They call today Black Friday. Not the busiest shopping day of the year, but perhaps the busiest browsing one. The time when many of us are just beginning to make lists, check them twice, and then drive around those mall parking lots that make folks naughty instead of nice.
Tradition dictates readings from "A Visit From Saint Nicholas," and yet Dante's "Inferno" seems so much more appropriate. What are elves, anyway, but polite demons? An eggnog, please, hold the egg. In fact, hold the nog and just pass us the bourbon. Already we are grumpy, and there are still so many more pairs of Isotoner gloves to buy.
But Starr Burton is serene. And why not? The 30-year-old mother of two boys finished her Christmas shopping a week ago. We met her in the mid-November calm of Toys R Us, calmly pushing a shopping cart through the near-empty store. When she left, she was done.
Please -- don't hate her because she's well-organized.
After all, she is studying to be a regional planner in Morgan State University's graduate program. Circumstantial evidence suggests she has long been an amateur planner.
"I'm not as well-organized as I want to be, but I am my worst critic," she allows. Her townhouse in Northeast Baltimore has a spick-and-span quality that isn't easily achieved with a 7-year-old and a 3-year-old on the premises. Magazines fan out in perfect order across her coffee table. The kitchen appliances shine.
"Do you mind if I wash the dishes while we talk?" she asks.
It was back in mid-summer -- July to be exact -- that Burton began thinking about the coming Christmas season. Usually, her large family exchanges names for gift-giving at Thanksgiving dinner back in Benton Harbor, Mich.
"We don't give the natural, normal gifts in our family," she explains. "Some of the things we give, other people go, 'Huh?' For example, my brother buys huge boxes of detergent. I'm like -- 'Cool. I don't have to go to the store and buy detergent.' Look, sometimes we don't even wrap."
But Burton, the youngest of seven, wanted to break with the family's "Secret Santa" tradition and give something to every household this year. Using her home computer and a friend's scanner, she decided to make calendars with photographs of her and her sons. Each Burton birthday -- there are up to six in a single month -- would be noted on the appropriate date, along with the holidays.
As for her sons, Ian and Aaron -- well, they had lists of what they wanted. Lists of things seen on television, lists of things owned by a friend who is more often indulged. Unending mental lists of the latest bit of flash and dash to attract their eyes. I want, I want, I want.
Burton listens, but she doesn't heed. She has her own ideas of what her sons should get for Christmas, and her own ideas of how much. Even if she had all the money in the world, she says, she wouldn't indulge her sons' every whim.
Christmas cards? "I may pick friends I haven't been in touch with, write them long letters. I'll make the card on the computer and spend 32 cents on a stamp. Call me cheap if you want to, but that's what I bought the computer for."
The thing she loves is decorating. You can't put Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving, but Burton will start as soon as December comes around. Last year she had a tree with all-purple ornaments. This year, she's thinking red, because she has these little stockings she wants to hang along the banister with care. But you don't have to spend a lot to have a festive house. Burton swears by the bargains at Kmart and Family Dollar.
jTC "You know, I had to start thinking about Christmas early because I'm on a fixed income," she says. Isn't everyone? Burton laughs. "Yes, some higher than others. But you're right. No one gets a big raise in December."
Do you know a real-life George Bailey? A real-life Grinch? A family that celebrates ALL the holidays with equal fervor? To nominate a subject for Faces of the Season, call 410-332-6394 or 410-332-6478.
Pub Date: 11/28/97