Last night I did something that I've talked about for a long time....I got my newest tattoo. Now while this isn't probably shocking to anyone who knows me, or really a matter of interest, the actual tattoo is what seems to have gotten some questions from people. You see...it's a duck. Yep, I didn't get autocorrected or anything there. I officially have a duck tattooed on my left shoulder blade. However, I promise you that there is a reason for this little duck to have a permanent place in my heart and on my flesh. I warn you now that this is going to be a rather long blog.
Let's start off with a photo....
This is a photo of one of my grandfather's tattoos. He got this when he was in the Navy when he was a much younger man. He has a matching on on the opposite arm that says "Who me?" It is such a perfect example of my grandpa's personality. He is loud and obnoxious and is constantly making me laugh. But at the same time, he is strong, dependable, and has the biggest heart of any man I have ever met. My grandpa is hard worker and has been the rock in our family for my entire life. He is a man with 3 daughters and 8 grand daughters, so the fact that he is still semi-sane is pretty remarkable. Yet he always has a smile on his face and a joke to throw at you. My grandparents never missed a single event that I was in, including watching me sit on the bench for junior high basketball, driving 4 hours and getting snowed in to watch a vocal concert, and even sitting in the gymnasium listening to our TERRIBLE school band play their horns out of tune at our annual Christmas program. No matter what, I would look out in the crowd and know that my grandparents were there...Grandma watching intently and gossiping with her neighbors while Grandpa chowed down on some popcorn and made faces at me whenever we made eye contact. No matter how badly things were going, I always knew they were there. No matter how lost I felt, I always knew that I had a place to go.
I remember being a little kid out in the garden with my grandma. We were talking about life and how crappy things are. I told her about a conversation that I had with someone....someone who told me "If you found God, things would be better." To say that I was hurt and offended is putting it mildly. Church was someplace that I never felt at home, but to say that I should be punished because of that? What kind of religion would promote such a hate-filled idea? I was nervous talking to my grandmother as my family had a very Catholic history. However, she sat me down in the grass and told me very seriously...."I've never felt more connected to the world than I do sitting right here in my garden, watching my plants grow. No one can tell me that I'm closer to God sitting in a church than I am with my hands buried in the dirt, nurturing the world, and helping things grow. That is my faith." Her love and understanding meant the world to me. For the first time, I knew that my path was ok, no matter what path that may be. I didn't have to follow the herd. It was OK to be me.
My grandfather...well...I can't say that we've ever had a moment that seems quite as "touching" as that one. We'd spend the weekends with him sitting in his recliner, me curled up on the arm of his chair, watching the Chicago Bulls playing basketball, or we'd go out into his shed and build something that he probably didn't need, but was determined to build anyway. He taught me to work with my hands and create things. He taught me to be strong and to work for the things that I wanted out of life. He taught me respect...and sarcasm. He has been such an incredible influence on my life that I can only hope to be half the person that he is in my eyes. I only remember him saying "I love you" to me twice in my life, and I'm quite sure that I've never heard him say it to anyone else, but at the same time I have never once doubted just how much he cares about me. He is the model of what a man should be, and I'm incredibly grateful that my son has the opportunity to know such an incredible man.
With that information shared, we can now get back to the original point of this post....my tattoo. When I was a small child I would spend hours with my grandpa, tracing and playing with his tattoos, making up stories about the naughty little ducks. My grandfather isn't proud of them, honestly, but it said so much about him and told such a story that I connect it deeply to his character and love them completely. Because of that...I did this:
This is my duck. We literally traced Grandpa's tattoo and modified and modernized it slightly, trying to stay as true to the original as possible. The words below it...my grandmother signs each of her cards to me with the words "Love you much" but I wanted to keep it with two words and I truly believe that my grandparents have taught me that it is important to love, and to love much. That is my grandmother's handwriting permanently etched into my skin. Seeing it complete, I almost cried. I can't wait to show it to my grandparents, despite the fact that I know the first words out of my grandfather's mouth will be "What in the hell did you do that for?"
And I have a reason.....I can tell them that I love them over and over, but I wanted a way to show them. I wanted to show them that no matter what, no matter how far away they are or how long it has been since I have seen them they are always close to my heart, a permanent influence on my life and who I have become. I know there will be questions from people, but I will wear this silly little duck with a lot of pride. Someday I hope to be as happy and admired as these lovely people: