Years ago, it might have been around the turn of the last century; I decided to return to Ireland having lived abroad for about 15 years. I had missed everything I’d left behind when I first left, and of course it never crossed my mind until my return that perhaps all of the things I missed no longer existed, including my former self considering that I left as a young and wild twenty something year old and returned as a middle aged struggling mother with kids who were at that age when it would have been easier to keep a herd of lambing sheep in the kitchen than three toddlers. So in short, it didn’t really work out. Dublin was in the middle of a crazy boom that meant overpriced accommodation, horrendous traffic jams and queues to pay a tenner for a cup of instant coffee.
In a desperate attempt to give it a last chance, I quit my job and headed to Galway with the husband who’d been offered a job there. We moved into a house on the outskirts of Tuam, which is about twenty miles from Galway, but being city slickers I foolishly assumed that we would be living in the suburbs of Galway. Nothing like it: we had to learn how to deal with bulling cows, bog land and a village that consisted of a petrol station cum shop, pub and whatever, with a church across the street. But there was Tuam.
On one of the more desperate days of asking myself why the hell I had exchanged the metropolis of Bavaria for a one-horse town with an annual duck race, I took a visit to the local town of Tuam. It was raining, and once I’d had a ramble around a few shops selling buckets, brushes, horse feed and gates, I made my way down to the supermarket. Realizing that I didn’t have any coins on me I turned away from the trolleys to go inside and get some change. As I did, I almost hit into an elderly man bringing back a trolley.
|SuperValu Tuam - Where prayers mean more than money|
‘Here’, he said, handing me the trolley, ‘take this one.’
‘Ah no, it’s ok, I told him, I don’t have any change on me to give you the euro.’
‘Yerra forget the euro’ he said, ‘just say a prayer for me instead.’
‘I will’ I said, ‘what’s your name and I’ll say a prayer for you.’
He gave me his name and I headed towards the supermarket while he headed to the car park. But then he turned back.
‘You know what’ he said, ‘if you really are going to say a prayer, would you say it for my friend Michael, he needs it more than I do.’
‘I will.’ I said, and we parted ways.
That day was one of those moments when I realized why I’d wanted to come back home. It was because I’d yearned to live in the world where small things matter. Or no actually, where small things are big things. I might be an atheist, but I did pray for both of them.
That was years ago and soon afterward I moved into the hippy nirvana of Galway so I’d almost forgotten about it until yesterday when I was back in Tuam and pulled in to get some petrol. There were two pumps but the one that was free was only for diesel, so I parked behind the petrol one where an elderly man using a walking stick was filling his car with petrol. I took out my novel realising there would be a long wait before this old guy came back out again. But before he went in to pay though, he moved his car over to the side so that I could move in and get my petrol. As he slowly made his way in to pay I asked him if he had purposely moved away to let me get my petrol
‘Indeed an’ I did’ he said. ‘Sure it’ll take me so long to shuffle around the shop I didn’t want to leave you waiting.’ And bing - there was that same old feeling that I remembered from Tuam.
‘Thanks’ I said, ‘you’ve just made my day.’
I didn’t know his name, but I decided he might like a prayer, maybe he was that very man who needed the prayer more than the other one, maybe I had cured him with my prayer. So I muttered a prayer as I drove past the High Cross of Tuam and decided that it was definitely no coincidence that Tuam produced the Saw Doctors along with all those nice hardware items and horse shoes.
Because there's something about Tuam...