I wasn’t sure what to write about today, so I asked my boss, Trish, for a suggestion, and she replied, “Summer,” and enumerated all the things I could write about: the last day of school, long days, freedom, watermelon, slamming screen doors, fireflies. She paused. “Do people in
Today the weather here is “June gloom,” so called because of the fog that envelops the coast, sometimes starting as early as mid-May and lasting into July, as it seems to be doing this year. This week we even had a windshield-wiper rain. It’s not summer rain as you get in a humid climate; it’s more like
June gloom was a terrible thing when I was a teenager, because my friends and I took vows at the end of each school year that we would go to the beach every day, and if we could not, because we had jobs or summer school or parents who made us do something else, we would “lay out” (we were objects to the sun) on my sundeck or theirs as hours allowed. There were strict rules for how one went to the beach, lest one look like a tourist: you could only bring a towel, baby oil, and some change in order to buy a Tab in the afternoon at one of the little markets, but no beach bag was allowed to carry this in, and I don't remember how we managed that on our bikes. No food allowed, no beach chairs, no umbrellas (really bad) and the dress code excluded hats which might have shielded us from the sun, but allowed two-piece bathing suits, white shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops or bare feet. A minimal time for laying out was three hours. Anything less, like on a June gloom day which might only yield a half hour or hour in the afternoon if at all, was a cause for anxiety. I once described this to a friend while living in another state and he said, “That doesn’t sound like any fun,” and that summed it up quite nicely.
I don’t get much of a tan, but I was content with getting sunburns, which turned me slightly tan afterwards, though my friends would laugh at that idea—I could never get really brown, that was a joke, but I was only one of two in my family who could even get a tad golden. My oldest sister had skin that was a whiter shade of pale, milky white; she was a Snow White with dark brown hair and light blue eyes. She was so white it was terrifying to me, and I was grateful for my ability to get even a little bit brown. She would visit us from L.A., where she lived, and she’d lay out on the deck and I could see her turn a light pink while she lay there, which wasn’t a good sign. She would turn into a strawberry ice-cream color by evening, and then she would peel in a few days and go back to being milky white. Not that I was afraid of sunburns, as I said: we liked for our faces to blister under our eyes so that when they popped, the skin underneath would come out a lighter pink or even white tone, which we liked as a contrast to the rest of the red or brown color on our faces.
I think about that and shudder because it’s now common to read things that say that one sunburn in a lifetime increases the risk of skin cancers like melanoma. So far I have escaped skin cancer, and that may be because I stopped laying out at about age twenty, when the above-referenced older sister came home from Washington, D.C., where she lived, and pulled up her shirt to show me the large, quarter-sized, raised black growth on her spine, and talked at length about visits to the skin doctor and removal of several others like it. I was cured of sun bathing that very day, always using sun screen and taking a no-longer-embarrassing umbrella to the sand. Her kids and mine and everyone's grew up wearing sun screen and hats. My kids hate sunburns and complain bitterly if they happen to get one, as one son did after his fourth grade class spent the traditional last of school at the beach in foggy June gloom weather, which doesn’t mean you are safe from the sun; we had forgotten to pack his sunscreen. He then made it a habit to put it on himself before going to the beach.
I had watched my mom and dad get small skin cancers on their arms and faces, which they treated in a blasé manner and got removed with little fuss, but none of them looked like my sister’s. My mom is still, at eighty-nine, getting at least one removed each year. Yes, she said, they got sunburns all summer long in their youth, and now I think they were lucky not to get melanoma and die from it, not have it eat away part of a leg or nose, or bore from the forehead into the brain, as one hears has happened to relatives and friends of friends. Like many things, “back then we didn’t know better,” etc. is the explanation for it, and I guess it’s mine too.