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Those Darned Socks

Story ID:4826
Written by:Nancy J. Kopp (bio, link, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:Oak Park IL USA
Year:1947
Person:Nancy Kopp
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Those Darned Socks!

I’m sorting laundry when I discover a sock with a hole in it. I turn to toss it in the trash can but end up holding the sock and asking myself if I should do it or not. All of my married life, I’ve thrown holey socks away, but today’s economy gives me second thoughts. Could I wear a darned sock again? Would I? The years slip away, and memories rush up to meet me…third grade, 1947….

The dismissal bell rang, shrill and sharp, signaling a mass exodus from my classroom. I looked forward to an after school snack and a favorite radio show as soon as I’d changed my dress for play clothes.

“Kay, wait up,” I called as I ran to meet my friend for the long walk home.

Before we’d gone two blocks, the pain began. It started in my right heel and coursed up the back of my leg with each step. I tried to ignore it, and that worked for a little while, but finally I slipped my heel out of my shoe and walked on tip-toe trying to keep my shoe on and find relief for my aching heel.

I didn’t have to investigate to know what was wrong. Lumpy socks! That was my problem on more days than I could count. The spot where Mother had darned the hole in my sock was a lump that rubbed on the inside of my shoe until my foot was red and sore and crying for a soothing balm.

Kay stopped and watched me slowly make my way toward our street “Why are you walking like that?”

“Because my mother won’t buy new socks!” I kicked my foot in anger and my shoe flew into the gutter.

How I hated those darned socks, but there was no way to get out of wearing them. My mother learned from her own mother how to stretch the pennies as far as they’d go and how to make do with the few clothes that lay in drawers or hung in small closets.

And so, I had to wear socks my mother darned. When she found a sock among the washing that had a hole worn in the heel, she set it aside until she had time to work on it. I often watched her slip the sock over a light bulb, then thread her darning needle with heavy white cotton thread. And little by little, she wove the needle in and out until the hole disappeared.

If I complained, she said things like “You’re lucky to have socks to wear. Some little girls don’t.” Or “There are worse things in this world.” Or she’d ignore my whining and shoot me the kind of look mothers around the world have perfected, which quieted me pretty quickly.

One day at Girl Scouts, the worst happened. I worked diligently for Achievement Badges. I brought each one home as I earned it by doing all the requirements listed in our handbook and sewed it on the sash I wore over my uniform. Now, the troop leader, Mrs. Hart, announced that we would work on a Sewing Badge. I eagerly looked over the list of things I needed to do. Sew on a button, mend a three-corner tear, make and sew on a patch. They all sounded like things I could do with a little guidance. And then, there it was—darn a sock. I hated the thought, but if I wanted the badge, I’d have to create a lumpy sock.

At our next meeting, Mrs. Hart showed us an egg-shaped device that tapered, so there was a handle to hold onto. She slipped a sock over the wooden object and pullet it taut.

“What’s that?” I asked her.

“This is a darning egg.” She began to demonstrate the art of darning, and all the scouts in my troop leaned close to watch. After she’d done one sock, she passed out a few more darning eggs and socks so that we could each try darning.

I wanted to shout, “No, I’ll never darn a sock. Not ever!” But being an obedient child of the ‘40’s and badly wanting another badge, I set to work and clumsily wove in and out with the needle and thread. Mrs. Hart checked each of us as we sewed, pointed out how we could make it better, or praised those who had done exceptionally well. Praise did not come my way, but I finished the job sufficiently to pass and the sewing badge was mine.

I took the sock home along with my new badge to show my mother. “Why don’t we have a darning egg?” I asked her. “Why do you use a light bulb?”

Mother examined my work on the sock, pulled it this way and that to see if it would hold.
“Darning eggs cost money, and I already have the light bulb. Go put this sock in your top drawer.”

I took the sock to my dresser, and as I slid the drawer open, I made a two-fold promise to myself. I vowed to never wear darned socks when I grew up and that I would never make my children wear them.

Now, I linger at the trash can holding a sock with a hole in it. Can I break the promise I made so long ago?

My saving grace might be those new fluorescent bulbs that look like curlicues. It would be pretty hard to pull a sock over one, wouldn’t it? And I’m not sure they sell darning eggs anywhere either. Even if they do, it wouldn’t be easy to locate one. But if times spiral further downward, I might have to reconsider.

I shudder at the thought and the sock slips out of my hand landing in the bottom of the trash can. I don’t bend over and retrieve it. There must be other ways I can economize this year. How about meatless meals twice a week? A much better idea than lumpy socks.