The More Things Change….

The title refers to the theory that “kids these days” are digital natives, and need constant multi-media stimulation, and without it, they will not be engaged and therefore cannot learn. Hogwash. Because what happened yesterday in my class proved that children are still children, and all they need is a good story….and storyteller.

After a three day absence, we were happily reunited in the classroom on Thursday, and I was greeted with “Did you win anything?” (see, I told you kids are still kids!) and “What happened at the auction?”  Building suspense, I responded, “I’ll tell you all about it…..later!”  But not too much later – mainly because I couldn’t wait.  The scene looks like this….a teacher and her students, assembled on the carpet.  That’s it.  No iPads, no smartboards, no plugs, no flash. Just eyes wide open, laughs when applicable, oohs and ahhs.  And me.

I started with the adventure in the airport, and the flight diversion, playing down (WAY, WAY DOWN) my emotional response. In other words, I didn’t tell them that I acted like a total nutcase.  Children needn’t be exposed to everything. I told them about Shirley-Con, and how I played teacher, ringing my bell and even using the Class/Yes response.  They laughed heartily. They were with me every step of the way as I reenacted Dianne’s incredible win, as well as the next day’s Army strike when we scored the teacup lot. And as my story progresses, I realize what I’m doing.  I’m painting a picture of togetherness, of cooperation, of all-for-one.  In every snapshot I shared with them, the lesson was that we worked together, and that it is better than being on your own.

Naturally, “What did you win?” came up again.  As well as, “How much was it?”  We worked a little math into the equation – “This is how much I spent, but then I sold some things, so subtract this.  Then I bought another, so add that.”  There reactions were priceless.  Some thought it was a fortune, others said, “That’s not too bad!”  Ah, to be a kid.

When the story wrapped, I glanced at the clock.  They’d been sitting, engaged, mesmerized, 100 percent with me….for 45 minutes.  With just the sound of my voice and the movements (such as they were) of my body. So don’t tell me kids need flash.  Kids need real emotion, real feeling, real passion.  And that day, as on every other, they got it in my classroom.  Take Three and all it encompassed was mind-blowingly fulfilling…but so was the sharing.  As Shirley says in Bright Eyes, “I’m pretty lucky alright.”

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Sentimental Journey (alternate title: That Video!)

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July 2015.  I never imagined that I would be in Kansas City, MO for this auction. But there I was, front row, in bright pink, for all the world to see.  And now that the video of that marathon day has resurfaced, all the world can see it again.  As my Shirley Soul Sister says, “Oy.”

There was NO WAY I wanted to see this video when it was first posted that July.  I cringed when I heard someone talk about it.  “We could see you the whole time!” I simply couldn’t face seeing my crying, fidgeting, foot-tapping self.  I don’t even pose for photographs, let alone this.  (Some day I’ll tell you the story of my behavior toward my wedding photographer.  Ouch.)  Much of my reluctance to watch it had to do with that.  But there was a part of me that couldn’t watch it for another reason.   I didn’t want the visual reality to spoil the MEMORY of this life-altering event.  I didn’t want to be an outsider looking in; I wanted to remain inside the experience.

So when it disappeared from Youtube, I uttered an audible sigh of relief.  And happily forgot about it.  Until yesterday.

Time really does wonders.  Heals, erases, softens, puts into perspective.  Sure, my first inclination was to listen and not watch, but I got over myself.  And took that journey again. And felt those emotions again.  And witnessed Shirley’s Army history again.

Now I can’t stop watching.  I want to find certain clips to see if what I remembered about that moment really did happen that way.   I want to see the expressions on people’s faces, because the first time around I missed that completely.  And I want to recapture – and hold on to – those feelings of joy, surprise, love and fatigue.  Most of all, I want to marvel – at what took place in July 2015, and what has come since.

If you watch nothing else, watch Stuart’s opening remarks.  Was I the only one to feel a secret, self-satisfied thrill when he told the story of how Shirley’s Army was formed?  Or experience a little jolt of recognition every time he called, “Shirley’s Army strikes!”  There we were, a small band of members in the front row, and I thought we were hot stuff.  And, to be sure, we were.  But man, look at us now.  Our ranks have swelled, the recognitions have multiplied, and the experiences keep coming.  If we weren’t then, we are certainly now a force to be reckoned with.

I’ve said it about a million times since that July, and I’ll say it again. How’d I get here? Well, all I have to do now is watch this, and I’ll know.

