Standing for Socks
Fara sat at the kitchen table wearing her breakfast around her pointer finger like a large, doughy ring. She took a bite of the bagel and then spun it a few inches and took another, eating roundwards and inwards until there was nothing left.
“What an inventive way to eat a bagel,” her father said as he put on a pot of coffee.
“Why eat the way everyone else eats?” Fara said. “And it’s one less plate to wash,” she pointed out, “so we’re saving water.”
“Original, environmentally conscious, and less work for me. I like the sound of that.”
“And it’s fun,” Fara said as she took the last bite. “You should try it.”
“Or maybe I’ll think of a new way that tops yours.”
“If it has to do with juggling then that’s not fair,” Fara said. Mr. Ross often juggled the oranges and bananas from the fruit bowl. Though her mother insisted no one was allowed to juggle fruit, Fara got in more trouble than her dad did when she tried.
“If juggling’s not allowed then I’ll need a little more time to think. Is the newspaper here?”
“I’ll check. I want to make sure it’s warm enough to wear shorts anyway.” Fara ran outside without putting her sneakers on. “Yes!” she said because it was nice and warm outside. “Yuck!” she said because morning dew soaked through her right sock. She balanced so as not to get her left wet as well and picked up the paper from the grass. Back inside, she dropped the paper on the table and poked her father’s arm. “I wet my right foot getting your newspaper,” she said dramatically. She made a fist and raised it in the air. “But I will be okay.” Her father sniffled back a fake tear and patted her feet.
Fara went upstairs to her room, scrunching her nose each time the dewy foot hit the stairs. It was not until she’d removed the wet white sock and opened her drawer for a replacement that she realized she was out of white socks. She took out a dark gray pair and pulled one over her right foot. The doorbell rang as she was reaching towards her left foot.
“Fara, Jody’s here!” her dad shouted. “Time for school.”
Fara and Jody usually met halfway between their houses to walk to school. Fara checked her watch. Sure enough, she was running late, and she still had to pack her backpack.
“Fars!” her dad called. “Jody!”
Fara dropped the gray sock in her hand and hopped off her bed. She threw her books and folder into her backpack, then went downstairs and added her lunch. At the sight of Fara pushing her feet into her sneakers, her father laughed out loud. “One less sock to wash, so we’re saving water,” he said, giving her a thumbs up.
Fara tilted her head. Confused but short on time, she kissed him good-bye and ran out the door.
“I love it!” gushed Jody while walking to school. “Are you down to the bottom of your sock drawer?” she guessed.
Fara looked down. One non-dewy white sock and one dark gray sock were sticking out of her shoes. So that was what her dad meant by one less sock to wash. She laughed; she was saving water. “Well—”
“Oh, I’m dumb,” Jody said, shaking her head and making her brown curls fall over her face. “It’s because you wanted to match your shirt.”
Fara looked at her gray and white Earth Day t-shirt. “Oh, wow,” she said. “I didn’t even notice that.” Her ankles looked funny with the colors alternating as she walked. It was like the gray and white were fighting for precedence, each trying to move ahead of the other.
Jody tucked her hair behind her ears. It fell out again when she jumped in front of Fara to take another guess. “I know. You wanted to make Phillip feel better for that time in second grade when he came to school wearing only one sock by accident.”
Fara laughed again. “I forgot about that,” she said. “Here.” She held out her hand so Jody could take the hair tie she had around her wrist. Fara’s straight blonde hair was too short to pull into a ponytail, but she always made sure to have a hair tie for Jody.
Jody took the tie and shook Fara’s hand in professional thanks. “Oh, I know!”
“It was actually an accident,” Fara confessed before Jody could guess again. “My other white sock got wet with morning dew, so I changed it, and then you came and I didn’t have time to change the other. But I kind of like it. And it saves water for the wash.”
Jody shook her head in amazement. “Even in your accidents you are helping the world. You are the greenest girl on the planet.”
Fara beamed. When she and Jody were in second grade, a group called the Green Team came to Harvey Elementary School and did a skit about keeping the earth clean. When they asked who liked to play in the fresh air, lots of kids raised their hands, but Fara raised hers the highest. And when they asked who liked having trees to climb and clean water to drink, Fara had clapped and cheered the loudest. And when they had stand everyone who made sure to switch off lights when leaving a room, and who turned off the water while brushing their teeth, and who used recycle bins at home, Fara was the only one who jumped proudly out of her seat every single time. She couldn’t believe that all of those things—things she and her parents had been doing ever since she could remember—were not things everyone did. Didn’t everyone want fresh air to breathe and tall trees to climb and clean water to drink, like the Green Team said? She wondered if her family did other things that were different. Did other kids go through their toys every birthday and pick ones to bring to the Goodwill store? And did other families spend Thanksgiving and Christmas cooking food and serving it to people at a homeless shelter? She didn’t know why they wouldn’t. But then again, she didn’t know why they wouldn’t always turn off the water when brushing their teeth, either.
The Green Team gave Fara a green star for living in a green house. Phillip Ronkel shouted out, “But Fara’s house is white!,” and Melodee Simon jumped up, suddenly remembering that she, too, conserved energy and didn’t waste water and recycled. The Green Team ended up giving green stars to everyone who promised to do his or her share to make a difference in the world in any way possible. Most of the class did try for the next few days, but Fara tried the hardest. She even tried starting her own Green Team after lunch that day (called The Green Girls since only girls showed up to the meeting by the monkey bars), but not even Jody wanted to spend recess picking up trash in the playground. Fara wasn’t deterred by the fact that she didn’t have a team to help her make a difference, however. And she still wasn’t—she was still trying.
