occur. I’d be put to bed with clean sheets and plumped pillows (not that my Momma didn’t ever change the sheets!). Most likely, I would be subjected to the noxious smell of Vick’s Vaporub. Momma would serve me my meals in bed, and they invariably involved Campbell’s tomato soup with tiny oyster crackers floating in the bowl (instead of just plain saltine crackers). I could drink all the ginger ale I could hold. And, my Momma would bring out the “button box.” It was filled with “magic!”
The box of buttons was my Momma’s secret weapon for dealing with a cranky, sick child. She kept it carefully guarded in her arsenal, unless we were so sick we had to go to bed. We never got to touch it otherwise. For some reason, unknown to me at this stage of my life, we always clamored for it. I’m plumb embarrassed to tell you this, but on more than one occasion, I pretended to be sick just so I could sift through the buttons.
I could not tell you why my Momma had a button box. She didn’t sew (in fact, I have no clear recollection of her ever even sewing a button on a shirt). Maybe she kept one because her momma had one … and Grandmommy’s momma had one before that.
In days long ago, folks didn’t just take clothing down to the donation box when they no longer needed the items. When a garment had outlived its usefulness, the buttons were removed and stored, the stitches were ripped out of the seams, and the good parts of the fabric were carefully ironed and folded. That fabric was put away to await the “second coming,” when it would be incorporated into a new garment.
Momma had the good sense not to save fabric she would never use, but she darned sure saved the buttons. Maybe she kept those buttons, because she knew they were magic. At least, they certainly soothed the savage beast in us.
There were more than a thousand buttons in that round, red Christmas tin with the faded winter scene on the lid. The buttons were amazing; when we spilled them onto the bedspread, it looked like a rainbow had fallen to earth. To be sure, the box had its fair share of plain buttons from every shirt my father ever wore. But, there were buttons of every color, size, and shape you can name.
I counted buttons; I sorted buttons; I made swirling patterns on the sheets by lining up the buttons; I even practiced my addition, subtraction, and multiplication skills with those buttons. Once that button box was opened, I spent blissful hours sifting through them and I never once complained, or argued with Momma, or whined about my illness. Immersed in those brightly colored bits of ceramic and plastic, I forgot all the cares of the world.
I was thinking about Momma’s button box, as I sifted through the growing pile of “lucky charms” that I’m collecting to put into medicine bags for the “Good Medicine Project.” We will give them to children at Camp Sanguinity next summer. Those kids fight cancer (either as patients or as siblings of a cancer patient). I’m hoping they get the same enjoyment from sifting through the charms as I got from the button box. Maybe those charms will help to soothe them.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a button box would solve all our problems today? Maybe we should box up some pretty buttons and send them to government leaders in Russia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Korea, and China, and any other country we can name. Maybe those fellows would get so involved in making pretty patterns with those buttons that they would forget about arguing and fighting?
Nah. It wouldn’t work. But, wouldn’t it be nice if we could find something as simple as a magical box of buttons?
I bet your Momma had a special treat for you when you were sick. Maybe you had one for your own kids. Tell me about it if you feel the urge. While you are having urges, I hope you feel the desire to send some charms for the Good Medicine Project!