19 In Women Now

Larry Buttons: A story about friendship, buttons and hope

Brenda and Larry, friends to buttons on BrendaKinsel.com

He’ll always be Larry Buttons to me

 

I hadn’t seen my friend Larry in nearly four years. We had a lot of catching up to do and spending July 4th with him was perfect timing. That’s what it was when we met 27 years ago, as well. We were both single. A mutual friend said to me, “You have to meet Larry.” I didn’t know why I needed to meet Larry, but followed Oliver’s orders. Oliver gave me his address on Divisadero Street in San Francisco. One day after work, I stopped by. I remember facing his door, ringing his doorbell, and not knowing what to expect.

When he opened the door, he might have said hello, but I’m not sure. He spotted the button bracelet I was wearing. He directed me to the back of his flat where there was a table filled with button jewelry, all of it from vintage buttons that he’d collected to create these striking pieces. I don’t remember looking at his face; the buttons had my full attention. Back in Fairfax, in a studio behind my rented home (post-divorce), I had a work bench where I created button jewelry that I made for myself and sold to customers. They were all one-of-a-kind.

I’d been collecting buttons during my married years when my ex, an antique dealer, would bring batches of them home quite regularly. I loved the front sides of buttons and the back sides. I loved layering buttons. All that fine hand sewing I did to create them was great medicine while facing the depression of divorce.

In Larry I had met my craft/art soulmate.

Here’s a story I wrote about Larry 23 years ago. When my friend Molly Fisk and I did live readings of Poems and Prose on Sex and Clothes, this was always the piece I ended the show with. It had a way of taking the air out of the room. Here it is for you to “hear” for the first time.

Meet the Larry I wrote about 23 years ago (not much has changed!)

I was driving the kids to school one February morning. From the backseat, Trev who was twelve at the time, said, “Mom, who can wear puke green?” I caught his hazel eyes in my rear view mirror and said cheerily, “We can, Honey.” He slumped, relaxed against the seat, satisfied.

I told this story to my friend Larry who can wear puke green, too. He was visiting me from Santa Fe last week and I made dinner with his favorite colors in mind: split pea soup, pureed yams nestled in orange half shells, spinach salad with tomatoes and mushrooms and veggie burgers on sprouted barley buns. He’s a vegetarian, no dairy. He eats like a horse.

While clearing the dishes we caught up on our favorite subject, spicy autumn colors. He told me about a vest he picked up in San Francisco the other day. I told him about the new bra I got. “See?” and I pulled my T-shirt across my shoulder to show him the bronzed olive strap. “Finally, something sexy in lingerie that’s not black,” I said.

He laughed. “Better stock up!”

Making button bracelets on BrendaKinsel.com

Button bracelets by Brenda

 

Larry’s gay and from Iowa. I’m straight and from North Dakota. We met years ago at Larry’s flat on Divisadero Street through a mutual friend. We wore the same short haircut buzzed close to our heads. Larry’s first words to me were about the button bracelet I was wearing. He led me to his kitchen table. It was loaded with jewelry he’d designed out of buttons from the ’40s in warm colors: rich brown, harvest gold and tomato red. I knew right then we were soul mates.

After that it was like Christmas every time we saw each other. I showed him the button bracelets I’d made. We started trading supplies back and forth like kids trading baseball cards. “I’ll give you this ’50s watermelon button for this ’30s cloisonné cherry button.”

Larry has a last name but I hardly remember it. He’s Larry Buttons to me. He left San Francisco three years ago to “get away from the dead and the dying.” Almost every friend of his has died from AIDS.

He told me on our after dinner walk to the coffee shop that people are dying in Santa Fe too, but he said, “It’s a small town. It makes it seem like AIDS isn’t everywhere. I’m healing there.”

We passed through a narrow alley and Larry’s honey brown hair and greenish eyes glowed under the street light. He changed the subject. He told me about this guy he works with in Santa Fe. Larry said, “When I get to work mark says ‘Oh Larry, you’re wearing your decaying colors again.’ He’s just jealous. When he tries to wear our colors, he looks like death.”

Not us. We look splendid in decaying colors. We gloat. We’re obnoxious, but we don’t care.

 

Button Jewelry on BrendaKinsel.com

My button bracelets still get worn

 

I treated him to apple pie at the coffee shop. It was his birthday last week. Forty-five. He had trouble reading the tea selections off the small print at the counter and I gave him a friendly jab in his side. “That’s okay, Larry, I’ll read them for you,” I said like he was an old fogey. Never mind I’m only a few years younger.

Back at home we talked about the new art on my wall. “I like it,” he said. “Of course you do. It’s in your colors!” I chided him. He leaned next to the big painting and stretched his jacket sleeve to almost touch the spot of matching coral red. He said, “I like this part the best” and grinned at me.

It was time to go. We hugged at the door. I watched him hard as he left the porch. I held tight to his image as he headed for the front gate: Larry in his leaf green jeans, his brown lace-up shoes, his coral jean jacket; Larry who has survived his friends. He put his hand on the gate, looked over his shoulder as he stepped into the darkness. He called back softly, “Bye, Brenda.”

