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.