“Follow the Sun,” column for June 18, 2013

It seems I have a love-hate relationship with the sun.

When I was a child, I could swear the sun would reach down with its long fingers and beckon me to follow it. It got me into trouble more than once.

“Stay in the shallows!” my mother would order when we went swimming in Green River Cove, “or I’ll make you get out and sit on a rock!”

The river was dark and foreboding with a muddy, mushy bottom that sucked at your feet and harbored all sorts of nasty stuff, catfish and tin cans and shards of broken glass.

I wasn’t much of a swimmer, let alone the kind of person anyone, then or now, would call brave. I did not want to cause my mother to lose her religion.

But the sunlight only played on the deepest part of the river, not among the shadows of the trees that lined banks.

Some people like sun. Others prefer shade. I’ve always had a weakness for light.

So when my mother turned her back, I’d inch my way out to the sunshine, squishing mud between my toes, praying, “Please, God, don’t let me step on a catfish.” And there, for a moment, I would be happy.

Then the current would pull me under and my stepfather would have to wade out in his work pants to drag me in, and I’d end up spending the rest of the day sitting on a rock, getting stung by yellow jackets.

When I was 19, I left my family in the South and followed the sun to California. I followed it all the way to the Pacific Ocean and a rocky outcropping of land called the Monterey Peninsula.

And then, for the next 30 years or so, I lived in the fog.

There were many days of sunshine, but many more, it seemed, of fog — a fog so dense and engulfing that my children called it the “white monster.”

Did I miss the sun? Probably. But most of the time I was too busy doing laundry and going to basketball games and trying to keep three kids in the shallows, so to speak, to think about it.

Then my children grew up and my husband died and I found myself longing for the sun.

So I began going back to the South for long visits to see family and friends and rivers and lakes and mountains that I called “home,” and to spend a lot of time in the sun.

My mother used to say, as she hung wash on the line, “The best disinfectant is sunshine.” After my husband died, I used sunshine not quite like a disinfectant, but like a really good medicine for any ailment.

Unfortunately, I had a tendency to overdose, totally disregarding something else my mother used to say: “Too much of a good thing is too much.”

Years later, after I remarried, my new husband took a job in Las Vegas, and we moved to the desert, where most every day the weather forecast is two simple words: Abundant sunshine.

In the seven years we’ve been here, I’ve soaked up a lifetime of sunshine. It felt good. Until last year, when a doctor removed a “suspicious” mole from my face and left a scar that looks like I got bitten by a catfish.

Now when I go swimming, I slather myself in sunscreen that has an SPF of about 5 billion and wear a hat so big it makes me look like the Flying Nun.

And my husband — who slathers on the same sunscreen and wears a worn-out, faded Clemson hat — dares to snicker.

Fine. It’s a small price to pay, a tiny concession, to get to stay alive and keep following the sun.

OK, I told you all that to tell you this: Life is too short to stay in the shallows. Or sit on a rock. Don’t worry about currents or catfish or people who snicker. You can follow the sun every day into the deepest parts of life.

Just be sure to wear sunscreen and a really big hat and see your dermatologist once a year.



  1. Good afternoon Sharon,
    I loved this column and having grown up in Santa Monica, was at the beach nearly everyday during the summer. BUT, after the melanoma on my back, I swear by 30 plus sunscreen. We used to use iodine and foil to get more reflection. Can’t believe the ignorance.
    Now, we spend our summers in SC around our pool and at the beach at Pawleys. And can you believe it, a dermatologist lives across the street and after slathering her 4 girls as they dip in our pool, I’m gifted with tons of samples for sun protection. How lucky we are and I still love the sun but with 80 and a large hat!
    Love you

  2. June Palmer says

    Years back, when I worked so much, I left the house in the early hours and it was late end of day when I returned. The result was not much sunshine or even none to very little. I suffered from winter depression I would say. I was altogether weepy through most of Dec & Jan & sometimes Feb.
    We moved to Fla for my husband to complete his education and I spent much time outside. When winter arrived that year, I did not cry myself through it as it had been. I conclude that “outside” is one of the most effective cures for depression.
    Just sayin.
    Enjoyed the new piece.

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