I think my childhood caused me to develop a particular oddity.

We were always well provided for as children, but we did not have a lot of extras, or excesses maybe I should say. Our house was nice, our clothes meticulously clean, we owned more than one pair of shoes. But we didn’t have an abundance of “stuff.” 

Do I now have twenty-five pairs of underwear, one each of sneakers, functional winter boots, and hiking shoes, two pairs of walking shoes and three pairs sandals, plus an uncounted (because I refuse to total them) number of socks, because as children we had seven pairs of underwear (sometimes the cool ones with the weekday on them), seven pairs of socks and three pairs of shoes: dress for church, tennis shoes for play (probably white Keds), and whatever little kids wore in the 1960s for school. 

Is this how straightforwardly our minds work? 

When the seasons change, it’s a signal to switch my wardrobe. Alex thinks this event, which usually happens in spring and autumn, is funny. A traditionalist, he wear long-sleeved dress shirts year round for work. Since he is never cold, he doesn’t own but one sweaters—a gift that comes out of the drawer on the most brisk of winter days. This means he doesn’t have to dig them out of the plastic bins they’ve been compressed in during hot weather and hope they will return to their fluffy states without having to be dry cleaned or washed. This is especially irritating to me because I store the laundered clothes in airtight containers, so having to rewash/dry-clean = a big groaning ugh from me.

I take this time to purge my wardrobe. Haven’t worn it? Don’t fit it? It’s beyond new? Rips, tears, ink stains? It’s gotta go. Mostly. 

Donate things or throw the item out, but purge it for sure! I’m ruthless at doing this until I see that one garment I love even though I didn’t get to wear it. Again. Someday I’m dressing for dinner in uptown Mt. Lebanon in the full length, elegant, emerald green gown I bought for a Christmas party years ago and haven’t gotten to wear. It fits like it was custom made, is the perfect length and, well, dang it, I feel like Grace Kelly every time I put it on—which is annually. I walk around in it for five minutes, Alex cracks up, and I store it once more.

Sigh.

I announced out loud to my family at age 12 that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Well, I wanted to be Katharine Hepburn (particularly in Bringing Up Baby), but that slot was already filled and back then I was too shy to be an actress. I figured as a writer, I could be anyone I wanted throughout my life and share it from the safety of my typewriter.

Is that hanging onto the basics of our personalities from childhood what keeps me pursuing a writing life? 

When I lived in Red Lodge, Seester had me do the wardrobe job for her. She hates the chore. I love it. Nothing like eliminating the old to make room for the new as the next season enters—it’s the pending possibilities that I love. Jackie would supply wine or lattes depending on the time of day and we’d dive in. “But Seester,” I’d whine, “why do you still have this ugly freaking shirt?” She’d laugh and answer, “It’s so comfortable and I love it and forget it, you’re putting it back!” She’d add the occasions for which it was perfect, “Baking, cooking, cleaning, coloring my hair, vacuuming.” The list would grow until I would relent and hang it back in the closet.

Perhaps I learned retaining the impractical and ugly from her.

You have them, too, don’t you? Those singular articles of clothing that are old, beat up, beyond being seen by the public eye, but still you keep them. They stay in your closet, in the dresser, season after season. They’re ratty around the edges with hems that are frayed, cuffs that have a rip or two, maybe a button is missing. Still, you slide into them after a hard day and think: gosh, that feels good.

sweat pants

They were like wearing hugs

For me, it was a pair of sweat pants, purchased sometime in 2001, deceased sometime in 2013. I bought them in the junior department at J.C. Penney’s on a whim. They were the faded blue of often-washed denim with a small gold football and number seven on one hip. The wide elastic band stretched to the point that they rode low on my hips, which made them two inches too long for my short legs.

I’ve had flings with other sweat pants. When we were traveling a lot with Alex’s job, I bought a nice pair—new, dark burgundy, no stretching. They never quite conformed to my body, never quite fit well enough to have me look forward to putting them on in the evening. Somewhere along the way they disappeared.

When Seester and I went to Italy in 2007 and our luggage was lost in the US Airways debacle, I indulged in a pair of Italian sweats from Terra Nova. They’re sky blue with two narrow white stripes running down the outside of each leg. The material is soft, the waistband fits right, the length is good. I don them occasionally.

The other pair … there was something about them. Unlike Mary Chapin Carpenter’s great song, This Shirt, I didn’t have any particular memories attached to them. I couldn’t point to them and say: I was wearing these when such and such occurred. It’s wasn’t that. It was more that when I put them on, I relaxed. I’d think: Oh, okay, the work day is over, my chores are done, it’s time to take it easy, curl up with a good book (got any mystery writer recommendations?), or watch a favorite TV show (currently hooked on BritBox dramas). It’s time to wind down, maybe get my brain to stop going in 90 directions at the same time.

Those old sweats had to go, I knew it. But getting rid of them was as hard as getting rid of my biggest wardrobe fetish: the socks. I bear with them until I’m baring toes and heels through them. 

I love socks. LOVE socks.

I have an entire drawer stuffed to barely closing of nothing but socks. Exercise socks, hiking socks, wool socks, knee socks, cashmere socks I only wear with slippers, walking shoe socks, summer ankle socks … you get it, right?

Wardrobe sorting the socks is one organizing process I dislike. I no longer do this when Alex is at home, choosing to hide this chore from my practical, engineering-brained husband—Gold Toe black dress socks, Hanes white athletic socks, blue wool hiking socks. Every time we go to the REI store he heads to the shoes and fleeces (that man has a fetish for fleece), I bypass the other clothing racks and head straight for … the Sock Rack. Buy three, get 10% off.

Stuck for a gift idea for me? Here you are. For five bucks (or $18 if you shop at REI), get me socks—size small, I inherited my mother’s tiny feet—and I’m a happy camper. (Oh yeah, camping socks!) Purple, yellow, green, pink (the only place I adorn myself with pink), doesn’t matter—I love every color. Stripes, swirls, graphics … I’m good with all of them. I subjected my nephew-in-law to my sock love the year I bought him knee high blazing blue socks with eggs and bacon on them. He’s a trooper and wore them—at least for a photo opp.

I wonder if this sock fetish of mine is as a direct result of wanting more socks when I was a kid. Was there a trend for super funky socks in the 1970s? Did I miss out on that like I did a wearing poncho, slipping love beads around my neck, and donning a tie-dye t-shirt? Oh wait, I had a poncho, still have the love beads, and certainly tie-dyed things my mom never wanted near her wash tubs.

But the socks were a different thing. Of course, we kids were hard-pressed to put shoes on during hot summer days playing in the yard. We’d run around from sun up to sun down and come in with such dirty soles that mom would help us wash them off in the basement before she ever let us near the clean, white porcelain tub.

Are the human psychological motivators really that simple? Missing out on something as simple as crazy socks as a kid makes me long for them as an adult? Could explain why I still think real Popsicles with the jokes on the sticks are a special treat. 

I don’t cry when another favorite pair of socks gets tossed in the trash, but dang, I still miss those sweats.