senior buttonsFunny how opening a drawer can make your heart stop. Stumbling on a treasure when you are expecting dust and instead a rattling and a clacking of small items jostling in what was presumed to be an empty drawer, a drawer that has already been opened and emptied. I had pulled out the slightly yellowed camisoles, sorting some to keep, some to send off to Goodwill, some too old to give away and so thrown away. Though even throwing away an old camisole causes a pause because mom wore it in healthier days. But we cannot keep everything and so, into the trash bag with those.
Once emptied the dresser is moved to my home. It won’t fit in the smaller apartment that my mother will now occupy. Life is reduced now to one room. So, though not really my style, my mother’s dresser comes to my bedroom, replacing an older and cheaper bureau that I have used. This new, used one of my mother’s is better. In my mother’s words, it is “good furniture so don’t just throw it away.” As I get used to it I realize the benefit of my mother’s wisdom. More drawers, more space for my t-shirts, shorts, turtlenecks, lingerie.
After the dresser is moved into my room, the drawers are opened and I begin filling each drawer with my things. And then the sound and the discovery. The noise from the back of the left hand middle drawer that had been home to mom’s camisoles. It is buttons. Lots of buttons. Many are plain and typical and indistinct. Black, navy, brown, round. But a few stand out and I recognize them.
Downsizing, now called rightsizing, is a daunting task. At a quick glance, our parent’s things seem outdated and undesired. Though there are the obvious items that have been passed down from great-grandparents that will be saved. We know the stories and we share them with our children. A collection of Hummels sent from Germany to my grandmother while my father was stationed there during the Korean conflict. There was an expectation that Hummels will one day be valuable though now even originals are sold in consignment stores for $30. Another item, a porcelain bowl from Sweden, crossing the Atlantic three times. The first time my great-grandfather brought a wife, a baby and the bowl, arriving in America at the end of the nineteenth century. Then bowl and baby and great-grandfather went back to Sweden after that wife succumbed to influenza. Finally this family returned to American soil, new wife, husband, baby and bowl settling in Massachusetts, my father to be born 2 generations later, growing up assuming that a bowl that crossed the Atlantic three times must be worth something.
There are a few pieces of antique furniture that need to find a place in our home. Again, the stories that surround these pieces are too rich with our own history and so I can’t relinquish them just yet. My grandfather gave my grandmother the tea cart as a wedding gift in 1926 and I can recall just where it stood in the dining room of their home.
These are the things we expect to notice when rightsizing. Not buttons. But I know these buttons. I can close my eyes and see my mother in a blue dress. I can see her smile when her children tell her she looks beautiful. The gold round buttons with the swirling design stand out against the blue and she touches them at her wrist, pleased to be noticed by children who are captivated. Is this really mom?
I touch these buttons now. They sit on top of my new, hand-me-down dresser and I can’t move them. I want to see them each day because I can instantly see the healthy and active mom. The mom dressed up and going out. I don’t believe these buttons will get handed down but they are not going anywhere for a while.
It is this approach that creates a challenge for the sons and daughters who are helping to find a way to squeeze into smaller space or to clean out after a passing away. We have a need to touch their things, to read old cards, to look through each picture. This gives us an opportunity to reflect on the lives of those that were the start of our own story. It wasn’t that my mother was a secretary and raised 4 girls. It was that she was pretty and sometimes she dressed up and went out on a date with my father, and buttons somehow bring me back there.
We will right size and make decisions about donations of clothes to a homeless shelter, furniture to Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity, and pictures, jewelry and Hummels will be dispersed to various family members. Who knows about the buttons? My daughter visited recently from San Diego and admired the new dresser in my room that used to be her grandmother’s, then asked “What’s with the buttons mom?” I explained and she said, “Don’t get rid of those, okay?”