I don’t know why or how it happened, but sometime in my 5th grade year I went from a Hello Kitty-loving 10-year-old to the ultimate Shirley Temple mega fan.
It was strange, since I had no real connection to the Roosevelt administration, black and white movies, or adorable tap-dancing curly haired girls, but something about Shirley Temple made me feel like things were OK in the world, around the time things started changing a lot in my family.
My parents had separated and tensions were running high. I suffered from stress-induced abdominal pain, my grades were slipping, and most of all, I just felt sad. But like magic, one Shirley Temple VHS and a few cheery songs later, I’d find myself feeling better. For me, Shirley Temple was an easy fix, a mood stabilizer, a Band-Aid.
The more movies I collected, the more I wanted to know about the child star. From actress to public servant, Shirley Temple Black was a woman I looked up to, and nearly 50 years after the peak of her popularity, I became one of her biggest fans.
While my friends obsessed over Madonna’s “True Blue,” my jam was “Animal Crackers in My Soup.” It was a little strange, but it worked for me and made my heart feel full when I needed it most. During that time, my grandma moved in with my mom and me. Having just separated from my grandpa, sadness once again filled our home. It was Shirley Temple once again who helped ease the blow, and her magic was something my grandma and I could share.
I spent the next few years becoming an avid collector. I begged my parents to take me to antique stores, scoured the weekly PennySaver for collectables, and eventually managed to build an impressive collection of vintage Shirley Temple dolls and collectables.
I remember tagging along with a friend’s family in 1989 to attend the 100th annual Rose Parade, where Shirley Temple Black would serve as Grand Marshal. It was a really big day for me, seeing her ride by in-person on an incredible float. But on the ride home I felt like it was time to say goodbye to my friendship with the child star. Now a 12-year-old girl with divorced parents who had settled into her new normal, I didn’t need Shirley Temple like I used to.
While I grew up and moved on to other interests and hobbies, it always gave me great comfort to know that Shirley Temple Black was there, alive and well, in case I ever needed her. When my Facebook message box exploded with consoling messages about her death on Monday, it surprised me to know how many people remembered her importance in my life.
Thank you, Shirley Temple Black for all the comfort and happiness you gave me when I needed it most. Thank you for all the laughs, the songs, the dances, and your incredible civic mindedness. You take with you a piece of so many of our childhoods, but it only seems fitting when you gave the entirety of yours to us.
Do you have fond memories of Shirley Temple from your childhood?