Humans invest inanimate objects with so much emotional weight. For instance, a button.
My winter coat is missing a button. It’s been missing since the Sunday before Christmas. I have the button. It’s in my coat pocket. I have needle and thread. I have had time. So why is my coat still missing a button?
My mother’s family gathered for a Christmas party the Sunday before Christmas. It was supposed to be the last Christmas in my grandmother’s house. My grandfather died a couple of years ago and she had spent two winters in an apartment near her daughters. This winter, for a variety of reasons, she was back in her home for the long cold season. She used the time to sort through her belongings and, we all suspected, prepare for a move of some type.
She bought a big ham and the assignments for the sides trickled down like Reaganomics. Then she became ill the week before the party and went into the hospital. We had the party in her home without her and took turns visiting her hospital room.
My husband and children and I were nearly the last to visit. She had had a nap and looked rested with nice color back in her cheeks. We thought she was going to a nursing home to rehabilitate before returning home.
It was the last day we thought that.
When I walked in, Grandma commented on my coat. Grandma always complimented something about me–my hair, my clothes, my figure. Something. We talked about the collar and I showed her my loose buttons. One was so loose she said I should probably just pull it off and put it in my pocket so I didn’t lose it. She was right, of course, so I did.
The next day, the doctor told Grandma she was not going to recover and advised that she be moved to hospice. This news sunk in and, after he left, she had a moment where she realized she would never return to her home and that, when she had left, she had not realized it was the last time she would see it. The home she had shared with my grandfather. The home in which her youngest granddaughter had spent so many hours with them. The home to which her older grandchildren had brought her great-grandchildren to visit her. That day, Christmas Eve, we moved her to a wonderful hospice house. When we said goodbye to her that night, she looked sad, resigned, and alone, even though the room was full of people. It was the last time she looked at all like herself.
What does this have to do with my deshabille with my missing button?
Every time I put on my coat and see that missing button, I see my grandmother smiling at me, hear her speaking kindly about my coat, hear her sensible advice, and see the bloom on her cheek and the smile in her eyes. That missing button makes that day, makes my grandmother, seem not so far away.
I don’t think I will replace that button this winter. Perhaps next fall when I pull my coat out of the storage closet, I’ll see that missing button, see and hear my grandmother, and be ready to get out my needle and thread.
Or perhaps not.