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Charlie Chaplin Chooses Me

(Page 2 of 2)

So off went my missive, telling Charlie what had happened. Life hadn't been the same without his picture.

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A second chance, and then a third

Here was a man of understanding. Within three days another photo arrived, this one of him in baggy pants and derby hat, sporting a cane. An enclosed note read:

Dear Janice,

Losing my picture isn't a tragedy after all, because I have another one, which I am enclosing. I hope this will do. Thank you for the nice things you said about my films. With best wishes from your friend,

Charles Chaplin

My friend? Charlie Chaplin? I held the note close, then hastened to show Mother.

Months later, she surprised me by asking, "Would you like to go to a tea with several of my friends? It's a benefit. Charlie Chaplin has promised to be there."

Charlie Chaplin? In person? "What shall I wear?"

Mother whipped up a dressy concoction from scraps of pink-and-blue-flowered voile and bought a white sailor hat with blue ribbon trailing behind. Long pink stockings (Father's idea) set off shiny patent-leather Mary Janes.

When Mother's friends stopped to pick us up on the eventful day, my brother Julius remarked wryly, "You look like the cat's meow!"

The benefit was held at an old three-story mansion on West Adams Street, surrounded by acres of orange trees and expanses of well-cared-for lawns, splashing fountains.

As we drove into the yard, Mother motioned to a group of festive tables. "We're going to sit and have tea first, then explore the booths."

"Oh, Mother," I bargained, "Can't I have cotton candy, instead?"

"All right," she agreed reluctantly, "but don't go wandering everywhere and forget to come back." She slipped a dime into my outstretched hand. "I don't want to lose you."

I wandered around until I reached the cotton-candy booth. A short distance away, a group of children surrounded someone who was obviously entertaining them. There were shouts of laughter. Could it be him? The one and only? I stood on my tiptoes, trying to see above the crowd, as a young man at the counter spun huge mounds of fluffy pink stuff onto a cornucopia. I saw my idol sitting in a garden chair. I took a firm grip on my confection. I was running toward the group, madly biting the sticky pink mass, when Chaplin looked up and saw me coming.

Suddenly he grabbed me around the knees with his cane, pulled me to him, and set me on his lap. Everyone laughed. I was so dumbfounded that when he asked "What's your name, little lady?" I dropped my cotton candy.

What's my name? I thought. I was tongue-tied. I couldn't think of anything other than to ask, "Are you really Charlie Chaplin?"

He stared at me and in a typical Chaplin grimace, lifted me gently off his lap, twirled his cane, and toddled off in mock indignation. Giggling children followed. I would have, too, if Mother hadn't arrived and grabbed me.

"Janice, where have you been so long?"

So long? How long had it been? Minutes! She looked worried. It must have been longer.

I put my arm around her. "You shouldn't have worried, Mother. I was just sitting on Charlie Chaplin's knee."