Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Button Box

"Rosalia Lukas (aka Lukaska) Koziol"
by Judy Westergard
Pastel on paper

A plea to replace a missing button on my husband’s slacks sent me to The Button Box...capitalization intentional. I love that box, for among the white and brown plastic buttons are what’s left of my grandmother’s button collection.
Rose was a Polish immigrant, a widow who eked out a Depression Era living for herself and her two daughters by sewing dresses for wealthier Twin Cities ladies. As a little girl, one of my favorite rainy-day pastimes was to play with that array of Bakelite®, bone, and nacre buttons. My mother often told me how she eschewed the “flash and dash” of heavily rhinestoned furbelows her mother insisted on adding to the taffeta dresses and gaberdine suits she created. But to my seven-year-old imagination, Rose was the imaginative creator of elegant clothes that featured shiny black buttons, two inches in diamater, a couple of dozen rhinestones embedded in their thick surfaces.
It took the understanding that comes with marriage and motherhood to move past my vision of Rose as only a creator of dresses and suits. She must have been quite a woman. Briefly...she put by enough money from the eggs she sold weekly from her family’s farm in Poland until she could buy steerage space on boat to the U.S., knowing she’d never see her people again. Somewhere on a train between Ellis Island and Chicago, she met Stanley Koziol, married him in Minneapolis, gave birth at home to two live babies and three still-borns, endured Stanley’s lingering, excruciating descent into madness and eventual death as the result of a traumatic brain injury, and continued to raise their two daughters alone.
Today, once again fingering those buttons that are all I have left of her, I wonder: Was she funny? Her daughter, my mother certainly was. Was she scared? As a young widow who spoke no English, trying to feed two youngsters during a time when food was scarce, how could she not have been scared? Was she brave? Was she determined? steadfast? staunch? Or was she stubborn, dogged, obstinate? What did it take to see two young girls through the Depression, to suffer through several years of uncontrolled diabetes, to die too young, too soon?
I run my fingers through The Button Box and try to imagine what her life was like, and I find myself wishing that she could know that her 63-year-old granddaughter thinks of her with great admiration.

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