Clara was the first “wicked woman” I knew. By “wicked” I mean she wore scarlet lipstick that left a blood-red stains on her Kool brand cigarettes in the various ashtrays around her house. She went to the “beer garden” with her husband Wes, and talked quite a bit louder than any polite Christian woman I knew.
Clara was my aunt and, having no kids of her own, she adopted me as her “favorite nephew.” When she found me at family gatherings she encircled me with her arms, pulled me close and kissed me square on the lips, introducing me for the first time to the thrilling yet waxy taste of lipstick. She constantly laughed and giggled between cigarettes and sometimes said “damn” in front of me before immediately covering her lips with her hand and giggling an apology for her language “in front of my little preacher-boy.”
If Clara had not been my aunt I would not have been allowed around her. Like most families we were more broad-minded about our relatives. Clara got more religious after she retired from her job as secretary at U S Steel. Or maybe the standard of “religious” dropped to then include her, I'm not sure. I do know that we let women who wear lipstick go to heaven now. As a retired woman, Clara attended a Methodist church , prayed daily and read every book I ever wrote. Occasionnally she’d call me on my wife's cell phone and she'd laugh so loud I sometimes had to pull the receiver away from my ear. Even after I turned 60 she continued to call me “My little Wesley” (I'm named after her late husband, Wesley).
I think Clara was my first crush--at age 8. I remember praying often for her so she would stop wearing lipstick, smoking and drinking beer so she too could go to heaven. We've changed some of those understandings now of course, but as a child that's how I understood things.
I moved away from Clara when I was twelve. Now she’s moved away from me—they buried her this morning and I found out too late to attend the funeral, so I’m sad today. I expect to meet her again... lipstick or not.