This is the time of year where one is obliged to watch out for sunburn.  Evan never leaves the house without covering himself with sunscreen but as the summer goes on, he ends up with quite a tan since he’s out in it for about six hours a day.  He’s never really had severe sunburn.

Melissa and I, on the other hand, have indeed had severe sunburn.  That’s one reason we’ve always been so strict with the kids and the sunscreen.  If it’s bad enough, you can remember it forever as I do.

I was in graduate school.  We were always on the lookout for something cheap to do and since there were lots of other students around, somebody always had an idea.  The department secretary (who was only a year or two older than me and was putting her husband through school) hit upon the idea of going to a local lake that had a beach area that charged by the carload.  Off we went on the 4th of July.

The beach had been trucked in and consisted of blinding white sand.  Between the bunch of us, we had coolers, picnics, floating things, blankets, and sand chairs.  It was a great day.  We were in and out of the water all day and did not hold back on beverage consumption although I was then and still am a very moderate drinker.  Most of my intake was of the carbonated soda variety.  There was even a live band there that day.

At no point that morning did it occur to me to worry about the sun.  Sunscreen was a fairly rare thing back then and was not usually found in huge displays right by the door of every store in summer.  Indeed it was kind of hard to find.  Around noon, somebody began to apply some and passed the bottle around.  I applied mine somewhat unevenly.  We had such fun that day that we didn’t want it to end.  Mel and I hit upon the idea of inviting everybody to our apartment where I would grill burgers and we’d then go see the city fireworks display.

As the crowd began to show up for burgers, I began to turn a bright red color from the day’s sun.  Everybody talked about it and most began to express concern.  I brushed it off like all people will who are in their early 20’s.  I was pretty tired and starting to feel bad when we left.  We all met up at the fireworks and had more of a grand old time until the end at which point I was feeling very bad.  I thought I was just tired and Mel had to drive home.  That was not the last time that I would do something to myself that required Melissa to drive me home.  By the time we got home we were both bright red all over except for the swimsuit marks and some odd swirly marks that indicated where I had applied sunscreen poorly.  We were both burning up and while Melissa tried soaking in a tubful of cool water, I laid out on the tile floor of the kitchen.  We swallowed some Tylenol and went to sleep.

The next morning when we woke up, we were both so tender to the touch that we could barely move.  With first degree burns covering 90% of our bodies we were in such pain that Mel called in sick.  I went to the university to see how everybody else was.  They were a bit pink in places but nothing like me.  After a few minutes, I began to feel sick and nauseous and went home.  The week before, Melissa and I had bought our first piece of living room furniture as newlyweds:  a sleeper sofa and it was delivered that morning.  (This was the very one that we kept for about 20 years until it was so nasty that the Salvation Army would not take it.  We had to pay the city $10 to come get it.)  We unfolded it, laid down on it and did not move for a long time.  At some point, we took out temperature and were surprised to find we were feverish.  We headed for the doctor.

This was before we had ever given any thought to health insurance and we had to find one of those storefront minor emergency clinics.  We went in and paid our money for Melissa; thinking that whatever applied to her also applied to me.  Two for one (sort of).  The doctor had us both back to his exam room and gave us a severe dressing down for letting this happen to ourselves.  His jaw dropped when he saw us and again when we told him how long we had been out.  He strongly implied that we were a little bit stupid.  He told us to go home and rest and get ready for some severe discomfort for the next week.  He prescribed some Tylenol 3.  That was on a Thursday so we had Friday and the weekend to try and get back into some resemblance of normal shape.  Mel tried working on Friday but had to come home.

Somebody at her office who was into natural remedies clued us into the Aloe Vera plant.  At almost the same time, I was told about the same plant by a glassblower that the chemistry department employed to create their weird distillation gear.  We staggered out to a health-food type store which was the only place we could find Aloe Vera gel back then.  We grimaced every time the sun touched us as we left our apartment or got out of the car.  We bought the biggest bottle they had and went home to oil ourselves up. 

That was the first time I had ever put anything on sunburn that felt good.  We repeated the treatment multiple times over the next week and made a trip or two back to the store for more.  We were in agony for at least a week at which point we started to peel.  We each had several places on our bodies somewhere that turned a dark red/purple color which took over a month to go away.  Several places on my body peeled twice. 

Ever since that day, I have worried about skin cancer and have made darned sure that my kids were always slathered with sunscreen whenever they went out.  I have always preached the sermon that tans are bad and if you’re pale that’s just too bad – blame our British ancestry.  Evan does eventually get tanned but you can see the real color by looking at his feet where his Chaco sandals leave their pasty white stripes of untanned skin.  Since then my 4th of July efforts have always been centered on shooting off fireworks rather than water sports.  I’ve sworn off suntans forever.