(photo description: A large clear, wide mouth jar, top off, filled with multicoloured buttons.)
I have written about my Grandmother a couple of times here on the blog and elsewhere. Grandma Hingsburger was, and continues to be, a powerful presence in my life. I think of her mostly after I dream of her. She created safe harbour for me, she saw something in me that no one else saw. For her, love was something you did - and she did love well. Recently, I had cause to remember ...
Grandma's Button Jar
Grandma Hingsburger had a huge button jar. Now, when I say huge, I mean huge to a kid, It was full of the most spectacular buttons. She would let me play with it and those buttons provided me with hours of entertainment.. It didn't seem odd to her that while my brother was out playing baseball (?) with friends, I'd be inside arranging the buttons in interesting patterns and experimenting with colour. She would often sit with me and simply watch what I was doing. I'd lean up against her legs and pull the coffee table closer and spend what seemed like forever simply having fun doing and being.
One of the games that Grandma invented was 'hide the cookie jar.' The rules were simple. You hid the cookie jar. It was a different kind of hide and seek. One day, when it was my turn, Grandma and my brother squeezed their eyes shut I went and hid the jar. I came back to them and told them that they could go in search.
Off they went. My brother gave up after ten or fifteen minutes but my Grandma, for all that she was loving, she was also competitive did not give up easily. She would find that jar. So look she did. I fell asleep to the sounds of her rummaging in places I didn't know you could rummage. When I woke, Grandma was sitting looking at me with respect. I had bested her. I had hidden a large jar in a small house so well she couldn't find it. She asked me to show her where it was.
I had forgotten.
Inside I felt terror. Grandma loved that Button Jar ... hell, I loved that Button Jar. I sat there and stammered out that I didn't remember. She just said quietly, "take a moment, it will come to you." I took a moment, it didn't come to me.
I told her.
I didn't remember.
I waited for her anger. I was used to anger. I was used to being a disappointment. I was used to being 'more trouble than I was worth.' Grandma looked at me. Really looked at me. I don't know what she saw. But I remember what I saw. She smiled and then she laughed.
She said that the story of the lost button jar was better than the button jar itself. And it did become a story. She would tell it with great gusto. She would talk about tearing the house apart looking for that damned jar. Over the years, every now and then, she'd do another search for the jar. Even when I was an adult, she'd let me know that she had looked and that the game wouldn't be over until the jar was found.
The game never ended.
Even after Grandma died and her things were moved out of the house. The jar remained hidden. To this day I don't remember what I did with it or where I put it. It remains hidden, the game remains in play.
Grandma knew how to teach.
Now that I am an adult I remember this story differently. I remember those moments when she looked at me as I stammered the truth about having forgotten the secret hiding place. I know now that she was making a decision. That she was wise enough to know that there was a decision to be made - that anger, and love, were choices. And she chose love.
I come back to that realisation often.
In the work that I do with people with disabilities.
In the moments I have with Ruby and Sadie.
I can choose how to be and how to react.
The other day someone with a disability was in my office and spilled something on my desk. They looked at me with fear - I had a choice. I laughed Grandma's laugh.
The other day Sadie accidentally broke a Christmas tree ornament. She looked at me with anxiety. I had a choice. I made Grandma's choice.
Perhaps where Grandma's Button Jar had the greatest impact on my life was in my determination to always choose 'hope' even though my natural inclination is towards depression and despair.Thus, though I war within, hope almost always wins. When I first realised that I was gay, even though it was a time where sexuality was not discussed and closets were nailed shut, I dared hope that I'd be loved one day. When I first sat down in a wheelchair, I dared hope that my life would get bigger, not smaller.
Two men looked from prison bars
One saw mud, the other, stars
From this woman I learned that I had choices. I learned that sometimes the story that comes from accidents and lost button jars are the best stories. I learned that love is something you do and hope is a choice you make.
And to this very day ... I love my Grandmother dearly.