My mother’s generation loved to sunbathe, and, because they didn’t know about the hazards of tanning, they slathered themselves with a mixture of iodine and baby oil, and sat out, hoping to turn a beautiful shade of brown. For Mother, this was next to impossible, because she was of Irish heritage – strawberry blonde and freckled. She used to say that she didn’t tan. She just stayed out long enough for her freckles to get bigger and browner and run into each other.
My father was also of Scotch-Irish descent, but he instead had olive skin and tanned easily after just a little while in the sun. Libby and I took after him, in that when we were little and played outside all day, people said that we turned “brown as berries,” whatever that means. I have yet to see a brown berry.
When I was in college, I didn’t tan as easily, even with the help of Coppertone suntan lotion. In fact, I began burning if I stayed out too long. As someone who had been accustomed to turning a lovely brown color in the summer, I was distressed to find that I was developing freckles similar to my mother’s. Libby, on the other hand, never got a sunburn of any kind.
In the meantime, we learned more about the dangers of sun exposure, which can make us look old, dry out our skin, cause brown spots on our skin, and, worst of all, make us develop skin cancers – some not so serious, but some absolutely deadly. And then, a miracle occurred. Someone developed sun block. The first batch was called Pre-Sun, and it launched about the same time I went to a tropical paradise after graduating from law school.
Great! I could lie out in the sun all day, not worrying about getting sunburned!
So I used Pre-Sun, flipping over every 20 minutes and applying more Pre-Sun with every flip. I spent about four hours one day basking in the warmth of the sun under the attentive eye of the cabana boy, who made sure that my strawberry daiquiri glass didn’t stay empty too long.
When I got back to real life, I was, well, brown as a berry.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that early sunblock was too effective. I find myself now, just like my mother, looking at some freckle on my arm and noticing that it looks different. Not bad, just different. And when my mother found those little changes, she would hightail it to Dr. Bluhm to make sure that it was nothing serious. It never was. He zapped whatever it was, and she was left with little red spots that disappeared after a short time.
But Dr. Bluhm retired a while back, and so when I find a freckle or spot that looks different, I go to a dermatologist – an hour’s drive one way or the other. These trips are inconvenient at best and irritating at worst.
I did, however, find Dr. DeSpain, a dermatologist with a nice “bedside manner” who knows what he’s talking about. In fact, the second time I visited his office in Columbia, I started nagging him about opening an office in Sedalia. He smiled, which was, I thought, his way of ignoring me. But then, on my fourth or fifth visit, he said that he was opening an office in Sedalia – this as he was poking around on something on my arm that neither of us liked the look of. I was thrilled – not about the arm, but about his Sedalia office.
I was more thrilled when he called me at 7 p.m. on a Friday to tell me that what he had scraped off my arm was benign.
I was ecstatic when I saw an announcement on Facebook that Dr. DeSpain will see patients in Sedalia on Thursdays at the Medical Building on the west side of town. It will be good to have a dermatologist in town, even if only one day a week. It means that, just like my mother, when I see something that doesn’t look right, I will go to a doctor five minutes instead of an hour away. And that makes me happy.