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We shared Thanksgiving through a portal

By the time most people read this column, Thanksgiving will have come and gone. Was yours delicious? It may not have had all the family and friends around the table you prefer, but hopefully you enjoyed copious amounts of traditional holiday foods in which indulging, especially this year, feels almost required.

My husband and I made a major residential relocation five months ago so we could be closer to our children and grandchildren for the holidays. Our daughter and family now live less than a half hour away from us. Our son and his girls are only a few hours to the north.

That said, after a lot of familial discussion, moments of which were quite anguished, our family elected to spend this Thanksgiving — and most probably the Christmas holidays — separately. We weighed all the factors and reflected on risk-reward. Like many families, our decision involved an immune-compromised grandpa, a son-in-law who was an essential worker and exposed to community spread every day at his work site, and a son who is a cross-country pilot. The recent surge in COVID-19 cases was a big consideration for us, as was the CDC guidelines and the governor’s mandate.

As I reflect however, I think the tipping point was recognition that if we all convened at one location, each of us would feel we had to stay masked constantly throughout Thanksgiving Day, except when we were eating the aforementioned traditional holiday foods. As my daughter said, “If we all wear our masks correctly all day long, will we be able to smell the roasting turkey?”

Once we leaned into the decision to be thankful in separate locations, our intention became to create small adventures that make this decision not only more tolerable but celebratory in a new way. Enter technology. Each household in our family circle has been using the Portal system, a “Facebook Portal 10-inch smart display with Alexa” for almost two years. We bought our children Portals as a gift. Easy to set up — fun to use.

The device appears to have dropped in price, and I can attest to the system’s constant attempts to improve the experience. We easily move our Portal to any room of the house. On Thanksgiving, the three-dimensional display allowed us to do everything from cooking together to playing charades. We placed it on the table and in effect ate together too. It works for us — it is the way I provide audio-visual mentoring to my second-grade grandson every weekday. It allowed our adult granddaughter, who we have not seen for over two years, to introduce her new pups and her new boyfriend.

I am surprised that Portal is not being talked about more, advertised more. I have not run into anyone we mention it to who has one. But I have encouraged a lot of people to go to Amazon or a big-box retailer and consider purchase. It’s the Christmas gift that keeps on giving. The only thing you won’t get is the smell of roasting turkey.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator; reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.