Marcia Deihl died in Cambridge on March 12, when a truck hit the three-speed bicycle she referred to as her SUV — “simple utilitarian vehicle.” She had ridden through Cambridge for 48 years, her mother had safely lived to 102, and Marcia had every reason to expect the same.
She was 65 years old.
No one writes about the life of a poet and musician as well as they write about themselves. She was born in North Carolina, daughter of a pastor. “My father preached while I drew dancing harem girls,“ one poem begins. Almost from the start, she took a left off the traditional road. “I’m going to be hungry and thirsty all the time,” she announced to her family when she was three and a half, and it was like a metaphor for the breadth of her eventual social activism.
Small-town New York State, where the family came to live, did not tolerate idiosyncrasy. When Marcia walked a friend down the main street in a leash and collar one day, her pastor father paid penance afterwards. She found humor in pain, though. “I had both the highest IQ and the highest weight in my class,” she lightly wrote in an essay for WBUR — which led to a lifetime of rigorous dietary attention. She ate only at scheduled times, measured and carried all her food, and never drank anything with calories.
In the late sixties, she found her stride after she came to Boston for college, training in classical harpsichord (though her personal taste was more for younger pieces, like “Tawny Scrawny Lion”). Her fashion sense was also left of tradition, heavy on the second-hand: fedoras, bangles, a necklace of ivory organ stops.
As she had predicted at three and a half, Marcia was hungry all her life, but the hunger was for causes. Cambridge suited her, and she planted not just two, but more like two dozen feet in it. She helped found The New Harmony Sisterhood Band, a feminist folk group that managed to sing protest songs without a breath of animosity. She threw herself into what might be the most progressive church in Harvard Square (though didn't formally join it until she had worked out her theological ambivalence). And while not a community-chairing type, she cofounded the Boston Bisexual Women’s network. “I never was a girly girl/with a secret dress-up life,” she wrote, “but my old boyfriend was.”
For the 350 people who came to her memorial service, and the hundred who told stories about her at the Cambridge YWCA, and the crowd that sang at the site of her accident, there’d been no time to get used to the idea of her loss before its occurrence. There’s time, now. A bike, pale as a cloud and covered with streamers, is chained to the site where she died. Its basket is full of flowers, and somehow, they are always fresh.
Did you know Marcia Deihl? Share your memories in the comments section.
This segment aired on July 8, 2015.