It might be trash to some, but it’s an interesting button tin for her

Published 2:22 am Saturday, March 2, 2019

My grandmother’s button tin, long forgotten and tucked away in a drawer, turned up on Mother’s moving day. It appeared just a few hours before she turned the key over to the new owners.

It had been difficult for her to break up housekeeping, sell her house and get rid of most her possessions. During the final countdown, she was tired and ready to relinquish the few remaining items. I knew she had weakened when she told her next-door neighbor to take away my granddaddy‘s wooden homemade trunk containing some of his coal mining tools. I felt a little sad to see it go. It held a kind of a mystery all its own; a picture of an unidentified woman was glued to the inside of the lid. It wasn’t Grandmother.

Never the less, Mother said, sighing heavily, “If there is anything you want, take it, and if you don’t, pitch it or put it in the junk man’s pile,” I noticed “The junk man,” as we had labeled him, was waiting in a truck parked discretely a few doors down from the house.

A niece dropped by and claimed a couple of potted plants. She bent over and when she raised up, she held a plastic bag above her head. “Junk man’s pile?” she asked. I realized it held a dusty tin box spotted with rust. “No, I want that,” I said. Over the noise the man was making dragging the heavy trunk away on the hardwood floor, I had to repeat myself before the plastic bag and its contents disappeared in the junk pile.

Now I know what that familiar expression, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” means. The trash my cousin was about to drop was my maternal grandmother’s button box. It might have looked like trash to her. To me, it was a treasure. I knew that sometime over the years Grandmother had passed it on to my mother. She had carefully tucked it away. Maybe she had forgotten all about it.

Mother and I were almost exhausted that night, but not too tired to explore the contents of the box. I emptied the contents on a newspaper sheet spread across the dining room floor. We began to explore. Almost immediately my mother picked up a small card labeled “baby pearls” with two small buttons on it. “I sewed the missing four buttons on a batiste baby dress I made for you a couple of months before you were born,” she said.

Besides buttons of all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors, there was a pretty blue marble and some wooden parts of a “Popeye the Sailor Man” doll among them.

We played with the buttons about an hour. When I closed the tin, my hands were dirty. My heart was happy. I think Mother went to bed happy thinking of the buttons. I wondered if anyone else besides us could get so enthralled over a rusty box of “trash.”

Nina Keenam is a former newspaper reporter.