Socks - a Memoir
It is no exaggeration to say that my socks were the fashion bane of my seven year old existence. Over the course of the day the cuff of my anklet would slide down into the heel of my shoe with every slight wriggle. Invariably I would find myself with one cuff up and one nowhere to be seen when I was called to the front of the class to write on the chalkboard, which was an almost every day occurrence. I was barely able to focus on the task at hand as I burned with embarrassment at the thought of the one naked white ankle glowing in the fluorescent light. The fact that I tugged the cuff out of my shoe multiple times during the day made the problem worse. By the end of the day my cuff looked like a droopy poppy, its’ petals about to fall off onto the ground. The multiple times a week my socks saw the spin cycle of our washing machine and experienced the stultifying heat of our dryer did nothing to help their overall elasticity. Although my physical privations were few while I was growing up, it is fair to say that I despaired of my sock situation. That’s not to say that my wardrobe was otherwise well-appointed and that I didn’t envy girls who had cute coats, go-go boots, and sweaters that matched their skirts. It’s just that socks were my primary tribulation. I pined for knee socks, specifically ones that matched and would stay up with little intervention throughout the day.
Knee socks eventually did become part of my wardrobe in third grade. I remember that much of our clothing came in threes: three- packs of underpants, three- packs of camisoles and three-packs of knee socks. The exception was the two-pack of plaid dresses that were ordered from the Fall Montgomery Ward’s catalogue. My older brother received a similar parcel in the mail, with a two-pack of short-sleeved plaid shirts. Together with a new pair of shoes, we were outfitted for the year. Because my mother “drew the line” at cheap ill-fitting shoes, especially those that were not made from leather, ours were purchased at Burches , a relatively tony store for our income bracket. The irony was that our feet grew so fast that the one pair we received in the Fall rarely fit us in the Spring. Nonetheless, on the first day of school we were well shod and newly clothed in pressed garments and clean undies.
I would like to say that my sock dilemma was solved once and for all, but the truth is that it reared its’ ugly head once again. The three-pack of knee highs contained socks of three different colors: red, navy and hunter green. If they had been all white they may have taken on stains and a yellowish tint over the course of the year (my mother’s fear), but it is likely that I would always have been able to find a partner in the morning no matter how bedraggled. Not so with three different colors. Three different colors meant that my dirty socks either had to be washed frequently, worn twice in a row without my mother catching on, or fetched from the dirty linen hamper in the laundry, which was forbidden.
On the surface this does not appear to be a quandary of such great amplitude, but in reality it was. In part this was because of ‘the rules’. One of the rules was that we bathed every night and placed our dirty clothes in the dirty linen hamper. This automatically ruled out wearing your socks two days in a row, even if they were a color that completely matched the dress you were to wear the following day and despite the fact that there were no other clean socks in sight. This particular scenario meant that my mother had to do the laundry on a fairly regular basis, which I’m sure she tried to do. In fact, I know she did, because my father always had clean and pressed shirts ready for work in the morning. The hitch in this process was my parents’ frequent warfare. Their imbroglio’s could take a sizeable chunk out of the evening and on innumerable occasions foreclosed upon the hamper being emptied into the washing machine in order to provide clean socks for the morrow. The morass I faced the next morning usually resulted in a tearful session with my mother and if I was very, very lucky a breaking of the ‘no fetching from the hamper’ rule. There were also times when it meant wearing socks of two different colors to school.
When girls were finally allowed to wear pants to school (we are talking 1969 here, not 1869), things changed on the sock front. It got better. After all, who can see your socks when you are wearing pants?