I wear aprons, like, often. It’s become a thing for me, like the old mamas from, say, anywhere in time and place. I never thought I’d be that lady, wearing an apron atop my other clothes as something I do regularly — not to stay clean, but rather to stay warm. And comforted. All day, or for some of the day. But I am and I do … in furry slippers
I have four of them, aprons that is. Two delicious aprons made for me in recent years by my mother, a wonderful seamstress, and a lover of gift-giving and maker of pies. I wear them daily. The aprons, not the pies.
When she bakes pies, she wears her green apron. I know this is still true, because I’ve seen her wear it during Zoom calls. She has worn it for a long time. Her pies are good, and so is her cheesecake.
Another apron, a Christmasy one, was given to me years ago by my auntie, my mother’s sister, also an impeccable seamstress and lover of design and pattern and coordination and delectable recipes, like roasted chicken and salads with farro. I wear it over the holidays making cookies and such. The aprons, not the farro salad.
The other is one of four waist aprons made by my grandmother — the mother of these two aforementioned sewing sisters — for herself, cute little items with sweet, tiny cross stitches, pretty blue flowers, or lace bits here and there. I do not know when she made them, but they seem to me youthful, so I suspect that she crafted them in her early married years, or perhaps sooner.
I kept one and gave the others to family. I don’t even wear this little green and white one, because, well, it really doesn’t work for me in my busy kitchen. I like to wipe my hands on my apron — something I was scolded for as a bartender and server — and her precious, petite half-apron surely would leave me, as she would have put it, soiled. I don’t want to soil it either, but rather protect it, cherish it. So I just keep it in and around my kitchen so that I have her nearby always.
Actually, I just remembered: I have five aprons. It was a gift from, of all people, my brother. It is a white apron with my short-lived catering business name “Dinsdales” (yes, from Monty Python’s Flying Circus) stitched on it. It became my painting smock years ago after my marital relationship and, thus, business relationship soiled (eh-hem). It hangs next to another apron that also became a paint smock, both completely soiled … with paint. And so it seems, I have six.
Aprons, really, are a gift of love and protection, and a nod toward the creative life.
I have had many other aprons over my lifetime, but the handmade ones are the best. From one woman to another — or from one artist or craftsperson or cook to another — people who certainly have put their hands to kitchen or other task or craft, who also put their hands into and take from apron pockets, for whatever reason, passing energy from one endeavor to another, I love a good apron.
It is, in a way, a lifeline, a transfer of energy.
And I always wonder, as I don my apron and slip my hand into one of its pockets, what might one of these fine ladies — or any of the old mamas, or past or present craftspeople — keep at the ready as they went or go about their tasks.
One grandmother kept tissues in hers, and kept her hands warm. She would add a touch of flare with a dainty scarf around her neck.
Another wore hers like another shirt. I rarely saw her without it. She walked hard, so we always knew where she was, feeding all of her people, always in a snap-on apron. She who salted, peppered, and sugared her homegrown and sliced beefsteak summer tomatoes when she had a moment to herself.
A great-grandmother wore hers like a second dress. I never saw her in pants, ever.
Another great-grandmother also wore hers atop her shirt. And then she would go feed the birds, speak in her native Québécois as she cooed them, adored them, loved on them as bird lovers do.
I put my apron on in the morning, afternoon, and evening in my kitchen, from my kitchen. During the heat of summer, I sometimes feel overdressed in an apron over shorts or skirt and a tank top. But still, it’s required. If it’s chilly, especially in the morning, I slide into my furry slippers and am comforted by the fact that another layer — an apron — will keep me warm as I prepare food.
So these the old mamas …
Two of my great grandmothers lived long enough for me to get to know them. One superficially seemed almost stoic, but she probably was just quiet, dutiful, observant, waiting, always In Service. A farmer’s wife, mother to her own siblings from a young age after her own mother’s passing, and mother to eight more of her own in their very small home, she was always on call, always a mother, likely never thinking about herself much at all.
