Grandma Walker almost always wore an apron. Mama and Grandmother Wyatt also wore aprons, but only when cooking; Grandma wore one all day long.
She took it off only at bedtime, when she went out in public, and on Sunday afternoons after the dinner dishes had been washed. Her weekday ones were plain, white-cotton, bib aprons with large pockets; her Sunday ones had a ruffle around the skirt. None of them had neck straps; instead, she pinned the bib to her dress.
As a child I never gave much thought to Grandma's aprons; they were just part of her quaintness, like her waist-length, white hair that she braided and twisted into a bun held in place with large U-shaped hairpins. In my adulthood I began to realize that her apron-wearing was a necessity, produced by the conditions of her life.
Grandma had been born six years after the end of the War Between the States, in the red-clay hill country of northeast Mississippi, a land physically and financially wounded by the war. She had little opportunity for education. Raising cotton, gardening, tending farm animals, tending a wood-burning stove, hauling well water, sewing dresses, aprons, quilts by hand - all were constants in her life.
This was long before the days of electricity and indoor plumbing, and hard work was a constant in Grandma's life. She married at 17; birthed 14 children, two of whom died in infancy; and was widowed at age 46, when seven of the children were still at home, the youngest 2 years old. Grandma was well acquainted with poverty.
Despite the hardships of her life, Grandma was not a bitter nor gloomy woman. She carried a deep love in her heart for her 14 children, 64 grandchildren, and steadily increasing number of great-grandchildren. She was a devout, quiet, industrious woman, spending her days cleaning, cooking, and sewing.
Even after almost all houses were wired for electricity and electric sewing machines became a common household fixture, Grandma continued to make her dresses, aprons, and quilts by hand. She never wore skirts and blouses nor slacks - just short-sleeved, pastel cotton (mostly blue) dresses that buttoned down the front, protected by an apron.
My understanding of Grandma's apron-wearing grew out of the conditions of my adult life. For years I followed Mama's custom of wearing an apron while cooking. Then, when I moved to a house heated by a wood-burning stove, I found wearing an apron while tending the stove helped protect my clothes from ash dust, soot smears, and small holes burned by flying sparks.
As a householder and gardener, I found large apron pockets useful for carrying scissors and measuring tape, screwdriver and screws, small garden tools, produce from the garden.
When I began keeping a few chickens, I found it helpful to wear an apron to the chicken coop. Not only does an apron have pockets to carry a bottle of water to the chickens and carry eggs back to the house, but also it offers protection to other clothes.
Just like Grandma, I make quilts by hand, but I make dresses, skirts, blouses, slacks, shorts, and aprons on an electric sewing machine. My aprons, which do have neck straps, are not white cotton; I make them out of colorful cotton prints form the sale table at the fabric store.
No matter the fabric, no matter whether they are made by hand or by machine, it is much easier to make an apron than a dress.
It's also easier to launder an apron than a dress, and since Grandma, for years, had to do all laundry by hand with water that had to be hauled up from a well, she probably did all she could to protect her dresses.
When I look at the stains, worn spots, and rips on my aprons, I realize how much protection they give my clothes, shielding them from grease, other food juices, and garden dirt, and they absorb wear and tear from brushing against the sink, the stove, or the chicken coop door. Wearing an apron extends the life of other clothes. Wearing one all day long makes more and more sense to me.