October 30, 2009

My life of crime

When I was a child, Mama Fresh liked to sew many of our clothes. One outfit that vividly stands out was when Mama must have gotten a deal on many yards of olive green extremely wide-waled arctic thickness corduroy. My brothers and I had matching pants and vests constructed of this immovable fabric. We resembled miniature soldiers walking stiffly, not in khaki, but corduroy, needing only a few medals of honor to complete our uniforms.

I used to dread those twice-annual trips to the fabric store, looking for patterns and remnants. I just wished for blue jeans (or dungarees as Grandma called them) and a simple t-shirt from the local Sears. The closest we got to jeans were denim elastic-waisted bottoms. The elastic was ingeniously recycled from Papa's worn out underpants, so the waistband was always quite wide. I tried not to think too much about the underpants recycling. Movie heroines like Scarlett O’Hara used drapes and Maria in Sound of Music used the curtains. Apparently, we had no spare window treatments. We had dad’s underpants. I still hear Mama’s voice, “Nobody will ever know or see the elastic!”

One afternoon, during a particularly long fabric-searching marathon, there was nothing left for me to look at, like patterns or cute fabric that never was on sale anyway. I thought to play hide and seek in the bolts of fabric but nobody was there to look for me. My brothers never had to go on these trips.

I wandered past a bin of buttons and two big shiny brass buttons caught my eye. I do not know if I had heard the phrase about sewing brass buttons on my underpants and thought maybe that would dress up Dad’s elastic? Or perhaps I was determined to put some medals on our military looking outfits?

I am not sure what was so compelling about these two buttons but I was fascinated. I picked them up and studied my reflection, moving the buttons back and forth like a fun house mirror. My face warped, my eyes grew and shrunk. After entertaining myself with the buttons to help pass the time, I eventually decided to go check if Mama was finished.

I was about to return the card of buttons back to their bin but they seemed magnetized to my hand. Rather than put them back, I slipped them in my pocket without a second thought. I never even considered asking if we could get them. We just knew not to ask for anything at the store. I had no idea what I was going to do with the buttons, but suddenly, nothing was more important in my life than having those two shiny gold buttons.

They seemed to glow from my pocket. I held my hand tightly over the jacket pocket, in case they would escape or someone would notice. We bought our fabric and walked out the door and it was as simple as that; the buttons were mine. Nobody knew… no alarms went off; I was now the proud owner of two shiny brass buttons.

I could not wait to get home and study my prize. I scurried up to my room and hid in my closet, carefully removing the contraband from its hidden place. Then the gravity of my crime hit me. I had stolen those buttons. The face that reflected back at me was one of shame and petty crime. I was horrified. The fabric store was over an hour away, so it was not as if we could go back there, and I knew Mama would not be happy with me. Instead I buried the buttons in the bottom of my toy chest.

Every so often, I would pull the buttons out, but that same face stared back at me. Not the fun house face, the face of guilt. I stopped taking the buttons out and let my prize languish in the darkness.

Years later, that particular fabric store was going out of business. I wondered if my life of crime had been a contributing factor. I confessed my crime to the part time clerk while I was checking out, perhaps hoping for a moment of absolution. She looked at me as if I was crazy and I am sure I heard her say, “So?”

(Yeah, sew brass buttons on your underpants, that’s what started this whole mess in the first place).

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