Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My First "Wicked Woman"

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.


Anonymous said...

Keith: LOVED your "Wicked Woman" -- Elm and I loved her too -- she added "sparkle" to the Drury clan! Great honest, affectionate lament! Love, Jo

lori lls said...

Hi, Prof. Thanks for telling this story about Clara, and I'm sorry you missed her service. I'd have liked to have met her; sounds like she was a gem!


Kathy said...

Thanks for this post so we can know Aunt Clara better. Having it written allows us to never forget your side of who she was. Sorry you couldn't get to the funeral or burial. Sorry for your loss. love, kath

Bitty said...

Sounds like a brassy dame. The church always needs more of those. Livens things up. She was proud of you, that's obvious. Did I ever tell you of the ladies in the nursing home who refused to go out to activities before they'd put their lipstick on? Half their teeth missing, they'd run a comb through their hair, apply liberal amounts of powder and lipstick, and then pronounce themselves ready. I'd wheel them down to bingo or exercises or whatever the fun was that day. Some would take purses with them wherever they went - special musician, in-house hair salon, or "bowling". (plastic ball and pins.) I always loved the ones who loved to look nice to walk or be wheeled down the hall. One used to be a jazz singer who met Ella Fitzgerald. Clara would've liked her.