I want to know Larry forever.

A friendship that began with buttons on BrendaKinsel.com

A friendship that flourished over buttons

 

 

And now, 27 years later…

When Russ saw the bracelet on my wrist on Tuesday he said, “Are you wearing that because Larry Buttons is coming over?” “Absolutely!” I said.

While we were visiting at home and at the Girl and the Fig we were reminiscing. He asked about the kids. He said, “Do you realize Erin is the age you were when I met you?” That was an amazing thought! He was an instant member of the family. He came to the house a lot. He attended the kids’ events, came to Thanksgiving (he makes a mean salad!), Christmas, book events, Oscar parties, you name it. When I met Russ he told me in no uncertain terms, “He’s a keeper.”

 

Mother of pearl button bracelet on BrendaKinsel.com

Backsides of mother of pearl buttons make up this bracelet

 

One thing I noticed but didn’t mention is that Larry was wearing a shirt that had black in it. Ah, some things do change with time! With the change in my coloring, I’m definitely wearing colors other than olive green and burnished gold. We talked about the deaths of his father and my mother and brother. He gave me insights that I’m still thinking about.

Our next plan is to visit him in Portland before October and maybe again in Mexico this winter during his extended stay there.

I use this term a lot now…

since I’m getting older

…but it’s true: Since I’m getting older, these longterm friendships are the true treasures in my life. Whether we see each other once a year or once every four years, we pick up where we were without missing a step.

One thing remains the same: I want to know Larry forever…and I know I will.

I bet you have friends like that too. Tell me about them, would you?

 

Button Bracelets by Brenda on BrendaKinsel.com

Where there is one button bracelet, there are more!

 

A button bracelet with a face on BrendaKinsel.co

My face button bracelet

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19 Comments

  • Reply
    Diane
    July 6, 2017 at 3:34 am

    Brenda, hope your July 4th was as special as it sounds. Ours was the July 1st celebration in Canada. It is so very special to have friends that last a lifetime, we don’t get many of those.Larry sounds like a real treasure. I have lost two of those in my past and deeply miss the conversations and connections. So special that he thought Russ was a “keeper” and truely is. You look so happy in the photo to have reconnected. Thanks for the peek into a special friendship and look forward to hearing about your trips to get together again. P.S. how did the wedding outfit go?

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 6, 2017 at 8:57 am

      Diane, you’re so right. Those friendships are so special and they don’t happen every day! My kids have friends from grade school and high school and I love watching that. The wedding for the outfit was great. Unfortunately, someone spilled red wine and it got me from head to toe. Uff da! I got NO pictures of it so will have to recreate it. Thanks for thinking of that!

  • Reply
    Kim Evans
    July 6, 2017 at 5:51 am

    I LOVE those bracelets and one of a kind pieces. Did you make them all or are they sold somewhere?

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 6, 2017 at 8:53 am

      I made them all. These are the ones in my private collection. I basically made them for individuals who saw them and had to have one. So it was fun creating bracelets with materials that would go with their coloring. Very very fun!

  • Reply
    Sandi Mcdougall
    July 6, 2017 at 5:58 am

    Oh how I loved this article. I can relate to the love of the dark colors being the autumn I am. And find it hard to wear even the lightest of my palette without some color to my skin. (SPF 50 doesn’t let you get much) And lastly, I have remained friends with many people I met when I was ten years old and moved to Grand Forks, ND. In the past two weeks I have seen three of them. Two of them I haven’t seen in at least five years. There is something so comfortable about those relationships. PS. Looking forward to our meeting at Nichole’s the end of the month.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 6, 2017 at 8:54 am

      Sandi, you are right about meeting at Nichole’s! It may be the first week of August but let’s do it! Maybe you can email me your phone info, etc. Glad you related to the love of those colors! I chuckle at how much Larry and I would talk about them! Friends…the best.

  • Reply
    Kathy
    July 6, 2017 at 7:34 am

    I have three friends I eat lunch with on a regular basis and have been friends with all of them for over 35 years. They are a blessing in my life. I regularly have visions of us in the nursing home complaining about needing our hair colored! Such fun!
    I was just wondering why you both were in front of a fire truck in the picture? I hope you hadn’t been rescued from too much fun!!! Love your smiles and the button jewelry! I owned a lovely vintage button bracelet and pin but have long since misplaced them. Thank you for sharing your collection! They are beautiful!

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 6, 2017 at 8:58 am

      That’s funny, Kathy! No, we were in the Sonoma Plaza and the fire trucks were there and they seemed as good a background as any! But I love your comment about them! And your vision of your friends, well, that’s just the best! Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Cara
    July 6, 2017 at 9:39 am

    I love buttons, too. I have so many of them that I collected over the years, from thrift stores, auctions, yard sales. Everyone around thought I was nuts to want a bunch of old buttons, but it made me sad to think they’d be discarded, so I gave them a home. Every once in a while I use the old ones to replace newer ones and they really make a difference. I especially love the cut glass black ones. Before I donate clothes with the old buttons, I remove them to be reused.

