When I was a kid, I lived in the country. The closest neighbors, a sweet older couple named Doc and Lynn, were probably half a mile away – up the dirt driveway from my house to the main road and then a short stretch of asphalt over and down a hill. Lynn introduced me to the wild side of peanut butter and jelly, mixed furiously together in a bowl and eaten by the spoonful. She also had delicate little dollhouses – with all the household props to scale – on which I would spend hours of imagination. My memories of Doc are more vague. He reminded me of a professor, before I even knew what a professor was, and I like to remember him wearing a cardigan and smoking a pipe – but I can’t be sure that the image is accurate.
Tucked into the entertainment center, under a boxy TV, was an outstanding collection of old, black-and-white VHS movies. Long before the days of blue ray and HD, those tapes were entertainment to be borrowed. On many a summer day, I would pull the receiver from the phone hook on the wall and dial Doc and Lynn, twirling the long, tightly coiled cord between my fingers as the connection was made over the hill. I’d introduce myself – first and last name – I’m certain, even though there was probably no need for such formality, and I’d ask to borrow a tape or two. They’d consent, and I’d hop on my purple 10-speed bike and pedal my way up the dirt road. Once I reached the highway – two lane and not heavily trafficked – I had to travel facing the oncoming traffic – per my mom’s instruction.
Once at Doc and Lynn’s, I’d settle down in front of the VHS tapes and run my fingers across the worn paper cases and the hard, black plastic of the tape. I’d carefully choose a few to take back with me – and Shirley Temple always made the cut. She was engaging and colorful in a way that even dim, black-and-white film couldn’t hide. Bouncy blonde curls, dimples, and a voice that I was sure I could imitate to the most perfect pitch. (I couldn’t.)
Since her passing two weeks ago, Shirley Temple has been on my mind a fair amount. She was a strong female character – as the precocious child star in old movies and in her adult life. As I read a little about her, I realized that Shirley Temple Black was more than just an ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia – she was an ambassador of optimism – to me and countless others.
“I don’t like to do negatives. There are always pluses to things.” – Shirley Temple Black
Have you watched any Shirley Temple movies? Do you have a favorite? What was your favorite past time as a child?