When I remember my mother, I see her clad in one of her voluminous aprons. She was seldom without one, unless she was dressed up to go somewhere. Being "dressed up" at home simply meant that she wore a fancier apron over her work apron. It was probably a companion mind-set to the "couch throw over the old slipcover, over the new slipcover, over the original upholstery" syndrome.
I clearly remember Mother's aprons: the little frilly tea aprons with heart-shaped bibs, seldom worn; and the workhorse aprons, the kind that covered a maximum amount of territory. She made them herself on an old foot-pedal-operated Wheeler & Wilson sewing machine that had belonged to her mother.
Often, they were made from chicken-feed bags, which, in that era, came in a multitude of patterns and colors to delight the thrifty housewife. I guess you might call them the first "designer bags."
Every morning Mother donned a fresh apron - florals, chintz, plaid gingham, or ticking stripes, trimmed with rickrack, embroidery, or a bit of ruffle.
Invariably, there were a couple of safety pins fastened to them, for emergency quick fixes. Her aprons always had pockets. Some of the pockets were small, the kind that might hold a hankie, a sweet treat, or a horehound drop. But on most of her aprons, she turned up the whole front of the skirt into a convenient holdall.
Mother never walked through the vegetable garden or orchard without filling her apron with tomatoes or corn or asparagus - whatever was in season.
Apples that had dropped from the tree were also gathered into her apron. Later, they were turned - by her wondrous alchemy - into washtub-size pies for family and hired hands or for church suppers. Topped with great slathers of whipped cream from our own cow's bounty, they became temptations to make the driest mouth water in anticipation.
One of my favorite memories is of Mother strewing cracked corn from her apron's capacious depths to her flock of Rhode Island Red hens and rainbow-colored bantam chickens. She gathered still-warm eggs from the tiered nests in the coop. She also picked up kindling to feed the voracious black iron range that was always crackling in the kitchen as beans baked in the brown bean pot or jam bubbled in huge pots on the stove top.
The bottom corners of her aprons were all-purpose: They were equally efficient at wiping my smudged face or my tears, a steamy window, and a garden bench. They quickly dusted furniture when company knocked on the door. They were instant potholders at the wood stove and impromptu umbrellas in a sudden shower.
Her flapping apron shooed wandering chickens back to the yard and into their coop at evening.
Mom's no-nonsense, heavy-duty aprons held tools for the dozens of jobs she undertook. Nothing was so daunting that she wouldn't try it. So, at various times, the aprons' pockets became the repository for a hammer and nails when she repaired the porch steps. They might also hold her wallpapering brush and scissors, her upholstering or chair-caning implements, or her current knitting, crocheting, or tatting project, ready to be pulled out and worked on in any spare moment.
Recently, I found a stack of mother's aprons neatly folded in an attic box. I, who never wear an apron, packed them for the church rummage sale, knowing that, in today's world, aprons have become collectors' items. How my mother would laugh at such a thought!
But when I'd finished, proud of having cleared some space, I hesitated. Then I reached in and reclaimed one. Old and faded, its blue binding worn thin, it was Mom's favorite. It meant more to me than it ever would to any collector.
Sometimes, it's possible to be too thorough in clearing away the past.