Button box holds treasures

Published 11:55 pm Friday, July 3, 2009

I ran across my mother’s rusty old button box in a dresser drawer while I hunted something else the other day. I rubbed my hand over the rough cover and remembered the day I rescued it from the junk man.

Mother had sold her home in Panama City, Fla., and she and I and a couple of my cousins were trying to empty the house. She’d been preparing for this for weeks, but in the final countdown when she was to turn the key over to the new owner, things got hectic. Although at first she had found it hard to part with almost anything, she had reached the point of abandon. That day she turned to the three of us and said, “Take it if you want it and if you don’t, pitch it in the garbage or put in the junk man’s pile.”

I knew she had really weakened when she told her neighbor to take away my granddaddy’s heavy wooden homemade trunk that held some of his coal mining tools. We referred to it as the mystery box because it had a picture of an unidentified woman on the inside lid. I felt a little sad as he tugged on it, but forgot about it when my cousin held up a battered plastic bag with a tin box in it. “Junk man’s pile?” she asked Mother.

“No. No, I want that,” I yelled above the din of the trunk scraping over the sand we’d tracked over the floor. I think I understand why someone coined the phrase, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” That alleged trash bag my cousin held was a button box I remembered from my childhood.

Days later at my own house, I spread a piece of newspaper on my living room floor and dumped out the contents of the box. My mother leaned over to pick up a card labeled “baby pearls.” It held two tiny buttons. She said that she had sewed the missing buttons from that card on a batiste baby dress she made for me.

We had fun sorting through those buttons in that box. Sometimes she picked one up and reminisced about a garment on which she had placed a similar one. They were all sizes and shapes—round buttons, square ones, some with ridges, several shaped like chocolate kisses, flower-shaped ones, clear ones and a few covered ones.

Although most everything in the box was buttons, there were a few more items. I picked up a pretty blue marble and a “Peerless Cahaba Coal Co.” half-dollar-sized coin with a hole in it. I saw something red that turned out to be a five-mill Alabama sales tax token. There were also some parts of a Popeye the Sailor Man toy, but not all.

I wondered if anyone else could get as enthralled with such as we had. Trash? No. Treasure? To me, yes. It’s all a matter of opinion.