How I would love to be able to time travel back to the 1890’s when Lily was trained, with her sisters, by Madame Rosalie Philippini, the ballet mistress for Williamson and Musgrove; to watch her doing bar work and learning the beautifully executed grand battement demonstrated to me in her kitchen when she was in her late sixties. How wonderful to be able to watch her learn new ballets; find out that she had a place in the corps de ballet (perhaps even a solo!); travel on a company tour in New Zealand; be courted by Jack at the stage door.
Tall, statuesque and often serious, Lily had a wide and welcoming smile and was occasionally prone to ‘the giggles’. I have cherished memories of her having ‘the giggles’ with my aunt when something triggered them to double over with infectious laughter and we all found ourselves joining in.
Growing up I had a romantic picture of Lily’s time as a dancer. In fact Lily considered being a ballerina a hard life, and did not actively encourage my mother to become a dancer. Lily faced other challenges during her life in addition to those of the times in which she lived. Two years after my mother’s birth in 1913, Lily lost a beloved first son at six weeks old—a cause of deep sadness for her. Jack, like many of his maternal Miller relatives, proved to have an addictive regard for the sport of kings, apparently causing the only arguments between them.
Marrying Jack also carried with it difficulties associated with ‘mixed marriages’. Jack’s family were devout Roman Catholics, Lily’s family were barely practicing Protestants. Where Jack seemed to negotiate this with ease, never doubting his choice of bride, becoming a non-practicing Catholic, yet having the confidence to retain contact with his loved parents, I suspect it was more difficult for Lily.
Often serious, rarely physically affectionate, Lily showed her love for us all in so many other ways. When we were little she was always on hand if Mum needed some help; she would knit beautiful hand made jumpers for us all and would have us to stay ‘turn about’ as children. Perhaps it was Nanna’s theatre experience that made her so adept at successfully curling even my very fine straight hair using rags – I just loved her doing this when it was ‘my turn to stay’!
I took the picture below of Lily with Jack on my Brownie box camera a few years before Jack died in 1967. One of the few memories I have of Lily touching Jack, it seems to epitomize a love and life shared for over fifty years. Lily is touching Jack’s arm as if concerned to help him keep his balance, and had knitted the warm cowl-necked sweater he is wearing, a pattern chosen to keep his neck warm. When Jack died, Lily clearly missed him very deeply.
Lily was part of a large, close family rich with family stories passed on through my mother to us. I don’t look at all like her ‘Hooper/Taylor’ side, and in many ways am more like my father’s ‘Lee’ side and Jack’s ‘Devitt’ side. However Lily’s stories; the stories of her brothers and sisters and memories of meeting them and hearing about their lives and children, of meeting their children, of visiting Hooper family sites in Melbourne and Sydney, of learning more about ‘Hooper/Taylor’ side family history, all form part of who I am. These stories, along with the caring and support Lily gave me over so many years have I think given me a measure of self esteem and strength which perhaps my other ‘sides’ didn’t in quite the same way.
I was overseas when Lily died, so in some way never really said goodbye to her. I occasionally have distressing nightmares in which she is still alive, is alone and I can’t find her. My nanna, Lily, will always be part of me, and perhaps, if there is another life, I will find her again.
Final version June 2015