Great Grandmother’s Big Front Apron

The All Purpose Utility , Lest We Forget

This article originally appeared in the Mar/Apr 1990 issue of Pioneer Magazine

by Dale I. Nilson

She could pack in new potatoes, peas, carrots from the garden, gather up a hatching of baby chicks from the hay stack and put the hen in a crate where the little chickens could go underneath and would keep her from scratching up flower and garden beds.

Maybe she would gather up a stolen nest of eggs from under the burdocks or straw stack before they hatched. Or a litter of pups or cats of which there were always plenty.

She could dry her hands and wipe sweat from her face on a hot day in the kitchen. Or dry the eyes and tears of a frightened or crying child.

If a stray horse, cow or calf came down the lane, a quick flap or swish from the big apron would stop them in their tracks, slide their feet and maybe not come in again very soon. Stray dogs and cats would also make a hasty retreat from the yard if they were molesting the domestic fowls or animals.

It could also be used to make a cool breeze for a sick child on a hot summer day. The children swimming or dunking in the big ditch could run to Grandma to partially dry and check the chill from the cool fresh water, in the ever present apron and watchful eye of a good and loving Granny.

It could be used to screw the hot lids down on freshly cooked fruit and vegetable jars. It could be used to flush and scare a bee or fly from the screen porch. And maybe scare a chicken hawk from taking a baby chick.

They were especially effective if they were made from various colors from different pieces of dresses that were in too good of a condition to throw away. Grandmothers were very frugal and conservative – nothing goes to waste that can be used appropriately in good taste. Make over was word and work of the day.

When Indian squaws came begging as they used to from Washaki on their little skinny horse and light rigs and put down their sacks or cloths for sugar, flour, butter, bread, beans, rice, etc., if little children were present they would always run into the house and hide or crawl behind Grandmother’s sturdy and faithful front apron and occasionally peek out the side and take a peek at what was going on, but quickly duck back under if things looked suspicious at all. And they were probably relieved when the Indians slowly walked up the path in moccasin covered feet and brightly colored shawls. A great and wonderful sight and memory to look back on in those days. The Indians would usually camp in a corner of town where there was plenty of shade for their horses and people and then they would spread out from there. One special and particular place was down from my Grandparents’ home at 4th South and 3rd West in Smithfield, Utah.

Sometime when a child was to be born, the husband or some family member would run to Great Grandmother’s home, she being a mid wife, and she would immediately wash her hands and dry them using the apron for a towel. Then she would take off the big apron which usually went to her toes, and find a clean dress underneath and hurry as fast as possible to their home, hoping, I guess, all the way that it wouldn’t be a difficult case to usher into the world a new young one. And then back to her home, to her front apron and to her usual pace and farm chores, gathering the eggs and vegetables for another good home-cooked meal.

On the way from Relief Society it would be easy to assemble in her front apron enough good dry chips of wood, along with a little paper from the Smithfield Sentinel, to get a quick hot fire to warm up the kitchen and enjoy a friendly chat with a neighbor.

This apron would pack bacon, hams and spare ribs to the smoke house, then carry some apple, cherry or oak wood for the fire to smoke them, all in her trusty front apron.

If a farm accident occurred, broken bones, or etc., the apron could be quickly cut and stripped for supporting bandages or make a sling to hold up an injured arm. What a wonderful piece of cloth to be used in so many practical, emergency and useful ways.

How would the human race have ever survived in their day and time without Great Grandmother’s trusty, strong front apron. It would be hard today to find anything of comparable worth-from tears to bringing in the harvest to supplying the needs of neighbors, friends and family.

It could fan a pile of smoldering leaves or could smother a small fire by cutting off the oxygen until more help arrived. And perhaps Grandmother would then need to get another front apron put together. Do you remember: I feel for the person who has never had the opportunity and good fortune of that stimulating wonderful smell of burning leaves at summer’s end, a never to be forgotten and stimulating aroma of fall and smoke, a delightful reminder of summer past and fall with its colors and downed leaves for gathering and burning. To rake and haul leaves then, with burned black potatoes in the ashes and salted to eat. To not have had this unique experience would be like never having had the good fortune of the aroma of new home baked “wonder” bread direct from the oven with a good brown crust and butter added, especially from a wood burning stove, never to be forgotten as long as our time lingers on to those of us who are now called “old timers.” May Grandmother, her apron, bread and leaves remain in our memories and senses of smell and sight until another harvest of leaves arrives.

A neighbor’s lad or a grandson or daughter could get up in a plum or apple tree, go out on a limb and shake the fruit into Grandmother’s spread out apron, catching the fruit before it fell to the ground and was bruised. A shoo and swish from her big apron would soon put the robins in the cherry tree to flight.

After bathing a baby it would be put into the front apron and moved close to the wood burning stove, let the oven door down, and this good wood heat would dry and warm the baby.

If when coming from a visit at a neighbor’s home, after having a nice chat and a piece of delicious coffee cake, if a sudden spring shower should appear, the apron was ready. By turning the apron around and putting it up over your head and shoulders it substituted for an emergency rain coat and hat until arriving home.

The hem on the bottom of the apron was just long enough to shine the toes of the shoes as it moved back and forth.

My how times have changed but those were days never to be forgotten by those of us who knew a little about them.

What a wonderful piece of fabric and its ready built in and applicable amazing and convenient uses. Would that our inventors could come up with something equally good today. Maybe our spacemen could find a use for it in their orbits.

This is written out of an abundant love and respect to the courageous, honorable, charitable and enduring and indefatigable pioneers, our Great Great Grandparents, living in the untamed but beautiful valleys of the Rockies, mid sage, lilies and wheat. May we ever remember and cherish their day that we may be sufficient to our day.

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