Years ago, when I was still at primary school, the family was scrambling around getting breakfast and packed lunches ready one morning. Amid the usual chaos of looking for items that only ever go missing at that hour, came the banging on the front door.
It was Sally, who lived six houses away, and she was frantic.
“Have you seen my mother?”
None of us had. Apparently, Aunt Lannie (everybody called her that) had been left alone at breakfast for mere minutes while her caregiver fetched more coffee or whatever it was she’d asked for. Those minutes were all it took for Aunt Lannie to disappear. Her family had looked everywhere at home and were in the process of expanding the search area, leading them to us.
I remember my annoyance that the school bus arrived at this critical point of developments, and we kids were herded up the bus. We would learn the rest of the story after school.
While waiting for the police to arrive, the menfolk had decided to spread out on foot, out of the neighbourhood and towards the city centre. My father took the path that would lead to the sports centre: an open track with a soccer pitch in the middle, spectator stands at one end and exercise stations at the other. This centre was a 15-minute drive from our home, making it unlikely that Aunt Lannie would have ended up there.
Yet, there she was. My father recalls his shock at seeing her sitting in the sand pit used for long jumps. How she got there in her nightclothes and one slipper, no one ever knew. My father’s problem then was how to get her home. He had no mobile phone, no coins for the payphone and, other than carry Aunt Lannie home, the solution was to flag down a charitable passing motorist.
At this point, I should explain that Aunt Lannie was 75 years old and had Alzeimer’s. She required round-the-clock supervision, hence the caregiver. On a good day, she might engage a neighbour in a lucid, normal conversation, but on a bad day, she would yell at whoever was passing to “take me home”. We could only assume she intended to head “home” when she went missing.
My father managed to stop a passing cab. He admits to some relief that he could honestly assure Aunt Lannie repeatedly he really was taking her home, particularly when she started fussing about being in the unfamiliar vehicle with two strange men. He also admits to panic when Aunt Lannie relieved herself fully in the cab.
Anyway, by the time I returned from school, Aunt Lannie had been lovingly bathed and seen to by her doctors. My father, the driver and some neighbours had cleaned out the cab, and I learnt that my father had actually taken every side road and back lane on his way to the sports centre.
I still remember that strange feeling that wrapped around everyone that evening when returning neighbours were told about the incident or spoke about their roles in it. There were no recriminations about how Aunt Lannie managed to sneak away, no “should haves” or “why didn’t yous”. There was only quiet gratitude that everything turned out well. And that strange feeling? I’m going to call it the spirit of a community that came together when a neighbour was in need.