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?