I never thought an apron would make me cry.
Growing up, every Sunday was waffle day. After church, my parents, sisters, and I would go to my grandparents’ house for a family meal. My mom and Gram would stand at the sink, preparing the waffle batter and blackberries; cooking bacon or sausage. My dad and Kack would sit in the living room, reading the Sunday paper, and I would try to wrangle the comics away from them, thinking they were called “the articles” because Gram would always tell me to “wait until Kack was finished reading the articles” before I bothered him. Sometimes my sisters and I would play dress up with old hats and slips that Gram kept in her basement and make plays to perform while we waited for lunch.
We always wore our best clothes to church in those days, and we didn’t want to get sticky syrup all over our dresses, so Gram would regularly pull out her stash of aprons to protect us. There were many aprons to choose from, but the favorite was red with white polka dots and a white lace trim. I would pick that one every chance I got.
Then, finally, we would gather around the table and enjoy our lunch together. Dad was in charge of the waffle irons. Kack would tell jokes. Mom would remind us not to use too much syrup. I would sneak an extra spoonful of berries onto my plate.
It was fun. Sure, sometimes there would be arguments. Like if one of the adults got riled up about politics (national or church) or when my sister stole the cherry from my fruit cocktail or fights about who got to wear the red apron. But for the most part, we would just enjoy the sweetness of the syrup and the saltiness of the bacon and the warmth of togetherness.
A few weeks ago, my sisters and I went to my childhood home to help my mom sort through some things at my grandmother’s house. Five years ago, Kack died, and a few months ago, my grandmother moved into an assisted living facility.
We met at my grandparents’ house and began going through various items. My youngest sister took some furniture for her daughter. My middle sister took the oil lamps and an antique hutch. I took some dishes and a bench for my piano studio. My mom took the candy dish that was always stocked with chocolate covered peanuts and raisins.
We moved through the house, pointing out various things that we wanted, talking about memories connected with different items. This clock was from the lake house and do you remember sliding down the steps there? That painting hung behind the couch in the old place and do you remember when you two locked yourselves into the closet in the living room?
Eventually we made our way to the basement. We walked over to a shelf that had some of Gram’s china. Mom pulled down one box and in it was a tangle of fabric.
The aprons. The old, stained, frayed, red and white apron.
At which point I started to cry.
Things are a bit more complicated now than they were when we were young. My sisters and I don’t agree on a lot theologically. Becoming adult friends with people you grew up with can be tough. Sometimes I know better who they used to be and don’t take the time to know who they are now and can make assumptions that aren’t accurate. Because of the closeness we share as family, we can often hurt one another more deeply.
But these are the people who helped shape me into who I am. My grandparents taught me about generosity. My sisters taught me about faith. My dad taught me about passion. My mom taught me about unconditional love.
How those are played out may look a bit different for me than for them, but that’s part of the beauty of growing up. We take what we’ve learned and we apply it in new ways. We become separate people, but we are still bound together by a common thread, with common values. Memories of clocks and paintings and aprons and waffles.
That afternoon we sat together around a fire behind my parents’ house. We celebrated my dad’s birthday and my parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary. The kids climbed the tree and rode bikes around the neighborhood. We shared the cherries. We enjoyed the sweetness of the gourmet cupcakes, the saltiness of the roasted hot dogs, and the warmth of togetherness.
And when I left, tucked in the trunk of my minivan, between the heavy dishes and old blue bench, was a little piece of red and white fabric to remind me of that sweetness and warmth.