Tales from the Tread: Celebrate National Apron Day
Once a staple of a woman’s wardrobe, the apron has evolved into more of an accessory. Memories of Thanksgiving dinners conjure up images of roast turkey and pumpkin pie lovingly prepared by grandma wearing her best holiday apron. Potholders and towels have replaced the apron, but for years, it was an essential part of every kitchen. Housewives not only wore aprons to protect their clothes, but also used them as an essential tool for taking hot food out of the oven, carrying fruits and vegetables, wiping dirty hands, drying dishes, and even adding a splash of style to an otherwise drab outfit.
Although worn by both men and women for hundreds of years, the apron, in the twentieth century, came to symbolize mother, home, and the apple-pie ideals of the American family. As an icon of the domestic goddess, aprons were both utilitarian and fashionable. They could be plain and practical for everyday chores, holiday-themed and kitschy for special occasions or sheer and ruffled for hostess duties. Whatever the look, aprons had one thing in common: They represented the domestic bliss of home and family.
As modern conveniences, such as dishwashers and microwave, ovens have diminished our need for the apron, we fondly remember its place in the family household. The following description of aprons exemplifies their unique historical significance.
“I don’t think our kids know what an apron is. The principal use of Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few. It was easier to wash aprons than dresses, and they used less material, but along with that, the apron served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.
“It was also wonderful for drying children’s tears, and on occasion, was even used for cleaning out dirty ears. From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven. When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids. And when the weather was cold, grandma wrapped it around her arms.
“Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow bent over the hot wood stove. Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron. From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables, and after the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.
“In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees. When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds. When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch, waved her apron and the men folk knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner.
“It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace the old-time apron that served so many purposes.” (author unknown)
In recognition of this iconic piece of history, the Tread of Pioneers Museum invites you to join us for a celebration of National Apron Day at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 9. At the “Apron Strings: The Ties That Bind” event, tour the museum’s historic apron display, listen to an interesting discussion of the history of aprons by Sharon Yannaccone and decorate your own apron or one for mom for Mother’s Day. The tour and talk are free; aprons cost $5 for children 2-12 and $10 for adults. Discounts are available for multiple aprons. Call 970-879-2214 or email http://www.treadofpioneers.org for more information.
Tamra Monahan is museum assistant at Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs.
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