Jack Frost, Or Take Nothing For Granted

Such a horrible cartoon…

My sister Sarah came out of the closet in an anonymous letter to the editor of our high school newspaper. Everyone knew it was her.

For one, she was the only female who wrote for the high school newspaper and had access to publishing anonymous letters, and for two, well… we lived in a small town in upstate New York and everyone just knew. The days that immediately followed were awful: for me. I was a freshman at the time and I remember sitting in the library overhearing the older, more mature students talk about her. Like the juniors and seniors! They pointed at me and whispered, knowing full well I was her kid sister. I was enraged. Humiliated. How could she do this: to me? How selfish could a sister possibly be to alienate herself from the norm, and, in turn, foist me into the role of an outcast?

I spent the next few weeks actively avoiding Sarah in school. I overheard her name ridiculed. I pretended I didn’t hear. I saw a group of popular girls bully her from afar. I pretended I didn’t see. At home, I gave her the cold shoulder; ignored her completely. I pretended that nothing had happened but acted like everything had.

This went on for several months.

Sometime during the holiday break, with little else to do but watch television, Sarah announced to me that she was walking to the video store to find a Christmas movie to rent. Despite Sarah’s and my lack of communication, our shared adoration for holiday cartoons was unbreakable, and, besides, there was nothing else going on. In spite of myself, I went along.

We walked in silence to the video store on the corner of our street and perused the holiday movie aisle. As it was already well into the Christmas season (it might have even been Christmas Eve), none of the good holiday movies or cartoons were in stock. And whatever was in, we had already seen.

Except for one.

One videotape, which we pulled out of the stack, was completely new; neither of us, in both of our vast years of consuming Christmas entertainment, had even heard of it. It was a Rankin Bass claymation cartoon called, Jack Frost. We silently agreed to give it a shot.

Jack Frost is a strange Christmas cartoon, most especially because it is about Ground Hog’s Day. The story is told by a sleepy ground hog, who, for some reason, recounts the story of Jack Frost. Jack Frost is a fairy, and I use this word in the literal and pejorative sense because he is both a magical fairy who makes ice and a total gaylord. Despite his obvious penchant for dudes, he falls in love with a real Claymation lady, who lives in this town that is situated somewhere in between Russia and Ohio circa 1972 and the North Pole.

So why is this a holiday cartoon and why was it designated to the “Holiday” shelf at our local video store? This is a great question. And the answer is more complicated than I can explain. But I’ll try:

Jack Frost falls in love with a Swedish/Coal Miner’s Daughter-chick and he convinces his maker to allow him to become a real person; their chemistry is undeniably non-existent. He integrates into her weird Slavic life, and we — the engaged viewer — learn that her European town of whereverthehell has been taken over by an evil Russian dictator, named Kubla Krauss, who has stolen all of the townsfolk’s money. But despite their overwhelming poverty and lack of Christmas presents, they are happy because they have — wait for it — wait for it — ice. Yes, the townspeople look forward to the seasonal change because with ice comes a renewal in their economic prospects. The townies cut up icicles and use them as coinage. Meaning, they use ice cubes like they are cold hard cash. Zing!

So when Jack Frost, the producer of ice for this weird Ukrainian town, becomes human to court this lady, he can’t make anymore ice. And therein lies the complicated, yet illogical and pointless, plot of this Christmas cartoon that’s really about Ground Hog’s Day. Oh yeah, and it has terrible songs.

Seems moronic? That’s because it is. And my sister Sarah and I watched this holiday special in awe; it was very, very, very bad. The absurdity of it was so comical; we couldn’t help but laugh over it all. I think we watched Jack Frost about ten more times that week, and with each viewing our sisterly love reignited. Sounds so cheesy, yes, but Jack Frost was the thing to help us break the ice; my cold shoulder warmed up.

It didn’t take much longer for me to grow up and realize that it was totally fine for my sister to love whoever she felt like she wanted to. But it did take me a few years to understand that her coming out of the closet, in the early ’90s, in a little, homophobic, rigid town in upstate New York, was probably the bravest act I would ever witness of another human being, ever in my life.

Over the years I tried multiple ways to apologize for my horrible, childish reaction to her honesty. I wrote her letters, stories, drew pictures, and even tried to tell her face-to-face, you know, like a real person does — but I never could. It’s not easy to admit to a person that you dearly love that you were a shit head, and even harder to tell them that your head shat in their general direction.

The closest I got to an apology was to buy Sarah a VHS copy of Jack Frost for Christmas some years later. We watched it together multiple times since our original viewing and the VHS was a shared inside joke. We both knew all of the horrible songs, and it was an annual thing for us to use them to answer genuinely serious questions of one another. Making fun of Jack Frost became a holiday tradition. It’s so bad, it’s good.

I have only a handful of things that I regret in life, less than enough to count on two hands. Yet, despite our renewed sistership, forever topping my regret list is not apologizing to Sarah for being a horrible person in her time of need.

And what’s worse is that I never can. My sister Sarah died of an accidental overdose in 2009.

When we cleaned out her room, the day after she died, I found the VHS copy of Jack Frost buried amongst her stuff. I took three of her things that day — that videocassette being one of them.

Every year around Christmas time, I bust out the videotape and pop it into my old VHS player, the one I use only once a year around the holidays. I watch this movie in some sort of self-inflicted torture: Torture because it forces me to think of my sister and her tragic death (something I really never want to do), torture because it makes me reflect on a time when I was repulsive to one of the people I most loved and should have treated the best, and torture because it is just a very bad movie.

This past week, partaking in my annual ritual, I put on Jack Frost, while folding laundry — torture compounded. My two-year-old twin sons walked into the room, always attracted to anything on the television. They watched for a minute, as I sang along to one of the worst songs ever written for an animated motion picture.

One my sons, Jack, looked at me and said, “Stop it, mommy.” This had nothing to with the horrible lyrics to a song about the thrill of frozen money, or my incredibly poor singing voice, or the desperate sadness emitting from the lump in my closed-up throat: no, this is what my sons say to me all the time when I sing or talk or do anything in general that they don’t feel like listening to. And then… they both walked out of the room. As much as I wanted them to love this cartoon and to understand the inside joke and all that it meant to me, they couldn’t have cared less about anything in their small, two-year old lives.

However much, at that moment, I wanted to share my sister with them, a person that they didn’t know, nor would, sadly, ever have the opportunity to meet: How could I blame them? It’s the worst holiday cartoon ever. It’s about Ground Hog’s Day.