I never heard her speak, or don’t remember her ever speaking at least. In my mind’s eye, she is sitting in a corner of the kitchen, either at the table against the partial room divider separating kitchen prep area from eating area, or next to the wood burning stove (Yes, even in the late ’80s, she and my great-grandfather used a wood burning stove to cook.). She hardly made a peep.
As I remember it, everything about her house — the one that she shared with my great-grandfather — had a light green effect, including her apron, or so I thought, until I saw a picture of it shown to me recently by an auntie: The apron was not green, but made from patterns of navy blues and beiges. It had snaps, and no pockets.
Memory is funny that way, weaving images, tinting things. For maybe it was the light cast through the green plastic corrugated awning that shown through the kitchen windows, bathing everything in its hue. But in my memory, and from whatever effect it was, there in the corner sat a quiet women with small dark eyes and a pensive, slightly anticipatory face, silent as a mouse, waiting to serve, and always in an apron. And stockings.
I continue to want to know more about her after all of these years. Genealogy research has roughly answered some questions, but mostly, her story remains as silent as she was with me. Was she thinking or meditating in those corners of the kitchen? Was she daydreaming about far-off places or just some time alone? Did she enjoy her life? Was that even an option for her?
And, of course, the most intriguing question of all: If she had no pockets in her apron, I wonder, where did she keep her hankies?
My other great grandmother also always wore an apron. She was fabulously old world French Canadian, mostly because she was old and she was from Old Quebec, a romantic place in my mind, perched up there at the end of the Saint Lawrence River. She fed all of the little birds outside the kitchen picture window, read many books, crocheted blankets for all of her grandchildren and great grandchildren, wrote me letters while I lived abroad.
We had a lot in common, I think; I really liked her. I suppose everyone in the family did. She was overtly interesting, with her thick accent and side gig as a painter of realism, of scenes of nearby farmland or hillsides, or of stories of old, walking as a child to mass at Notre Dame Cathedral in Québec. She liked made-for-TV films, or, it seemed, movies in general that were filmed in the desert, like Ben Hur or some random Jesus story, he always in sandals. I never really knew.
She would quietly ascend to her second story mini apartment housed in the farmhouse that she shared with my grandparents — her daughter and son-in-law. I suppose it was a lovely little escape from all of the noise and hunters and grandchildren coming to and fro, arguing, laughing, running around. Her hearing wasn’t so good, which was made better in her quiet abode. And I suppose that’s why I liked it. I prefer solitude and contemplation, and I am sure that is also why I liked her and her space so much. The vibe was good. I have always preferred hanging out with older women, with their wisdom and their ways.
Her apron she kept on always, even while tending to the chickadees and cardinals. She canned bread-and-butter pickles. I think my mother still has her hand-written recipe card. When I see mustard seeds, I think of her and her Ball or Mason jars of pickles, decorated with tiny floating orbs and flecks of herbs and spices.
I knew a lot more about her than I did my other quiet great grandmother, but even so, there are so many questions I would like to ask of her, who lost her husband decades before I knew her well, which gave her lots and lots of time to contemplate life in ways that one does with loss, particularly the loss of spouse. I would ask her about old Québec and her young teaching life, and what she thought about when she painted, as I am a painter, too.
I recall one of her aprons as royal blue, probably also adorned with tiny flowers. She often wore a sweater over it. And yet the mystery remains: What did she keep in her apron pockets?
I may never rediscover the finer details of this questions, for I am no longer in touch with any family of origin who might know this. But it’s okay. I can imagine. I like remembering her in just this way. She seemed always old, and always smiling or laughing. I adored her accent and, thus, listening to her speak.
I could go on. But my memories are sparked and stories considered every time I wear my apron. I have come to believe that it is a trusted friend as I consider what I am doing or going to do in my domestic space as Feral Housewife, Kitchen Mistress, Keeper of Home. All of the Old Mamas with their rolling pins, stocked and stacked pantries, food considerations. All of the carpenters with tools and wood shavings. The artist laden with paint. All donning their apron companion in meditative state or contemplative routine. I, just another in a long line of folks just doing their good work. Indeed.