Friday, May 13, 2011

A Charming Tradition

Many years after these two little girls were grown, Lydia Tannahill (the youngest) wrote to her sister, Amy Tannahill,  and asked if she remembered the Charm strings that they had made as children.  The answer to "who will I wed?" was to be found in buttons. Young women spent years gathering strings of the most beautiful buttons, aiming for 999 so that the thousandth could be added by their "Prince Charming". There were many different customs for these memory strings or charm strings or just button strings but the Prince Charming story was the most common.  Another custom required that a girl acquire 999 buttons before her friends did, making it more like a game.  In this version, gaining the thousandth button doomed the girl to spinsterhood.  There may have been different versions but the rules were the same for gathering the buttons.  They should be one of a kind, the prettiest and most brilliant available, preferably gifts from a friend, boyfriend, or family member, or traded with another stringer.  They should not be bought.  While unfinished, the charm string was kept in plain view to inspire visitors to contribute buttons and also to brag and tell colorful stories of how you got each one. "This button was given by Aunt Mable from a gown she wore to the Inaugural Ball" or "This was from grandfather's Civil War uniform."  Memories were remembered and stories told by families while they sat on the porch, visiting and drinking lemonade, and rummaging through Mother's and Grandmother's button boxes.  These "button boxes were the leading sources of materials for charm strings, and these young girls became the country's first button collectors."

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