Last night, not knowing we’d wake up to the sad news about Shirley Temple, I posted this to my sister’s facebook wall. It’s about how my grandmother taught me everything I learned in my MFA program, and how my professors reminded me of that fundamental truth. I said:
“Whatever Ann and James and Bob and James and Jeff taught me, Grammy taught me first. She bought me books and encyclopedias, told me stories from her family on the farm. She read us Laura Ingalls Wilder. She gave us a vernacular. She helped run a business and she raised a family. An extended family. So much of who we are is simply her. So much of who I am.”
She also gave us Shirley Temple. Forsaking a discussion about perils and injustices of child stardom for now, it’s hard to appreciate the magnitude of Shirley Temple’s stardom or the comfort her work brought to masses of Americans who were generally afflicted by the Depression and, later, the anxieties of war. If you can watch The Little Princess without losing your mind, I’m not sure I have much more to say to you on the topic. The catharsis she’s able to pull from that material is visceral.
By giving us Shirley Temple (and also Judy Garland, and Laura Ingalls, and stories from the her cousins on the farm), Grammy gave us a piece of her childhood from a place of love over sheer nostalgia. Those films meant a lot to her, and she knew they’d mean a lot to us. The keepers of language and story.