Monday, October 04, 2010

Every Tattoo Has a Story

The first tattoo I ever saw was of a naked woman on my grandpa Charlie Watson’s forearm. I’m sure the figure was racy when he got it, but the years had erased most of the tattoo. What remained looked as if it had been sketched with a blue ballpoint pen. 

The figure went from his wrist to his elbow and I always wondered about the story behind that tattoo. I’d be willing to bet Mama Watson hit the roof when he came home with it, but I never asked. 

Back in the day, tattoos were mostly found on the arms of sailors, bikers and people who’d spent time in jail, but to my knowledge my grandpa was never in the Navy, rode a Harley or did any time “bustin’ rocks” on a chain-gang. 

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, “Humans have marked their bodies with tattoos for thousands of years. These permanent designs—sometimes plain, sometimes elaborate, always personal — have served as amulets, status symbols, declarations of love, signs of religious beliefs, adornments and even forms of punishment.” 

These days tattoos are common on both men and women. 

I was standing in the checkout line at Wal-Mart this past week people watching. I’m fascinated by what people wear to Wal-Mart, and what they have in their buggies. 

Anyhow, I noticed a woman in front of me who was wearing a fairly short skirt. A splash of color on her leg drew my eyes down just below her hemline. Turns out she had a beautiful rose tattoo on the back of her thigh just above the knee

She must have sensed me staring and looked back. I snapped my head away so quickly that I almost got whiplash and my face turned the color of a ripe tomato.

I busied myself surveying the contents of my buggy and eventually the blood returned to the rest of my body. I’m sure her tattoo had a story but I was too embarrassed to ask. 

I have a tattoo that I got in 1972 when I was stationed in Panama during my stint in the Army.

It was a holiday weekend and a bunch of us guys were all sitting around the barracks knocking back a few brews when someone said, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea — let’s all go get tattoos!”

That sounded like a splendid idea so we caught a bus and headed off in search of a tattoo parlor. 

We ventured into an area that was the underbelly of the city and always smelled like fish and diesel fuel.

We found a place that was a little ratty, but the lights were on and the tattoo pictures in the window were colorful, so we went inside to get the scoop.

The female tattoo artist was about 30 and couldn’t speak a word of English. That was unfortunate because none of us could speak Spanish. We quickly figured out that talking louder didn’t get the message across, so the deal went down using sign language. 

Looking through the tattoo book, I saw tons of designs, but they cost more than I could afford so I pointed to a small butterfly. 

No one was keen on going first, so I volunteered. 

I’ve heard people say that getting tattoos doesn’t hurt, but they lied! 

Mine felt like she was using a handheld singer sewing machine with a dull needle. The liquid courage had worn off before she completed the first wing. I actually think my skin smoked as she laid down the design.

All the guys gathered around and watched and my friend Doug took pictures. I’m not sure if it was the smoke, or the guttural moans I was making, but everyone else decided that tattoos weren’t for them. 

I was the only one that went home with permanent artwork on my shoulder. And that’s the story behind my tattoo. 

Like my grandpa, time has taken all but the faintest outline of the butterfly on my right shoulder blade, but I bet his story was a lot more interesting than mine.


  1. I've never been a fan of tattoos myself. My daughter got a small one on her ankle about a year ago and spent months trying to make sure I didn't see it.

    I'm not really sure why she hid it from me though. While I'm not a fan of them she was 20 at the time and I wouldn't have said much about it anyway. Kids.

  2. my dad (a former marine) had a tattoo. I remember seeing it as a kid--I don't even remember if it was on his leg or his arm because he always wore long pants and long sleeves.

    He said he got it while drunk. I figure it would take more than a strong drink to get me beneath the artists needle! I have never seen a tattoo that would motivate me to submit to that torturous experience!

    They are VERY prevalent around here. One day my friend and I were eating lunch at a local fast-food place. While we were there almost every person who came through had tattoos--most of them had whole large sections of their bodies covered in designs in various states of completeness. I cannot imagine how much that must have hurt!

  3. I think the popularity of tattoos indicates that all these people are masochists. I have no tattoos and neither do my close friends. I suppose we are either terribly boring or terribly rebelious!



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