Those old aprons in boxes and the back of the closet aren't just pieces of material stitched together to catch splattering bits of food.
They are Mom, a favorite aunt — and especially, Grandma.
In December we ran a story on the surging interest in aprons by modern cooks and asked readers to share their favorite apron story. Some 75 readers told us about the aprons in their lives, passed on from the women — and sometimes men — who cooked and nurtured them. It's as if those old apron strings pulled the tripwire of memory. From simple cotton spilled poignant and vivid memories.
Jerri Tate of Gulfport told us about a nearly 20-year-old apron with the handprints of her grandsons on it.
Kathy Whalen of Tampa remembered the apron her mother wore working in the lunchroom of her junior high. What was once an embarrassment has become a source of pride as she recalls the black-and-white gingham apron with the colorful edging her mother wore during her years as a school lunch lady.
Jean Marie DeSpiegler of St. Petersburg thinks of her grandmother every time she puts on her apron to make jewelry. The long, white cotton apron, which her grandmother wore at the meat locker plant she owned, won't melt if hot metal lands in her lap.
And Harryette Williams of Largo said the day her grandmother — Mamie — took her two daughters cherry-picking (circa 1964) is the most precious apron memory she has.
"When I checked on them in a far corner of the garden, the scene pulled my heartstrings. There was Mamie on a short ladder, picking cherries by the handful, throwing them down into the high held apron "laps" of her little helpers. It brought tears to my eyes as I realized the power of the apron was being passed onto the future generation of grandmothers. How magical a garment is an apron; how special a person is a grandmother."
Williams wasn't the only one reader who felt this way.
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The first old apron I acquired was at a garage sale. It cost 50 cents. It was brown and white gingham. I thought, "How could they?" It was as if they put their grandma to the curb. I adopted it. Now there are several of them residing with us.
I like to think their owners are looking down on us and smiling.
I miss all the wonder women in our families who always had an apron on.
— Ellen Mary Rodnite, Clearwater
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We lived in Iowa when I was a child. Sometimes our summers were real sizzlers — I mean hot! My mother would pull down the blinds, turn on fans and strip down to her underwear. She would put on one of her aprons with a top panel "in case someone came to the door."
— Frances Miller, Dade City
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My Nana's Christmas apron is packed away lovingly every year. Nana made this apron from red netting, trimmed with red satin ribbon, and shiny gold rick-rack. On the netting, she hand-stitched felt Christmas ornaments trimmed and decorated with sequins. What is most touching about this apron is that Nana was not a sewer. Never would I have thought about her taking the time to sit and create this fancy apron all by hand.
To make matters even more interesting, Nana wasn't a cook. There are a few funny stories passed down through the family about things that happened in Nana's kitchen — like the time she sprayed a baking pan with Spray and Wash rather than Pam, or the time she forgot to turn the oven off before riding with my grandfather to pick up some house guests at the airport.
The whole family would gather at my grandparents' house every Christmas Eve. The table was always set beautifully, with candles lit and centerpieces of flowers. Nana always looked beautiful in a fancy dress, well coifed hair — and her Christmas apron. In the kitchen would be Nana's housekeeper, Ella, in a "real" apron which covered her house dress from neck to hem, her hair in disarray and a dish towel over her shoulder.
While I unpack Nana's Christmas apron every year, it never gets worn. I, like Ella, on Christmas Day can usually be found in the kitchen with an apron covering my dress from neck to hem, my hair in disarray, and a dish towel over my shoulder. But Nana's apron is always in the foyer to greet my guests.
Victoria ByRoade, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin
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I still have and use one I made many years ago (30 or 40). I made one for each of my two sisters as well, in different gingham colors. And more recently, one for my adult daughter. We all still wear them to cook. I'm 69.
(I also found when wearing just the apron and a smile, it was a sure-fire way to get your man's attention!)
— Glennis Williams, St. Petersburg
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Twenty-one Decembers ago and thirteen Decembers ago, Mom and Dad Sarris passed on to that Great Kitchen in the Sky. The only reasons they didn't die in their aprons is because they'd been confined to bed.
