It’s officially summer, and in Virginia, this sultry season started off in typical Southern style—hot, hot, and hotter.
For several seasons, I’ve been in decluttering mode. Summer is no different, except that the heat seems to make it more challenging. Somehow, there’s now a hazy mirage hovering over my piles.
Over the years, I have accumulated what I refer to as “memory boxes.” These containers are filled with greeting cards from all manner of occasion—Christmases, anniversaries, birthdays, Mother’s Days, and the list goes on. I’ve tried sifting through them, only to put them back. Somehow my mother’s letter from when my first child was born, or a birthday card from a faraway friend, is just too painful to part with.
And then, there are the decades of anniversary cards from my husband, who has a talent (and perhaps stock in Hallmark) for, without fail, finding the sweetest and most endearing sentiments to bestow upon me.
Card marketers have taken their skills to steroid level in creating exquisitely designed cards. Their entrepreneurial and engineering expertise is beyond mind-boggling, with cards that blossom into trees with swings, flowers that sway, or animals layered in precise paper perfection.
I can’t throw them away. They’re now more than cards: They’re works of art! I’ve actually saved some to be displayed year after year. That’s the height of my obsession.
I suspect my grandchildren would relish cutting them up for craft projects or to create books of their own making, but, to date, I’ve not given them up.
So, my mountains of memory boxes get shuffled around from room to closet or pushed under a bed.
Smoothing Out the Wrinkles
These warm summer days remind me of my childhood and memories of my mama deftly handling a steaming and sizzling device that seemed to glide effortlessly in her care.
I have distinct memories of a mother who ironed. We didn’t have a dryer, so the wet clothes would go outside to be pinched on lines strewn across one part of the backyard. She would carry a large basket out there, reaching and clipping with wooden clothespins. Usually flapping in the breeze, the clothes, once dried, would return to the house heady with the scent of sun and fresh air.
At some point, the ironing board would come out from its folded position between the refrigerator and the kitchen wall. Heavy and cumbersome, she would pull it up until it clicked in place if she elected to stand. Often though, she would jerk it up just far enough so that she could pull up a chair and do her ironing from a sitting position.
It seemed that she ironed everything, from sheets and pillowcases to my father’s white T-shirts and handkerchiefs, not to mention his dress shirts, which he used daily when he headed off to work. She ironed dresses, blouses, slacks, and skirts. Soon, the room next to the kitchen, where she set up her ironing shop, would be draped with crisply ironed garments hanging from the curtain rods or doorknobs. My mother’s ironing ritual, which I observed on a weekly basis—if not more—went on for many years.
As I got older, she would instruct me on the proper sequence of ironing a man’s shirt. Oftentimes, she would use starch, but keep in mind these were the days before spray starches. So, she would mix up some concoction that she sprinkled generously on the item to be stiffened, let it sit damply for a bit, and then press it meticulously into place.
I admit that I have these ironing skills. I will also admit that I can’t recall the last time I ever ironed anything. Dry cleaners have taken care of that.
Added to my memory boxes is a collection of perhaps a bygone era.
Another domestic ritual that I inherited from my mother—and no doubt legions of wives and mothers before her—is the practice of cutting off buttons, particularly the tiny, white variety found on many dress shirts. When the shirts had been washed and ironed so many times, the fabric would grow thin, and they would be headed to the rag pile. But not before all the buttons had been cut off and saved, usually in repurposed Gerber baby food jars.
Over the years, these jars of buttons grew. There were rare occasions when one of these orphaned buttons would be needed, but, in the meantime, drawers and sewing baskets were ripe with jars and jars of small buttons.
When my kids were young, I found myself doing the same thing—saving buttons from going down with a tossed garment and amassing a collection of “extra buttons.” I’m confident that many of you have these. And I’m fairly confident that, like life or auto insurance, you hesitate to get rid of them for fear that you may actually need to replace a lost button from a coat, a tiny baggie of sequins from a glittering dress, covered buttons to a jacket, sweater buttons or slack buttons—and the list goes on, as does your collection of “extra buttons.”
I have boxes of them. I came upon one of them the other day, and after a quick glance through, I realized that some of those “extra buttons” were to garments that I haven’t worn or had for years. That’s how sick this button obsession can become.
A couple of times when my children were toddlers, they discovered this treasure trove of buttons and found great delight in spreading them across the kitchen floor, like so many stars in the heavens. Rather than sweeping them up, I picked them all up and replaced them in their respective jars and boxes.
Many of these buttons I still have, but the saving grace has been finding two perfectly matched ones to become the eyes of a teddy bear or a string of matched ones for the smile of a puppet. Those occasions have made this collection invaluable.
As far as ironing, it’s just too hot.
And those anniversary cards? I’ve taken to framing them in shadow boxes.
Anita L. Sherman is an award-winning journalist who has more than 20 years of experience as a writer/editor for local papers and regional publications in Virginia. She now works as a freelance writer and is working on her first novel. She’s the mother of three grown children and grandmother to four and resides in Warrenton, Va. Reach her at email@example.com