When I moved into Church Hall, my dorm at the University of Georgia, Orientation Day tours introduced me and my peers to the many wonders that the lovely 4-floor building held for us. Immense bathrooms would accommodate at least 20 girls at one time. Several powerful hair dryers were conveniently mounted on the wall beside the sinks. No one would have to wait for long with wet hair. Gigantic mirrors would aid in the application of make-up, and there was plenty of room to set up ironing boards for those of us who ironed our hair. Yes, we did. It was a sign of the times. Those of us with curly hair ironed out the curls and waves, while our peers with straight hair wore curlers--normal situation circa 1966.
Rooms in Church Hall were spacious, as far as dorm rooms went, but best of all, the tanned RA (Residence Assistant) told us as she opened the door at the top of the stairs, was the sunbathing facility on the roof. A variety of lounge chairs sat waiting for our pale bodies. The sun would change us into the lovely goddesses we all wanted to be. We in turn would learn to worship the Sun as often as possible. Immediately several of us agreed to meet on the roof the very next Saturday and take advantage of the nice weather. Fall would soon bring a chill, but we’d like to greet it with tans.
I tried really hard to become a Sun-worshipper. I showed up with my book, my modest bathing suit, and an oversized towel. My dorm sisters shared lotions and potions to aid the process. I was totally inexperienced because my mother wouldn’t let me close enough to the water to learn to swim; she feared that I’d drown. I didn’t own a bathing suit until I walked downtown Athens during my first week there and bought one. Freshmen couldn’t have cars either back in the 60s.
That August Saturday morning on Church Hall’s roof taught me a couple of things. First, my pale skin would not handle much sun. After an hour, I started to feel an unrelenting burn in every exposed inch of my skin. Secondly, I never really liked sweat dripping in my eyes and on my book. I gathered my paraphernalia and went inside where I belonged—with the palefaces. And there I stayed. No more tanning sessions for me. Why then am I having melanomas removed from my face now, all these years later?
As she worked on my face Tuesday last, the doctor asked, “You’ve lived in Georgia all your life?”
“Most of it,” I replied.
“There’s your answer,” she said. “Georgians and Floridians have the highest incidence of melanoma. Notice also that your problem is primarily on the left side of your face, the side by the window of the car when you drive.”
Now that she pointed that out to me, it makes sense. That and the fact that we didn’t know to care for our skin back in my youth explain many of the problems we have today with skin cancers. Fortunately, they are easily removed if caught early. As I lay stretched out on her table, I could feel the needle sewing my face back together after she’d removed my second possible melanoma. It didn’t hurt. A hypodermic at the beginning of the procedure eliminated all pain, or else I wouldn’t have been calmly lying there as she sewed me up.
The whole experience made me wonder about my sunbathing friends from the 60s. If I’m having so much trouble without living constantly in the sun, I wonder how they are. I wonder, too, if Church Hall still opens its roof for sunbathers. If so, maybe this generation has been educated to protect the skin. Tan is beautiful, but skin must last a lifetime.