I became Buttons one summer in a coal bin but the name came from a book. I’d sit in Daddy’s big as Sunday lap, finger the soft felt covering over the dog’s face on top of the cover and hear about this little dog that lost its button nose.
“That dog is as black as coal,” Daddy said. “We’d better help. I climbed on his six foot four frame and rode around the house piggyback looking for that nose. Buttons, Buttons who’s got the button? Daddy sang out.
Daddy was one of my best pals caused the boys were so much older and beyond foolish kiddie books. But mama made them play with me in the summer time or else I’d wear her out. The boys tried to wear me out playing hide in seek. They’d camouflage themselves in trees, tractor tires; one of them even hung the other on a tool wall in the barn. I could never think of anything half as complex until the day daddy had coal delivered.
The gargantuan coal truck waddled up to the house and the workmen took a small basement window out to rest the conveyor arm. The truck spit out long rows of coal into the dark as a coffin coal bin. It gave me an even better idea. A great idea. I couldn’t wait to try it out.
In a few days Mama shooed us out of the house until daddy came home for supper. Brother Shack counted off as a handful of us spread out to hide. No one noticed as I inched toward the basement, cracked open the hinges on the make shift door and slid into the coal cellar. It took a few minutes to adjust to the tiny bits of sun threads filtered through that one window. It was just enough light to make some of the coal pieces wink in the dark as I crept toward the black mountain.
Outside the boys were chasing each other through the forsythia bushes trying to beat Shack back to base. I found a sort of smooth spot among the coals. I knew mama was gonna have a fit if I returned covered in soot. But out smarting brothers was worth the tongue whipping.
I sat on my spot to wait and tried to stay still to stay clean. Pretty soon I could hear Shack calling me. “Alright we give where are you?” He shouted. I didn’t say squat but chuckled knowing mama was gonna be as mad at them as she was at me. To stave off creeping boredom I rested my head against my knees and watched the sunlight dim in the window. I figured I’d wander on out in a few more minutes but somehow between the damp coolness and late afternoon hour, I fell fast asleep. When I woke, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. But I could hear voices. Lots of voices calling my name.
Now I knew I had gone too far and got up right quick. But when I did, I banged my head against an overhead pipe and got directionally confused. I was deciding between yelling and crawling when the old door crinkled open. Then footsteps crunched stray bits of coal and a boomy voice called “Buttons, Buttons who’s got the button?”
“Daddy?” I shouted to the creeping dark.
“Buttons, Buttons are you in here?” He pointed a tiny stream of yellow light from an old everyready in my direction.” Over here,” I shouted. “Buttons buttons,” he kept calling till I was safe in his arms. I was always Buttons after that, unless I was in trouble and he used my proper name. Everyone knew who he was calling or writing or phoning but no one else ever called me Buttons which is kinda sad cause I miss hearing the ring of it “ buttons buttons.”
An artsy friend of mine framed an old daddy snapshot and glued hundreds of tiny buttons around the edge. I love that picture. When I miss him I study that frame, and can hear him calling “Buttons, Buttons, where are you?” “Right here,” I’ll answer some great day, right here, waiting for you to call me home one last time.