    Your bracelets are very wonderful, Brenda. Are they put together with elastic thread, or sewn onto cloth? I’m asking because I’d like to use more of the old ones I have and that would be a way.

    Thank you for sharing your relationship with Larry with us– it’s lovely. I had a friend like that from college, but he passed away and I miss him all the time.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 6, 2017 at 6:50 pm

      Hi Cara. Yes, those friendships are invaluable!
      The way I made them is I’d take a length of elastic (and width of course which changed depending on the size buttons I was using), be sure it could be have some overlap, and then I’d make a silk sleeve for the elastic. If the bracelet was going to have a centerpiece (as some of them do in these pictures) I’d start in that area first. I sewed every button down into that inside layer of the fabric making lots and lots of knots. I didn’t want one button to break or come undone and have the whole thing fall apart so I was very meticulous about anchoring them all. I wanted the buttons to smother the elastic and the sleeve so you wouldn’t see it. Then when I got close to the edges, I’d sew the band shut and have to finish the last inch or more working on the buttons with it circular. Of course it was easiest to work on it when it was flat. I paid a lot of attention to colors and textures. The bracelet I wore in Santa Fe was all the backsides of mother of pearl buttons. I had gone walking in the fall on a path I liked and looked down and saw leaves in colors I loved. I carried them home and tried to replicate the color of those leaves and managed to with the “wrong” side of the buttons on the outside.

      This makes me want to make more of them! I hope you have fun making yours.

  • Reply
    cindy hattersley
    July 6, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    LOVE this story…Larry sounds like a special friend indeed…and your bracelets are good! Hope you had a great 4th!!

    Your pal, Cindy

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 6, 2017 at 6:51 pm

      Thanks, Cindy! It was a great day of “remembering when” and catching up at the same time!
      Your pal,
      Brenda

  • Reply
    Cara
    July 7, 2017 at 8:32 am

    Thank you, Brenda, for explaining. I love the one with the single brown buttons that are rounded on top!

  • Reply
    Barbara Kraus
    July 7, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    That was one smart and observant friend who connected you. And I love that you didn’t know why before you met.
    Those are by far the most interesting button bracelets I have ever seen. It’s fun to see another aspect of your creativity.
    Deep long friendships like this are life giving. So nice for us to have “met” Larry Buttons through this article.
    Aids is/was such a tragedy. So much loss, so concentrated in SF.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 11, 2017 at 7:48 am

      I feel so happy that you met Larry too. Warms my heart! Thanks for the appreciation of the button bracelets!!

  • Reply
    MimiG2002
    July 7, 2017 at 7:43 pm

    Friendships – my favorite thing about people is who their friends are. I think you can learn so much about people that way. Yours shows loyalty, love, a giving heart. That’s nice, very nice.
    I want to tell you about one of my dearest friends. Haven’t seen her in almost 3 years, but I sent her an email the other day and said I was going to be driving through her town on my way to the mountains. I immediately, and I mean immediately, got an email back that said – Spend the night party!!. Well, that’s what we used to do many years ago, and we’re going to do it again tomorrow night. We will just pick up where we left off 3 years ago and talk and cry and her husband will cook for us. Love that girl and her giving heart.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      July 11, 2017 at 7:50 am

      Wow, that sounds so fun! What a great friend! That is just the best feeling! Thanks for sharing!!

  • Reply
    Deborah Greenaway
    October 13, 2017 at 3:43 am

    Hello Brenda, thank you so much for these heartwarming pieces. I met Larry “Silk” about 13 years ago in Chiang Mai Thailand. I didn’t know him as Larry “Buttons” because by then he was an avid collector of silk scarves, shawls and hangings from all over south east Asia. He knew so much about weaving and was fascinating to listen to. Every winter season he would show me the collections from his travels and I always admired his sense of taste and colour. He had shirts made by the Chiang Mai tailors and they were always in that beautiful autumnal palette he loves to wear. Of course I teased him as I like to wear really bright colours and especially blue; cobolt and turquoises. So when we went to Bali and India together and he was selecting pieces to sell, I always encouraged him to buy the blue pieces. He confessed that they sold well! When I spent a month with him at this beautiful house in Portland, I was both thrilled and shocked to see his wardrobe jam packed with beautiful shirts, all in his favourite colours. So many shirts! Last year I noticed that some fuchsia pink was creeping into Larry’s palette – or could that be my wild imagination and some wishful thinking? What is clear is that we both love colour so much! We are on opposite sides of the colour spectrum, as we are very different personalities but I think we blend well! We will be in Mexico together, appropriately in a weaving village and surrounded by both his colours and mine. I would call that a recipe for happiness! I hope I will meet you there, Brenda, you sound like a wonderful person. Until then, thank you again for these tributes to a special person; Larry Silk Buttons.

    • Reply
      Brenda
      October 13, 2017 at 10:09 pm

      Oh my dear Deborah, what a wonderful tribute to our amazing friend, Larry. I knew of these travels and the silks (and have some!) but to hear your Larry Silk stories spoken with such love is wonderful. It demonstrates the difference a human being can make on others. I’d love to meet you and happy for me, I love his colors and yours! I think I’d be invited into the club. Big hugs to you!

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