Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Abigail's buttons

On winter solstice my sister P.J. gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, the first child of my family's next generation, a princess from birth. We'll call her Abigail.

Friday I will be heading back home to see both of them for the first time since Abigail's birth. In the car with me will be several presents for the wee one. Pukka and I have big plans to be the "cool" aunt and uncle in both families, and we're starting early with Abigail, despite her current apparent lack of awareness.

Last night I (finally) finished the crocheting of the sweater I've been making for her. My mother has knitted this child an entire wardrobe by this point in her life, but my sweater is a little different than anything Abigail has from her grandmother. No soft pastels from me. No sir. My baby sweater is fuschia and purple and periwinkle and fuschia some more. If I have things my way, my niece will not only be recognizable as a girl, but as the bold feisty girl I'm hoping she'll become.

Tonight I finished weaving the ends in and then set about finding the buttons to finish Abigail's sweater. One of the things I inherited from my grandmother's sewing room was a plastic shoebox full of buttons. I pulled this box out and began sifting through it, looking for something suitable. Fairly early on, I found a card with enough plain-Jane white buttons for what I needed. They definitely would do. But I wasn't satisfied with them. I set them aside for my fallback and kept looking.

I thought of P.J. Every time we visit a store with loose buttons, she's not happy until she's seen them with her hands. I'm usually distracted by fabric, but she always calls me over to share: "Put your hands in here. Doesn't that feel great?"

Using grandma's buttons had started as an exercise in practicality. Planning ahead is not my strong suit, and there aren't many fabric stores open at 10 pm on a Wednesday night. As I sorted with my right hand, I put the potentials in the palm of my left. Many of grandma's buttons were cut from worn out clothing. I know this because I know her, and she was not one for waste. I also know it because some buttons still have thread or a little scrap of cloth attached. Whenever I look through the loose buttons, I like to try and imagine where they came from. I make up little stories about them and the people that wore them.

Grandma died about six months before Pukka and I married. She met him, she cooked for him, and she beat him at cards. I think she approved. Some days it catches me fresh that our daughters will never meet her, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

I looked into my left hand and found a motley assortment of buttons of varying sizes, shapes and colors. You never know how many matching buttons there are of any type in grandma's box. There may be twenty; there may be just the one. Who can say? In my hand there were only two matching buttons. They were white, slightly domed, the shank for sewing them hidden beneath. They were a little opalescent and rimmed with a narrow rough chunky gold border. My inner magpie had latched onto the first one I saw with a cry of "Pretty!"

There were two in my hand, but I needed three for the sweater. I sorted through the box with more intention this time. Three. Four. Five. That seemed to be all. I picked out the three that looked best to me, the three that seemed strongest, and I sewed them onto the front of Abigail's sweater, imagining the blouse of my grandma's that was their original home.

Friday I will take the sweater to Abigail. And I will tell her: "These buttons came from your great-grandmother. She was an amazing woman. And someday you will be one too."