Escaping the Storms

I shared an essay recently on the wonder and beauty of snow days … and was called out by a good friend. “I call foul! You cannot blog about snow if you are not in it!!”

Ok, that’s fair. I will come clean. 

It’s true. I launched that essay from the warmth of sunny Florida. There. I said it.

Getting off a plane from Cleveland and stepping out into the warmth and greenery of Florida is like Dorothy opening the door from black and white Kansas to colorful Oz. It’s like being in a different reality, a different planet. "How could I have been in a heavy winter coat this morning and a bathing suit this afternoon?” I thought as I stared blankly at the ocean.

My first trip to Florida was when I was in middle school and my dad had a business trip to Disney World. Rather than leave a twelve year old behind with four teenage brothers, they (wisely) chose to bring me with them. Big Jack was on the board of Geauga Lake Amusement Park in Greater Cleveland and he and his colleague, Dale and his wife, Bonnie were going to learn from Disney World how to make Geauga Lake better. 

So there we were, Marge, Jack, Dale, Bonnie … and twelve year old me at Disney World. While Jack admired the gorgeous landscaping and efficiencies of the park, Dale, Bonnie and I tackled Space Mountain together. (Marge would sooner stand on her head than get on a roller coaster). I only remember the screaming. Of course I had to scream on the roller coaster, but It felt so strange to do so with complete adult strangers. It felt awkward and creepy. (Not as creepy as “It’s a Small World After All,” but still.)

While Jack loved the sun, the flowers and the fresh fish in Florida, Marge didn’t like it much. “Florida is full of old people,” she would say, herself an old person at the time. “And all they ever talk about is the weather, what they just ate, and when they’re eating again.” I have to say, she was right about all of that.

While I do, indeed, enjoy a good warm weather escape, I have a complicated relationship with the beach, Florida, the sun. After all, I’m an Irish gal, so, you know … the sun and I don’t really get along. I love her warmth, I love the ocean … but the idea of laying oneself down in a back yard in Ohio in the middle of a humid summer day to bake in the sun? No, that never appealed to me. Not even in my youth, but that was mostly because if my father ever saw me outside in the yard, he’d give me a chore to do out there. “Mary! Weed that back acre while you’re out there! And go ahead and plant those begonias. And water them, too!” Anyway, just laying there? Sweating? Burning? Getting more … and more … and more freckles, and weak from dehydration. No thank you.

It is a full time job for an Irish gal on the beach. Constantly moving the umbrella, shifting the towels, reapplying factor 100 after swimming, sweating, breathing. I learned my lesson years ago about the importance of reapplying sunscreen. I burned the living snot out of my entire body because I was having such a gosh darned good time playing in the waves for hours. That night, I was up all night with chills and vomiting. It was ugly.

Never again. 

So consequently, for the rest of my adult life I have looked like either a toddler or a paranoid senior citizen on the beach, with my rash guard, SPF shirt, wide brimmed hat and all. Every year I am amazed at the power of sunscreen. Unfailingly, somewhere on my body there is a bright red, blazing sign of the patch of pasty white skin that I missed: a shoulder, the top of a foot, the small of the back. Sometimes it’s a fetching imprint of a hand or finger somewhere on my body that I didn’t quite rub in well enough. Secret scarlet Memento-like messages emblazoned all over my body. This year, the missed real estate was the back of my thighs, right under my butt cheeks. A special look, indeed.

I was never going to be that sexy girl on the beach. After all, when I lived in Spain for a while, my nickname was “La Blanca Muerta” (the dead white girl). When I first started going to Miami with my husband and in-laws, I was in awe of the beach babes there. Bronzed to a fair thee well, scantily clad. I was mesmerized by the cavalier manner in which they just … hung out on the beach. No frantic, fearful cowering from the sun. Only the occasional spritzing of themselves with water, sipping some diet soda or whatever, casually brushing their pert fannies free from sand. While I’m forever picking my wedgie, pulling my suit down to cover my ass, tugging my top to keep myself decent, and picking my own hair out of my mouth, these dames are … just sitting there. They turn their faces turned TOWARDS the sun, hair gently tickling their face and shoulders. I would stand there, staring, thinking, “It’s like we are completely different animals. Like a cat and a dog. Or a gazelle and a turtle.” Then a little old woman would come rushing up to me and say, “Honey! You’ve gotta be careful out here! This sun is very strong you know … I’m just sayin …”

“Yep, I know …”

A few years ago I was invited to a fancy schmancy event and decided I would try a spray tan. Timid, I went for the lightest tint they had available. “I just want my legs to not look like cadavers,” I told the technician as I stood before her naked, but for a paper doily covering my crotch area. Sadly, I ended up looking like I had a liver condition. “Oh the hell with it,” I thought to myself after the soiree. I am what I am.

I’m back in The Great White North now, the swaying palm trees and the roaring ocean just a distant memory. While it is still frigid on the North Coast, it is relaxing on a different level to be back in my element, to let my guard down. No sunscreen sprays, no hiding from the sun, no doing hourly skin checks for signs of burning.

Lord knows, I won’t see the sun in these parts until about June.  

Good thing I’ve got leftover sunscreen.

A quick walk out from under the beach umbrella. No worries! That’s SPF 100 on my legs.

A quick walk out from under the beach umbrella. No worries! That’s SPF 100 on my legs.