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    Texas | Columns | "True Confessions and Mild Obsessions"

    Ghostly Chalk Children
    of
    Crystal Beach

    by Frances Giles
    Summertime, and the livin' is easy...unless you happen to stay out in the sun long enough to get a painful sunburn. In summers, my mother would usually take us to the beach 2 or maybe 3 times for day trips, and my brother and I played in and out of the warm, brown waters of the Gulf of Mexico. If we were going to fish (and never catch anything, at least, I never did) we generally set up base camp at Rollover Pass, but if we were going to splash, wade, look for shells and just generally race around, we would usually stop somewhere at High Island, Crystal Beach or Gilchrist. On a longer day she would drive us to Port Bolivar so that we could ride the ferry over to Galveston for an added treat.

    Typical kids, Butch and I paid absolutely no attention to the potential ravages of the sun. For that matter, grownups weren't particularly concerned, either, I don't think. We stopped for breaks to drink and eat and sit under the blanket awning rigged up on the side of the car, blanket edge slammed in the front and rear passenger doors and stretched out on two old mop handles in the furthest corners and shoved down in the sand. It almost never stayed up for long so Mama and our Aunt Lydia did a lot of adjusting and rehanging. My aunt was NOT a sun worshiper and she always wore a long sleeved cotton shirt with her pedal pushers. (women's and girls version of capris back in the day).

    I know we were sunburned many times, but one year it was particularly bad. I was probably 5 or 6 and Butch a year older. It was just the three of us. I recall wearing a little itchy, wool, grayish blue, two piece swimsuit that Mama had bought at the Weingarten's supermarket for this trip. I have no idea why it was made of wool, it just was, and I heard her talk about it every time she had to haul the pieces up on me when it got wet. It was extremely modest since it was a child's suit, not the bikini's of later years for older girls and women. Each piece seemed to hold about a half gallon of water, though, and when I slogged out of the surf the pieces went south. Mama spent a lot of time trying to keep me covered.

    After we ate, drank our cans of Golden Age soda and played some more, the sun started going down and she managed to get us out of the water and back to the car for the ride home. Feet got toweled off to keep the worst of the sand off the floorboards and then she got a close look at our deep red skin. By then, the wind was blowing across our tender roasted flesh and we were beginning to complain. She popped open the glove compartment and pulled out a fat cobalt blue glass bottle of, ready for it? Milk of Magnesia. She had us stand on newspaper next to the car while she stripped us down as much as was decently possible, poured the thick, ropy, snow white, ice cold stuff in her palms and proceeded to coat us face to foot tops with it. It felt wonderfully soothing and I was happy for the relief from the incessant burning...then. Mama spread towels across the back seat and told us to sit on the edge (no seatbelts then, remember) for the ride home.

    It wasn't a long drive back to Beaumont, maybe 40 minutes, but as the Magnesia began to dry and I started feeling like my skin was drawing up into one giant pucker, it started to get more and more uncomfortable. Not painful, not any MORE painful, that is, just weird. Miniature human styptic pencils, that's what we had become. I didn't know until I looked this up a few minutes ago on the Internet that it's actually a bona fide remedy for sunburn, that and mustard or a tepid bath with Cheerios in it. I knew about dunking a white sock filled with dry oatmeal for dry, itchy skin and heat rash much later in life, but this was new to me. In all likelihood the doctor Mama worked for had told her about it. She was a nurse and was always willing to give science a try.

    By the time we reached home I probably wondered if I was ever going to be able to stretch myself back in place. I have this mental picture of a pair of stiff legged, milk white little robots swaying side to side with each step, knees and ankles unable to bend. I don't remember how we got the stuff off, nor do I remember the length of time it took to heal the burn.


    Frances Giles
    "True Confessions and Mild Obsessions" June 10, 2013 Column
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