Remember when people darned socks?

Published 11:54 am Saturday, September 5, 2009

How long has it been since you heard anyone mention “darning a sock”?

What ever happened to that concept?

I’ve actually seen my mother darn a sock. I was pretty young, but as I recall, she put a lightbulb inside the sock and then, with a needle and thread, wove a patch where my father had worn a hole in the heel of that sock.

Somehow that process became the topic of conversation at one point over dinner one night this week. The participants in the conversation included Dell and Charlie Aycock, Jen and Marvin Hodge and Sherry and me.

It probably says something about our longevity that everyone in the group knew about darning socks.

I woke up the next morning thinking about that conversation. It occurred to me that there are many other things that, like darning socks, are no longer a part of our lives.

Once upon a time, for instance, if you wanted to know the temperature you either looked at the thermometer attached to the wall just outside the window over the kitchen sink or you dialed a phone number and listened to a mechanical voice recite it for you. Everybody in town knew the “time and temperature” number, which was usually sponsored by one of the banks in town.

Actually, I can remember when the telephone thing was not an option. You either looked at the kitchen window thermometer or you just walked outside and said, “It sure is hot,” or “It sure is cold,” or “It’s really nice today.”

Today we either tune to the Weather Channel or we have a program on our computer that will tell us.

Come to think of it, it hasn’t been all that long ago that many of us didn’t even have to step outside to decide how hot or cold it was. Our houses were not air conditioned, so we just knew.

Remember water coolers? They were big, boxy fans that drew air across wet pads to make it feel cooler. (Some people called them “swamp coolers.”)

How about attic fans? These were big fans built into the ceiling of a hallway. They drew air into a house through all of the open windows. On summer nights you scooted the bed over to the window so the breeze would blow across you.

And attic fans had additional benefits. The monotonous “whoomp-whoomp-whoomp” of the big fan blades in the hall would quickly lull anyone to sleep. And those of you who do remember attic fans might also remember how much fun it was to talk into them and listen to your voice change.

A disadvantage of an attic fan was that you would wake up about 3 in the morning shivering because it had gotten damp outside and the sheets had gotten damp and the artificial breeze was still blowing.

Recycling was not such a big deal back then. Instead of recycling stuff, you just kept on using it. You darned your socks and when you wore holes in your shoes, you just had new soles put on them. The only way you ever got new ones was by outgrowing the old ones. And even then, the old ones went to your younger brother, or, if you didn’t have a younger brother, to the church to be given to “the less fortunate.” (Maybe we were recycling in a way.)

That dinnertime conversation went someplace else, but in retrospect, it would have been fun, I think, for us to have talked about whether or not all the “improvements” we’ve all seen in the time since socks were darned have really improved our lot that much.

What do you think?

David Sullens is president of Roanoke-Chowan Publications LLC and publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and the Gates County Index. He can be reached at