“Going, going, gone—for $3 to bidder No. 43, the lady in the last row, white hat.” The auctioneer rattled off my auction number and location as I bought the memories of a lifetime, packed into a 1950s cookie tin.
I gave the box a shake and heard the rattle of buttons hit the cover. I took a peek and saw hundreds of buttons, pins, and other trinkets glittering in the sunlight. Replacing the cover, I turned my attention to the auctioneer. As I listened to his cadence, my eye caught the movement of a swing on the front porch. A petite lady with thinning hair watched the happenings in her yard, her eyes wandering through the crowd, trying to find the faces of her neighbors and friends.
Carrying an armload of purchases to my car later, I chatted with her about the large gathering and the prices her things were bringing. Her eyes reflected sorrow at the passage of time and the loss of her independence. She would be moving to a progressive nursing home in town after the sale.
I showed her the button box I was carrying, and she looked up, tears glistening in her eyes. I asked if she minded if I sat with her a while. She slid over on her swing to give me room.
Her eyes fell to the box, and I removed the cover so we could view the contents. Her gnarled hands lifted a handful of buttons before slowly dropping them back into the container. Her tiny fist closed around a delicate pearl button now yellow with age.
She smiled as she told me about the birth of her first child and the special pearl-buttoned christening outfit that would be worn by five more babies before time wore it thin.
I put my hand into the box and pulled out a large, dark brass military button that appeared to be from World War II. “From my first husband’s uniform,” she said. “It’s one of the few things I had to remind me of him when he didn’t return home alive.”
They had been married seven months before he left to serve his country, she told me. “I married his best friend two years later, and we had a good marriage. That’s the way it was in those days. Someone always looked out for the widows and children.”
As we sifted through the box, we found hairpins ranging from black to brown to shades of gray and even white. Each color noted the passing of time and its effect on her hair.
I pulled a small key from the box, and I heard the sharp intake of her breath. Her eyes glistened again with unshed tears, and she told me it was the key to a music box that played a special love song. She thought it had been lost, never to be found. From my hand to hers, I passed the key to her memories.
We found a Sunday school pin holding a bar for every year of perfect attendance except one. As I searched her face for the reason, she said, “The year my mother was sick with cancer, I stayed home on Sundays with her so my father could get to church. He never missed a Sunday until his death 15 years ago.”
Garter clips, wooden nickels, snaps, and ruby buttons took her further down memory lane. I learned of her wedding, the birth of her children and the life she led for 89 years. I set her box of memories down on the swing and slid my hands into hers. I knew I would be visiting her at her new home, just as I knew that when I reached my house, my heart would pull me to the sewing room, where I would rediscover my own lifetime of memories in my button box.
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