By Charlene Morella
My mother passed away May 6, 2002, three days after her ninety-first birthday. This was following an-eight year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. I still miss her terribly.
Mom had not worked in her chosen profession of wife, mother, and homemaker for many years. Alzheimer’s had robbed her of all memories and abilities. The lifetime of love and respect she earned from family and friends should have been a great comfort to her in her declining years, but the slate had been wiped clean.
However, in her day she was at the top of her game. She navigated her home with a quite and unassuming but regal authority that is only present in people that are completely confident and comfortable in their roles. This is what she loved ---this is what she lived for.
My most vivid memories of her center around our kitchen, the hub and the heart of Mom’s existence ---that 20’ x 20’ room that contained a stove with an oven that was never regulated with the proper temperature, an aging washer and dryer, a stained and chipped porcelain sink, no dishwasher, one of the first side-by-side refrigerators ever made, ancient vinyl flooring, not enough cabinets, and a window air conditioning unit grown rickety in it’s battle with the dryer and oven for air space.
Her reputation for being a good cook was unrivaled in the Webb family. It was not unusual for my Uncle Joe or one of his sons, who were big hunters to request a family dinner, prepared by my mother. They always brought squirrel meat to be used in her scrumptious Cajun gumbo. Uncle Joe would then appeal to Mother’s good nature by wishing out loud for some potato salad, “and maybe one of those delicious banana cakes of yours” he would say, or a pecan pie, or peanut butter fudge if you’ve got the time.”
She was just as adept at whipping up a quick supper for Dad, my sister, and I. I’m not sure if she enjoyed the entire process but I do know that she took great pride in presenting her delectable creations at the dinner table.
But there was one thing my mother insisted on before any of the pots and pans began to rattle; it was the introduction to every cooking lesson my sister and I were ever taught.
“First you wear an apron” my Mom would say. “All that stirring and tasting can get away from you.” She believed it was impossible to be a good cook and not splatter and spill occasionally. Janie and I, reluctantly, were obliged to don an apron when recruited to help in the kitchen.
So the aprons were bountiful in my mother’s kitchen. Most were homemade on her ancient Singer sewing machine ---plain and practical with a big pocket on the front. You could usually find a paper towel hidden there for wiping you hands in a hurry.
She had a few made like a sleeveless smock that snapped up the front. These were her favorite. “It covers up more of the splatter zone” she explained.
All of Mother’s aprons were washed and ironed at the end of its work shift and rested dutifully in a drawer of the buffet in our dining room. When it was called into service, it hung on the back of the pantry door between meals and stood ready for the bombardment of soups, gravies, and sauces.
Many years ago for her birthday, I gave Mom a chef’s apron made of blue cotton, with yellow, red, and green strips. I thought it might be a nice alternative to her smocks and still cover enough of that “splatter zone.” From that day forward, she used it every time I was there to visit.
Today, the stripped apron hangs on the back of my laundry room door. It’s faded and has obtained a gentle softness from its countless washings. I don’t have a wardrobe of aprons as my mother did. I don’t need them. I have my Mom’s apron.
There are many things in my home that once graced my parent’s home. I have the dining room buffet, a few other pieces of furniture, my mother’s wedding rings, but none evoke such deep emotion in me as that blue stripped fabric hanging in my laundry room. It is a symbol of all the good parts of my life growing up and the woman that made it so. She is my beloved role model and was the very first love of my life.
So tonight as I go to prepare dinner ---first, I’ll wear my apron --- in a silent tribute to my mother. We will be eternally bound together by these tattered apron strings.