A Mother’s Apron

by Melannie Svoboda SND on November 4, 2019

When I was growing up, my mother wore an apron every day. She donned it early in the morning and didn’t take it off until the kitchen was cleared after supper. She did everything in an apron. She stoked the coal furnace, made us breakfast, washed clothes, cleaned the house, picked green beans, made dumplings, and even fed the chickens–all while wearing an apron. She wasn’t the only woman who wore an apron back then. In the 50’s and early 60’s, many a “housewife” wore one.

I was wondering: Why do we wear aprons anyway? We wear them because life can get messy. Aprons shield us from the dirt, dust, spills, and spots that are an inevitable part of engaging with life. We wear aprons to protect ourselves–especially while serving others. An apron says, “You sit down and relax. I’ll take care of that.”

On the night before he died, while dining with his friends, Jesus tied a towel around his waist. He made a make-shift apron. Then he bent down and proceeded to wash the feet of his disciples, a task ordinarily assigned to a servant or slave. As someone has said, “Jesus donned an apron and redefined success.” I like that. It means Jesus didn’t define success as power or material wealth or worldly achievement. For Jesus, success was service. It was all about wearing an apron.

But it’s more than merely wearing an apron and serving another. It’s HOW we serve that’s important. If you have ever had a waitperson who was crabby, impatient, distracted, or inattentive once the food was served, you know what I’m talking about. HOW the food is served is as vital as the food itself. So too, HOW we serve others is as important as the service we provide.

(Photo from Pixabay)

When a man is made a bishop, he is given two symbols of his new office: a miter (the hat) and a crosier (the shepherd’s crook.) Someone has suggested that maybe every new bishop should also be given an apron to remind him that being a bishop is essentially about service. (When a friend of mine was made bishop a few years back, I sent him an apron. It was a bright red, heavy-duty apron. On the bib was written in thick black letters: REAL MEN WEAR APRONS!)

When my mother died, I took one of her aprons. So did my sister. So did some of the other women in my family. Now before I don my mother’s apron, I kiss it reverently—just as a priest vesting for Mass kisses the stole he drapes around the back of his neck. My mother’s apron is holy. It is one of the most sacred things I own. It was what she wore all those years as she joyfully served her way into eternity.

Does (did) your mother/grandmother wear an apron? Do you ever wear an apron?

Do you know someone who serves people well? How does their service make the people feel? If you have ever experienced “poor” or “bad” service, how did it make you feel?

What individuals in our current society need our service most?

PS: A big thank you for your prayers for last weekend’s retreat conference in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I was impressed and inspired by the many people I met there–especially the Sisters and lay men and women who are serving so selflessly in this lovely state!

I reached back in time for today’s song: “We Are Made for Service” by the Dameans.

I invite you to respond below to this reflection and/or song:

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Magiera November 4, 2019 at 4:54 am

Good Morning Sr. Melannie!

My grandmother wore an apron at times. She was truly a woman of faith who served others so well. I still can remember the squeeze of her hand in times of trouble.

I like the idea of an apron being a sacramental of sorts.

God bless.

Kathleen

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Marjorie Perry November 4, 2019 at 6:42 am

I do wear an apron when I cook and clean up the kitchen. Sometimes it is still on me as I venture outside to pick herbs and flowers, do my watering, pick bugs away, or take pictures of pollinators. My mother did wear an apron as I was growing up, but I never found any when she became ill, and I closed up her house. I have given aprons as gifts, some homemade. It is a service garment. I will think after your essay more about how an apron connects us to others. The other essay you wrote that really touched me was about your address book. I copied it and have it at the front of my address book. Thank you.

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John Hopkins November 4, 2019 at 4:56 am

Good morning, Melannie!

Yes, I wear an apron! I’ve ruined too many pants and shirts with grease stains not to! But I don’t have one that’s uniquely mine; I need to get on that.

Regarding Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, I have to admit I’ve never thought of an apron when he wrapped the towel around his waist, but I do now. That Last Supper narrative has always been one of my favorites, and now it’s even more so! Your kissing your mother’s apron as if it were a sacred vestment is just so beautiful! In the Rule of Saint Benedict, Benedict reminds us to treat ordinary tools and vessels as sacred. You bring that part of the Rule to life every time you don her apron.

