People used to always tell me I looked like my dad, particularly his side of the family. My granny and other Turner relatives, would say things like “Sarah has the Turner nose” or “she’s got the Turner shaped eyes,” and as a girl I was delighted. I wanted to look like my dad. To me, he looked like Clark Kent with his specs on and Superman without.
But, I wanted to dance like my mum.
We used to go to a hotel every year called Crieff Hydro. My dad had gone too, as a child, to this very same hotel for family holidays, so it was a bit of a Turner tradition. A huge old hotel, up on a hill. It had a golf course, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a pitch and putt course and miles and miles of secret passageways and servants’ staircases that myself, my siblings and whichever friends we had made that visit, would spend hours exploring. It was a magical place.
There was a nursery, where you went as a child for all your meals. You weren’t allowed in the main restaurant until, if I remember rightly, you were 11. That was a momentous holiday – the first time you were allowed to eat with the adults in the proper restaurant. I felt so grown up! It was the type of old hotel you see on Poirot films now, where you dress for dinner and there is dancing after dinner in the ballroom. And, by dancing, I don’t mean shuffling from side to side to the latest Madonna noise, no – this was proper, take your partner in hold and waltz around the floor dancing. This was dancing the foxtrot to the live band (which always had an accordion player, I seem to remember) and then sitting around the edge catching your breath and watching the other dancers effortlessly glide around the floor. Looking back now it seems like something from a different time, a different era.
My mum was a dancer. It is what she left school at 15 to do – teach ballroom and Latin dancing – and it is where my parents met. Dad was (reluctantly) sent to dance classes with his elder brother (my granny thought it would be a good skill for them to learn) and fell madly in love with the young (she was 17, he was 18) dance teacher with the gorgeous legs. It took him a while to ask her out, by all accounts – and the rest, as they say, is history, or my history, at least.
Mum came alive on the dance floor. It looked effortless to her. My dad would always look very proud as they travelled round the floor, twirling and whirling in time to the music. Her face smiling widely as she did what seemed to come naturally to her.I used to love watching them those precious evenings at the hotel and feel incredibly proud of her dancing – her grace, her effortless timing and her confidence.
One year, Mum was rushed to hospital with stomach pains – it turned out she was scarily close to her appendix bursting, so ended up in hospital for several days after having the beastly thing removed. We were there with two other families that year, so Dad was able to visit Mum, whilst ensuring we were supervised by friends and kept busy each day. At night, during Mum’s absence, Dad would take it in turns to dance with me and Emma. Holding us firmly in his arms and trying to guide us through the steps gracefully, as we hopped and jumped around the dance floor, trying to put our little feet on his enormous size 11’s – giggling hopelessly at our terrible efforts.
She did try to get us to love dancing as we were growing up. I tried ballet as a small child and left after one lesson as I hated it so much. We then did Scottish Country Dancing classes for many years (mum was the teacher), but were regularly shown up when mum would don her black ballet pumps and whirl us around in the Dashing White Sergeant. We could dance – but never like her.
When up last week visiting, Dad brought down lots of old photos for me and the kids to look through. It was funny looking at some of the old family pics – our awful haircuts and our 80’s fashions – but it was so incredibly sad too. I found pictures, just a few years old of Mum holding Martha as a baby, looking just so happy. It was a day out we’d had up in Gullane, at the coast and we’d stopped at a lovely little pub for some lunch, sitting outside in the warm sunshine. It had been a lovely day. In the picture, Mum, I suddenly noticed looked beautiful. Really beautiful. Eyes dancing, twinkling with joy and love and she was utterly gorgeous. This seemed to hit me, like a physical punch to the chest.
Then I found another photo, years earlier of my mum with her big sister. Mum must have been in her late 30’s and again, I was shocked at how beautiful she was. Her really big brown eyes smiling back at me through almost 30 years. I sat and compared the two pictures, glancing from one to the other. She was utterly lovely.
And then I remembered when I was 18 and working in one of the local pubs in our village and one of my old middle school teachers came in and we had a chat across the bar. He informed me that he had always had a soft spot for Mrs Turner when myself, my brother and my sister were at the school – she was one of the “hot” mums, he said. I remembered back to that conversation, when he could have probably knocked me down with a feather at that time. My mum? Really? But now, looking properly at these photos I can see what others have probably always seen, but I never really did. I used to see my mum – the woman who I needed for things…. For taking me to places, for making my dinner, for rescuing me from friends / boyfriends / siblings / myself, for teaching me about life and love and friendship. For teaching me how to make soup and cheese sauce. For helping me decorate my house, for being at the end of the phone when I was struggling with feeding a baby. I had seen a mum I adored and who I needed, with every inch of my being – but I don’t think I ever saw her.
Her eyes are different now, oh they are still big and brown, but a lot of the time they look haunted and scared, or vacant and un-seeing. The sparkle, that gorgeous twinkle has gone and you can tell by just looking into her eyes whether it is a good day, or a bad day. Every so often, you can still see her though. Like when I went to say goodnight to her last week when I was up visiting. She was tucked up in bed and she looked tiny, propped up on several cushions. I held her hand and said goodnight and she looked at me, really looked at me. “I know you,” she said. Her eyes told me she could see me, see the real me. Her brain might not be computing my significance to her, but her eyes, those sparkly eyes held recognition in that moment.”Oh, Mum! I do miss you.” I said, with tears falling down my cheeks and I gave her a cuddle. Hanging on for dear life. Not wanting to let go, as the next time I looked, the eyes might have lost their sparkle again, the mist may have drawn in and she would inevitably see the world through the cruel haze that is dementia. Hallucinations being more real to her than her family. Conspiracies being her truth – a truth we can never successfully compete with. And, I am right…. just like that, the moment, and those eyes are gone.
As I’ve gotten older, I am likened to my mum a lot more. People see photos in my house and comment about how I am like her. I used to mutter a faint agreement, “Mmmm, do you think so?” I’d say. “People usually say I’m like my dad, actually – my sister is more like my mum,” I’d add, “she has my mum’s eyes.”
And, yes, my sister and my brother both have my mum’s big brown eyes, but when someone next tells me that I am like my mum, I will just smile and say thank you. I may never be able to dance like her, but I can bloody well pretend that I look like her!