the schmooze
(The Apron)

Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

My four grandchildren know very little about "der fartekh."  Perhaps they've seen the blue and white Chanukkah Ribbons Apron with a large center pocket, and decorated with swirls, draydels, and menorahs.

Why there's even a yearly "simkhe" (celebration) devoted to preserving a fun, nostalgic way to display your favorite apron.  National Apron Day is celebrated on the "Montik" (Monday) after Mother's Day.

Women are encouraged to wear their apron to the SuperSol supermarket, to the kids "beysbol" practice, to the movie theatre ("der kino"), anywhere you choose.

My grandmother, Clara Gottlieb, wore an apron to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few.  It was easier to wash aprons than dresses.  The apron also served as a potholder for removing "heys" pans from the oven.  Aprons were wonderful for drying children's tears.  And, on occasion, the apron was even used for cleaning out "shmutsik" ears.

Aprons hit their heyday in the '50s, when modern household appliances gave women more free time to spend operating "di neymashin" (the sewing machine).  The happy "baleboste" could be found whipping up aprons for every holiday:  bridge club, "beybi" showers, mah-jongg tournaments, etc.

The apron dates as far back as the "Gan Eden" (Garden of Eden), as referenced in Genesis from the old Testament.

According to EllynAnne Geisel ("The Apron Book:  Making, Wearing, and Sharing a Bit of Cloth and Comfort"), "Once Adam and Eve took a bite of the apple ("epl"), they realized that they were naked and covered up.  They took fig ("fayg") leaves and fashioned themselves aprons."

Apron designer, Janice Baldes, says, "Many aprons were rich in decorative details from the 1930s through the 1950s, when they were considered a status symbol.

Gordene MacKenzie, Assistant Professor, Director of the Women's and Gender Studies Dept. at Merrimack College, vividly remembers the first thing she made in her 1960s junior-high home economics class: an apron.  She said, "women were channeled at that time to become homemakers.  Aprons were like harnesses on women."

MacKenzie--in an e-mail--wrote:  "I remember required home economics as low point in my life.  The only thing I was ever good at was fast fried foods like hush puppies.  In 9th grade I tried to make a white denim jumper--marked the darts with a red pen--which was still visible...the hem tilted into a great slant...and the home ec teacher with her Donna Reed hairdo and permanent scowl told me not to come to the fashion show.  I failed home economics!!!!!  I begged the principal to put me in any other class--he finally agreed and placed me mid semester in a french class. I had never taken french, but anything was better than that horrific course which made me in my home made apron feel like a failure as a woman.  Years later, of course, I realized I was just not the type of 50's stereotype/stepford type of a woman we were being cultivated to be."

Banished from American kitchens for "fertsik" (40) years, aprons have re-emerged.  Women are searching for stylish aprons to match a decorative "kishn" (pillow) and cocktail napkin.  Some women are buying cute aprons at clothing retailers like Anthropologie.  New York magazine (June 15-22, 2009, "Best Bets") listed a $75 monogrammed Pop apron from Jack Spade for $75.

Perhaps you recall that women like Laura Ingalls wore aprons on the prairie.  Little school girls wore them over their dresses. Even Aunt Jemima and Betty Crocker wore them in "di kikh" (the kitchen).  Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz wore an apron and Bree (on "Desperate Housewives") wore one, too.

EllynAnne Geisel of Pueblo,  CO, believes an apron can stir up memories of home, motherhood and love.  It also can remind us of recipes, relationships, our childhood and even special holidays.

Ron Wiggins (Palm Beach Post) shared a piece titled "The Big Apron."  He received it from Helen A. Lyons of West Palm Beach, FL.  (The writer thanks him.)

"One of the fondest memories I have of my mother (begins the unknown author) is her big apron.  She always wore one.  Her white apron was for special occasions, but the everyday one, slow to show soil, was edged with bias tape of a contrasting color.  I was most impressed with that one, because its uses were limitless.

"It made a basket for eggs gathered from the chicken coop, or from a nest found in the tall weeds or grass.  Many times Mother would bring in a brood of fluffy chicks in her apron, the bottom brought up to form a temporary nest.  The same apron, by giving it a swish, would frighten the chickens from the flower bed or back porch.

"To dry a tear from a child's face, wipe away the dirt, and comfort children seemed to be what an apron was made for, but kindling and firewood, vegetables and fruit also found their way into the kitchen by way of the apron route.  And if company arrived unexpectedly, the apron was quickly used as a duster for the dining table or buffet.

"As a potholder to remove hot pans from the stove, and a protector against the hot stove lifter when the lid had to be moved, it saved many a burned finger.

"A flip of the apron wold also scatter flies when they hovered around the screen at the kitchen door on a fall afternoon.

"Mother's apron became an important symbol to all those around her.  The sight of her apron coming back up the path meant many things to many people--hot bread for a sick neighbor, a cheery word and attentive ear in times of trouble, hands that could sew, scrub and soothe.

"Her apron's pockets, at times, would reveal scissors to cut bandages, a recipe loaned to a friend, a storybook tattered from use during a flu epidemic, a spool of quilting thread for a neighbor's baby quilt, a hanky to wipe away the tears of the sorrowing-- the list could go on and on.

"Mother's apron was warmth, love and service to those in need.

"For me there is a never-to-be-forgotten memory of little ones curled up on her lap as she rocked and pulled the big apron over their legs and feet.  Not only for warmth, but to draw them closer to her wonderful ways.

"Tucked away in my chest of memories is one of Mother's ever-useful aprons.

"In these days of forgotten aprons, it suggests to me that the young people of today have missed some very valuable lessons of life, for the lack of a Big Apron."


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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

NU, what are you waiting for?  Order the book!

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