Hmmm…. I have three children. I think an apron would make a good Christmas gift. Don’t you?

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michelle c November 4, 2019 at 6:03 am

Men do wear aprons…. In fact Jesus father on earth Joseph wore an apron. A carpenters apron. Joseph served others to in making objects for others. I agree i think giving an apron to the Bishops is a wonderful idea. Start of a new beginning and new way of thinking.
Thank you for your Monday morning messages… great way to start a week. God Bless You.

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Clara November 4, 2019 at 6:29 am

Good morning, Sister! What a beautiful story of aprons!! I included an analogy of aprons to sacraments in a reflection I wrote for the daily Notre Dame gospel reflection on August 22….check it out if you like! Ordinary things, like aprons, can be so important!

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Michelle Rabb November 4, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Dear Sister Melannie: Wow, you made me cry good tears. I have 2 of my Grama’s aprons. They are treasures and now so worn and fragile I cannot use them, but they grace my kitchen drawer with a look-see each time I get a new T-towel. I have my own apron and I won a gorgeous apron in an Imperial Sugar contest but they are not the same as Grama’s. My Mama wore aprons when she was young. I looked for an apron when we moved her the last time. She said she had not had one for years because she and Daddy went out to eat so often after retirement. I do remember her tying a large cotton kitchen towel around her small frame for an apron at holidays. What a memory!

Jesus, the servant, with an apron! What a lovely thought for meditation. Thank you so much for this lovely reflection.

Last thought: So many things that were tantamount to my life as a young girl and young mother are gone! Recently, I wanted to set the table with the China, tablecloth, etc. and was met with much chagrin from those attending. “Oh, use paper plates!!” I went with my plan, cloth napkins and all! It was quite the dinner with many compliments. Along with loss of aprons, we have forgotten the beauty of service with effort due to our disposable society. While most won’t agree with me, I think the old way is far better.

Blessings, dear Melannie. You always make us think!

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Thomas DeFreitas November 4, 2019 at 6:31 am

Sr Melannie, fellow readers, and fellow commenters, hello! —

My mom occasionally wore an apron. My early childhood coincided with the 1970s. Things in the larger society were changing, although my parents were still somewhat “traditional.” My mom crocheted marvelous afghans; I’d like to think that one or two of them are still extant.

Service does take many forms. I think of Uncle Dan, of blessed memory, who was very adept at building and fixing things, very handy. I think of teachers. (Perhaps teachers should wear uniforms so we can thank them for their service!) I think of “public servants,” some of whom are selfless, and others of whom see their position as power. I think of, and marvel at, folks who work in the mental health field.

Or! Waitstaff at busy restaurants! I marvel at their equipoise. I knew an especially resilient young woman who was a bartender at one of Boston’s taverns, and did she have stories!

I use the word “resilent” above, and that invites a tangent. An important part of service, of any work really, is resiliency in the face of inevitable gaffes, mistakes, pratfalls, glitches, kinks, muddle-ups, etc. Resiliency, patience, and a sense of humour.

I echo the praises for seeing an apron as a sacramental, and for the idea of giving new bishops an apron. There is the mopey ’80s crooner who sang, “Every day is like Sunday” (which he saw as “silent and gray”), but it might be apt to say that every day is Holy Thursday, presenting us with new opportunities to serve others.

The “individuals in society” who need our service the most are, of course, the under-served, but perhaps those in high places need our service (in the form of prayers, loyal opposition when required, and the power of our transformative example).

Peace and light to all.

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Ed Johnson November 4, 2019 at 6:39 am

Sister Melannie,
Your wonderful post prompted me to spend quiet time recalling memories of my mother, and two grandmothers, bustling about their days, wearing their aprons. Such is the nature of fine writing: causing one to pause, remember, reflect, shed a tear……and to pray. Especially during the month of November, and with the holidays approaching, I shall think of these women, now forever with our Lord, serving in heaven; all wearing their aprons. Thank you, Sister.
Ed J

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Jean Schloss November 4, 2019 at 7:03 am

Yes! My mom wore an apron and I do, too. I am working on wearing it with the same grace that she did.

