Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You Can't Beat Home Sweet Home

To me, the highlight of the Christmas season is our annual Bartow Family Christmas Gathering. The locations shifts from year to year, as someone(s) bravely offers to host. The crowd varies a little from year to year, depending on who has to work or honor other obligations. But believe it or not, most of us show up, assigned dish in hand, ready to talk real loud and reconnect.

This year, we made our way up to cousins Steve and Kittie's farm in Dahlonega, Georgia. It was pouring rain, so a hayride was not on, but the weather did not stop the fun. And there was more gold crowded into that kitchen than ever was discovered in the surrounding Georgia hills.

The little kids kept themselves busy running around, up and down the stairs and out the front door to the porch swing, finding and hoarding candy and cookies. It's a wonder they weren't all pea-green and throwing up by the end of the event, but they somehow managed to ingest massive quantities of sugar and churn it around without any dire consequences. Ah, youth! Most of the guys stayed glued to the Falcons-Giants game on TV, while the preteens stayed glued to their smart phones. The rest of us settled first one place, then another, catching up on life over the past year.

And the food! You could've made a meal of the appetizers alone - cheesy dips, layered scrumptious concoctions, bite-sized tomato/mozzarella bits, and more. But, no. We don't do anything by halves. Chicken, ham, and a fabulous smoked pork loin, plus casseroles galore, were too, too tempting, even if we'd filled up on the pre-lunch cheesy stuff. And dare I mention the desserts? A fabulous multi-layered, artistically decorated cake, scrumptious cookies, and bowls of candy could not be passed up, either. And the wine and sweet tea flowed.

Let's talk about those bowls of candy. Several weeks before the event, Kittie, the party-planning Queen, had asked those of us of a certain age to let her know our favorite childhood candy. To our delight - and the delight of small children decades removed from our own childhoods - the bowls were full of those little wax bottles, Zero candy bars, Bit-o-Honey (my personal fav), and Double-Bubble. Of course, that got the subsequent generations talking about Laffy Taffy and Jolly Ranchers, as we all dipped into the candy bowls.

But the thing about these annual gatherings isn't the food or the weather or the location. It's the love and the laughter. It's remembering those Bully Bartow sisters (my mother and my aunts) who ran the show for most of our lives. It's knowing that we do, truly, have each other, no matter what. Yes, the weather kept us inside most of the day, but we never ran out of things to talk and laugh about.

The rain did let up every now and then. At one of these breaks, GrandBoy and I took a little walk down the road to see if we could find any cows out and about. We made it down to the gate across from the big red barn, and there, across the field taking shelter under some trees, were the cows. It delighted Liam to no end.

Yes, that's memorable. But the whole day was memorable. For the holidays, you can't beat home sweet home!

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