Z. ZincPosted: May 1, 2011
“Mum, what’s this?”
“What’s this tube? It says zinc. What’s zinc?”
Kylie looked over to her ten year old daughter and smiled. They had been cleaning out her mother’s cupboards and it appeared the child had found her grandmother’s old beach bag. Kylie reached out and took the tube from her daughter’s hand. She twisted the cap, feeling the grains of sand beneath her fingers. Lifting the tube to her nose, Kylie closed her eyes and sniffed the white cream.
“Zinc, my dear, is what we kids used to have to put on our noses when we went to the beach. It was horrible stuff.”
“If it’s horrible, why are you smiling?”
“Because it reminds me of my childhood summers here in Australia which are nothing like the summers I now have with you and Dad in England.
You see, I remember waking up in the early mornings and looking out my bedroom window straight into a clear blue sky. The sun already high in the sky warming up my window. I never slept with the blind down in summer – the clear sky was just too magical at night to block it out and I loved waking up to the sunlight streaming into my bedroom in the mornings.
I would slide open my bedroom window all the way, smelling freshly mowed grass and hearing cicadas singing in the trees. If the cicadas sang early, it was going to be a hot day, a beach day.
Beach days meant ham sandwiches and hot chips for lunch, packet biscuits and fizzy drinks. It meant sweating in a hot car with no air conditioning, driving up and down the streets looking for somewhere to park. It meant, frayed tempers and whines of “get off me, you’re too hot!” from your brother or sister in the back seat. It meant your dad finally giving up on finding a space close to the beach and double parking the car. It was up to you then, and your mum and siblings to unpack the beach umbrella, the esky, food, towels, lilos and the Sunday papers as quickly as possible and then stand in the blinding hot sun and wait until Dad walked back from woop woop. The longer you waited, the longer the walk back to the car at the end of the day.
Beach days meant being so hot and you couldn’t wait to get into the water. It meant minding your manners because by the time you found a patch of sand to sit on, your mum and dad were so hot and pissed off so that if you looked at them the wrong way you got told you couldn’t go in the water for ten more minutes.
By this stage you would do anything, anything to get into that cool salty water so that you, your brothers and sister would jiggle up and down on the hot sand laying out towels, holding up one end of the umbrella while your dad swore at the other, put the esky in the shade and then finally stood still on your towels waiting expectantly until your parents said you could go into the water. BUT -not before you put sunscreen on and zinc on your face.
Ugh, it was the final insult. The sunscreen we could do, the zinc? No-one wanted to touch it. It was thick and pasty and it felt like half your face was being wiped off when your mum tried to spread it on. Sand would stick to it, leaving you feeling gritty all day. But zinc was not just a barrier from the sun, it was a barrier from the water too. If you didn’t put it on, you didn’t get to go for a swim. An Australian parent never held more power than in those few minutes on the beach.”
Kylie stopped talking and closed her eyes. Her daughter looked at her for a minute and then asked, “So, do you want to keep it?”
Kylie smiled. “No love. I’m good without it.”