‘Looking back and Fourth’
For the past several summers we’ve had this fun Fourth of July tradition where we let The Child fill up our house with as many of her friends as we have beds to lay their pretty little heads on. Sometimes it’s guys and girls; sometimes ‘just’ girls. The Dude and I are happy with either arrangement, though we have noticed that when it’s girls-only, the Young Friends seem more inclined to activity — like going to the beach, hopping on the bikes, or heading into town to catch what’s up at The Talkhouse.
(The guys, when the guest list includes them, seem content to hang around The Compound, sipping beer and, well, being content. Sometimes they bestir themselves to demonstrate their CrossFit routines; there was a Matt-shaped indentation in our lawn for a few post-Fourth days one year. Oh, and one other memorable Fourth, Somebody’s BF soaked his iPhone in our hot tub, though not intentionally. BTW, putting a soaked iPhone into a jar of rice does not dry it out, no matter what you may have read on the internet.)
But hey, anything anybody wants to do — or not do — is A-okay with me. I’m happy to provide food — beaucoup de food — and stay the heck out of the way. I was in the kitchen in the midst of doing just that when one of this year’s Young Lovelies (and they are — lovely — each and every one of them) strolled by on her way to the pool, and I happened to catch the unmistakable whiff of — Coppertone.
Now I don’t know about you, but I haven’t smelled Coppertone in years. Oh sure, I’ve slathered on sunscreen with the necessary requisite gusto, but the slathering has been done with, well, sterner brands with no scents and certainly no memory triggers. Whereas this Coppertone-y aroma sent me hurtling down an olfactory Memory Highway.
All of a sudden I was sixteen again — sunbathing away on our picnic table in our Midwestern back yard, sipping Kool-Aid and listening to KXOK on my transistor radio. See, these were the days when ‘sunscreen’ was called ‘suntan lotion’, the point being not to screen yourself from the sun, but to invite said sun to tan you, and tan you silly. All of us back then aspired to a mahogany sheen, the better to contrast with our summer outfits of madras shorts and pale button-down shirts.
In fact, if we weren’t slathering on a commercial suntan lotion, we were basting ourselves with a homemade speed-tanning concoction of baby oil with a few drops of iodine mixed in. The iodine was not for medicinal purposes — oh no — it was to darken the baby oil so that it would darken us even faster. Sometimes we would even use little metal reflectors to direct those tanning rays at hard-to-reach spots, like armpits.
Oh, there was this stuff called QT, which was short for, I think, ‘Quick Tanning’, that was supposed to tan you without the sun (but why would anyone want that?) or, you could use it to sort of ‘jump-start’ your tan. I guess you could say it was the very first self-tanner, but it certainly didn’t catch on. One of my friends in high school who was a pale-skinned burned-all-too-easily redhead (poor thing) tried it, and it turned her not tan, but decidedly orange. Stripey and orange.
Yes, we were all big Tanners in those days, the only danger from the sun being a burn. And we weren’t even all that afraid of sunburn either. We considered it a ‘base’ that would ‘turn to tan’. Those were the (naive) days! Oh, and if you’re wondering why I was doing all this tanning on a picnic table instead of a beach, it’s because we didn’t have one. A beach, that is. My town in the Midwest was hundreds of miles from any natural beach. And this was well before the opening of Lake Carlyle, Illinois’ largest (man-made, complete with beach) lake, which you can read about here, and which celebrated its Fiftieth Anniversary just a couple of weeks ago, Jeez.
But enough about beaches. Let’s talk about that flip. The hair flip, that is. This Time Before Sunscreen was also the Time Before Blow Dryers. Which meant that if you wanted to style your hair, you went to the Beauty Parlor and got a ‘wash and set’, which you didn’t touch for a week. (Mainly ‘older’ women, like in their twenties, did this, and the result looked sort of helmet-like.) Or you put your hair up in rollers, usually applying something called ‘setting lotion’, let it dry, and then brushed it out, achieving the then-fashionable Patty-Duke-style ‘flip’. My friends and I did this. (If you were really cool, you went around all day Saturday with your hair in rollers because this meant that you had a date that night.)
My memories of that flip, having also been triggered by that Coppertone scent (which my young lovely friend told me is now back in fashion; though now it’s Coppertone ‘Sunscreen’, thank you very much) reminded me of the product we used to achieve it. It was called Dippity-Do. And, believe it or not, I was able to recite all the lyrics to its jingle. If you (probably) can’t, here’s the commercial. (Still pretty nifty, though it seems so loooong. They were all 60-second spots in those days. Think of it!)
Speaking of hair and of what-goes-around-comes-around, when I mentioned to my Young Friend that we also used to spray this stuff called Sun In on our hair, then sat in the sun so we’d get nice blonde streaks (thinking she’d be as amazed to hear this as she was to hear me reciting styling gel lyrics), she was, like, “Oh yeah, Sun In. We use that too.” Gosh. Is everything old new again?
Happy Birthday, USA. And Happy Fourth, everyone!
Amagansett, New York. July 2017