Dirty Socks & Love

We bounced around a lot when I was growing up, but my dad had a knack for helping “shy me” mix and mingle with new kiddos every time we moved.  Observing him was like being in a master class of love – he with his disarming smile, genuine care for others.  No performances.  Sincerity and warmth and oodles of both. Strangers and new friends trusted him from the get-go because of his gentle spirit. 

Our longest stint was in a mint green colonial.  We lived there long enough for it to become THE “childhood home” in my head when I conjure visions of home and hearth. Have you ever done that?  Without censoring, asked your cerebellum to retrieve a visual of “home” to see what rattles forward?  No matter how many residences followed (and at last count, I think the number is eight) my happy place remains that clapboard two-story in all of its minty freshness. 

I was seven when we moved in and the neighborhood was kid friendly, thanks to dad’s warmth, softening the hard edges that appear when children give the new girl side-eye.  Our street was loaded with kids my age, conducive to bike riding, flashlight tag and kickball.  But at first?  I was intimidated and overwhelmed, but watching my dad helped me find my way. Meet one person at a time and smile, he’d say and then for good measure, I’d get a kiss on the head and another, “Don’t forget to smile”.

I think I hold that house in the special “home” slot in my brain because the memories are mostly sunshine and laughter.  It was safe because dad made it so, despite revelations, year by year, about mom’s challenges.  He had a knack for navigating the tricky bits and made sure sister Lisa and I were social beings, busy girls.

I noticed then…and in the decades that followed, that dad had a gift for bestowing nicknames – delighting and cementing a sense of familiarity with others.  I’ve often wondered if his prowess in the ‘getting to know you’ game was based on his extroverted ease with people, drawing folks in and making fun connections. Instantly, it seemed.  He was the same gregarious person in his business life, a naturally charismatic man, quick to grin and laugh at himself.  Easy to be around.

Still, the nickname game is tricky – it can cut two ways.  Hurtful, spiteful labels aren’t fun (and trust me, I’ve heard “Icky Vicki”, “Icky, Sticky Vicki” plenty in my life).  Dad never did THAT to anyone but found ways to show he noticed people – really saw them – before a nickname was offered.  It was nuanced but he knew how to poke fun without hurting feelings. No taunts. His nicknames were terms of endearment offered only with grins and love.

One day I’ll sit down to catalog the nickname roster. I’ve written about my special papa in the in the past…how he gave his best friend the moniker “Slats” and me – the title “Agnes Gooch” …but there are so many more.  One silly nickname popped to mind recently (when I was sorting laundry – I promise I’ll explain). It was the loving label he gave our painfully withdrawn neighbor, Kathy, when we lived in the pretty mint green house. 

Kathy was more introverted than I was, if that was possible.  She’d watch the neighborhood kids take turns riding dad’s lawn mower, playing in the street, but she never joined in.  She was one year older and her vibrations and aura?  All fear.  She’d wave hello, but every time we hollered at her to join us, she’d shake her head ‘no’ and remain on the stoop – her perch – to watch.  Even when popsicles were offered.

I knew Kathy’s family was different.  So was mine, I reasoned, with a disabled sister who had many special needs.  Given Lisa’s vision problems, she needed help to play with us.  We slowed down games like tag to include her and patiently helped Lisa as she learned how to hula-hoop. (Not well, but that wasn’t the point.)

Kathy’s family?  They were different, too. She had two moms.  The moms were a restrained form of friendly, like Kathy, and waved, nodded hello.  Occasionally it looked like they tried to nudge Kathy to join in neighborhood fun.  Dad noticed, too, and would walk over to talk with them.  Shooting the breeze about nothing.  Baseball.  Crabgrass. 

After we’d lived in minty green for a few months, dad had a big project afoot in the backyard and Lisa and I were his ‘crew’. We were trying…for the ninth or tenth time…to hold up the walls of a new shed but more hands were required.  Lisa and I weren’t much help, TBH.  We were more interested in parading around in our kid-sized tool belts.  All show.  No go.  

Patient with us but still task-oriented, dad sighed and then jumped upstartling us as he recalled that sweet Kathy “had skills”.  We knew she loved her Legos and building things, but dad knew more, maybe from the moms?  “I bet Kathy would love to help us – she’s a builder at heart!”  Cool, I thought…but before I could ask how he knew this tidbit, he bolted around the corner.  He was inspired; had an angle for including Kathy. 

When he yelled across the street, asking Kathy to come and help, predictably she said, “No thanks – I’m not wearing shoes.”  Well, duh. Kathy wore long white tube socks, day-in, day-out and unless absolutely essential, shoes were avoided. A nuisance…and it was one of her quirks, the one that repeatedly landed her in detention.  I remember dad yelling back, “It’s okay – ‘Dirty Socks’ – come on over anyhow.”

Did you guess this already?  Kathy tip-toed across the street…’dirty socks’ and all…socks that only got muckier as she stood in freshly mown grass, grinding in a wicked, green and black marled mess of grime.  I waited for dad to tell her she couldn’t join the crew without shoes, for safety reasons (something he’d barked at Lisa and I just an hour before, resulting in quick swaps from flipflops to Keds) but not Kathy. He took the win…she was there.

We built the shed that afternoon, thanks to Kathy and after? She became a frequent flyer at our house. Dad loved nothing better than rolling in after work, seeing the three of us – Lisa, Kathy and myself – lounging on the floor, watching “Big Valley” with our feet dangling in the air.  He’d greet us with our nicknames, never missing an opportunity to say ‘Hey there, Dirty Socks’ to Kathy, prompting big grins.  The biggest?  Always Kathy’s.

