My grandma had a button box, my mother had a button box, I have a button box.  My grandchildren have never heard of a button box.  The generation in between, my children, may have seen my buttonbox but it is highly questionable that they have done more sewing than that required to replace a button.  There is a technique to a thing as simple as sewing on a button. They wouldn’t know how to begin to make  a buttonhole or an article of clothing out of whole cloth. They do not own a sewing machine.

Despite the fact that we were poor by most standards, my children  were raised in an affluent society in which people had so many clothes that they regularly discarded perfectly wearable apparel to make room for the latest fashions.  Though I was taught to sew, know how to use a pattern, make the sewing machine work, and have actually made quite a few clothes out of whole cloth, those talents were unnecessary when it became both cheaper and easier to buy ready made  “lightly-used” clothes at the thrift shop than to buy expensive new yard goods.

I looked at my button box today with a kind of sadness.   Back in the day, when an article of apparel was no longer wearable it was never just sent to Salvation Army.   If it could not be passed on to a younger child or another family, it was analyzed for usable parts.  It was an era of frugality, of waste-not, want-not.   Buttons and buckles were saved for possible use in another garment.  Zippers, too — in those days we knew how to sew in a zipper!  Good material could often be converted into a smaller garment, into a quilt, into pot holders, and finally, as a last resort, into rags.   You didn’t buy “wipes” at the store.   You had a ready supply of rags and as you used them you remembered when Mary wore that dress and you could recall the whole history of the material from fabric store to cleaning rag.   A quilt could tell the story of a whole family through the years.

Children used to find a button box intriguing.   Sometimes they liked to sort them into the various kinds, and decide which ones they liked best.  You could play games with buttons.  You could run a string through the two button holes, hold the ends of the string in each hand, twirl the button around, and make it hum as the string coiled and uncoiled and the button whirled and hummed.   Such a simple pleasure  – would it hold a child’s interest nowadays?

I still have a sewing machine.   Not that long ago I would have said of course I have a sewing machine.  Doesn’t every woman have one?   Eighty years ago my mother taught me how to use her treadle machine, to thread the needle, where to put the machine oil to keep it running smoothly.   The current machine is electric and does fancy stitching but even that  is now sort of a relic from another age.  Over the past year I have perhaps used it twice, to hem something or a sew up a seam that has come undone.

A button box, too, is a thing of yesteryear.  It remains on the shelf;  I am not yet ready to throw it out.  You never know when you will need a button.

I myself feel like a relic from yesteryear.  Still sitting on the shelf.   Waiting for what?