Apron Strings and Kitchen Things
Updated: Mar 10, 2019
Kris Kristofferson is right, “There’s just something ’bout a Sunday…” Recollections of grandmas in aprons, who stood in bare feet, cooking without the convenience of microwaves and IPad recipes, are gateways to some of our best memories. Fresh eggs — from the chicken that would later sizzle in the cast iron skillet for lunch — swimming in bacon grease were a good way to start a long day.
Company would soon be arriving in the form of kids, grandkids and whoever else might need a hearty meal after church, and all would be welcomed with open arms. For me, like for most of us, it was a simpler time, and there are some days when I long to hear the ragged old screen door’s rusty welcome as I “catch the Sunday smell” of Grandma frying chicken.
No matter where I serve my guests…
Both of my grandmothers were country through and through and both knew how to lure folks into the house with the scent of freshly baked homemade bread. Creamy butter would sit underneath the thick layer of dewberry preserves and it was, for many, our first glimpse of realizing that the kitchen really is the heart of the home.
Recently, I went through the last remaining boxes of kitchen items that had been left to me by family members who are no longer with us. I’ve had my own kitchen for many decades now and have collected enough modern gadgetry to open a well-stocked kitchen store. As I unpacked each vintage piece, I found myself wondering what to do with all of these priceless keepsakes.
Baby Boomers’ adult children are in-tune with the “Ikea generation,” a way of life based on “global nomadism.” Today’s Millennials and Gen X, Y and Z families are on the move and, with rare exceptions, are not looking to find furniture and housewares that can be passed down for generations. It’s too burdensome to pack up and move sentimental items from one town/state/country to the next, so many times pieces with sentimental value get shuffled off to resale shops or become victims of impersonal estate sales.
But our grandparents and parents were from the Depression (or post-Depression era), a time in which things were made to last, and everything was saved for posterity’s sake. Eventually their prized possessions ended up with relatives like me.
Fortunately, my sons and their wives took much of my family heirloom pieces for safekeeping and seemed to appreciate them very much. We had a wonderful day several years ago, sorting through most of the items left to me by way of my parents’ estate. I have no doubt these things are in good hands, “Ikea Generation,” or not. But I stopped short on that day of unpacking the last two boxes, for some reason.
Among the treasures I finally unearthed was the green bowl that my mom used to whip up every cake she ever made. Tucked lovingly beside them were my grandma’s crocheted scarves and cross-stitched pillow cases, and the yellow salt and pepper shakers that seasoned the cornbread dressing at Thanksgiving and the garden-fresh green beans in summer.
There were vintage coffee cups and saucers that I can remember my maternal grandmother sipping from and dessert plates that held whatever goodies she had baked earlier in the day — now all stained with age. I found the fragile glasses and pitcher that held iced tea so sweet that the sugar-rush would last through the last hours of even the hottest August days.
No, these items will not get tossed into the resale pile. They will be used, at least for several more years, by me.
A word about aprons
Can we really think seriously about kitchen memories and not have at least one image of and apron or two cross our minds? I think not.
Among the memory triggers in the boxes I emptied was a special apron that my dad sent my mom while he was stationed in California during his soldier days. It looked brand new, with the whopping $1 price tag still attached.
Aprons were as much a part of old-fashioned, home-style cooking as the aluminum ice cube trays that were stacked (and sometimes stuck to the “ice box”) in the freezer. Most of the aprons sewn for “everyday use” were made from cotton fabric remnants or flour sack material, embellished with leftover rick-rack edging. Many times, more expensive fabrics were used for making holidays and special occasion aprons.
These “housewife uniforms” were used for solving all kinds of problems, from simple cooking issues, like preventing billowing flour from soiling homemade dresses, to wiping tears from a disappointed child’s eyes who had just been told, “No more cookies before dinner.”
Women used aprons to gather vegetables from the garden and eggs from the chicken coop; and after a hard day’s work, they came in handy for wiping the sweat from their brows following too much time in the sun.
I can just imagine both of my grandmothers carefully selecting the cloth and the pattern, then sitting down at their treadle sewing machine to create the aprons that would serve all these purposes and more, taking pride in every stitch.
