Friday, April 20, 2012

“Holey” Socks

Last night, a good friend pointed out that both of my sock heals were threadbare and on the verge of becoming gaping holes. It is possible that I have had these socks since my feet stopped growing in seventh grade. I can’t remember when exactly they came onto the scene, but I know they made the move to college. I remember this well, because unbeknownst to me, I learned in my freshman dorm that this particular kind of sock was no longer in style. Somehow, in the growing up process, and even surviving the social scene of high school, I hadn't discovered that socks, which give one the appearance of kankles, are not very cool. Go figure. This pair of socks quickly found a lonely spot in the back of one of my drawers.

I doubt they would have ever resurfaced, had I not joined an institution which is rather unconcerned about the latest sock fashion. The Army has had mid-calf white socks as a part of its Physical Training Uniform for longer than I have been alive, and quite possibly much longer than that. Trends are hardly a reason for a change in regulations. In preparation for Army training, I found myself digging these socks out from the dregs of my sock drawer, grateful that I had not thrown them away after all. They traveled to both basic and advanced Army "camps" and then lived with my other Army gear while I was in the Reserves. Off and on, they made reoccurring appearances wherever I showed up for training. These socks have been through a lot. Naturally, they also made the journey to Afghanistan. Perhaps, the funniest thing was that I didn’t even notice on my own how “thin” they had become.

When my friend offered to find me some new socks without holes, I was forced to face one of my many idiosyncrasies, an incessant need to hold on to things in case I should ever be in a position of need. The sad thing is, I have new socks-- quite a few pairs. I am just saving them for when I really need them. While I have realized my tendency to save over the past few years, I have mostly written it off as a response to a myriad of life circumstances from being underemployed to living and working in a poor community where resourcefulness can be a real saving grace.

When I lived in South Africa, I never threw anything away. Instead, if I didn't need it, I was able to pawn most of it off on others. Normally, they were happy to be on the receiving end, often in solidarity with me about never wasting any resources. My purse was filled with bits of sustenance from lose apples and oranges to granola bars well beyond their “best by” dates. I had no problem walking up to a random passerby, asking if he would like a snack. I don’t think I was ever turned down. People were ready to take whatever I had to offer, sometimes when they were not even hungry. The knowledge that hunger might creep up on them later propelled them, always, to say, “Yes,” to be prepared. I realized, upon moving back to the United States, that I was going to have to quell some of these newfound behaviors.

Full-time employment nor Afghanistan where my living space is anything but spacious has not helped much. If anything, I feel like I am precariously close to becoming a hoarder. Friends from home have been so generous with me and my unit, sending more than enough goodies and treats to get us through deployed life. Nonetheless, I still find it hard to let go of things, even when I have more than I need or what I am holding on to should have been long retired. Instead, I convince myself that a “dry spell” could still come upon us any day. What if I run out of hair products or toothpaste? What if the hundreds of m&ms I have stored in my filing cabinets run out? Don’t get me wrong, I have shared quite a bit of the loot that has been shipped to Bagram. I love when I walk into a soldier’s room to find that her pillowcase is one of the ones sewn by my church in Maryland. I also walk around camp with goodies stuffed in my pockets, knowing that many expect me to come loaded, not with a weapon but instead with chocolate. My reputation precedes me, even outside of my unit.

Worse than my saving, I refuse to use anything that is new or even in good condition for fear of letting it be “Afghanisized,” turned to a dull brown no matter its original color. So, I am stockpiling bins of towels and pajama bottoms, promising myself that I will use them once I am home. How I will get all of this back to Texas, I am still not sure. I also know I am missing the point. My friends have shared these things with me so I can enjoy them now, have a piece of home even when I am far away. Sometimes, instead of just adding we also need to subtract. We have to make room for new growth by letting go. As long as I have my old things, I may still gravitate toward using them one more time ad infinitum. Meanwhile, the dust will pile up on all that is new and waiting for me in safekeeping.

With my own little Afghan ritual, I said goodbye to my “holey socks,” not even bothering to attempt to give them away. They lived a full life, fuller than most, and it was past time. I will always be resourceful, no matter the resources I have at my finger tips. That's just a part of my personality. I just hope that I will remember to let go more often-- of stuff, of unrealistic expectations, of hurt, and of disappointment. Only then will there be enough space for new things to grow without the clutter and suffocation of the tangled weeds.


  1. Mel, so I need to come and help you pack when it is time to move back to TX? I will be happy to be there and help you sort through stuff. Remember you have things in storage that when you unpack it will see like it is all new stuff. So don't bring back anything that smells like afgan.. love ya, sandee

  2. If there was a "LIKE" button on your blog, this would be one among many I would push. I probably kept those same threadbare socks for you in your drawer since maybe even 5th or 6th grade! I thought about throwing them away or even putting them in the church youth "rummage sale", but was embarrassed to send something so "used". So I kept them there, along with some out grown dated t-shirts(mostly Children's Chorus and gymnastics team). Maybe it is my fault you save those things or even my grandmother who passed it on to my mother. My grandmother, Memmy, who lived through the depression and was born in 1899, never threw away anything of use or sentiment. I invited her to stay with us a week one time when you were in the 4th grade. I think she took back home with her when it was time to go, every paper napkin, kleenex, paper towel and anything else of use or she thought could still be used in the future! I am not sure it was that these things might have some more use in them or that she loved being with us so much, she wanted something to remember about her time with us. Maybe we do not want to throw out these old things, even after they have outlived their usefulness, because we want to remember them as an important time or part of our life. Love you, Mom