Tuesday's Tan Lines
The perfect tan was a work of art in the 80s. The sun painted you in layers, while the occasional breeze or mist from a garden hose set the tones like oil on canvas. But our sun was no Michelangelo, and we were no Sistine Chapel. We were farm girls under a hot blue sky with a bottle of discount tanning lotion from Kmart and aluminum lounge chairs that broke after one summer. We’d lie on our backs for ten minutes, then flip over like pancakes on a griddle, the nylon webbing branding our skin and sweat streaking the lotion like rain on a window.
Achieving that perfect tan was next to impossible at the farm. There was always some distraction, and after a long holiday weekend, Tuesday’s tans lines were an added accessory to any blouse. A streak across the forehead, a baby’s handprint on your chest...this was all part of Pensenstadler summer fashion.
Lawn chair lounging
Though there were 48 acres, that little plot of land where we lounged was the epicenter. The front porch was center stage for all sorts of live theatre, and for a nickel, we sunbathers had front row seats. Just six feet away, the whip of badminton racquets cutting the air was so close they could’ve been the sails of a giant ship, and Keri and Elaine swung tirelessly to gain World Champion status in consecutive volleys. If they ever came close, we would know by their gleeful screams.
But the most exciting distraction was the sound of car tires kicking up stones on the road nearby. Stony dust would slink along the drive and cling to our lotion like sand at the beach while the taste of exhaust garnished our lemonade. Who could it be? The excitement built as the car pulled into view. It was Keith, Rosie, Kevin, and Mark!
Elaine and Keri dropped their racquets and ran to greet them. They were a good ten years older than the boys and never missed a second to exercise that authority over them. They whisked them off to the front porch where they would practice their latest cheerleading routine over and over before introducing it to the adults.
“A little badminton, Keith?” Jerry hollered from the shed. Though they had only just arrived, grass didn’t grow under anyone’s feet at the farm. Keith stretched his legs and grabbed a racquet. The dust from the road had settled and the excitement of new arrivals had blended with routine. Rosie was now lounging with the sunbathers, her boys chasing the dog, and Keith now in an increasingly heated game of badminton with his brother-in-law.
It was McEnroe versus Connors, with the score tied 17-17. The first to 21 would win the game. Not to be upstaged, Elaine and Keri cheered from the porch,
“Fire Cracker, Fire Cracker Boom Boom Boom.
Boys got the muscles, Coaches got the brains,
and girls got the sexy legs, yeah we won the game!”
They repeated this over and over with lunges and hand claps in unison. But the attention of the sunbathers was rapt with the birdie.
It was now 19-20, and Jerry had the lead. The birdie spit towards him and he hit it back with equal gusto. Back and forth it flew, right, then left, and everywhere in between. The sunbathers were so engaged, they missed their “pancake flip” by several minutes, and once again the perfect tan would elude them.
“Dad, look at me! Look at me!” whistled through the air, but Jerry remained laser focused. He cut one low across the net. Keith dove to his right, stretching his arm the farthest it could possibly go, and made contact with the birdie.
The sunbathers gasped.
The birdie popped up from the strings and soared weakly over the net towards Jerry. It was the perfect set up, but Jerry wasn’t satisfied with a simple win; he wanted a photo finish. He raised his racket and wound his swing with great showmanship.
Julie approached the front lawn soaking wet with a scowl, and suddenly she was the center of attention, much to Keri and Elaine’s chagrin. They had since given up their cheerleading routine and were on to the next adventure.
“What happened to you?” Bonnie asked, the straw of her lemonade hitting her lips.
“Something hit the boat and scared me. I think it was a bird!” she sulked.
Keith and Jerry exchanged a look.
“Tie game,” Keith smiled.
Julie never saw what it was that landed in her boat that day, but the legend will always be that Jerry’s giant swing sent the badminton birdie flying well across the farm and into the pond where Julie lay sunbathing. Whether birdies sink or swim, we never thought to question. Such is the stuff of legends.
The only birdie on the farm would forever live at the bottom of the pond, and it would be a week before Rose got to Kmart for a pack of birdies, a few more bottles of tanning lotion, and all the blue light specials her basket could hold.
I pulled into a Kmart this afternoon for a few quick things before I picked up the kids. It’s late August, and the school days are just heating up. The aisles have shifted from sandals to slippers, beach balls to board games, and all swimsuits are fifty percent off. I turned the corner to see one aisle holding fast, clinging to summer’s sweet final seconds. Every shelf was packed with random lawn games, bubbles, and chalk. I picked up what looked like a badminton set and laughed at how large the racquet heads have grown. Elaine and Keri could beat the world record three times over with these! Lost in thought, I added them to my shopping cart, and suddenly, I was overcome with the scent of tanning lotion.
There was a bottle in every variety - sport spray, waterproof, lotion for sensitive skin, kids only, babies only, you name it - in every possible SPF. My eyes were drawn to the brown and gold Coppertone bottle. Though its shape had changed, the smell was undeniable. It’s discount sticker read $6.25, a far cry from the $1.47 Rose used to spend in the 80s. Nonetheless, it found the bottom of my shopping cart with the badminton racquets, and off I went to the checkout line.
My kids are groggy when I pick them up. They’ve spent all day in a classroom while the sun outside sung of summer days now past.
“Anyone up for a little badminton?” I ask, and my eldest takes the challenge.
We play well into sunset, our volleys inching closer and closer to the World Record. And though we’re nowhere near Butternut Road, the pond and its little boat, or the front porch of the Pensenstadler farm, I can faintly hear the laughter of sunbathers and the spirited claps of cheerleaders, as my birdie almost makes it to the clouds.