Today I sewed a button. I sewed it onto one of Dad’s old shirts, the short-sleeved one with blue, grey, white and red vertical stripes. I wear this shirt from time to time, not just because I like it but because it reminds me of Dad.
Anyway, one of the button-down collar buttons popped off the other day, which kind of made me pop off. Great – now I have one side of the collar buttoned but not the other! Leave it to some underpaid worker in Bangladesh to not do the best threading job.
I was actually waiting to take this over to Andrea’s house so she could sew it on, like she did on another button not too long ago. But then I realized that was extremely lazy of me. I could sew one lousy button for Pete’s sake!
Besides, you once sat down and taught me how to do this. I remember how carefully you instructed me — how to thread the needle, then slide the needle through the button, then pierce the fabric and so forth. It was a real Zen lesson in concentrated effort.
Of course, I promptly forgot this because I never followed up to do it myself. I didn’t really want to learn how to sew buttons, because then I would have to do it. I much preferred to let you do it for me, or Andrea. One of the plusses about being a male is being helpless in such things.
Mark Twain once wrote about how instinctively bad men are at sewing. He pointed out that men reliably will try to thread the needle in the exact opposite way it’s supposed to be done – the way that women do it. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what the wrong and right ways were, thus reinforcing his point exactly.
But at this point in my life I am ready to sew on buttons. It is one of the least things I can do in your memory.
After all, you taught me how to make tomato-noodle soup and fry up delicious scrambled eggs when I was just a boy. Long after that, when I was going through my divorce with Wendy and newly single, you taught me how to make tasty dressing for cole slaw. A dash of pickle juice and a little sugar were your secret ingredients, along with licking your finger until it tasted just right.
So today I resolved to sew on that button. What a mistake.
It took me a long time just to get the needle threaded, Mark Twain-style. Then it got worse. Where do you stick the needle in, exactly, to start with? And once you’ve poked it through, where should it go back in the other way? How many different ways should you criss-cross it through the four holes?
And worst of all, how do you tie it up at the end so it doesn’t just, you know, fall off?
I have to say it’s one of the hardest things I’ve tried to do in my life. And I am sure I did it all wrong. I have no doubt that the next time I wear Dad’s shirt, that button is going to fall off before the day is through. It’ll probably pop into my tomato-noodle soup or something equally dopey.
But you know, I feel good about having sewn on the button. It’s a start. And it’s a little way to honor all the things you taught me over all the years, just to make me a little more independent and capable of taking care of myself. It was one of the many ways you told me you loved me.
So that’s what I’ll remember when I next button my collar: Mom taught me this because she loved me.
I think I’ll wear that shirt tomorrow, on Mother’s Day. Why not.
I’ll keep trying to sew because I love you, Mom. It won’t be pretty, but I’ll do my best for you.