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I think the recent passing of Shirley Temple affected most of us who remember her. She was a wondrous child and a great lady, probably the very best of us. I wrote this story to honor her, and to express my own early fascination with her movies.
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My Girl Shirley
When Shirley Temple Black passed away in February 2014, it was
as though it was for the second time in my life; and for a few
days afterward, just as after the first time, I was quiet and
mopey . . . childishly mopey. I wouldn't eat my peas.
The earlier memory is far too ancient, I admit, to tickle
any true sadness from me now. But in the late nineteen
sixties, you see, when I was just five-years-old, Shirley
Temple was my girlfriend. Or so my mother had me believe.
Every Saturday morning as Shirley sang and danced on our
small black and white TV my mother would insist, "You're
blushing, Donny! Isn't that your girlfriend?" Or even
as I was out conquering bug colonies in the backyard, my
mother would call from the kitchen window, "Donny, come
inside! Your girlfriend is on!" And I'd actually rush
into the house to feel the bashfulness of my own love for
Shirley, and to feel the pride over my mother's
recognition that the sparkling curly-headed Shirley was mine.
Poor little boy was I, however, for meanwhile I'd
been oblivious to the reality that the cute little girl on TV
who famously bounced her way into everyone's hearts week
after week, had actually done so decades earlier, to say, I
was seeing only sounds and images of movies that were created
long before I was even born. Shirley, in my own real world,
was but a shadow.
I was six before I found out. One morning my mother came
into the kitchen with a sheepish grin and a newspaper in her
hand, "Your girlfriend is on the front page," she teased.
This was in 1969 when Shirley Temple, now in her forties and
with the added "Black" to her name, had been appointed as a
representative at the United Nations General Assembly.
"That's not her," I said, eating my Cheerios. I was
confused. The picture was of a dark-haired woman, hansom, but
who was much older than my own mother. Also, I didn't
understand why my mother, reading the article out loud to me,
kept saying "black" when everyone knew that Shirley Temple was
white. "Stop tryin' a be stupid," I told my mother.
Finally she stopped reading (I didn't understand the
article anyway) and explained to me, "Shirley Temple is all
grown up, sweetheart. She's a grown woman, with a husband
and children of her own."
I was crushed.
My lip trembled and I cried: little Shirley was not my
little Shirley. She had moved on, into the great oblivion of
important places known only to adults, into some great beyond
without me, into her own life, gone, gone. Time had stolen
her from me. And suddenly I felt myself cowering from the
idea of my own growing up; I didn't want to.
I looked up and saw regret on my mother's face. I
think at some point she'd come to realize the seriousness
of her imaginative little boy's perception and used the
newspaper as an opportunity to promote me emotionally.
Although, what she probably failed to realize was the more
painful loss. The longtime play between her and me, this bit
about my having a girlfriend on TV -- and about which I
believed I'd been making my mother jealous -- was over.
She hugged me, in fact several times that day.
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