Inspiring stories come from everywhere. This one comes from a button store. Yesterday, my treasured coat from my former home in Italy had come up missing one. It happens.
So where better to go, but to the “Cork Button Company”?!
Inside, as you might expect, the walls were covered with rows and rows of the useful fasteners. Small. Large. Colourful. Metallic. Round. Square. You name it.
The proprietor’s name of this eye-popping little store is Catherine Bluett.
She greeted each customer like a friend. My total purchase was about five dollars, but she paid attention to me as if I were buying a new car.
I asked her how long she had owned the button company. She told me she began working here years ago, when she was just 14. David McCormick owned it at the time. And although Catherine was close to her own mother Brenda, she also became close to David, his wife and their children too. She got a second family along with her job.
So, Catherine worked there. She grew up. She got married. She had children. Along the way, she separated from her husband. She stopped working. Or maybe she had already given up her full-time job by the time she found herself on her own. I forget the precise chronology. Years went by.
And then her mother Brenda died. Catherine, without full-time work, a partner and her mother. Felt alone. Depressed. Hopeless.
A year after her mother passed, on an April day, feeling especially down, Catherine turned to an unseasonable movie to lift her spirits. “It’s a Wonderful Life”, in which George Bailey finds meaning in his life.
Catherine told me she had come to the harrowing point in the film where George is about to throw himself into the river. She felt the same way. Ready to give up on life.
In her own desperation, she shouted out to her dead mother, “Please give me something. A sign. Anything!”
Catherine told me before the film concluded, she fell asleep. Crying in her despair.
She was awakened by someone at her door.
When she answered, it was a young woman.
“Are you the Catherine who used to work at the Button Company?” the young woman asked.
Catherine confirmed she was.
“The McCormicks asked me to come over to you to see if you would come back to work a few hours a week. They need your help.”
David McCorimick and his family needed her. Needless to say, Catherine needed them.
The young woman started to give Catherine the number to the shop. But Catherine told me she still didn’t need to be given it. She still remembered it by heart.
Then, as the woman turned to go, Catherine told me she asked the young woman her name.
“My name is Brenda.”
The same as Catherine’s mother.
* * *
Catherine returned to the button shop and began working for the McCormicks again.
Eventually, David was ready to retire. His grown children didn’t have any interest in taking over the button shop. But Catherine did. That’s how she came to own the Cork Button Company.
David died two years ago. Catherine showed me his framed portrait on the wall.
His wife still comes by to check in on things from time to time, telling her she has improved it a lot. Adding yarn and other notions to the inventory.
And, in addition to her new career as store owner, something else has been added to Catherine’s life. Fitting a proper Valentine’s Day story, if not for the Cork Button Company, Catherine would not have met the man whom she introduced to me as “the love of my life.”
Colin worked for a courier service and regularly delivered to the button shop after Catherine took over. For the longest time, she enjoyed his company only when he passed by, but, although he asked, she refused to go out with him for a drink after work.
One day, he announced he was taking a new job and wouldn’t be passing by any more. Suddenly, Catherine told me, she realized she cared about this person more than she had realised. She finally agreed to that drink after work. And as, she told me yesterday, she and Colin, have been inseparable from that day since.
She also proudly showed me her left ring finger. They are now engaged.
In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey is disappointed time after time. If you don’t know how it’s going to end, the first three-quarters of the film is actually pretty painful to watch.
Then, with the heavenly help of Clarence the angel who wants to earn his wings, George ultimately prevails due to the kindness of the people he has been kind to and sacrificed himself for over the years.
The film ends with George surrounded by family and friends as he learns that life is indeed, “Wonderful.”
How do we persevere through difficulty? Through times with no bright career prospects? Through Valentine’s Days with no Valentine?
It’s not easy when you don’t know how your own movie is going to end.
But, I do know that sharing stories of other people’s triumphs over dark times – are inspiring. These stories remind us that while we don’t know if we are guaranteed to find career success, or true love, or name your dream – around the next bend—we can be certain that we won’t find it if we don’t force ourselves to get up and go around the corner in search of it.
So, no matter where you are on your professional and/or personally journey this Valentine’s Day, I am filled with hope and happiness as I share with you the story of Catherine Bluett.
If you ever need a button, come to Cork’s Button Company. Tell Catherine, Gina sent you.