For 68 years, I have enjoyed the clear spring waters of Compass Lake. In my early years, my brother and I would compete to see who had the darkest tan. It was not hard because when we were not on the lake, we could often be found in the watermelon fields. Shirts off.
There was not much sunscreen around those days. Instead, we slathered on baby oil to accelerate the darkening of the skin. We often used lemon juice to lighten our dark hair, though I am not sure I ever became much of a blond.
My grandmother delighted in slipping down our swim trunks an inch or two to show how dark our torso was compared to the white skin just below our waistband. It embarrassed us on the one hand but made us proud on the other. Those my age will remember the Coppertone ads of the day that illustrated how we wanted to look.
I walked in peanut fields as a young adult and rode with my arm out the window of my four-wheel drive pickup. I had a cap on some of the time and no hat most of the time. Long after I quit going shirtless and became more careful of the sun, I ignored my face. As someone who wanted to look older in his early career, the weathered look somehow made me fit in. Older than my years. A hard worker.
A week ago, I made a trip to a Dermatological Surgeon. A small bump appeared on my nose, unnoticeable to anyone but me. Even my wife did not see it. When I could no longer ignore it, I visited my dermatologist. She immediately referred me to a practice that specializes in MOHS Surgery.
I had never heard of this procedure, but I have found out in the past week that almost everyone I know my age has either had it or knows someone who has. In pure lay terms, the cancer is removed and evaluated in a lab on-site. Increasingly smaller and thinner cuts are made until there is no evidence of cancerous cells.
My own growth had gone through the skin which then required a skin graft. The doctor took the skin from the inside of my ear. I am still marveling at that bit of information. Then they poured glue over the removal site in my ear and told me not to worry about it. Where has this glue been all my life?
As for my nose, I had a gauze bandage soaked in some sort of miracle goop stitched to the site. Then it was covered with multiple layers of tape. If I thought my nose was large before, I had not seen anything yet.
My plan was to hide in my house until everything healed, but then I discovered I would miss everything I had planned, including an upcoming trip to Europe. Vanity probably makes us miss more than we should and is another lesson learned. I was at the Gogue Theater the next evening, bandaged up nose and all.
Ironically, the next day I visited a local drug store. At the checkout line, I was asked if I would like to contribute to Red Nose Day. I thought the clerk was making a joke and I pointed to my nose, which he had not noticed, and asked if he was kidding me. The look on the young man’s face showed he had been oblivious to my condition. At that point, his face became redder than mine.
Today, I had my bandages removed, but you will likely still notice me with a much smaller bandage awkwardly across my nose for a while. Unless I can figure out how to photoshop pictures on the fly, most of our upcoming European pictures posted on Facebook will capture me in all my bandaged glory. Fifty years from now, my grandchildren will look at those pictures and ask what was wrong with Granddaddy’s nose.
I actually already learned my lesson, long before now. After Hurricane Michael, our dock was rebuilt with almost everything under shelter. Picnic tables, hammocks, firepits, and rocking chairs are all now comfortably in the shade.
Our boat has a large Bimini top, and sunscreen is found on the boat, dock, and at the back door. Swim shirts with sun protection are encouraged and have become the norm. A dark tan is no longer a badge of honor amongst the young people in our family. Most families around the lake have adjusted to these new norms.
I do not write this to call attention to my nose. You will notice it quickly enough when you see me. My friends that are my age have likely made the same mistakes I did as a teenager. However, it is never too late to encourage your children and grandchildren to follow a different set of rules.
It is no longer cool to have a Coppertone tan. Use sunscreen regularly. Wear a hat. Stay in the shade. One day you will also pass that invisible line in time and find you are no longer invincible. Only then will you realize that the price of the great tan is not worth it.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org