Heeding the sun god's calls

It was a Friday in 1946, at 10:59 a.m., and the cake, ice cream and soft drinks were all gone, the class pictures were signed and Mrs. Noon had once again given another heartfelt speech to spur us on to accomplish great feats during the summer.

The school bell rang for the last time, signaling the beginning of the upcoming three-month vacation.

This time we didn't walk: We ran home cheering.

As fast as we could drop our school books, we tied a knot in our bathing suits (this was before elastic) and grabbed a towel.

We passed our annual swim test, and we were finally allowed to use the diving board. It was a repetitive act, this diving and swimming back to the dock until we shook from the cold, sporting nice blue lips.

Not being able to stand it any longer, we swam to shore, toweled off and ran to the cement slabs above the roofs adjacent to the bathhouse.

The warm cement really felt great as we laid there planning our summer. After awhile, we were so exhausted we almost fell asleep in the warm sun.

That summer, as all the summers before, the sun burned and then tanned us. We used to laugh as we peeled loose skin from our sunburns and wondered if snakes truly were our forefathers. Midway through the summer, the tan was permanent and burns were less likely.

We were not to get away un-scathed, however, in those early days in Madison Park.

A marsh area west of Edgewater where water lilies met cattails, a small squadron of about 600 billion mosquitoes thrived and planned their strategies. They didn't bother anyone until dusk, and that's when Madison Park residents kept windows closed and lights to a minimum.

If a lamp was left on near a window, it would be covered with hundreds of the swarming, little beasts. In fact, if you put your ear to the glass you could hear them beating their fists against it and yelling in high pitch, "Let us in!"

At bedtime, the droning cries quieted - except for one 9-pound, wayward rogue. This sleek, little insect, in its aerodynamic perfection, is able to fly at full speed, stop and fly backward just as fast, and finally pause usually less than an inch from the eardrum. But you could always here it coming.

Everyone in and around Madison Park fought the mosquito wars. It seemed the tanner you were, the less likely it was to get bitten. The unexposed skin was tender and preferred by the gourmet mosquito. With acute eyesight, these critters managed to find the succulent fodder under the bedcovers.

The bite was never a big deal. It was afterward, when what was left behind became a swollen red area with an itch so bad it had everyone doing weird scratching dances.

There really weren't any products on the market that specifically addressed the bug bite. Dr. Harris, whose office was where Pharmaca now stands, prescribed Campho-Phenique. It burned a bit and provided some relief, but it always had a tendency to seep away from the bite into other sun-sheltered areas, creating other funny dances.

Months later, we laughed about that ordeal, and every year after that, toward the end of the summer, a Jeep would appear in Madison Park and lay down a thick, white cloud, spraying between houses. The problem of the mosquito infestation became less and less a problem as the years went by.

I was out of the Army a short while when I landed a job as an illustrator working an unbelievable 110 hours a week - there would be no sunbathing for me.

Around that time a self-tanning product was introduced, called Man Tan. A work mate had a hot date so he lathered himself with Man Tan for that California look, but instead ended up looking like a raccoon. The palms of his hands were kind of an orange color. The inside of his ears and all around his eyes was a golden yellow, which was darkened by the circles created from working so many hours.

It got funnier when it wouldn't wash off and he had to cancel his date.

That job ended, and it was on to continue the suntan contest. It was believed one could tan faster and better near salt water.

I ventured one day to Golden Gardens in Ballard, and there by the refreshment stand were a group of guys and gals lined up against a wall, facing the water west into the sun. To join this cast of characters, one had to be a sun worshipper. It intrigued me, and so after that day, I continued to spend some free time with the wall group. The sun set, and we toasted it with one more tequila shooter.

The sun revolved around all we did. It was always about the tan. Rush home from work to catch an hour of rays. Sit and soak during lunch. Take a vacation, bake in the sun, never minding the sights to be seen.

Sun-tanning salons primed the skin for the upcoming weekends of boating and playing in the sun. Pretty soon, suntan products appeared in the stores. Tanning aids like baby oil and iodine were in existence since the '50s, but now coconut oil and PABA were added to the selection.

Soon, warnings of the rays causing skin damage brought out UVA products, and finally self-tanning lotions became the norm.

For me, my lifestyle allowed me to log quite a few hours of basking, but that all changed when I had a simple freckle removed from my forehead. It didn't look menacing to anyone, and the procedure was painless enough. But the next day, the dreaded call from the doctor that it was melanoma made me sit up and take notice.

The thought of going on vacation anywhere like we used to and sit in the sun for hours seems so silly now, What were we thinking? It was the suntan contest. Sadly, no one wins that one.[[In-content Ad]]