Coincidences, Strange and Wonderful
Several years ago, our flying adventures propelled us to the artsy, picturesque Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende. In those days it was still quite authentically, culturally Mexican, with all of the country’s flavor and charm intact. Since those days it has been fully discovered by norteamericanos who have delightedly taken it over in droves. But it’s still a dynamic place to visit, even though the best of the best have cornered the market there, jacking up some of the picturesque to high-cost twee. With good humor I refer to San Miguel as the Beverly Hills of the high plains of Mexico.
We were booked at a bed and breakfast, Casa Murphy, the owner a refugee from Washington D.C. It was charming. We had landed at Leon and rented a car to access San Miguel, having been advised by Mrs. Murphy that San Miguel’s old dirt airstrip was defunct and unusable. That was ok with us – the long drive was scenic and safe. Leon in those days was a medium-size city with a gemutlich airport and control tower. Today that has been replaced with a huge facility for biz jets and their ilk, the controllers puffed up with importance and NOT gemutlich. So it goes.
Anyway, we drove to and happily ensconced ourselves in Casa Murphy, settling in to enjoy our B&B mates. They were a pair from Baltimore, a recently retired Ob-Gyn doctor and his wife. Turned out that they originally hailed from a town near ours in Massachusetts. It’s always fun to find a link with strangers.
Hal and I decided to prowl the countryside and take a look-see at the maligned dirt airstrip. We asked our new friends, Lije and Benair, if they’d like to go poking around with us. They would.
Following Sra Murphy’s dubiously given instructions, we wended our way out of town to a dirt road to the airport. On it, we found a cheese factory run by a handsome green-eyed Italian transplant – one who emphatically had no use for the airstrip. We bought some cheese, thanked him for his enlightenment on our project at hand, and went our way. We ignored his diatribe of course. But it was interesting to see such antipathy. I think he didn’t care for the American woman who owned and kept her plane there. She was a blonde feisty type, recently divorced from a successful Mexican businessman. I knew her – she was a Ninety-Nine as was I, a member of the women pilots organization started by Amelia Earhart.
As our rental car rumbled down the rocky runway, we shrank from the cactus edged periphery. We judged its possibilities, and knew it would not do to screw up a landing. Out of context, a striking figure stood off to one side. A tall anglo type fellow stood there, his white hair blowing in the breeze. He appeared to be fiddling with a small radio controlled aircraft.
Hal queried me, “You want to chat him up?” I’m a bit more outgoing than he. I allowed as how I could do that. We stopped where he was. I hopped out of the car with a clever “Do you speak English?”
Blue eyes peered down at me from under beetling gray brows. “Well rah-ther” he snorted.
Ah, an expat. A Brit. And so we proceeded, exchanging names and data. And smiles.
Then something wonderful, extraordinary happened.
It came out that before getting into the doctor business, Lije had been a wartime Army Air Corps Air Traffic Controller, and in 1942-43 he had worked out of Massachusetts airport control towers at both Squantum and Quonset.
Looking quizzically at him the ex-pat announced: “In 1942-43, I ferried military aircraft for the British Air Arm of the RAF out of Squantum and Quonset.”
The air quivered, the men stared at each other. There on the high plains of Mexico, fifty-two years after the fact, the pilot and controller met each other face to face.
Years later, by chance I opened a newspaper in San Antonio, Texas. An item caught my eye. “Woman Pilot from San Miguel de Allende Dies in crash in the Sierra Madres.” Yes, it was my 99s friend.
Rattling the paper, I sighed.
How odd that I would pick up that paper, that day, so far from my then New England home. Another coincidence – but sadly not so wonderful.