Here Comes The Sun and I Finally Have the Clothes for It

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Over twenty years ago, when my daughter Clary was in pre-school, the annual Parent Open House included a tour of her classroom. Displayed on the wall were the students’ drawings—precious renderings of innocent times spent with mom and dad tossing a Frisbee at the beach or soaring into the sky on the backyard swing set.
Then the teacher pointed to Clary’s portrait of me.

There I stand immortalized: “My Mom,” an honest representation in the eyes of my adoring child. My hair is blonde and styled in the mode of the day, my face—well, the mascara is a bit dramatic but otherwise, not bad! My dress forms a rather trim figure if I do say so myself. Then, out from under it, come my legs—two flesh-colored poles covered with black dots.

“Does your mom have measles?” asked Jeffrey, the boy who I quite frankly inevitably found rather hard to take.

“They’re moles!” snapped the artist.

Although pride swelled in my heart to witness her unabashedly assert herself to proclaim her creative intent, this memorable occasion marked the beginning of the end of my delusion—that compulsive sunbathing had resulted in no residual damage.

I’d been the typical young girl the Beach Boys boasted when they sang about the West Coast having sunshine “so the girls all get so tan.” My personal goal, whenever I was asked to make note of it, was to get my gams golden.
Shortly after that infamous Open House, I figured a preventative trip to the dermatologist was in order. Sure enough, he diagnosed me with “Dysplastic Nevus Syndrome” (translation: “You have over 200 moles that are changing faster than a GPS direction map”) and removed several suspicious characters from my legs and arms. “It’s time to change your clothes,” he ordered. And he didn’t mean from the surgical gown back into my shorts and tank top.

To be born blonde and in Southern California and told to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants any time it isn’t raining is nothing short of travesty. I tried collared shirts, I tested cotton pants, I donned floor length, print skirts. The long (but not short) of it was that while other young mothers frolicked with their children in the waves still wearing bikinis, our photographs capture me sitting on my folding chair, covered from head to toe, like movie-Gidget’s friend LaRue who could never see the sun. While other women attended barbeques in flippy skirts and sleeveless tops, I arrived on the arm of my rather chagrined husband, the escort either Sister Mary Kathleen or an extra from the filming set of “Little House on the Prairie.” He’d head straight for the beer while I ran for cover—to the shade.

When sunscreen clothing arrived on the scene, I lept on it like a sand flea on bare ankles. While its designers addressed the issue of billowing layers that had caused me to resemble a human parachute, their fabrics would not allow air to permeate. In the bleachers at the Angel’s game, I was dripping—steady rivulets of perspiration flowing downstream from my face to my toes. I looked sportier, but I was so dehydrated I couldn’t guzzle bottled water fast enough to prevent a potential visit from the paramedics.

Since then, sports stores across the country and athletic online retailers have updated styles to accommodate the need to cover. I’ve dabbled in these over the years, but when it comes right down to it, do I always want to look like I’m climbing a mountain in lycra or biking a trail to Glacier? What about feminine? What happened to fashion?
Clary is a grown woman now and during her recent visit from New York to where I’ve retired in the woods of western Montana, we were having a laugh about that drawing she’d done in preschool. The sun is brutally searing here (no pollution) whenever I am graced with it. I was bemoaning to her how my coverage dilemma has continued—unless all I ever want to do is wear what looks good at the trail head. Suddenly, she smugly grinned, hopped online, typed, and chirped, “Look at this!”

Mott 50. “Bamboo Basics?” A website devoted to lightweight and fashionable 50 UPF sun protective clothing? My eyes were riveted to the screen. As I scrolled frantically, I wanted it all. I ordered several items, have worn, worn, worn them, and just now ordered more. The royal blue fitted jacket looks better on me than any blue or outerwear in my closet. The Henley even has little buttons up the sides of the sleeves. At last! A straw hat with a wide brim that doesn’t make me look like I should be ushered back into the lounge chair of a medical-care facility! Cargo pants that aren’t wide enough to house a pine-tree trunk! And all of it…ahhh…breathes.

So do I, with relief. So does my dermatologist. After decades dedicated to the search for a way to stay white and with it, now there’s no sweat. Here comes the sun, as the Beatles used to say, and guess what? It’s all right.


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