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Reel to Real

I’ve never considered myself a collector.  Sure, I had a lot of Shirley stuff.  As a child, I cut out every mention of her name in the papers or the TV Guide.  I had a doll and a record album courtesy of Santa, and a small collection of stills courtesy of my annual trips to Movie Star News in NYC.  As an adult, I bought the dolls that were issued….and the plates…. and the figurines….and the ornaments….and the music box.  I found a few precious compo dolls locally, and a few more on eBay.  But it was never because I needed to “add” to my collection.  It was because I wanted to be surrounded by Shirley.  I wanted keepsakes, reminders of the happiness she brought when I watched her films on Saturday afternoons.  Because it all started with the films.  If I never had one Shirley collectible, I’d still be connected to her through her films.

Movies were magic, as far as I was (and am) concerned.  My parents were big movie buffs, and many a night I awoke at 2:00 am to see the Late, Late Show.  Musicals were really my thing, and I was entranced by the sets and the costumes, and by my vision of Old Hollywood.  Something that appeared in a movie – a costume, a set piece – was akin to a religious relic.  Or would have been, if I’d ever seen one.  When I finally did see one as an almost-adult (the ruby slippers at the Smithsonian), it was my Holy Grail.  So the proposed exhibit of Shirley’s costumes was my Mecca (sorry ’bout mixing religious symbols). Yes, I was excited to see her dolls. Yes, I was thrilled to see her personal items.  BUT THE COSTUMES.  And then the auction – where clips of her wearing those costumes were shown –  while the actual costume was within feet of me.  Then my Shirley friends becoming the owners of some of those costumes. Impossible. Indescribable. Unimaginable.

At Take Two, more costumes, and another impossible dream coming true.  It wasn’t a costume, but it was a personal Shirley dress that was REMINISCENT of a costume.  Holy Grail. Or so I thought.

Then fate steps in, and opportunity knocks.  I’ll spare you the details of my hemming and hawing about rescuing a costume – an actual screen worn article – but it was my own personal Crusade.  Having a game plan in place (i.e., how am I going to pay for this thing?!), I took the plunge…and am just coming up for air now.

Because it’s here.

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Blurry pictures to follow.  I was shaking. It also didn’t help that I was in rush, having raced home during lunch, hoping to meet the Fed Ex guy.

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Pardon the less-than-professional backdrop of my bedspread.  #excited #rushing

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Inside detailing. Hand sewn!

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Inside the shoulder area.  Extra puffiness guaranteed!

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Hooks and eyes.  Snaps.  And the smocking as seen from the underside.

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As many of you are aware, the display has been in place for quite some time now.  It was complete less than fifteen minutes after the dress’ arrival.

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You never know what’s going to happen.  Never did I think that when I noticed an inaccuracy in the auction catalog – one that listed this costume as being from Little Miss Broadway and not Just Around the Corner – and helped to have it corrected, that I would someday OWN this costume.  NEVER.

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Note the COA, written before said correction.  BUT WAIT!!!  Just a few weeks ago, thanks to the eagle eyes of a super Shirley fan, we determined that this HAD been worn, albeit briefly, in Little Miss Broadway!  Guess what that means?  I have a rarity – a costume that was worn in TWO of Shirley’s major motion pictures.  Double-screen-worn, baby!

So yes, I’ve added a costume to my collection – because I can no longer deny that I’m a collector.  But I’m a fan first.

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Who’s That Girl?

This blogpost’s title can refer to either a tune by an 80s pop star, or one by a 90s Disney heroine.  You choose.

Late August – like the Sunday night of summer for most teachers, this one included.  In June, the summer stretches out wide – weeks of sleeping in, of no packing lunches, of unstructured loveliness.   And then, it’s over.  Or nearly.

Every summer I set a goal or two for myself.  Sometimes it resembles a to-do list, and other times it’s actually something kinda meaningful…..at least to me.

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Because last year’s Summer of Shirley has stretched into the YearS of Shirley, and because my friend roster has grown markedly with the addition of Shirley pals, I did a little visiting this summer.  The visiting was not the goal….but the DRIVING was.

HATE driving.  Always have. I’m a good driver – no accidents to speak of – but I simply don’t enjoy it.  And since the part of my brain that takes care of directions was left empty at birth (now filled in with Shirley stuff), I HATE driving to parts unknown.  But I planned to visit some Shirley friends this summer, and with the help of Google maps (I’m a little late to the GPS game….remember, I hate driving), I did it. ALONE. Maryland, Philadelphia, Long Island….check, check, check.   Put a gold star next to goal one.