“Well at least your socks are something new and different,” Jody said as the two girls waited to cross the street onto the block with their school . “Everything has been so the same this whole year.”
“That’s true,” Fara agreed. Both she and Jody had Mrs. Ferrara for fifth grade, the same teacher they’d had in fourth grade. While it was great having her best friend in her class two years in a row, it was pretty boring having the same teacher. Mrs. Ferrara liked to follow the same pattern every day and every week, and she assigned the same types of homework and some of the same exact projects as she had last year. She had even come in wearing the same turkey costume on Thanksgiving, and it wasn’t nearly as hilarious the second time around. At least Fara had the other fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Tully, for advanced math, but Jody was in the advanced reading group and the regular math group, both of which were taught by Mrs. Ferrara.
“Mrs. Ferrara keeps saying how next year middle school will be so, so different. It just makes this year seem so, so the same.”
“I know,” Fara agreed. They stepped onto the sidewalk on the other side of the street. “It’ll be fun moving rooms all day. I mean, even if Mrs. Ferrara got moved up to sixth grade, we’d still have six other teachers.”
Jody stopped and looked at Fara with wide eyes. “Did you hear that Mrs. Ferrara is moving to sixth grade?” she asked solemnly.
“No, I was just saying. Did you?”
“Okay,” said Fara.
“Okay,” said Jody. “Phew.”
“How’s the last issue of the school newspaper coming?” Fara asked.
Jody raised her eyebrows three times in response. “It’s going to be the best one yet,” she said. “That’s another thing I can’t wait for middle school for. The middle school paper comes out every two months, not just twice a year, and there’s more to report on, because middle school is a hotbed of activity.”
“A hotbed?” Fara asked with a laugh.
Fara laughed. “Well, even if it’s not a hotbed of activity, at least we only have two more months of the same.”
“And your socks are new and different today.”
“Yep,” said Fara. She grinned. She was happy to bring something new and different to Harvey Elementary School. Thank you, morning dew, she thought.
Jody wasn’t the only one to notice Fara’s socks that day.
“I think you’re wearing mismatched socks,” Phillip whispered while they did their morning writing assignment.
“Ha! Look!” shouted Ben Huber when Fara got up to sharpen her pencil.
“Cool,” said Dana when she sat back down.
Mrs. Tully winked at her during Math.
“You definitely stand out,” said Jody during lunch. “Everybody’s talking about you.”
And they were.
“Some people are just hopeless,” said Melodee Simon as everyone was leaving at the end of the day. “Like Fara Ross. Did you see her socks today? Everybody knows socks have to match.”
Fara looked at her feet. Everybody thought socks should match. But clearly they didn’t have to. It was a free country, with freedom of expression. That’s what her parents always told her. Who’s to say socks have to match? Certainly not Melodee Simon. Fara would sooner take advice from a two-ton water buffalo than from Melodee Simon.
“Why do you think people always wear matching socks?” Fara asked her parents that night at dinner.
“That’s a good question,” her mother said, scooping some spaghetti and meatballs into Fara’s bowl. “Why did you always wear matching socks until today?”
“Apart from morning dew?”
“Apart from morning dew.”
Fara thought. “It looks nice I guess, and put together.”
“Mm hmm,” her mom agreed. “Matching things do look nice together. Like the curtains and the rug in the living room.”
“And like this sauce and these meatballs,” her father added, pointing with his fork.
“What does that mean?” asked Mrs. Ross. “Does that mean my homemade tomato sauce—which took me two hours to make—is brown and lumpy?”
“No, I’m saying they match because they’re both so delicious,” Mr. Ross said half-convincingly.
Fara thought some more as she slurped a noodle through her lips. She shrugged. “I guess I always matched my socks because that’s just what I always did. It’s what everyone does. It’s what you taught me,” she added. “But this is a free country.”
“A lot of people do things just because everyone else does them,” Fara’s mother pointed out. “But that doesn’t mean that you can’t deviate from the norm.”
“What does that mean?”
“Do your own thing,” Fara’s dad said.
“Deviate from the norm,” Fara said, thinking. “I like that.”
“That’s the great thing about personal freedom, Far,” her mom continued. “As long as you aren’t hurting anybody, you can deviate from the norm as much as you’d like.”
“And what if you are actually helping someone when you deviate from the norm? And helping the environment?” Fara asked. She thought of how her socks were something new and different for Jody and the rest of her class. And how they saved just a little bit of water for the wash.
“Well, come on then, Fara,” her dad said with a wink. He took a big bite of sauce and meatball and gave his wife a thumbs up. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
That night before Fara went to bed, she looked at the wall above her bookcase, which was where she taped up postcards her old baby-sitter sent her from various countries in Africa, where she was volunteering with the Peace Corps, and letters from her Uncle Alan, who had gone to help set up an orphanage in Bosnia. On the top shelf of the bookcase was a pencil case with a picture of Rosa Parks on the cover, which she had bought in the gift shop during a field trip to the Museum of American History, and a report she wrote last year on Franklin D. Roosevelt, plus the round glasses she’d made out of pipe cleaners to wear during her presentation about him for the class. “It seems like a lot of people who make a difference,” she wrote in her journal, “start by deviating from the norm.”
She tapped her pencil against her lips, and her eyes traveled to the discarded white and gray socks on the top of her laundry basket.