Dad was aproned when he fried smelts rolled in cornmeal. He wiped his brow while he grilled hot dogs. But it was his Army aprons — that gathered emotional as well as food scars — that he held sacred. He used them when he was on the East coast serving banquets to fellows on their way to Hitler's Hell. He toiled in an apron 12 hours daily at the ice cream and candy stores for the Greek cousins who owned them.
Mom's apron was so threadbare and, as a result, so soft that we kids would use it as a pillowcase as we rested our cheeks on her rather prominent tummy. As it was with Grandma Botos, who, Grandpa always proclaimed, could cook shoe leather and make it delicious, Mom could cook peasant food — we were always financially strapped — that beat any gourmet offering. Soups, goulash, potato cakes, and cranberry salad were part of her apron. Since we never saw Mom sleep, the four of us never saw her without her apron. When we woke to stand on the grates of the warming register openings in the floor, Mom was slopping the steaming Cream of Wheat into our bowls already.
Aproned Grandma and Grandpa Botos fed the multitudes of cousins, aunts and uncles every Sunday after Mass all the years we were growing up. Stains from the produce of their huge gardens and from the slaughters of two unlucky hens each Saturday and from the cherries pitted for canning decorated their aprons like fancy op art. Her threadbare dresses were protected from clouds of flour as she created six kinds of noodles and endless keflis and tortes. Wearing his full apron, Grandpa ground offal for the Hungarian sausages at New Year's and even cobbled shoes for their dozen kids during the Depression.
When the Botoses had their first proper reunion last summer, aprons abounded as the cabbage rolls and sauerkraut, dozens and dozens of them, were prepared and as tortes were sliced.
Aprons protect. Aprons cover. Aprons absorb. But, most certainly, aprons are ever so much more.
— Esther Sarris Rupp, Seffner
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Just the other night, while I thought everybody was fast asleep, I grabbed that wonderfully smelling apron off the kitchen stool and started working on it right away, savoring the melange of flavors that had seeped into it. I had already chewed off all the apron strings, when I heard footsteps. There she was, standing in the doorway as I tried, very unsuccessfully to make my getaway. My prized apron was billowing behind me like I was a caped crusader as she ran after me and rescued her no longer usable, favorite apron!
— Rosie Christine, a 7-month-old chocolate lab mix rescued from the New Port Richey SPCA in August by Patti and Richard Biddle
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My grandmother was born in 1888 and she wore an apron every day. Most were made of cotton prints, with more than a few cuts from feed sacks. An occasional strip of rickrack or other scrap of trim might dress up a plainer fabric, but functional trumped frilly on most occasions. When she dressed each morning, the apron went on, the same as her shoes and stockings.
Grandma Becky used her apron in a variety of ways. I often saw her grasp and lift the lower corners of the apron to form a calico basket in which she might carry produce from her vegetable garden or a litter of kittens the mama cat had hidden away in some treacherous terrain. I saw her use her apron to wipe her brow or clean her glasses as often as I saw her dry her hands and fumble for the hankie hidden deep in the right-hand pocket.
— Becky Proctor, St. Pete Beach
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Although I don't have any of my grandmother's aprons (how I wish I did!), I have the memories of her never being in her kitchen without one. I had a great-great-aunt who was the amazing family seamstress who made them all. Guess I inherited my grandmother's genes. The first thing I do when putting together a sizeable meal or making anything sauteed, fried, tomato-based or pie-baking is don my 20-year-old Williams-Sonoma green and white pillow-ticking chef's apron and go to it.
— Vicki Ellerman, New Port Richey
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My grandmother lived with us for many years and one of my fondest memories is of her hands tying an apron around my waist as I was washing dishes, and, heaven forbid, had forgotten to put one on. She told me if I neglected to wear one and my dress got wet, it meant I would have a drunken husband. It must have worked, my husband of over 60 years does not drink. I still wear aprons and think of her when I do.
— Marie Parks, Largo
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I discovered that buying aprons when I visited foreign countries made a perfect gift for the daughters and mother-in-law. Attached is a picture of three of them, Russia, New Zealand and China. I also found one from an airport that says "King of the Kitchen" in rhinestones for my hubby.
— Norma Goldberger,
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A lowly cotton apron reveals so much about a woman. It gives you so much pride, and gets you so much admiration, almost like wearing good jewelry. It means you are a serious cook, a serious woman, a feminine woman, a woman in charge, a woman of values and a woman who knows how to entertain. It does not hurt to wear a frilly one also when cooking an elaborate meal for your favorite boyfriend.