While the above fell into the category of “moving out of your comfort zone,” the next one was more like, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”  For a couple of years now, painting a few rooms has been on the family to-do list.  My role – make the list and see to it that Mr. T gets it done, either by painting it himself or hiring “the guy.” Neither one of us is a DIYer, so when painting involved wallpaper removal, it looked like “the guy” was the way to go.  But then there’s the matter of $$$, and the other matter of impatience – mine.  Because now the painting had another purpose – I needed those rooms done so that I can build the Shirley Shrine.  So guess who removed the wallpaper border? And patched the walls? And sanded and primed? Me.  I even painted trim. Leaving only the actual painting of the walls for Mr. T.  And while I was at it, I refinished some ugly bookcases – more sanding, priming, painting and hammering.  Even more surprising than actually DOING the work – I kinda enjoyed it!!  Who knew?

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Replace the mud with paint and you’ll get an idea of how I looked while working.  Neat I’m not.

Now I’m enjoying both the SHrine and the annex…as well as a sense of accomplishment.  So while I may be mourning the passing of summer, I’m also celebrating some goals accomplished.  And that’s important, because once the school year begins, there will be lots of goal-setting, for both me and the students.

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So long, summer of ’16.

Bittersweet

Here’s a surprise.   I don’t usually cry on the last day of school.  Those of you who know me know tears come easily and frequently.  But on the last day of school, there’s such a rush to get everything cleaned up and sorted out that I’m usually too flustered and exhausted to feel those “I’m going to miss these kids” emotions.

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This year was different.  Because this was the class that joined me on the journey known as the Year of Shirley.  They’ll forever be linked with this time of my life, a time like no other.  They listened with round eyes as I told them of my adventures, of Shirley’s place in history, of her impact on so many.

Good teachers always let their students in on their lives.  When my daughter was young, they knew all about her.  Then I regaled them with tales of my cat.  And then it was my trip to Laura Ingalls Wilder country.  Whatever it was, they were interested.  Plus, I’m pretty good at spinning a yarn….whatever it takes to hook ’em.

But nothing has been as satisfying as sharing Shirley.  Perhaps the most moving lesson she helped me teach was “you do you.”  Let’s face it – not many teens were playing with dolls and hanging Shirley Temple posters on their walls. Suffice it to say I was not in the cool crowd. But this year – for the first time ever – I was able to tell my students that story as an example of “just because others don’t like it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t like it.” In other words, be true to yourself.  Pretty powerful stuff.  Pretty relevant stuff.

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And so, I did cry today.  I’m crying still.  Because no matter what kind of class I have next year, they’ll never be THIS class.  I know the YOS will continue, and I know I’ll try to weave it into my teaching because the precedent has been set.  I can only hope next year’s batch will be this receptive, this open, this wonderful.

Thanks, kids.  Thanks, Shirley.

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Anniversary

People celebrate….or acknowledge… all kinds of anniversaries – weddings, births, first dates…even deaths.  Because if something is anniversary-worthy, it’s probably a life-changing event.

Tomorrow is my one-year anniversary.   A unique anniversary, to be sure, but just as life-changing as any of the events listed above.   On May 20th of last year, on a cool evening, I entered the Morris Museum to attend a preview of the Love, Shirley Temple exhibit.  I knew it would be emotional.  I knew it would be incredible.  I knew it would be my one and only chance to see costumes belonging to my life-long idol.  Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

My plan in writing this post was to recall, step by step, the events of that night, but truth be told, I just don’t have it in me tonight.  But I can tell you this – my life hasn’t been the same since.  Although I didn’t know exactly what was to come, the Year of Shirley began that evening.

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Sometimes you can pinpoint exactly when something begins, or changes.  When I read a story, we discuss the turning point – the point at which the character changes or the resolution commences.  We even have a hand gesture for it – kids will twist their fingers in the air to indicate that something has happened that will bring about a change in the book we’re reading.   My moment was walking into the exhibit on shaky legs, hand gripping my daughter’s for support, and greeting the tour guide with the ridiculous outburst, “Hi, I’m Melissa, and I’m the biggest Shirley Temple fan.”   As my Shirley soul sister says, “Oy.”  But no men in white coats were called in…instead, he laughed and welcomed me in, going on to patiently answer my questions and calmly field my comments throughout the subsequent tour.   Stuart Holbrook was more than a tour guide or a representative of an auction house.  Much more.  I wouldn’t realize just how much more until later.

