Like a lot of my pals I worry about my parents managing in a world so different to the one they negotiated at ease in their prime. Though in their eighties they lead very active and fulfilling lives. But the worry persists. They are kind decent people who think the best of others. See, this is where the worry creeps in. I’d hate to see their trust betrayed. When I read about online scammers and hoax emails extorting cash I hope they don’t get through my dad’s firewall (“What’s that about our walls on fire” I can hear him say).
In October they trekked a section of the Camino pilgrim trail in Spain. And they got on fine. In fact my mam said it was the best vacation ever, dismissing all the family holidays of my youth. She was euphoric when she recounted the trip on a phone call when she got back.
She sounded almost as excited when I spoke with her last week. She calls me from Ireland every day since I became a mother eleven years ago.
On Friday she said she had good and bad tidings for me. The car broke down as she drove through Sligo town. Bad. It happened at the one of the busiest junctions by traffic lights. More bad. There wasn’t so much as a splutter from the engine. It stopped dead. With a line of traffic building up behind her, she got out of her car in a bit of a state. I can picture her so clearly. Red cheeks and furrowed brow. The young woman in the car next to my mother turned off her engine and hopped out. Good. She waved on the cars lining up behind my mother’s. My mam described this girl as her guardian angel but she later found out that her name was Siobhan. She was a young nurse and newly married. She’d decided to go shopping in Sligo on her day off.
Siobhan immediately took control of the situation and assured mam that she was going to help her and for my mother not to get upset or anxious. It was all in hand. She ushered my mother out of the cold and into the warmth of her car. First she called the guards so they could deal with the traffic and move the defunct car. They arrived promptly. Like many people of her generation my mother doesn’t carry a mobile phone so wouldn’t have been able to make the necessary phone calls even if she knew what to do. She only drove herself in to town because my dad (her chauffeur) was recovering following surgery in Galway hospital during the week. Car trouble was the last thing she needed with her patient waiting for her swift return.
Siobhan found mam’s insurance details and made that call too. She asked if she could contact any family. My mother didn’t want to worry my dad and the only number she could remember by heart was my sister’s in Dublin. So Siobhan spoke with her to get the details of my more local sister. She in turn was contacted and Siobhan arranged to drive my mother to the bank where they could hook up.
In the car on the drive to the bank, on finding out what townland Siobhan was from, my mother asked if she knew her good friend Anne Flanagan. Siobhan knew her by sight. She’d spotted Anne at mass that morning. Mam was further impressed (though not surprised she added) that this young woman would head to mass on her day off.
They parted ways an hour after they first met. Mam wanted to make some gesture to thank Siobhan. Siobhan was very gracious and simply said that she’d like to think that a stranger would do the same for her mother or grandmother if they found themselves in a sticky situation. I’d like to think so too.
I suggested to mam she call Joe Duffy. He presents Liveline, the second most popular radio programme in Ireland (after Morning Ireland). I wrote an email to the show. And then forgot I had. So my mam was more than a little surprised when Aonghus McNally (he was a TV presenter when I was a child) rang her this morning and knew all about the rescue. She said she’d be too shy to speak on air so they asked if I would and I agreed. Though I wasn’t keen I wanted this tale of kindness out. And better still Siobhan might hear it. For the next couple of hours I waited. But the show was about drugs, the tobacco industry and the wrath of smoking and there was no time for the good samaritan.
Little wonder we worry about our most vulnerable when so many news stories focus on the negative. Hearing my mother so elated after her car break-down (and rescue) was so reassuring. It’s a lovely story, especially for those of us living away from elderly relatives. As well as a reminder of the goodness out there, it’s a timely prompt to take heed. Notice the plight of others and help out where we can. Because some day it will be your people in need of “a Siobhan”. Though exceptional I hope she’s not one of a kind.