Dawn Corrigan ~ Buttons

In 1977, I owned half a share of a but­ton col­lec­tion. My part­ner, who was also my best friend, lived in the house cat­ty­corner behind us. We’d slipped quick­ly into both rela­tion­ships, per­son­al and busi­ness, when my fam­i­ly moved to the neigh­bor­hood the year before. The basis for our alliance was this prox­im­i­ty, plus a cer­tain owlish­ness that set us apart from oth­er girls.

Our main sup­pli­er was House & Garden. When we had funds for a new acqui­si­tion, we’d trudge the half mile to the fam­i­ly-owned depart­ment store. Its entrance opened into the women’s wear depart­ment, full of clothes my moth­er wouldn’t be caught dead in, because of the styles as well as the cost. The air was frigid­ly cold and faint­ly perfumed.

The toy depart­ment was upstairs. Sometimes I walked to House & Garden by myself just to gaze hun­gri­ly at its stuffed ani­mal col­lec­tion, includ­ing hun­dreds of spec­i­mens, so care­ful­ly ren­dered they seemed to have souls, plush­er and more expen­sive than any­thing at home.

A set of esca­la­tors car­ried one between floors. Going up, one came face-to-face with three pho­tos. They were of the school-pic­ture sort, but blown up. Through a form of osmo­sis I didn’t under­stand, I knew the kids in the pic­tures were relat­ed to the own­ers of House & Garden in some way, per­haps their very own chil­dren. But tragedy had befall­en them years ago.

To this day I have no idea whether that’s true or not. But the vibe of House & Garden, with those pic­tures at its core—snooty, closed-off, sad, obscure—seemed emblem­at­ic of the sapor of the town as a whole.

But then there were the but­tons, tucked away in Sewing and Notions. There were mil­lions of them. Perhaps more.

The National Button Society, formed in 1938 so col­lec­tors could “com­pare and study” their but­tons, cre­at­ed a but­ton clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem with 29 major categories—more groups than there are phy­la in the Plant Kingdom. The dis­play at House & Garden was less for­mal, most­ly arranged by col­or. There were whole pan­els for green, yel­low, blue, red, etc, all of dif­fer­ent sizes and shapes; with numer­ous embell­ish­ments, or very plain, var­ie­gat­ed as Monet’s garden.

For long min­utes we’d study them, grad­u­al­ly iden­ti­fy­ing a few can­di­dates, then nar­row­ing it down to our final­ist. This drawn-out process was main­ly an excuse to con­tin­ue to drink in the pan­els, daz­zling in their order­ly vari­ety, as pleas­ing as a col­or wheel, or a fan deck for paint.


Dawn Corrigan’s poet­ry and prose have appeared wide­ly in print and online. Her mast­head cred­its include Western Humanities Review, Girls with Insurance, and Otis Nebula, where she cur­rent­ly serves as assis­tant edi­tor. She works in the afford­able hous­ing indus­try and lives in Myrtle Grove, FL. Find her online at www.dawncorrigan.com.