In my family, socks are not the obligatory ok-thanks-now-let’s-get-to-the-real-gifts stocking stuffer. On Christmas morning, all family members look up from their sticky buns to admire the new socks. Choosing gift socks is a vital, year-round ritual that strikes as powerfully in an Alaskan gift shop in July as it does at a local mall kiosk on the 20th of December.
Socks with fish, socks with owls. Socks in every color of the rainbow. Floral socks and socks with moose, palm trees, Santa or lobsters. Socks emblazoned with the breed of a deceased, beloved dog. Socks with hearts for Valentine’s Day, socks with Easter eggs when my mother visits in the spring, and orange-and-black spider web socks for October. I wear all of these socks with no regard for season. When my grandmother died, Mom saved a pair of her socks for me. At first I put them away as mementos. But then it occurred to me that Granny could never bear it if something was not used up properly. So I wore those socks too.
I wonder if socks are couples. Sometimes I wear mismatched socks – do they find it awkward to work together? Do they have to explain that it was just work, that’s all, when they’re reunited with their natural partner on laundry day? Some people buy whole sets of identical generic ones, so that they never have to worry about mismatched socks. But I worry that these socks, in their faceless utility, spend their whole sock-lives folded with any old sock while they yearn for the true partner they were packaged with. I prefer socks with more visible character. Matching them up from the basket of clean clothes is the most satisfying part of doing the laundry. When one sock gets lost, does the remaining sock grieve? I keep the forlorn singles together in the drawer, just in case.
In fact, it is inevitable that one sock – only one – of my favorite pair will go missing. Every week, when the laundry is finished, someone has disappeared. Sometimes it returns in a few weeks. Sometimes not.
If there is indeed another dimension – a paranormal portal in otherwise ordinary apartments – my socks have seen it. If my socks could talk, who knows what they could tell me about the Great Beyond?
When a sock that definitely went into the basket with everything else has disappeared by the time you fold the laundry – and you search the washer, dryer, laundry room, basement stairs, under the bedspread and under the couch, to no avail – there is simply no other explanation. For reasons unknown, and by an unknown mechanism, the socks – perhaps forever, perhaps temporarily – are sojourning in a separate reality.
Last year at Christmas, Mom gave me a pack of little white socks with colored tops. My favorite pair was the blue-banded ones. But of course, one of the blue-banded socks has proven to be the Dr. Who of clothing.
Its first unheralded disappearance lasted for most of the winter – until one day, suddenly, it was lying at the top of the apartment-complex laundry room’s lost and found pile. How I wished I could question all of the socks in there about what lies beyond our world. But all I could do was take mine home again.
I got another taste of its shenanigans when I was doing the laundry a few weeks later, loading my wash into the machine while chatting to another resident who was lifting his wash out of another machine. As I shut the washer’s lid and punched my quarters home, my neighbor paused over his clean load.
“Where did this come from?” he said, gingerly lifting the blue-banded sock.
“My goodness, that’s mine!” I said. “I wonder how it got in there!” But deep down, I knew.
My recovery of the blue-banded sock was temporary, as we both knew it would be. Currently, it is missing again. Its partner waits in the drawer – perhaps they don’t have a very good relationship. If I didn’t worry about my standing with my fellow apartment-dwellers, you could find me with my head in the open dryer, saying, “don’t go into the light!” in case the blue-banded sock, like Carol Anne, can hear me.
Maybe, somewhere, Granny is wearing it. I have plenty of socks in the meantime.