Writer’s Workshop: Sun 2, Parents 0

Sunburns were a consequence of going out in the summer when I was a kid. Back in the Sixties we didn’t have sunscreen like we do today. In fact, we would use Johnson’s Baby Oil more often than not, which was supposed to be really good for getting a tan. So were Coppertone and Bain du Soleil (“for the San Tropez tan!”). We weren’t exactly poltically correct back in those days: the Coppertone bottles used to have a picture of a Native American on them, which I guess was to promise that you’d tan as dark as Sitting Bull if you used the product.

Being one of those Irish kids with a redhead complexion (according to my mother), I never did very well at getting a suntan. Sunburns were no problem, and until I figured out I should cover up as much as possible when I’m out in the sun, I used to get them with alarming frequency. I had so many sunburns, I couldn’t begin to tell you which one was the worst. My folks, on the other hand, had some of the worst sunburns I can remember.

We used to go to Assembly Park in Delavan, Wisconsin on vacation every year. We started doing that when I was going into second grade. Dad would book his vacation for the week before Labor Day, when it was still hot and sunny outside. He loved to play golf, and every morning he would get up and drive over to Lake Lawn Lodge on the other side of the lake, where they had a pretty good golf course, and he would look for a game. One day, he met several of the other men from Assembly Park, and they went off to play. It was a great day, ninety degrees and not a cloud in the sky. On the back nine, Dad decided to take his shirt off and finish the round shirtless. When they were through, one of the guys suggested they go around a second time. A couple of the men demurred, but Dad was up for it, and continued to play shirtless. In total, as I remember the story, he played something like 72 holes of golf, all but the first nine shirtless. When he got back to our cottage, he was a color somewhere between magenta and maroon. Needless to say, he didn’t play much more on that trip. Mom said she couldn’t move in bed, or it would wake my father, who woke up screaming each time. By the time we went home, he had begun peeling and looked like he had some sort of terrible skin condition.

The next year, it was Mom’s turn. She decided she wanted to go back with a glorious tan and spent every available moment out in the sun on a chaise longue, the straps of her bathing suit off her shoulders, smoking Chesterfield cigarettes and reading trashy novels, greasing herself up with Bain du Soleil about every half hour. After three days of this abuse, she woke up and saw she had blisters on her chest. She had gotten a second-degree burn that kept her in for the rest of the week, and ended up going to the doctor and getting some kind of salve that she had to apply three times a day.

And now, a public service announcement…

A suntan looks great, and there are people who spend time in tanning booths to maintain that George Hamilton look year-round. HOWEVER, ultraviolet rays from the sun and from tanning booths can wreak havoc on a person’s skin and can cause skin cancer, or worse, melanoma. That’s a very aggressive form of skin cancer that’s almost always fatal unless it’s caught early. My brother from Mom’s second marriage lost his father to it (a great loss to all of us), Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves lost his mother to it when he was only nine years old, and every year over ten thousand people die from it, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. So, if you spend a lot of time in the sun, wear sunscreen, stay covered up when you can, and watch your skin constantly for any signs of the disease (see the page linked above). Caught early, it’s almost always curable. Please, stay safe.

As always, thanks to Mama Kat for providing the prompts for today’s Workshop (which was, in my case, “Tell about the worst sunburn you ever received. How did that happen?”). She does this every week, and if you’d like to play along, click on the picture above for the rules.


Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

18 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Sun 2, Parents 0”

  1. I want to add ball caps don’t protect ears! I got cancer on my left ear, they say we are doomed since driving we forgot in the past the sun can get you on left side. I have an elf like ear, it was continually sliced then a swatch of my neck skin was sewn on all under anaesthesia and it cost $6000! It took me two years of payments so everyone protect those kids and babies ears! Their little bald heads need a bonnet or straw hat. Be safe. 🙂 🙂


  2. I had three operations on my right ear. The first was a cut and stitch near the lobe (left me with mild tinnitis) for an actinic keratosis, then a basal cell carcinoma on the same ear meant a cut out and graft (taken from my chest – I actually had chest hair growing out of the top of my ear for a while). Unfortunately, the carcinoma returned and a further cut was necessary. This time the surgeon stitched the ear flap to my scalp, which makes cleaning difficult and wearing glasses somewhat problematic.
    Happily, here in France we have a good system of public medical insurance with optional private top-up. None of these procedures cost me anything.


