My first memories of movies are of flickering black-and-white images of Charlie Chaplin. The revival theater in my neighborhood played silent movies often. In honesty, it was not a true "revival" theater. The elderly manager had only silent movies to screen to his small audiences.
Still, my parents, grandparents, and I gathered each Saturday night to see Chaplin movies such as "The Gold Rush." The manager liked this movie and showed it with great regularity – even if he had advertised another movie. I came to know the plot of this film very well.
Chaplin, of course, played the same character, a tramp, in all his early films. His clothes were mismatched, his hat was torn, and his cane was hopelessly crooked. He walked like a penguin. He got into trouble and somehow always managed to get out of it.
Although my family and I watched the same Chaplin short films and silent movies many times, we laughed at his predicaments as if we were seeing them for the first time. We never tired of laughing. Chaplin had a special gift for causing laughter.
He also composed memorable music for his films. When I was in high school, I played his "Smile" and "This is My Song" in a piano recital. My parents and grandparents were there to hear Chaplin's influence on my brief musical career.
As the years passed, Chaplin and my family passed with them. Charlie was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1975. He died in 1977. In 1981, a bronze statute of Chaplin standing on a plinth was unveiled in London's Leicester Square. Inscribed on it were the words: "The comic genius who gave pleasure to so many."
Upon invitation from a friend, I set out for London with plans to visit Charlie. But Leicester Square is large, and I nearly overlooked the statue of the tramp. Then I stood in front of it for a few minutes in admiration. I snapped a photo or two. Afterward, I saw an inviting park bench and decided to spend my morning with Charlie.
Chaplin is posed with his right hand holding his crooked cane. His left hand clutches a rose to his chest. It recalls the famous final scene from his 1931 film "City Lights."
As I sat, I watched a steady stream of tourists pass by Chaplin's statue. A Canadian woman placed her granddaughter's small stuffed animal in the crook of his left arm and snapped a photo.
An Arabic man stopped and snapped a photo. I asked him what his favorite Chaplin film was. "I think highly of all of them," he said.
A group of Chinese men stopped and shared memories of Chaplin films. I was happy to snap a photo of all of them surrounding Charlie.
Two Frenchmen stopped for a photo. I asked them their favorite Chaplin film. Without hesitating, they answered, "The Gold Rush."
A group of Dutch teenagers stopped and shared stories about Chaplin's impersonation of Hitler in "The Great Dictator." They told me they had also seen some of Chaplin's short films.
An Italian family told me that "City Lights" was one of the greatest films ever made. They had a collection of Chaplin films in their home library.
When my morning was over, I looked at Charlie one last time. Memories of my happy family came to mind. I recalled those Saturday evenings at the old theater and my family laughing again and again at Charlie's antics. It was wonderful to know that others around the world had had similar experiences. Chaplin had touched many lives.
I thought I had come to London alone. Instead, I had brought my family with me. It was a warm and memorable moment.
As I walked away, for some reason I turned to look back at Charlie. You may think me daft, but I could swear he smiled at me.
He still has that special gift.