How the Catholic Church Stopped Me from Tanning

Posted by on February 9, 2012

“Mommy, what happened to your boobies???!!!” Daughter #3, the eight year old, asked shocked – eyes ready to pop out of her head, as I tried on my sagging bikini top from last year. She was right. God I miss breastfeeding.

I was trying on the bathing suits because Randi told me to. Because, as usual, I didn’t want to have to spend money on new ones if I didn’t have to. But clearly, I would definitely have to.

Really bummed out at my bad case of cabin fever and extreme excitement of our move to “Myrtle Beach or Surfside or where-ever”, Randi reminded me that when I moved down, it would most likely already be warm enough to go to the beach. So, while frost collected on my windows like voyeurs, I modeled the suits from last year to her on skype.


Trying on bathing suits when it’s 19 degrees out – with skin so pale it rivaled the snow that is thankfully non-existant at the moment – opened up my window of excitement toward my Myrtle Beach move even more. (Although, Superbowl Sunday’s wings, onion rings, pizza, cheesecake, chips and dips and wine did not look so good now.)

I am so pale because Sister Mary A. made me stop tanning. She was my fourth grade teacher, back in a time where either one teacher taught all the subjects or, the teachers moved from class to class – not the students – and she taught us everything but science, which was taught by the fifth grade lay teacher, Miss C.

Sister Mary A. was withered and TINY. And crotchety. We never could figure out how old she really was…as kids, we assumed she was in her late 90’s, in reality, probably early 70’s. I remember the parish community celebrating a jubilee anniversary or something like that for her. Her face reminded me of an apple left out wayyyyy too long. Like she had experienced much –  and she did.

I remember her keeping our attention with stories of things that went on in the convent she had once lived in in Hell’s Kitchen in NYC – robberies, murders, children abandoned on their doorstep, etc. She kept a jar of water with a piece of paper as a lid on her desk and would periodically sip out of it during crucial points in her story. The thought of drinking the room temperature water always used to make me squirm.

In her habit, she looked a penguin. Truly. Her scrunched-up face was wrapped in a white cloth, except for her pruned-up eyes, nose and mouth – her forehead, cheeks and chin totally covered. She wore a black veil almost to her rear-end, a black habit that went all the way to her ankles, over which was a black apron, and black stockings and shoes from “Little House on the Prairie” days….ankle-high black boots with eyelets and laces.

One spring day, we came to school to find quite an astonishing sight. Apparently the Diocese had made some type of ruling and the nuns in the area had to change habits, or something to that effect – I can’t remember THAT part. The ruling called for more “modern” clothing for the sisters, and it was not in any way the “modern” dress look that was shocking. It was Sister Mary A.’s face. Being shielded from the sun for half a century, her forehead, cheeks and chin were as smooth as the day she had joined the convent as a young teenager. Smooth as a thirteen year old child’s. Not a crease, not a wrinkle – NOTHING.  Smooth as a baby’s tushy.

And that is how the Catholic Church stopped me from tanning.


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10 Responses to How the Catholic Church Stopped Me from Tanning

  1. Susie Lindau (@SusieLindau)

    I remember that too! Oh I wish we had sunscreen back when I was young….

  2. Fawn

    Being a child of the sun worshipping generation, I have slathered my children with sunscreen. I am now starting to show the results of all that sunbathing . . . .

  3. Linda

    Loved this! Nice storytelling. I never went to a Catholic school, but my husband did. I remember the nuns in our small town when I was young being “other worldly” and remote when spotted outside. But then, I was a Methodist and did not know nuns firsthand. But, my husband did and he remembers those with nasty tempers.

  4. Jaimi

    I love your writing!! Great to read!!

  5. Jessica

    vicky, it’s jess from Accidentalsahm, you clicked like on my post so I came to check out your site and I LOVE it!!! you are so friggin funny! I’d love to meet you if you don’t think it’s weird. I’m in Surfside until 2/29, get in touch!

  6. merelymothers

    What great inspiration to avoid the sun, from such an unexpected source! Fantastic story!

  7. Tess Kann

    Loved the punchline. I had nuns my first two years in highschool but that was before they ‘moderned’ up. You’re a great story teller.

  8. Rhiannon Fox

    That’s a great post and I enjoyed reading it so much, thank you for sharing it x

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