Beguiling button jar holds childhood memories

Burt's Eye View

I started life as a boy. So did my brothers. We’re still boys at heart — only in our 50s and 60s, we do a lot less climbing, crawling, jumping, falling and fighting. Our shirt buttons are safe.

But as active hooligans growing up on a farm a half-century ago, buttons forever flew. We’d run into the house, shirts flapping, and Mom would screech: “How’d you lose them this time?”

“We climbed the apple trees, and I helped Timmy reach a higher branch…,” I began.

“He pushed me off a limb.” Timmy always misinterpreted my helpfulness. “I slid all the way down the trunk.”

“We played baseball in the side yard…,” I said.

“I had to crawl through the briars to find the ball,” Danny said. “Burton can’t catch.”

I’d catch him later, when Mom wasn’t looking.

“Or maybe it was in the pasture when we dove through the barbed-wire fence,” I mused.

“Danny and I had to tear your shirt loose so you’d stop crying,” Timmy said.

“I wasn’t crying. I sounded the alarm so you wouldn’t get snagged.”

“We’re not that stupid,” Danny said.

“Enough!” Mom rubbed her forehead. “You know what to do.”

We three boys headed to the sewing box and spilled the button jar.

Back then, moms mended and patched clothes until they could only be used as barn rags. But first, they clipped all the buttons and dropped them into glass button jars — washed out mayonnaise jars.

Dads had their versions with baby food jars, labels still attached, into which various sizes of screws, bolts, nuts and washers were sorted.

“Burton, get me a 3/8-inch hex nut,” Dad would say.


“Strained peas. And I’ll need a creamed carrots, too.”

Button jars weren’t sorted. They were glorious kaleidoscopes of different sizes, shapes, colors and textures of buttons. When you needed a replacement button, you dug through the jar and always, always found … nothing that matched.

“Close enough,” our moms said, and reached for needle and thread.

A shirt originally bearing tiny plastic red buttons eventually would become a lineup of plastic, wood and metal pieces of various sizes in plum, maroon, burgundy and white, one button of which would be shaped like a flower.

“Mom, I can’t wear a flower button.”

“Then you shouldn’t have torn off the original buttons.”

“I didn’t. The cow chewed my shirt.”

“Don’t let her eat this one or you’ll be drinking flower-shaped milk.”

The button jar also came in handy for eyes for Play-Doh sculptures, Monopoly (we were forever losing board game tokens, too) and Tiddlywinks (Mom refused to buy an official set when we had a perfectly good button jar). Had we been allowed to play poker, buttons would have been our chips. But we were a fairly buttoned-down household, so to speak.

Today, shirts come with spares already attached. There’s no need for a jar.

“I miss button jars,” I told my wife.

Terry picked up a plastic peanut butter jar half full of buttons and tossed it to me. “This is my second one. The first one is full.”

It feels great to be a boy again with a button jar.

— Button Burton at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com or at www.burtonwcole.com.


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