Vintage aprons were more than just kitchen aprons.
Aprons were a necessary part of Mom’s wardrobe as a farmer’s wife: She had to be careful to not soil the few nice clothes she had. So protecting her dresses (Mom never wore slacks – she considered them sinful) from stains and splashes was a priority.
While looking at a few of Mom’s 1920s photos, I noticed a cover-up style of apron worn over her dresses. In checking the history of aprons, I found that in the 1920s and ’30s, women’s aprons followed the silhouette of a dress – long, flowing, and no waistline.
I hadn’t known how important aprons were for Mom until my oldest sister, Anita, told me that when she married in the 1940s, Mom’s advice was, “Make sure you have your hair combed and wear a clean apron!”
My older sisters, Anita and Jannetta, filled me in on Mom’s first aprons. She sewed her own, of course, usually from a discarded dress or material someone had given her. Some were colorful, trimmed in rickrack, but each one always had pockets. The material could be cotton, even feed bags that once held flour. She did have nice half-aprons (tied at the waist) that she usually wore on Sundays when she wouldn’t soil her dress as much.
As the youngest child, I remember Mom in mostly bib aprons – either a bib pinned to the bodice of a dress or shoulder straps attached to the waistband and crisscrossed in back.
I do recall that Mom’s aprons were quite stained and were seldom washed. My sisters were quick to point out, “Mom never wasted anything – even water. If she felt an apron had worn itself out, she’d take what she considered ‘still usable’ pieces and use them in her quilts.”
My earliest memory has to do with Mom’s apron. A closet underneath the stairs held all of our coats, sweaters and hats. The inside of the closet door sported a few hooks, and this is where Mom kept her aprons. My memory, possibly when I was only 4 or 5 years old, is of me pulling on one of Mom’s aprons and crying because I couldn’t pull it off the hook.
Since I’m the only sister with an aversion to cooking, I never wore an apron. All my sisters tell me that when they did dishes at home, they wore aprons. I tell them, “I never did.” They, as usual, chastise me, “No wonder. You never worked!”
All my sisters and I have vivid memories of Mom’s resourcefulness when it came to her trusty apron.
Mom had a large garden planted with various vegetables in the field out behind our house. When she felt a certain vegetable was in season, she’d be the first to check on it. Soon she’d arrive at the kitchen door yelling, “Hurry. Open this door. My hands are full!” Indeed her hands clutched two ends of her apron, filled to the brim with a batch of freshly picked green beans. That night we’d have a great ham and bean supper. But it was always the children who then picked the next batches of bounty.
The same with eggs. As each of us became “of age” to gather the eggs, Mom first showed us “how to,” always with her apron. Her left hand would hold the corners of the apron, making it into a sort of folded bowl. The right hand gathered the eggs and very gently placed them into the “apron bowl.”
All of us also remember Mom gathering little chicks or ducklings in her apron. Once these little ones started walking, they could be found all over the place. When found, Mom brought them back to their mother in her apron.
We all recall having our mouths wiped off with Mom’s apron before meals, whether we felt we needed it or not. We also remember her sitting at the kitchen table, a bushel of apples on the floor nearby. Before cutting up slices of apple for us, she would wipe it off on her thoroughly stained apron.
Mom did the cooking and baking herself; we girls did whatever chore she gave us. When she was making pie dough and rolling it out on the kitchen table, Mom’s apron was dusted in flour. After the dough was rolled and in the pan, her apron came off. She then gathered it carefully so the flour wouldn’t spill, and one of us had the privilege of shaking the apron over the railing on the front porch.
When checking on her pies in the oven, Mom would wipe her face clean with her apron after the pie’s hot steam blasted from the oven.
The uses for Mom’s apron were endless – even in the living room. When calling “Supper’s ready!” she would take the edge of her apron and use it as a dust rag on the end of a piece of furniture.
Mom is no longer with us, but her apron is. Unknown to the rest of us, my sister Dorothy saved one of Mom’s colorful aprons. She presented each of us with “a piece of Mom’s apron” in the shape of a small, colorful heart. Mine hangs on the kitchen wall and serves as a reminder of a skilled woman with plenty of grit.
A retired church secretary, Carole Christman Koch makes her home in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where she and her husband enjoy time with their family comprised of four children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
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