When my grandmother first arrived in the United States as an immigrant bride, she worked sewing buttons on shirts for a local manufacturer. In the bottom drawer of her bureau there was a dented cookie tin filled with buttons. Some of them dated from her time at the shirt factory, and the rest she had saved slowly over the years. When a shirt was torn beyond repair or frayed beyond wearing, she snipped off the buttons and added them to the tin. I spent hours playing with the buttons, sorting them by color and arranging them into patterns and shapes.
In my third novel, ALL THE LIGHT THERE WAS, Maral Pegorian’s mother is a vest maker who does piecework at home. Like my grandmother, Azniv Pegorian has an old cookie tin filled with buttons. When Maral wants to entertain a little girl she’s babysitting one afternoon, she pulls out the tin. She says, “There were buttons with two holes and those with four, plus metal and leather shank buttons. The colors were varied: shiny gold, red ones, all shades of white and brown, and thin disks made from shimmering mother-of-pearl.” This is a description of my grandmother’s buttons.
My favorite in my grandmother’s collection was a dark brown shank button that had come from an old cloth coat. The button was made of plastic, decorated with silver filigree, and had a green rhinestone in its center. After my grandmother died, I used a safety pin to attach this button to the lapel of a vintage black gabardine jacket that I wore all the time.
November 11, 2012