A Memory by Mildred Filbrun Heck  

On a day in July, 1995, I went to Shipshewana, Indiana.  That charming little town is in the heart of a large Amish and Mennonite farming area.

In one of the quaint shops there, I saw several large old-fashioned blue and white gingham farm aprons hanging on a wall rack.  My mind instantly flashed back 75 years to my childhood on an Ohio farm where I remembered seeing my Mother wear the same type of long full-cut apron every day. 

This is not a picture of the Author's (and Editor's) mother (she was much shorter and heavier), but the apron is very much like the one described in this story.

When I was very young, those big aprons did not make an impression on me.  Yet on this day I remembered them so very well.  I thought of the dozens of ways I had seen my Mother use that big apron of hers in the early years of the 1900s.  Mother's apron was like a uniform. The only time she took it off was after doing the supper dishes or when she had company.  At those times the apron hung behind the kitchen door waiting to be snatched up for another non-stop work day.

My mother had more aprons than house dresses.  Like all farm women at that time, Mother had her own patterns to use when she made her aprons and house dresses.  All of her aprons that I remember were made of blue and white checked gingham material which could be bought for pennies in any local country store.

The aprons Mom preferred were long with a full, gathered skirt.  These covered her dress well around the back where the apron was tied with two narrow pieces of the same material.  She made all her aprons with a bib that fitted over the head.  Mother added a large deep pocket to the skirt that could be used for a hundred purposes. This big apron assured that her dress was well-covered and remained clean while she did her many demanding farm jobs.

Monday was "wash day".  (It would have been unthinkable not to wash on Mondays!)  House dresses were never starched but the aprons were always dipped in heavy starch, then hung on the wire clothesline to dry in the sun and be fluffed by the wind.  Later, they were sprinkled and ironed with heavy flat irons heated on the cook stove.

Aunt Ida, my Uncle Will Filbrun's wife, was often at our house to help at butchering , threshing and apple butter making time - and always when a new baby was  expected.  She would arrive, ready for anything, with her big blue starched apron over her arm.  When we went to Aunt Ida's house for an evening meal, I  remember that after the dishes were washed she would take off her apron, say goodnight to her canary, then drape her apron over its cage for the night.

Grandmother Caroline Filbrun, my father's mother, made her aprons long and full with a bib that she pinned to the blouse of her dress. Whether light-colored aprons in the summer or darker in winter, she wore them over the severe, long-sleeved dresses with  high necklines that her Old Order Brethren Church required.  Grandmother took her apron off as soon as she left the kitchen and rolled up her long sleeves as we sat on her wicker porch swing on an August evening.  How warm she must have been!

Mother, Aunt Ida, and Grandmother Filbrun were or had been farm women all their lives and had used those big aprons daily in hundreds of ways.  The laps of those big aprons were especially handy for whatever needed carrying quickly around a busy farm.  Here are some of the ways  I remember seeing my Mother use her big apron.

--- When a sudden cold rain caught the baby chicks in deep grass away from the mother hen, Mom would gather up the wet chicks in her apron and place them in a box behind the cook stove where their peeping delighted my younger brother and sister, Dale and Phyllis.

--- When those same chicks grew up and scratched in Mom's flower beds, she chased them away by flapping her big apron at them.  Later, you would see her tossing cracked corn from her apron to those same chickens.

--- A quick trip to the wood shed for kindling wood or corn cobs for her stove was easily handled by using her big apron to help carry.

--- How often we saw Mom go to the garden for lettuce, tomatoes or cucumbers and bring them back in her handy apron.

--- When a strong wind brought down apples or peaches from the trees, they were quickly picked up in the apron before the chickens got to them.

--- In the kitchen, the apron was an ever-handy pot holder for hot pans and was always available to chase pesky flies from the screen door before opening it.

--- How many times her apron was used to wipe Mother's perspiring face while canning in a hot kitchen or while hoeing in the garden under a hot sun.

---- In chilly weather, Mom wrapped the big apron around her arms for warmth as she rushed outside on some short errand.

--- When a quick shower came up, we all ran to the clothes line, grabbing socks, towels and underwear and stuffing them into Mom's outspread apron.

--- How many times Mom's apron wiped away childish tears from little hurts and skinned knees - all made better by Mom and her big apron.

--- When a stranger came to the door, behind Mom's big apron was the perfect place for a shy child to hide.

What a wonderful and handy garment that big apron was for the farm woman.  Its use was unlimited, and now in 1995 it hangs as a curiosity piece on the wall of an souvenir shop - just another relic of the past.

Not only did farm women wear aprons but so did little farm girls. That's me at the age of 5 or 6 in the photo above.  I wore a full apron like this for my first few years of school.  There was a good reason for using aprons at that time.  Washing clothes in the 1900s was difficult and time-consuming work!



- This story has been edited by Mrs. Heck’s brother, William S. Filbrun -

"My Mother's Big Apron" - by Mildred Filbrun Heck - all rights reserved.  Permission to reproduce it or any part thereof must be obtained from the webmaster.

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