Burton on the Bay:
The Spice of Shopping for the Spouse
No matter how well you know one another, the gift is never right

At Christmas I no more desire a rose

Than wish a snow in May's new fangled mirth

	-Love's Labour's Lost: Shakespeare.


William, sometimes it takes a bit of figuring to get what you were trying to tell us in those plays we suffered through in high school. But on this one, you've told it like it was and remains at Yuletide. I couldn't agree with you more.

With the big day coming next week, I've got a few things to say about Christmas presents - though I don't want to sound like Ebenezer of Dickens fame. I prefer the word "balderdash" to "bah humbug," I'd starve before I ate gruel and I never had a partner named Marley.

Yet I can appreciate the Scrooge outlook at this time of year. How many gaudy yellow ties can one who rarely ties even a subdued one around his neck get under the tree? Or how many bottles of shaving lotion when the recipient's face hasn't been touched by a razor since 1966?

And how does one go about trying to respond with a cheery and sincere thank you when he's wondering where he might wear that tie? Or for whose birthday he can re-wrap the stinky face splashing and stinging liquid for a recycled gift?

There are times when the old response "Gee, you really shouldn't have" is indeed appropriate.


I Shouldn't Have

Which reminds me of a gift I gave wife Lois in the Christmas of '68. She meant it when she spewed out those words with no effort to make them sound like an expression of humble, appreciative holiday spirit.

In the summer, we'd traipsed around Mexico City for a week or more, and I saw this yellow low-cut dress with a mini-skirt at the bottom and a lot of Spanish dancer ruffles in between. Lois was young, short hemlines were in style, and I kinda thought that with that skirt on, a rose in her mouth and some tequila in her tummy, it would add spice to our marriage.

So I sneaked back and bargained with the man behind the counter, settled for a bunch of pesos, hid it in my luggage, then secreted it again at home until the holiday season when I wrapped it and stashed it under the tree. Now that's sentiment.

Christmas morning, I got "Gee, you shouldn't have" and a peck on the cheek for thanks but not once thereafter did I see the dress on my wife, not once. She was a grammar school teacher at the time and mumbled something about what would parents of her students think if they saw her attired in a dress that couldn't have more than a yard of cloth in the whole shebang.

Now, I'm a persistent chap, so the following October, I sneaked the unworn - probably never even tried on for a private fit - dress from her closet. She never missed it. Come December, I wrapped it again and back under the tree it went.

This time, the "Gee, you shouldn't have" lacked any holiday spirit. I've since often wondered where that dress ended up. It certainly wasn't appropriate to donate to the Salvation Army, and I never noticed any yellow dust cloths with ruffles around the house.


The Annual Dilemma

Come to think of it, that dress wasn't big enough to polish the top of a nightstand. Since then, among the top of my concerns as Christmas approaches is what to buy Lois.

A toaster or pasta maker would hurt when it bounced off my head. A gift certificate or hard cash, to her way of thinking, is an indication of lack of holiday/matrimonial spirit. She doesn't ski or play tennis much any more, and if I gave her tickets to the ballet, she'd make me, ugh, accompany her, which would call for wearing one of those hideous yellow ties with my cheeks and beard soaked in Old Spice or some other stifling concoction.

Daughter Heather can't tell a fib with a straight face any more, which rules out her doing the shopping for me, because if the gift is a dress or coat that Lois likes she always asks both of us if Hez did the shopping. If it's something Lois doesn't like, there's always the potential for the subject of that yellow dress being resurrected.

So what's a fellow who appreciates his wife to do at this time of year?

If he picks out, say, a navy blazer he is embarrassed when reminded she already has three. If it's a fine wool skirt of plaid, he learns she has nothing to match it. And there's the hint he should do some more, ugh, shopping.

A dozen years or so ago when Heather was young enough to tell a white lie convincingly, she rummaged through the catalog of a furrier with me. We selected a silver fox jacket, I wrote the check and over the phone was promised delivery before Christmas. I felt kinda smug in a bankrupt way.

Day after day, I watched for a delivery truck, which never arrived, so a couple days before Christmas, I called the furrier to be told apologetically, "Sorry, the item is so popular none will be available until January or maybe February."

So there I was practically on Christmas Eve - with Heather back at West Virginia University 230 miles away - scurrying around solo trying to find a blazer of a different color or perhaps a plain wool skirt that would match something in the closet. And at a good price because I was already broke, having paid for the silver fox up front.

Ever try shopping for the little lady a day or two before Christmas? I finally found an affordable item or two so generic I wasn't concerned about fitting or matching, clipped a picture of the silver fox, put it in a large gift box and stashed it under the tree with a note of promise and apology.

The jacket didn't arrive until the weather was getting warm enough to send it to storage, and by the next fall, animal rights activists had taken to tossing bottles of ink at women wearing furs, so the silver fox got about as much usage as that infamous yellow dress.


The Burton Solution

That's why I've come up with a new routine as the holiday approaches this year. What woman can not be impressed with a Nordstrom label?

I'll meander therein, head for women's wear, select a garment or two, look for a lady of the approximate height, girth, configuration and age of Lois, ask her to hold the dress or whatever snug against her form to determine if it would fit and is appropriate for someone of her generation.

Hopefully the gold and silver Nordstrom gift box will be so impressive it will obscure minor shortcomings in selection. And so elegant is that box, it won't need any wrapping, which can be as intimidating as going shopping in the first place.

And if Lois doesn't like big time what's in the box, I can blame that obliging anonymous "model" in the store and get on with opening my gifts. Which any kid can tell you is what Christmas is all about.

| Issue 50 |

Volume VII Number 50
December 16-22, 1999
New Bay Times

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