It all started in Greene, NY. At least that is the first place I remember finding some of my mom’s childhood Shirley temple stuff. I was in elementary school when I went up to Granny Fox’s attic and saw the Shirley Temple book with Nancy Lou Wheeler written in the corner of the yellow magazine type book. My mom said that someone gave me a Shirley Temple doll when I was born and I do still have it; the hair got messed up, and I reset the pin curls sometime when I was in jr high, but never made 56 like the actress. I remember the attic as the beginning of my lifelong admiration of the first great child star of popular culture.
Julie, my best friend, and I would look at the TV guide early on Sunday morning to see if the Family Film Festival movie was going to be a Shirley Temple movie or not and then we would prod and hurry our families after church so we could be home in time to watch it while we played paper dolls. I knew all the words to her songs and I learned how to be optimistic in spite of a history that included wars and civil rights and tragedies, which I also learned from her movies. It seems I had a broader perspective on what life was like for my parents who grew up during the same era.
I actually understood the concept of being an ambassador from Shirley Temple. And I hoped to follow in her footsteps one day and work at the UN, as an interpreter rather than an ambassador. From Shirley I learned that there is no shame in breast cancer and the importance of self check/ early detection. I watched as Shirley handled life after marriage to someone with an alcohol addiction, loved a brother with MS, raised a family while working a second career and held no bitterness toward her father, who mismanaged her earnings.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right.” For me that has been true!
It is interesting how much this one person connected generations and cultures. Whether I had a conversation with an older person at church or someone in another country whose language I did not speak well, it seems that everyone knew of and could tell a personal story related to Shirley Temple. I heard stories from service men who got letters from her during World War 2, grandmothers who grew up when she did, and people who took up dance because of this one amazing little girl. One of the highlights of my young married life was actually meeting her and getting her autograph. She had dark hair and wrinkles by that time, but her sparkle was incredible and her demeanor was hospitable.
It is probably true that the world will never see another Shirley Temple; the one we were given was worthy of emulation on many levels. Shirley Temple – my hero!