Aprons -- part of our history

Monday, June 9, 2003

It was a strange week at the Norris House. I was ironing ... aprons to be specific, lots and lots of aprons. I had forgotten the smell of a hot iron and ironed clean cotton. It seemed an appropriate scent for the old house. I was glad the weather was cool but still had a small fan running on me most of the time. The donors had ironed their aprons before they sent them in so the job was not a hard one, just touch-up mostly. Working with other people's treasures though is a real responsibility.

The Spinning, Weaving and Needlework display is on at the Norris House this month-with a special emphasis on aprons this year. It's tricky to figure out how to display more than 50 aprons in one room without disturbing anything ... but possible.

My Grandma Booth was almost never without her apron. Like the unspoken uniform some sort of silent sisterhood, it was just a part of getting dressed in the morning. There was an ever-present hankie in one of the pockets and a list of some sort. Hankies are almost like aprons when bringing back memories. One whole wall in this display is made up of aprons made out of hankies-they're beautiful. My grandmother really used her hankies though and my dad went through lots and lots of handkerchiefs. That was about the only thing that anyone willingly entrusted to my early ironing skills. Nice square corners ... good training.

Aprons were worn daily at one time for a variety of chores.

I've been amazed at the number of aprons that people still keep in their home, even though they admit that they rarely wear them anymore. One lady this week said the last good collection of aprons she saw was at a bridal shower. The woman hosting the shower displayed her collection, then each of the guests was asked to choose one of the wide varieties on display. Part of the shower entertainment was that each guest told an imagined story about the apron that she had chosen.

With the Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival still fresh in our minds, what fun it would be to have a tea at the Norris House and let people tell apron stories. Bring grandma's apron or find one in the over 100 on display that resembles an apron in your past and tell the story ... real or imagined. The real stories of our history are always best but the compelling stories we've read or heard of the pioneer women or the colonial women's aprons are worth consideration too.

Some aprons almost tell their own story. The netting apron sewn for a one-time use as you cut the cake or serve the coffee for your cousin's wedding in the 1950s. The apron which has "Eat McCook Ice Cream" written boldly on the front ... and the stains to show that someone missed their mouth occasionally.

There are aprons from small Nebraska town lumber yards which have dirt and grease ground into them and what I think is blood on the front too ... what happened there? Perfectly white aprons haven't been used much. There are three very old, long white aprons that you can see being used with the owner's best black dress at Sunday dinner as she served her family. Crochet trim decorates the sweeping hem of several. Many of the aprons were elegant as well as functional. Another whole category is the delicate crocheted aprons, many with bibs. They are totally useless as utility aprons but beautiful to look at. A longer white, bibbed apron with writing states that it was from the Orleans Cooperative Creamery, the "largest in the world." My Aunt Flossie Sue Ennis worked there and that's why that one had to come home from the antique shop with me. There is another white apron whose only decorations are two small charcoal diamonds advertising the McCook Diamond Jubilee in 1957. A pink gingham apron and matching sunbonnet were made specifically for McCook's Centennial celebration in 1982.

The needlework also includes a quilted wall hanging of a three-dimensional geranium. Every time I look, I want to touch ... it's just asking for it. I put the "Please do not touch" reminders out for me too! The same goes for those needlepoint pictures sewn entirely with colored beads instead of colored yarn.

You just have to stick your face right up into the details to see that there really isn't anything there except the beads.

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