I grew up in an emotionless household. I write about this extensively in my books, as I faced the truths of my family of origin as well as the truths of my long-repressed childhood sexual abuse. And when I say emotionless, I really mean that.
Emotions were forbidden. Neither crying nor elation, and everything in between, was staunched. Evenness of temper, implying that nothing was ever wrong within the family unit, was critical. Imperfections, if present, were denied and suppressed as appearance was everything. Underneath the facade of perfection, however, the emotions of seven children and their parents bubbled and frothed, seeking outlet. It’s no wonder that all my siblings and I went into creative careers, as writers, musicians, artisans and fine builders. Within all of us, emotion sought release in some form of creativity.
When I was a child, at seven o’clock on Sunday nights Walt Disney presented an hour long television show. Simultaneously, WOR—channel 9 out of New York City—aired the movies of Shirley Temple. My five brothers and I fought over which show we’d watch. They usually won. They’d sit by the new TV upstairs watching the Disney show while I went downstairs into the basement to turn on the old television. I’d fiddle with the rabbit ears until grainy reception came through. The snowy picture would suddenly cut out with loud static and I’d have to get up repeatedly to readjust the antenna. I didn’t give up. It was my private time away from everyone. Sometimes my little sister, seven years younger, would sit with me, though mostly I remember being in the dark basement alone, staring into the eye of the old TV set, weeping.
You see, Shirley Temple let me cry. She never asked me to hold back my emotions. She let me be ecstatically happy and deeply sad too. She let me live beside her, feeling her emotions. In every pouty mouth and every delightful glint in her eye, I was allowed to live from a place that normally I had to keep shut down. And so, I thank Shirley Temple Black, who died this week, for offering me that emotional outlet, for all the movies she made and all the moments of release that my child self received from her child self.
She was making those movies in the thirties and forties, years before I was born, but they carried forth into the fifties and sixties all that I needed in order to connect with my deeply emotional self, a natural self that found little outlet otherwise.
Thank you, Shirley Temple, you saved my emotional life,