The Old Kind of Tattoos

A few years ago while I was working on a research project at the amusement park I worked for, I stumbled upon this photo called “The Old Kind Of Tattoos” a stranger posted on some crazy niche industry forums about Wildwood in its glory days.

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We lost my Uncle Buddy this week. He was 91. The last of his group. The last of the Greatest Generation in my family.

He used to hand-paint old-fashioned temporary tattoo transfers and sell them at a rickety little stand on the boardwalk. The first time he ever applied one on me, I was so afraid it was going to hurt (and he may have played up that fear just a little- he was silly like that). I remember the stickiness of the tattoo on my arm, the cool, wet sponge and then incredibly, the art was on my skin and the paper was perfectly clean, if not a little slimy. It was SO COOL. I spent hours playing in his tattoo storage closet, swimming waist deep in Ninja Turtles, Mickey Mouses, dragons, Bart Simpson heads, snakes coiled around daggers and MOM hearts. I examined them all and stood on my toes next to his work station to watch him paint. Each one was slightly different. Not a single one was perfect, a product of the slightest tremor or shift in focus.

I have two family photos always displayed. One is my grandparents sitting on the beach. The other is my grandfather and Uncle Buddy manning a machine gun.

My grandparents met shortly before my grandfather enlisted in the Marines at a round robin dance. The ladies formed a circle in the middle and the men formed an outer circle and whoever you ended up in front of was your dance partner for that song. My grandfather landed in front of Mimi. After their first dance, he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to dance as well with anyone else. Each round, he shuffled around the circle so he’d always land in front of her. They married shortly before he deployed for the South Pacific.

While on deployment, Grampi was stationed with Uncle Buddy and he went on and on about his wonderful wife and the letters they constantly exchanged. Uncle Buddy decided he wanted a lovely lady to write letters to and asked Grampi if Mimi had any friends. He began writing his letters to Mimi’s sister, Aunt Redda. And they got married when he returned from war.

That’s what the Greatest Generation did. They went to war and they came home and reveled in their families and hard work. They were extraordinary men and women who lived simply, happily, beautifully. They took pride in their work and found joy in watching a little girl flex her sad little bicep and feel like a badass for the first time in her life because she had a droopy Raphael inked on her arm.

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RIP Uncle Buddy. I’m glad you’re all together again.