In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m running an excerpt from a column I did about memories of Mom from the 1970s, back when we lived dangerously and rode without seat belts. This column also appears in my book, “Not Quite Right: Mostly True Tales of a Weird News Reporter.”
When you’re a kid, you have no choice but to trust your parents to make the best choices for your health and safety. It’s not like I knew to tell my mother I wasn’t of legal drinking age when she gave me a shot of bourbon and honey to soothe my sore throat when I was 8. But it was the 1970s, the era of living dangerously, when we rode in cars without seat belts, and took bike rides without benefit of a helmet.
It was the Before time. Before airbags. Before nutrition labeling. Before surgeon general warnings. Before anyone knew what ultraviolet rays were. Before we were told excessive tanning was not healthy, even if it made us glow like Farrah Fawcett slathered in radium.
And in that innocent time, our mothers sent us out to play without any sunscreen. At. All. But for my mother and her best girlfriends, being tan wasn’t good enough. They wanted to be the most tan. The tannest. The queen of the tan. Tanny McTanface. There were no commercial tanning beds, at least in our world, but my mother did have a sun lamp, which was a way you could concentrate those cancer-causing rays directly on one part of your body until it was the crispy brown of bacon – or led to a third-degree burn and a trip to the ER.
But when using the sun lamp, my mom knew how to prevent her skin from getting too crispy – she would slather herself in a mixture of baby oil and iodine. This was also the time Before Hawaiian Tropic, or many commercial tanners, which came into popular usage in the early 1970s. The baby oil-and-iodine mixture promised a quicker, darker tan and most women we knew swore by it. The mixture itself wasn’t really harmful. It was the fact that it drew all those rays to our unprotected skin that was the problem. Putting it on us kids was like buttering Hansel and Gretel before they went into the oven. But who knew?
I was coated in it every summer from the time I was 7 or 8 until I was a teenager, when all my illusions were shattered by the knowledge that everything about my childhood might have killed me, or at the very least infused me with toxins that could have turned me into some kind of mutant. Like Godzilla. Or Gary Busey.
For instance, my mother treated all of my brother’s and my scrapes and cuts with Mercurochrome. Some moms preferred Merthiolate, and most kids would come to school covered in one of the red-orange antiseptics at some point, wearing it like our very own red badge of courage.
To read the original column in its entirety click here. Or buy a copy of “Not Quite Right: Mostly True Tales of a Weird News Reporter” and read the full tale of my upbringing. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a signed copy of “Not Quite Right,” or of “Fairly Odd Mother: Musings of a Slightly Off Southern Mom.” You can also buy them at online or local booksellers.