Almost anyone can tell you a ‘small world’ story. Perhaps it is something that they experienced themselves or something that they heard from someone else. Either way, a telling or retelling of the tale will inevitably draw an amazed comment: “well, it’s a small world”. The funny thing about it is that it is not at all a small world. The diameter of Earth is 7,926.28 miles at the equator. The circumference at same is 24, 901.55 miles. We share this globe with 7.2 billion other souls, so when I see a letter to former French leader Charles De Gaulle in a museum devoted to him among other things, which was written by somebody in the town of Ridgefield not 15 miles from where I live, or run into an elderly gent who served on the same ship as my father in WW II some seventy years ago, it stands out as something unusual. Sometimes it is not just unusual but almost unbelievable, and for that reason this story is titled “It’s A Tiny World.”.
Many years ago I began to attend a community college near San Diego, California. While I was there I met and became friends with some people who were liberal activists, as I was. We decided to form a PIRG, or Public Interest Research Group. These groups were inspired and cheered on by Ralph Nader, who was very big in reformist circles a generation ago. I don’t recall that we accomplished much for we didn’t really have a grip on what needed to be reformed or how to go about reforming it. We had fun trying to figure it out however, and that’s not a bad thing.
The next semester came along and a new batch of bright eyed reformers came on the scene who didn’t like the way that we were running things, so they decided that a coup was in order. The coup was successful and, frankly, we were too stoned to care all that much. Still, the ouster from the helm of the organization that you gave birth to leaves a bitter taste, and for that reason I did not much like Tony, the leader of the young bloods. As soon as my connection to that PIRG was broken however I forgot about Tony and went my merry way making plans to save the world in other ways and venues.
Two years pass, and now I’m hanging out at the Southern California Exposition (which used to be called the San Diego County Fair) with my first-wife-to-be and in the middle of the place we ran into Tony. I had long since gotten over my hard feelings concerning the PIRG thing and greeted Tony warmly enough. After introducing my lovely bride-to-be-for-a-while I asked the usual question that is asked at such occasions; “What’cha been doing?”
“I’ve been in Colombia for the last year”.
“Colombia, I used to write to a girl who lived in Colombia when I was in high school. I was taking Spanish and she was taking English”.
This was true. In my eleventh grade Spanish class our teacher, Mrs. Geiger, arranged pen pall relationships between those of her students who cared to engage in such a thing with students in Spanish speaking countries. My pen pal was a young woman named Amparo J. Moreno Martinez who lived in the Colombian state of Narino, in the city of Pasto. We sent a few letters to each other, but as I was a slacker born and bred I did not follow through with any faithfulness at all. Eventually, hanging out with friends at the neighborhood park, graduation, and the Vietnam War captured most of my attention and Ms. Martinez was pretty much forgotten. Until that night at the Exposition, that is.
“… I used to write to a girl in Colombia”.
“Really? Where did she live?” asked Tony.
“She Lived in the state of Narino.”
“Where in Narino?”
“A city called Pasto.”
Tony had acquired the look of a bird dog on a hunt in a marsh full of ducks. “What was her name?”. I had picked up the sense of amazement that was growing in Tony and wondered what escalation of that amazement my next answer might bring. “Amparo Moreno Martinez” I replied.
Tony simply stood in front of us with his jaw hanging open. I knew that something incredibly improbable was happening but still was not at all sure just what. I waited while Tony regained his faculty of speech. Finally Tony shared this with us:
“I grew up in Colombia. Where my family lived in the city of Pasto the family next door included a teenage girl named Amparo. We hung out together and she told me that she was writing to a boy in San Diego who was learning Spanish.”
We just stood there and looked at each other dumbfounded by the improbability of what had just happened. My girlfriend knew that something extraordinary was going on, but as a second party to it had no real sense of just how extraordinary it was. Tony and I laughed and gibbered about nonsense and acted like old friends for several minutes more before we separated, feeling much better about each other than we had only a short while before.
I have thought about Amparo J. Moreno Martinez many times since then. My wife – not the same person as in the story – had a pen pal in France with whom she reconnected after we visited that country many years ago. I was jealous of that reconnection and attempted the same through the internet. No Luck. I tried writing to the Mayor of Pasto, going through the Catholic Church, and every other avenue that came to mind, but to no avail. I suspect that I will never communicate with Ms. Martinez again but it is, after all, a tiny world, so who can say?