Friday, November 27, 2009

Leftovers and Button Boxes

Yesterday was a national feast day; today may be less celebrated but surely it qualifies as National Leftovers Day. Leftovers get a bad rap. They serve as the center of jokes, elicit groans at the family table, and carry the image of something unwanted and unappreciated. I don’t think that’s fair. At my house we’ll be eating turkey sandwiches and making turkey salad and using the last bits of turkey as the base for soup. We will enjoy all of these dishes. They will be different from the roasted turkey that was the center of my family’s Thanksgiving gathering, but the difference is not a bad thing. And I am certainly grateful that the meals based on leftovers will mean less kitchen time for me. I’ll have more time to write this weekend because meals will be easier than usual. I’ll also save a few dollars, not a negligible consideration given current grocery prices and the Christmas shopping still to do.

Food is only one kind of leftover. I grew up with two sewing grandmothers, and one thing I learned from them is to never throw away leftover bits of fabric or trim. Scraps could be used for a child’s dress, doll clothes, quilt pieces, and Christmas ornaments. And buttons were always saved. My maternal grandmother had a huge tortoise-shell box that held buttons of every description. Anytime Mama needed to replace a lost button, add a decorative touch to a new item, or attach eyes on a handmade toy, she found what she needed in her button box.

It seemed beautifully apt when one of my mentors in graduate school cautioned me against throwing away a line he suggested I cut from a poem. “Never throw anything away,” he said. “Put it in your button box. You never know when you’ll find a use for it.” His advice has proved sound more times than I can count. My first published poem was built upon a single line that came to me one day as I was looking at a broken seashell. I tried to write the poem that day, but the rest was trash. The one line went in the button box, and when I took it out months later, it became the first line of an infinitely better poem.

My button box, filled by now with hundreds of fragments of poems and stories, is a computer file rather than a tortoise-shell box. But, like my grandmother, I keep finding new uses for the leftovers. One scene I had to write but cut early from The Long Way Home I keep to publish as a webpage freebie if TLWH ever finds a publisher. A drabble that proved too long for an EJ/JQ board Christmas anthology went in the button box and later served as a dream scene in my current project. A quick description of a scene I saw as I was driving one day will be the opening scene in my next writing project. I don’t know yet what I’ll keep and what I’ll cut from my NaNoWriMo words, but I’m sure my button box will have some additions from my November noodlings. Among them may be the seeds of an as yet undreamt of work.

Are you having leftovers today? Do you have any turkey recipes you’d like to share? Do you have a button box—real or metaphoric?


Keira Soleore said...

You always have something fun and new to say. I do have my very own button box: It's a small box of chocolates--apropos, don't you think?! I wish I were more crafty so I'd find more uses for those buttons. As it is, the ony use my tiny sewing kit is for is for darning.

PJ said...

Janga, I love this post! I do have a button box. It's filled with bits of this and that, as well as a whole bunch of buttons. Sometimes I use something from the box. Other times, I just enjoy browsing through the contents and taking a stoll down memory lane. It's all good. :)

We had a hungry crew here on Thanksgiving so we didn't have many leftovers. I finished the cranberry salad last night and two of us plan on finishing off the sweet potatoes today. Love those leftovers!

Gannon Carr said...

Janga, what a great post! I just had a turkey sandwich w/ fresh cranberry sauce on cranberry pecan bread. It was delish! I used to love looking through my grandma's button box! Thanks for bringing that memory back to me. :)

Janga said...
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Janga said...
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Janga said...

Thanks, Keira. Chocolates are always à propos. But they never become leftovers around here. LOL! I'm not really crafty either. I wish I had learned more from my grandmothers, who sewed, quilted, embroidered, crocheted, knitted, etc.

PJ, isn't it wonderful how many memories can be evoked by such a tiny object? And cranberry salad--mmm! I'm the only one in my family who loves it, so I cut it from the menu this time. But I plan to indulge myself Christmas.

Hi, Gannon! Thanks for dropping by. I suspect that there's a whole company of us who have dear memories of our grandmother's button boxes. Those buttons came in handy with any numer of lets-pretend games as well. Mama would give me a few, and I would transform them into precious jewels that had to be hidden from thieves, clues dropped by a dastardly villain, or the eyes of wondrous creatures.

Maggie Robinson w/a Margaret Rowe said...

I have two button boxes, both in old candy tins belonging to my mother. She was a great seamstress (actually designed clothes in Vienna)and going through my "button friends" brings back many memories. I remember the dresses and blouses that used to be attached. When I was a little girl I made button families with buttons that were alike. Sigh. My kids tease me about my lame childhood,but how I loved those buttons.

I find it very hard to cut anything, but I do save alternate versions of things.

We didn't have turkey this year--had a brunch instead. There were leftovers of this fab ham, cheese and potato casserole. There are no leftovers now. :)

TerriOsburn said...

My grandmother had one of those button boxes. I used to love to play in that box. And there was always something we could use.

I don't keep many words in a button box file, but I have some unused stuff on my other laptop, which I need to get fixed so I can get to them. I'm sure once I finish this first draft and move to revisions, a large button box file will emerge.

irisheyes said...

My mother had a button box also and she didn't even sew! LOL I think it was just the thing to do. It was always great fun playing around in it and finding gems.

I do have a button box file on my computer. Maybe that is what I'll rename it. Right now it's just short snippets individually filed under writings. I go back to them every once and a while and pull out phrases or sentences that are appropriate for what I'm currently writing. I try not to get rid of anything even if it makes me cringe:)

Janga said...

Button families! I like that, Maggie. I'm envious that you don't have to cut. I sometimes feel as if I have to cut two words for everyone I keep. :(

I like the holiday brunch idea. My family tried it the Christmas after my mother's death. Our loss was so fresh that no one could bear the traditional gathering. But we reverted the following year; we are a tradition-bound group.

Yes, Terri. I think it's that "always something we could use" that makes the button box term so useful for writers. I bet you have lots of buttons in your old manuscript.

Irish, if I got rid of everything that makes me cringe, I'd get rid of 90% of what I write. I know. I've tried highlighting everything I thought was crap in a chapter, and I was left with two paragraphs. But some distance and some tweaking can work wonders.