How Mom dressed for success

On summer mornings, my mother donned a cobbler's apron with five pockets and took off with the dog to check all the neighbors' cellar window wells. Her mission? Rabbit rescue.

The Kansas subdivision where we lived had been pasture just a year earlier, and the rabbits were still confused. Baby bunnies, looking for a burrow, any burrow, or perhaps just trying to hop from here to there, fell into the window wells. They would probably have met a dismal fate if it hadn't been for my mother.

For the few weeks it took the bunnies to develop some common sense, Mother tied on her cobbler's apron and set out daily on her quest. She scooped exhausted, dehydrated, and frightened little bunnies from the 18-inch-deep pits and popped them into her pockets. Ginger, our golden retriever, caught on quickly, racing ahead to check all the houses on our block and barking whenever she found a rabbit.

As the rising sun banished the dew, Mother returned home with her apron pockets overflowing with brown and befuddled furry critters, soft ears and big eyes showing above the pocket tops. More than once, she came into the bedroom where I lay sleeping and unloaded her menagerie onto my bed.

To waken from the sleep of childhood surrounded by a bevy of bunnies was magical. Mother and I played with them a bit before releasing them, and I've had a fondness for cobbler's aprons ever since.

Like most women of the 1950s, Mother stayed home all day, running the household with the skill of a domestic engineer. She donned her cobbler's apron before she served us breakfast and didn't remove it till right before dinner. Then she put it on again to wash the dishes, tidy up the kitchen, supervise homework, and monitor our evening baths. She took it off for the last time as we pulled storybooks from the shelves and curled up together to read "Little Women" or "The Swiss Family Robinson."

It seemed to me that the pockets of her apron held enough supplies to support her on a trek across the rolling prairies, if necessary. Her standard inventory included tissues, dog biscuits, Band-Aids, crayons, clothespins, lipstick, raisins, and rubber bands. Hershey bars and bananas, Mother's interpretation of survival food, often made an appearance.

That apron was always the first place my father looked for the mail and the car keys. It was usually the last place he looked, too.

Her apron achieved mythic status one August afternoon when she was walking us home from the park. We were still two blocks from our house when, with a jingle-jangle, the ice-cream truck approached. We looked at my mother wordlessly, dirt-smudged cheeks and pleading eyes speaking volumes, I'm sure. She scrambled into the depths of all five pockets and came up with enough dimes among the plastic barrettes, paper clips, and Barbie doll shoes to buy each of us an Eskimo Pie or a Drumstick.

Years have passed since those hot summers in Kansas when I was a child with grass stains on my knees and bunnies in my bed. Now I have children of my own, and we live in California. No one seems to wear cobbler's aprons any more.

Except for my mother.

My parents moved to California to be closer to us, and we frequently drive into the Sierra foothills to visit them. We went up for a long weekend recently, and upon our arrival my mother greeted us, saying to my youngest son, "I have something for you."

She began searching through the many pockets of her apron. My son's eyes grew wider and wider as she produced a tube of lipstick, a library card, three pens, several paper clips, a plastic spoon, grocery store coupons, and a Hershey bar.

"Whoa, thanks, Gramma," he said, reaching for the Hershey bar.

"You can have it, but that's not what I was looking for," she said, still searching. "Oh, Bill," she said to my father, who was watching with a bemused smile, "here's that tiny little screwdriver you were looking for. How on earth did it get in here?"

"I can't imagine why I didn't think to search there in the first place," he said, and she gave him a look.

"Here it is," she announced in triumph, and she pulled out a Ziploc bag with some coins inside. "There's a penny, nickel, dime, quarter, 50-cent piece, and a silver dollar, all from the year you were born."

"Cool, Gramma. Thanks a lot." He took another bite of the chocolate and looked at me. "Mom, why don't you have one of these magic aprons?"

Before I could answer, my mother pulled on the sash, removed her apron, and - with me still holding my overnight bag in one hand - tied it around my waist.

"Here, dear. I have plenty of these cobbler aprons. Now you have one, too."

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