The intent of this blog post and the next is to bring together a partial collection of personally captured apron images and a few individual’s written articles or poems as they have influenced my life in the past five years. Part one will focus primarily on the apron’s influence in my Ostfriesen (German) heritage. No matter one’s ancestry, each of our lives has been shaped and changed by the existence of one simple yet versatile piece of clothing.
Part two will specifically focus on and recognize three women: one who collects and sells vintage aprons, someone who sews and retails her personal designer aprons, and a young lady and budding apron seamstress—my 12-year old granddaughter.
I hope you will find your apron ties somewhere along this pleasant scrap of nostalgic journey. Someone said, “Our most treasured family heirlooms are our sweet family memories.” I agree.
The following apron stories and poem portray a time period and lifestyle where the apron was an absolute necessity and the matriarch of the house wouldn’t be clothed without one:
Ostfriesen Heritage Society in Grundy Center, Iowa (Oma-grandmother…Opa-grandfather)
THE STORIES OF OMA’S APRONS
I don’t think the young children today even know what an apron is. However, we all have fond memories of the ladies wearing aprons, especially memories about our Oma’s and their aprons. Oma always wore an apron. I rarely remember Oma without her apron.
The principal use of Oma’s apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few. It was also easier to wash aprons than dresses and aprons took less material to make. But along with that, Oma’s apron served many other uses.
- It served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the stove or oven. Also at canning time, it was used to give those jars a good tightening so they would seal well. Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow when they bent over those hot old wood stoves. Kindling wood and “clean” corn cobs were carried into the kitchen in Oma’s apron to make quick hot fire in the cook stove that produced magic in the way of meals, three times a day, for our large families.
- It was wonderful for drying the grandchildren’s tears, and on occasion was used to clean out their dirty ears. The pocket of Oma’s apron was a treasure chest. Many times a child’s tears or pain would vanish upon receiving a shiny coin or piece of candy from her apron pocket.
- From the chicken house, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished hatching in the warming oven in the kitchen. The apron was also used to carry fluffy little yellow chicks that Oma gathered from under a hen that had decided to lay her eggs in the rhubarb patch. With the old cluck hen following, Oma put them all safely in a chicken coop in the hen house. A few weeks later, when they were big enough to run around, she used the same apron shouting, “Shoo, shoo, get out of my garden!” The chickens, both big & little, ran squawking for safety from Oma’s apron flapping in the breeze.
- From the garden that was Oma’s pride and joy, her apron carried all sorts of fresh
vegetables to be canned for winter or to be prepared for the next meal. After the peas had been shelled, the apron carried out the hulls. The aprons were used to bring fruit to the house from the orchards – juicy apples, peaches, pears, grapes, or whatever fruit was ripe in its season. Oma always had a pretty flower garden, and often she would pick fresh flowers and carry them to the house in her apron. When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in just a matter of seconds. Grandchildren often hid under Oma’s apron when a stranger came to visit. They found safe refuge under Oma’s big apron.
- There were times when the men folk would be out in the farm fields working, and Oma had some message of importance for them, or perhaps it was mealtime and she had dinner ready. Oma would wave her apron high in the air, and Opa would answer with a wave of his hat. The men folk came in and ate heartily of the good things she had prepared.
- Oma’s apron was an important part of her life, the life of her children and grandchildren. It was a busy apron from morning until night, and it was so very much a part of Oma and the life she lived, that it went to church with her one Sunday morning. She had hurriedly put on her coat and had forgotten to take her apron off before she left the house. Her friends got quite a kick out of that when she arrived at church.
- If it was a warm day, Oma’s apron could be a fan to make a cool breeze. Or on a cold day, she’d wrap it around her hands & arms to keep warm. It made a comforting cloak of love when it wrapped up the latest grandchild that arrived into her family.
- Sometimes when Oma was sitting at the table at mealtime, the mischievous boys delighted in carefully untying the apron strings, only to retie them to the chair. When Oma tried to stand up, the chair came along.