  3. Your description of your mom sunning in the chaise lounge sounded much like me when I was younger. When I lived up north, I was a true sun-worshipper and I used the baby oil too (except I used to add something to it that made it bronzy red and slather it all over me. I was a mess! But I loved that sun!! I’d be in it from morning till sunset. Then I moved to Texas and it was too hot to lay out in the sun so I went to tanning salons frequently. I always thought I looked better with a tan. Now I stay far away from the sun and could care less about a tan now. I rarely got sunburns as I tanned really well. But I did have the occasional sunburns and they were miserable!

    Michele at Angels Bark


  4. Seriously, I share your complexion challenges, and always, when I was young, could spend about an hour outside before the crisping of my nose began. Trying to teach this sunscreen, hat, put a shirt on, wear your rash guard, take a break in the shade thing to three porcelain-skinned spawn has been SUCH a brutal war!
    In the last five years, many of my sun worshiping friends, people my age, have been having things removed and there is no doubt that sun has caused these cancerous spots. It’s alarming.
    You’d think seeing the scars would hit a nerve with kids, but they still think they’re impervious.


    1. When you’re their age, you’re indestructable. That’s the problem. It can sit and wait for years before showing up. With that kind of delayed reaction, you think you’re in the clear, but you aren’t.


  5. Bain du Soleil #4 was my product of choice all through my teens and twenties. I have “Italian skin” and so I would rarely burn but instead would get that great tan that everyone wants. I’d get my favorite book and spend all day soaking up those rays (I read “Jaws” in one session). Once the kids started coming, however, I had less time for such indulgences and my tanning days ended. I married a redhead who can’t take the sun and, in fact, has had three skin cancer’s removed (two on his back, one on his leg). I don’t use Bain du Soleil anymore (do they even still make it?) but I don’t use a 50 sunscreen either. Great story, John!


  6. I feel your pain. I’ve always been fair-haired and fair-skinned, so sunburn was a way of life when I was a kid. Each summer was the same cyclic process of burn, peel, and repeat. We spent a lot of time on the water most of the year… swimming, fishing, crabbing, clamming, and boating, so there was no avoiding the sun, not that I wanted to. I don’t remember ever wearing any kind of suntan lotion until I was a teenager, and by then, my skin was so used to the abuse, I actually started to get some tanning action. I loved it! So, natch, to amplify the tan, I slathered my body with baby oil laced with iodine and would lay in the sun for hours. However, the worst sunburns of my life occurred as an adult. First, when I left wintry Maryland to meet my husband in Hawaii for R&R in 1970. He’d been in the jungles of Vietnam for the previous nine months, so his skin was darker than I’d ever seen it before. Me? I was milky white. But not for long. After spending the first day riding around Oahu in a topless dune buggy with my hair pulled back, I was so burned, I looked like I had cauliflower ears. (The next day, we traded in that dune buggy for one with a roof.) The next time was when we went tubing down the Chattahoochee with friends. We had a grand old time, but I looked like a cooked lobster when we got done. That was almost forty years ago, and the last bad burn I got. Now sunblock is my friend.


    1. It hurt just to hear these stories 😉 I hope you check yourself for melanoma. It’s very unpleasant.Sorry if I get a little preachy about it, but it’s pretty awful.


  7. I don’t remember Coppertone with any logo other than the little girl and the dog. I’m going to have to google the other image. You’ve made me curious.
    I am a very pale brunette who figured out early on that my only usefulness in a sunbathing party was being the original white my friends could use as a baseline for how far their tans had come. In my youth I didn’t even burn, just stayed white as snow. That made sunbathing lose its appeal early on. Now, of course, I realize what a blessing that was.


    1. I just did some creative Googling and it tells me the slogan that went with the Indian was “Don’t Be A Paleface.” They kept the slogan when they switched to the little girl, but the Indian stayed on the bottle for a while.


  8. I’m so glad society is really beginning to come down on people who spend so much time tanning without proper protection. Cancer is not the disease to toy with and we have so many ways to reduce the risk. Seems so silly not to try!


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