Mavis was my great Aunt, or FABULOUS aunt as she would say.
From my earliest memories she was an old woman in my life. Old but never dull or invisible. I fondly remember times in various Stkilda flats where we’d feast on dim-sims and tim-tams, then she’d hop on the singer and make it sing as she rennovated or remade my latest opshop find or retro dress pattern.
If Mavis liked you, nothing was too much trouble and her generosity knew no bounds.
If she didn’t like you, look out! This old lady could be full of scathing wit, but she was also full of vim and vigour.
She gave me my first pair of clogs: red straps with cork heels, hand me downs that stopped fitting me at age nine.
Every time we re-met she’d laugh and measure herself against me as I shot past her diminutive self that seemed all corseted waist, voluptous breasts and dainty little feet in heels. She always set her hair, wore lipstick and beads and beautiful clothes that she often made herself.
Her many homes around StKilda were always warm and brightly feminine as no matter how basic they started out that singer-machine would soon be running up ruffles and covers in pretty pastel hues. She had a fondness for peach, pink and minty green and she knew how to make things over, but more importantly how to make things beautiful.
Aunty May loved StKilda with a passion we shared: its Russian shops, its orthodox jews in furry hats, but also the knowledge of its seemy underside intrigued her too. No matter how high the rent prices became, Stkilda was where she longed to be, and she would return there like a homing pigeon, or a magpie drawn to shiny things. I think she was proud when I began managing StKilda’s library, and we’d gossip about the more colourful local characters, often older drag queens she’d seen around for years.
At the many jazz afternoons I shared with her and my Mum Pam, Aunty Mavis would immediately befriend and soon know all the secret business of anyone in the vicinity. She was fascinated by people, and this curiosity was attractive to the people she met.
She would flirt with her eyes and her laugh, and call for requests and dance in her teensy-tiny shoes.
She taught me as a teenager not to fear being a woman over fifty, saying and showing that it allowed you to be as audacious and vivacious as you wanted, or could get away with. It’s a lesson I’ll hold dear as I two-step down the next few decades.
They say that heaven has good weather but the company’s better in hell.
Mavis, I hope that wherever you are the band is playing some hot New Orleans stomp, the crowd is going wild and the handsome man playing clarinet asks you to dance.
Cause dance you would.