My cousin Luke looks like a tattoo artist. He’s big and tough, with beautiful ink up his arms and on to his neck. When he smiles, it’s like looking into a mirror. His toothy grin looks just like mine and a dozen other cousins. But it is his giggle that gives him away. Even when he was just a kid, unwashed and undisciplined kicking around our grandfathers’ mining camp, his giggle was infectious. It still is. When I decided to get a tattoo, I knew Luke would take care of me.
My tattoo came with a lot of thought. I tend to over think things generally but deciding to add the tattoo to my 50 by 50 list was not something I did lightly. I wanted to mark the occasion of walking into the second half of my life (no seriously, my grandmother is 95… 100 is real in my world). To do something out of the ordinary (for me). I wanted to be a little dangerous, and a lot outside of my comfort zone.
When my sister said she would do it with me, I was excited to share this milestone, and the experience with her. While I was the straight-laced sister (well, the one who didn’t get caught), she was the wild one (well, the one who didn’t care if she got caught). I always wanted to be more like her… I still do. In my kid’s lives, she’s always been the rock star, while I was having three kids in 5 years, she was living on the beach in Florida having a ball. She has always been a bundle of contradictions. These days, she’s the more conservative of the two, but she also loves heavy metal and Kid Rock. She’s a dentist with some leftover trailer park sensibility. She has tattoos from another time in her life. She swore she would never get another. Except for me.
We worked with Luke to create fans from our favorite Christmas movie, White Christmas. We wanted the feathered fans from the song, Sisters. As a family who moved around as much as we did, White Christmas was one of the touchstones of our holidays. When my dad got sick last fall, we rethought our plan. My dad, a sailor for over 25 years, had only one tattoo. A classic rose in the center of his chest. Once when we were kids, my mom and Kristi added a flower stem, pot, and additional flowers to his chest as he lay sleeping on the floor. The ensuing maker war was one for the ages!
When we took pictures of dad’s tattoo and told him what we were planning, he was tickled. We didn’t actually get the chance to follow through on our plan until after the funeral. When we drove to Luke’s shop, we were still reeling from the pain and loss of saying goodbye. This tattoo became a way to honor the ways dad shaped our lives, and the bond we share with each other.
There are a thousand memories that come when I think of my dad. The way he would wake us in the mornings for school is one. Have you ever been stood up out of a dead sleep? He would knock, but if we didn’t jump (and we never jumped) he would come in and just pick us up and put us on our feet. Occasionally, he would simply pull the blankets from the end of the bed. I remember sliding down to the foot of the bed holding on for dear life. Lt. Derrick did not play about cleaning our rooms. We actually stood by for white gloved inspections. Once, we came home to find our doors locked and “condemned by the parental housing authority” signs on our doors.
We also learned interesting things! We learned to recognize and recite the signal flags the surface navy used for communication. We learned Morse Code. We sit nearby as dad talked on his amateur radios, “CQ, CQ, CQ…” as we searched for connections across the world. Once, when I was working on a project about the pyramids, Dad talked me in to cutting off all of the tops of the pyramids because he had been there and seen them with flat tops. Later, we realized that while I was working on Egyptian pyramids he was thinking about the Mayan pyramids he’d seen on his last cruise to South America. I may never be able to describe the agony of asking dad for help with the metric system. The hours long lecture about all things metric sent me reeling.
As women, my sister and I are very different, but the experiences we shared from our childhood, the choices we’ve made to prioritize each other in adulthood, and the ways we have determined to include each other in our everyday lives have resulted in a friendship I cherish. There is no one on the planet I root harder for in life than my sister. We’ve shared our triumphs and some bumps along the way, and we appreciate the relationship we’ve cultivated over time. I’ve been around enough families to know that this is both choice and luck… and I am indeed very lucky.
My tattoo has healed. The burning pain of the first few days gave way to scabs and itching. Now, it is a daily reminder of the ways the lives of others lean in and shape and mark us over time. I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for these relationships. My dad’s long reach has impacted me in a million ways. My memories , both the good and the hard have marked my life and shaped me in to the woman I am. My sister’s constant presence, always letting me know I am not alone, continues to give me courage and shape my days. This new rose is just an external reminder of the love and memories we share.