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Old Socks
by Hermine Robinson

Gwen plunked the overflowing laundry basket down on the table in the dining hall of the nursing home. Five nodding heads were startled out of the semi-napping, old-lady-yapping, that usually marked the time between lunch and tea at the Sunnyvale Seniors' Home. Four friendly faces, topped in various shades of white and grey, smiled agreeably at Gwen. The fifth lady, Hilda, was neither grey, nor agreeable. Her narrow, pinched features were surrounded by a halo of pinky-orange, the faded aftermath of the hairdresser's attempts to dye her stubborn grey to a dark auburn red. Hilda eyed Gwen's laundry basket suspiciously.

“What the heck is that?” she asked.

“Odd socks from my house,” said Gwen. “I need you ladies to help me sort them, otherwise my children will go to school barefoot tomorrow.” No children were in imminent danger of going barefoot. But Gwen, the recreational therapist for Sunnyvale Seniors' Home, always looked around for new ideas to keep the residents active.

“I'm not sorting socks,” said Hilda. “I think we should play Bingo.”

“Oh please Hilda,” Gwen begged, “think of my poor barefoot children. They need your help. We can play Bingo again tomorrow.”

Two of the ladies, both named Muriel, immediately bent to the task of sorting and folding. Gwen cajoled Hazel and Myrtle to pitch in and help too. The four women were determined that no children should go barefoot while they still drew breath. Only Hilda remained defiant. She scowled and refused to participate, the odd one out. Her silent disapproval was interspersed with an occasional mutter about slave labour. No one listened to her complaints. Sorting socks was better than another afternoon of losing at Bingo. Hilda always won and the other ladies suspected she was cheating.

Four sets of stiff hands fumbled with the task until the familiar rhythm of a long forgotten chore eased their arthritic finger joints. Fold and tuck, fold and tuck. A pair of pink baby socks brought nostalgic smiles to wrinkled faces and unleashed a flood of memories. Fold and tuck, fold and tuck.

At one point Myrtle held up a black pair of man's dress socks. She said, “Gwen, your husband has big feet.” Myrtle turned to the other women and added, “You ladies know what that means don't you?”

Hazel asked, “What?”

Gwen held her breath.

“Big shoes,” said Myrtle, with a chuckle and a sly smile at Gwen.

Fold and tuck, fold and tuck, the pile of socks dwindled, transformed into neat bundles of nylon, wool and cotton. The last few 'oddest' of the odd socks were paired up without regard to size or colour.

“Thank you ladies,” said Gwen. She picked up the basket without looking at Hilda.

“Hey! Kiddo! What about these?” said Hilda. Gwen turned back just as Hilda lobbed a balled up pair of tube socks over the table. The bundle bounced off Gwen's chin and dribbled into the basket with the other socks.

“Bingo! I win,” shouted Hilda, her voice raspy and triumphant.

“That's not fair,” said Myrtle. “Hilda always wins. She must be cheating.”