I consider them a fashion accessory for women, much like good jewelry and great shoes. Hope they never go out of style.
— Jeannine Gallagher, Clearwater
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This apron was handmade for me by a cousin 45 years ago. It was a shower or wedding gift, and was just perfect with our harvest gold appliances! I have enjoyed it all those years and it still looks like new.
— Dianne Martin, Tampa
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My love of aprons started many years ago when Mom taught my sister and myself cooking and sewing at a young age. Then I got married in India and came to the United States. One Christmas, my husband gave me a sewing machine, which lead to a whole new set of hobbies. I started making aprons just for myself but my friends liked them so much that they turned out to be the perfect gift for them. The only sad part is, most of them refuse to wear them saying they are too nice to get spoiled. Over the years, I have made and sold over 100 of them. The fun part of making them is to go fabric shopping and see how the final product turns out.
— Vandana Mathure, Tampa
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When my three children were in school, at Christmas I would paint a Santa pocket and make a red apron for their teachers. Many times the teachers told me it became a family tradition to wear their aprons through the holidays. Here's a picture of one I recently found that I had made for myself.
— Olive K. Bly, Dunedin
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My summer after kindergarten (in which I never learned to tie my shoes) was spent at my Grandmother Kells in Middletown Center, Pa. One afternoon, she insisted that I tie my shoes. Success! I don't know how long it took for me to do it, but I spent the afternoon tying and untying aprons once I knew how. I was so proud of myself. Here is a picture of Grandma Kells and my mother, Olive Bly, around 1962 with their aprons on.
— Laurie Bly Young, Largo
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Louise Curtis is an 84-year-old ordained minister. A widow, she lives in St. Petersburg, is in good health, and has eight children, dozens of grandchildren and quite a number of great-grandchildren. She's always knitted and sewn. Last year she started making aprons out of leftover material.
She has made 61 aprons. Most have gone out across the country to family members, but she's also given them locally to her friends (male and female) and members of her congregation. She has a wonderful personality and is loved by everyone who knows her. And now those of us who are privileged to possess one of her pretty aprons have an additional reason to appreciate knowing this fine person.
— Pat Northrup, St. Petersburg
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Before my mother passed away, she gave me some material that she saved from sacks of chicken feed. Twelve years later, I showed it to a good friend of mine. She said she could make me an apron from it. The next day, she rang my doorbell and was standing there in the apron, and was able to make two from the material. I hang my apron on the wall and look at when cooking, thinking my mother is there helping me.
— Gail Lawrance, Tampa
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My mother always wore an apron. When I married in 1952, I carried on that tradition.
I wore an apron through 55 years of marriage. I stopped wearing it when my husband died in 2008. No explanation, it just came off.
About 20 years ago, while vacationing in Georgia, I purchased several yards of a very sturdy striped cotton material. I made aprons for my daughters and daughter-in-law. The pockets had appliques that related to each individual. (Like flowers for gardeners.) I recently returned from a trip to Indiana. Much to my amazement, I was given one of the 20-year-old aprons to wear while helping with Thanksgiving dinner.
— Dona Smith, New Port Richey
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My husband, Patrick, who was born on St. Patrick's Day, is the cook in our house so my sister gave him this apron for his birthday. He truly is a saint as he plans meals and cooks for the family, which includes adult children and grandkids. On St. Patrick's Day, he cooks Irish dishes such as Irish stew, calconnon, steak and stout pie and corned beef and cabbage. He's a saint in my book.
— Vivian Mirk, Tampa
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I moved here five years ago to live with and help my mother. Unable to find a job, I began making scarves and neck muffs. A year and a half ago, I started making aprons. I love making them. I'm trying to locate vintage fabric, for the person who wants to look like her grandmother.
Although it hasn't brought me the revenue I'd like, I sell a few here and there. etsy.com/shop/annasfxaccessories.
— Anna Moynihan, Weeki Wachee
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After my grandmother died nine years ago, my mom sent me a box of little things to remember her by. Under the knicknacks and costume jewelry was a floral apron. It's not the prettiest apron I own. It has a small pocket on the front that always held a slightly wadded Kleenex, which, as a teenager, I used to think was gross.
