By the time you retire and especially if you’ve spent most of your productive life living northward, your bones & your spirit are primed for the warmth & relaxation of the sunny south – preferably within proximity of a beach. After doing that myself, every morning felt like I was on some permanent seaside vacation. It was awesome.
Not being particularly good at much else physically, I was a good swimmer and loved water activities. I suppose much had to do with Mother’s affinity for water and her attraction to beaches. Oh how she loved both as well as the seafood that went with them. I’d never seen seafood until a young adult visiting Mother after she’d headed south.
Being fair skinned and from the age of knowing what a tan was, I’d start working on it the first warm day of every northern Spring. When visiting Mom I’d bake so intensely on the beach I’d peel in sheets before finally getting to the rich tan underneath. I had to keep working on it every couple of weeks or it faded quickly. Oh, the misery I put myself through with all of those first burns.
By high school graduation Mom showed up to cart me down south with her. To be taken from the confines of a strict, rural Midwest upbringing into the considerably more lax parental guidance and festive surroundings of one of the South’s hottest-going beach towns sounded like a farm-town teenager’s delight. What did I know. As it turned out, not much.
By that winter I found my life totally topsy-turvy. Suffice it to say I spent many years after that trying to make ends meet in a destined-to-be-bad marriage and life went miserably downhill from there. Probably no surprise, I ended up right back where I’d started – beginning life all over again at my Midwestern home – this time with a child in tow.
When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years. [Mark Twain]
That southern beach area came to represent a lot of bad memories, from years of watching Mother go downhill to the trials & tribulations of heartaches I’d brought on myself. I didn’t think I’d ever want to go back and, honestly, in my gut I didn’t want to. (Always listen to your gut.) But by my retirement Mom was gone and it seemed, for logical reason of age and so much time having passed, maybe the south could take on a new glow so I figured I’d try it again. What’s the worst that could go wrong, right? Or so I thought.
Within a couple of years of retiring south I learned I had breast cancer and, looking for ways to comfort myself in the misery of those treatments I counted my blessings that at least I had the sunshine, beaches and my favorite sport, swimming. Riding motor scooters to & fro, taking the dog for a beach run and visiting the local pier were tremendous but far too short reprieves when all of those years of baking in the sun finally caught up with me.
During chemotherapy a Melanoma popped-up. It’s early detection was a unique blessing. You may or may not know just how deadly Melanoma is, but it’s taken far too lightly by way too many people. Just months earlier I’d lost a cousin to Melanoma and he didn’t last six months after diagnosis, leaving two small boys behind. Doctors never could find its source. I was later told of a family friend who had Melanoma in the eyes and what a torturous death he had suffered.
In addition to being fiercely deadly, Melanoma is exceptionally difficult to detect, to find, and to treat. Breast cancer was mild by comparison and childhood sunburns as well as fair skin make you a prime candidate. Guess where that left me?
From that point forward I couldn’t be in the sun at all. Nada, zilch, zippo, none. The doctor said even riding in a car was dangerous for me. They prescribed not only regular applications of high SPF sunscreen, but I was to wear clothing covering my entire body – plus a hat & sunglasses – whenever I was outside.
Have you ever tried doing anything in southern sun dressed head to toe? Do you even have summer clothes that cover you from head to toe? Do you have any idea how many times you have to apply SPF lotion for it to be effective?
By the time I got myself to wherever I was going it was time to reapply the stuff. And just where do you go in public to slather that all over your body every four hours? This says nothing of trying to carry all of the paraphernalia needed just to be outside. Oh my gosh. A simple jaunt to the store became a major undertaking.
No more swimming. No more motor scooter rides to the beach or baking my skin into a tan. No more strolls on the boardwalk, taking the dog for an ocean romp or window shopping on a nice sunny day. No more shorts or short sleeves. I had to rethink everything I did, everything that came naturally to do … like dressing.
What the heck was I doing living in the incessant sunshine of a southern beach town?
I missed the sun so much that I had a dream about baking on the beach and it felt almost as good as actually doing it. At the end I looked down at my flat tummy (this was a dream, after all) and admired how lusciously tan it was … only to be startled awake by sheer panic – “Oh My Gosh! I forgot – I can’t be in the sun!”
When I woke up I didn’t know whether to bask in the sunbathing memory or shake the angst of thinking I had.
In response to WordPress Daily Prompt, “Beach.”