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first person

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Illustration by Chelsea Charles

I used to take socks for granted; put them on in the morning and take them off at night. I operated under the same routine for years, wearing black socks during the week with my suits and sports jackets and white socks on the weekend with shorts and running shoes.

All this changed five years ago when I was given a pair of renegade socks that did not fit my black and white criteria. This pair had personality. On Christmas morning, I unwrapped a pair of socks covered in dark green trees festooned with bright red baubles. At first, I only felt comfortable wearing these Christmas socks around the house. But that would change.

A whole new world had opened up to me and I started popping into stores looking for more whimsical socks. First, I was tentative, just buying socks in different solid colours, then I came home with purple argyles.

As my tastes evolved, my selections became more complex. I searched for socks that defined places or captured the spirit of the times. I have socks from the Parliament Gift store that are red and white, with the Canadian flag on them. I have socks from Atlantic Canada that state, “The captain is always right, and I am the captain.” (I am only allowed to wear them when my wife gives me permission.) I have Christmas socks covered with evergreens or holiday lights and Easter socks covered with multicoloured eggs. I have patterned socks that tie back to vacations from all over the world, including my cherished lobster socks from Halifax and my Indigenous art socks from Vancouver. I also have some slightly risqué socks, such as my favourite pair from Fredericton with a cartoon moose wearing white underwear stating, “Almoose naked.” I found these in unusual places like independent bookstores, pharmacies and the library gift shop. Friends and family feed my addiction, too, and there’s always room for one more pair in my drawer.

Will I ever get through this pile of old New Yorkers?

I never felt at home in Toronto until my new neighbours decided to ‘adopt’ me

Now, every morning I ponder my sock choices. I try to match my sock “style” to how I’m feeling that day. If the day is going to be more stressful than usual, I reach for my “lucky socks” (pictures of beavers, bottles of maple syrup and “Good Luck!” printed on the soles).

When pandemic lockdowns arrived, I tailored my sock choices for the people who would see them and what statement I wanted to make. I realized that, not only would the socks frame my attitude for the day, but they could also produce a smile or two for others during these stressful times. Small gestures can make someone’s day.

I first experimented with this idea on a visit to my foot doctor. Dr. G is a quiet man. He always wore black socks. When I showed up with my Pink Panther pattern and explained these “special” socks were just for him, he hesitated for a moment, then a smile flashed across his face. Something clicked. A couple of months later, I saw him again. He pulled up his pant leg to show off his new socks and proudly said, “Blue Jays themed socks, from my son!”

Every Christmas now I give Dr. G and his staff socks with personality (baseball themes for Dr. G and dancing angels or fairies for his staff). In return, I came away with a pair of hockey-themed hosiery. Now my routine visits are more interesting, compliments of the sock game we play. When I appear, everyone gathers in the reception area and shows off their goofy socks, it’s only after this formality that I’m taken down to one of the exam rooms.

I recently saw my knee doctor. That morning, after a bit of thought, I chose a pair I’d picked up from my independent bookstore which said, “Read banned books!” Little did I know that my doc also played the sock game. She chuckled and pulled up her pant leg: “My sister got me these socks.” They were a vivid colour and boldly stated, “My sister is the crazy one in our family.” We both laughed and the upbeat mood stayed with me for the rest of the day. I hope it remained with her, too.

When I visited my family doctor a couple of weeks ago, my socks helped set the mood before we got down to business. As soon as he came into the waiting room I said: “My daughter bought these socks for my birthday, and she promised the characters had nothing to do with my advancing years.” He looked at my feet. They were covered with dinosaurs. He burst out laughing and then we got back to the real reason I was there.

I used to wear jokey, fun ties that were often “out there” but I stopped wearing ties about 20 years ago. Now I’m into socks and my drawer is overflowing.

My socks start my day on a positive note, they make the routine of daily living more enjoyable and, hopefully, bring a smile to someone who was not expecting to have a discussion about hosiery. They are also very easy to sort on laundry day.

Roy Wright lives in Calgary.

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