By Bill Levine
(SENIOR WIRE) Surprisingly, it’s taken my third snowbird winter in Florida to realize that, at age 68, I still have freckled arms and shoulders. I’ve looked closely, and they’re not liver spots. The freckles have blossomed because of a better commitment to catching sun rather than TV binging this season.
My first thoughts about these sun spots is how I shared them with my mother. In the “tan don’t burn days” of my childhood, Mom would always remind that I had light, red-haired type skin like hers, which required a slathering of suntan lotion before going poolside or seaside.
It didn’t always work as my ointment of youthful summers was Solarcaine.
I sensed back then that freckles were an oddity in my Jewish neighborhood, as was my mom’s red hair. My hair, though, was standard issue, medium brown.
My freckles were really a neutral physical feature. No one ever mixed me up with Alfred E. Neuman, the Mad Magazine cover gargoyle.
But from my dad, I inherited duck feet, which was a made-for-childhood-derision condition in which my feet where significantly out-turned. Thus, unfortunate nicknames of “crazy leg,” “duck,” and “penguin” stuck to me like Gorilla Glue.
Assigning intangibles from parents is more a subjective exercise, but I am confident that by genetics or osmosis I have gotten my love of most sports, sense of humor, and crossword solving from my dad, and my sensitivity, minimal Boston accent, and honorary Southerner status from my mom.
It was my mother’s red-headed, freckled Southern Belle amalgam that always made me feel she was and exotic step up from my friends’ mothers, even from the mother who wrote kid’s books.
Mom was the rare mom who couldn’t endure New England winters. She would never utter the obscene “T word” as just mentioning tobogganing upset her.
She had that reflexive Southern graciousness that compelled her to end dreary phone conversations with a cheery and sincere, “Great to talk to you all, dear.” Once when I told Mom about the amazing Mount Rushmore in faraway South Dakota with those humongous carvings of presidents, she countered with Stone Mountain in Atlanta in which Confederate heroes were carved into immortality.
Despite ignominiously hyping Stone Mountain, Mom embraced the New South in the late 1960s as she hyped up her support of integrationist Southern journalists.
My mother passed away 13 years ago, though there are memories of her that live on.
Experts say that when an Alzheimer’s-wracked parent dies, their children immediately remember their parents in prime-of-life moments. Thus, I rarely recall holding my mother’s unexpressive, claw-like, 80-year-old hands, but often warmly remember her inviting, young mother hands entwined with mine as we walked to the corner bus stop.
I remember how she infused my life with knowledge about and appreciation for her Southern upbringing in then small-town Atlanta. Her legacy, for me, though, is of a motherly kindness and unconditional love, even in the face of lost outerwear.
These soothing memories of my mom give her a metaphysical immortality in my reckoning with her death. But her shared freckled-ness is a deeper physical manifestation of her immortality. I am delighted to carry forward Mom’s rare MCR1 gene variant that produces less robust melanin-causing freckled spots on skin, instead of an even suntan and more UV ray protection. Less technically, I am a happy to have her freckles, even if UV rays can really zap me.
When my mother was around my age, her red-headed, light-skinned, freckled, sunbaked Southern past caught up with her, as her lifetime vulnerable exposure to UV rays produced a cancerous skin growth. Luckily, it was removed without any further spread.
Knowing this, however, has not kept me diligent about sun protection down here in Florida. I need then to heed my mother’s slightly Southern drawl, childhood warning “We burn easily, Bill, put that lotion on good.” MSN