Noelene and I met last week on the street outside Websters Vintage in Long Jetty. I looked at her, turned away, then looked at her again and couldn't help but say something.
"You look absolutely beautiful."
She smiled, SO thrilled at my compliment.
"Not bad for eighty-one years old!"
You know those times when you talk to a stranger like it's the easiest thing in the world?
Noelene grew up in a terrace house in Redfern, said it was pretty tough.
"But back in those days, nobody would lay a finger on children. Not like they do now ... we were surrounded by hard people, Tilly Devine and all of her associates. But none of them ever touched a child. We we so much freer on the streets than kids are these days. We'd stay out from dawn til dusk. Doesn't seem like children even have a proper childhood these days. Such a shame."
Her father was an alcoholic, so she's never had a drink or smoked a cigarette in her life. Noelene taught herself how to sew and has made her own clothes and dresses since she was young. Her two sons are both exceptional high-achievers. She just shrugged.
"Had nothing to do with me!"
Noelene had a spunk and wit about her, a sparkle in her eye. She looks like she's on her way to a sock hop. I love the way her scarf sits just-so, the care she took in accessorising, and the delight she had in life. She's still got it ... she never gave up. We stood there talking for half an hour. Her son was about to head up to the Blue Mountains the next day .. we worked out he was staying literally around the corner from my house.
When she told me that her husband had died in October, her mask slipped and for an instant I saw her grief. It was big. She said she was glad he went first because she knows there's no way he could have lived without her. I held her arm and told her about my mum and we spoke of the meaning of life and the importance of looking your best when you set out each morning. Her son (a university Professor) came out of the shop just as Rocco came hurtling down the street with Dave behind him. I introduced them all, snapped her picture, and asked if I could write about her. She preened and giggled, asked me what could I possibly say?
So sprightly and young at heart. I adored her. She liked me too, even with the tattoos. We kissed and hugged goodbye, and meant it.
Inspired by meeting Noelene, I'll be featuring somebody I meet on the street here every Friday. Because sometimes, talking to a stranger is the easiest thing in the world.