An Untitled Christmas Story
by Marilyn Perry

A Snowflake forms when an extremely cold water droplet freezes onto a dust particle in the sky. As the ice crystal falls to the ground, water vapor freezes onto the primary crystal, building new crystals that become the 6 arms of the snowflake.


It’s Christmas.

I’m all by myself at the top of a ski slope when snow falls. 


A flurry of snowflakes and Christmas memories surround me, I am breathless in the center.


Can I hold just one on my tongue until it melts, then capture another?


There is one big fat flake l’ll watch before it disappears. Perhaps not swallow it. Just watch it shimmer in this holiday storm.




When I married Jack, I came holding the hands of my two little girls. Trembling, we gave each other courage. People watched  as we walked  down the staircase, across the foyer toward the  hoopa.


The wedding was December first, and we were my Christmas offering. A three for one for the kind and funny little man I would marry. He believed we were a precious gift. A chance for another happy family after his wife died and his children became independent adults. He was 59. I was 40, the girls 7 & and 10.


We weren’t Jewish, but jack, an atheist,  liked the drama of a hoopa. He said it was a nod to his best friend Irv, a sometime devoted Jew. Jack also thought it would be romantic to smash a glass underfoot, but realized the impracticality on the gold shag carpet. I don’t know what our Presbyterian minister thought as he performed the ceremony.


We had Chinese food catered by Phil Ahn’s wife, Jack’s long time family friend who ran their Moon Gate restaurant in panorama city.


Our friend Dave sounded the first notes of  the Mendelssohn wedding march on the piano. More accurately, he flipped the switch on the player piano mechanism and sat with an unlit cigarette dangling from the corner of his smile.


He also was responsible to turn on the wedding march recessional disc in the big music box.


We had not planned our exit so went around the guests and re-emerged into the room from the foyer. Dave gamely kept flipping the switch to replay the recessional as we went around repeatedly for laughs. 




Jack had proposed the August before our wedding.


“Fine”, I said. “Call a moving van now and we’ll move into your place. The girls start school in September, and I don’t want them disrupted mid semester. My divorce is final November thirtieth, and we can marry December first. Unless you have other plans.”


I can be practical when necessary.


Dumbstruck, Jack realized he’d better stand behind his words. No good New Mexican man wants to be seen as “all hat, no cattle.”


I said, “Oh, and we’ll need a new cat box for Tommy. You can re-open the old dog door so he can come and go.”


He smacked his open palm against his forehead.


“No! I forgot about the cat! I suppose we have to bring the damned cat.”


“Of course. Who else would Vanessa dress in doll clothes and try to keep in the baby stroller? You’re too big.”


Tommy, the siamese, was a Christmas gift from my former husband who knew I always had a series of siamese rescue cats.  


He was told that between boyfriends or husbands, I mark my single status with a Siamese cats.


When I married her that third husband, I hoped my cat days were over.  My husband, work, and two daughters became my life.


The husband disappointed.



He knew what cats represented to me. Companions I’d cherish, a a consolation present to myself, a bittersweet symbol of my restless uncoupled life. A cat can gave solace. Especially to single people.


  Circumstances separated me from my cats. I thought about them when coupled but only longed for them when single and their Siamese baby like wail seemed to call me.





I like to think my husband forgot what a feline presence symbolized in my life when he presented me with a frightened squirmy kitten with needle claws on our last shared Christmas together.  I was silent and realized the time had arrived to accept what the cat gift meant to our troubled ten year marriage.


Soon, Tommy the Siamese, became the only male in our all female household.


Until Jack whistled in and I whisked him away.



Tommy and Jack both wanted to be alpha male and avoided or glared at each other. Tommy would often bait jack to chase him and always eluded capture. He’d often look at jack and swipe various objects to the the floor. Sometimes they broke. Only jack hissed.


Jack’s house didn’t feel like our home that December.

The girls tried to adapt. A hallway fronted the children’s second story bedrooms  and overlooked the downstairs entry room. The upstairs hallway led to a long staircase that soon served as a tempting sliding board slope for the children.


Cardboard or my pink silky half slip transformed into sleds, and children would whoop and bump down the stairs.


The cat, curled at the bottom, would bolt.

Tommy’s fur would react as if electrocuted. Ears flat, He would yowl & scamper out of the way and hide until Vanessa dragged him off for bedtime stories.


The girls were obsessed with the stairway bannister. It was hard to keep them from sliding down that seductive slippery walnut slope.  Unobserved, I’d take a slide myself, so I knew how delicious it could be. 


But that staircase was too high for little girls and there could be a dangerous drop to the gold shag carpeted entryway below. Jack was adamant they could not only fall, but could weaken the old bannister or impale themselves on the newel post that curled at the end.


“Oh, please.”

“Absolutely not!” he’d say, arms rigidly folded against his chest.


Before they improvised the sliding stair game, I’d catch one or the other girl on tippy toes as they tried to sneak a leg over that bannister. I think they were too afraid of their new stepfather to actually brave the descent.


After bedtime, that hallway was a perfect perch when they sneaked from bed. Tummies down, they peered through the spaces between the wooden posts in hopes to catch a glimpse of the adults below or catch snatches of forbidden conversations.


Like what Santa might bring.


They also probably overheard me say, “But why not let them slide down, if they do it while we watch.” “Absolutely not!”








All remarriages are born from loss


Jack and I, Vanessa and Ryan each dragged our own sack of loss.


We had no new rituals or shared memories. I wanted to stuff those hollow places with perfect holiday experiences, and feel the warmth of belonging that first Christmas together.