The song for today is lovely. Quiet and simple. In a time of rowdy behaviors, the gentleness of it soothes.

Jean

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Sr. Sue November 4, 2019 at 7:16 am

I am a Sister of Providence. Every time we have an election those who are elected receive an apron as a sign that they have been elected to serve the Community. It is a powerful symbol for sure. Not only should all bishops receive one but also priests, cardinals and even the Pope should receive one to remind them why they were chosen, to serve.

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Linda November 4, 2019 at 7:33 am

Sr.Melanie, I do wear an apron while baking and when cooking in my good clothes before hosting Thanksgiving dinner.
You have awaken in me the feeling I’ve had about the women in my neighborhood growing up in the 50’s. Those wearing the aprons were the ones to go to for all our needs. Comfort if we were playing and we’re injured. Knowledge and support if my brother was sick from a tonsillectomy while mom was at the store getting his medicine and popsicles. We were neighbors, yet family. Such a warm feeling has come over me this morning remembering these women. Thank you!

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Jane OBrien November 4, 2019 at 7:39 am

What a lovely image to start the day with! My mom did not wear aprons—as I look back, I wonder why not. But I love aprons, especially the ones that go over your head, since my stains are usually above my waist. I love the idea of giving leader-servants an apron as a sign of their ministry. In my community we are re-thinking the symbol that serves to identify us—currently a pin—& the idea of an apron that we might wear as a sign of our public ministry might be helpful. Thanks so much for these weekly reflections.

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Sr. Valerie November 4, 2019 at 7:40 am

Good morning, Melannie! I remember when you were installed as provincial, you gave an apron to each of us on your leadership team, to remind us of our role as servant leaders. I wish everyone in roles of authority would “don an apron” of service and humility each day. The world would be a very different place!

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Sue November 4, 2019 at 9:12 am

Both my Mom and Grandmother always wore aprons. Thank you for bringing back such fond memories. They were both fabulous cooks, too.
I never wear an apron, and can’t tell you how MANY clothes i have ruined from spills of many kinds. Mercy
Love how you make it into such a holy affair.
Thanks for your wonderful site.

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Mary M Nausadis November 4, 2019 at 9:21 am

This does open up so many memories for me, as well as all the others…..and they all are warm, loving memories, hmmmmmm!
My mother did indeed wear aprons most of every day. It reminds me of a uniform, of sorts…..an identity to yourself and to others.

I always wore an apron when fixing a big dinner or baking or anything, it seems that was for others. When preparing something for myself….no apron. That seems significant, somehow. The apron I word, I din’t wash often because I loved looking at all the stains that were reminders of my servanthood. No one else ever wore it, it was mine and I treasured it.

I don’t know what happened to my mother’s aprons, but we do have some remnants of her that are treated somewhat like a sacramental. There is an o-o-old plastic serving spoon that she used so much that it is somewhat bubbled and brown, but my daughter uses that at every family meal, without fail….she cannot bear to get rid of it.

What a delightful blog this morning, Sr. Melannie….I, too, agree with giving aprons to any and all who are elected to a position of leadership…..let’s start a trend!

God’s peace,

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Carol November 4, 2019 at 9:28 am

I don’t ever remember my grandmother without her apron on. She was always baking something for her 23 grandkids and we were always assured to take some home with us. My mother wore an apron almost all day till after dinner. Then it was her time to sit and relax but even then she would be hand stitching something. So, I still wear an apron when I’m going to be doing a lot of baking. I just recently took a weekend and used my frozen fresh pumpkin and baked 4 pies, and 8 pumpkin rolls in preparation for the holidays. All 4 of my kids are grown and out of the house, and when they come over to help bake cookies and candies, I have an apron for each of them to wear. It is a great tradition. I love the idea of kissing the apron before placing it over your head. I will be adding that touch to my tradition. Thanks,

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Jean November 4, 2019 at 9:49 am

Good Monday Morning Sister Melannie,
Wow, those memories come flooding back. Gramma was never without an apron and my Mom ware her homemade aprons all the time. I have several of my Mom’s aprons and wear them and think of her and all she did for our family while wearing them. She made sure we all had our own aprons and I still have mine with my name on it. I think of Mom every time I put on an apron.
Thank you for this pause.

