The Button Box

Certain moments stay in your memory forever and this is one of mine. We were visiting my grandmother’s apartment house in Brockton where Dad grew up as a boy. Grammy Coombs was known for her pillbox hats and pearl earrings, and she had been showing me her special box of buttons that she had collected over the years.

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This carved wooden box looked like a tresure chest to me, filled to overflowing with twinkling, colorful magic that captivated me like nothing ever had before. Old buttons, new buttons, fancy buttons, plain buttons. Pieces of old pearl earrings that had lost their mates or backings. My favorites were the colored glass beads that shimmered when you held them up to the light. And the box smelled wonderful, too. Of powder, soap and roses, just like Grammy.

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Afterwards, when my family was getting ready to head back home, Grammy pulled me aside, placed the box in my hands and told me not to tell my parents that she had given it to me. It was to be our secret. She looked so happy that her box was going home with me.

Sadly, my parents discovered the secret as we were packing up the old station wagon. I can’t remember exactly what was said, but Grammy’s button box never made it home to Cape Cod.

For years I wished that I had that box of my grandmother’s with all of her special things tucked inside it. Yet now I can see that my Grammy recognized in me an imaginative mind that saw magic, even in an old button box, and she wanted to foster that. I can still see her now during her visits to our home at Christmas time. She would sit on the porch in the old family rocker, a string of pearls around her neck, smiling as she watched my sister and I sing and dance our hearts out to scratchy old “Sound of Music” records. Her normally stoic, serious expression was literally transformed by the music and our pirouettes, as if she was being transported to some faraway place that made her smile.

Yet even without her button box gift, I have truly inherited my grandmother’s love of pretty baubles and beads. I am a devout collector of pearl necklaces and earrings, in all colors and sizes, that I find at yard sales and thrift shops.

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And as a milliner designing custom ladies’ hats I get to play every day with wondrous gems and jewels like the ones that filled my grandmother’s button box. My hats are often trimmed with glass beads, metal buttons and shimmering crystals. I love nothing better than layering several buttons like a collâge, and then stitching them into the center of a rose curl or along a brim edge for a bit of extra pizzazz and sparkle.

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What were my grandmother’s dreams for her life? Did she see in me a little girl who might someday dance and sing in faraway places, places that she had always wanted to see herself when she was young? Whatever her hopes and dreams may have been, I carry her with me as she and I adorn fancy hats that go all over the world to horse races in Ascot, teas in Scotland and weddings on the Island of Mauritius. And you know, I do believe that I can see my Grammy smiling even now…

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Thank you once again for visiting Hats and Horses!

Sally

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Author: hatsandhorses

Sally Faith Steinmann is the owner and designer of MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS Custom Millinery. A native of Cape Cod, Sally creates couture hats for the Kentucky Derby, Royal Ascot, Saratoga, weddings, teas, and garden parties. MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS sponsors "Hats Off to the Horses", an annual online Derby hat fundraiser for the retired racehorses of Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement facility in KY.

4 thoughts on “The Button Box”

  1. This was another fabulous read Sally! I can absolutely picture your grandmother, and how wonderful that you craft a bit of her memory into your creations.
    I wish you had that box though.

    1. Aw Sue, thank you for your words. The blogs lately have been so heartfelt, and I find myself learning something along the way even as the words spill onto the page. Amazing. And I wish I had that box, too, I did my best to replicate the feel of it in the photos… 🙂

  2. You truly have an amazing gift and art. Your grandmother sounds like such a special person. I am recently getting an education about the value of buttons in history. My hubby has started to collect Civil War military buttons and it’s a whole world onto itself. What a wonderful and love filled post this is.

    1. Aw…thank you Emily. She was, a very special lady. And how COOL about your button 101 education! Hoping there might be some button photos soon, hmmm??? Thank you for all your kind words…

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