For the 2020 Christmas dinner there were seven places around Jeff and Elaine Hanson’s table. The two of them, their two kids, Jeff’s parents, Dale and Donna, and Elaine’s laptop.
“I think we’re spending more time with extended family this year than ever,” Donna said. Before and during Christmas dinner the Hansons had caught up, on-screen, with Elaine’s mom, Dale’s sister in Ottawa, one of Donna’s cousins from Yorkton, and Elaine’s sister and her kids.
“After looking at my face on that screen so much, I’m starting to feel like a movie star,” Dale said.
“Hope you’re not going to start wearing makeup,” his son Jeff said, between bites of mashed potatoes and turkey gravy.
Six-year-old Jenny had learned a lot about makeup at her dance recitals, and the idea of her Grandpa Dale with blue eyeshadow and pink blush made her laugh so hard she spit some of her green Jello salad out on the table.
Then Elaine’s laptop played the electronic FaceTime music and it was time for the Hansons to go live on the internet again.
“Don’t forget to save a little room for pie,” Elaine warned. “I cooked up the last of the garden pumpkins.”
“Who needs a wine refill before we take another call?” Donna asked.
This FaceTime call was coming from Dale and Donna’s daughter Trina, her husband Tom, and Tom’s parents, all gathered around a table in Georgia.
“Happy second anniversary,” the Hansons called to Trina and Tom.
“I wish you weren’t married,” said 10-year-old Connor.
“What? Why?” Trina asked. She thought her niece and nephew loved her husband.
“Because then we could all go back to Hawaii and you could get married again,” he said.
Jenny remembered that trip. “We swam at the pool and the beach on the same day!” she said.
“It’s a shame you two couldn’t come home for the holidays,” Jeff said.
Tom grinned. “I am home!” He held up his dinner plate full of Southern food, showing off thick-sliced ham, biscuits, and at least four vegetables Jeff didn’t recognize. “My mom’s the best cook in the state.”
“We wanted to come,” Trina said. “But we would’ve had to self-isolate for 14 days before we could even see you.”
“We know,” Donna said.
“I think of the farm every time I hear a Christmas carol,” Trina went on. “I even miss the winter weather.”
All the Hansons and Trina’s husband broke out in laughter. Trina had complained loudly about cold weather since she was old enough to talk.
“Connor’s getting a new bedroom,” Jenny called out when the laughter slowed.
“Oh?” Trina said.
“Yep,” Jeff said. “With harvest finished before September, we had the fall work done early and we had some extra time on our hands. And since Mom and Dad can’t take a holiday, Dad and I’ve been finishing up the basement.”
“Doing it yourself?” asked Trina’s husband Tom.
“Yep,” Jeff said.
“How’re you making out?” Tom asked. “Dad and I were thinking of doing some work on his place.” Tom’s farm family had a lot in common with the Hansons. The southern climate was different, but both families would rather buy the tools and learn how to do a new job than hire someone to do it.
Jeff grinned. “I’ll show you!” he said. “I’ll unplug this laptop and take it down to the basement.”
Jeff was reaching around the back of Elaine’s laptop to unplug the power cord when Trina piped up.
“No! Wait. There’s something we wanted to tell you while we have all of our parents together.”
This got everyone’s attention. Jeff moved away from the screen so the Hansons could see Trina as she kept talking.
“We’re going to have a big change in our lives this spring,” she said. “We’re…”
And then the Hansons’ WiFi cut out. Trina’s voice stopped, and her face froze on the screen with her mouth open in an unflattering position.
“Oh no!” Elaine said.
“I’ll try rebooting the router,” Jeff said. He pushed his chair back from the table and rushed down the hall to his office.
“Everybody in the area’s likely online with their family today,” Dale said. “Probably overloaded the tower.”
“I bet Trina was going to tell us they’re getting a dog,” Connor said. “My friend Oscar is getting an inside dog for Christmas.”
Donna’s eyes lit up and a huge grin spread across her face.
Elaine watched her mother-in-law’s face. “You think so?” Elaine asked.
“Spring? Big change?” Donna said. “It must be.”
“Huh,” Dale said. “I’m still trying to get used to having two grandchildren.”
“We have to go down there,” Donna said to Dale. “I don’t care if we need to cross the border illegally on foot and self-isolate in a one-room hut.”
“Or you could just fly and rent a condo,” Elaine said.
“Could be seeding by then,” Dale said.
“What is everybody talking about?” Jenny asked.
Elaine knew it wasn’t her news to announce, but she couldn’t help herself. “You’re going to have another cousin!”
Jenny and Connor both frowned, trying to figure this out.
“Your aunt Trina’s going to have a baby,” Donna explained.
“Is it working now?” Jeff called out from the office.
Elaine checked her laptop. “No connection yet. I’ll give it a second.”
“Maybe we could hook up a hotspot from somebody’s phone,” Donna said. “Dale, can you get yours out? I used all my data and I’m throttled back.”
Dale pulled his phone out of his pocket, saying, “Or we could pretend it’s 2002 and actually use the phone to make a call.”
“We’re online,” Elaine said. “I’ll FaceTime Trina and get them back.”
Jeff came back, sat down in his chair, and helped himself to more turkey while they waited for Trina to come back on the screen.
“Anybody want me to pass these turnips?” Jeff asked.
“How can you eat with all this suspense?” Donna asked her son.
“I think I’ll ask her to get us a girl cousin,” Jenny said. “I can teach her about dancing.”
Finally, Trina and her husband were back online, next to Tom’s smiling parents.
“So will you come and visit?” Trina was asking.
“You won’t be able to stop Mom from visiting,” Jeff said.
“There’s going to be lots to do,” Trina said.
“There sure will,” Donna said.
“What about you, Jeff?” Tom said. “We can have a great time.”
This left the Hansons puzzled. Seeing the blank look on Jeff’s face, Tom explained. “Breweries. Castles. Battle sites.”
That did not clear up the Hansons’ confusion.
Jenny looked annoyed. “Do you mean we’re getting a boy cousin?”
Now Trina and her in-laws were confused.
“Our WiFi went down,” Donna said. “Before we got the whole story.”
“Oooooh,” Trina realized what her family had assumed. “No. That’s not it.”
“Me and Connor aren’t getting a new cousin?” Jenny asked.
“No,” Trina said. “Tom and I are getting job transfers to Germany. Both of us! For two years.”
The Hansons tried to pull themselves together and change direction.
“I would’ve rather had a cousin,” Connor said.
“Now I definitely need a wine refill,” Donna said. “And how about some of that pie, Elaine?”