Monday, January 12

My Grandmother's Aprons

My grandmother's aprons still hold a facination for me. I attach significent importance to the one remaining apron I rescued from her house. However, I have collected a stack of aprons that remind me of her. These are some of the collected ones.

The fact is, any apron that may seem old or be made from bits and pieces of fabric and trim draws my attention and I will buy it and add it to the stash. Recently I bought a new apron that seemed to be just the thing for one of my granddaughters.

Just to set the record straight, the grandmother I write and talk about is a composite. It would often be too confusing to the reader if I tried to seperate the two very different women. This is the first time I have tried to tell both of their stories.

I was lucky to have two grandmothers: Mama Webb and Ninnie. My mother's mother, Mama Webb, was there at my birth and for much of my young life. Ninnie Neal, my father's mother, was there also and even though she worked outside the home was a very big part of my life. My one grandfather, Black Daddy, was a quiet and mostly sober precence and may have set the tone for men that would come and go in my life.

I remember that Mama Webb wore utilitarian aprons, many made from feed sacks. She was wearing one the day I was born and wrapped me in it when Dr. Dooley handed me to her. Her aprons were worn to protect her dress and it wasn't until she was in her 70's, when she beought the concession stand at the Star-Light Drive-in Theater, that she changed to pretty little frilly styles.

Ninnie wore home-spun or muslin aprons that were starched heavy and ironed as good a white shirt. She put on a clean one each morning and made sure there was a fresh one hanging by the back door. If company came she would change aprons. Ninnie's aprons always had a pocket where she carried her handkerchief.

Mama Webb's aprons were always big enough to pull up at the bottom corners and create a pouch. She was always carrying things in her aprons: vegetables from the garden, peelings to the compost pile, kindling for the wood stove or clothes pins for hanging out wet clothes on the line. That apron was an extension of herself and it would be hard to imagine her without one.

It's hard to imagine your grandmother ever being young. Even when they were young they looked old to me except for one picture where Mama Webb was an unmarried girl still living at home. She and her family had a sitting photo and she was pictured standing where you could appriciate her 18 inch waist. I never had that view of Ninnie. She was always old to me.
My grandmothers always wore dresses, stockings and lace-up black shoes. The first thing they did after dressing in the morning was to put on a apron and when the day's work was done they removed it. Mama Webb's work wasn't finished until bedtime, many times shelling beans or shaking a gallon jug of soured milk to make buttermilk while listening to the radio. Ninnie on the other hand was finished when she cleaned the kitchen after supper.
Mama Webb was a young widow with four children and made her living doing washing and ironing for neighbors. She also share-cropped: she planted, tended and shared the harvest of someone else's garden. In addition she always had a big garden of her own and put up most of the harvest to feed the family all year.
Ninnie married when she was sixteen and her first job, in addition to bearing six, and raising four, sons, was to run a boarding house for coal miners. (Did I mention Black Daddy was a coal miner? He came home from the mines covered with coal dust and I dubbed him my Black Daddy when I was really young.) Her second job was when Black Daddy bought the coal mine, sold the boarding house and moved her closer to town on a farm. She managed the farm which was a fullt-time job. Her last job was when Black Daddy sold the mine and the farm and moved his family into town. He also bought a cafe where Ninnie ran the kitchen and he tended the bar. She made chili and hamburgers and he opened long-neck bottles of beer at Neal's Cafe. Ninnie finally retired when my Uncle Cobb Webb ran over Black Daddy and broke his leg. There was no one to run the cafe so they sold it.
Mama Webb, on the other hand, never went into retirement but rather went into business. At age 70 she bought the concession stand at the drive-in, built a small house near the exit and began the job of taking care of the needs of theater goers. She made sloppy joe mix, bought candy and popcorn and new uniforms. Her idea of what she should wear was a white uniform, a frilly handkerchief for the pocket and an equally frilly apron to match the handkerchief. By this time in her life she should have been putting her feet up instead of walking across the gravel parking lot and working every night.
When my grandmother's finally retired they gave up everything excpet their aprons. They still got up each morning and tied the strings of an apron that would keep their dresses clean. My last memories of them was one of them wearing one of them wearing feed-sack aprons used just to keep them neat and tidy for short times each day or when they were in the garden.


  1. That is so very sweet, inspires me. I need an, well, a whole collection of aprons. I really get very dirty every day and maybe an apron would be a good idea! Thanks.

  2. Dear Dinkelberries,

    I just had to write dinkleberries. I have had such fun collecting aprons. I don't limit myself to old aprons but new ones made from old patterns. Some I wear, some I just like to look at, some I give to my daughters and granddaughters. Never miss the chance to get the next generation interested in history, even apron history. Check out my website: or facebook. Happy Gardening, Pat

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