And don’t call me Shirley

Just as there are times when the Phantom leaves his jungle home and travels as an ordinary man there are times when this freelance writer dresses up for work. Instead of just jumping into a pair of jeans and pulling on a Back to the Future T-shirt, I may wear a shirt. With buttons and everything.

Last Friday was such a day. And when I left the house to pick up the kids from school – it was Friday, after all – I noticed my black dress shoes pushed to the side of our shoe rack and I picked them up. They looked good, really good, considering I had them polished in Las Vegas ten years ago.

I put them on.

There’s something about shoes like that that make me want to tap dance, and vow that one day, I’ll learn a few nice tap dance steps.

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In Finnish, skipping down the street could be called tap dancing down the street, which is what I did all the way to the car. It’s also what I did when I got out of the car and walked inside the school and then along the corridor where Daughter has her locker.

I tap danced all the way to the classroom, with Son a few steps behind me. He had stopped to talk with a teacher, one who always gives the kids big hugs on Fridays – a tradition at least as nice as getting ice cream on Fridays. When he caught up with me, the teacher was right behind him, looking worried.

“Have you hurt your leg?” she asked me.

“No…” I said, “… I was just tap dancing, maybe that’s why you thought I was in pain.”

We laughed. Well, she laughed, I vowed that one day I was going to learn a few nice taps dance steps.

“Remember that little girl who always tap danced,” she then asked me.

“Shirley Temple?”

“That’s right. She was wonderful.”

The funny thing was that I had been thinking about Shirley Temple just a couple of weeks earlier. I had been on the road for two weeks with only a couple of days at home and when I finally got back on a Sunday morning, the rest of the family was out of town so I was all alone at home.

There I was, all alone on the couch, with sun beaming in through the living room windows, with no rush to get anywhere, nothing important to do. On Sunday afternoons like that, Mom and I used to watch the matinees on TV, and more than once, that matinee was a Shirley Temple movie.

I even posted it on Facebook, but it wasn’t a very popular post. It got one like, from a long-lost cousin of mine.

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Anyway, Shirley Temple was so cute, and so smart, and so bold in the movies. Afterwards, Mom always used Shirley Temple Black as an example of a successful and determined person.

“You know, she became an ambassador when she grew up,” she’d say, as proof that little Shirley sure was something else. And that I, too, could become whatever I wanted to. I could even learn to tap dance.

I did a couple of more taps and the teacher walked back to me with a big smile on her face.

“You know, she was so cute, and so smart, and so bold in the movies. And the movies were so … nice, there was no swearing, no fighting,” she said.

I told her I agreed.

“They’re so good I bought them all on DVD. If you like them, and if you’d like to watch them, I could lend them to you,” she said.

“Sure, why not, I haven’t watched them in years,” I said.

“She sure was cute, that Shirley,” the teacher said. “And then she became a politician,” she said, and shook her head.

Yesterday, Daughter came home from school with a heavy backback. She told me she had a surprise for me in her bag, and while I didn’t tell it to her, I knew what it was.

She opened her bag and pulled out a plastic bag with seven Shirley Temple DVDs. I picked it up and tap danced to the living room.

“All right,” I told Son, “here are some great movies, you’re gonna love ‘em.”

“Yeah, Dad,” he said, in the way that only teenagers can say it, when the words are correct but the underlining subtext is the exact opposite.

“You don’t believe me?” I said, because even though he thinks I don’t speak Teenager, I do.

“Well, how old are they?”

“Yes, they’re in black and white but they’re still good!”

“Yeah, but what year are they from?”

I checked.

“They’re from the Thirties … but they’re fun!”

Son also speaks Parent so he could hear the doubt in my voice.

“See, I’m just pretty sure they’re racist.”

“No, no, they’re wholesome. Wholesome!”

“I’m sure she didn’t mean it that way. It’s just that, most of the movies from that era are racist. You know, they have the black faces with the big lips.”

I was silent. I haven’t watched a Shirley Temple movie since 1985, but I know Son may be right.

I guess we’ll find out one of these Sundays when the sun is beaming in through the windows and when we have nothing else to do.

How does that make you feel?