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Mourning a lost sock — and all those other missing items

Colorful socks await buyers at a Fredericksburg, Va., Hobby Lobby. There may be sadness and separation in their future. (David C. Kennedy for The Washington Post)
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Dan Wallace jokes that his house is “one pile away” from being a suitable setting for a cable hoarder show. He’s joking, I’m sure.

But Dan touches on a quandary many of us face: We don’t want to get rid of something we might need, even if that something has been rendered useless.

Or temporarily useless. For example, more than a year ago the two components in a pair of Dan’s socks were cruelly separated. The dilemma: If Dan believes he will never see the lost sock again, he should throw the remaining sock away. But what if he chucks it out and one day the missing sock reappears?

Dan would doubtless drop to his knees — the prodigal sock in one hand — and scream to the heavens, “Whyyyyyyyyy?”

And, of course, isn’t that just the sort of thing the universe would do? Isn’t that the way the universe works? You’d think the universe would have its hands full, but somehow it manages to keep an eye on you and your sock(s).

“Oh, he finally threw it away,” the universe says. “Now I can stick the missing sock at the back of his sock drawer.”

Socks are important to Dan. He’s kept a pair of his son Conor’s cartoon Arthur the Aardvark socks since Conor was 9. Conor is 29 now. Dan has a solitary violet baby sock once worn by his 31-year-old daughter, Molly, hoping against hope that its mate — which for three decades has been, as he says, “languishing in the cold case file” — will reappear.

“Hence, my attachment to my own misplaced sock, outstanding in a set now of seven others,” wrote Dan, of Silver Spring. “All these lost in a house full of possessions so cherished that we couldn’t part with them under any circumstances. Hence, our starter house will now be our finisher house, since we know any kind of move would require divestment on a par with the parable of the rich man.”

I still pine for a wondrous pair of striped socks I bought at a bespoke shoe store in Oxford. I couldn’t afford the custom shoes, but I could afford a few pairs of socks. One day, only one emerged from the dryer. Where was its loyal companion, the Jeeves to its Wooster, the Abbott to its Costello, the Sonny to its Cher?

Lost through a loose seam in the fabric of time and space, I suppose. Or possibly in a Texas hotel room, the last place I remember seeing the two socks together.

I kept that surviving sock for a year, hoping for a miraculous recovery of its MIA partner. It was a sad day when I finally consigned it to the trash. Fortunately for my psyche, the other sock never showed up.

I suppose the same thing applies to other paired objects: earrings, bookends, shoes. (Though we never seem to lose a single shoe, do we?)

And it can apply to things like screws, scraps of wood, extra fabric and other materials that we keep around just in case. We don’t know for sure that the irregular piece of drywall leaning against the basement wall will ever be needed, we just know if it is needed, and we don’t have it, we’ll be bereft.

What’s the longest you’ve held onto something in the hope that its lost mate would turn up? What stories of amazing reunions do you have? Or bitter disappointments? Send them — with “Lost” in the subject line — to me at john.kelly@washpost.com.

Sock it to me

Speaking of socks, lost or otherwise, earlier this year Marta Vogel led a sock drive in her North Bethesda neighborhood. She’d heard of a textile company in Alabama called Zkano that not only makes new socks but recycles old ones, keeping them out of landfills.

“We accept any type of socks, from any brand, and you don’t have to be a customer to send them to us,” the company explains on its website. (It adds: “Just keep it to socks, y’all. That’s all we can recycle at this time.”)

The old socks aren’t turned into new ones, but into carpet padding for the automotive industry. You can find information at zkano.com/pages/zkano-recycles.

Marta put the word out via her neighborhood message group and in March she sent two boxes — weighing more than 30 pounds — to Zkano. Another 10 pounds of clean, usable socks went to Goodwill. Now that’s some fancy footwork.

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