#51 A Lesson In BakingPosted: July 14, 2013
As a little girl on North Carolina beaches no matter how many bonnets I wore, no matter how much I was covered up, I burned. I could hide in the shade under a house. I burned. At the inn where we stayed, the most familiar fragrance at night was vinegar. That was the cure for the sting of sunburn so the whole place smelled like a giant salad bar. My brother tanned, my mother tanned. My father and I burn, burn, burned.
Then in the west, our Washington beaches were not surfing or swimming beaches. They were beaches for walking and sunsets. They were for thinking or dating. Even smelting. But they were not for suntans.
Our lakes were for suntans. And my friends and I regularly used the standard elixir to achieve that special tan. I don’t know how we knew about it. Who started it? The simple baking recipe was a bottle of baby oil with iodine dripped in and shaken for a pinkish shade. That combination expedited the burn/tan process. There are plenty in our generation paying a dangerous price of aging and even deadly diseases in part because of that elixir. We didn’t know better. We believed a tan made you prettier, or more popular or a better water skier or tennis player or just increased the possibility of maybe, maybe being cool.
One summer a few of us spent a lucky sunny weekend at the lake, and out came bottles of baby oil with the droppers of iodine. We’d spend the day on the dock talking, listening to music, rotating for even color and occasionally cooling off briefly in the lake. Then back to the dock to load up on more of the baking recipe. “You’re getting awfully red,” they said. I just turned over for more.
We each got plenty of color that day but I was on fire. Anyone who has had that all over burn recognizes the feeling at night of still baking in the sun. And probably with the baby oil I was still broiling, like butter on a burn.
My friends kept applying cool compresses all night to my painful swelling limbs. The object was to correct my mistake. But I was so swollen the next day I went to a doctor. The burns were serious enough to send me to the hospital where I was coated and injected with cortisone. That went on for a couple of weeks. In spite of my disastrous appearance, I said nothing to my parents. They said nothing to me. The real punishment was my summer job at a hamburger joint over a hot fryer.
I molted for weeks, which did not make me cool.