My Mother’s Apron

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A tribute to our mother, Lois Bauer Gurgel, written by my sister, Ruth Bernthal.

Mom did a lot of baking in her years as mother of nine and grandmother of many more, and I don’t think I ever saw her in the kitchen working without her apron tied around her waist. She didn’t take the chance of soiling her dress or blouse—no, out came the apron! It was her kitchen uniform, religiously donned.

Those aprons were many and varied. Some were the simple half apron, others were bibbed, some were fancy, others quite plain. I am sure she made quite a few from scraps of material left over from her other sewing projects—so the material they were made from was always interesting. But as varied as they were, one thing was common to them all—they each contained a pocket. Usually that pocket stored a hanky (in later years, a tissue). If one of us came in crying, out came the hanky to dry the tears; if we sniffled from a cold, out came the hanky; if the knee or elbow was bloody, out came the hanky. Or her pocket might contain other items: a bobby pin to keep back a few stray locks of hair, a coin or small stone she found in the pocket of an article of clothing while sorting laundry, a scrap of paper on which to write an item needed for her next shopping trip, or a clothespin from the laundry she hung on the line. Useful thing that pocket.

An apron served as protection for her clothing, but also it was very useful as a moving towel! Often her hands wiped the front of her apron to get rid of a bit of flour or sugar that escaped the mixing bowl. Or it was used to wipe her sweaty brow—those boiling kettles of beans or tomatoes or corn on the cob during canning season produced a terrific amount of heat. On those days I can still see her picking up the edges of the skirt and fanning herself for a minute to try to cool down before the next batch of vegetable was ready to be plopped into the kettle. Some of those aprons got a good work out before the day ended. But each day a fresh apron. If company stopped by, a second one came out of the drawer crisp and clean.

My mother’s aprons were useful for something else, too. It was one of the items we girls first learned to iron (along with our father’s many handkerchiefs). The long apron strings would be stretched out along the board and pressed carefully flat on both sides. Next came the waistband on the front, and finally the skirt itself. “Keep the pocket from gaping and watch out for your fingers” would be the instruction given. What article of clothing do young girls learn to iron first in this day and age? Has the iron been totally replaced? And speaking of firsts, I believe aprons were one of the first items of clothing we learned to sew. Long straight seams, squared off pocket corners, neat and tidy hems were the rules to produce a good working apron.

Oh yes, my mother’s aprons. They bring back good memories. I will have to dig out my stash of aprons and make them handy in my kitchen again in loving memory of my mother, Lois Gurgel.

(Note: The picture shows an apron Mother sewed and the machine on which she did it.)

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