Amid the odds and ends that are my sewing supplies is an old steel coffee can full of buttons that I can remember being around forever. It may have belonged to my grandmother, but considering that the Duncan Coffee Company began in Houston, and we lived near Houston for the majority of our family’s life, it probably belonged to Mother.
The Duncan Coffee Company was opened in 1918, and the copyright date on the banner that says “Admiration,” is 1920. I doubt this particular can actually goes back that far, But regardless of its age, it still presents a study in history, a glimpse of the way things used to be. Pictured on the can is coffee being presented in a silver service by a black maid to a white couple with the inscription “The Cup of Southern Hospitality.” The coffee being a part of southern hospitality I can relate to because Mother kept a pot of coffee on the stove all day just in case someone dropped by for a visit, which, in those days happened quite often. We did not, however, have a black maid who was expected to serve it. The can is steel, but I think the “steel cut” wording refers to a step in the processing of the coffee. But it is steel and came with the coffee vacuum packed as it tells on the other side, “Oven Fresh! One Full Pound of Coffee,” (not the 12 ounces, down from a full pound, that you see today) which had to be opened with the metal key that was attached to the lid. You can still see where it was connected on the lid. The key would be pried up and bent back so it would break off from its attachment. A strip of the metal had been scored around the top of the can with an overlapping tip left to be secured in a slit in the key, which would then be wound around the can detaching the lid from the rest of the can. When the key made it all the way around the can and broke the vacuum seal, the aroma of coffee would whoosh out of the can and would fill the kitchen with the smell of coffee. I can remember that; the smell of coffee always takes me home in my mind.
I remember buttons being a source of quiet activity during my early childhood. Mother would thread a blunt needlepoint needle with thread or yarn, affix a button at the end of it, and I happily concentrated on stringing buttons, checking my work, sliding all the buttons off, and then doing it again, only in a different pattern. I don’t know if this button can actually went to church with us, but I can remember stringing buttons while sitting on a church pew. And for those of you gasping in horror that my mother would let me play with a needle, well, she did, and I am none the worse for it. It fed my creativity, kept me busy and quiet, and she knew I had enough good sense to know not to stick it my eye, for goodness’ sake.
I dumped all those buttons out with every intention of getting rid of them but keeping the can. I sorted through them, even recognizing some from old garments, admiring the color or the pattern of the button, marveling that somewhere there is a machine or device or even a person to make these little things, remembering Mother and her sewing, my necklaces of buttons.
Well, I knew I would keep the can and still use it as a container for something. But I couldn’t quite let go of those buttons just yet. So the can and some of its buttons are now back on the shelf, along with the other sewing things I reorganized and kept. My sewing tends to be mending and repairing, so who knows? I may actually need to replace a lost button, and I can go to the can and find just the right one. I see new buttons sold in scrapbook stores now to be used as page embellishments, but why buy what I have a bountiful supply of already? So some of them may wind up on a scrapbook page. And what could be more fitting than using buttons with a family history in a scrapbook of family memories?
But I will never use all of them, so some day the kids will have to deal with this little piece of family history. I will enjoy them until that time and let kids and grandkids decide what to do with them. Throw the can and its contents and its history away, I am guessing.