It wasn’t happening.



“Whose shoes are these I tripped over in the front hall?!” Jack said. “Vanessa, If it’s not your stuff I trip over, it’s that damned cat. I could break my neck!”


“So what! You deserve it!”, said my unrepentant youngest child. She stomped past him in stocking feet and charged up the stairs. The look she gave as dirty as her socks.


She reached the gallery and was almost to her room when Jack hurled her shoes up with as much force as he could. “Now put them away and don’t do it again!”


The little pink trimmed leather sneakers cleared the railing and banged on the hallway floor, far from Vanessas room. She turned back, ran across that walkway with a loud shriek, and threw the little shoes right back at Jack.


Also small and nimble, he ducked, picked them up and watched for more projectiles. Vanessa slammed her bedroom door. She finally opened it a crack for Tommy to slink in when he wailed his bereft baby cry.


“And take that damned cat with you!”




Jacks adult children said they’d come for a family Christmas celebration  before the holiday. I bought presents, hung monogrammed  stockings and set a festive table, but there were chilly last minute  cancellations and no shows.  I am ashamed to say that I was secretly relieved. My love wasn’t yet big  enough to include them into our fragile little group.


Their own loss was too great to include me and the girls.




“You must have a pre-nup because I thought someday I’d have something substantial from you”, wailed his youngest daughter when she heard we were getting married.


The day of our wedding she took the floor to announce next spring she was also getting married to her live in boyfriend of 10 years. “Dad, why aren’t you more excited about our announcement ,” she said when we were faintly congratulatory on our wedding day.  


She’d put me in my place when she’d said,   “You’re my father’s wife. Not our stepmother”.


“Dad I expected you to be a grandfather to your own grandchildren and here you are running off to parent her kids,”  the oldest daughter said, hands cradling her stomach pregnant with her third child.


“And Jack, we won’t call her Granny”, said a son in law. “She won’t be a grandmother until her own children have kids.”


“Dad, please don’t get married in our own family house.” The oldest son pleaded.


With all the anger directed at me I was clear that I didn’t want household things that were precious to them and heavy with their childhood memories.


I said, “Jack, give your children any treasures you want them to inherit. Please do it before we marry. You took out life insurance for me, but if I lose you, I don’t want to also have to tear apart  and scatter the stuffing in our nest.”


Weeks before the wedding, his children squabbled over who got what from the house.


Jack offered me his wife’s extensive jewelry collection and I insisted his kids have it.

Big mistake.


Youngest son was unhappy he didn’t get his mother’s engagement ring.

Jack had sold it.

It killed his sons plans to gift it as an ear stud for his boyfriend.

Enraged, his son cut all contact with Jack for many years.


“Oh, she just wants to give us stuff to be able to get rid of us!”his kids agreed among themselves .

When they weren’t fighting over the spoils.


Were they right?









“You Snowflake” is a mean insult in today’s world.  It wasn’t in the eighties when, that Christmas,I tried to make a family snowflake out of us.


I felt like a very cold drop of water hurtling down to a frigid world, trying to merge with a man who carried the dust of a lifetime. Jack and I, Vanessa, Ryan, and, of course, Tommy, seemed like a lopsided five armed almost snowflake.


I hoped the heated conflicts wouldn’t create a meltdown or that bitter cold wouldn’t crack us apart before we formed.




Our first Christmas morning Jack and I waited by the tree for the girls to run down the stairs to open gifts. I kept listening for the sound of their feet.


“I’ll go see if they’re up” Jack offered.



I soon heard Ryan call from the second floor,

“Mom. Come see. Hurry!”


Meanwhile, Jack had joined me at the bottom of the stairs,


We looked up the stairs where my two blonde moppets stood in pajamas.


Arms stretched wide, Ryan spun around and said, “Can you believe it? Jack told us we can slide down the bannister! For real! But just for today, because it’s Christmas.” She paused.

“If it’s ok with you. Oh please?” .


 Vanessa galloped in a circle as if riding an imaginary pony and said, “He said we can do it every single Christmas morning.

“For forever.”

“And ever!”


I watched as my two little girls, one in pink, one in yellow footie jammies, began their slow glide down that long forbidden banister.


They grabbed that railing fiercely, realized how high up they were, and kept checking to be sure our eyes held them.


My husband and I stood with our arms around one another and watched. Tommy crept over to join us.


When the girls reached the bottom, Jack reached out to help and said,


“Good job. Now, please be careful.

We don’t want to squash Tommy.”


I don’t remember who said,”this is the best Christmas ever,”


Perhaps it was me.





Each year Tommy batted ornaments, battled Jack, and threatened to knock over the Christmas tree.


The player piano’s “Oh Holy Night” was often interrupted by a loud crash followed by “damned cat!”l


Happy shrieks blessed the days when the girls did their much anticipated annual slide. We moved, new stairs held less appeal for self conscious teens. An occasional Christmas on ski slopes let us all do a bit of sliding together.

It has stopped snowing. It’s cold. The chairlift is ready for the last trip down the mountain.


I smile and realize I had almost thirty Christmases with Jack.



I called my divorced husbands One, Two, Three, to put distance from my heartache.


Jack will always be  “Jack.”


In these years without him I haven’t felt the need for a Siamese cat. The kids and the grands make enough joyful noise and the newborns wail.



It’s a miracle that like snow flakes, no two families are created exactly the same.

Snowflakes exist for themselves.

Families to grow one another.


They may have funny appendages, some brittle edges, parts that can break and, yet magically, with love, a family can make us whole.