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Christmas in July

Sometimes our kids surprise us. And sometimes they really surprise us. This month was a time when one of our daughters and her family really surprised us by giving us our Christmas present in July.

At this point in the year, Christmas is far back in my mind. So far back that I'm not even thinking about it. Although my wife might be thinking about what to buy the kids or grandkids for Christmas in July, I'm more concerned with more pressing issues. Like keeping the grass in the lawn under a degree of control, ensuring that the thermostat is working to combat the heat and humidity of the area, and contemplating what I'm going to write for next week's blog post.

But Daughter No. 3 was thinking far, far ahead several months ago. She called and said, "Don't plan anything for the middle of July. We're giving you your Christmas present then. But you have to meet us in Pennsylvania to get it."

She lives in Michigan. We live in South Carolina. And we were to meet in Pennsylvania?

As the saying goes, "You don't look a gift horse in the mouth." We made the trek to PA. There, in Gordonville, PA, our daughter and son-in-law had rented a whole-house AirBnB for three nights. After we all had had a day to recuperate from our respective drives and browsed the numerous shops in the community and adjacent Intercourse and Bird in Hand, PA, they were taking us to the Sight and Sound performance of "Queen Esther." Then, the next morning, they were taking us for a tour of Hershey's Chocolate World.

Seeing our daughter, son-in-law, two grandsons, and our first granddaughter was the highlight. We hadn't seen them all since pre-COVID. Experiencing Sight and Sound and Chocolate World were icing on the candy bar.

And speaking of candy bars, each of the various programs we attended during the Chocolate World tour handed out samples as we exited the room. By the time we got to the "Unwrapped" portion of the tour, for which each person was given a pencil box-sized tin of assorted samples plus a full-size Hershey milk chocolate bar, we were almost sick of chocolate and filled with enough sugar to keep all of us--adults as well as kids--awake and wired for hours.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the Hershey tour (other than actually getting to eat all those chocolate samples) was the "Make Your Own Candy Bar" adventure. Each of us adults took a child in hand and helped them navigate the computer kiosks where they determined the kind of chocolate for the starting point (milk, dark, or white chocolate), ordered the various ingredients of their candy bar, and designed their wrapper. Then we followed the conveyor, watching the machines create each bar according to the "recipe" we had entered into the computer. Then we wandered around what has to be the world's largest candy store (at least the largest solely devoted to Hershey's products), calling upon all our willpower not to buy every favorite (or untried) form of candy offered.

"Queen Esther" is an indescribably amazing production. A cast of hundreds. A stage that wraps from one back corner, across the front, and around to the other back corner, rivaling the size of a football field in length. Live animals. Well, all of them were live except the mother elephant and her baby, but the baby put on a show all by itself. The performance was so long that an intermission had to be included. (I wondered why on earth it would take three hours to perform when it would take only about 20 minutes to read the entire book of Esther.) But the time passed quickly because we were so enthralled by the magnificence of the performance. It was interlaced with Scripture texts and that from not only the book of Esther but also much of the rest of the Bible. All conveying the same time-honored and critical message of the gospel.

As our thank you to our daughter and her family for such a wonderful (and wholly unexpected) array of gifts, we took them all to the famous Shady Maple Smorgasbord in Lancaster, where we gorged ourselves on good ol' Pennsylvania Dutch cooking from an approximately 200-foot assortment of foods of every imaginable sort. My wife and I had experienced Shady Maple when we lived in southeastern PA, but that had been 30-plus years ago. The place was much bigger now.

My wife and I never have seconds, even of foods we like. We're just small eaters. But at Shady Maple we both had seconds. Confession time: I even went back for thirds! But I knew to leave room for dessert. (I didn't go back for seconds on dessert; I got five different types of desserts on firsts!)

We got back home earlier this week exhausted. But it was a satisfying exhaustion. And we have memories that will last a lifetime. I hope the grandkids remember them, too. But perhaps most amazing of all is the fact that I didn't gain a single pound in spite of my gluttonous overindulgence while we were there.

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