Shirley Temple

Shirley Temple, age 16. Wikipedia photo. Year: 1945

You would think I would have prepared for February 10, 2014, the day Shirley Temple Black died. A few years ago I had wanted to interview her but learned that she was in ill health and not responding to requests.

The news of her death broke while I was traveling back from Los Cabos, Mexico. I felt not only sad but a little shocked.

Shirley Temple had always been a part of my life, and it was easy to imagine she always would be.

When I heard the news, a face flashed in front of me, the face of my soon-to-be-eighty-seven-year-old mother, Barbara Ann Hess Hershey Becker. She, after all, is the one who named me for her alter-ego, the little girl just one year younger than herself, whose face appeared everywhere in the Depression years of the late 1930’s.

Today Mother called me and we talked about Shirley Temple. Both of us struggled to put into words what connected us to this woman we never met. Neither of us watched her movies until we were adults, yet she reached into our Mennonite worlds and pulled something out of us. What was it? I went back to Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World and opened the book to the introduction:

If you were called Shirley, you were probably born after 1938 and before 1955. Seventeen years is a relatively short shelf life for a name, even if Shirley was a wildly popular one for that brief shining era.

If you arrived into a plain-dressing, plain-speaking Mennonite farm family and were named for Shirley Temple—a movie star you would then be forbidden to watch—you might have been confused and perhaps embarrassed at times. As you grew up, old enough to sense the contradiction, you might have blushed.

Three years after the picture of Shirley Temple (above) was taken, I arrived in the world. Mother and I looked like this:

Mother and me, 1948

Mother and me, 1948

A week after mother named me Shirley, the preacher at Lititz Mennonite Church preached against naming your children after movie stars. Mother’s cheeks flushed. But I kept my name, and when I went to school, I looked a lot like a Mennonite Shirley Temple.

The pictures Mother took on my first days of school 1954-57 show that she wanted to replicate an image in me that had seared her own heart as a child. It was an image she saw on the cobalt blue pitchers and bowls she pulled out of Wheaties boxes. It was the rosy-cheeked, curly-haired Shirley Temple doll she spied on the top shelf of Hager’s Store and craved as a child — but was denied.

First day of school, 1955

My first day of school, 1955

As the author of Blush, I thought the name Shirley was all about me. And about how I was the answer to the gifts mother wanted but never got: a doll and a sister.

Today, I see that the story is all about her, my mother. It’s a story about the gifts she had and then gave up in order to find other gifts.

As a teenager, mother was a Mennonite Shirley Temple herself. She had not yet joined the church, and my grandmother encouraged her to develop gifts of music (piano, violin, voice), elocution and public speaking, and even drama. None of these were gifts women could use in public in the Mennonite Church in the 1940’s through 1970’s in our part of the world.

So Mother waited until after graduating from high school to join the church. In the meantime, she took every public stage she could find.

In the meantime, she looked like this:

Barbara Ann Hess, 1945

Barbara Ann Hess, 1945

Today when I looked at this picture for the one thousandth time, and then looked at the picture of Shirley Temple above, taken in the same year, the resemblance leaped out at me, and I had an epiphany. It was Mother, not I, who was the Mennonite Shirley Temple.

She did exactly what Shirley Temple herself did. When the stage (movie) roles disappeared, Shirley Temple refocused her life around family and public service.

When Mother joined the church, she re-centered herself too around family, church, and community.

Her life changed dramatically. On the outside.

Inside, however, Mother continued loving the good, the true, and the beautiful in whatever avenues she could find. She followed Shirley Temple in another way: determination. Like all Americans, she saw hope in the midst of the bleak Depression through the eyes of this little girl who was nearly her twin. The key to transformation was through imagination. Over and over again, she imagined. Over and over again, she made her dreams come true, even after experiencing loss after loss.

Today as I say good-bye to my namesake Shirley Temple, I find one more reason to love my mother.

She told me today that, “I don’t know why Shirley Temple has always meant so much to me. But she has. And she always will.”

Mother opening her Christmas 2012 present. Her first Shirley Temple doll.

Mother opening her Christmas 2012 present. Her first Shirley Temple doll.

I see Shirley Temple in my mother’s face, which shows her every thought and feeling.

I see it in her love of family, the love that replaced her love of entertaining on a bigger stage.

I see it in the way she became a public speaker and leader among her era of Mennonite women.

I see it in the way she she has plowed through hard times to get to good times.

If the best legacy any of us leaves behind is an image, a voice, and values that never disappear, then Shirley Temple will always be with us.

My mother will see to it!

Do you have any Shirley Temple memories to share? Some mother memories? Please leave them below.

Mother will see them on her 2013 Christmas present. An iPad!


