I collect buttons and little pieces of broken glass in a jar. When I put my collection together, a pattern emerges. I can visualize the story of my life, the past with its sparkling center and dark corners aligned with the rather mellow present.
I started the collection when the children were young, when we would take them to Huntington Beach to build sandcastles. Busy hands scooped up sand, patting it into otherworldly shapes, turrets and moats. In the commotion I spotted a piece of glass. It was light brown, perhaps from a broken vase or dish. Little fingers were coming too close. I snatched it up and put it in my pocket. How did this piece of ceramic glass find its way to this beach?
At first I kept the piece of tan glass in a memory box, which was really an old shoebox. I would take it out and remember that late summer evening. The sun hung low on the horizon that night. Miniature waves lapped the shore and a slight breeze ruffled my hair as I squinted across the water toward Canada. Was someone over there looking back?
I have always wanted to see the world, perhaps relocate to a more exotic area. In reality, I've never moved from Greater Cleveland. Marriage, raising children and working didn't leave much time or money for globe-trotting.
Still, the desire to see places I could only imagine lingered. We traveled some, but there was so much more to experience. I'd purchase glossy travel magazines to satisfy my longing. I thought when I retired I would finally fulfill my dream.
I continued to collect my little pieces of glass. I put the dark rocks and stones in shoeboxes and the bright, glittery pieces in pretty glass jars. I kept the whole collection on my closet shelf. I felt uncomfortable letting anyone see the bits and pieces.
Once I saw a jar of buttons at a garage sale, with stickers glued to the outside and a bright red lid. Someone was always losing a button, I thought. I bought it, certain I'd find a match in the jar.
Unfortunately, I never found a matching button when I needed one. The jar became a curiosity. Friends and family would question me about it. Some even shared stories of lost or special buttons and buttons popping at the wrong time. I guess my 50 cents was money well-spent.
My collection of glass and buttons seemed to temporarily hold my longing to see the world at bay. Still, sometimes the yearning became an intense discomfort. Why couldn't I be like other people who were content with what they had? Why couldn't I let go of this obsession to wander?
Perhaps it was because of my grandfather. His job as a truck driver took him to all parts of this country. When he retired, he would tell me story after story of his adventures on the road. I always wished I could have gone with him.
As I prepared to downsize to a small apartment, it occurred to me that I had too much stuff. I brought my memory boxes and jar of buttons to the kitchen table. This was it. I had to release these things, let go of the past and start a new life. I couldn't cling to the bits and pieces, the scraps which symbolized another time.
I dumped it all on the table and began to put the pieces together: a button here, a piece of glass there. Slowly, a strange but comforting picture emerged. Colors danced on my table, representing the different times of my life. For more than an hour I lingered, moving glass and buttons around, remembering.
I picked up the piece of a broken pickle jar from the West Side Market. Immediately the sights, sounds and aroma of different countries and cultures came back to me. I remember thinking how great it would be to live in one of those huge condos near the market. I could walk there. I would be close to downtown Cleveland, PlayhouseSquare and Progressive Field. Then it occurred to me that I didn't have to leave my hometown to experience the world with all its wonders. Hadn't I done that here?
My new apartment is about a block or so from Lake Erie. Although I can't see it over the treetops, I know it's there. When the window is open, I can smell the water. The rooms are filled with light and my violets bloom all year. I can jump on a bus and be downtown in a very short time.
I sold the jar of buttons at my moving sale for exactly what I paid for it many years ago, 50 cents. I took some of my rocks down to the Rocky River and left them in the water. But I put some of my keepsakes in a glass vase on my bookcase, others in a basket on my desk. My memories are now out in the open for all to see. I no longer feel the need to keep them on a closet shelf.
When I spread my collection out now, I see a more compact version of my life, no longer rectangular, but circular. No more rough edges. It is bright and colorful, just as brightness and color dominate the new life I've created. The mosaic is almost completed.
12:00 AM EST
April 19, 2013