Monday, March 12, 2007

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Socks

This past Christmas richly rewarded me with several pairs of my favorite fuzzy socks. So pleasing. My wiggly toes looked forward to spending a cozy winter clad with fuzz.

The laundry doesn’t cycle very quickly at our house, so it was with great begrudging that I sent each pair of fuzzy Christmas socks to the washing machine. Well, I didn’t actually see them go in the washer. But I saw them land in the vicinity of the hamper.

I only got one half of each pair of fuzzy socks back in the clean laundry. I shrugged, assuming the other half would be in the next load. They weren’t. But that wasn’t all. We suddenly seemed to be missing most of the boys’ socks. Knowing how the boys strip their feet bare at every possible moment, I thought their socks were just landing in odd places and would eventually turn up.

Now, you need to understand the laundry process in the Frame home. A piece of clothing is worn and becomes soiled. It is removed and goes on vacation. I say vacation because it can be a full week before it makes it home to the hamper in the hallway. Past vacation spots have included the living room floor, the back of the van, under the couch cushions, behind the toilet, the back patio, under the dining table, the bottom of the toy box, under any given bed, over the back of any given chair, etc.

I periodically rove through the house collecting vacationing clothing, and I put it all in the laundry hamper in the hallway. Our oversized laundry hamper is about three and half feet tall and large enough to contain two small giggling boys standing upright. It also doubles as a hide and seek destination or a temporary jail or rocket ship.

When the hamper is not mixing business with pleasure, it stands serenely in the hallway, holding clothes. After a while it complains because its lid won’t close anymore. Eventually it simply begins to appear as if it has vomited. Clothing flows out of it, climbs the walls above it, and lounges on the floor around it.

When the hallway is impassable, Jeff carries the whole business to the garage, where the groaning hamper pukes into Laundry Sea, a vast ocean of dirty clothes bordered by the washer, the dryer, the hot water heater, and four bookshelves. We Frames certainly can’t walk on water, but every day we walk across Laundry Sea, trying with all our might to pretend it isn’t there.

When the entire family has run completely out of undergarments, once every two or three weeks or so, we have what we affectionately refer to as Laundry Day. On Laundry Day, Jeff runs all of the dirty clothes in Laundry Sea through the washer and dryer. He is very industrious about it, falling back on his production supervisor experience to get the job done. He can produce clean laundry in droves. The man does not mess around.

When the laundry comes out of the dryer, it goes into our bedroom. Jeff dumps load after load on the bed at my request and with my gregarious promise that I’ll have it all folded and put away by the end of the day. In fact, I always tell him that putting the clothes on the bed is good incentive for me because we have to have a place to sleep. I will not tell you how many times we have slept under a comforter weighed down by clean laundry. But that’s rare. Usually I just heave the entire mountain onto the floor at the end of Laundry Day.

Once the clean clothes find themselves in a tangle on the bedroom floor, they become what we like to call Mount Laundry. It is to Mount Laundry that we typically trek to find something to wear. We plop down on top of the pile and paw through it, searching and searching for that one school sock or that shirt that matches that one pair of pants. We always feel victoriously elated if we find an article of clothing within the first couple of minutes.

Jeff hates Mount Laundry. But my patient man usually waits at least a couple of weeks before his subtle comments emerge because his heart desires to bear all things in love. But, for example, I recently took a week of vacation, and I asked him to hide my laptop so I would really relax. After a quick brainstorm for possible hiding places, he remarked with a quick glance at Mount Laundry and a gentle smirk upon his charming face, “I know a great place to hide your laptop where you’d never find it…”

On days when I feel creative, I fold all the laundry and put it away. I usually feel creative about once a month or so. I turn on the radio and yowl along with Tony Bennet as he flies me to the moon, or empathize with Barbra Streisand as she tells me that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.

