Instead of red velvet trimmed with fur, ours came with a sporty stripe. But what matters most is what’s inside, and ours stretched to hold more joy.
I wondered, until I was about 21, why they called them “stockings.” They were not stockings. Stockings were something women wore to church or when they were “going out.” They came in a kind of nondescript tan, or, if you had completely forfeited your immortal soul, fishnet. I often wondered why they were called that, too, because even a fool could see they were useless for fishing. Maybe in queen size.
Anyway, what we hung by our chimney with care were not stockings. (Actually, we did not have a chimney, so Santa had to be let in at the front door.) What we hung on our wall, to the left of the cedar tree that we’d liberated from the state highway right-of-way, were socks. White. Knee-high. Three stripes at the top. Of the classification known as “tube.” Now, children call them “old-school.”
They came from the Cloth Barn in Hokes Bluff, Alabama, for $3 a packet, and a packet had, like, 400 pairs. But back then you could also get a wheelbarrow of underwear for $5 and a Green Stamp. My point—and it has taken me much longer to arrive here than it should have—is that in my childhood you could not have Christmas morning without a tube sock swaying on a tenpenny nail driven into the Sheetrock. Imagine Christmas without fruitcake, or firearms, or tube socks. See? You can’t.
My mother explained that the vast importance of the Christmas sock goes back to the Great Depression. It used to be all there was. Well, first, of course, came the baby Jesus.
Let us explain further.
The sock was the depository for Christmas cheer. If my grandfather had found carpentry work in the mountain South—or at least if he had been unmolested by the federal men long enough to run off some selling liquor—my mother and her siblings would find their socks bulging with an apple, an orange, Brazil nuts, walnuts, and a piece of peppermint candy. (This was, of course, an age before tube socks, but the wool socks of the age did fine.) To my mother and her sisters, it was all they could have wished, dreamed, or prayed for.
Me, I arrived about the same time as the tube sock, one size fits all, and it was bottomless. It held an orchard of tangerines, three chocolate Santys, 1,000 peppermints, and 4,236 walnuts, which was a little like giving a child a hunk of iron to open. The only way to do it was with a 9-pound hammer, otherwise used in railroad construction. I do not ever remember eating one piece of walnut, just looking forlornly at a smashed patty of obliterated shell and walnut paste. But I digress.
Sometimes my mother even fit a small toy in there, like a plastic Indian chief on a rearing stallion. My point is, it would stretch to hold anything, stretch to hold the whole world, though they would stretch about 4 feet straight down until they brushed the floor.
Sometimes inside the Christmas sock would be a new pair of socks, which caused me momentary consternation though I still cannot quite explain why. It must be how you feel when you slice into a turducken.
We have stockings now. They have garland, ribbon, and sparkles, and come from town. You cannot wear them. I am not ungrateful. I love my stockings. But they will not stretch a lick.