It was 1953, the year of Eugene O’Neill’s death, when
Budgie again found herself clipping news stories to show the family.
The family talked of Carlotta, Gene’s wife, as being a very angry woman
and not a very kind person much of the time to the children or to Gene
in his later years. I remember a tale describing an event in their early
days together, when Carlotta wanted Gene to return to the Catholic
Church, as it might help him to find some peace. At the end of his life
it was a different story. She was reported as having turned away two
priests he had phoned earlier to come and be with him.
The Boston Eagle, 1953.
I didn’t see Oona again for a long time. Aggie and the
newspapers kept me informed of the Chaplin children as they were born,
and what was happening in Oona’s life. Oona always sent a lovely gift to
me at Christmas. Christmas was a very special time for her. She also
remembered my birthdays, once sending a lovely pearl necklace and
another year a gold bow pin with rubies in the center.
All of a sudden there was more trouble with the F.B.I.,
and when Charlie went overseas his passport was taken as he tried to
return. He was refused re-entry into the United States, where he had
married an American, produced many films that had become classics, and
where he had made jobs for many theater people.
Charlie and Oona bought a home in Corsier sur Vevey,
Switzerland, and raised their family over there. All reports from my
family, and a few letters, implied that Oona was very happy with
Charlie, who was caring and attentive. My nephew, David Colman, had
toured Europe one summer and visited the Chaplins. Agnes visited from
time to time. They had both been impressed with Charlie and the family,
leaving Switzerland with the feeling that Oona was very content.
Charlie was honored and welcomed in Europe and later
knighted by the Queen of England, while back in the United States we
watched our theaters presenting his latest film, Limelight. I
remember being in Florida at a time when Limelight was playing and I saw
pickets around the theater from organizations such as a branch of our
own V.F.W. and some other more reactionary groups. It seemed a pretty
sad situation, and one that the picketers probably didn’t fully
understand, considering Hearst’s newspapers had done a thorough job on
Charles Chaplin. We all appreciated Charlie's comment to the British
press when he was not allowed back into the States: “I only want to
create films...not revolutions!”
Oona needed to come back to the States to settle some of
Charlie’s financial affairs. She told me later she had taken part of the
money she was carrying and put it into the lining of her coat. She
carried a sadness about having to leave the United States. It was her
homeland, and now her own country had exiled her family. The F.B.I.
believed Hearst’s stories and had enough power to refuse the Chaplins
re-entry to their home…her home. Oona, feeling tremendously hurt and
angry, decided to renounce her citizenship to the United States.
After the final move to Switzerland, Oona kept in touch
each year at Christmas. There was a very special satin-covered down
comforter, a real treasure, and a pearl bracelet. She had remembered
again that my birthstone was a pearl, and I was very touched. Still, she
seemed so far away.
Our grandmother, Cecil Boulton, had a stroke in her
seventies. All the daughters took turns taking care of her, but Agnes
handled most of it. The others had to work, and Aggie's work writing
was at home. Aggie took Nanna to California for a time, and then
returned to The Old House. There, Nanna spent the rest of her days
bedridden and unable to talk. I was one who was able to spend time with
her and went down from Connecticut to stay and help Aggie.
I remember one special day when I sat by Nanna's bedside
while she looked at a magazine article about robins. She turned to me
and said, “The robin is an English bird.” It was so exciting. We thought
her speech was coming back, but it did not.
Later in the fifties, I married and moved to Florida
where my husband and I went to college. Sadly, Nanna died while I was
there. Before I knew of it, I had a very strange dream which seemed to
parallel her death. In my dream I was walking down a lovely old road
lined with great trees, a river running by. I looked up at a hill across
the river. There was a large building with flames coming from the
windows. It was peaceful and not frightening. Later that morning, my
mother called me to tell me Nanna had died two days earlier. She had
been cremated the same day I had the dream.
It was some years afterward when I began to realize what
an amazing woman our grandmother had been in her own quiet way. She was
very beautiful as well as strong and philosophical. I would love to be
able to talk with her now. Nanna had a lifetime of knowledge to offer,
and left to all of us much of her wisdom and understanding of life.