I can’t remember ever seeing my mother without an apron on, but I’m reasonably sure she didn’t wear one when she made infrequent trips to town or to a church service or maybe to a funeral.
Mom’s apron was the last item of clothing she donned every morning and she wore it until she went to bed, seven days a week. Most other women on the Blair Branch of my youth would not have felt adequately dressed at home if they didn’t have their aprons on.
Aprons had to have a pocket. Before Mom quit smoking she packed cigarettes and matches in the pocket. In the garden, the pocket usually carried packets of flower or vegetable seeds. It also provided ready storage for pencils, loose change, or any other small item she found lying around. If a black or red checker, Rook card, or a marble went missing, the first and best place to look it was Mom’s apron pocket.
She was also very handy with a sewing machine and often made aprons for other women, especially my bevy of aunts. Lots of women wore bibbed aprons that tied behind both their necks and at their waists, sort of like those you see television chefs cooking in these days, but Mom and most other women in my family preferred the style that only tied at the waist and covered the front of their dresses to well below their knees.
Mom always said that if a woman’s knees were showing, her dress was way too short. She would have screamed at the girls to put some clothes on if she had ever set foot on my college campus.
Aunt Lona used to say that Mom was the only one in the family who could make an apron to suit her. Aunt Lona smoked Prince Albert rolling tobacco so her apron pocket had to be about twice as large as normal to accommodate her tobacco can, rolling papers and a box of matches. Aunt Lona also went through a lot of aprons because when she sat down to smoke, ashes off her cigarette would fall in her lap and burn holes in them. “Better the apron, than my good dress,” she’d say.
In those days, we bought flour and corn meal in 25-pound cotton sacks that usually had a floral pattern in the material. They were actually made to serve as pillowcases, but sooner or later you had way more cases than you had pillows to put them on, so women figured out that they could cut them open, sew on a hem and a pocket, trim off enough material to make tie strings and, presto — very nice apron.
We boarded mining ponies when I was a boy and their feed often came in 100-pound white cotton sacks. You haven’t lived if you’ve never slept and scratched yourself to sleep under a feed sack bed sheet. Mom often dyed them and made aprons and jumpers with the material as well. She could get two aprons out of a feed sack, but she usually had to cut the strings and pockets out of an old dress or a flour sack. Many times I’ve heard other women tell Mom that that they liked her apron pocket when it was made of some flowery piece of material sewn onto a solid colored background.
I learned how to tie a bowknot with Mom’s apron strings. She first showed me how to put an apron on a ladder back chair and then she had me tying it around her waist. When the time came to learn to tie my shoes she told me to do it exactly the same way I did her apron strings. Piece of cake.
Since we had no sisters, Mom made my younger brothers and me learn to cook, wash dishes and do the laundry. She also made us wear aprons when we were pulling kitchen duty so that we didn’t splatter dishwater or spill flour and meal on our good britches when we were making, cookies, biscuits or cornbread.
She never took a bucket or basket to the barn to gather eggs. She simply lifted up the hem of her apron and turned it into a carryall. We would go to the garden where she would pick a mess of beans or peas and put them in her apron sack. Many times I’d get down on my knees and gravel (or grovel) out a mess of new potatoes with my fingers where the soil had cracked as they swelled up to eating size just beneath the surface. The spuds went into her apron on top of the beans or peas.
We’d go to the orchard and she would gather up what she called “a lapful” of apples in her apron. I would hold the top of a burlap feed sack open and she’d dump them into it.
And, yes, anytime trouble was brewing, such as when Dad was threatening me with a whipping, the safest thing to do and the safest place to be was to run behind my Mommy and grab hold of her apron strings.