When I was a kid my mom had a Buttoneer. If you’re not familiar with this handy-dandy product (which I find most people are not) it was a gadget for quickly repairing a lost button. No need for needle and thread, you just loaded a line of little plastic thingys into the side of the Buttoneer, pushed the point of the Buttoneer through the button and the fabric and voila! The plastic thingys came in different colors (hopefully one that matched your shirt) and were super annoying if they made contact with your skin. (Think about not taking the price tag off a new shirt or pair of pants and having that plastic thingy poke you during your everyday movements – every hour or so.)
Mom was mechanically inclined, loved anything that was quick and easy, and kept her useful gadgets close and at the ready. Although she was somewhat crafty (think macramé hanging planters and Styrofoam ball push pin Christmas tree ornaments) she took pride in fixing things. I’m not sure if it was thriftiness (she was a stay at home mom with five kids) or the challenge and victory of making something that wasn’t working work again, but in any case, she had an interesting arsenal of tools and she could fix you up in a New York minute.
I don’t know if people still use contact paper, but Mom was a fan. She covered coffee and juice cans to make decorative containers, turned an old cigar box into a colorful place to keep a kid’s crayons, and she wrapped my thermos in a cover of daisies to brighten my day while I ate my lunch at school. One inspired day, she decided to cover our old white metal kitchen cupboards with brown contact paper that was supposed to look like wood grain. I’m pretty sure none of our friends or neighbors were fooled into thinking we had new wood cabinets, but to be fair, it did look better. There was no end to the ideas she had for contact paper. One year when she was trick or treating with grandkids, she made a face mask of brightly colored mosaic contact paper. She threw on a Chilean poncho and was ready to go. Nobody really knew what she was – a fashion forward masked caballero? – but she always got an A+ for entertaining kids. Despite my best efforts, I could not find the photographic evidence of this costume that I know exists.
Another favorite tool was her glue gun. If anyone dare to mention that something was coming apart, she was off to heat up her glue gun. Weather stripping lifting, slipper sole separating, broken glasses bow… If my mom couldn’t fix it with her glue gun, it was a lost cause. I mentioned Mom’s glue gun to my siblings and asked for a show of hands. I was shocked how many siblings and their offspring have one. I’ve never had one or felt the need to have one, but I was impressed with how many family members do. Our mother would be proud.
Not for repairs, but an essential item in our household was a label maker. When I was a kid, our label maker looked like this…
I loved turning the wheel with the letters in order to stamp out my name. In case you didn’t already know, and just to be clear, a label maker “ is not a toy,” and this information was often followed by the reminder that, “labels cost money.” That said, it is not surprising that the label maker wasn’t easily accessible to a junior member of the household, and if you were lucky enough to come across it, say in a desk drawer, and use it, you would not find it there again.
Other essential items in my mom’s toolkit included a black permanent Sharpie marker, a money apron, (you never know when you’ll be having a garage sale or helping out at the church bake sale or PTA carnival) a stapler, and a single hole paper punch. If Mom couldn’t make it, fix it, or improve it with these items then you didn’t need it.