When Marilyn came to stay

Memories like cobwebs form concentric circles over time.

With a few gaps in between.

I was a girl without a coat. I never needed one until my mid-forties when I began to feel the bite of winter. Before then my age or the fact I spent most times outside inside a car where a coat was redundant.

And singlets for my children, what was the use of them? A thin layer of insulation that invariably rode up my babies’ backs. And created a draft. 

Besides I disliked the look of a man in an otherwise crisp shirt when underneath you could see the thin outline of his singlet straps. To me it looked clumsy, as if such a man belonged with his mother, cosseted because he could not handle life. 

My prejudices from my youth embarrass me now.

Even as I tried as an adolescent not to go with the mainstream. When I resisted the Beatle mania that ran like a rash through the girls at my convent school. When I refused to listen to the Rolling Stones and could not see what all the fuss was about when groups of young women and girls screamed at airports after the Monkees’ plane landed on the tarmac. 

How they carried on as though their lives depended on this brief encounter with these pretty young men with dark near shoulder length hair who carried guitars and sang into microphones as though they were eating ice creams. 

Not for me such savage idolatry. I preferred to listen to Mozart or embrace the sad tones of Paul Robeson and his Ol’ Man River. 

When Marilyn W came to say in our house in Camberwell when I was still not wearing bras, but aware my turn would soon come, she wore her straight dark hair loose down her back. It bracketed her face like folk singing females coming out of America.

Marilyn played her guitar seated on the bed I had vacated to make room in my sister’s bedroom. I went back to share one with two younger sisters. 

I don’t remember objecting to this move. I was glad I did not need to sleep alone. That would have distressed me as a child. Besides no longer sharing a room with my older sister meant my father was less likely to visit in the night.

Maybe, too, he might stop visiting my older sister given a stranger had taken up residence in our house for a year.

Marilyn came from Queensland where she lived with her father. She had met one of my older brothers while he was travelling and he brought her home to Melbourne, at first under the guise of his girlfriend. But in no time he met another woman, three years older, who held greater allure. The older woman fell pregnant to my brother, the two arranged to marry, and the rest becomes history…

Marilyn was stuck in Melbourne without a boyfriend, but my father agreed she could stay for a year to complete her schooling at Canterbury Girls High, a few streets away. The reason she’d come to Melbourne in the first place.

When you’re one of the young ones in a family, things happen between your parents and among your older siblings that make little sense. Still, you take it for granted.

No one asks your opinion on such activities or asks if it bothers you. It’s a done deal, as was the fact Marilyn moved into the bed that was mine in the room I once shared with my older sister and I was back with the younger ones. 

Marilyn brought folk music into our house, music my older sister had already embraced, but Marilyn’s voice was alto deep while my sister’s was soprano high.

There was a depth to Marilyn’s voice and her sorrow that eclipsed my sister’s. Marilyn’s voice matched the songs she sang and few of them had religious over tones.

My sister went for God fuelled songs: Turn turn turn, Kumbayah, songs she learned at church, but Marilyn fed us songs from the civil rights movement. Songs straight out of America and its civil war; out of the UK and its long history, Scottish ballads: 

The river is wide I cannot cross over. 

Nor do I have light wings to fly. 

Give me a boat that will carry to. 

And boats will bring my love and I.

The Birmingham five, the dead women in Ohio.

This music spoke to me. And despite my wish to avoid the mainstream when The Seekers came into vogue, I sat alongside others in my desire to become another Judith Durham. She also of the straight shiny hair flanking both sides of her face.

Her voice was like an angel’s and always accompanied by three young men at her side who sang in harmony and strummed their instruments as though they were all part of a whole. 

The music of those times held me tight.

I sang loud, out of earshot of others, but in my imagination, I sang to the clouds, my audience. I imagined myself a great voice, the voice of a songbird on the wing or settled on a branch. Ready to stop the world with her sound.

I did not need coats or singlets when I could be held tight under the thick embrace of words that floated over the notes.