Families end up with inside jokes and too-often-told stories after years of living in the same one-bathroom house and surviving cross country voyages in the AC-less cramped-up station wagon. You struggle and grow, but survival often comes through laughter.
When my siblings and I get together, we hoot and howl over such dumb stories, our spouses begin to wonder who/what they married. We start by uttering a few words that are unintelligible and nonsensical to everybody else, then we are rolling so hard we can’t finish the story. That’s another of our eccentricities, we laugh so hard at our own jokes we rarely can exhale the punch line.
My own children have personalized their own family eccentricity by creating an artform of imitating the sounds and actions of the laughter of each of my siblings. My poor, deprived children have their own stories to tell about us telling our stories.
One of those sayings we have is “PAL SOCKS”; our homemade definition for socks that have lost their elasticity and sag around the ankles. Say PAL SOCKS around my family and you will hear raucous, I-lost-my-breath kinda’ laughter. When our laughter finally quiets and the neighbors are enjoying the peace, we’re hearing the echo of “HIYA PAL” in our hearts and minds.
Just to let you in on the family secret, I will actually divulge the origination of this story. Usually we siblings laugh hysterically and ignore the outsiders, who feign indifference, but are internally longing to understand the catalyst of the giggle fit.
When we six were very young, constantly hovering around the house, in the house, on the house, in the yard, on the roof, in the trees and under the porch, the neighbor kids realized it was a good place to hang out. Mom and Dad were kind to the neighbor kids and sometimes even fed them.
Donny was one that occasionally wandered in our yard, but not to join the kids’ activities. He was fascinated with my Dad, who left the garage door open on warm days and was busy with power tools, making and fixing things for his rambunctious family. It was my first encounter with someone who was handicapped, yet my parents acceptance of him made it a non-issue in my four-year-old mind.
I remember Donny standing in the driveway, joyously greeting my Dad with “HIYA, PAL!” then, “WHACHU DOIN?” his face emblazoned with an all-teeth-showing smile. When he visited, I always looked up first. Way up,because he was tall. I loved his smile and was fascinated that his voice didn’t quite sound like mine.
Then, I always looked down. Donny had loved holes into the toes of his cherished cowboy boots. Because his boots had holes in the toes, his socks always poked through the end. Because his socks lacked elastic, they continuously slid down during the day until a lot of sock would be flopping around on the end. (I’m sure the older we get, the more sock we remember hanging through the end.)
On days when he could be convinced not to wear his cowboy boots, he wore sandals. Sandals with the socks with no elastic. Sandals that allowed more sock to surrender in the wind than the cowboy boots allowed.
Always concerned for safety, I remember my Dad once patiently instructing Donny how to pull his boots off, pull his socks up, then put his boots back on. I didn’t understand then, but now I speculate my Dad was sure Donny would fall and endanger his life on one of his power tools or accidentally strangle himself or get the socks caught in an escalator or shoot his eye out.
But, for the rest of our lives, worn out socks were happily synonomous with Donny’s friendly greeting, “HIYA, PAL!” Like Pavlov’s dog, when we see socks that need to go into the rag bag, we are warmed with memories of unconditional friendship given and received.
While I was visiting my parents this summer, my Dad stirred up the memories and the laughter by walking onto the patio one morning with PAL SOCKS!
Ever-frugal, he is unable to admit these socks should be used with Pledge Furniture Polish or wrapped around a sore-throat sufferer’s neck that has been slathered in Vick’s Vapor Rub. Yes, another wierd family eccentricity.