• Smell of the Beach in the Bottle

    August 26, 2019 | News
  • Been spending some time in the sun this summer?

    The author circa 1958, Island Beach, Mountain Lakes, New Jersey

    Sigh. The perfection of exposed golden skin in one’s youth is one of nature’s richest gifts. 

    Evil as it may be.

    In Brides of 1941, it surprised me to learn my twenty-year-old aunt, Dorothy, freely abandoned herself to worship in the Chilean summer sun of 1941. She wrote to her sister, Robin… Been going riding almost every morning at 8:00 for quite a while – and along with golf twice a week – plus hikes – and swimming I’m getting good and tanned up –  ’Bout as brown as you me thinks – Mother has a fit because I haven’t a hat to shade my face – and even if I had one I wouldn’t wear one – or the visor she tries to make me wear – It’s really a healthy life – and I love it…

    What surprised me? Creamy white skin was fashionable during the fair skinned ’40s. A canvas for the reddest of lipsticks emphasizing a kissable cupid’s bow. Medically speaking, a good sunbath was “healthy” as a vitamin D supplement to ward off rickets, but a deep tan wasn’t necessary. Except that, even then, fashion magazines the likes of Vogue, and the celebrity fashionistas they featured, promoted tanning as a symbol of youth, beauty and wealth.

    For me, a babe of the late 50s and a teen of the 70s, the die was cast. 

    My mother, Robin’s, ability to tan was enviable. On that point, I won my dad’s genes in the lottery: fair and freckled. 


    Thinking back on my bucket and shovel days, Robin’s brand loyalties are remembered vividly. She hauled two brands of suntanning lotion in the beach bag.

    Basted with the famed and fragrant French formula, Antoine’s Bain de Soleil, her golden summer tan was enviably dark. It paired well with her circa ’60s flower-petal swim cap and skirted floral swimsuit. Before Sun Protection Factors were ever listed, the orange gelee formula she applied was rich in moisturizing oils. Possibly SPF 2. For me? It was more a “sandscreen.” Sand, effectively stuck to the gel, provided a crusty second line of defense.

    I suppose I was best protected swaddled in the terrycloth warmth of my cartoon hero, Casper the Friendly Ghost beach towel.

    Sea & Ski, packaged in a distinctive swoopy-shaped dollar-green bottle, resembled both an ocean wave and a carved turn. The lotion followed sun seekers from the beach to the mountains. Their label spun the tag: Tans you dark, tans you fast, protects against sunburn. In search of a smell memory I discovered the brand was discontinued. But now, by the miracle of cyberspace, I’ve learned it’s been resurrected in a variety of SPF’s at https://seanski.com/. Call me the bullseye of their nostalgia-based marketing.

    Evidence that Robin was sun damage savvy, she often scolded me, “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun.” Though I didn’t know it until now, they were lyrics borrowed from English playwright, composer, actor, director and singer, Noel Coward circa 1931.  Just as my aunt Dorothy didn’t listen to her mother (who probably lectured with those exact words), I ignored mine.

    In my teenage years, the standard marinade was Johnson’s® Baby Oil, occasionally magnified by a foil reflector in the noon day sun. Take it a step further. I also subscribed to the “healthy tan” my aunt enjoyed as a by-product of outdoorsy activities. Pep, ginger and playfulness defined her and me, without a hat.

    For lack of the baby oil schtick, my mother and aunt never suffered skin cancer consequences. But, now in my sixties, I’ve got scars that tell stories. Surgeries for malignant melanoma and squamous carcinoma have left their mark. They’re not pretty. Lucky for me I caught them early; I know (and knew) others less fortunate.

    As for my children, I am grateful for many things, among them this:

    To be beach-ready in the early 1990s, “squirmy screening” top to toe was a required ritual that often met with resistance. At the time, Coppertone® WaterBABIES® took the sun protection factor seriously. Though their brand loyalties have changed with age, I can say with certainty the distinctive fragrance of Coppertone is the permanently etched smell memory of their childhood.

    Equally unforgettable remains this seriously academic question posed by my then four-year-old. For the sake of youthful innocence, it is one to forever remain unanswered:

    “How do they get the smell of the beach in the bottle?”