[image: skyline, 2012, JA Van Devender]
Genesis 47:9–10 (NKJV)
9 And Jacob said to Pharaoh, “The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.” 10 So Jacob blessed Pharaoh, and went out from before Pharaoh.
Jacob was a blessed man... in spite of himself. At the ripe old age of 130 his testimony, though, was that his days had been "few and evil." Many an old man or woman who lived through the Great Depression would have said the same.
As steel is tempered in a forge's blazing heat, so is character fixed in adversity. It was their sin of not trusting God which sentenced the Israelites to another 40 years of wandering through the desert before they entered the promised land, but it was that same 40 years of wandering the shaped them, disciplined them and hardened them for the war they had to fight. In this world, when something is "too easy" it is generally not very productive of virtue. Apart from the Great Depression I doubt seriously that the United States would have stood the test of World War II. The generation that came of age in it may very well have been our greatest generation in that regard. The fact that they failed, somewhat miserably, to successfully pass down their fundamental character to the subsequent generations might simplistically be assigned to their desire to ensure that their children did not have to "go through" what they did in that Depression. Their success on one hand may have brought unintended consequences that we are living with today.
I think it was the very severity of the Great Depression that made Shirley Temple "America's Sweetheart." Many of her roles had to do with "goodness wins." Her darling face, perky courage and "never give up" attitude just had to be rewarded in the romantic hope that was so essential to a burdened people. Invariably, in true Polyanna style, the cynical, insensitive, crass adults were shamed by her sheer "goodness" until by the close of the movie, somehow, someway, everyone was going to live happily forever after. Those sitting in the cool darkness of the theater could walk back out the doors and face the dust-bowl of their lives and at some level believe that one day it was going to turn out OK for them also.
There were, of course, film noire movies also. But the greatest generation was raised on the simple premise that "good guys" win. When you are fighting a desperate war against a foe like Nazi Germany or Bushido Japan, slogging through chest high water that is flooding red with your buddies' blood, that idea that the "good guys" have to win played a part... at some level... perhaps at a determinative one.
Shirley Temple Black (STB) was just as much a part of that generation as those other rapidly diminishing numbers of WWII vets. She did not play the "pin-up" girl role, like Betty Grable whose legs sparked adolescent fantasies across fox holes from Europe to Leyte Gulf, but both she and the "pin ups" had in common the "ideal of purity." They represented the goal of perfection, the beautiful classy woman who was the the very opposite of "slut" and the innocent child untainted by any of the sordid movements in the world about her. It was unimaginable, even blasphemous, to have pictured Shirley Temple with a needle in her vein... she was too pure for such things... at least in the heart and mind of those who were warmed by her public image.
As far as I know the real STB was pretty close to the public image. I do not know of any of the scandals attending her transition from child star through puberty to adulthood that we see in such imbeciles as Justin Bieber. As far as I know she was content to be who she was and not particularly inclined to the near obligatory descent into the dark side that many young women who achieve incredible fame and wealth at an early age pursue. She was no Madonna. What we mourn today with her passing is not that she died young... after all 85 is in fact a ripe old age. What we mourn is what is apparently passing with her, an age of innocence that was not actually innocent but which valued it. When "sweet" was not a perjorative term.... when children were supposed to be naive and parents were concerned that they "not grow up too soon." When Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were not dressed in hoodies and possessed of a snarling resentment at the world about them.
Do not tell me that times are 'tougher' now. The Great Depression was in fact that... a great depression. Don't make excuses about life in the inner city when Harlem was once a mecca for a race of truly oppressed people. Don't mention "complexity" of relationships in high-schools and the pressures that young people face as if an entire generation of youngsters did not have to grow up with despair and worry lining every inch of their parents' faces.
Shirley Temple and others like her were their escape... granted. Watching Fred and Ginger swirl around in top hat and gown represented the aspirations of a people who knew that such would never be their life... but who knew that beauty and grace were worth the longing they evoked.
Rest In Peace, Mrs. Black, along with the multitudes of your brothers and sisters who lived, loved, aspired and died for a better world.... and who, to some degree attained it, even if only for a few passing moments.