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Chapter XVIII

Down in New Jersey at The Old House, Aggie was very ill for a short time, and died at Thanksgiving on November 25, 1968. It was very painful for all of us. Budgie had been with her, and was there in Point Pleasant for the funeral when I went down from Connecticut with two of my children. I later found a small sheet of paper with little notes about the night Aggie died, naming the people Budgie had called to report the sad news. Aggie was the second of her two sisters to die. Bobby had been the first. She had died the previous year.

Agnes' obituary in the New York Times, November 26, 1968.
Letter to the editor by Barbara Burton, New York Times, 1968.

Four letters Budgie saved over the years tell part of the sorrow the family held.

Letter from Budgie to Barbara after Agnes' death, December 1, 1968.
Letter from Barbara to Budgie about selling The Old House, December 7, 1968.
Card and drawing from Pamela to Budgie on Agnes' death, December 10, 1968.
Letter from Oona to Budgie after Agnes' funeral, December 16, 1968.

At the funeral home I met Betty Tetrick, Charlie’s cousin from California. She came in Oona’s place. Oona was unable to make the trip at the time. She came over later to settle the estate and to sell The Old House. Chief of Police Beecroft had often said how he loved the house and wanted to buy it. He and his family moved in and enjoyed it for a time. Budgie saved an old letter from Virginia Beecroft. It tells how they felt.

Dear Oona,

Just a few lines to let you know we moved into “The Old House” October 1st. George has an apartment upstairs, and Bill and I share the downstairs with our daughters and we just love it here. In the spring we want to have the rear of the house shingled to match the rest. A new front porch will complete the remodeling. I find it difficult to put into words how happy we are here. To me the house will always be “Aggie’s house” and I think that is why it holds so much nostalgia for us.

Sincerely, Virginia Beecroft

Two more letters came through the mails in 1970. Another came from Oona to Budgie after Beecroft bought The Old House.

Letter from Oona to Budgie about Agnes' files, January 15, 1970.
Letter from Barbara Davis to Budgie after Barbara Boulton Sheldon's death, November 27, 1970.
Letter from Oona to Budgie, mentions Charlie had slight stroke, May 5, 1976.

Eventually The Old House was torn down and faded into a memory. Now there are other houses which have been built on the property...the property where we used to run and play games and climb into the wisteria vine that covered one side of The Old House...where Oona and I left notes for each other in the crotch of the old elm, our “Castle Tree”...where we sat under the grape arbor, stuffing ourselves with tasty red grapes, and ran out to play Hopscotch...where we romped with little Middie (Midnight Dreams), the cocker spaniel who lived with Shane and Oona in the dear old house where we did a lot of growing up. It’s all a lovely and sometimes sad memory. I am grateful for those special and unforgettable days.

On Christmas day in 1976, Charlie died. We were in touch with the family immediately. How I wished I could go over to be there with Oona, whom I know must have been suffering terrible grief and feeling very lost. Later on she came to New York and bought a penthouse in Manhattan. She called me whenever she made the trip, and some of the family would drive to the city to have a visit with her. It was so good to see her again, but sad it had to be under these circumstances.

Before too long came the dreadful news of Charlie’s body being stolen from the little cemetery in Vevey. Oona must have had a very difficult time dealing with this overwhelming and frightening experience. She told me later how she had to learn to train with guard dogs, and felt safer with the dogs on the premises at Le Manoir de Ban, the family home in Vevey.

To get away from it all, Oona took a trip to Bermuda with her two youngest children, Annette and Christopher, as well as her close friend and Charlie's cousin, Betty Tetrick. She called and asked if I would meet her there, and sent me a plane ticket. We stayed at The Ariel Sands by the water, and walked nearby on the pink beaches.

It was lovely for me to be reunited with Oona. Our conversations included lots of talk about our various children, but when I brought up anything from the past, Oona would hold her finger to her lips to hush me. It felt strange because so much of our relationship dealt with days from the past. I realized later that she must have tucked away many of the distresses of her childhood, finding it more comfortable to leave them far behind.

Oona loved Bermuda, and one afternoon called her driver to take the two of us around the island and show us some of the interesting places he knew. This he did with great delight, taking us to his favorite haunts and showing us where each of his relatives lived. “Now this is where Uncle Jimmy lives,” was the travelogue he presented on one of the back streets. “And my cousin Bobby grew up here.” And around the corner, “That’s where I went to school.” Oona nudged me as we sat in the back seat chuckling delightedly. We were thoroughly enjoying this special jaunt through the back streets of a part of Bermuda the average tourist would never experience. I am grateful to that entertaining driver. It was a little trip I will never forget.

Part of the time in Bermuda, Betty Tetrick joined me and we visited when Oona retired early to her room. I enjoyed this bright, interesting woman who had taken Oona under her wing. We had some lively talks, but I felt there was something she wasn’t telling me. She may have been concerned that Oona was drinking in her room and not wanting to be sociable. There was a sadness that hung over Oona even in her lighter moods. She was in deep mourning for Charlie, and it was not an easy time for her, waiting to hear if his body had been found. After her return to Switzerland, the police called. They had recovered the body and he was returned to Vevey where huge slabs of concrete were placed over his grave so nothing like this might ever occur again.

Our visit ended and I was taken to the airport to return to the States. On the flight home, as the plane took off through the clouds, a feeling of despair came over me. I felt as though I had encountered a darkness that touched the soul…in a land of light. Had Oona called me out there, hoping in some way she might touch some of her past and hold onto a truth that her childhood family was still here for her? Without a doubt she needed family and support in going through all the emotional pain she was having to endure. Did I represent a safe but very sad place in her past, a place she might sometimes go into very cautiously?

Examining these feelings, I was becoming entwined in what I imagined were Oona's hidden hurts. Guilt came over me as the plane rose higher above the clouds into the sunshine…and Bermuda disappeared. I too had abandoned Oona in some way, and I could imagine her still holding in a painful distress, which I felt she needed to share…but seemingly could not.

  Chapter XIX


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