Shirley Showalter


  1. Dora Dueck on February 12, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    Well, not Shirley Temple or mother memories exactly (she wasn’t part of my growing up), but I’m certainly struck by the epiphany you had. What a wonderful insight, and tribute to your mom. And by your having the name you have, you must have been an ongoing inspiration to her dreams and being.
    Re. naming, yes, I’m struck by the thought you’ve provoked, that our “naming” (of our children, and so on) reflects and belongs to the namer, in fact, as much as to (or more so?) the named person or thing. — I happened to recently read about Rachel (in the Genesis account) naming her son Joseph, which means “May the Lord give me another” and I thought, well that name is all about her, her barrenness and desire, and so on, not about the child. But you’re helping me see, of course it would be about her, and in the process, it becomes about him. Thanks!

    • shirleyhs on February 12, 2014 at 7:33 pm

      Oh thank you, Dora. You have helped me extend the vision to one of my favorite topics, naming itself. I didn’t use the word “namesake” in this post, but I am intrigued by the definition I found online that namesakes are people who share names, especially (but not always) people named after someone else. In other words, namesakes can go in either direction, even though we usually see them flowing from older to younger.

      I love the point at the end about the namee eventually claiming the name even though the namer needs it most at the beginning.

      I put myself in that category. I only began to ask questions about my name after the age of 40 or so. I’m not sure that we talked much about Shirley Temple before that. We talked a lot about her as I wrote my memoir. 🙂

  2. Sherrey Meyer on February 12, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Shirley, you are an amazing woman and writer. You have truly connected the dots to your mother’s naming you for Shirley Temple, a wondrous and intelligent woman in her own right. So many of our mothers’ dreams were put aside to raise family and keep hearth and home whether Mennonite or otherwise. So it was in their times. I know my mother always longed to be a nurse but poor education, lack of money and then a family took that away from her. However, in her caring for my father during their marriage — in sickness and health — she showed the skills and capabilities of nurses I’ve witnessed in hospitals, doctors’ offices, etc. I think we have much to thank our mothers for, especially for their sacrifices. Here’s to our moms! Thanks for a poignantly beautiful post!

    • shirleyhs on February 12, 2014 at 7:38 pm

      Thank you, Sherrey. I can tell you have learned many caregiving skills from your mother and have her compassionate heart. Those sacrifices, when chosen, at least after the fact, increased the passion of daughters to “gather their rosebuds while they may” and to bring honor to their mothers through hard work and whatever arts they possessed. You are doing the same. Blessings.

  3. Laurie Buchanan on February 12, 2014 at 5:36 pm

    Shirley – Once wasn’t enough. t have twice read this beautiful tribute to both Shirley Temple and your mother.

    My mother was the most courageous woman I’ve ever known. She was born with Spina Bifida. At the age of 7 she contracted polio after a bout with scarlet fever. At 41 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. At 51 she got diabetes — a side effect of one of her cancer treatments. At 53 she died in my arms. Not once, ever, did my mother complain. A sincerely sunny disposition, she was a dynamo of a woman.

    • shirleyhs on February 12, 2014 at 7:40 pm

      What a compliment, Laurie, that someone who reads so many posts would read one twice. Especially since it is 1,000 words long. 🙂 Yours are always so concise yet profound. I admire that enormously.

      The mother you describe must be the engine that ignites your passion for life. I bow deeply to her and to you.

  4. Carrie Ann Lahain on February 12, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    What a beautiful piece. I wasn’t born until 1969, but I grew up watching Shirley Temple’s movies at my grandparents’ house…right along side Abbot & Costello and Laurel & Hardy. When I made my first communion, my great grandmother tried to replicate Shirley’s “banana curls” with only partially successful results. Thanks for reviving these fun memories. Carrie Ann

  5. shirleyhs on February 12, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Carrie Ann, I love the image of the failed curls. Shirley Temple had 56 perfect ones. Replicating our role models never seems to work, does it? But bringing what we admire into our own lives and making it ours is a process with lasting consequences.

    How I envied girls who watched movies! And what great ones to stay with you all your life. I’ll bet you know how to laugh!

  6. Roxanne Landis on February 12, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    I loved reading this! I grew up watching Shirley Temple movies, my favorite being Heidi. Even though I didn’t come to the Lord until I was 20, watching that movie made me very aware of my spiritual gift of mercy. I shared Shirley’s movies wirh my own daughter who is now 30 and her favorite was The Little Princess….about a little girl whose world was her daddy, just like my little girl. Shirley Temple touched so many people in so many ways….people from all walks of life as your story shows. For you to see that your mother was so much like her is a gift. I never met either Shirley or your mother, but feel like I know them through their stories. Both incredible, humble and people to emulate. Sadly, there aren’t many Shirley Temples in the public arena today. This is one famous person whose death brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing!

