Everybody has had this experience. You fill the washer with soap and water and stuff in a load of dirty clothes. The washer chugs, agitates and spins, rinses and spins again, finishes the load of wash. You pull the clean damp clothing from the washer, give each article a brisk shake and throw them one by one into the dryer. You turn on the dryer and go sit with a cup of coffee while it tosses the clothing around through the heated air like bingo balls in a cage. When the dryer shuts off, you clean the lint tray and remove the warm dry articles. If you iron shirts, you pile those shirts over there. Then you begin folding the rest of the laundry into neat stacks over here. Last thing, you tackle the pile of socks, pairing each with its mate, rather like arranging marriages. But this is not romance. This is laundry.
My washing machine, though on its last legs, seldom eats socks. I have never understood why washers often develop a voracious appetite for socks. They never eat sheets, or towels or shorts — just socks. And they never eat a pair of socks. They seem to like variety in their diet, one blue and one red, for example. Everybody I have ever spoken with has had this common experience. Washers eat socks all over the known world. Why is this, I want to know.
Four days ago I washed a load of clothes. I had several pairs of socks in the laundry. I had been working outside in my yard, planting, pulling weeds and generally getting dirty and sweaty. So I changed clothes two or three times that day. In the old days we didn’t do it that way. We wore our work clothes all week. But this is not the olden days — this is now. I don’t have to wait for Monday wash day. I change clothes when I want to because I can. At least I can as long as my washing machine holds up. I sent my laundry through the whole process from washer to dryer to table for folding. Finally I got to the part where I mate the socks. I ended up with one blue sock and one gray sock left over.
I searched for the missing socks. I opened the washer and ran my hand around the empty inside, just in case the socks had become invisible. The washer was empty. I opened the door to the dryer and turned myself upside down and inserted my head inside. No socks. The dryer was empty. I walked back to my bedroom and looked under the dresser, beneath the bed, in the empty hamper and along the barren hallway. No strays.
I returned to the kitchen table where I had folded the clothes, unfolded every article and shook them, convinced that sooner or later a clinging sock would fall to the floor. I was wrong. I retraced my steps from washer to dryer to bedroom to hallway once more. Finally I shrugged and gave up the search. I put my clothing away. Usually I throw away socks without mates. But this time I saved the singles. After all, I reasoned, the gardening season is upon us. I am the only person who will know if I wear mis-matched socks to work. I put the orphan socks away in the left side of my sock drawer, since they were left-over.
This morning before I got dressed, I planned another day of gardening. I opened the sock drawer and pulled out the waifs, a blue and a gray, put them on my feet and never gave it another thought. Later a neighbor came by and suggested I meet her for lunch at the Senior Center. While I was out in public nobody pointed out my sartorial faux pas.
This afternoon I sent another load of laundry through the washer and dryer. I finished folding my clothing and mated up my socks. I had two left over, a blue and a gray. I looked down at my feet. I wore the same mis-matched set, a blue and a gray. They immediately began to dance with joy at the return of their missing mates.
Now I ask you, where did they go? Where have they been? How did they get back? Why did my washer spit them up? My feet are happy. But I’d like to know. It’s a mystery — on par with crop circles and UFOs.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She finds, upon her return, that things are a little different. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)