Friday, January 25, 2013

Grandma's Choice


(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.

Absolutely 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.


Anonymous said...

Oh Dave. You took me down memory lane with you - with my grandmother. Nana was my friend. She was the one, really the only one, who took time to listen to a small girl's life. She would sit patiently and listen to tales that couldn't have possibly interested her - except that I may have been a part or witness to them. She taught me to knit and introduced me to cross-words. She, like your grandma, saw something in me that I didn't even see myself. Her death was devastating for me - utterly. My one true confidant was gone. I cried for her for years and years - and still miss her dearly. How I wish I could visit her as an adult and tell her how much she meant to me. How I too try to apply her approach - to listen. To realize the telling is not always for my benefit, but for the benefit of the teller. The value doesn't always lie in how it affects me - but how the story affects the other. Often I don't care or know the characters of the tale - but I know and care about the person sharing the story. I'm so glad you have such wonderful memories. I'm sure you never look at a group of buttons without thinking of her.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anon, you're right, of course, I can't look at a group of buttons without thinking of her. And I refuse to say, "I loved my Grandmother" ... because my love isn't a thing of the past. I love her and I love my memories of her. Is there really a past tense of 'love'?

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story.

Princeton Posse said...

Thanks Dave, I too remember my grandma's button box. In fact, I still have it and am going to pass it on to my neice.

wendy said...

I'm so glad you had someone in your life who loved you and loved you well when you were a child, Dave.
The buttons got my tripping down memory lane too. Buttons must have been a big deal once upon a time. My mother, born during the Great Depression and giving birth to me, her last child and only daughter when she was 6 months shy of 40, always used to keep a pile of buttons in her sewing kit. I can't say I ever saw her use one...actually go and retrieve a button and sew it onto something, but I did see her cut the buttons off worn out clothes to keep. Some of them were plain, but pretty colours, some were "fancy" with patterns or odd shapes. As a little girl I would examine those buttons, sort them, play with my favorites.
My mother is 90 now, still living in her own house. When I visited her recently I had cause to look for something in her sewing box where I found a long thread strung with many of those same buttons. When I asked what it was about she said that it was the work of a little girl she used to babysit, long after I was grown and gone. Amazing. Buttons to entertain the generations!

theknapper said...

Ahhh button jars and loving and wise grammas....your story brought tears to my many heart lessons.

Belinda said...

I loved reading this, and the earlier post about this woman whose influence lingers so lovingly.

Do you know the fun that can be had with a bigger button and a bit of thread? Ruby and Sadie would love it. A longish thread goes through one hole in a button and back through another and you tie both ends together. The you hold out both loops with a finger through either side and the button in the middle and you toss the button around, over and over again until the thread on both side is beginning to go kinky and tense. And then, at that point, you pull out at both sides, which makes the the button spin, and you let the tension pull your fingers in and out, in and out as the button continues to spin. Oh, dear, this is probably the worst explanation in the world. I hope it makes some sense. Lots of fun if you can figure it out. :)

joann:) said...

Thanks Dave, it brings back memories of the security my grandma gave me in a stressful household. I think of her often in that she didn't carry a job title, but she influenced me so much just by "being". If we all just let ourselves "be" and recognized simple talents, I think the world would be a better place with less emphasis on "disabilities". Belinda, that's a very good explanation! I played the same button game as a child...think I'll get my button jar out and try it again :)

Susan said...

Oh, Dave, I love your grandmother, too! What a great story. I could listen to that story a thousand times and be just as delighted at every telling. What a great role model Grandma Hingsburger is. That's the kind of grandmother I want to be too.

I hope you have more Grandma Hingsburger stories... :)

Anonymous said...

I cannot stop thinking about what a wonderful gift you left someone, someday; hopefully a child who will love them; will move a heating vent or lift a floor board and find a treasure beyond compare. You lost nothing, instead you left a magical time capsule.
I am breaking a commandment here I wish it was me so much I may be coveting :)
Have a great day