Wednesday, July 1, 2009

White-Lie Wednesday

My Gramma Said: Liberally slathering baby oil onto your skin will prevent sunburn.

Yep, she really said that. Even back in 1976, the logic was clearly flawed: if you rubbed butter onto a turkey before roasting to make its skin brown and crispy, why would using a similar kind of greasy product on human skin have the opposite effect? Still, before we would head off to Community Park, we would basically hose off in baby oil. And Off insect repellent. Between the skin cancer I am sure to develop as the result of basting my skin in petroleum and the unknown other cancers I am sure to develop as the result of showering in toxic chemicals just to avoid a mosquito bite, I can't imagine this was the wisest course of action for a 5-year-old.

I know that many people did things like this back in the day, before the dangers of the sun and the lack of ozone and DEET were well-known among pedestrian summer lovers. gramma said she was a nurse. A genuine, certified R.N., to be exact. Never mind that in the entire time I knew her, she never worked in a hospital. Never worked at all, in fact. I heard volumes about her stint owning a John Deere dealership, about how she owned the Hotel restaurant/bar in Brocton (a story for another day) and about a host of other jobs she supposedly held. But I never heard a peep about her professional career as a nurse. At the time it didn't seem at all odd to me; she told us she had been a nurse, and she was the central figure in my life, and I trusted her implicitly, and that was that. Come to think of it, I don't remember when she actually told us she was a nurse. It was just a given, and we understood it to be the truth, forever.

Brenda and I have discussed this at length and can arrive at no solid conclusion. Was she ever a nurse? If not, why lie? If so, why wasn't she working as a nurse? Was there a big cover up of some sort? Regardless, the bigger question remains:

Why did a woman who said she was a Registered Nurse tell us to bake our bodies in baby oil? I think it was the poor man's sunscreen. Baby oil costs less than $2 a bottle and lasts forever. I have a bottle in my medicine cabinet right now that has been there for years; I don't even remember where I got it. Sunscreen, on the other hand, is way more expensive. And did they even have sunscreen in 1976? I don't know. My gramma probably thought she was doing something good for our skin by having us put something on it, rather than send us out into the open air with bare skin. She was trying. The R.N. thing...I have way fewer pat answers for that.

Some people lie awake at night wondering if Oswald acted alone on the grassy knoll. But I wonder about my gramma's supposed medical career. And I wonder why the facts are so skewed, and why I didn't think to question any of them until after I graduated from college, and what else was an exaggeration of the facts or a blatant fabrication of reality?

I bet I have enough for an amazing number of White-Lie Wednesday entries. I don't have deeply repressed memories of horrific events, but I do sometimes remember things that have remained dormant for years and years. The oddly-shaped mole on my shoulder reminded me of the baby oil thing. It sounds Freudian - I'm questioning my upbringing because of the shape of a mole - but there's a lot to think about.

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