I just got done sorting and pairing up over 50 pairs of socks for various household members and there are still three loads of laundry left and a basket of onlys still to find their sole mate. When I need a pick me up, my husband buys me new socks.
There is nothing like a fresh pair of socks, clean and soft.
Still, I have panic attacks when asked to take my shoes off at people's houses. Oh dear God please don't laugh at my socks or shame me.
You see, when I was a kid socks didn't really matter in the way that priorities stacked up. There were other things to buy or tend to and socks were just socks and sometimes they had holes, never matched, and were likely stained or actually dirty with mud. We didn't have to take our shoes off in our house so the floors got dirty and socks picked that up. Laundry wasn't sorted at our house, it just got done and without fabric soften or stain sticks or anything fancy. Socks showed that.
It was another unspoken signal that we were poor. Please don't make me take off my shoes. This had nothing on the "free lunch" line though. That's worth a whole 'nother post.
Just a bit ago, our state senator Joni Earnst made a comment about how she had to wear bread bags on her shoes when it rained or was muddy to keep them nice. Yeah, ok. People exclaimed that the claim was pure and utter bullshit. That she was making it up. People outright mocked her. There were explosions of memes, articles, blog posts, just mocking.
I do not agree with her politics but every single time someone cracked another joke, it stabbed me in the raw wound that was my childhood. We were not the poorest, in fact, our family treaded the waters on unemployment and breadwinner returning to college and special needs medical bills quite well. We lived on the right side of River Street, we shopped second hand stores, and we had full bellies even if it was crappy 1980's food (I'm talking to you Velveta). We didn't have the funds for multiple Swatch watches or Gap clothes or ESPRIT bags or Easton loafers or Limited Express jeans hot off the rack. I didn't get to go on class trips to Paris or even play a sport if it cost too much money or time that I needed to watch my brother and sister. I worked as a babysitter and then at McDonalds. I sometimes worked 20 hours a week and took more if I could. At one point I had three part time jobs.
I wore grocery store bags over my shoes on rainy days, inside my boots too sometimes. I freak the hell out if I even think about purchasing a pair of shoes over $25. I stockpile socks. I can't stand the feel of wet or cold on my feet and for a good chunk of my teenage years I refused to wear socks at all, just slip on ballet flats. Not matter the weather, and you bet my feet were both cold and wet. Teen angst and rebellion was not my friend.
Joni has a right to talk about growing up poor. So do I. We both worked hard to achieve stability in our own homes. That's something that is difficult to do and heavily weighted in our favour in our society (rural white Midwest, sorry everyone but white privilege is real). It doesn't mean that we don't carry the scars of humiliation from the era when food stamps looked like monopoly money and not some discreet EBT card and poverty was a lot more obvious at the grocery store and in schools. Generics we bought were white labeled with black or grey text.
Don't forget socks and shoes.
When I worked retail, we were trained to evaluate customers based on profiling. Look at their shoes. Nice shoes, high brand? They have money. Look at their jewelery too. Poor people, potential shoplifters? They will give away their class by these details. I kid you not. We were class profiling and each time they pointed out a detail I cringed. I knew my second hand shoes or my Walmart knockoffs were giving me away too.
I still have anxiety about this kind of judging when I go into a new situation. I always buy new socks. Bright crazy socks. Holiday themed. Fuzzy. Handmade. Wool. You name it. I love socks. My students on campus can't help but notice my garish, often unmatching socks.
Seriously though, thinks about this next time anyone makes a bread bag joke or comment. Maybe it is outside your frame of reference, and be a hundred times grateful that it is, but it is what some folks lived and it isn't something to be mocked.
I am going a step further here. You know what? It's winter and here in America it's either cold or wet or both outside. No matter where you live there are homeless folks. For every joke you may have made or even listened to without speaking up? Buy a pair of socks and get them to a homeless shelter. Be so very grateful that your feet are warm and dry and do not take that for granted. In this historical era, it only takes one major life event to tip the balance and you and your family could be in line at the soup kitchen, hungry and cold, relying on charity or faith to get by.
Go get those socks. Change your Amazon Smile to a local charity. Do something that puts good out into the world instead of shame, humiliation, and degradation.
You won't regret it.