Button day

I rode with Peggy and another button-collector, Carmen, to Portland yesterday to the home of Jocelyn for a button sale and book signing. As president, Peggy knew everyone, yet upon her arrival, friendship was ignored in favor of shopping. As I watched the hobbyists standing elbow to elbow around a table with their eyes cast downward, I imagined a band of surgeons forced to postpone socializing until the patient was saved. Afterwards, Jocelyn said that endorphins race through her body when she is looking at buttons, to which I replied that the affliction is even worse than I feared.

It is not uncommon among button collectors to lie to their spouses about how much they spend. I was shocked to learn that this is even true of people who have been married sixty years. I trust Peggy on this as on all scores. When, years ago, I began to grow resentful of her growing expenditures, we agreed that she can spend as she pleases as long as I get an equal portion to spend as I please. I save my portion. Someday, I will be rich and can see the world, whereas Peggy will have to stay home and panhandle. Because I have little interest in seeing the world, I will probably share my wealth with her, and she will probably spend it on buttons, leaving us both to starve.

While Peggy shopped, I visited for an hour with Jocelyn’s mother who is 88 yet one of the most intensely intelligent and erudite people I know. She reminded me of Queen Elizabeth II in her hat and elegant clothes, and she threw out words like parse and eleemosynary that I hear so seldom that I had to think what they meant. I listened to her discourse with others for quite awhile before she and I hit upon the subject of local geology. She confessed to knowing little about it, yet she spoke knowledgeably of recently discovered faults and volcanic protuberances, and referred to books by every prominent geologist in Oregon. As with the words in her vocabulary, I had to make an effort to recollect their identities. She eventually moved on to other subjects (horses, ranching, farming, and her collection of antique lace), subjects about which I truly am ignorant. When she had picked my brain of all content that interested her, she abruptly excused herself and moved on to other people.

She stood in stark contrast to Carmen who is two years her junior yet had to be reminded repeatedly as we drove, just where it was we were going. Still, for kindness, integrity, and even perceptiveness, I would never think to doubt Carmen, whereas the woman in the hat seemed a little too pleased with her brilliance for me to know what to think of her.

Jocelyn suggested that Peggy might someday succeed her as the state’s preeminent authority on buttons. I later asked Peggy if this was conceivable, and she said that Jocelyn was just being kind, that there is another collector in Oregon—a quiet woman who keeps to herself—“who knows forty times more than I do.”

The thermometer hit 105 yesterday. I ran errands on my bike during the worst of it and noted that the streets were as empty as Dodge City before a shootout.

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