And then I can’t wait for Jeff to get home so we can have ‘Show.’ Not ‘Show and Tell,’ just ‘Show.’ Instead of simply telling him that I’ve folded the laundry, I drag him by the hand toward the spot where Mount Laundry proudly stood when he left for work. After a dramatic moment of silence, I spread my arms wide and shout, “Tada!” And I expect praise. Boy, do I expect praise. And he gives it, bless him. He assumes a chipper tone and says, “Wow. Good job! You worked hard, Baby. I’m proud of you.” And I grin, basking in the glow of his pleasure.

I want you to know that my ideal self would process one or two loads of laundry every day. I have this vision of cheerfully gathering up all the clothes each morning and taking two minutes to throw them in the washer, two minutes to throw them in the dryer, and ten minutes to fold them. There is a diligent, disciplined homemaker inside of me longing to break free and really keep the house in order, like they do in the movies. Or like they do at my friend Rebecca’s house.

To that end, I have beseeched the Lord many a time. In fact, I have prayed about my home fairly consistently for years with little change to my habits. By God’s grace, I do make progress one baby step at a time, but strangely, there always seem to be bigger fish to fry.

Isn’t it great that our God cares about trivial stuff like laundry? He has begun to answer my prayer for better laundry habits in a unique way only He could have devised. My personality tends toward passive aggressive behavior, and as Jeff’s dad has sagely informed me on many occasions, the only way to get a passive aggressive person to do something is to make the alternative worse.

When it comes to the Frame family laundry situation, my creative, loving Abba Father, whose eyes I can simply feel twinkling at my predicament, has made the alternative worse. Much worse.

Since it is now March, I believe I have folded and put away all of the laundry at least three times since Christmas. This last time, we ended up with very few pairs of socks. We mostly had single socks with no partners. I also found a pair of sweats with a couple of holes in them. They were little boy sweats, so I automatically assumed a small child had grabbed a pair of scissors. But then I began to notice other things with holes. Dish towels. T-shirts. A bed sheet!

I had suspected all along that either the washing machine or the dryer—or both—was eating our missing socks. I was sure there was a hole in the back of one of the machines that sucked socks up into it. When I started to find other clothing items with holes, my theory was confirmed. I explained to Jeff that our dryer was sucking up socks, but it was also trying to suck up larger items as well. I went on to say that the larger items were fighting back and breaking free. With battle wounds.

Jeff did not think my theory to be very feasible.

But I was sure. So I asked him to please take apart the washer and dryer and remove all of the missing socks from the bottomless chamber of each.

He frowned and said nothing.

A few days later, as I pawed through Mount Laundry trying to find any two socks that matched each other—forget trying to match them to my outfit—Jeff entered the bedroom at just the right—I mean wrong—time. I turned to him and said through gritted teeth, “I know I am not outwardly expressing very much emotion about the whole sock situation, but I want you to understand that I am extremely frustrated about this. I want. To know. What. In the world. HAPPENED!! TO! OUR SOCKS!!!!!”

Jeff made his way wordlessly to the garage, where he got down on his hands and knees and felt all around the interior of each front-loading machine, looking for a sock-stealing hole. He found no such hole.

But the next day I called him at work and pestered him some more to take apart the washer and dryer so I could have my socks back. He said he didn’t think they were in there. I said, “Why not?!? Where else could they possibly be?”

Without missing a beat he said, “Under the couch?” Oh…them’s fightin’ words.

I replied testily, “No, Jeff, they are not under the couch. I am a better housekeeper than that. It has not been two and a half months since I looked under my couch. Besides that, there are so many socks missing that they wouldn’t fit under the couch.”

I hung up the phone and acknowledged the black cloud of crankiness hovering over my head, and then it occurred to me to do what, of course, I should have done in the first place. I prayed.

“Lord, I am really mad about our missing socks. I know You know where they are. I’m super cranky about this and I can’t do anything about it, so I’m just going to have to give it all over to You. Please help me to surrender my socks.”

