Saving Buttons

One of my fondest memories of my childhood is playing with my Grandma Ruth’s button box. She had an old Sunshine Biscuit tin with two little girls on the front filled with old buttons carefully removed from worn-out trowsers and thread-bare dresses.

Though I remember playing with the button box, taking out the buttons and marveling over their various colors and shapes, the button box was certainly not a toy. Even in the “modern age” of my youth, we often went to the button box to find a replacement for a buttonless shirt or a new vest.

Saving buttons was just a part of the thriftiness of homemaking that was so much a part of my heritage. Clothing was worn until it was worn out, and the buttons were saved to bring life to a new handmade piece of clothing.

Wendell Berry, in his novel Hannah Coulter, describes this aspect of domestic arts in the character of Hannah’s Grandmam.

“She never gave up on her clothes until they were entirely worn out, and then she ripped them up, saving the buttons, and wore them out as rags. She was an old-fashioned housewife: determined and skillful and saving and sparing. She worked hard, provided much, bought little, and saved everything that might be of use, buttons and buckles and rages ans string and paper sacks from the store. She mended leaky pans, patched clothes, and darned socks. She used the end of a turkey’s wing as a broom to sweep around the stove.”

Because my grandmother saved buttons, my mom saved her buttons, too. She was part of the last generation who knew the necessity of excelling in the domestic arts. Though my mom now has a dishwasher and microwave, and buys all of her clothes at Kohl’s, her early life began in a different time. She still saves her button.

And because my mother saves her buttons, I save mine, too. None of my buttons came from a piece of worn-out clothing. In fact, the buttons I have collected in my tiny ceramic dish each came in their own plastic bag. So far removed from the necessity of saving buttons, these little buttons are just “extras,” attached to a new sweater or blouse just in case another one is lost.

But even though I may never need one of these treasured buttons, I think of my grandmother each time I carefully remove one from its plastic and place it in the dish. Saving my buttons reminds me that caring for the things I have, even down to the tiniest button, is a spiritual act of stewardship.

And when I see those buttons spilling over the edges of their tiny home, I am thankful.

Thanks to many of you who have been praying regarding the possible genetic testing. After meeting with the genetic counselor and spending the last couple of weeks in contact with my insurance company, I gave them permission today to begin the process of genetic testing. The first set of tests are conducted on samples of the original cancer tissue removed almost two years ago. If the find evidence of possible Lynch Syndrome there, then I will have further dna tests done on my blood. My medical and family history are suspicious for this syndrome, but the chances that I have this syndrome are still actually very small. If I do receive a positive result a few weeks down the road, then all this will mean for me now is more rigorous cancer screening.

Meanwhile, my next CA125 screening will be the second week of August.

Photo by Meike Schönhütte via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons.

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Charity Singleton Craig

Charity Singleton Craig is a writer, author, and speaker, helping readers grow in their faith and experience true hope in the middle of life’s joys and sorrows. She is the author of My Year in Words: what I learned from choosing one word a week for one year and coauthor of On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts.


  • L.L. Barkat ,

    I love old buttons. Think of the hands that opened and closed them, the lovely and the gnarled.

    • Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus ,

      I’m a button saver, too. My daughters use the extra buttons in their home art projects. They also love to fill jars with them and use them as “Barbie” food. 😉

      I prayed for you today — that He would button you up with His care and presence, and pull you firmly in with the thread of His love.