Tom Ross: No place like online for the holidays |

Tom Ross: No place like online for the holidays

We'll do Skype for Christmas, you can count on us.

There comes a time in the lives of modern empty-nesters when they find themselves huddled around the wassail bowl, slurping mugs of spiced punch and stuffing Christmas stockings for one another, but not for their adult offspring. However, hanging a phantom stocking by the chimney with care, for a son or daughter who won't be there (I made a rhyme!) isn't as bad as it first sounds.

Luckily, (pending the outcome of an international software rights dispute) we can count on a Skype videoconferencing session to bring our families closer together for the holidays.

I should begin by saying that I might be the worst son any parent ever had when it comes to traveling home for the December holidays. I look forward to visits with my folks, I just don't tend to show up on Dec. 25 more than about once a decade.

They say that what goes around comes around, so I have no complaints to utter about my son's decision to remain close to his work in northern Maine for Christmas.

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And who could blame him after his four-day ordeal coming home for Christmas 2008?

Besides, we opened gifts together during a heartwarming videoconference Christmas morning. Toast was seated in front of his Mac laptop in the Fort Kent home of one of his surrogate families, the Bernards. Christmas breakfast was on the stove and they were having a joyeux Noel.

Skype has been around for a few years primarily as a means for people to place free long distance phones calls over the Internet, or to make international calls, as well as calls to cell phones and landlines for a very modest charge.

For our family, it's really been in the past year that we've discovered the joy of placing a phone call to a family member and being able to see them in real time (without any time lag), as if the conversation was taking place in person.

I had previously appreciated how much comfort families of members of the military derive from Internet video conferencing.

But until you experience the technology, you can't really understand how reassuring it can be — especially at the holidays.

So, we opened a gift from our son while he watched. It was a digital photo frame, pre-loaded with many images of himself and his friends enjoying the forests and mountains of Maine.

When you have a laptop loaded with Skype and a built-in video camera, you can point it at the Christmas tree, the hearth and the dining table to paint a complete Christmas tableaux.

We watched while Roy Bernard showed us the handmade ski rack he'd made for our son in his woodworking shop.

The affection the Bernards and the Bragdons (his hosts for Christmas Eve) over in Madawaska have for our adult son is a blessing.

Christmas 2009 wasn't a traditional holiday celebration at our household.

But it couldn't have been any more heartwarming. And none of us got stuck in an airport, a blizzard or both.

All that's left to say is: "Oh by golly, have a holly, jolly Skype-mas next year."

— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail

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