Then a thought came into my head: maybe all the missing socks were together. Usually when I fold the laundry, I put all the socks in a basket, save them for last, and pair them up. But sometimes I don’t finish folding all the laundry, so it would be likely that a box of unsorted socks got stashed somewhere…maybe if we were having company.

I betook myself to the garage and got down on my hands and knees with a flashlight, searching under every large appliance and bookshelf for missing socks. Nothing. Well, not nothing. I found three dishrags. Convinced in my mind that Jeff had been systematically kicking socks into dark corners for weeks and weeks, I started moving garage stuff around. I moved the rolling storage cart. A t-shirt. I moved the extra trash can. A soiled oil rag. I became a contortionist and stuck my entire head under the hot water heater. A sock. One.

And then I gasped. Unbeknownst to me, there is a spot in our garage not visible to anyone but a contortionist. On the floor behind a bookshelf, wedged between the hot water heater and the furnace, blocked by a sewing cart piled high with mending, demurely sat my missing socks. Spilling out of a box. Just as I suspected! Stashed for company! But way back there? How did Jeff manage that?

I wrestled the sewing cart out of the way and edged sideways toward the box of socks. It wouldn’t budge—our box of weights. About a hundred pounds of weights in the bottom of the box if memory served. So how did the socks get into the weight box?

I picked up one sock. It stunk. The next sock was slightly damp. What was that smell? Was it…pee? I dropped both socks and squinted at the box. Was that an indentation? A perfectly round indentation? Like one might find in…a nest? The third sock I moved uncovered droppings. Rat droppings! Rat droppings?! My skin began to crawl.

Before nausea overcame me completely, I shimmied back through the garage, over Laundry Sea, and scrounged around in the medicine cabinet for a pair of blue latex gloves. Our enormous, fierce, black cat rubbed up against my legs. I narrowed my eyes at him and spat, “Freeloader! You’re falling down on the job, Jack!” He looked back at me indolently.

Donning the gloves, I headed back to the garage. One by one I pulled socks, dish cloths, dish towels and underwear out of that box, shaking rat paraphernalia out of each one. Then I heard it. A skittering. Coming from…behind the box? Was there a hole back there?

Eyes wild, I snatched up one of Jeff’s tools and banged it as loud as I could against the side of the furnace, hoping to scare the rodent away. I just knew a giant rat was going to jump out of nowhere and draw blood by sinking sharp, angry teeth through my latex glove. I was, after all, systematically dismantling his home.

The skittering stopped. I finished emptying the box, down to the weights, and there, at the bottom, I finally found them. The pairs to all my new fuzzy Christmas socks. The first thing the rat had taken. My lips became a thin line as my brow furrowed. My feet had so been looking forward to a cozy, fuzzy winter. That greedy rat stole my cozy winter from me. This was war!

Behind the box I found a large hole leading under the house. And vanishing rebelliously into that hole was a steady stream of my socks! Slowly, one at a time, I pulled back into the light every sock I could see. No way was I going to reach my hand back in that hole to search for any socks I couldn’t see. Huh-uh. Nope. But, oh, I knew they were there!

I called Jeff. No answer. I tried again. No answer. This was too juicy for voicemail, so I just kept trying. Seven times. On his lunch break, he retrieved his phone from his truck and returned my call. I mean calls. I launched into my tale of the day’s events and ended with a breathless question: “Will you go into the crawlspace for me tonight and look for more socks?” Nope. It’s not big enough for a person under there. Unwilling to concede, I suggested, “Maybe we could send Jack...”

And then Jeff said something I am still coming to terms with. In his most gentle voice, he said, “Babe, if there are any socks under the house, you’re going to have to let them go.” A deep sense of incompleteness filled me. I pictured my forlorn socks, gathering dust and mold underneath my house, separated from me by only a thin layer of flooring, completely inaccessible, so close, yet so far away. I sighed.