And now it’s one year later.  There will be more anniversaries to celebrate – one for each auction, one for the birth of Shirley’s Army and another for Shirley-palooza – and more, I’m sure.  But I can’t help feeling overwhelmingly emotional tonight, on the eve of this particular anniversary.  Because nothing has been the same since.  And neither have I.

Some days are easy….today wasn’t.  But on days such as this one, I now have something  to hold on to, something I didn’t have a year ago.  To quote Shirley herself, “I’m pretty lucky, alright.”  And very, very thankful.

Happy Anniversary.

Responsiblity

It seems fitting that on this Earth Day 2016, I write about taking responsibility for the future.  Reduce, reuse and recycle are the three Rs of taking care of our planet, but I’m adding another one….remember.  It may not help keep the Earth clean and green, but it will add immeasurably to the happiness of the people who dwell here.  Because, of course, I want people to remember Shirley Temple.  With the unveiling of a USPS postage stamp this month, her name is out there – she was even “trending.”  So I’ve decided to take on the responsibility…in my very, very, very small way….to help the next generation come to know this American icon.

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Prior to attending Shirley-palooza (a five day event of everything curled and dimpled), I had my students design an envelope to be stamped and cancelled on the first day of issue. The volunteer doing the very precise work was way impressed with the children’s efforts, even taking a photo to post on his website! Proud teacher moment, for sure. The staff at the event gave me a campaign button that came from Shirley’s own collection – one for each child, and I gathered a few other things along the way.

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One of the first things I did upon arriving at home (jet lag be d****d) was to put together a little swag bag for each student, with an explanation of what was inside and what it all meant. It was important that I convey to them and their families that this was not just a goody bag, but a little collection of historic artifacts.

After four days of absence (and I’m rarely out!), we were happy to be reunited, and I didn’t keep them in suspense too long before doing my own unveiling. One thing that I can do pretty well is spin a yarn, and spin I did.  Their eyes were as round as saucers as I went through the event, making the biggest deal possible about each item, and explaining just what each meant.  They were knocked for a loop when I told them that the tiny red, white and blue SHIRLEY button was a vintage item, direct from a movie star’s home, and that people pay good money for them on eBay!  They were as respectful as I hoped, and no one lost a thing that day (a remarkable feat in and of itself!). It just so happened that two parents were there to witness the show, and they were impressed….as it should be.

I’ve spent a LOT of time this year weaving Shirley into my classroom lessons, because I take my responsibility seriously.  I even wrote a children’s story that features Shirley and her dog Ching-Ching.  In my dreams, I see it as the first of a series of Shirley stories, so that the children who aren’t lucky enough (!!!!) to be in my classroom can delight in the adventures of this child who was both a movie star and a regular little girl.  A child who grew up to become an adult who contributed to the world in significant ways.  A person worth remembering.

Diff’rent Strokes

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Spring Break?”  Wild times in Daytona? A vacay someplace tropical? Or, if you’re a family, a visit to Disney?  Most of my fellow teachers are spending their much-needed break relaxing, either away or at home.

Here’s a surprise.  Not me.

Oh, I’m relaxing, all right.  It just takes on a different form.

Here’s another surprise.  That form is Shirley.

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Instead of working on my tan (which is futile, anyway), I’m working on yet another Shirley-centric project.

On April 15, Shirley’s hometown of Santa Monica, CA will be unveiling an exhibit in her name.  It will feature costumes (many loaned by friends.  Yeah, I have friends who OWN Shirley costumes!), memorabilia and personal artifacts, most of which were acquired at the two recent Love, Shirley Temple auctions.  The items will be arranged chronologically, a timeline of her life.  And to tell the story, images and text will be posted.

Guess who’s been helping out with said signage?

Like my work on the auction catalog this fall, having the opportunity to participate in this exhibit is fulfilling.  And humbling.   And absolutely unbelievable.  How did I go from a NJ schoolteacher* with a not-so-hidden ST obsession to a consultant (my word, not anyone else’s!) on what’s happening in the world of Shirley?

So when I’m standing in front of the exhibit on April 15, there will be tears of emotion.  And one of those emotions will be pride.  Pride lasts longer than tan lines.

*still a NJ schoolteacher, and no plans for any changes along those lines!