A couple of years ago, I was making a collage for my mom out of sentimental objects. I wanted to incorporate something of my grandmother's into it ... and then it hit me — apron strings. I got out the scissors and added the perfect missing piece to the mother-daughter collage. I still have the now short-stringed apron, and the collage is in my mom's Massachusetts kitchen.
— Chelley Tighe, St. Petersburg
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Tying on an apron after an especially difficult day at the office is just the kind of comfort needed, like a Mom hug or a bowl of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich.
— Carol Viggiano, Lutz
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My grandmother's apron was worn thin from many washings and wearings. Covered in a small brown flower print, it had a long sash that she could bring around and tie in the front. I only saw Grandmother wear it as she cooked dinner after church when she did not want to take time to change out of her "church clothes."
She cooked everything to death and the canned biscuits she fancied were as hard as hockey pucks. I remember pan-fried and floured pork chops that were thoroughly browned and all of the vegetables were made limp with long cooking times. My grandmother used frozen pies for heaven sakes! What Southerner does that? She called them Mowton pies instead of Morton pies (being from, Virginia, she dropped most of her mid word R's).
— Karen Lopez, St. Petersburg
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I don't remember my grandma not having her apron on. She was a nanny for a prominent doctor in Birmingham, Ala., before she came to live and take care of me and my siblings in Pensacola. She was a wonderful person. The apron is handmade. She made everything, even our clothes. I estimate the apron to be over 80 years old and has been a prize possession for me since her death in the 70's. I do occasionally wear it. Mostly it just hangs in my kitchen, where I can see it everyday.
— Cynthia Doan, Tampa
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My now-18-year-old, college freshman daughter, Alexandra, has always enjoyed working in the kitchen. When she was 13 years old, she started her own clever little homemade candy-making business and called it "Sweet Talk."
When she first started enjoying creating in the kitchen, around age 9, I bought her a serious little navy blue baker's apron. I had some fabric paint and wanted to personalize it for her, and so asked her what she wanted on the front.
Without missing a beat, she told me to write on her apron, "Don't bother me, I'm cooking!"
— Lee Silbert Burgess, St. Petersburg
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I am proudest of my apron from Camillus House, a homeless shelter in Miami. As their first director of volunteers, I wanted to formally recognize a group of women from a church in Hialeah who faithfully and cheerfully made hundreds of sandwiches every Wednesday for many years. Volunteers like these care very little for recognition or tokens of any kind, so I bought fabric paint to personalize with their names the apron with a shelter logo that each one of them wore.
— Susan Lawton
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It was time to unpack the treasured Christmas decorations from years past. Suddenly I noticed the Christmas aprons, which were handmade for my mother and me some 60 years ago. They had designs of Christmas scenes — Santa, trees, children's toys, in green and red. There were real silver jingle bells, and old-fashioned rick-rack with golden thread intertwined throughout. This year, I will wash them, iron them and give them to my daughter and granddaughter to wear and carry on the traditions of the family Christmas aprons.
— Ernestine Miller, New Port Richey
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I have always worn an apron to cook supper (I'm 70) but I must have the bib type. Homely, I know, I know, and even though I am considered a glamour puss, I am really kinda sloppy and I like to wipe my hands on an apron, with a ratty dishtowel plopped somewhere nearby. I have a dozen hanging on a hook in the laundry room, and rotate them as they get dirty.
In today's world, an apron makes you feel feminine — you are the homemaker for your dear husband and family, you are someone who cares about your clothes and the food you serve.
— Eileen Ubillos, Clearwater
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I have a small collection of aprons but two are my favorites. One is a cobbler style that belonged to my mom and yes, it feels like a hug when I wear it. The other is one I received a few Christmases ago from my daughter. This one is so pretty and special that each time I wear it, I smile and feel happy. I cherish these because they came from two very special women in my life.
— Terry Smith, Pinellas Park
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When I was in the 7th grade in the mid '50's, we had to take home ec. For cooking, we learned how to stew prunes and for sewing, we had to make an apron. It launched me into a lifetime love affair with fabric — doll clothes, wrap skirts, knitting and finally rug hooking. In September, I was the featured folk art artist on PBS for a 10-minute segment on rug hooking, a result of the seed planted in 7th grade home economics apron-making.
