By ZOLA TROUTMAN NOBLE
My grandmothers wore an apron that covered nearly their whole dress, the kind of apron with a bib and wide over- or around-the-shoulders straps that joined in the back.
It was an “old lady” apron, I thought. My mother wore short aprons that tied at the waist. Perhaps she thought this style more modern, more youthful. When I began cooking, I did not wear an apron. They were for mothers and grandmothers. Though I ended up with many stained T-shirts, I still resisted wearing an apron. In the past few years, however, I’ve given in to donning an apron. Perhaps I’ve given in to being the “old lady” now that my mother and grandmothers are gone.
Several years ago while walking through exhibits at the Indiana State Fair, I came upon a booth that sold aprons like my grandmothers wore. I clasped my hands and gasped—purple, red, blue, green, yellow and pink prints dazzled me. Made by a group of women raising money for the historical preservation, the aprons were copies of their mothers’ aprons they had found in storage trunks. I splurged and bought three—one for my daughter, one for my daughter-in-law, and one for me. I gulped and forked over $25 each for them—Christmas gifts for the girls and a treat for me. I couldn’t resist. I felt unsure as to how my daughter and daughter-in-law would respond to their gifts, but I wanted them to have one. I wanted them to see and hold the kind of apron my grandmothers wore. I wanted to wrap myself in one.
Wearing my “grandma” apron is a joy; it wraps me in the embrace of the mothers from whom I came. My grandmothers lived far apart. My dad’s parents lived in Nebraska, and so did we when I was growing up. I can still see my Grandma T picking up apples off the ground and filling her apron full of them. I can hear her fussing about our neighbors letting their apples go to waste. She carried those apples into the house, cut out the bruises, dug out the worms, and for supper that night, we had the best tangy-sweet applesauce I’ve ever eaten. She learned that from her Appalachian upbringing. She and my grandfather had “gone West” from the same valley in Virginia where my mother grew up.
To visit my maternal grandparents, we drove each summer to Saltville, Smyth County, Virginia. When we arrived, my mom’s mother, Grandma Mac, would wipe her hands on her apron and throw it off, so she could greet us. The smells of simmering beans flavored with ham and onions filled her kitchen. She had a way of doing a little stomp when she saw us, and she’d squeal with delight. “Looky who’s hy-ere!” she’d say, and we’d each be engulfed by her hugs.
Now my apron is well initiated in the art of gathering apples, catching splatters, wiping hands and hugging grandchildren, and I bless the memory of my grandmothers.
Zola Troutman Noble is associate professor emerita of Anderson University, Anderson, Indiana, where she taught writing for 24 years. Now she is pursuing her own passion for writing, along with knitting, genealogy, hiking and grandchildren.