Memories of grandma, aprons

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mother found them in the bottom of an old basket she cleaned out the other day. They lay there for years waiting for discovery on this summer morning.

She told me about her find during a phone conversation.

“I was emptying the basket and guess what I found?” she said. “A stack of Mama’s old aprons.”

“Oh, how wonderful,” I said, a picture of my grandmother standing in her kitchen wearing an apron forming in my mind. “I’m so glad you have them. Remember when we wore aprons.”

And so began a discussion that brought others pictures into my head.

I remembered being a child draped in an apron as I helped Mama Helms cook. Standing beside her on a stool so I could reach the counter, the apron, too large for my small body, reached almost to the floor.

Later in home economics, our first sewing project was an apron. It was a simple one, all straight lines with big pockets and not a ruffle in sight. Wish I knew what happened to that thing.

For most of my homemaking years, I wore an apron and one hung in the kitchen ready for use as I prepared meals, put vegetables in the freezer or got a batch of baby bottles ready.

All this talk about aprons got me wondering about their history. I learned that it is a long and rich one.

There are researchers who point out Biblical references to them, citing a passage about Adam and Eve sewing together fig leaves to make aprons to cover their naked bodies.

I’m thinking the aprons I’ve had left a lot more exposed than covered, especially from the hind side.

Anyway, long before they became standard wear for homemakers, folks like butchers and blacksmiths wore them. Even the Freemasons have a place in apron history. They supposedly donned aprons because they represented clothing worn by early stonemasons, from which their group originated. This, I read, was the first time anyone wore one as a novelty.

Aprons were useful in earlier times because they protected the dress, an important thing because women’s wardrobes were much smaller. And oh the uses for a good apron, many of them I discovered when I wore one.

Aprons are great for carrying things, like vegetables from the garden, something I saw my grandmother do. They held eggs gathered from the chicken coop, not something I ever did.

An apron is a potholder and also great for drying a child’s tears or wiping a dirty face, both I’ve done with my apron.

I found a list a few of the most common types of aprons.

Bib apron – named for the way it ties around the neck. The full-length kitchen apron typically contains deep pockets and ties around the waist and neck.

Vintage Pinafores – these aprons took their name from the custom of pinning the apron to the front of a dress rather than tying it.

Cocktail apron – the short and sassy half apron, typically made of impractical gauzy material and associated with evening drinks and flirtation.

Butcher’s apron – butchers still use these heavy-duty coveralls. The full length, or half apron, made of some heavy material is often the favorite choice for a chef.

“One of the aprons is almost worn out,” Mother said. “It must be one of Mama’s favorites.”

I’m betting it is a practical bib type and I’d be very surprised if my grandmother ever saw, much less owned, a cocktail apron, but I suppose I could be wrong.

“I’m going to give you girls each one of them,” Mother said. “I thought you might like an apron of Mama’s.”

I’m not sure when I stopped wearing aprons, but I did, and mother is right; I’d love one of Mama Helm’s aprons. And carrying forward a history that stretches all the way back to Adam and Eve, I’ll wear it proudly.