xmas stockings


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.

Count my blessings.

31 thoughts on “xmas stockings

  1. The one who is going to get those two-three packs is a very lucky person. A lovely story. Like underwear you can never have enough socks! Thanks for writing the way you do.

  2. Carin, this is precious. I’m reading it in bed next to my husband at the bed and breakfast where we’re staying for a Christmas visit with our family. My husband owns two types of socke: white ones, all the same brand so they’re completely interchangeable, and black ones, also all one brand so they’re interchangeable. So yes,I have many reasons for gratitude this mornilng.

    1. Enjoy your getaway! B&Bs are a wonderful thing. And thank you for the kind words. [Black and white socks; Mrs. Claus would approve!] :)

  3. I’m so glad you took the time to write about this moment beside the socks. All to often we forget peoples’ motivations at Christmas, and at first I thought you might tell us about a rude shopper. But Carin, you are a sensitive person and you gave this woman a moment of consideration and understanding. She needed to tell someone and you were the empathetic stranger. Life is filled with these moments, and if we took more time to write about them, and share them, well, we’d be too busy empathizing with others to be cross with the rest.

    1. My first instinct was to be annoyed; she seemed oblivious to anyone around her. Then I quickly got a very different vibe. She’d probably be surprised to know how much she gave ‘me’. Happy holidays, Mary!

      1. My daughter and I are a bit stiff, but fine. I’m thankful for small mercies and kind emergency folks…as well as writer friends who recognize quiet gifts then record them with words. :)

  4. I loved this story – very moving. As I was reading it, I was thinking: This woman sounds like a Newfoundlander – but then later in
    the story I realized she was probably from Nova Scotia so I was not so far
    wrong. The behaviour that I think you might have found intrusive at first
    would seem normal here. The missing sock issue is the same everywhere, however. A friend of mine said that her grandmother used to say, while sorting laundry, “I wish that jeezly one-legged man would come back and get his socks”!

    1. Ha! That one-legged man. He must have some collection of socks. (:

      BTW, are you in Newfoundland, Elizabeth? Why do I think you are? Some of your photos maybe…

  5. Just came back to read this again and shed a few more tears. By now you know that. yes, I am in Newfoundland. Still love this story. You should enter it in a contest or something.

    1. Smiling at the thought of you coming back ‘to shed a few more tears’… Thank you for that.
      (It likely won’t go anywhere though; what happens on Matilda stays on Matilda. More or less, less or more.)

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