A long-time friend recently told me she discovered that we shared a mutual friendship with another long-time friend in the course of discussing Austin “characters,” when she referred to my blog entries about Bicycle Annie. The other friend exclaimed, “I read her blog, too!” They then explained to each other how they knew me, concluding that this, indeed, was a small world we occupied. Needless to say, I was delighted to hear how my musings weave people together.
This reminded me of another life event that still haunts me with its possible meanings and the concept of “small world.” The main character is a woman named Doris Otero who died of breast cancer in Lima, Peru sometime in the 1960s while she was in her mid to late 30s. She was my husband’s much-loved, older cousin whose image was still fresh in the mind of her family, when I joined the family in the mid-70s, . From all accounts, to know Doris was to love Doris. She was an attractive brunette, sweet, and fun-loving woman who was a stewardess (in the days before “flight attendants”) for Braniff International (a Dallas-based international airline).
Fast forward a few years to the late 1970s or early 80s. My husband and I were then living in Austin. My former employer, a legislator from South Texas, had mentioned on several occasions that he had a cousin who was married to a man who had grown up in Lima, and that we should meet him some time. We agreed, but were in no hurry to meet him. There are so many Peruvians kicking around Texas, you could spend all your free time meeting former Peruvians . . . everyone knows at least one. And they rarely have anything in common with each other.
But, one day the ex-boss called, saying he and his wife were going to have dinner at his cousin’s home in San Antonio that night and why didn’t we drive down and join them all? We did. The cousin and spouse, Alberto, enjoyed life in a lovely and large – maybe 7,000 square feet – home. (Did I mention the cousins are dripping in oil money from their oil wells?) My husband and Alberto immediately hit it off. Although Alberto was a bit older, they knew all the same families, grew up in the same neighborhood, and even attended some of the same parties, which they still remembered and enjoyed recalling with each other.
At some point during dinner, I recalled someone else in the family telling me that a younger Alberto had been a Braniff steward who survived an airplane crash in the Everglades. Without mentioning the crash, I simply asked Alberto, “Didn’t you work for Braniff, Alberto?” He said he had, and my husband explained that he had had a cousin named Doris Otero who had been a Braniff stewardess. Did Alberto know her? At that, he got up from the table, left the room, returning no more than three minutes later with something in his hand: two parts of a foursome of pictures from a photo booth. The strip of four had been torn in half. Presumably, he had two of the poses and the other person in the picture had kept the other two. Incredibly, it was the younger Alberto and Doris in their Braniff uniforms. We all sat there agog in amazement, not quite believing this had happened. I can’t remember anything else that happened that night, but among that group, I doubt whether anyone would ever quite forget it. To this day, I wonder how that picture could have been so handy in that huge house (since I would have had to paw through scrapbooks or my treasure trinket box for 30 minutes at least). Had Doris herself been instrumental in the photograph’s availability, waiting for us to show up to give us a “signal.” That may sound preposterous, but before deciding, listen to this.
Fast forward again to the late 90s. My husband and I drove to Ft. Worth to visit the Kimbell Art Museum. It rained most of the trip, so we decided to forego lunch on the road and eat at the Kimbell’s cafeteria. That idea was a popular one because the relatively modest-sized dining room was full of diners. Looking around, tray in hand, I noticed a 6-top table occupied by two older couples and asked if we could sit with them. The foursome were friendly and one of the women, in particular, was quite talkative, asking us polite questions about our hometown and other pleasantries. I detected a slight accent so I asked where she was from. She currently lived in Dallas but was originally from Lima. The other woman at the table said she was originally from Lima, too. When my husband revealed his similar patrimony, we remarked on what a surprisingly small world it was.
And then my innate nosiness led me inquire what brought them both to live in Texas. The answer? Braniff Airlines. The second woman had been a stewardess for Braniff, dating a pilot, and had introduced her talkative friend to another pilot. They two women married their pilots and upon retirement or the airline’s demise, had stayed in Dallas. Of course, my husband then mentioned, almost in passing, that his cousin, Doris Otero, had been a stewardess for Braniff. The second woman, who had been a stewardess, gasped and exclaimed softly, something like, “Oh, my goodness!” She appeared to blink back tears as she put her hand on my husband’s and told us of her friendship with Doris and the hours she spent with her at the hospital as she lay dying. Much was shared that is not relevant here, but suffice it to say, it was an amazing experience . . . sitting in the Kimbell, reminiscing about a long-dead woman who had been important to these two Peruvian ex-pats-turned-Texans.
While we eventually went to examine the art work we had traveled to see, it seemed like the real trip had been to another world altogether. That chance encounter was coupled in our minds with the other in San Antonio. This had to be, we reasoned, more than just two isolated coincidences. But if they weren’t just coincidences, what were they? I had never believed in angels, but for the first time in my life, the existence of angels seemed perfectly plausible, and one of them, my husband’s cousin Doris, wanted people she had touched to know that her spirit lived on in that other world . . . that she was still there . . . that there was something after death. Over a decade later, I still wonder about angels, about Doris, about the line between life and death . . . and marvel at the small world of Doris Otero.