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Ann November 4, 2019 at 9:56 am

Good morning, Melannie !

Thank you for taking something so mundane like an apron and describing how it can be a sign of service, a holy sign and not just a cover up.

My mother wore an apron and when I cook, although not often , I do also.

Blessings on all you do for others whether or not wearing a visible apron.

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Pam November 4, 2019 at 10:00 am

My grandmothers wore aprons..but not my mom. I were an apron if I have good clothes on and want to keep clean. In today’s world it is easier to wash clothes than in my grandma’s time.
How wonderful that you have the keepsake of your mothers apron..
I was so excited this morning to find you in my emails again… a perfect was to start my day/week… you are always so inspirational…
God Bless…

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Rita Rings November 4, 2019 at 10:35 am

A lovely meditation this morning, we have a picture of my grandma leaning out a screen door with her apron on and calling everyone inside. I suspect my first sight of heaven might be the same.
I hope you have invested in an apron manufacturer! You have solved some shopping challenges for many of us.

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Teresa November 4, 2019 at 10:40 am

Good morning, S. Melannie!
I remember both my mother and grandmother wearing aprons…and did they ever serve both family, friends and strangers! Often they donned them when baking fresh bread, doing laundry, and picking veggies from our small garden.
When my mom was in her 70’s she wore an apron to scrub under the pews at church. What a sacramental sign! I am so grateful for your words that remind me of the beauty of aprons and service!
Blessings on your continued ministry!

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Ilene November 4, 2019 at 10:44 am

Kudos to the “apron wearers.” To me to don an apron is like rolling up one’s sleeves. A good first step, so you don’t have to worry or stand back, but instead can dive in to get the job done.
We need to prep before we work. Take the time for the first step. Like blessing oneself before tackling a hard conversation or answering the phone. Aprons protect much like hard hats and prayers.
I still put on an apron because I’m admitting I’m not good at avoiding messes.
I think Jesus was always modeling and teaching us to prepare first. Many moons ago, we were camping in the woods of West Virginia, our traveling companion was chopping wood, he didn’t have a stick by his side for snakes and was chopping wood with an axe while wearing sandals. My husband watched shaking his head. As a working man and former soldier he always took the time to put the proper attire on for the task.
I think it’s a humbling and common sense act that may be missing from our fast paced world in search of short cuts. It leaves out the soul and beauty of the rituals that calm us down. Recently a student and her mother bought me an apron from Italy for Christmas present and I treasure it. Especially realizing I’m sharing the same apron as others wear across the seas.
Your blog is like a spiritual apron I put on to face the week. Thank you.

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Roberta Brunner November 4, 2019 at 11:30 am

Thanks Melanie, I loved your write up about aprons. Years ago my aunts made aprons and I went door to door selling them. When my mother got dresses in the morning the last thing she put on was her apron with her rosary in the pocket and then she was set for the day. Whenever she has a chance to sit down she prayed her beads,
I love your columns. Roberta

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Cleon November 4, 2019 at 11:45 am

Wow! In describing your Mother, you described my Mother perfectly. It brought me to tears. Now I never wear an apron, but my daughter, like my Mother, wears one whenever she is in the kitchen. Thanks for the memories!

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Jean Canatsey November 4, 2019 at 11:55 am

My mother and grandmother both wore aprons but I rarely did. The thing I most remember about aprons, though, is that it was the Division 1 Sewing project when both myself and my older three daughters were in 4-H. By the 1980’s it had changed to a draw string bag. I guess aprons were completely out of style by then.

