Jonny Whitaker

Right before Christmas, back in the days when Americans didn’t believe that the holiday could be cleansed of its religious roots, the week or so leading up to the big day was awash in thematic fare. Every drama and sitcom acknowledged Christmas in a very special episode and variety shows had glittery specials.

And there were movies. Lots of old movies. Jimmy Stewart and Alistair Sims.

When I was in kindergarten, Jonny Whitaker of the sitcom Family Affair, was the little “it” boy as far as movies and specials went. He did Disney and he starred in an adaptation of a children’s Christmas book called The Littlest Angel.

It was horrific really when I recall it. A little shepherd boy named Michael falls to his death chasing a butterfly along a steep mountain path. His parents have no idea he is dead when he travels back from heaven to retrieve a box of treasures to give to the newborn baby Jesus though his mother “feels” him hug her and clutches her heart in fear.

The point of the story was that even the smallest of us can be important in the grand scheme and that God loves all of us regardless, but I remember even today watching that little boy fall and knowing that his parents would be heartbroken when they discovered what had happened.

Consequently, it shouldn’t surprise me that so much of what Rob and I watch with Dee is littered with dead parents and dead or dying children. That is the stuff that makes our tummies tighten and is an easy dramatic reach for most writers. Why mess with success.

On a whim, I searched for a clip from the original show and, of course, I found it. When I was five and six and seven, I really liked this movie. I watched it every year along with Rudolph and Charlie Brown and J.T. and that scraggly cat. I wonder at myself these days because I can’t believe I associated such sadness with the joy of Christmas in a positive way.