My mom, aka “Fancy," has been on my mind a lot this week. March 2 marks 5 years (can it be five years??) since she died. During this bleak week of winter, I’m remembering how much she loved the beach and the sun….
Fancy always says that sun, salt water, and salt air can fix any problem. Head cold? Get out in that sun. Acne? Splash some ocean water on it. Heartbroken? Take a walk and breath in that salt air.
Getting a suntan, which she refers to as a “burn” — as if that’s a good thing, was a critical component of a successful trip to the beach. Fancy turns golden brown within the first few days of summer and keeps her glow until Thanksgiving. She corrals us kids to the beach us even on the cloudiest summer days saying, “You can still burn!”
And burn, I do.
SPF exists in the mid-1970s I’m sure, somewhere, but not on the sandy beaches of Stone Harbor, NJ. Here, lifeguards sit on their perches with zinc covered noses. We run around the beach all day, building castles and jumping the waves. At some point Fancy tosses me a t-shirt because she thinks I'm looking a little red. Dad has brought down a fist-full of free shirts he got from a schnapps salesman at the bar. This one is white, hangs down to my ankles, and says “How do you like them apples?”
Despite the protective t-shirt, I suffer from sunburns so severe that my skin turns purple. Fancy calls it "prickly heat" and puts tea bags on my skin before slathering me with Noxema. Sometimes she uses the fancy stuff: Solarcaine, which smells like band-aids and comes in a can. I don't know what's in it, but the cool blast of air soothes my ruined skin. (Editor’s note: it’s Lidocaine. Also, I’m the Editor.)
I really like the commercials, featuring attractive but aggressively sunburned people. You can tell that they are sunburned because when they pull their bathing suit straps back they reveal a shocking contrast between lobster red and snowy skin.
Photo credit: https://www.pinterest.com/TIASAntiques/ (But, let's be honest, they probably stole it from someone else.)
The jingle is the best part:
Solarcaine stops sunburn pain, when someone you love is hurting.
I guess that "someone you love” bit is to guilt parents into buying it.
I'm not sure they even make that stuff any more. (Editor’s note: They do. Also, you know you can Google these things, right?)
By the time I’m a teenager, I get wise to this sunburn thing, realizing I can avoid it by staying inside and watching TV. My favorites are reruns of late 60s shows like the Brady Bunch or the Monkees. I was also briefly obsessed with Jem, an an unassuming and just slightly mousy blonde by day, crime-fighting lead singer of the glam punk group, Jem and the Holograms, by night.
My family cannot understand why I don't want to go to the beach all day. My mother and sisters can sit and bake themselves for hours, talking, staring at the ocean. I can't still still that long without some stimulus and it’s hard for me to read on the beach because of the glare on my huge glasses. So, I stay in the cool house, escaping into a world of perfect TV families and zany mystery solvers while my real family is apparently having all of their problems magically solved by the sun and sea.
Now that I’m older and blonder, I've come to understand the power of the sun, salt water and salt air. In fact, I’d rather be at the beach than almost anywhere else. I've logged many hours with my mother and sisters on those same beaches and upped my sunscreen game significantly.
I feel closer to Fancy when I’m by the water. I can still hear her say, “Oh, don’t put that crap on. You’ll never burn!"
Are you a beach baby? Or a snow bunny? I want to hear from you- leave a comment below! And don’t forget to subscribe to my email updates….