The Red Badge of Courage

We just took our two oldest grandaughters to Michigan’s Adventure. It was a great summer day; sunshine, about 78° a bit of a breeze. So we got there and the sunscreen came out. My wife sprayed the girls and herself and handed me the can…”I’m good,” I said. I’m sure my wife was thinking: “you’re stupid.”
When did Sun Screen come out anyway? I don’t ever remember using it as a kid. The advertisements were all for Coppertone tanning butter. You know, the little girl, the dog, and the white butt. I think my mom used Crisco. I swear I think I saw a no.10 can in her beach bag. I consider myself a veteran of many summers, and a burn signified that I actually did something besides vegging in front of a TV on my day off or on my vacation. A burn was and still is my ‘Red Badge of Courage’. My childhood vacations Up North are marked by sun and sand, woods and water. It was never questioned that we’d burn. It happened as a matter of course. We’d spend the day at the Empire beach, or at Little Glen and we’d plan on getting fried like a slab of bacon.

The Author with sisters Kelly and Denise

We couldn’t even help ourselves. We’d stop for lunch, Steam rising off our backs and shoulders, put a t-shirt on and head back out for more punishment. Crawling along the beach looking for Petoskeys and bits of sanded glass, we’d drape our towels over our heads and backs as an extra shield but we’d stay out there all day. When we were cooked long enough we’d clinb back into the car flushed from the sun and all the wonderful Petoskeys, sanded glass, and other stuff we stuffed into bread bags. We weren’t allowed into the house until we were washed down with a hose. Then we trooped into the basement to the shower. It was only a three sided painted plywood box with a gravity shower head raining warm water straight down on us while we lathered the lake off our bodies. Once we had cleaned the lake from our bodies we could see the, hitherto unremarkable carnage we’d inflicted upon ourselves; and it actually stung putting on our pajamas! What were we Thinking!?! Or in today’s parlance: WTF!?!
Fortunately for us, and probably for our mother too, Aunt Louise had a huge Aloe Vera plant that, by the end of Summer, looked like a Charlie Brown christmas tree.
Even though the restorative salve worked it’s magic only briefly it was enough to calm us as we bedded down on pillows and blankets in the living room of the farm house. Mom had the spare bedroom with babies Kelly and Denise while Mike, Shannon and I spread out in the living room. Later Carl shared the guest room with mom and dad, and the living room filled up with little toasted bodies Shiney with Aloe. Whether we ran along the Empire beach, climbed the dunes, walked three miles out into Little Glen lake to water deep enough to swim in, or ooh’d and aah’d our way through the Totem Shop in Glen Arbor soaking in everything, our little toasted ham and cheese bodies reveled in the summer sun, because in Michigan if you blink, summer could be gone.

So I sit here, in pain, thinking about those summers green and golden long ago when we groaned with the pain yet headed right back out again. We were living our best life. And now I need to remember that playing beneath Apollo’s Chariot exacts a price which is easier to pay with Aunt Louise’s Aloe plant. Tomorrow I’m going back up there; to Springdale Farm, the dunes, the Totem Shop and more with kids and grandkids! I hope I burn.

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Kevin is a Life biographer, factual and fictional. Humorist, Dreamer, and Romantic. "I wanted to live deliberately. suck all the marrow out of life".

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