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patti deblasi November 4, 2019 at 12:44 pm

Dear Sister,

Although I don’t recall my Mom wearing an apron (she hardly ever cooked, so that was a blessing!) I do have one from a dear, elderly friend that was closing up her house and moving in with her daughter… there was a mostly white, still serviceable apron in the garage sale… I bought it and had her autograph it. It hangs proudly in my kitchen to celebrate the woman she is and was! Never thought it as a relic, but it IS! I look at the apron and smile now…

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Marilyn Woidat November 4, 2019 at 1:35 pm

Thank you Sister Melanie,
Your lovely story of your mother clad in her apron brought many memories
of my only Grandma, Mary, who did not speak English, and she was my
caregiver for after school hours …lst and second grade. She spoke only
Croatian.
My mom worked during my school years so I often wore an apron while
I peeled potatoes or did other things to prepare dinner before my Dad
cooked everything.
The apron I cherish is from my volunteering at Cursillo weekends in
the nineties. When I was on KP duty I wore a plain white, full apron that
a friend, “Boots”, embroidered a rainbow and De Colores on the bib
part at my request.
The kitchen team was so loving and detail oriented….knowing how
special the food was as well as beautiful table settings. Hours of planning
and preparation went into each meal from Thursday to Sunday.

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Lydia Pesina November 4, 2019 at 2:31 pm

Hi Sr. Melannie!
Our NACFLM (National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers) presents a “Ministry with Families 101” course around the country. The session on Family Spirituality includes a “Family Altar Ritual” which visibly depicts the similarities between the “Domestic Church” and the “Parish Church” using two tables. We begin the session with each presenter (lay person and priest or deacon) placing a colorful tablecloth for the family table and a white one for the parish altar and then the lay presenter dons an apron while the ordained put on their clerical vestments. We then compare history, traditions, how we gather reconciliation, how we serve, etc.
Your wonderful piece on the apron and it’s comparison to all vocations of service was very touching and also reminded me of our Family Altar Ritual. And I do wear aprons! Thanks!

Lydia Pesina MPS

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Pete November 4, 2019 at 4:28 pm

Aprons are us! As Knights of Columbus, we always wear aprons at a function. Fish fry, soup kitchen, making pierogies, and any special function we are associated with. Wouldn’t be without one. Thanks Sister!

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Shirley November 4, 2019 at 6:34 pm

My Mother and my Grandmother wore aprons and I do some as I can be messy, lol. Thanks Sister Melanie for this great insight to the apron. I will think of you the next time I wear mine.

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Karen November 4, 2019 at 7:54 pm

Yes, my mother and grandmothers all wore aprons. Usually ones they made themselves. I don’t know what happened to them. My maternal grandmother especially was a fantastic cook. We also had two women relatives (mother & daughter) who lived together and we rotated Thanksgiving at their small cottage on Lake Erie. What those two apron clad women could cook up in that tiny little kitchen!!!!
I love that you treasure your mom’s apron and channel all she was.
I definitely SHOULD wear an apron because I tend to make a big mess when cooking.
Lovely reflection today!
On the eve of elections it is fitting that we send aprons to all elected officials!

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Annie November 4, 2019 at 10:31 pm

Mom would often tie an apron around us if we were helping in the kitchen when we were young. It made me feel loved. Now I always try to remember to put one on if I’m cooking or preparing food. I am such a messy cook! Aprons are a necessity for me!

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Elaine Snyder November 5, 2019 at 12:19 am

I SO appreciated your message today. Yes, I do wear aprons, as did my mother, aunts, and grandmothers. In fact, I was so inspired by my maternal grandmother’s sewing skill a few years ago that I started a cottage business of making vintage style aprons, similar to those that she made. I make over 30 different styles, each style named for a relative or close friend of my mother or grandmother. Aprons for me are a strong symbol as well as an important functional piece of apparel.

I love wearing aprons, and do so remembering of my departed women relatives, keeping my clothing clean, and, as you so beautifully suggest, being a servant.

Thank you for your writings – I look forward to Monday mornings because of you!

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Vicki November 5, 2019 at 7:53 am

I also took one of my NaNa’s full length aprons with a button at the back of the neck and long ties! It is sacred to me. Father Ed Hays once said at a conference that he recommended a new symbol for priesthood – an apron – and the crowd of largely female RE ministers laughed and cried to be acknowledged! We gave aprons that year at our Catechist appreciation evening, even if they were plastic! Thanks for fleshing out this holy image of humble service!