— Prudence Matthews, St. Petersburg
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I was 8 years old 60 years ago when I made an apron in 4-H. I have that apron plus one belonging to my maternal grandmother who passed away when I was 12.
— Sharon Colburn, Odessa
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The only time I remember seeing my dad's mother without an apron was when we went to church. She wore the ones with bibs to cover her ample bosom and those aprons were used for all sorts of things. When we went into the chicken yard to gather eggs, she waved the bottom of the apron to scare away that big white rooster who seemed to delight in scaring me. Then she held up the bottom corners to carry the eggs back to the house. When baby chicks were born, she would hold them in her apron for us kids to see and pet so the mother hen wouldn't attack us.
She used her apron to carry grapes from the grape arbor or strawberries or the many vegetables from the garden. When she cooked, which seemed to be all the time, she didn't need pot holders; her apron was handier. She cooked on a wood burning stove and used the apron as to lift the lids to put the wood into the stove and to hold onto the handle to open the oven door.
Grandma eventually had a stroke and was bedridden for the rest of her life. She still wore an apron when she was sitting in a wheelchair to eat. I have a few aprons (bibbed, of course, like grandma's), but I regret I don't have one that was hers.
— Billie Poteat, Tarpon Springs
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I love wearing aprons to keep my clothes clean. I love making them and seeing someone's face light up because of the material I have chosen or because they finally have an apron that fits. I make them out of cotton, broadcloth, denim, you name it. I make them small for the grandchildren, short for my niece, large for friends of a certain size and I wear one any time I walk into my kitchen. As a matter of fact, if I don't put my apron on, somebody else is cooking.
Eva Mueller, Clearwater snowbird
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My apron came from my mom. She wore the black and white gingham checked with the colorful edging during her years as a school lunch lady. Yes, she wore the hairnet too. She began working at the junior high when I was in eighth grade. One day, she was behind the lunch counter serving mashed potatoes. Chagrin! Over the years, she became the baker. That was a time when the chocolate cake tasted homemade, the peanut butter cookies were made fresh every day and the food tasted like real food. Sometimes she'd play Cupid and give an extra large piece of cake to a boy I liked; an extra scoop of a favorite food for my brothers' love interests. Her apron is emblematic of a woman with a husband and five children who went out every school day for almost 40 years to help her family. Now I think of her behind the counter and I am filled pride with for the strong example she showed us. That apron is a part of our family history.
— Kathy Whalen, Tampa
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I was born in 1940 and one of my first memories of my Maw Maw in West Virginia was her wearing an apron over her very ample and soft body, kissing and hugging me for all I was worth. All of her aprons were handmade on her pedal-driven sewing machine from pieces of old dresses and men's shirts and decorated with rickrack and ruffles. I had many of her aprons and wore them until they would fall apart as I raised 6 children, canned, cooked and baked, and then I made dust and waxing rags from the pieces.
— Charlene Hulker, Treasure Island
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The dress was made of cotton, had short sleeves and fell a couple of inches below her knee. It was almost always covered by a printed cotton apron. When I think of my mother, that is how I picture her.
The apron was usually made from printed cotton feed sacks. She would pull the threads that would release the side and bottom of the sack then wash and iron the fabric. One printed bag made the bib, waist band, pockets and ties of the apron and the second bag made the skirt. The apron was made on a treadle sewing machine. During those years mom owned only three or four house dresses but had an apron for each day of the week.
— Mary Bucklin, Zephyrhills
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My memories of my grandmother were of her very elegantly dressed as a result of my grandfather's success. However, she did wear one wore when at the meat locker plant that she owned when my mom was a little girl. It's the one I wear when I make jewelry. It is a heavy white cotton fabric that won't melt if hot metal lands in my lap and is long enough to reach halfway down my shin. I used it as a pattern to sew gifts for friends who wanted one. I think of my grandmother every time I put it on.
— Jean Marie DeSpiegler, St. Petersburg
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I am an apron wearer. I wear one over my nighty, new and old outfits, casual clothes, whatever. I wear homemade aprons, yard sale aprons, Mom's old aprons, pretty aprons, silly aprons, half aprons, full length aprons, new aprons or old aprons. It doesn't matter. None of my friends or family wear one. They think I'm odd. I think they are. Crazy? Maybe ... but happy in an apron.
