Handmade quilts, doilies and other paraphernalia created by ancestors who wanted to add a spark of beauty to their homes give me great pleasure. But lately, I’ve been really enjoying the old aprons hanging in our kitchen.
Aprons have been a mainstay for women since the beginning of time. In fact, according to Genesis 3:7, Adam and Eve “sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” Chances are Eve did the sewing, establishing the first divisions of labor in a household.
When I stop and think about it, men discarded aprons rather quickly, save a chef’s bib, a tool apron or trendy barbecue accoutrement. But until recent years there wasn’t a woman worth her weight in country fried steak who didn’t own at least one apron. Clothing was limited and washing was difficult so keeping a dress as clean as possible for as long as possible was important. The apron’s job is simple – keep the wearer’s clothes clean. As I revisit my apron collection, stories bubble up.
My oldest and smallest apron belonged to Great-Grandma Yancey who died at the age of 101 in 1959. She said that as a child she watched Confederates march through Tallapoosa. She was a petite and spirited woman, but her bib apron is almost saintly – it is pure white and adorned with intricate crochet. It is so tiny that I don’t know anyone over 7 that could wear it. I was born bigger than that apron! I can imagine the fresh eggs she gathered in that apron every morning from the chicken coop.
Aunt Gladys, my most colorful and spirited aunt, gave me an apron that reflected her sassiness. It is boldly embroidered with tea cups that say “me” and “you.” Not one to be single after the passing of a husband, she had three “yous” in her lifetime.
Next in line is a small green gingham apron sewn by an aunt whose life was more challenging than most. During one particularly difficult time, she sewed dainty aprons for all her sisters-in-law. How she must have painstakingly measured and cut to create the perfect pattern. I have a lump in my throat as I think about her sweet gift of love.
Aunt Audie, Daddy’s twin sister, was a rather short, round woman. OK, she was really round, so her over-sized apron wrap around me twice — three times when I was younger.
That brings me to cousin Jimmy Smith’s red bib apron. Like Aunt Audie, Jimmy had a full figure — and like Aunt Audie, he made cathead biscuits to die for. Donning his red apron, Jimmy sat at his counter and mixed Crisco, buttermilk, and flour before patting out lightly, fluffy, golden biscuits. When he finished his apron was covered with white dust. Jimmy gave me some lessons, but try as I might I never made a perfect biscuit. When he passed away Martha Jean honored me by giving me one of his red aprons. I wear it a lot.
Then there’s Mama’s aprons. Her everyday apron was red and green plaid. She had a few Sunday aprons that she wore on the rare occasions she cooked a Sabbath meal. Daddy thought she needed a break on Sundays so we usually went to a buffet somewhere. Mama delighted in the apron I made for my first home economics sewing project and wore it with such pride you would have thought I made her a prom dress. Later, when Miss Corrine taught me to finger sew I cross-stitched a red checkered apron for Mama that she wore until she broke up housekeeping.
But the aprons that fascinate me the most are the frilly, lacy ones Mama kept tucked away for serving snacks (who knew what hors d’oeuvres were?) at Canasta parties or bridal showers. I chuckle as I look at those transparent, flimsy little things that resemble a sex siren’s Halloween costume. Mama was no sex siren – at least I don’t think she was!
What I do remember is that Mama’s aprons reflected her sincere attempt to maintain decorum in spite of cooking, cleaning, working full time, and trying to rear three grateful kids. No matter what task she performed, Mama always untied her apron and put it away before sitting down at the dinner table or joining us for television.
I’m tickled to be tied to those apron strings and I’m betting that some of you are too!
Garrett, a Carroll County resident, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian. Share your thoughts with her at email@example.com or join her on Twitter.