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It’s All About the Suntan

imagesBeach towel. Spray bottle filled with water. Transistor radio. Baby oil and iodine. History textbook. Everything I needed to get a perfect tan. Actually, I didn’t need the textbook, but as a college student I carried it along just in case the mood to study struck while I soaked up the sun.

On sunny spring days in the late 1960s, the narrow yard between two dormitories and concealed from Dixie Avenue by a brick wall was filled with Tennessee Tech coeds wearing bathing suits. Like an overcrowded beach during vacation season, we laid towels in rows, side by side, and saved spaces for friends. Some places were like Sunday morning church pews – reserved, but unmarked. Ideally, spring quarter classes were scheduled around sunning time, early morning and late afternoon classes. Midday was for sunbathing.

We didn’t protect our skin from the sun’s rays; instead, our goal was a perfect tan. Who dreamed up the notion that baby oil with a few added drops of iodine made good suntan oil? We smeared oil all over our bodies and lay for hours, or until our next class, baking our skin and we sprayed water on ourselves when we got hot.

The yard wasn’t the only place to sun or lay out, as we said. As a freshman, I lived on the 5th floor, the top floor, of Unit B dormitory, now M. C. Cooper Hall. Jill* lived in a single room across the hall and her room had a small dormer window that opened onto a flat roof over the building’s wide porch. One night Jill, and two other friends, Ada* and Kara*, and I decided to climb onto the roof.

We moved Jill’s desk under the window, removed the screen, and climbed as if we were heaving ourselves out of a deep swimming pool. The stars were close and the air cool. We could see and hear people, but no one knew where we were. We looked across Dixie Avenue, above the treetops, to the eagle atop Derryberry Hall. And then about mid-March, we realized the roof was the perfect place to get a tan and we could wear whatever we wanted. That black roof was closer to the sun and much less crowded than the sunbathing yard.

Only about fifteen girls lived on 5th floor, but we four friends didn’t share our sunning hideaway. We locked Jill’s door so no one, or so we thought, knew about our escapades. We whispered to each other, never played our radios, and even pretended to study. We weren’t scared of the height, but we were scared of getting in trouble. We stayed close to the window and left it open so we could climb inside quickly. Actually, we sunbathed on the rooftop only a few times. That black roof was miserably hot!

Thinking back to those days of sunbathing, my friends and I should have been scared that we were damaging our skin. I’ve had several basal and squamous cell non-melanoma skin cancers removed, most likely a direct result of overexposure to ultraviolet rays. But we had great tans, kept each other’s secrets, and I’m confident we were only four of many, many coeds who ventured out onto dormitory roofs.

During this year of TTU’s Centennial Celebration, it’s been fun to share some of my experiences as a student. Thanks to all who planned and carried out the many events. I hope the current students cherish their memories and appreciate their education as I do.

*Names changed because I promised my friends I would.


3 Responses

  1. I loved your article. Great as usual.


  2. Like

    Sent from my iPhone Jimmy



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