Over the past twelve years, I have received many, many versions of the prose “Grandmother’s Apron.” Annie Payne’s delightful rendition is from another continent, a first in my collection! Her lovely recollection of her grandmother’s apron is a wonderful example of the humble icon’s universality.
An Australian Grandmother’s Apron by Annie Payne
As a wee girl growing up in rural Queensland, my beloved Nan donned an apron almost every morning of her life. Her fresh clean apron usually hung on a wooden peg behind the kitchen door and was made from odds and ends left from other sewing projects, which Nan cut out from her brown paper pattern.
During the 1950’s, every Australian woman wore an apron during the day as she went about the business of running a home. Underneath her apron, Nan wore a ‘presentable’ house dress, pinned at the neckline with a brooch (her favourite being her mother’s cameo), as she seemed to have many visitors popping in to see her.
Annie wearing her Nan’s embroidered handiworked apron
In her infrequent spare moments, Nan liked to ‘run up’ small items on her Singer treadle sewing machine, such as aprons and pot holders for hot saucepans on the Aga stove, as she detested waste of any kind. At the end of her busy day, she tossed her apron into the wicker wash hamper and hung a new clean apron, ready for the next day’s work.
Nan, being a practical woman, used the hem of her apron as a pot holder to move hot pans in the oven or to remove hot cakes from cake tins to place on the window sill to cool. The edge of her much washed apron was wonderful for drying children’s tears and, on occasion, when dabbed with a lick of spit, to wipe a grubby child’s mouth.
From the chook yard, she carefully carried the day’s freshly laid eggs or half hatched chicks in her apron to the kitchen to place on the warm hearth. When unexpected visitors arrived at the back door, Nan’s apron was the perfect place for shy kids to hide behind, slowly peeping out from behind the safety of her generous skirt. She often used her apron to staunch the flow of blood from a nosebleed or accident, or to wrap iceblocks for a sprained wrist or ankle.
Whenever visitors drove along the corrugated sandy track from the main road, they were always greeted with morning or afternoon tea. The signal to sit down to enjoy the mouth-watering spread of scones, date rolls, Anzac biscuits, cream filled sponge cake and a pot of strong tea, was when Nan removed her apron, inviting everyone to pass plates to each other while she poured the tea.
Around 6.30pm, before serving dinner each night at 7, Nan removed her apron, tidied the wisps of hair that had escaped from the tightly twisted bun at the nape of her neck, and applied a slick of lipstick and a dab of perfume behind each ear. At 6.45 each evening, she walked out to the back veranda and rang the old ship’s bell and waved her apron, letting the men know that it was time to finish their chores, wash up and to change into a clean shirt for dinner in 15 minute’s time.
While not a ‘formal’ dinner in the usual sense of the word, Nan usually presided over a table set for 24 adults, with the odd small child or two perched on stools squeezed in between adults and polite table manners were expected from everyone. The food was almost entirely produced on our own property and serves were ample for the active lives led by everyone at the table.
I can’t imagine anyone inventing something to replace Nan’s indispensible apron, with its myriad of practical uses. No-one ever caught anything from her apron …….but LOVE!