My aforementioned mother, a freak if there ever was one, was one of those weird sun-tanning junkies who would lie out all day with the aluminum sheet under her face just as soon as the snow melted. By summer’s end, she was the colour of someone born in Sri Lanka. Most of the photos of my mother, in fact, involve her lying or sitting in the sun, sometimes with one of her alabaster-white babies next to her, a smoke in her hand. “Who’s the Jamaican nanny?” my dead friend Dave once remarked upon spying a childhood photo in our house.

Here’s the trouble, however. My father was extremely fair-skinned. And so too were their children, especially my sister, all peaches-and-cream freckles. My brother and I got a slight touch of my mother’s strange WASP olive-skin thing, and we tan quite nicely but still have to watch ourselves or we get burned. But my mother refused to accept that any of us couldn’t get as brown as she was. And so ALL SUMMER LONG, she was constantly on our backs to get browner.

You heard me right. While other mothers nagged primarily about room-cleaning, pet-tending and chores, my mother also nagged us about tanning. Admittedly, this was before anyone had heard of skin cancer. But still. What kind of woman orders her freckle-faced, lily-white daughter who’s on the verge of blistering back into the sun with the shrieking declaration: “Your back isn’t done yet!!!!” As though she were a lamb chop placed under the broiler. And despite her pleas for mercy.

My mother even had a sunlamp and when we returned from southern vacations, she would order us kids to sit in front of it in order to hold onto our tans. I wish I was kidding. I am not. My late father became so sickened by this tanning obsession that he once, in anger, called her “Walletface.”

My own daughter is as fair-skinned as my sister. And it is lovely. I covet her porcelain complexion. Of course, she hates it. But here is a classic story involving my mother, who despite getting pre-cancerous growths dug out of her skin regularly, still insists everyone looks better with a suntan.

On my daughter’s eighth-grade graduation, she descended the stairs looking lovely in a strapless black and white dress. I almost wept, she was so beautful. What did my mother say? “You sure could use some sun!!!!” I wanted to belt her, and I am not a physically violent person.

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