Here Comes the Sun, There Goes the Sun
In 1912 a group of raisin growers in California’s San Joaquin Valley got together and decided to form a collective but had no name or business plan. They soon became the California Associated Raisin Company, but a gentleman named E.A. Berg coined one of the most iconic brand names in American history: Sun-Maid. In 1915, Sun-Maid’s director saw a young woman named Lorraine Collett in a bright red bonnet drying her hair, and she agreed to pose for a painting that would become the company’s logo. That logo was featured on a little red box that my mom would put into my Roy Rogers tin lunchbox as my snack every day I went to school. That’s my first memory about the sun: It helped grow something sweet and satisfying.
Beyond raisins, I don’t recall ever spending much time thinking about the sun. You learn about it in science class and study the mythology, and it’s in the news whenever there’s an eclipse. It can burn you and make you sweat, it’s so gigantic that if it were hollow you could fit 960,000 planets the size of Earth inside, and it rises in the east, sets in the west. Stories, myths, legends, facts and fiction: A gazillion books, films, paintings, and songs have either made the sun their subject, or at minimum placed the three-letter word into the title. We love it, we fear it, and many worship it. We’ve been taught to travel far to take vacations in sunny places, and when we have outdoor plans we pray for a sunny day. And for those who can’t get enough of it, there’s a small town in Norway where the sun doesn’t set from April to August.
I have a strong recollection of getting sunburned when I was about five or six, when my family had rented a house for a week down the Jersey shore in a town called Ocean Gate. Back then most folks weren’t so conscious of the danger that the sun could cause, apart from warnings from the endless Coppertone suntan lotion billboards on the side of the highways that featured a dog pulling down a little girl’s shorts. At the end of my first day in the sand and surf, we came back at the house, washed off with a hose and saw that my skin was the color of a tomato. My mom told me I was going to be in a lot of pain and she sent dad to the local drugstore for a bottle of something called Solarcaine, which they slathered on me from top to bottom. It helped a little, but it hurt so bad that they rented a beach umbrella for me to sit under for a few days and I had to keep a shirt on and wear my Phillies baseball hat.
Speaking to both my ignorance and stubbornness, one might have thought I learned a life lesson. I didn’t. For the next 60 years I rarely would put on sun protection and pretty much hated wearing hats. I got sunburned many, many times until I figured out my own little method of soaking up just a little bit of sun during the first few days of summer or while on a vacation, “laying down a base,” as I called it, and eventually developing that healthy-looking dark tan. Worked like a charm most of the time and, besides, it was the sun: the source of life on Earth, providing humanity with food, shelter, warmth, and don’t forget those damn sweet raisins.
Last month I caught a bad cold that developed into bronchitis and went to see my doc. After she checked me out and wrote a prescription, I casually pointed to this spot on my arm that I had recently noticed and asked her what it was. “It’s a trip to the dermatologist,” she replied, and the next day I stood naked in front of a stranger who found a couple of suspicious looking spots. Let’s skip the gory details, but five days later I was diagnosed with not just one type of malignant skin cancer, but two. If I had any doubt to the seriousness of it, when I got the call it began with “I don’t want to alarm you, but tomorrow morning you’ll be seeing an oncologist.”
Cutting – I probably shouldn’t use that word – to the chase, in the past three weeks I’ve had two surgeries leaving me with a new fear of the sun, two long scars, and we’re still not finished. If you want the good news, it was caught before it spread and it looks like I’ll be sticking around for a while longer. The bad news is that I have to buy a hat and start wearing it. And put on sunscreen. And wear long-sleeved shirts with fabric that offers ultraviolet protection. And keep out of the sun from 10 to 4. Great.
I do not share this for empathy, but I’m up against a deadline and at the moment this is about the only thing on my mind. Songs about the sun seem to take a new meaning today, so there you have it. And listen, I ain’t one to be preachy, but it wouldn’t hurt you to get an annual skin check-up. Let me close this out not with a song about the sun, but one by Eva Cassidy who passed away at the age of 33 after her skin cancer spread. She had discovered the same sort of thing I have when she was in her late 20s, took care of it, and then blew off the follow-ups. In her death she has gained in popularity, especially for her version of “Over The Rainbow,” but this is the song that keeps playing over and over in my head.
After my picture fades and darkness has
Turned to gray
Watching through windows
You’re wondering if I’m okay
Secrets stolen from deep inside
The drum beats out of time
If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you, I will be waiting
Time after time
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboardand Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is email@example.com.
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