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Nancy Dobney November 5, 2019 at 12:00 pm

My mom wore an apron but not all the time but she definitely served our family with 10 kids very well. She would always say “I aim to please at this restaurant”. I was a picky eater so I’m sure I was a hard one to please. I feel bad about that now but I can’t change it. I wish I had one of my mom’s aprons to wear in honor of her. She was a good cook and baked all the time. It wasn’t her fault I hated squash and onions!!!! LOL

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Fran McCreary November 5, 2019 at 9:14 pm

My mom seldom wore an apron and though I know my grandmother wore one while my mom was growing up, she was a widow & working woman when I was young & seldom cooked much anymore. After Grandma died I found one of her hostess aprons that she had made — beautiful in detail as she was an excellent seamstress as well. In her honor I intend to pull it out and wear it at some point during this holiday season.

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Mary Therese November 6, 2019 at 8:17 am

I loved this reflection and forwarded to all six of my sisters. Seven years ago this month we gathered in a bedroom at my mother’s house and divided up all her aprons, some inherited from her mom and grandmother. They are precious and holy to us. One sister shared a story that my mother had told her about her granny who always kept cloves of garlic in her apron pocket and chewed on them throughout the day for “good health.” I’m teaching a group of students how to use MLA formatting for research papers tomorrow, and I’ve decided to wear an apron during that portion of class as a symbol to show them I’m there to serve them by answering their many questions. Thanks Sr. Melannie for a wonderful reflection about service to others.

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Jane November 6, 2019 at 9:39 am

I remember Grandma in the apron. It was apart of her. But I remember the song…..We are Made for Service…..We first heard it in the 70’s and it became a hallmark in out lives….thanks for that memory.

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Tom November 6, 2019 at 3:24 pm

Melannie,
What memories of my grandmother and mother adorned with their aprons from sunrise to sunset. I can even see the hooks where they were hung when the day’s work was finally finished. The same could be said of Grandfather’s and Dad’s overalls.
What genuine sacramentals they were of untiring dedication to the service of others.

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Roseann November 7, 2019 at 1:49 pm

Beautiful memories of my mother and grandmother wearing their aprons and serving the family. I have also noticed, when consecrating a new altar in a Church, the Bishop will wear an apron when using the Holy Oils to properly prepare the Altar.

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Karen Endlich November 8, 2019 at 9:35 am

I have one of my grandma’s aprons. I have been too busy to think to put on an apron while in the kitchen even, but I think I may bring them back out and be mindful/intentional of my acts of service when I put it on now. So many of our hurts and pains build up when we lose our intentions.
My grandma always spoke of offering up our suffering or works for the poor souls in purgatory. I have never forgot that. All work has meaning. thank you, Sr. Melannie, I love your blog.

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Suzanne November 9, 2019 at 7:54 am

Hello Sr. Melannie,
Your blog brought me back to simpler times in my life when I spent a good amount of time with my grandmother Bertha, she always wore an apron. My mom also wore an apron and both women were always serving others, our family and friends. I too sometimes wear an apron, mostly to keep what I’m wearing clean, but after reading your blog, I will wear my apron with a deeper reverence for the service I am providing to others.
Thank you and God bless.

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Stan November 9, 2019 at 8:00 am

Sister, thanks for prompting some of those old memories of Mom and Mama Maxwell and their aprons. Mama’s was always damp CE cause she washed her hands often and dried them on her apron. During summers in college I worked at a plate glass factory and a thick leather apron down to the tops of my work boots was part of the protective gear. It could be a dangerous job and I often thought my apron each day kept the stitches away. Perhaps, I wasn’t serving others, but that hot, heavy apron served me well.

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Margo November 10, 2019 at 8:35 am

Good morning Sr. Melannie. As I sit here in Adoration and contemplate your blog I realize I’ve had my apron since I was 19 and I’m now 62. My mom and grandmas always wore aprons and it always seemed normal to me to wear one too. In fact we have a Breakfast Bistro after Mass this morning and I have my trusty apron with me. When my grandsons bake or cook with me they too have their own special aprons to wear. It’s a tradition I want to pass down.
God bless you and many prayers.
Margo

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