- Oma’s apron could hide a quiet laugh until later in the living room, when recalling the humorous happening; Opa & Oma laughed until the tears just rolled down their cheeks. They used the apron to dry their tears.
- Oma’s apron was used to dust off the family Bible when the preacher came to visit, even though there was no dust on the Bible as it was in constant use. Oma often turned to read in the Psalms, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that old-time apron that served so many purposes.
All of Oma’s children, plus many grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren called her blessed. We are all so thankful for the many happy memories that we cherish about our Opa & Oma, and especially the memories that came from Oma’s aprons!
OSTFRIESEN NEUESBLATT (newspaper), May 2010
Mama’s Apron by Jessie M. Hansen (about his wife’s grandmother, German immigrant born 1874)
It was a large apron, and it was important in her life, in the lives of her children, and even the grandchildren to the third and fourth generation. It was a busy apron from morning until night, and it was so very much a part of Mama and the life she lived that it went to church with her one Sunday morning. She had hurriedly put on her coat and had forgotten to take her apron off before she left the house.
Mama’s apron was always there. I rarely remember Mama without her apron. To the tiny ones, it was big enough to hide under whenever a stranger was near. They found safe refuge under Mama’s big apron.
Mama’s apron was a treasure chest! Hankies, hairpins, and rewarding gifts were often found in the large pockets. Many a time a child’s tears or pain would vanish upon the receipt of a shiny coin or other gem from the depths of her pockets.
It made a nice quick potholder when Mama took the luscious hot biscuits out of the oven for breakfast. It had often carried in the wood, or the corncobs, for making a quick hot fire in the large range that produced magic in the way of meals, three times a day, for the twelve hungry folk that lived at our house.
A trip to the garden, which was Mama’s pride and joy, brought in aprons full of fresh vegetables to be canned for the winter or to be prepared for the next meal. Trips to the orchard brought in aprons full of big juicy apples, peaches, pears, grapes or whatever fruit was ripe in its season. Then from early spring until late in the fall when the frost was on the pumpkin, there were constant cheerful bouquets of fresh flowers from Mama’s garden. They were brought into the house in her big useful apron…
All ten of her children, plus many grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great, great grandchildren “have risen to call her blessed.” We all have been thankful for the many happy memories that we cherish and especially the memories that come from Mama’s apron.”
“Wisps of Whimsy and Touches of Truth”
Evelina Grimes (1900-1983)
They were made of checkered gingham, or calico grays or blues;
She wore those making family meals or cooking for threshing crews.
A saucy ruffle or bright rickrack would sometimes grace the hem,
But more than often frugality barred trim from most of them.
For special occasions, grandma wore a lovely dainty one
Of the finest starched white muslin, bleached even whiter in the sun;
It was finished at the hem with lace of hand crochet,
At least six inches wide, a status symbol of her day.
The apron, gathered at the waist, was long and very full,
And tied behind in one big bow which children loved to pull.
She whisked it on as if her pastor called unexpectedly,
Then with mixed humbleness and pride she served him cakes and tea.
When entertaining ladies aid, our grandma had a ball,
For well she knew her apron was the loveliest of all.
Now yesteryears are memories; time cuts the golden cord,
And grandma dear has long gone to her well-earned reward.
As I fondly gaze upon that keepsake, treasure from past years,
The old beloved pattern blurs with my nostalgic tears,
And I can almost hear her pleased, “Well I do declare!”
As if she knows her apron won first prize at the antique fair.
“She sets about her work vigorously…works with eager hands…is clothed with strength and dignity…let her works bring her praise.” Proverbs 31:13, 17, 25, 31Photo: Ostfriesland, Germany (northwest Germany, along the North Sea) (permission granted) Farmers in Uplengen threshing grain. Note young girl in pinafore apron. Note wheel wrights’ aprons. (1930’s)
Thank you for visiting. Be sure to check back next week for part two of Aprons…stitching generation to generation.