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A Delta Tan
by Charlotte Buchanan

The first time I ever heard of anybody getting a tan on purpose was back in the '40s when I was about 10 years old. There were five of us then, headed up by our beautiful sister, Fran, who was a teenager. We lived about six miles from Cruger, Mississippi. Our mother had a garden and chickens. The chickens required a "henhouse," which had a fine tin roof slanted about six feet off the ground.

Our sister informed us that she had read where one could get a suntan by applying baby oil and stretching out on something white placed on tin. Well, there were always plenty of babies at our house, but no baby oil.

We searched the house and found some cod liver oil in our father's hat box (along with other things which we figured were for medicinal purposes). Fran had on a two piece bathing suit. We smeared that stuff all over her, got an old sheet and proceeded out to the henhouse. My brother and I climbed the mulberry tree by the henhouse and helped Fran onto the tin roof. That cod liver oil was warming up and Fran was slipping and sliding. After several flaps of the sheet, she settled down to get a sun tan.

About this time, we saw a cloud of dust coming down the turn-row back of the house. "Something bad must of happened, Papa's driving way too fast," piped up little brother. (Papa's average speed in the old Ford truck was about 20 miles per hour.)

Our mother, who was close to giving birth to still yet another sibling, and Annie, housekeeper, cook, and the redeeming factor in our lives, were picking butter beans.

Papa drove up with his two workers on the back of the truck. They were poised above hoes like gladiators. "Where 'bout is the snake?" one asked.

Annie was indignant. "What is wrong with y'all, drivin' up here like a bat out of Hades?" she queried right back.

"The children were waving a white flag on top of the henhouse, must be something wrong," Papa replied.

Fran's short feet were barely holding on because the roof had really heated up. She was standing there looking like a beauty queen in her bathing suit.

"Frances Mae, why in the name of peace are you on top of the henhouse in your underclothes?" bellowed Papa.

"Papa, this isn't my underwear, it is a Jantzen swim suit," she said as she started to cry.

"I don't care whose it is, I don't want you borrowing clothes; you get that back to that Jan girl right away, you hear me?" he said.

Annie defended us to the end. We were all in awe of Papa except Annie. She put him in his place whenever the need came about. We could tell she had a need.

She eyed my mother's protruding stomach and said, "Don't you think you created enough damage around here. You just get back in that old truck, go back to the field, and mind your own business. You made little Frances cry and Miz Frances is about to," she chastised him.

Papa wanted to retort. He was puffing hard on his pipe of Prince Albert as he always did when he was mad; however, he was no match for our Annie. He turned tail and went back to the field.

After a week or so, Fran sported a gorgeous tan. She is past 80 now, but still sports a tan every summer. Odd thing is, she doesn't even have a henhouse.


Charlotte Buchanan is a well-known Mississippi Delta writer. She pens fascinating features for the Indianola Enterprise-Tocsin and other regional publications, including Delta Magazine and The Delta Business Journal.

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