So I’m in the men’s sock department at Winners and this elderly woman keeps bumping into me and leaning across whatever I’m looking at until I say: sorry, am I in your way? And she says “What do you think about these?” She holds up a three-pack. “I like the argyle,” she says, “but why do they have to put in the others?” The others are big bold stripes and she’s not sure her neighbour who takes out the garbage for her will wear them. She gets him a little something every year. “It’s so hard to know what kind of socks someone will like,” she says.
She’s the picture of Santa’s wife. White hair, wire-rimmed glasses. Rosy cheeks. A beige anorak. Navy slacks.
She shows me a single pair she’s also considering, black with a tiny red line at the top, asks what I think and I tell her they’re classic, that no one would have a problem with them. She agrees, but keeps looking. I continue looking too. I say the bold patterns make the most sense, easier to match them up. She laughs, says yes, but easier still is to buy all the same kind, which is what she did for her husband. Dozens of the same plain black, she says. Never a problem making pairs. She tells me she’d wait until he was down to one or two then fill the washer with only socks, every one of them turned inside out.
“That way they don’t get fuzzy from other things, or all pilly.”
It all seems a bit too much work, I say, all that turning inside out and back again and she says pooh, it’s no trouble, you just pile them on the chesterfield and sit down and go at it for a few minutes.
I tell her I’m not actually very fond of socks, the sheer number of them and the way they take it upon themselves to disappear one day, turn up weeks later or not at all. But mostly I really hate sorting them.
Something changes in her face, she goes quiet. Her eyes are blue. She looks at me through her Mrs. Claus glasses and I have an idea of what’s coming.
“I’d give anything to sort my husband’s socks again,” she says, then turns her head.
She tries to smile, shrugs, ruffles through the display as she tells me he died three months ago, that the family’s coming together and she can’t let herself get sad because they’re coming from Nova Scotia and Kingston and there’s the grandchildren to think of. She stops, looks up again. “But…” she says, and her sweet blue eyes are suddenly red-rimmed and we’re standing there in the socks and her lips are trembling—and I put my hand on her arm and I say, “But it’ll be hard.”
And she nods. Composes herself and we each say this and that and eventually laugh a little and then goodbye and the whole time I want to hug her but we’re in the socks at Winners and I have the feeling she’d rather not make a big thing of this, that she’s doing the best she can.
When I leave her she’s still debating about the argyle/stripes combo or the single classic black.
I buy a couple of three-packs.