Until now, we had a little secret in our family. At one time, every one of us had a tattoo. Can your family say that? Today, most people would think it was no big deal. Some might still think it strange.

Tattoos are the rage today, but a few years ago they weren’t generally acceptable. I guess we were ahead of the times.

It started with our son. When he joined the Marine Corps, I told him whatever you do, don’t get a tattoo. But being realistic, I said, “Well, if you do, get it where the sun doesn’t shine.”

He came home several months later with a beautiful Rottweiler tattooed on his calf, where his pants would cover it up. In Old English script, it said “Teufel hunden,” which was German for Devil Dog. The Germans called the Marines teufel hunden during World War I. A few years later, our daughter spent some time in Chile. When she came home, she had a large, colorful image of the sun tattooed on her body.

I acquired my own little body art some time later. We were vacationing in Mendocino with our cousin and his wife from Oklahoma City. Eating oysters at our rental at Sea Ranch got boring, so one afternoon we went up to Fort Bragg to look around.

Cousin Kitty and I were walking down the main drag when we spotted a nice-looking tattoo parlor. I wanted to go in just to check it out. Kitty thought I was crazy. But in we went. The tattoo artist was a pleasant young man who tried to help us select a tattoo from the huge display on the walls. The shop was clean, sterile and upscale.

The hardest part about the whole process was picking out what to have and where to put it. I didn’t want it to show and I wanted it to be small. I did not like the big statement that you have to live with for the rest of your life. I finally decided a little heart with flying wings would look cute on my hip. But I chickened out.

We waved goodbye, quickly exited and went home. Our little visit to the tattoo parlor sure livened up our cocktail hour that evening. While we sat on the deck watching the sunset over the ocean, our husbands were entertained by the story of our adventure and wanted to know all the details.

The next day after some encouragement by my mate, we went back. I had a wad of cash in my jean pocket for my new tattoo. The clean-cut man told me to sit down and pull my waist band down a few inches. The experience wasn’t as painful as I had feared. But I am not sure I would do it again.

Kitty was laughing the whole time. She couldn’t believe I was actually getting a tattoo and was sorry she didn’t bring her camera. When we left the shop, I felt like everyone in Fort Bragg knew that I had a tattoo on my hip. I felt pretty proud of myself for just going through with it.

That left Dad as the only unadorned member of the family. One Father’s Day, the three of us “shanghaied” Dad and took him to a tattoo parlor in Santa Rosa so that he could join the clan. He selected a tribal band around his arm.

A few days ago, I was in line at a local grocery store standing behind a young woman who had an arm covered with colorful tattoo designs. She was talking to a friend about what type of lotion to use on them. I excused myself and mentioned that aloe vera would help bring out the colors. She gave me a surprised look and was probably wondering what this matron knew about tattoos. Then I told her that I used aloe vera on my tattoo and it really helped. Well, we bonded right there on the spot. I felt so “with it” when I pointed to my hip and told her about my winged heart with HD in the middle. Everyone knows what HD stands for, right?

I was so “with it” for an older woman, even a bit ahead of my time. But I was still pretty private about it, until now. Only our close friends knew of its existence. Lately, I have been thinking that if I ever do this again I might have it gussied up a bit with a few Celtic designs to complement my Irish ancestry. Perhaps my encouraging husband will give me a gift certificate.

I know cousin Kitty still remembers that fun day in Fort Bragg. Just last month, she sent me a Valentine’s Day card with a cartoon of an older woman getting cookies out of the oven. She was bending over just a little, her shirt pulling up and her jeans pulling down. Right there, for all the world to see, was my very own red heart and silver wing tattoo on her lower back. Her young grandson was standing there waiting for a warm cookie. His eyes were popping out as he saw his grandmother’s tattoo. I have four little grandchildren, so I will have to be careful when bending over to take cookies out of the oven.

As I get older, I am afraid that I might become notorious in some residential care facility in a few years. Can you imagine a caregiver yelling, “Hey Mabel, it’s time to turn over the old broad with the winged heart tattoo on her hip.”

At least they will know that I had fun in my day. And that’s the truth.

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