On Buttons and Memories

A button collection

You have been with me for as long as I can remember; your gentle voice has been a significant part of my growing up years. Yet surprisingly, very few things come to mind every time I think of you.

After your smile, my mind wanders to the buttons you keep formerly in one of the drawers of your aged sewing machine. You stored them in several pouches, each one filled like embroidered, golden-zippered bean bags. Some of them were heavy, some were light, but they all made the familiar sound of plastic chips hitting one another each time I moved them. Your collection of buttons was most diverse, made from various materials—wood, plastic, metal—and in different colors and designs—white, black, colored, mother of pearl, gold, silver, dull metal, gilded, two-tone, etc.

To my young mind, your collection was something a lot more. They were jewels and coins, like the ones Aladdin found in the cave where he found his lamp. They were the treasures of Ali Baba. They were the gems that I found and read about in the encyclopedia. They were the powerful crystals in my favorite anime and cartoons. Heck, at one point, they were even the Dragon Balls. They were the chips and coins that fed the arcades of my young imagination.

Your buttons have come to my rescue many times, too. They came in handy when I had to bring my own sewing box to school. Every time my uniform lost a button or two, I’d knock on your door and browse through your collection, then sew my chosen buttons into place. I always relished rummaging through those buttons, excited about the ones I’d find, and the old ones I had become very familiar with.

Growing up has opened me to new perspectives. They made me understand a lot of things more and see things from a different light. When I think about your collection of buttons, I still see the vestiges of Ali Baba’s gems and the magical crystals of my childhood, but I can also see them as they are—buttons. Buttons that you have collected over the years, even long before the idea of me was conceived.

You have always lived a humble life—I have heard some of the stories of your past and I can still see proof of that even now. Though your eyes do not permit you to do much sewing now, I still say you are one of the best seamstresses I have ever had the pleasure to meet. You influenced yet other great seamstresses, my mother and her sisters, and by consequence, brought to life my fascination for fabric and my early developed sewing skills. I sometimes try to think of how it must have been for you, a young girl in the 40s or 50s learning how to make dresses. What were you thinking of as you cut pieces of cloth and connected them to each other? Were you using a sewing machine then?

Each of the buttons in your collection, some of which I carelessly swept away or secreted to oblivion, bore a significance that I am starting to fathom only now. They represented memories of days long gone, some of them fond, others probably worth forgetting, but are lovingly kept in pouches of soft fabric nonetheless. In which case, I should not have had the right to touch them.

You, however, are one of the most loving women I know. You watched me grow up, so you have a very good idea of my carelessness and disregard for orderliness. Yet you allowed me to be reckless with your collection, those tokens of your past. For all I know, I could kicked away ones you’ve always had since you first ventured into dress-making. I could have lost some given to you by the love of your life. I could have banished forever reminders of your and your family’s little victories without me knowing it. You still allowed me anyway.

I guess I wrote this to thank you for being a part of my life and for helping me grow up to be who I am now. For teaching me some of the things I know today. For always giving me the warmest of smiles and the gentlest of words. For giving me a taste of the best dinuguan. For loving me and for allowing me to be a part of your life.

Belated happy birthday, Lola Felipa.

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