A METAL FOLDING CHAIR creaked as she sat down and shipped off her best black coat. Underneath and over the light cotton dress was a neat blue pinafore apron with wrinkled white ruffles at the bottom and top. The young women, faithful members of the Ladies Sunday school class, smiled knowingly to each other in silent sisterhood in the small room on the second floor of the church on a cold but sunny Sunday morning. Any one of them could have inadvertently worn her apron to church that morning. The possibility was very high that each of them had left a rumpled and soiled one behind tossed over the back of a chair or on a hook by the stove. Inside the stove a roast, surrounded with carrots, onions and potatoes, lay simmering in a pot in anticipation of Sunday dinner with gravy, green beans, macaroni and cheese, tall glasses of iced tea; perhaps apple or mincemeat pie for desert.
THAT WAS THE WAY it was back then in rural South Texas. Wives got their families up and ready for church; they served a quick breakfast, hurried the children to get dressed with clothes laid out carefully night before, began preparation for lunch, gathered up Bibles and Sunday school books and, if they were lucky, loving and faithful husband drove them all to church. If the head of the house did not attend, creative excuses were made for him to the preacher. Whether he was merely a wayward believer or an outright non-believer, the wife never ceased praying that some day he would go to church with her. Some prayed this prayer all of their married lives. The only way some of the men finally got to the church was in a hearse.
I STILL REMEMBER MANY of my mother’s aprons even though she has been gone over forty years. Red and white checks with tiny black smocking…one with a hand red hand towel attached…an organdy one with white flocking that I never saw her wear…one scalloped interestingly at the bottom and made of solid and printed sections…a softly patterned one made from feed sack. She kept them in a drawer by the sink with the dish towels, cook books and recipes clipped from newspapers and those gleaned from friends and written down in her own handwriting. They were crisply starched and ironed treasures of female fashion and always on standby alert to be donned for battle for a brave and noble household Joan of Arc. They were defenders against clouds of sifted flour, splatters of hot grease, peanut butter smears, dripping chocolate icing, softened margarine, occasional dust and tears, those of a child or even her own.
MY MOTHER DID NOT restrict her apron fashion sense to the kitchen alone, but she seemed to wear her aprons like friendly armor as she performed the many domestic chores indoors and outdoors. The center of the house and her life was the kitchen. And the kitchen was where she singed the chickens and cut open their gizzards.
OUR FAMILY LIVED ON on a ranch. We kept chickens along with an assortment of cats, dogs, goats, pigeons and a peacock names Mathis. Cattle were raised for more serious financial purposes. When Mother a chicken to cook she would go out to the chicken yard and grab the eligible fryer, occasional hen or aging rooster by his or her scaly yellow legs, and like some efficient French executioner, quickly wring off the neck, twisting the body in the air as delicately as a lady might twirl a pale white parasol in the noonday sun. Only the few inches of pitiful neck and head would remain in her hand while the feathery, headless body flopped frantically on the ground for a minute or two. The feathers around the remaining stub of neck always seemed to be ruffled, as if the hapless fowl was surprised and angry at the whole foul business!
THE LIFELESS CREATURE WOULD be dipped in scalding hot water that would make the feathers easier to remove. As a child I thought it was the best of fun (this was before we had television in our home) to stand over a barrel outside and pluck the body until it was mostly naked. The wet smelly feathers would stick to my small fingers and hands. Mother would inspect my work and remove any feathers I had missed; then she would take it inside to the kitchen, wash it and then singe the small hairs away by turning on a high blue flame on the gas stove and quickly passing the body over it several time. I would watch in morbid fascination as she made the first cut, sending the intestines slipping into the cool water that filled the sink, tingeing it a diluted crimson.
Diamonds and pearls. I was always confident that a shiny diamond or iridescent pearl would be found when she cut open the gizzard and peeled it open, spilling out bits of grain if the chicken had eaten just before death. Although it was quite unlikely that anyone had dropped a diamond out in the chicken house while gathering eggs or scattering chicken feed where an alert bird would hungrily peck and swallow it down, I never gave up hope that one day an expensive jewel, perhaps even a ruby, would be found in some favored craw.
BY THE TIME I was eleven or twelve we began buying our chicken in town at the grocery store where all one had to do was to choose the desired chicken and the friendly butcher would wrap it up neatly in white butcher paper, tape it and mark the price and content. Mother still insisted on cutting them up even if she did not have to kill them. She made sure that I was taught how to cut up a chicken properly.
TODAY I ONLY BUY boneless chicken breasts hygienically wrapped in clear plastic and nestled softly in Styrofoam beds far from the realities of the gruesome slaughterhouse origins. I have plucked and prepared enough chickens! And I could not even produce an apron for a scavenger hunt.
SEVERAL YEARS AGO I was reminded of the incredible versatility of the faithful yet sexy apron by a Garth Brooks song, “Somewhere Other Than the Night,” I heard on the radio as I drove to work one morning. A young farmer comes home early from his fields on a rainy day. Damning the rain and the wasted day to himself, he looks up in surprise to find his wife standing in the kitchen “with nothing but her apron on.” She had been waiting for a day like this and they spend the rainy day wrapped up in a blanket on the porch swing.
WHERE IS MY APRON WHEN I NEED IT?