Marie Barnes will never forget what she calls “The Night the Lights Went Out on Whitlock Avenue.”

It was the night of the Marietta Pilgrimage Preview and the former Georgia First Lady was in her element, ready to celebrate Christmas with a party for VIPs.

She had all of her new decorations ready to go, from the 19 lit-up Christmas trees that she got on a deal at AmericasMart in Atlanta created a forest in her basement.

All of her Christmas plates, nutcracker collection and Christmas lights were ready to go.

The stove was on, the freezers were being opened and shut and then her brother-in-law went to flip the switch and … everything went dark.

Marie and her husband, former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, were about to host a “Who’s Who of Marietta” and they suddenly had no power, with Roy left in the shower as he was trying to get ready with no lights.

That’s when Marie went into recovery mode, because not even this would prevent her from hosting a festive holiday evening.

She broke out all of her lanterns and candles, the real kind because the battery ones weren’t as prevalent then. She found little battery Christmas lights and placed them on the tables.

And she found 50 glowsticks she had for her grandchildren, took them out of the packages and handed them out one per table.

She also called Marietta Power trying to get the transformer to her home replaced. The bad part? They needed permission from their boss to install a larger transformer. The good part? He was on his way to the Barnes’ house for the event, so Marie simply called him and got that permission.

It took 45 minutes for the old transformer to cool down to be removed, but eventually the power was restored.

And the Christmas season at the Barnes’ home was saved again.

“I am just a kid who never grew up,” Marie said. “I love Christmas and I love seeing kids get Christmas presents.”

If there’s one thing Marie loves, it’s Christmas decorating and making people smile.

She decorated the upstairs when she lived in the Governor’s mansion, but her love for decorating really started after her son, Harlan, was born and she got a second Christmas tree.

Then she got another, and another, and then there was the day she bought 19. A woman from Arizona had ordered the trees and returned them and the manager of the Atlanta store had to get rid of them, so he made an offer to Marie that she couldn’t turn down.

So she created a forest with the 8- to 12-foot trees, some which can’t include the top because they are too tall for the ceiling, downstairs. They stay up year-round and her grandkids like to go down there, turn on the lights and watch TV.

She has everything from a nativity scene she purchased in Germany to a choir of angels who move like they are singing in her room to a Georgia Bulldogs-themed room and tree.

“If I find something unique and I can afford it, then that’s part of my Christmas decorations,” Marie said.

As the years have gone on, Marie has started keeping more and more of the decorations up year-round. All except the ones in the front yard of course, large ball ornaments and inflatables depending on the season.

Marie said that her three children joke that Santa threw up in her front yard.

“Marie has always loved Christmas,” said former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes. “And, around our house, Christmas is all year. She decorates all year for Christmas and it just when it gets close to Christmas when it gets on the outside.”

These days, more of Marie’s trees are artificial, though she has three real ones ordered this year already from Pike.

More and more of the decorations stay in their spot year to year and she is running low on space for decorations downstairs.

And there is something about those decorations that are soothing to her.

“I just like to come in here and turn on the Christmas lights when I go to bed sometimes and just be in that ambiance that that gives up,” Marie said. “I just like Christmas.”

COVID-19 over the past year and a half has changed some things. But not all of it.

They didn’t host their family and grandkids for Christmas Eve with Santa last year, instead they heated up the pool on a December day and got together outside.

And, a week after getting their COVID-19 vaccines last Dec. 30, they had COVID-19.

“We didn’t get it from the shot, obviously, but we didn’t get it very strong either,” Marie said.

This year, she isn’t certain what traditions will continue or change, though another pool party sounds fun.

As long as it involves Christmas, and decorating, she will be content.


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