Barbara Marrier, Clearwater
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My favorites were the cobbler aprons sewed by my mother-in-law who was the joy of my life. She was an excellent seamstress and turned out the cobbler aprons by the dozen for family and friends and sold them at art fairs in her later years.
— Rosemary Douglas, New Port Richey
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I can remember the look of astonishment on my mom's face when she opened the Christmas present from that grandmother sometime in the '40's — a dozen hand sewn aprons, all exactly alike — and her comment about what would she ever do with a dozen aprons. Well, thanks to that, I still have one of those aprons to remember her by. If she had sent only one apron, it may not have lasted all these years!
— Darrell Painter
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In 1956, my mother answered an ad in the Minneapolis paper. It was to make aprons to pay for a new Viking sewing machine in a beautiful blonde cabinet. The aprons were pre-cut out of organdy fabric. They came with chintz fabric for appliques, one in the corner and one on the pocket. She would make four dozen aprons a month. After 24 months, the machine was hers. My sister has the machine and it still works. I wish I had one of the aprons.
Lois Lange, Spring Hill
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My dad owned a butcher shop from the 1940's to the early 1970's. He wore a white shirt and tie to work every day, rolling up the shirt sleeves and putting on a white butcher's apron provided by a linen service (delivered weekly), pure white, soft, heavy cotton. Before he died, he gave me an apron.
It was big enough to wear during two pregnancies and kept me clean for years. I miss my Dad and my favorite apron which reminded me of what a kind, loving man he was.
— Suzanne Gutmann, Dunedin
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My first memory of aprons dates back to home economics in grade 7 in 1953. Our project was a white apron with a bib. This was our introduction to domesticity. We embroidered our name on the front. This apron was used for cooking, which took place in second term. I never imagined then that I would be wearing aprons from 1959 to the present day!
— Sandra Caplan, St. Petersburg and Winnipeg, Manitoba
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My favorite apron was a homemade one given to me by a friend who purchased it at a thrift store. It was a strapless apron with stays in it to hold up the top part.
The first Christmas I wore it, I realizerealized the former owner was more physically endowed than I was so I stuffed tissue in it so it wouldn't drape concavely. Family and friends got a real hoot out of it.
The second Christmas I was given sparkly Christmas tissue paper and was told to use that as my apron stuffing. Thus began a holiday tradition that lasted for years.
— M. Eileen Sheahan, Dunedin
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We were trying to get more members in our bridge club so my partner, Michael Miller, and I decided we'd try to lure more in with food. Michael wore an old apron of mine that says, "Skinny cooks can't be trusted." My apron says, "Prego." It was free in a promotion and it is frayed.
Our buffet spread was a big hit but did not seem to inspire enlarging our group of players.
— Patricia McCullough, Spring Hill
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Every Christmas Grace Murdoch of St. Petersburg re-reads an apron story her mother once wrote.
"It takes me back to when I had family around me. At 77, I still wear aprons."
Here's an excerpt from her mom's story:
"I cherish the memory of being loved by grandma and soothed by the all-enveloping protection of her apron; it protects from dirts and hurts of the world.
"When my own children and grandchildren come to visit, I find myself saying, 'Put on an apron.' I hope they understand I mean, 'Make yourself a lady of the house, loving and loved.'"
— Grace Murdoch, St. Petersburg
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I grew up during the Depression (I was 90 on Dec. 28). Both my grandmothers wore aprons. One lived to be almost 100. I used to watch and help her bake. I did plunging on butter-making days and beat rugs on the clothesline. I had my own collection in the 1950s and '60s I belonged to the Volunteer First Aid Squad in Pompton Lakes, N.J. I would put my apron on in case of spills and then wait for calls to come in.
— Lillian Kreps, New Port Richey
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Genevieve Smith, who lived in the Tampa Bay area for 50 years before moving to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, remembers using an apron as a PTA fundraiser to purchase fans for Gulfport Elementary. It was a long apron with 20 pockets. In each pocket was a prize that could be purchased at spaghetti dinners and other events. "It was a delightful way to earn some money," she said.