Turn right at Patapsco, Mike Kazmarek says. And gives the address.
The outside is decorated, Betty Kazmarek says. "But most of the things are in the inside."
When it comes to describing their Christmas decorations, Mike and Betty Kazmarek are masters of understatement.
Where to begin? Let's say this right off -- the Kazmareks have about 300, colorfully lighted, animated Christmas dolls neatly arranged in nearly every available space on the first floor of their typically small South Baltimore rowhouse. Back to that later.
If you visit the house, though, you will first pause outside. The 1400 block of Patapsco St. is a quiet, residential area. So this rowhouse in the middle of the block is immediately recognizable as the one as soon as you pull around the corner.
How? Well, the giant dancing reindeer are one giveaway. Then there are the life-size dolls on the rooftop, and a life-size Santa Claus on the ground level. Lights in the shape of a Christmas tree and a star are on the roof. Just in case those aren't enough clues, just listen: Christmas carols piped from the inside play softly in the cold air.
This must be the place.
Then peek in the door. Try to close your mouth and lift your chin off your chest as the sight bombards you. Glory be! What have the Kazmareks done to their home?
There are Christmas dolls everywhere. They are up, they are down, they are to the right, to the left. Then Mike Kazmarek flicks a few switches and all these wondrous Christmas dolls are moving, blinking -- some are even talking. And, and, say it ain't so! But it is. There's even a sunglasses-wearing, rapping Santa Claus doll.
No time to pause. There to the right, a stuffed dog is barking to the tune of "Jingle Bells." On the left -- is that a duck quacking the same tune?
"It's a chicken," Mike Kazmarek says.
"No, it's a duck," Betty Kazmarek says.
Whatever it is, it is squawking "Jingle Bells." Nuff said.
But there is plenty more -- and more and more.
There are two life-size Santa Clauses, one which looks eerily real as he follows you with his eyes. Another sings, talks and looks as if he is about to get up and do a jig any minute. There are plenty of smaller versions. There are Santas in rocking chairs, Disney characters in Santa suits, teddy bears dressed in Santa suits. Some Santas are climbing up little trees. Other Santas are climbing up and down mini-ladders and light poles. Ladders and light poles? Go figure. Move on to the angels, which are every which way, including up.
Let's try an easier question than chicken or duck. Why, Kazmareks? Please tell us, why?
"It does me good to know people are getting enjoyment out of this," Betty Kazmarek says.
"I do it because I like to see people come in here and see their expressions," Mike Kazmarek says.
The Kazmareks do this in their spare time because both work for a company that makes deliveries to ships. And, this is meant in the kindest of ways, they sort of look like Mr. and Mrs. Claus guarding over their flock. Well, especially Betty, with her beautiful snow-white hair.
Like any great collection, it all began with one item: a 42-inch tall angel.
"I bought that first angel 16 years ago," Betty says. Where others might have added a few more, Betty Kazmarek couldn't stop. She bought more and more and, at least at first, had to persuade her husband that this was all somehow worth it.
After a few years, Mike Kazmarek found himself caught up in the rapture of it all. Then he became the one trooping around to different stores scouting out best buys on animated Christmas dolls.
"I used to give her cain for spending the money," he says while gazing at all the "little ones" around him.
"Yeah, he used to holler about the money," she says.
"But then I got into it," Mike says. "Now, the only thing we argue about is when I am going to get started putting it all out!"
Now, he either waits until the price drops on something he wants or negotiates to get the price lower. Still, this is no inexpensive hobby. When the Kazmareks began their collection, the dolls ran somewhere around $150 a doll. Now the most expensive one is about $500.
But the collection is a pleasure to have around, they say, adding that many of the dolls are no longer being made.
"Last Christmas Day I fell and broke my ankle," she says. "And they kept me company." She smiles when she says this lest anyone think the couple is totally over the edge.
It takes the Kazmareks, who have adult children but live alone, about six weeks to set everything up. They allow people to walk in and enjoy the scene, and the neighborhood is now used to the sight.
"It is incredible," says a neighbor who has lived on the block for about 30 years. "They put a lot of love into it. And a lot of money. And I don't have to decorate my house!"
"People always tried to give us money, but I was insulted," Mike fTC Kazmarek says. "I did not do this for the money."
However, since people really wanted to show their appreciation for the Kazmareks opening up their home, the couple now display a jar for anyone wishing to donate, although it is not necessary.
"We use the money for the BG&E; bill," he says.
The couple's electricity bill usually runs at least $100 over a normal month's total, he says.
Mike takes pride in pointing out his "system." On one top shelf are all the nightshirt-wearing Santas. The doggies in the Christmas stockings are grouped together over there. And over here are the Mickey Mouse Santas. And so on.
They will keep everything up a few weeks after Christmas, then )) all the dolls go back into their original boxes and into the basement. The furniture comes out of the basement and back where it belongs.
Then usually, after Christmas, it's time for the Kazmareks to shop for new additions. But it doesn't look like that will be the case this year.
There is no more room at the Kazmareks'.
"Yes," she says. "I think we are finished.
"Yes," he agrees. "I think so."
But he is not happy about it.
"I go into a store and see things and it hurts," he says. "But we have no more room."
Well, they may have run out of room, but they are passing the tradition on.
Christine Granville is married to Betty Kazmarek's son, George, and is the mother of two girls, ages 9 and 12.
"The girls do look forward to it," says Granville who also enjoys the display. In fact, the family enjoys it so much, they are considering taking over where Mike and Betty are leaving off.
"She has gotten us into it," Granville says of her mother-in-law. "But we are just getting started."
Pub Date: 12/25/96