Last bites and button boxes.

The corn honey from Mexico is dark amber, with a creamy sweetness made sweeter since each spoon carries memories of a week in the Yucatan Peninsula. I pulled it from the shelf to scoop a spoon into my yogurt, but there was only one spoon left. “I’ll save it,” I said, loathe to see the last of the sweet memories used up.

Hoarding isn’t a pretty word, saving is better. It was a way of life for our family and many of our neighbors. It was also practical as well as economical. When we lost a button from our pants, we would sift through the square tin button box to find a suitable substitute. The button box made sense on many levels. It might be seven am, and stores wouldn’t be open, and who wants to take the time to drive to a store just for a button, anyway. Even if you did, you would have to buy an entire set of buttons. Chances are those buttons would not match as well as something found in the maroon and silver hinged box where we tossed our odd buttons.

We saved old clothes too worn to pass on and cut them up for cleaning rags. I recall astonishment at finding you could pay to buy a bag of rags. We saved boxes and bags and wrapping paper, which made it easy at anniversaries and birthdays to gift-wrap a present. If something needed fixing, since we also fixed rather than bought new, the necessary screw or bit of copper or right-sized cork seemed to be always at hand. It was also easily found, as everything was in a logical place and neatly organized and labeled. Nails were in jars and sorted by type and size. Fabric was folded and stacked, similar colors together, plumbing parts went here, drawer pulls and knobs in that bin. The brass hinges from an old door were at our fingertips when we needed to fix the wood box hatch. When I broke the handle on my jewelry box, a far more beautiful ceramic knob was found to replace it.

Saving was practical and economical, and it was also entertaining. When we spilled that button box onto a tray to find a new button for our pants we would find a large ivory fish button with scales carved in its sides, and a set of big, two inch wide discs of shiny bakelite set with rhinestones. Some of these buttons had stories. The tiny seed pearls were from grandma’s gloves, and the pink linen-covered buttons from one of my mother’s elegant city suits. Most, however, had lost their histories, and we would make up our own stories for them, and contemplate what dress or shirt we could possibly use them for.

When I acquired my own home, I continued to save and sort, though not as neatly as the previous generation. I have only moved once as an adult, and that makes this habit of saving something, because you never know when it will come in handy, quite easy. Perhaps a bit too easy. Somewhere in the recent years it has shifted to a compulsion to hold on, to keep that last two feet of green and orange silk ribbon, or the last of that set of homemade paste-paper note cards. Saving them, but for what? In the way I once pulled out odd buttons and enjoyed their history, real or imagined, I save odd bits to tell me tales. I see them when I open a drawer, or hunt for a nail, and seeing them causes me to reminisce. The olive jar from Spain now holds paperclips, and the carved wooden box where I keep stamps stood for many years in my grandfather’s kitchen. These objects have a new and useful function.

But saving to use is different from saving to save. My practical trait of saving has morphed into to a compulsion to hold on. Yes, that was the last of my cool neon markers from Scotland in the drawer. I used the other three with delight about six years ago, and saved the last one, because I didn’t want them gone from my life. Recently, when looking for a pen to jot a note down, to my dismay it was the only thing available. I decided just this once to use it. The ink was dry, it no longer wrote. I tossed it out, without ever having the pleasure of writing with it.

The beautiful tightly fitted white linen jacket, a gift from a long-gone friend, was only worn rarely as I did not want to stain it or ruin it. And now I cannot get it buttoned.

It was hoarding the last shot of Celtic Crossings for years, and opening the cupboard to have it fall out and smash, that has made me reassess. Would I ever have sipped the last drops of that sweet and heady liqueur? I realized the answer was no. I was saving it until it broke, or was wasted. I was no longer saving it to use at a future date.

A new year is here, and it is time for a new approach to saving.

The corn honey from Mexico is dark amber, with a creamy sweetness made sweeter since each spoon carries memories of a week in the Yucatan Peninsula. I pulled it from the shelf to scoop a spoon into my yogurt, but there was only one spoon left. I scraped it into my bowl, and paused in enjoyment over each mouthful.

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