Ode to Sunscreen

I decided to start my own blog, and I launched it with a passionate appeal to alliance and deconstructing privilege. I considered following it up with another fierce entry about the politics and representation of anger, but I just can’t write about politics right now. It’s too damn beautiful outside. For the first time in weeks, the sun is shining. The skies are blue. The birds are chirping. It’s like I fell asleep in a mist of fog, and woke up over the rainbow.

With the sunshine comes my favorite scent of all time: sunscreen. They say that our olfactory senses are intimately connected to our memories, and I believe it. Whenever I am near someone who is wearing sunscreen, my mind races back to my childhood, to summer vacation, to the beach, and to camping. The smell of sunscreen prompts my mind to remember all of the things that make me happy in the world.

My mom took me to the beach and the pool all the time when I was a child. She was a typical sun-worshipper, so she would lather her body with oil, but I would put on the sunscreen. She laid out in the sun, and I would splash around in the water. In our neighborhood pool, I would plan elaborate performances with fireworks (splashes of water), gymnastics (underwater handstands), and shocking leaps from high platforms (pencil dives into the deep-end). At the beach, I would play tag with the waves, taunting the water as it receded back into the sea, and stumbling backwards as it ferociously crept back towards my toes. During breaks, I would tell stories to the ocean as the waves responded with sighs and laughter.

I started going to an overnight camp when I was 13. My younger brother was diagnosed with cancer that year, so I attended Camp Okizu, a camp for children with cancer and their families. I still go every summer, but now as a counselor. The sun is hot up in the woods, away from modern conveniences like air conditioning. 100 degree dry days are spent playing capture the flag, canoeing, or swimming in the blistering sun. Everyone smells of a delicious mixture of bug spray and sunscreen and sweat. Anywhere else in the world, this strong scent would attract strange glances from passersby, but here at Camp Okizu, we are united by our smart, summer fragrance.

Now, when I smell sunscreen on myself or friends or strangers walking by, I am instantly transported to summer vacation, to riding my bike to the Pioneer Park cemetery, making up stories for the deceased and ducking behind tombstones to hide from my friends. When I was younger, summer was about freedom and adventure. It was this blissful season nudged between real life and responsibilities, when time stood still. Even working was easier in the summer; the promise of late sunsets and trips to the beach made long workdays that much more bearable.

That is why I smile whenever I smell sunscreen. For me, the scent heralds summer and sunshine, freedom and play, memories and family.

What’s your favorite smell?

Ode to Sunscreen

6 thoughts on “Ode to Sunscreen

  1. two favorite smells:

    *october back east. falling leaves, cool temperatures, shorter days… wearing sweaters and jackets and getting excited for the holidays.

    *california. i think the specific smell is jasmine — it was all over the caltech campus and sometimes i’ll be walking around and catch a whiff of it and suddenly i’m just overwhelmed with love for where i live, with a real sense of being in california.

    honorable mention: stables. horses. barns. pure comfort 🙂

  2. *M* says:

    I love your style of writing! You are so incredibly eloquent. I’m kind of embarrassed you read my blog now, haha.
    For my favorite scents I have to go with Mom’s cooking! So many good memories and delicious too!

    1. You’re so sweet! And don’t be embarrassed; I love your blog! Your writing is so engaging and fun. Mmmm I do love the smell of good, home-made cookin’!

  3. Summer says:

    Seasalt!! I love the smell of myself and all my belonging after a day at the beach.

    Also gasoline, I can’t really explain it but ever since I was little I liked the smell of filling up my mother’s car.

    1. You are such a beach bum, haha! I also love the smell of gasoline, something about all of those chemicals! Permanent markers and shoe stores also have a strong, chemical smell that I love.

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