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Silver Threads: Black Friday and delinquent seasonal shopping

When I was 6 and for at least four Christmases later, my annual gift to my mother -- courtesy of a holiday shopping trip engineered by grandma -- was a bottle of Evening in Paris perfume.

I don’t recall what we paid for the fragrance, but since the brand, which disappeared in the ‘60s and has since been resurrected, now sells for $49 a bottle, it was probably about a dollar. If Mother had simply put the famous cobalt blue flask up, unopened, and willed it to me, I could sell it online today for about as much as it would take to buy a new one. I don’t know why anyone would want it, but the word “vintage” has a magical ring to collectors and there are websites dedicated to its sale.

I got to thinking about Christmas shopping the other day -- and who wouldn’t, what with “Black Friday” being blared all over the television and printed in 72-point type in newspaper ads and over stories in the financial pages?

Black Friday is something I’ve never been tempted to participate in, what with the presumed difficulties of parking anywhere near the stores and reports of the mayhem -- and, yes, even occasional fatalities -- at malls in other cities. Anyhow, I’m a confirmed last-minute shopper, in spite of having sworn Christmas after Christmas that I would NOT spend the late afternoon of Dec. 24 in search of yet another gift, and doing it again every year.

Ever since people began referring to the day after Thanksgiving as Black Friday, I’ve wondered about the term. Because retailers report that 20 percent of their annual sales are made then, I’ve reasoned that it must be an allusion to the black ink, once used on sales ledgers to denote assets, opposite the red ink splashed across the page when the company wasn’t doing so hot. Do I have that right? I’ve never been much of a business person.

I had thought that Black Friday was the day the stock market collapsed in 1929, but a search by Google taught me that it was the day in 1869 when  speculators Jay Gould and James Fisk ignited a financial crisis by trying to corner the gold market and causing it to collapse.  Google also divulged about half a dozen other Black Fridays, including ones on which a brush fire in Australia killed 71 people and a suffragette march in 1910 England turned ugly and violent.

So in addition to being a good day to stay at home, this latest Black Friday has taken on the name of some messy occasions.

But back to Christmas gifting -- in our early days of parenthood, before our children were old enough to have much opinion about what they wanted Santa to bring them, my husband and I would simply peruse that great big catalogue and circle tricycles, jungle-gym sets, those little cars you could pedal and the small kitchen counters with the tiny saucepans and sinks. We’d pick up all the stuff at the warehouse a few days before the 25th, and labor mightily setting it up, after the kids went to bed, on Christmas Eve. The drawback to shopping this way is the assembly, but it was about the only way a stay-at-home mom could shop.

Thirty years earlier, Mother dealt with Christmas shopping on her own, with Daddy almost invariably being one or two states away at work. We had a small new house with a screened-in back porch and an entrance to the attic, reached by a ladder, in the ceiling; it was there that she stowed our “Santa Claus.”

Since Daddy couldn’t get home until the next day, she set about getting it down by herself one Christmas Eve, after we had been to the nativity pageant at the Presbyterian church and my sisters and I had at last gone to sleep. My main “Santa Claus” that year, I remember, was a small maple bookcase to keep my Nancy Drew mysteries in, and it was that gift that tripped her up on the ladder.

“Don‘t ask,” she cautioned him, as she limped out ahead of us joyful kids when Daddy finally arrived the next day, for Christmas dinner at Grandma‘s house.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at[email protected].

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]