Friday, April 6, 2012

36. Travel: Florida

For several years when I was growing up, we vacationed in Florida for Thanksgiving and Easter.  My mom and step-dad had grandiose plans of buying a beach cottage in Panama City, but the reality was:  we always rented. 

(Ultimately they divorced, and no one bought a beach cottage in Panama City or anywhere else.)
We would pack up the station wagon and make the two hour drive from rural Alabama, while my baby brother slept in the way back and my younger sister alternately played with her dolls or pestered me.  I willed the car to go faster because once we arrived I had one goal and one goal only:  to get tan. 

It might be 55 degrees and windy, but I was on the sand in my bikini and slathered in suntan lotion within minutes of the car pulling into the driveway. 
I was cursed with very, very pale skin, the kind of skin that refuses to tan.  Think of an Albino polar bear dancing on the moon in a wedding dress.  Okay, a little whiter than that. 

I had always been teased in school about my fair coloring, earning such original nicknames as “Ghostie.”  No one wants to be called Ghostie. 
Any opportunity to go to the beach was my shot at being tan and accepted.  I didn’t really care about bragging to my junior high friends that we vacationed someplace exotic like the gulf coast of Florida; I cared about them noticing my tan when we got back. 

I had read in a magazine that baby oil works better than sun tan lotion for tanning purposes, so one time I decided to give it a shot.  I greased up and dozed under the cloudy sky listening to my Walkman radio while the rest of my family played inside and ate lunch.
When I went back in a few minutes later, I rushed to the bathroom mirror to see if I was tan yet.  It took my eyes a moment to adjust.  My face did look tanner, in a red-Indian-tan sort of way. 

I waltzed into the kitchen to get something to drink.  My mother gasped.  “MOV!  You are so sunburnt!  Are you okay?” 
“I’m not burnt, I’m tan,” I said proudly, as if my white skin could easily be swapped with another color on the spectrum.  “See?  Tan.” 

My step-dad walked over, a look of true concern contorting his features.  “How long were you outside?” 

“I don’t know … maybe, like, half an hour?” 

“What time did you go out?” he asked suspiciously. 
I paused.  “I think around 10 or so?” 

“MOV, it’s 3 o’clock!  You are burnt to a crisp!” 
I put my hand on my shoulder.  I could feel the heat radiating from my skin. 

“We need to get you some sort of cream to put on that,” said my mom, her voice brimming over with worry.  “I’m going to drive you to the pharmacy right now.” 
We went to the pharmacy and I could sense people staring at me.  I wanted to believe it was because I was so tan, but I could no longer deny that it was because I was red.  My skin actually ached. 

The pharmacist took one look at me and asked who our doctor was. 
“We don’t live here, we’re just on vacation,” replied my mother. 

“Ma’am, she’ll need something stronger than over-the-counter lotion for that burn.  I have a special cream, but it’s prescription only.” 
After some back and forth negotiations culminating in me crying because my skin hurt so much, the pharmacist went ahead and sold us the cream under a different name. 

I went home, took an ice-cold bath, then slathered the thick, soothing cream all over my skin. 
The next morning, my skin started to bubble up.  Two days later, it blistered and began to fall off in huge, ugly chunks.  Only the areas my swimsuit covered were spared from the molting ordeal.  I stayed inside next to the fan for the duration of our vacation, seeking relief from the heat of my own body.  I cringed when I saw my reflection in the mirror:  I looked like the victim of a nuclear explosion.    

At least when I went back to school, no one called me Ghostie anymore.  My new name was Peely. 



  1. Oh dear, I knew where this story was going as soon as I read the words "baby oil"! We tried all sorts of things like that in our young beach days.
    My brother once got so sunburnt that he had those blisters... awful!
    Hopefull the nickname "peely" didn't last too long! :)


  2. I always hated being pale, as well, but I eventually realized it was better than the alternative, which was walking around looking like a lobster. I never had anything that bad, though! Ouch! =(

  3. I *knew* I would get a chance to laugh out loud while reading today's entry!

    My sister used baby oil all of the time. Amazingly, she never seemed to burn.

    Ever try Crisco? (Don't!)

  4. Resonates big time. I spent the first 18 years of my life in SoCal - I know all about the ever important tan and, yes, baby oil. If only I knew then what I know now....though I am sure I was only focused on the moment and not willing to consider the skin cancer and WRINKLES and BROWN AGE SPOTS that would eventually be the aging outcome of that youthful tan. Bah humbug :)

  5. Ouch! I hurt just reading about it. I can empathize with you. When I went SCUBA diving in Mexico, the boat crew nicknamed me "vampira" because my skin was so pale!

  6. Okay what I'm going to say is kind of gross, but whenever I got burnt as a kid I just loved (yes, loved) to pull the dead skin off in as large of a chunk I could. I know, I know. Gross, gross, gross. Me and my friends would even have contests! *giggle*
    Giggle, Laugh, Cry

  7. Oh well at least you didn't get sun stroke along with it. Another great story!!

  8. Ouch! Boy, can I ever relate to this story. Only when I was a teenager, we weren't satisfied to merely cook ourselves in baby oil. Oh no, we added iodine to it, so our skin got stained a lovely orange tint, too. I had more blistering sunburns as a kid than I care to remember, and I don't miss 'em one bit.

    I stopped by on an A-Z fly-by, and ended up reading a bunch of your posts. I really like your voice, humor, and style of writing. Count me in as your newest follower. Happy A-Zing.

  9. You have to tan by increments. Even the palest skin will tan eventually so long as you don't expose your skin for too long each day. Had a young cousin with red hair and very white skin. When they went to live in the Med she ended up tanning beautifully. Now you are a big girl, I hope you know how to tan properly LOL.

  10. Holy Cow, first I was so sad and then I busted out laughing. Peely? Really? Well, I don't tan either I just burn. I guess that is the Irish.

  11. lolol...I loved this post! It is awful to be pale--I know as well. And the only time in my life that I ever blistered was when I went to FL for a vacation! Oy! The part in my hair blistered! lol... Terrible-- the things we do to fit in...

    Good post, MOV...

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I am following you now, too...

  12. Florida is lovely state, great post.
    Do check out my F at GAC a-z

  13. I'm a transplanted Northerner here in Florida and I learned very quickly that the sun in Florida is different than the sun in upstate NY or on the rocky shoreline of Maine. I can empathize with you completely on this one!!

  14. Bless your heart!! My oldest son got burned like that once...:( ~ I wanted to do this challenge, but it was closed when I realized it was going on...thank you so much for visiting me and for following ~ now I'm following you!
    Anne ♥♥

  15. Poor thing. As a pale and easily burned fellow, I had to sympathize. It's a rough life for us weak-skinned folks.

  16. Ouch! But we all like the balance of pain and laughing at ourselves- beautifully communicated!

  17. Ouch! Slathered in baby oil, it's no wonder you fried.

  18. I'm not sure but maybe baby oil doesn't help get a tan. I guess you know that. Tanning not good for you, forget skin cancer, what about wrinkles!

  19. Ouch! My mother has a lovely, dark skintone and she uses tanning oil rather than cream. Keep telling her it's not good for her, but damned if she doesn't have a beautiful colour!


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