    • shirleyhs on February 12, 2014 at 8:39 pm

      Roxanne, welcome to the comment section and thank you for joining the conversation. I’ve been so grateful for your support on Facebook and now here. I think you also wrote reviews of Blush on Amazon and Goodreads. You are an author’s dream reader.

      I think a lot of people were surprised by their long-forgotten feelings for Shirley Temple when this news was announced. I’m glad you passed the tradition of the gift of mercy on to your daughter.

      I was given a set of Shirley Temple movies by my friend Linda when I spoke to her book club. I just might have to break out one of those while I watch the snow fall tomorrow.

  7. Marian Beaman on February 12, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    Last Monday I was driving when the news broke that Shirley Temple had died, prompting the newscaster to comment on her life and legacy. “It’s hard to imagine our getting through the Depression without the kindness, compassion, and optimism she projected.”

    And you, Shirley, project those same qualities–in your book and in your choice to remain a Mennonite with the values that word encompasses–kindness, compassion, and optimism among them.

    The newscaster went on to comment on her life of public service that followed, including a stint as a diplomat. It seems to me that foundation executive may equate to her service as a diplomat. Yes?

    Somehow I am not at all surprised at your choice of topic for this week’s post. Brava!

    • shirleyhs on February 12, 2014 at 8:41 pm

      Thank you, Marian, for these kind words.And for the smile you brought to my lips. The equation of foundation executive with diplomat actually works quite well. At least until my former colleagues read these words. 🙂

  8. Tina Fariss Barbour on February 12, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    This is so touching and beautiful. Shirley, and such a loving tribute to your mother. My mom is the same age as yours. She loved to act in high school and had the lead in the senior play. Her high school yearbook described her interests as “eating and writing poetry.” She married young (19) and became a farm wife. She did bring so much creativity to what she did–a true homemaker. She still likes to create things and loves to read. I can’t wait to pass on Blush to her.

    I thought of you when I read about Shirley Temple’s passing. I’m glad your mother finally got a Shirley doll.

    • shirleyhs on February 13, 2014 at 2:19 pm

      Tina, please greet your mother from me when you share the book with her. We have similar stories, Tina. Even more similar than I knew.

      And yes, it was so much fun to see Mother with her doll. Her great-granddaughters like it too!

  9. Richard Gilbert on February 13, 2014 at 3:28 am

    What a wonderful tribute to your mother, Shirley. I was touched, watching footage of STB by how much she’d done with her life. A great model for both of you, for all of us!

    • shirleyhs on February 13, 2014 at 2:24 pm

      Yes, she was a great role model. I think the news and the retrospective reports on her career took a lot of people by surprise. Many people had forgotten her and, perhaps, wish we had an innocent child to give us hope in our own perilous times. And many others learned more about the adult Shirley than they had ever known before.

      I’ve been ruminating about how social media influences the way we experience the death of public figures . . . .

  10. Kathleen Pooler on February 13, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Shirley, I love how you connect the event of Shirley Temple’s death and her memory to your mother. Your mother’s hopes and dreams for herself and for you were tied in with this perky, curly-haired little girl who danced and sang herself into our hearts. My cousin Robbie use to entertain us all by pretending she was Shirley Temple by dancing and singing across the living room whenever our families got together. A precious memory. She grew up to sing opera and has a beautiful voice. Come to think of it, you have won your way into our hearts by your example and words. So your mother knew what she was doing when she named you after Shirley Temple. Delightful! 🙂

    • shirleyhs on February 13, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      Kathy, can you imagine how many children (and their mothers) played Shirley Temple in the 1930’s and 40’s? I’ll bet Shirley would love to know she influenced at least one future opera singer.

      Was Michael Jackson ever as popular? Hard to know.

      Of course, my only imitation of Shirley was in curls and dresses and rosy cheeks. As a Mennonite, I was genetically and culturally incapable of those amazing dance steps.

      I love what Dora, above, said about naming. It’s a process rather than a single act.

      Thanks as always for your gracious insight.

  11. Athanasia on February 13, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    What a lovely picture of your mother. I look back at the old pictures of my mother too and they always look so put together, the hair is curled and they are neat as a pin. I can’t get my hair to stay put for anything. We did go to movies and watch TV. My mother and her family were pretty “modern” . I remember watching Shirley Temple movies on the Saturday afternoon matinees on TV. My husband’s family was the opposite…he said the first movie he saw in a theater was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid…he had just started his apprenticeship away from home and he and his roommate went to it. I never asked, but I do not think he told his parents.

