Today I can’t help but break my online silence to tell you a story about two women who I grew up with and continue to look up to today. The first, my grandmother, introduced me to the second, Shirley Temple. I’m not sure when we first met, but I’m sure I was younger than Shirley was in most of her movies.
Grandma had grown up with Shirley and had always seemed happy to watch another Shirley Temple movie with me. Although by now my obsession with historical documentaries is obvious, I specifically enjoyed ones about Shirley. Even as grandma got older, Shirley remained young with perfect curls.
Sometimes I think Grandma introduced me to Shirley to inspire me. I know she enjoyed the dancing, the music, the light-hearted qualities that were as relevant in the 1930s and 40s as they are today. But even more, I know Grandma wanted me to dance and sing and be happy – like Shirley only with straight hair.
Grandma passed away more than six years ago. I can recall that day vividly. But she didn’t leave me without someone to turn to. She left an entire box of Shirley’s movies on VHS tapes, but those aren’t nearly as useful as the memories I have from them. Maybe a young child star isn’t the best person to turn to for advice, but when I need a smile or a hug from above, that’s who I turned to. Her dances with Bojangles are my favorite.
And what’s incredible is that my friend Shirley did much more than entertains millions. Really, she had it all. A career of entertainment, politics and charity boards, a family and retirement. Grandma saved me from emulating a celebrity my own age without the foresight to see what that life leads to. Instead she showed me someone who worked for most of her life and still managed to lead a long, healthy life.
Today I woke up to the sad news that my grandma’s child star and mine passed away. I have no doubt that Shirley and Grandma will be singing “Animal Crackers in My Soup” with Jesus and tearing up heaven’s stairs with tap shoes.
Shirley served as an extension of my grandma after grandma left. She inspired me while I was young and continues to today. I will continue to be amazed by the optimism exhibited in Shirley’s work. Like I’ve heard her sing many times before, “You’ve got to S-M-I-L-E to be H-A-double-P-Y.”