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Chapter XVII

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.

Clip from 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.

  Chapter XVIII


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