    • shirleyhs on February 13, 2014 at 2:44 pm

      Welcome here, Athanasia! I am so grateful for photographs. I don’t think I could have written a memoir without them. Like you, I pore over the details of the old pictures.

      And it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who didn’t go to movies in my youth!

      Thanks for the comment. Hope you will want to return.

  12. Gerry on February 13, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    I also am a Mennonite girl who grew up loving Shirlet Temple. I was born in 1952 and lived in Long Island, where my father was a Mennonnite minister, in a newly-formed church. Our family looked very different outwardly, from my close childhood friend and next door neighbor. Heidi, who was raised Catholic. Through the years, my family looked more like the people around us. Heidi’s mother was named Shirley too–I will have to ask my friend if her mother was named for Shirley Temple. They had one of her records which I loved. At that time we did not have a tv but I loved watching Shirley’s movies, at other people’s homes. I now own many of her movies on DVD and recently found that many, or all, can be watched on the computer. I even did my high school term paper about her! As I look at her now through adult eyes, I realize what a very gifted little girl she was. I loved her childhood roles. I loved an adult role she played, in the company of Cary Grant, another of my favorites. I wish I could have met her. She impressed me with her acting, dancing, singing, and then the work she did, during the later years if her life. I plan to watch some of her movies again and read more about her. I want to introduce my grandchildren to her. She was a gift to the world.

  13. shirleyhs on February 13, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Gerry, how good to see you back again. You probably shed a few tears when you heard Shirley Temple Black had died. You are a true fan!

    I too would love to watch one of her movies with my grandchildren. In a few years. Hope you enjoy with yours!

  14. Elfrieda Schroeder on February 16, 2014 at 7:46 pm

    Shirley, what an epiphany to suddenly realize that your mother is more like Shirley Temple than you are! They do have a striking resemblance to each other even though one was a movie star and one a Mennonite farm girl. I love that your mom got a Shirley Temple doll as a senior. What a thoughtful gift!
    As a little girl in Paraguay I longed for a big beautiful doll. I didn’t get one until I was twelve years old and almost too old to play with dolls. But I cherish the memory of that gift. Today I have a granddaughter who has an amazing likeness to that doll, especially when she wears her hair in braids. Unfortunately that doll got lost when my parents made a big move and I wasn’t there to rescue it, so I can’t take a picture of it with her. But I have the memory!

  15. Shirley Hershey Showalter on February 16, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Elfrieda, welcome back to the comment section. Good to have your memory to add to the collection. Those cravings we have as children mark us for life, don’t they? You might try eBay . . . that’s where I found the 1950’s version of the Shirley Temple doll.

  16. Elfrieda Schroeder on February 17, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Shirley, I’m back again! Your conversation with Dora about the meaning of names intrigued me. My husband and I spent many years in Africa and we related to people named Matungulu (which means onion in Kikongo) and Kimbeni (which means enemy.) The names are all about the circumstances in which the family or tribe found itself at the moment of birth. There are a number of Elfriedas walking around in Congo as well, and according to their customs I have an obligation to those named after me. Sometimes I feel a twinge of guilt about that!

    • shirleyhs on February 17, 2014 at 1:14 pm

      Welcome again! I hope you were able to sign up for new posts by email as you wanted to do.

      Naming is such an important task. Each culture seems to have different traditions, but all consider a name very meaningful. Do you know Madeleine L’Engle’s book The Wind in the Door? She signed copies of that book “Be a namer!” I’ve tried to do that in my teaching and writing.

      But I don’t think there are many Shirleys named after me in Africa or anywhere. Hope you find a meaningful way to connect to the Elfriedas named in your honor.

  17. Victoria Tiedemann on December 3, 2015 at 11:24 pm

    I am a 1983 baby and grew up on classic films. We were not allowed to really watch much else, but I liked the classics.

    Shirley Temple films were my favorite. I regularly watched Heidi, Captain January, and A Little Princess. Eventually I saw them all.

    I did not necessarily have a good homelife, though it was not terrible, but because of her example of pulling through most all her films having become orphaned, raised by mean spirited people, raised by widows & widowers, etc – helped me not get too down when things got hard. I truly learned a lot from her.

    Shirley Temple was incredibly talented! I am glad I Have seen her films even in her adulthood. She was a great role model.

    P.S. I loved your book and read it earlier in the year. I go to a small NJ Mennonite church, though have only been an Anabaptist for a few years.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 4, 2015 at 5:48 am

      Welcome, Victoria, I’m so glad you found me here and that you enjoyed reading BLUSH. I’m heading out the door at the moment to visit friends in Goshen, IN.

      However, I take with you the thought that books help us survive and learn. Thank God for books!

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