We called it “laying out,” not tanning or sunbathing, and it required the following: 1. A reclining lawn chair, the kind with plastic striping stretched across the aluminum frame. Mine
We called it “laying out,” not tanning or sunbathing, and it required the following:
1. A reclining lawn chair, the kind with plastic striping stretched across the aluminum frame. Mine was buttercup yellow, from Roses, and, during summers in the 1980s, I put that thing to use every day.
2. Suntan oil, and yes, that’s oil not lotion or, heaven help, sunscreen, although if you had to have some sort of protection, no more than SPF 4. Did we heed the warnings of the wise who cautioned us against burning, against damaging our skin? We did not. My neighbor’s mother had a foldable sun reflector that she held under her chin. My own mother remembers slathering Crisco on her skin at the beach. My friends and I believed the ads in Seventeen and Glamour magazines, the ones that told us we needed a tan, a “savage” tan, a St. Tropez Tan, a Banana Boat tan, a Panama Jack tan, and as soon as school was out for the summer, an entire aisle of Eckerd Drug in the mall was given over to rows and rows of those bronze bottles: Hawaiian Tropic with its embossed gold label, sporty Sea & Ski, fancy Bain de Soleil. I was loyal to Coppertone, its bottle imprinted with graphic stripes in orange and yellow, a perpetual sun rising above the horizon.
3. A boom box or a Walkman, our ears ensconced in orange foam headphones, and a shoebox full of cassette tapes.
4. And, of course, you needed the sun.
Oh, how we needed the sun. After nine months cooped up in classrooms, in front of dingy chalkboards; after a long winter; after a rainy spring, we emerged from indoors to turn our faces toward the light, to soak up summer the best way we knew how. Outside.
My dad mowed the lawn without his shirt on. As a teenager, I was mortified by this, but I understood that he, too, wanted to feel the warmth of sunshine on his shoulders, didn’t mind if his back was reddened at the end of the day, evidence of an afternoon well spent.
We believed in the curative powers of sunshine. We carried our damp laundry out to hang on the line. We lugged potted ferns to their summer home on the porch. We removed the curtains from the windows to better let the light in. We ate our lunches outside, sitting in webbed chairs in our backyards, tomato sandwiches on paper plates balanced on our knees. We planned our picnics and family reunions, all to be held outdoors, beneath a cloudless summer sky.
And at night, we still craved the light, the brilliance of stars, the glow of fireflies, the beam of floodlights in the outfield at an evening baseball game, the dazzle of sparklers and big, booming flashes of fireworks that pushed the darkness away for a moment, at least, our summers seared in memory, permanently radiant and golden.
Editor in Chief