When all is said and done, aprons were/are much more than functional. They are pieces of our personal history and it really is very hard to "cut those apron strings." I have several, and yes. I use them. I can only hope that the time spent in my kitchen will someday mean as much to my grandkids as having the opportunity to cook with them means to me.
A taste of yesterday
When I visited my paternal grandparents in the quaint little community of Carmine, Texas, it was a given that Grandma would have freshly baked Ranger Cookies on hand. Their buttery goodness is, to this very day, a favorite flavor of mine.
Their house was nothing fancy, but we all knew we were welcome. Whenever I need a bit of sweetness, in more ways than one, I reach for the recipe and bake some memories. Works every time.
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup shortening
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups corn flakes cereal
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix sugars, eggs and vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients. Mix well; dough will be stiff. Drop by teaspoonful onto an ungreased cookie sheet, about 2” apart. Bake 9-11 minutes. Cool before removing from cookie sheet. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.
Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest…
At the bottom of the box was a Bible, dated Christmas, 1947. It was a gift from my great-grandparents to my dad. Surprisingly, it was written in English. I thought perhaps it would be written in German since most of my family originated from Germany and the language was spoken often within our walls until my generation came along.
I found it odd that the Bible was packed along with the kitchen items, but then I decided it was probably in its exact, proper place. For as far back as I can remember, the common table prayer was said before meals:
“Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest,
And let this food to us be blessed.”
The Common Table Prayer has been around since 1753, published first in a Moravian hymnal, written in German. It’s been said that it’s North America’s most familiar table prayer and is considered to be a Lutheran prayer essential.
It has blessed the food that mementos like the ones I’ve uncovered helped create for hundreds of years; so, yes. Perhaps a Bible is exactly what is needed among the kitchen souvenirs.
Sunday Morning Coming Down
As I write this, I’m thinking about all the nostalgic Sundays that have been woven into the fabric of my life. And in the process, I’m reminded that each piece that I’ve cautiously unwrapped from this box of yesterday is important, at least to me. It won’t be placed in the Goodwill pile. It won’t be packed away to be dealt with on another day. As much of it as can be used, will be used.
Tea will be served to my family in the vintage pitcher, and if it slips out of some little person’s grimy hands, so be it. It’s still better than getting no enjoyment at all from it.
And if one day these items end up in an estate sale, I hope they bring someone the same joy they have brought the generations before me.
A few years back, I went to an estate sale and left feeling very sad at how entire lives can be boxed and sold to the highest bidder. I went home and wrote the poem, “Estate Sale,” which I’ve added below. I suppose it’s what all writers do— usually walk away from places of interest with inspiration instead of photographs and tchotchkes. Perhaps it’s because written words are a permanent means of safekeeping memories.
As each of you go through your Sunday mornings, I hope you catch “the Sunday smell of someone frying chicken,” and that "it takes [you] back to something that [you’ve] lost somehow, somewhere along the way.”
Happy Sunday, everyone.
NOTE: Lyric reference from Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down," see video clip below, beneath poem.
Quilted somewhere in the threads of patchwork love,
memories are tucked away;
Tagged and waiting for a stranger’s gavel to declare today’s owners of yesterday’s lives.
Picket fence borders encircle the farmhouse,
where all that remains of a generation waits in boxes to be moved to cities where oil lamps and butter churns are novel.
Delicate porcelain dolls, cracked with age,
lie pale and shopworn with no small hands
left to tuck them lovingly
into makeshift cradles of splintered cedar.
Hidden somewhere between the Bibles,
the cross-stitched aprons, and the faded photographs
lie the passions of people whose eyes never witnessed
the strangers who came to buy…
And whose hearts never broke at the somber thought
of the familiar faces who came to sell…
Like them, crated memories will never return
to the farmhouse
where dandelions still grow wild
and midnight breezes gently sway
the ragged porch swing
that nobody wanted.
Poem written by Connie Strong
To view the video of the song that spurred the inspiration behind this post, please check out Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down" by clicking on the arrow.