Thursday, February 26, 2015

The History of My Socks

             While digging through my sock drawer this morning in an attempt to find that ever elusive matching pair; the history of my socks struck me. I chuckled at the thought of how many generations of socks have gone through the process of covering my feet. I imagined my little baby socks covering my adorable baby feet. It must have been terribly cute for everyone to see my tiny white feet shuffling around on wobbly toddler legs. I’d say it was even a time before shoes. My miniature socks on my undeveloped feet. I’m sure they were a variety of colors, or at least blues, whites or blacks, since I was a little boy. I have a feeling pink didn’t make it into my baby sock repertoire.

            I thought about my little boy socks. It was the late seventies and eighties and frankly, little boy clothes were pretty basic. I do remember walking into Six Flags Great America with my father and sister, or at least I remember the picture my mother took of us walking into the park. She took the picture from behind us as we walked around and there I am, in a matching grey tee-shirt/shorts set wearing black socks with my gym shoes, trying to keep pace with the long strides of my father’s adult legs. It’s clear in the picture I was taking very large steps. The thing that always stood out for me in that picture though was my black socks contrasted with my very pale Irish little boy legs.  

            I remember being a little older and going outside one Sunday morning before church to put my shoes and socks on. I don’t remember why I thought it was a good idea to put my socks and shoes on while sitting on the cement front porch steps. Although it was a very warm Spring day and I think I just wanted to be outside before the drudgery of Church. An hour at Church back then was like a quarter of my life at the time, being so young and all. I remember trying to pull my sock on with the dexterity of a child, unfamiliar with the operations of my own fingers, and I somehow missed putting the white sock on and I scraped my heel on the cement step, cutting it open pretty decently. I gashed it enough that I had to hobble back into the house and deal with my father’s anger as he frowned at the medical care he had to provide, right before we had to go to Church on Sunday morning. It’s no wonder I have such a problem with minor inconveniences in my own life.

            I remember all the pairs of Navy Blue socks I had for Catholic School. The socks had to match the Navy blue school uniforms of course. Except on gym days, that’s when you had to remember to wear tube socks. If you forgot your white socks you looked like a dweeb running around the gym with gym shoes and navy blue socks. It was a terrible source of embarrassment back then. It seemed somehow that the teachers shamed you for not remembering the very simple task of bringing the correct color socks for gym days. They never actually said anything, but the look of, “Oh well, looks like that one isn’t college material”, was plain on their pious faces.

             Athletic socks came next, those very long kinds that pulled up all the way to the knees. Those socks always had some curious striping on the top, reds, purples, yellows, or green that just looked completely ridiculous. Although they did have to pull up so high since the shorts were so damn short. I remember being really uncomfortable in those 1980’s summer shorts. It wasn’t until the late ‘80’s that shorts got longer and cooler and didn’t require the long, long, long knee socks. Now you could wear short basketball socks with your gym shoes and not look like a pale version of Big Bird.

            Dress socks then entered the history book of my socks. I had to wear them in high school since the environment was what we now call business casual. We had to wear dress shoes and of course only dress socks would do. My high school drawers were filled with all kinds of dark colored socks. I was also coming into my own identity then and I started to have a taste in what I should wear. Right down to my feet. I started getting more novelty type socks. Maybe they had skulls on them like the skate boarders would wear or very specific Christmas reindeer on them for the holidays. I had so many socks then.

            I started wearing combat boot regularly in high school and then dress socks didn’t seem so important. I started getting toughed toed and heeled socks to put up with the rigorous demands we put on our feet. My friends and I walked everywhere in our combat boots. Miles meant nothing to us and all summer we would spend on the streets, going from house to house, walking the train tracks, running away from junk yard dogs, or getting chased by the occasional neighborhood gang. I had so many socks that seemed to wear out almost as fast as I got them.

            College socks were pretty similar to high school socks for the most part. I picked up a few thermal types for the long cold winters commuting from the buses to the trains to get to school downtown and the long late nights of drinking to excess with my upper classmates. I was always the youngest in my classes, the fun classes anyway. I was still wearing combat boots then and there wasn’t a need for any radical change to my socks. Although there were college girls to impress and if the moment ever came when I would have to maybe take my shoes off, I certainly didn’t want to be remembered for having stinky and holy socks in front of the sexy Swedish girl.

            The business world finally arrived and I had to abandon the combat boots and return to the era of dress socks. You think that it is important that your feet are covered appropriately in the many cubicled office world, but soon you discover that no one gives a damn. No one is looking at your socks. So you return to the classic white athletic sock with your dress shoes. It’s not nerdy if your pants hang over your ankles. It’s only nerdy if you were wearing flood pants.

            20 years went by of the same types of socks; office appropriate socks, dress socks, funeral socks, suit socks, wedding socks, christening socks, holiday socks, warm socks, ankle socks, summer socks.  So many that after a while you realize you have two drawers filled with socks. You don’t have anything else in such quantities as socks. So you purge and get rid of them, the holy ones, the threadbare ones, the mismatches, the ones that always bothered your right big toe for some reason. And still, there are way too many socks.

            Today, as I stood at my top sock drawer, trying to match my socks I realized the immense quantity of ankle/summer socks I now am in possession of. I never used to have so many. I have so many summer socks now that finding regular socks is a problem. When did I get so many short summer socks? I think she told me that I looked silly in regular athletic socks with my gym shoes and shorts, so I caved and bought more ankle socks than I know what to do with.

            I found a mismatch pair of tube socks. It is winter after all and ankle socks don’t quite work in this weather.  I laid the socks out on my bed next to my tee-shirt and boxers in preparation for my shower. They are still sitting there as I’m writing this. 

            The History of my Socks is quiet a story. In fact, it’s almost like cutting a large tree down and counting the rings of its growth. My sock evolution, all of our sock evolutions, is simply amazing. We’ve all grown, all changed, all became something different than what those little baby socks could have ever imagined. The History of our socks is the history of us all. (If you wear socks, although I suppose not wearing socks is important for some too. I’m just not a sandal wearer.)

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