Preface to Gotcha Covered: A Legacy of Service and Protection
We were seated in the most remote booth in the busy upscale restaurant, near the university where I had been his student almost fifty years before. I arrived before him for our meeting and requested to be seated where there would be the least amount of background noise. In freshman English in 1962, most of the women students had occupied the front row whenever possible, leaning forward to hear the voice of this most respected young professor. In 2008, I wore hearing aids, and again I leaned forward, this time straining to hear his familiar soft and occasionally muffled voice with its pronounced southern accent.
I was pretty sure he didn’t really get it. We had been conversing about the aprons for almost ninety minutes while lunch was ordered, served, and eaten. In between bites of tilapia and sips of unsweetened tea, I answered his questions and gave him my best shot at explaining the story of the aprons—complete with the research we had done that linked aprons to feminism, nursing, and heartfelt emotions. I told him we concluded that aprons were vehicles for connections of many kinds, but especially as metaphors for identity, for comfort, for healing, and for imagination. We discussed the role of academic women and feminist research and writing, and pondered whether his female counterparts in the Department of English would feel any attraction for these aprons. He urged me to be relentless in separating the truly wonderful pieces from the just so-so pieces, and we considered how and where to push for publication. So I knew he was being, in every sense, the teacher and mentor I needed to help take this work from a pile of stories in a folder to a robust manuscript begging to be devoured by readers world-wide. But he didn’t really get it.
Then, as he was settling up the bill with the twenty-something server who had been attending us, he looked up at her and asked, “Do you wear an apron at home?”
She paused, a look of confusion on her face.
He smiled. “That’s not a come on.”
Pointing in my direction, he told her, “We’ve just been discussing aprons and I wondered if after taking off your serving apron here . . . when you go home, do you ever wear an apron there?”
Thinking she might still be confused, or perhaps this had crossed a personal boundary for her, I said, “I’m writing a book about aprons.”
She smiled broadly.
He opened the folder, which contained some of the manuscript, and pulled out the photographs of the aprons.
“Look.” He pointed. “Like these. Do you ever wear an apron in your own kitchen?”
She fingered through the apron photos, lingering to absorb the image of several, and then she replied, “No, I don’t have an apron at home. I almost never cook—I eat take-out or just micro something. But some of my friends cook and they have aprons.”
She looked back at the apron photos now splayed across the table, touching a couple of them gently with her index finger. Her face softened and her eyes began to shine. She stood back from the table and gained about an inch in height. Then cocking her head to the left, she moved her hands to either side of her waist and began to pantomime putting on of an apron, drawing the ties behind her and making a bow with the imaginary apron strings.
“If I had an apron like one of these, I’d put it on and . . . I could become anyone—my grandmother, anyone. It would be way-cool!”
I looked at my lunch companion and he was transfixed. As he turned his gaze back to me and the young woman began clearing away the rest of the lunch dishes, he smiled.
“That is the first paragraph of your book,” he said.
© 2009 Ginger T. Manley<