- Written by Bill Levine Bill Levine
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 thought about these sunspots is how I shared them with my mother.
In the “tan, don’t burn” days of my childhood, Mom would always remind me that I had light, red-haired type skin like hers that 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. Newman, the Mad mag cover gargoyle.
But from my dad, I inherited duck feet, a made-for-childhood-derision condition in which my feet were 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 ability 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 feel she was an 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, 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, but there are enough 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 our shared freckledness is a deeper physical manifestation of her immortality. I am delighted to carry forward Mom’s rare MCR1 gene variant, which produces less robust melanin, causes freckled spots on skin instead of an even suntan, and requires 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 redheaded, light-skinned, freckled, sunbaked Southern past caught up with her: Her lifetime vulnerability to UV rays produced a cancerous skin growth. Luckily, it was removed without any further spread.
Knowing this rest, however, has not kept me diligent about sun protection down here in Florida.
I need, then, to heed my mother’s slightly Southern-drawled childhood warning: “We burn easily, Bill; put that lotion on good.”
Bill Levine is a retired IT professional and active freelance writer. Bill aspires to be a humorist because it is easier to be pithy than funny. He may be reached at email@example.com.