When people ask me what I do and I tell them I am a storyteller I often get that look of: “Eh?” And I understand that of course. Often when I’m filling in official forms and I’m asked my occupation, storyteller is not in the list of options. So very often my job description goes down as ‘other’.

I love what I do and I think that is a secret to a happy life. Being a storyteller is a bit like being a crofter – it’s a lifestyle choice that will bring you little financial wealth, but plenty of riches in other ways. It is also a way of living life as well. I see stories everywhere and within everyone. Stories give meaning and can convey human understanding.

A common question once I have said that I am a storyteller is: “What stories do you tell?” Of course, I love traditional tales, ancient legends, folklore and historical tales. Scotland is so rich in these traditions, but there is a world of stories out there as well to explore.

But very often it is the stories people carry within them about their life, ones they have not yet told because they haven’t had the opportunity, or maybe they think nobody would be interested. Sometimes, of course, we prefer to keep things to ourselves, but more often it’s just that we never get round to it.

And so I see my job as a storyteller not just to be a teller but also a listener. The two, of course, must go hand in hand. And when people ask me where I get my stories from, then I have to say truthfully that stories are everywhere and I often encounter them at moments I don’t expect.

For example, supermarkets for me have become a prime source of stories. I don’t mean the stories of the foods, although there are plenty of those. Fellow shoppers often come up to speak to me and I have acquired quite a few tales this way.

In earlier days, when people got their messages from local shops, it was common to stop and chat with the shopkeeper. Usually other shoppers were local and people knew each other and shared gossip and caught up on life’s affairs. Now people often drive to supermarkets. Fellow shoppers are no longer mostly from our neighbourhood, so we usually mingle and mix together without making any connection.

So when suddenly someone I don’t know speaks to me and shares a snippet of their life, then I feel the power of story to connect us.

The other day I happened to have finished my shopping in an East Lothian supermarket and was leaving but my way was blocked by a woman who was standing with her head down in the middle of the doorway. She seemed to be in some distress and so I asked her if she was alright.

It was only then I realised what she was doing. She had a colourful leaflet in her hands and had been reading it.

Or rather, as I soon discovered, she had been looking at the picture.

When I spoke to her, she didn’t immediately respond and stood almost motionless looking at the picture. Then she looked up at me and gave me a most wonderful smile, still saying nothing.

“Are you OK,” I asked her. She smiled again and replied: “Italy.” She looked beautiful. Her face was old and covered with the wrinkles of a life lived. But her beauty was inner. It was her smile, I think, that transformed her.

“Would you like a hand with your bag?” I asked.

But she said again: “Italy.” I paused for a moment, and then realised she was referring to the photo in the leaflet. It was some brochure, advertising Italian produce, with a photo of olive groves in a sundrenched Italian countryside – a stark contrast to the cauld, dreich weather outside the supermarket doors. Sleet had just begun to fall; well, it wasn’t falling to be honest, rather it was swirling ferociously as a snell wind whipped it up into eddies in the car park.

The old lady lifted the leaflet so I could see the photo more clearly.

“Italy,” she said very firmly.

“Yes, a beautiful country,” I replied. By now I was worried about her, especially the thought of her having to walk through what seemed to be a brewing storm outside.

“Would you like a lift?” I asked her.

She just smiled at me again and put her hand on mine. “No son, I’m waiting for Raymond.” “Ah, OK,” I said. She continued to look at the photo.

“Have you been to Italy?” I asked.

“Once,” she said.

“A holiday?” I asked “No,” she said, “to visit my...”. She lost her train of thought.

Her smile left her, it was something like a light going out.

Then she looked at the picture again and smiled once more.

“Italy,” she said, “my Raymond is there.” “You have family in Italy?” I asked.

Just at that moment, another woman arrived. It was the lady’s daughter. She had brought up the car to the drop-off point. The disabled spaces were full and she didn’t want her frail mother to have to walk through the sleet.

She smiled at me, the same smile her mother had. She spoke softly to her mother. “Mum, come on, the car’s outside.” “We’ve been talking about Italy,” I said to the daughter.

“My dad is buried there,” she explained, “he died in the war. Mum is 91 and has Alzheimer’s, she can get confused.” The daughter then picked up her mum’s bag and lovingly led her to the car.

I watched as they braved the sleet. As the daughter helped her mum into the car I could see she still held the leaflet in her hand.

It was an amazingly poignant moment and I hope that they don’t mind me printing the story.

The image of that beautiful old lady standing in her memory while everyone around her was shopping, rushing about, thinking about what to have for tea, and dreading the venture into the winter weather stayed with me for some time.

I felt privileged to have glimpsed, ever so briefly, into someone else’s life. Her husband fought for us all those years ago and she, even through the veil of Alzheimer’s, remembers him as she waits for her daughter to bring the car because people who are not disabled have filled up the disabled spaces.

Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease, I know that because I watched my grandmother suffer from it. I suppose most diseases associated with ageing and decline are cruel. But by taking away memory bit by bit, it seems particularly cruel, for we are our memories.

Which is why when something triggers a memory, that moment is so powerful, both for sufferers and those who love them.

Music, rhyme and story can be some of the main triggers in memory, for all of us, and especially those who live with Alzheimer’s.

And so I hope to come along to the Good Memories Cafe with a musician at the John Gray Centre in Haddington. The café will be open on February 13, March 13, April 10, May 15 and June 12.