William McFalls and his dear wife Ruth lived just a hop, skip and a jump from my old homeplace on Piedmont Road. Two of the nicest people in the world, they were the perfect Jack Sprat couple; Mr. McFalls was tall and lean, and Ruth was short and stout. The McFalls family was known for producing fantastic watermelons and my dad rented them a watermelon patch over on the Walker Place not far from my homeplace. Mr. McFalls’ adult son, Rex, farmed with his dad in the fields. All have long since passed away.
Before he retired in his 70s, Mr. McFalls worked at one of the hosiery mills in Morganton. I think he had a good idea of how poor we were and that we lacked many store-bought necessities, so from time to time, he would bring us socks from the mill. Once, he brought a giant box filled with these socks – I’m talking about a washing machine sized box! All the assorted socks were culls and it was exceedingly difficult to find two that matched. But, since we wore pants to school, it didn’t matter if they matched of not. Nearly all the socks were of the tube variety, made for adults, usually white with three colored rings at the top. One of the chief reasons for culling a sock seemed to be the failure to fully close the stitches at the toe. We didn’t care, we just folded the socks under our foot and wore them anyway. Another common mistake occurred in the elastic bands at the top. Often these were stretched out or disconnected, and thus, it was impossible to keep your socks pulled up. Sometimes, I used rubber bands to hold up my socks, but even so, I spent most of the sixth grade with my socks around my ankles. We shared socks with our cousins, who were all girls. They wore tube socks with their dresses. I never really reflected on how tough that must have been for them. I have a picture of my cousin Kay somewhere sporting a jumper with tube socks on. We literally had hundreds of culled, unmatched socks at my house when I was growing up.
The socks served a multitude of purposes in addition to functioning as fine feet coverings. In the winter, we wore the socks as gloves to keep our hands warm. They also made fine grease rags and, tied together, they could be used to secure a fence as good as any rope. My dad would put a roll of toilet paper down inside the sock and use it as a makeshift oil filter on his ’53 Chevrolet pick-up truck. I found that if you put rocks in a close-toed sock and swung it around, you could also make a formidable weapon. Clean cotton socks are also useful for straining foods for canning. This short explanation doesn’t do justice to the reality that culled tube socks can indeed be life-affecting. Mr. McFalls may be remembered for many great deeds, but for me, none was greater than the kindness he showed us with his sporadic gifts of socks during my childhood.