button box

Somewhere along the way, I inherited my grandmother’s button box. I don’t think I originally appreciated it as much as I do now. My grandmother (I assume) made it from an old cigar box. She covered it with lots of beautiful buttons, and painted it in matte black paint.

There are buttons missing in spots now, and the cover doesn’t stay on. And there are a couple of buttons on the top with metal trim that have tarnished green through the black paint. (Could they be made with copper?)

It’s not in the best shape, but I love it. 

When each of the kids has been about five, six or seven, we’ve done math with the buttons in the box. Last week the box came to mind, and I realized it was Mr. T’s turn.

We had fun just admiring and playing with the buttons inside. And then he naturally began sorting them, without any prompting from me: buttons with words, buttons that are tiny, buttons in yellow, buttons in shapes other than round.

Today we made Venn diagrams with the buttons. I made two intersecting circles with yarn, and put buttons sharing a particular attribute in one, buttons with another attribute in the other. In the intersection I placed buttons that shared both attributes. Then I asked Mr. T to guess the rule that sorted them. After he figured it out, he made labels for each section.


Check out that pencil grip. Yes, yes, yes I've tried to get him to change it and no, no, no he doesn't want to.

Check out that pencil grip. Yes, yes, yes I've tried to get him to change it and no, no, no he doesn't want to.


Then it was his turn.

Don’t you love how kids personify everything? They’re not matching buttons, they’re twins.

When we’re finished playing with the buttons, I’m displaying the box beside my desk, rather than sticking it back in Lulu’s closet. Because not only is it full of my grandmother’s history, now it also overflows with memories of playing with buttons with each of my kids.

And because, despite its dilapidated appearance, it’s a beautiful box.

(edited to add: Oops! Mr. T labeled that first diagram wrong. It should say two holes, not four. We were having so much fun that neither of us noticed.)

5 comments… add one
  • suzee Oct 21, 2008 @ 21:00

    He must have inherited his great grandmother’s lovely aesthetic sense. Nice choices he made, beautiful box he took them from.

  • Laura Oct 22, 2008 @ 23:00

    I love the button box! I can just see H, Lily and Mr. T counting buttons. Actually I see H counting them, Lily sewing them on things, Mr. T sorting them and Chris using them to play his guitar. Just thinking of it makes me smile. Thanks for your blog. I seriously look for an update everyday. Miss you.

  • Emily Oct 25, 2008 @ 23:42

    I love the box. I love it. Do you think she made it in one sitting? Or panel by panel. I wonder what it looked like before she painted it. I wonder if she took a photo.

  • patricia Oct 27, 2008 @ 7:23

    Hi Larva! Ha! You sure know my gang! I don’t think Chris has tried picking a guitar with a button, but I wouldn’t put it past him! I miss you too–my email inbox is overflowing with people I need to respond to, but it’s birthday season around here and I’m behind. But a comment response I can manage!

    And Em, I don’t know many details about the button box. The saddest part is that my grandmother is still alive, but she isn’t very coherent anymore. Although she sometimes remembers things from the past–hey, you’ve given me an idea! The next time I visit her, I’ll bring the box, and see if it stirs any memories. Once I asked her about making lace–which had been a passion of hers–and it was the first time she spoke clearly about something in a long time. Maybe the button box can do that too.

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