I’ve often wondered if he ever knew that Kathy kept a secret pair of stinky socks in my room…specifically to wear when he was around.  It was their thing…long after she’d grown out of her shoe avoidance…but it mattered to her to keep it going.  I love that.  Still do…and I will never sort a load of dirty laundry, noticing grimy socks, without thinking of her.  And my dad.

Dirty socks…and love!

-Vicki 💓

P.S. My “Victoria Ponders” companion post this morning is about my “favorite five” — five simple tips for remembering how to be an includer. Belonging? It matters. If you have a minute, I’d love it if you’d pop over to take a peek. 😊

46 thoughts on “Dirty Socks & Love

  1. Your father sounds like he was such an incredible man–kind, inclusive, and inviting. I bet your father’s good nature and humor helped bolster her confidence in all other interactions in her life. And the fact that she kept a stinky pair of socks to bond over with your father–priceless! Thanks for sharing, Vicki! 💕

    I was a similarly shy kind and my grandpa did the same when I, the only girl cousin, wasn’t sure if I was allowed to climb trees in holiday dresses and play football with the cousins. He even included me when drawing facial hair on the kids with a charred wine cork. I don’t recall any nicknames, but humor melts away alllll the anxiety.

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    1. So many things to love in what you shared, Erin! Yep, my dad was kind and you’re right…Kathy’s confidence blossomed…as her circle of friends grew, in part, I think, to her loving moms and her courage…their collective courage…and maybe a teensy bit from my papa. I love that your grandpa was so good to you. I can imagine…being the only female cousin. Wanting to be included and then…when it happens? Everything! Fake facial hair and all! And yes…humor does have a magical quality, when used well. Melting away anxiety…oh…that’s so good. 🥰

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    1. Yessss….she did….in my closet…and it took me a while to work that out. They were never laundered…she said it would take away the ‘mojo’ so I finally realized I could plop the stinky tube socks into a Tupperware bowl. It was like a community service…locking those puppies down! 🤣

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  2. What a great story! Love your dad. And the detail about Kathy keeping a pair of dirty socks? That is just so fun!

    It strikes me that it only took one win to change the dynamic with Kathy. Of course, it was a lot of invitations, but having the one that fit made the difference. Talk about using the power of seeing for good – such a great man and wonderful lesson!

    And I’m still laughing about “All show. No go.” Love love love!

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    1. Yeah, yeah. Lisa and I looked good in our tool belts but had no clue what to do with them. I recall twirling little hammers like batons…never using a tool for its intended purpose…but we had fun! And yes! Lots of invitations…but the only one that mattered for Kathy was the one that ‘took’ and kudos to my pops for not giving up on her. Thanks for seeing that, Wynne! 💖

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  3. I am overwhelmed after reading this post. Your words stirred up so many memories of my own life I could write at least five posts on those memories alone. Thank you for that.

    Good dads – I never knew they were not all good ones until much later in life. I will be forever grateful I had one of the good ones. It sounds like you were equally blessed.

    There is so much more I want to say but I am bubbling over!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, Maggie — thank you! Bubbling over? I love that…and it means the world to me that the story of my dad, sweet Kathy and ‘dirty socks’ stirred up good stuff for you. You’re right — I hadn’t thought about the fact that not everyone was so blessed…you and I both, apparently, with first class fathers. Sending hugs to you! 🥰🥰🥰


  4. I love that your dad got Kathy over to help build the shed. Your story showed how loving and kind he was. My dad built a playhouse with us in the backyard of our first home with the help of me and the neighborhood kids. A neighbor who worked at the lumberyard dropped off wood joists for the roof and enough lumber to build a small house with a loft.

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    1. Elizabeth — thanks for reading and for sharing the connection you have to backyard building…with your dad! Sounds like a similar, group effort w/neighborhood kiddos. I suspect you picked up some skills that I didn’t. I still can’t build anything at all…but it wasn’t for lack of trying on my dad’s part! And…I must admit…a playhouse with a loft sounds more exciting than a shed! 😘😉😘

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      1. I was pretty handy with furniture that required assembly at home, but our ping pong table we ordered was beyond my skill level. The playhouse so much fun. The neighborhood kids were building a massive treehouse in our backyard with scrap lumber. The parents were freaked out about it. I’m sure that’s what spurred the donation of lumber for the playhouse.

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      2. I love those memories! Playhouses…treehouses? Wow. And hey – you can put furniture together? You’ve got me there. I struggle with simple stuff – like assembling flat boxes – LOL! Ping pong table? Nope. Not me. Thanks for the Sunday afternoon smiles! 🥰

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  5. Oh Vicki, what great memories, your dad sounds like such a great man. I love this topic too, we look pass others so often in our lives. Love that your dad went out of his way to include everyone, to see the ones who weren’t seen by anyone else. I think that says a lot about a person, says a lot about him. We should all follow that example. I gotta imagine that his example left an indelible mark on Lisa and you. Thanks so much for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, Brian! Yes…I think he left a legacy…care and keeping of others as a priority and he was so fun/funny, too. Appreciate you reading and sharing that observation. Remembering him, his natural way with people is how I keep him close, every day! 😘

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      1. Oh gosh…I’m so behind myself…so much to do…so little time. Isn’t that an Alice in Wonderland quote? Some days…but thank you for responding, period! Whenever, however! Grateful! 😎😉😎

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  6. Oh my goodness! So, so sweet! That she kept dirty socks in your room, at the ready, is the best part. I hope you say a little prayer for Kathy whenever dirty socks remind you of her. And God bless your sweet father. Dads, good ones, are the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep — I can’t help but think of her when I see dirty socks…it’s such a good memory. Sadly, we lost touch a long time ago and I’ve not picked up the trail. Cheers to good dads — yes, yes!
      xo! 😘

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