Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button? by
(80 Stories)

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And the winner is: My aunt Ruth!

 I’ve written about my Aunt Ruth and her buttons here and in my book. She inspired me to start my own collection when I was a teenager. I kept them in a small box inside my grandparents’ secretary desk.

On more than one occasion, I talked to my cousin about his mother’s vast button collection. He asked me if I wanted some–he had three jars full of her pins and buttons!  I was happy to take one jar home. I had no idea what I would find, but was eager to see what treasures were inside the big jar of buttons.

 I dumped them all out on my dining room table and took about half an hour to sort through them all. What an impressive collection!

The accompanying pictures are only the tip of the iceberg, but I wanted to share some of my favorites, sorted into some loosely defined (by me) categories.

We have the political and the presidential (and I know what button she would be wearing today if she was still with us) going way back to Roosevelt. Where else will you see Pat Paulsen, Dizzy Gillespie, Allen Ginsberg, and Snoopy alongside some more familiar names? Just a small example of this category.

Some of the buttons fall under the category of miscellaneous. I had a few of these myself. Not sure why the poor penguin is singled out here.

And then there is the “not sure how to categorize” category. This is just a small sample of buttons from all corners, including music, protest marches and boycotts, and anti-war demonstrations. I admit that there are some extremely unlikely bedfellows in this group. Again, just a small representation of this category. My aunt went to a lot of protest marches and participated in many boycotts, and she always supported unions.

I admit, I had to look him up. Don’t know the occasion when my aunt might have worn these, but it’s possible she wore them to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art when Conner had a show there.

And this last one: as a symbol of the times when so much seems to be wrong with the world.

When doves cry




This one is a tribute to a writer friend and mentor, the amazing Anne Fox. Anne was a writer and an eagle-eyed editor. I was fortunate to meet her at a gathering of the local California Writers Club, Berkeley branch, well over a decade ago. A fellow writer and I decided to start a spin-off group and we both knew we had to have Anne as a member. At that time, she was in her eighties. She offered her passionate and insightful feedback on our work, and after a while we all heard her voice in our heads when we had gone overboard with the adjectives, adverbs, commas, or–god forbid–cliches. Our meetings were full of good-natured kidding around and serious discussions over the years.  During one of our monthly sessions when we were taking a scalpel to someone’s writing, Anne said what is now memorialized on this button we had made:

We all showed up wearing them at our next meeting and she loved it!

This year, due to the fact that Anne lived in a senior facility that went on serious lockdown and stayed that way, our group had to give up our meetings. Anne just passed away at age 95. She continued to edit and write until her final days. I would wear this button to a celebration of her life when and if her family arranges one.(I almost wrote, “I would proudly wear this button,” and then I thought better of it.) RIP Anne. You were one of a kind.

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Risa, I love this story so much! Amazing that Aunt Ruth had three jars full of buttons, and the ones you got only represent a third of her collection. I’m glad you divided them into different categories, although I had to laugh because two of the categories were “miscellaneous” and “not sure.” Sounds like you had a great collection of your own, sorry you don’t have those any more. The Anne Fox button is both clever and poignant. Thanks for sharing all these buttons in your usual articulate style.

    • Risa Nye says:

      Thanks, Suzy. I was so fortunate to have Anne in my life for as long as I did. She was a source of great support and encouragement. I’ll miss that.Maybe one day I can get my hands on the other two jars of my aunt’s buttons! There might be a sequel…

  2. Marian says:

    Really fun story, Risa, and love visiting and revisiting those buttons. And a nice tribute to your mentor. Hope her family does arrange a memorial in the future.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    What an amazing collection of buttons, Risa. I loved enlarging the images on my computer to read them. You were lucky to inherit one of your Aunt Ruth’s jars. I’ll bet there are a ton of stories connected to those buttons.

  4. What a fascinating and eclectic collection of buttons, Risa…your cousin was very generous in giving you an entire jar! You really do have to wonder about the significance of some of them. I especially like “What if…?” and both Bruce Conner buttons. I once had a bumper sticker that said “Who is John Galt?” referring to the character in Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” I thought it was so esoteric, and that I was so cool for having it on my VW.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    WOW! What a collection! Your aunt must have been someone very special, as only a third of her collection shows such commitment to progressive politics, cool music, emerging art (I’ll comment on Bruce Conner in a moment), and a life grounded in social justice.

    If you have a moment to read my story, the bulk of it reflects a sordid chapter in the history of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University 11 years ago. I have devoted incredible time and treasure there for more than 3 decades. We have a few Bruce Conners (from San Francisco, so I recognized the name immediately). Our best-know, entitled “Light Shower” – you can go to the Rose Art Museum website to have a look, is an assemblage that includes a real shower cap. It was done in 1965 and was a gift to the Rose. It hung on the Director’s office wall for a long time, and is often out on display; an amazing work.

    I also loved your description of Anne Fox, another inspirational woman in your life. I am sorry for your loss, particularly during this difficult period of COVID. Yes, your pin will be a fitting tribute to wear, whenever you can celebrate her. I lost an 88 year old cousin two weeks ago. Her sons held her Shiva over Zoom. People from around the world were able to attend, but there was no strong format to it. We did get to hear stories from her life and a photo montage played. That helped. But it isn’t like getting together in person to share, celebrate, grieve and remember.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    I’m a little bit late to this, Risa, so have very little to add other than how much I loved your story. Just an amazing collection that your Aunt Ruth had (especially if this is only the tip of the iceberg) — the very opposite of my own — and thank you so much for sharing it with us. As you would expect, the Bruce Connor and Anne Fox buttons were unknown to me and delightfully curious. And Anne sounds like she was a gem of a person.

  7. Wonderful Risa, I’m praying that soon we’ll have no more tearful doves on this battered planet.

    Stay safe everyone and vote like your life depends on it because it does.

  8. Fun to see so many in one place.Two questions:
    1. From your miscellaneous category, is there any positive or humorous way to read, “If it moves, fondle it.” Please help me if there is, or otherwise, are you sure it deserves to stay in your collection?
    2. Why would you not wear that button you described PROUDLY to a memorial?

    • Risa Nye says:

      Dale, I’m not sure I understand your first question. As far as I’m concerned, they all have a place in the collection that belonged to my aunt.
      2) The reason I decided not to say “proudly” is because Anne would not have approved of it. She went after those pesky “-ly” words in all of our writing. She would have preferred to have me “show and not tell” that I was proud. Hope this is helpful.

  9. Mister Ed says:

    I loved reading about the jar, and the treasure you found in it. I think there are still a few boxes or trunks in our house that deserve greater inspection. Your story motivates me. I had hoped to find a Wendell Wilkie button that i know is somewhere in this house for my story, but it was not to be found.

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