I gathered up all the salvaged laundry and dumped it in the utility sink, rat droppings and all. That extra deep utility sink was nearly half full of recovered clothing. I shivered involuntarily as I imagined the rat helping himself to Laundry Sea, taking what he could carry and chewing the rest full of holes! He ate our bed sheet! Outsmarted by a rodent! For two and half months! The nerve!

A teeny tiny little voice in the back of my mind, probably the rat, said to me, “If you didn’t leave dirty clothes on the garage floor for months on end…” Humph.

In the evening, Jeff came home, rat poison in hand, and went to battle against that rat. He scrutinized the droppings until he had memorized every feature, and then he went online to find out what kind of rat we had (a Norwegian rat) and how best to combat it. After a few days, several blocks of rat poison, and a tiny mousetrap that produced nothing but a blinding rat headache, we finally made it to the store to get a rat trap.

Two days we waited. Then one evening as Jeff and I sat reading quietly in the living room, we heard the unmistakable snap of the rat trap! Jeff’s eyes widened as he sprang out of his chair and headed for the garage door. He didn’t have a clear view of the trap from the door, so I was very alarmed when he immediately closed the door nearly all the way and proceeded to peek around it. There sat the rat, facing away from the door, rocking back and forth, stunned by its recent encounter with the trap.

I could not believe that rat was alive, right on the other side of my door. I clung to my chair in fright. Without realizing what I was saying, I screeched at Jeff, “Don’t let that thing come in the house!!”

Jeff closed the door almost all the way, which was not enough for me. He walked quickly through the living room with his lips pressed tightly together and rummaged around in the back of the house, searching for a weapon. He soon emerged brandishing a closet dowel. On his way back through the living room, he nodded reassuringly at me as if to say, “I’ve got it covered.”

Nevertheless, I felt the need to squeak out a nervous, high-pitched question, “What are you going to do with that?”

He paused and looked over at me, responding with all the gentleness a mighty warrior can muster, “Kill the rat.”

Perched safely in my arm chair with my legs pulled off the floor, I wrapped my flimsy throw blanket protectively around my shoulders. I looked over at Jack the cat, sleeping on the job again, and remonstrated him, “Jack, there are exciting events taking place in the garage, and you should be participating!”

Jeff stepped into the garage with his club two feet above the rat’s head and smacked it squarely across the shoulder. The rat turned around and ran straight toward him!! He took a step back and swung again, this time smashing the rat’s head. He felt the crunch of rat skull against concrete as adrenaline coursed through his veins.

With warrior chest puffed out, Jeff marched back into the living room, victory written all over his face, and proudly proclaimed, “DONE! The rat is dead.”

I wanted to see the dead rat, but I asked Jeff to hit it again for me first, just to make sure it was deceased and not simply stunned unconscious. He said, “I hit it pretty hard, right on the head…I don’t want to smear rat brains all over the garage floor by hitting it again.”

So I got up, clutching my little throw blanket like a shield. Jeff, who was keeping an eye on the rat, didn’t tell me until later that as I approached the scene, the rat rolled over and twitched several times. By the time I got there, it was lying on its side, fresh blood oozing out of its brain cavity, right outside my dining room door.

It was really quite a beautiful rat. Nice, healthy, shiny coat. Big, fat thing. Long ratty tail. Dead as a doornail. Jeff scooped it into a bucket of water and buried it the next day.

When Jeff came home that first night and went to battle against the rat, he also did something else. He picked up Laundry Sea, put it in baskets, and stacked it atop the washer. Not one piece of clothing, dirty or clean, has touched the floor of the garage since that day.

So, you see, God answered my prayers in His own perfect, sovereign, humorous way. In one fell swoop, He restored my family’s socks and taught me unequivocally to maintain better laundry habits. He made the alternative worse—much, MUCH worse—with His truly indescribable gift of a Norwegian Rat. Which we viciously bludgeoned to death. All I can say is the Lord gives, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

But last night, as Jeff and I were climbing into bed, we heard…skittering.