Congratulations to Jenny Williams, our MSL ‘Treasured Garment Story’ Competition Winner

After I finished Year 12, I went to live in far North-Norway for a year on school exchange. One thing that became very important (and that had never really mattered before), were socks. In Australia I had gone about in bare feet, or in sandals, or at the most, thin cotton socks (that were always riddled with holes anyway). But, in the middle of January in far North-Norway, none of these choices was particularly practical. My feet were always frozen. I started wearing two or three pairs of socks at a time. Socks were particularly important in the home. You didn’t wear your shoes inside the house. It seems obvious when you think about it: no-one wants to track snow all over their lovely wooden floorboards. Everyone in Norway wore thick knitted socks all of which were decorated with a beautiful, distinctive snowflake pattern.

One day in early February, I went with my host mother to visit her mother-in-law. She lived in a yellow wooden house in the middle of a forest and I tried not to be too excited about it all seemed to be out of a fairytale. When we got inside, we took our shoes off, as usual. My host mother’s mother-in-law was sprightly woman in her early 80’s with completely white hair with a no-nonsense but friendly face. The old woman didn’t speak any English, however, so after a few nods in my direction she spoke to my host mother exclusively in Norwegian. Not yet able to speak the language, I sat silently on the couch in my threadbare socks, staring about the room awkwardly.

At one point, the old lady looked down at my feet and became quite distressed. ‘She’s worried about your socks,’ my host mother translated. The older woman was shaking her head at my feet, muttering away to herself. ‘She says the socks have holes in them, that they’re not warm enough,’ continued my host mother. ‘She wants to know if you have any others with you?’ I shook my head, smiled embarrassedly, and tried to explain that I was fine, but the older woman was already walking out the door of the living room, shaking her head and muttering to herself. A few minutes later she returned, bringing with her a pair of cream & black knitted socks, just like the ones my host family wore, with the distinctive snowflakes all over them. Sitting down, she handed met the socks, waving away my attempts to thank her in halting Norwegian. ‘Takk, takk, tusen takk’ (thanks, thanks, a thousand thanks).

The socks have become my most treasured possession. I only ever wear them in the house, curled up on the sofa or in the bed. Even now, so many years later, pulling on these socks with their beautiful hand-knitted snowflakes, I feel warm, loved and looked after.

By Jenny Williams

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