"He has the best socks in Okaloosa County, toes down."

BLUEWATER BAY – One sock drawer isn’t enough for James Diddle.


He has two filled to the brim with eclectic patterned knee socks in his room at the American House Bluewater Bay. Diddle, 89, estimates he has more than 70 pairs of outlandish socks.


"I like wearing them and I like people taking note of them, because they always smile and ask me, ‘What do you got on today?’" Diddle said. "A lot of times I wear them, people make me pull up my pant legs. It’s fun – that’s why I do it."


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Outreach director Donna Brannon said Diddle’s daily sock choice makes the other residents happy.


"It makes you forget about any troubles you have and you just gotta laugh for awhile," Brannon said. "He has the best socks in Okaloosa County, toes down."


Diddle turns 90 May 30 and he plans to wear a pair of socks featuring birthday candles that he received from the American House staff. He suspects Brannon had something to do with the thoughtful gift.


Brannon adores seeing Diddle and the other residents daily.


"I never thought I would like a job like this, but it’s one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve had in my life," Brannon said. "I have 50 new sets of grandparents in my life. They have great stories to tell. Some tell them too many times, but that’s OK."


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While the facility hasn’t been on complete lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak, the residents are encouraged to limit their trips outside. Diddle’s socks help.


"It’s a little stir crazy here," Brannon said. "When there’s so many people living under one roof and you’re not allowed to hang out, it makes it even more difficult to find a reason to smile. I know I like coming to work just so I can see Papa Diddle’s socks."


Diddle’s sock collection started while he was living in California a few years ago. He remembers wearing a pair of knee socks into the dining room one morning in early spring.


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"One of my fellow friends giggled at me and snorted and says, ‘Look at his bony knees,’" Diddle said. "I went out and bought the ugliest pair of socks I could find to retaliate. He thought that was funny and some other people thought it was funny. It hit me that us people need things to do, something to talk about and a chance to smile again. That’s why I pursued it."


Diddle has socks with food items, animals, sports balls, comics and more. Some are subtle.


"There’s one in particular of yellow chickens running around, baby chicks, with magnets behind them, drawing arrows toward them," Diddle said. "I couldn’t figure it out. It took me awhile and one of the ladies in the restaurant said, ‘That’s a chick magnet.’"


His favorite pair currently is extra relevant.


"You remember how hard it was to get toilet paper here awhile ago?" Diddle said. "I got one (pair) that has toilet paper all over it. I like that one pretty well."


Diddle has two daughters, Beth in California and Luanne in Tennessee. While most of Diddle’s socks are from Walmart, Luanne, aka "Middle Diddle," gave him a pair for Christmas that only he has.


"She had them made especially with one of my early pilot training pictures with helmet and goggles and the whole thing," Diddle said. "There must be 20 to 30 of those images on my socks."


Diddle spent 10 years flying airplanes and 20 as a desk officer. It was a good career, he said.


Diddle has lived a good life, but like everyone else, he needs a reason to smile. Billie, his wife of 67 years, died earlier this year.


"I have my moments when I feel sad about everything when I think about the last few days of her life," Diddle said. "But, the support there is around here is remarkable and it’s very reassuring. I would imagine two-thirds of the people have gone through it already, lost a spouse and lives through it. There’s a lot of support. I think I’m doing alright."


Diddle isn’t sure how Billie felt about his socks.


"I think she tolerated it for my sake," Diddle said. "There was a saying I had for her that she had a heart of a gold and the soul of an angel, and that’s exactly what’s on her headstone at the Memorial Cemetery in Pensacola right now. That’s the way I felt about her and other people did, too."


"I think she liked it," Brannon said. "She would always smile at me when she would notice me looking at his socks and I think that made her happy."