Monday, December 9, 2013

Grammy's Apron

My maternal grandmother, Bertha Mae Nofsker, was commonly known as Grammy Nofsker. I use the word 'commonly' as an adverb to describe the verb phrase: 'was known as' not in the sense of something that is simple, uniform or ordinary, but rather in the sense of something that is entirely, totally or universally. You see, I called my grandmother: Grammy, and my cousins called her: Grammy. But everyone who lived in the valley created by the South Dry Run creek also called her: Grammy ~ whether they were related to her or not. There are non-relatives who attend the church in which she was an early, prominent member who talk about Grammy Nofsker even to this day, nearly fifty years after her death.

The picture above was taken when Bertha was in her late teens. That's her on the left, with her best friend Emma.

Grammy was a tough old lady in the last years of her life (that is, when I knew her, up to when I reached eight years old). And I imagine she was a tough young lady long before I ever knew her. Bertha's life had always been tough. She had been born out of wedlock. Her birth grandmother (a Shoop) came to live with her birth grandfather (a Boyer) ~ each was widowed at the time ~ and they apparently never married each other. Bertha's mother, Ann Boyer, just in her late teens, suddenly had a new house-mate, Richard Shoop, also in his late teens. One thing, as they say, led to another, and on 31 October 1884, a baby girl was born. Richard never married Ann. Perhaps both separate families ~ the Boyers and the Shoops ~ were embarrassed by what had happened. In any case, Ann raised her child by herself. Oh, did I forget to mention that Ann already had given birth to a boy before the Shoops moved in with her family? The boy, Albert Weyandt, was three and a half years old when Bertha came along. He only lived to the age of four. When Bertha was about three years old, Ann married Daniel Earnest, and he filed formal adoption papers to share legal custody of the child with his new wife.

So I guess you could say that there was a happy ending to the turmoil that defined Bertha's childhood ~ right? No, that wasn't to be the case. In fact, when Daniel Earnest adopted Bertha, it was probably the start of a tougher period in her life. You see, Dan Earnest never really accepted Bertha as a daughter. Daniel and Ann gave birth to two boys and two girls during the ten year period from 1887 to 1897. And while he doted on the two girls, Kathleen and Annie Mary, he made Bertha work with the hired farmhands in the barn. It was as if the story, Cinderella, had been written with the Earnest family in mind.  And, one thing, as they say, led to another, and at the age of fifteen, Bertha gave birth to a son; the baby boy's father was one of the negro hired hands. The family always claimed, whether it was true or not, that Grammy had been raped ~ we'll never know for sure. But what we do know is that Daniel Earnest never accepted the child of his adopted daughter, even to the extent that he had accepted her. A US Census return taken in the year 1900, included the Daniel Earnest family. The return listed Bertha Shoop as 'step-daughter' and Dewey Shoop as 'step-grandson'. Daniel, who probably was the one who gave the census-taker his family's information, could just as easily have given Bertha's name as 'Bertha Earnest', and he could have listed her as 'daughter' ~ he had legally adopted her twelve years earlier ~ but he chose to alienate her and her newborn son.

Bertha grew up, married Henry Martin Cleveland Nofsker, and gave birth to ten children. But when their youngest child, my mother, Dollie, was only four years old, Cleveland died. What was Bertha to do? What could she do, but go on with her life, run her farm and raise her family of ten children.

Of course the older kids helped with the younger siblings. But life still would have been tough for Grammy. My mother told me tales of how Grammy had broken an arm when she fell off the haywagon as they were doing their autumn chores; she suffered from arthritis in that arm ever after. The photo to the left shows Grammy with her next to youngest daughter, Margaret Ann. They look like they're in their 'Sunday-best' dresses.

So what really is this post supposed to be about? The title says "Grammy's Apron", but nothing at all has been said about any apron. All the biographical information that was given above was for the purpose of showing how my maternal grandmother came to be a tough old lady. But that was not what I, and perhaps most people around her, saw day after day. What I saw was a loving, compassionate face, welcoming, sheltering arms, and a lap into which I could curl when I was sad ~ and her apron. For sure, I remember seeing Grammy dressed in her Sunday-best dresses, that is, on Sunday. But the rest of the time, my image of Grammy was of her in an 'everyday' dress with a gingham, striped or checkered apron.

All the older women in our neighborhood wore aprons over their everyday dresses. And they were definitely dresses ~ women did not wear slacks, trousers or pants at that time. The aprons covered the entire front of the women. Beginning at the neckline, a strip of cloth wrapped around the neck and supported a 'bib' that covered the woman's bosom. The bib was attached at its bottom to the top of a wider piece of cloth that extended from the waist down to below the knee. In the 1960s, when I remember Grammy, women's everyday dresses's hemlines were mid-calf length. The apron was nearly long enough to cover the entire length of the dress. At the waistline, two strips of cloth were pulled around to the back to be tied in a large bow, or if they were long enough, to be pulled on around to the front to be tied there.

Then there were the pockets. I think the pockets were what made the apron so wonderful. The part of the apron called the bib might hold one or two side-by-side pockets. Then there would be that one giant pocket at the waistline, or there might be two medium-size pockets at the waistline and one larger pocket along the bottom of the apron. But even if an apron did not have sewn-in pockets, a woman could transform her apron into a pocket simply by grabbing the two lower corners of material and pulling them upward.

The pockets on Grammy's apron were a treasure trove for a seven year old boy. Sometimes they held a spool of thread with a needle stuck into it and maybe a pair of small shears. Sometimes there would be a book or a pencil in one of the pockets. Often there were a few coins and a fancy piece of jewelry, such as a brooch. The pockets of Grammy's apron was sometimes used by my brother and me to stash our own treasures. If we were out taking a walk and found an interesting colored stone, we'd run to Grammy and she'd hold one of the pockets open so we could drop the treasure into it. I can also remember when Grammy took us along to gather cherries, she would grab the bottom corners of the apron and pull them upward to create a large pocket into which Leon and I would deposit the cherries we picked. I also remember Grammy grasping the bottom of her apron and wiping it over my face and head when I was either dirty or sweated from running and playing.

The photo above is the only one I have that shows Grammy with her apron on; when a photo was taken, Grammy, like anyone else, wanted to be seen in her best clothes. This photo, though, was one of the few that were taken somewhat spontaneously, while she was feeding the chickens. I think it was Grammy's apron that softened her toughness for me. It's a shame that women no longer use them.

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