The Doll Named Shirley
It was August 21st 1937. America was in the middle of what was called The Great Depression and millions of people were out of work, as was my young 25 year old father. Today was a big day for me, it was my 5th birthday and I was hoping my mother would make a cake for me. We were living in Philadelphia in one of many two room apartments we lived in over the next few years. It had a kitchen and bedroom/living room. We didn’t have a TV but we had a radio that sat on a small table in the corner of the living room. There was a radio show for children called Uncle Wip. They would tell a story, sing some songs and at the end they would wish children by name Happy Birthday. How do they know whose birthday it is I asked? Daddy said he guessed it was magic.
Jackie and I were sitting on the floor in front of the radio listening to the show that day. They got to the part where they were wishing children happy birthday and I heard them say, “Happy fifth birthday Dorothy Lee and because you have been a good girl all year that is a present behind the radio for you."
I couldn’t believe it. I just sat there for a few minutes. Then I jumped up. “That’s me!” I yelled. I was so excited to hear my name on the radio. Then I thought about the present behind the radio. It must have been the Shirley Temple doll I wanted! I wanted the doll with the curly hair and beautiful dress. With my heart beating fast I ran to the radio to get my beautiful doll. There was a doll there but not the beautiful one I wanted.
It was a small celluloid doll with a string of beads around her neck and feathers around her waist for a dress. She didn’t even have any hair. I was so disappointed that I could feel the tears forming in my eyes. As I picked up the little doll I heard my mommy say, “Look, she found the doll!”
I looked over to the kitchen and saw my parents peeking around the doorway. They had big smiles on their faces. I ran to them and hugged their legs. Daddy reached down and picked me up. They were so happy with their surprise for me. They laughed as they kissed me and said, “Happy Birthday baby!”
I knew even at that young age that I couldn’t let them know how disappointed I was. I guess they thought my tears were tears of happiness.
I now know how hard it was for them to get even that little celluloid doll for me when pennies could buy food. And they had called and gotten my name on the radio.
I came to love that little doll and I called her Shirley anyway. She was cute.
When I was thirteen, my parents gave me my first birthday party where I could invite children not in the family. I had a lot of fun, got some nice presents but no birthday would ever mean as much to me as my 5th one and no present meant as much to me as my little doll named Shirley.