Southern Scribe
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Apron Memories

By Sandy Williams Driver


Most women I know have an apron story and I am no exception. The symbol of homemaking most vividly emblazoned in my memory is bright yellow with four large black and white polka dot pockets lining the front. Mother made it from scraps early in her domestic career to hold lots of wooden clothes pins. She called it her "hanging out clothes apron" and never dared cook a meal with it on.

"It's too ragged," she always said with a discerning look. I would have gladly worn it all day long because it smelled like sunshine and felt like home. When I wrapped those strings around my waist, I was a Mommy, which was every little girl's dream in that long ago era. I loved to fill the empty pockets with crayons, rubber balls and little metal jacks while our sheets and socks blew in the afternoon breeze.

I cherish the many aprons I have tucked away in drawers and chests. The longest one is black and white gingham and belonged to my grandmother Williams. Sometimes I take it out of the drawer and hold it close for sentimental reasons. The cotton is so old and soft, you can almost see through it and when I close my eyes, I still smell a hint of Bruton snuff, which she kept in one of the roomy pockets.

The pretty red gingham one passed down to me was made by my grandmother Morrow in the early 1900s from a scrap of leftover curtain material. She wore it every Sunday while cooking dinner despite her fears that "Preacher Franks might think it's too brazen." Whenever I stood by her side in the bright roomy kitchen, I pressed my nose against the smooth folds of the apron and smelled fried chicken and homemade biscuits. Nothing in the world was better than Maw Maw's biscuits.

When my aunt Mamie died a few years back, I added one of her green pinstriped aprons to my nostalgic collection. For some reason, it was my little girl's favorite as a toddler. Katie always insisted on wearing it whenever she played with her assortment of dolls, even though the big wide strings wrapped around her tiny body three times. "I have to wear an apron to be the Mommy," she proclaimed. I taught her well.

The ugliest apron I ever saw is the white one with big red poinsettia's embroidered across the front that Mother wore at Christmas time. I have no idea where she got it, but thank goodness, it was stored away in the box containing all our Christmas tree decorations during the year. Each January, I buried it at the bottom of the box under all the tissue paper in hopes it would be forgotten the following year. It never was. Despite the giggles from my children and the tears in my eyes, I carried on the holiday tradition last season.

Each one of my treasured aprons is carefully wrapped in memories and tucked away in the bottom of my heart. They are retrieved occasionally when I long for a reminder of my female ancestors and the enticing smell of a home cooked meal.

Last Sunday after church, I went into the kitchen to prepare dinner for my family and not wanting to risk getting my blouse dirty, I reached for the serviceable twill apron kept hanging on a hook by the stove. It has no pockets or embellishments adorning the front, only the simple phrase, "Kiss the Cook."

It feels stiff around my neck, so I hang the utilitarian apron back on its display hook and retrieve a faded one from the chest at the foot of my bed. Embedded deep in the folds are dried tears, tiny hand prints and a light dusting of White Lily flour.

While I cook, my son tucks a wildflower into one of my polka dot pockets and even without instructions, he gives me a kiss on the cheek. The comforting apron strings that tie me to my ancestors may not be high fashion anymore, but then again, neither am I.

Sandy Williams Driver lives in Albertville, Alabama, with her husband of 18 years and their three teenagers. She writes part-time for several magazines and newspapers.

2003, Sandy Williams Driver, All Rights Reserved