Shade in a Bottle
Summer has finally arrived in Maine, and once we recovered from the shock, the whole gang (Celeste and Bud, Rita and Smitty, Betty and Pat, Shirley and Junior, and me and Charlie) bee-lined it up to Dot and Tommy’s camp on Moose Megantic Lake to celebrate. The boys had a canoe race, played some horseshoes and practiced archery. (They’re toying with the idea of getting into bow hunting.) Us girls hung out in the lounge chairs, gabbing, reading magazines, and pestering the boys about drinking enough water and putting sunscreen on.
I remember back in the olden days, when nobody drank water except to take an aspirin, and we’d never even heard of sunscreen. Growing up, our summertime goal was to get as dark as possible. The girls and me would take a bottle of baby oil, put a few drops of iodine in it, grease up, and sizzle in the sun all day. We thought we were so sophisticated, drinking Shirley Temples from highball glasses, smoking candy cigarettes. I never burned too much because I got that olive tone, Franco-American skin. But poor Rita. Every summer, she looked like a boiled lobster. “Little red Rita,” we used to call her.
I read somewhere that most of the damage we see on our skin today was done before we turned twelve. Why, then, am I spending all this money on retinol, alpha-hydroxy, and multi-vitamin lotions? Isn’t that kind of like closing the barn door after the horse is out? But I’m an optimistic person by nature, so I’m hoping to catch that horse and put it back in the barn before it gets too far gone, if you catch my drift.
My grandmother, oh, she had beautiful skin, milky white and smooth as a baby’s bottom, right into her sixties. Back when she was growing up, they always wore a hat or a bonnet to protect their skin from the sun. You’ve seen them old pictures. It certainly worked for my grandmother. But, I don’t look good in a hat and my hair doesn’t look good after I take a hat off, so if I’m spending time out in the sun, I put on “shade in a bottle,” as my sister Irene calls it: sunscreen with SPF 30. I know you’re supposed to do this all the time, but who does? Luckily my foundation has SPF 15, which is a good thing, because you have to be careful or the left side of your face will age faster than your right side. No, I’m serious! I saw it on Oprah. See, that’s the side that gets the most sun when you drive. You don’t want your left side looking like Clint Eastwood, do you? No wonder I have trouble sleeping: so many beauty tips, so little time.
If you want some color, one option is to use a self tanner. But I’m not too fussy about those. Working at the A&P, let me tell you, I’ve seen some real disasters. Recently in People magazine, they were giving out awards to celebrities whose spray tans had gone horribly wrong. They called it the Oompa-Loompas, named after those characters in “Willy Wonka,” the ones with the bright orange skin. If you’re shopping at the A&P in Mahoosuc Mills (actually, it’s called Super Food World now, but everyone in town still calls it the A&P), and you hear on the loud speaker, “OLA in aisle 9, OLA aisle 9,” you know there is an Oompa-Loompas Alert in aisle 9. Then we take bets on who’s going to cash the poor dear out. That’s your insider scoop for the day.
So up to Dottie’s camp, us girls sat in the shade under their big, old oak tree, applying sunscreen, trying to stay hydrated and solving the problems of the world. When they finished fooling around on the lake, the guys cooked dinner. Which means all six of them stood around the grill, drinking beer and watching the steaks cook, while the girls set the table, pulled together a salad, boiled the corn of the cob and got everything else on the table in time to praise the boys for doing such a great job with supper!
At sunset, we took our strawberry shortcake out onto Tommy’s pontoon boat for a spin around the lake. At one point, Tommy shut off the engine, and you could hear the loons, and the faint sound of people on their docks. I thought, this is it. This is what I love about summers in Maine. The way the trees look at the edge of the lake, the mountains in the distance. The smell of sunscreen and the taste of real whipped cream on a strawberry shortcake. Nothing like it!
That’s it for now. Catch you on the flip side!
(Listen to the podcast of Ida's column here.)