Sunday, August 5, 2007

collective mentality

Scribbit's Write-Away contest this month is about collecting, and I just might have something to say about that. If you do, too, enter! You have until August 22nd. Collect your thoughts (ha!) and write.

When I was still a baby, my mom started a button collection for me. ("Buttons" meaning pins, but anytime I say "pins" people think I mean hat pins, which is weird and I'd rather say "buttons" anyway. This is the kind I'm talking about). I've never gotten a really good idea why she chose buttons; they're a pretty dangerous thing for a child to collect, I must say. Getting them on & off the strip of burlap without impaling myself multiple times definitely improved my dexterity though (not to mention my smoothness at cussing).

I think displaying my button collection was an early manifestation of my decoration/redecoration obsession. The ones my mom started with - political badges (Nixon/Agnew is a longtime favorite), her old HS pep pins, random union buttons, a giant I LOVE HERMAN'S HERMITS (with pictures!) - eventually gave way to my own choices around junior high. I bought The Fonz (Ayyyyyyyy) and Vinnie Barbarino (*sigh*), a cutesy Hallmark one for every holiday (ugh), and eventually a bunch of edgier tiny buttons from the edgy record store I frequented (Give me a quarter or I'll touch you). I have no idea how I could afford those along with the dozen that proclaimed me a Duranimal; they would have cost me at least 48 hours of babysitting.

I started collecting buttons for each of my kids when they were small, too. It seems like a cool, backdoor kind of way to learn about stuff. When I was little, I asked my parents and grandparents about the different politicians whose names were on my buttons - Dixy, Maggie, Scoop - and got a feel not only for the political leanings of my family (Hello, liberals!), but also a good bit of history going on. Because my mom would pick up whatever buttons were being offered at fairs, conventions, concerts, garage sales, et cetera, I got to know about things like multiple sclerosis, saving energy, ERA, POWs, conserving water. And as I pick through my collection of 600+ (careful not to get a poke that would surely require an emergency room tetanus shot), I notice that Kentucky Fried Chicken regularly endorsed University of Washington, which may explain my longtime aversion to the restaurant. (GO COUGS!)

There is quite a bit of priceless social commentary in the collection, too. I have buttons extolling favorite phrases of the times - The Devil Made Me Do It, Where's the Beef?, Don't Worry, Be Happy!, Make Love, Not War and its more modern equivalent, Make Latte, Not War. There are at least 25 different smiley faces. I'm not quite sure what to make of High As A Kite, though. It seems out of character for my mom; I have four of them.

Going through them every now & then conjurs amazingly strong memories - of places I've been, things I've used, books I've read, and people I've known. The buttons that weren't randomly picked up at garage sales or given to me as souvenirs (like the ones from Walt Disney World and various Hard Rock Cafes where I've never set foot) represent real events for me, and just looking at them brings back vivid images & feelings. My pin from Les Miserables only has the sketch of Cosette on it, but I am transported to that night, that show (and I can even hear my man's subdued groans at the start of every song...). Gilley's Club in Texas (I was 14 and felt creeped out by the grown men looking at me); Purple Rain concert (16, front row with best friend Liza, I wore penny loafers, jeans, & a purple sweatshirt, my mom drove us to Tacoma and waited in the car); I've Gone Zany (my favorite Avon perfume, it came in a little ice cube-shaped bottle with a roll-on); I RODE THE JUDGE (from riding the Judge Roy Scream rollercoaster at Six Flags Over Texas; it was awesome and at the time I didn't get the naughty double meaning on the button); Lileth Fair (went with my sister, was pregnant with Mason - possibly the only male in attendance, saw Natalie Merchant & Sarah McLachlan & Indigo Girls, ran into my midwife who admonished me to drink more water); Canada Has It All and B.C. is Better (bought in honor of the Canadian boy I was in love with for two years in high school before he stopped calling and writing to me without explanation; I'm not bitter). This button collection is better than a yearbook (or maybe even a martini) for the levels of joy, sadness, angst, and gratitude it produces.

The coolest part of these collections - mine and my kids' - is the inherent "you can handle it" attitude. I have always had at the top of my burlap strip - it never made way for anything different - bright yellow plastic petals surrounding a 2" button with an angry flower face saying BITCH BITCH BITCH. I got the picture early on that I wasn't supposed to mimic the saying, but my parents were okay with me knowing that such language was spoken in the world. (Of course, my grandpa's vocabulary alone opened my eyes on that note, but anyway). My mom pinned on buttons about soldiers missing in action, equal rights, treating people humanely, and banned books along with the cute ones about Jesus loving me and kissing someone because he's Irish. Likewise, I distribute pins to my 8- and 7-year olds about voting, saving the planet, racism, and eradicating AIDS as well as the fun stuff from the library and county fair. My mom trusted me and I trust my own children to ask questions and learn about the world - not only the one around them right now but about the one before and the one to come. Buttons can be silly (I Came, I Saw, I Did A Little Shopping) or sarcastic (Same Shit, Different Day), but they can also say a lot, if you're paying attention. So, Save Water - Shower With A Friend, May the Force Be With You and Have A Nice Day.