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

If you’re a teacher, and you want your students enthralled, tell them a story about yourself.  And ham it up.  I have several go-to stories that I tell my class, all with a purpose, of course.  Often they serve as models for writing – I write tons of stories about my cat and his misadventures.

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But today I told a new one.  Here’s a bit of a preface:

We’re just beginning a unit on realistic fiction, and before I have the students attempt writing those types of stories, we read quite a few mentor texts.  I choose stories that feature a character trying to solve a problem, because eventually, that’s what their characters will do.  Those Shoes is the perfect “I want” story.  Knuffle Bunny illustrates “I lost something.”  Today’s story was Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola.  In case the title doesn’t give it away, the problem is “I get teased.”

I’ve read this book for many years, and it always serves as the catalyst for some serious discussion. I have a feeling this story might be somewhat autobiographical….the main character is a boy who likes to draw and skip rope and dance.  Even his father calls him a sissy – which HORRIFIED my students!  Generally the discussion is about how it’s ok to like what you like, even if others don’t.  Even though the main character is teased because he’s in dance class, he continues anyway, despite what others think.  And in all the times that I’ve read this story, I’ve never thought to connect it to myself.

But I did today. Today, after reading it and discussing it, my own experiences were ALL I could think about.  As in, how did I never make the connection before – it was so obvious.

So I told them a story about being different.  Of course, they’re well aware of my Shirley obsession.  And of course, as I’m their teacher, they think it’s way cool.  And it is.  But today I told them that, like Oliver Button, I was interested in things that other kids my age were not.

And boy, did I ham it up.  I didn’t exaggerate (because I didn’t have to – it really was as bad as I made it out to be!), but I spun a yarn of childhood passion and pain that had their eyes popping out of their little heads.  Told them how I liked Shirley Temple when no one else did.  How I played with dolls well into high school….and still do.  How no one really understood, how some people teased, how I continued to do what I liked to do no matter what others said.   I may have painted myself somewhat braver than I was.   Because I was never brave.  I just did it because that’s who I was.  That’s what I was compelled to do, what my heart told me to do.  I couldn’t have stopped it if I tried.  And I never really tried.

I was Oliver Button.  THAT was a shock.

One student asked if I had any friends who liked Shirley.  Instantly a name flew from my lips, once I hadn’t thought of in years.  As preteens, we shared the passion.  But she outgrew it, whereas I did not – clearly.

Another student said, “I bet they (those that teased)  are sorry now.  Your name is in a Shirley book.”  Well, I’m sure that even if they did know, their worlds would hardly be rocked.  But it did serve as an other discussion point – we should be true to ourselves, because you never know what might happen.

I am living proof.  Happily, happily so.

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Who Knew?

Some anniversaries are happy affairs, marking the occasion of a wedding or first date or some equally memorable – well, memory.  Others, like today, are not.  Two years ago I woke up to a post on my FB page….”Sorry for your loss.”  Instantly, though I can’t tell you how, I knew what it referred to.  Did the cyber equivalent of running to look it up, and there it was. Shirley Temple Black had died at the age of 85.  There were tears, of course, not just at the news, but at the outpouring of condolences to ME by friends and even acquaintances.  I mean, all you have to do is look at my profile picture to figure it out. Texts, Facebook  posts and emails came through all day – with words like, “You’re the first person I thought of when I heard,” “I remember how you had a poster of her in your room,” and “I know she was like a member of your family.”

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At school that day, a student came to me and said, “I heard something sad.”  This was before Shirley had the huge presence in my classroom as she does now, so I wondered how this child knew about my connection (the answer? Her mother saw my FB profile pic.  I’m telling you….says a LOT about a person!)  She went on to say that her mother told her not to mention it to me, as it might make me sad. (Sidebar:  If you want a child to do something, tell them NOT to.  Guaranteed to be done immediately).  “Are you sad?” she asked.  “I am,” was my response.

I could not have known on that day where I’d be two years later.  Could not have imagined it.  But here I am.  A part of a Shirley community like NO OTHER.  A person who has an active role in preserving her legacy.  A person who has met and KNOWS her family members.  A person who is blown away every single day that this has happened.

At this point, most people would say “feeling blessed.”  I eschew the overused – “awesome,” “amazing,” “it is what it is.” Variety, people!  So I guess I could say I’m fortunate, or lucky, or some such adjective.  But nothing else quite fits the bill.  So, just this once, I’ll say it – feeling blessed.  Very, very, very.

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And I think there’s more to come.