"I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand." - Chinese proverb

Monday, November 14, 2011


Fellow blogger and Facebook Friend Gretchen recently posted a piece called "Why I Don't Have A Tattoo" (you should definitely check out her awesome blog, "Eat More Carbs").   I don’t have any tattoos either, though a bevy of my friends do. It was the thing to do when you graduated from high school or hit a milestone age. We don’t live that far from the Navy base in Groton, where there are a lot of tattoo parlors, and that’s where people went, for the most part.   Even my mother (86) says that she thinks “a flower or something little" on your ankle or shoulder "would be pretty.” 

The reason I don’t have one has nothing to do with pain, because pain and I are old comrades; also, I have had my nose pierced as well as the better part of two ears. I simply could not decide what image I would want forever. I have plenty of scars, and they’ve acted as my tattoos, kind of.  I read where singer Dolly Parton, having had "female surgery" necessitating a long vertical scar on her belly, decided to dress it up with virtual laces and bows suggestive of an old-fashioned corset.  I thought this was an adorable idea, and having had my own "female surgery" in 2002 with the same scar, I qualify.  But...nah, not enough people would see this on me to make it worthwhile.

Then it came to me one day: a thistle. (Three colors, already checked that out.) Why?  Well, I am very proud of my Scottish heritage. My dad, first generation American, is 100 proof. I have been to Scotland to visit my relatives and would go again in a heartbeat; growing up, they came here to visit many times and I was always dressed in pretty little kilts and knew all the words to “Annie Laurie” (was named for this song) before I was 10. My grandfather and grandmother met on the boat coming from Glasgow to Ellis Island. And the legend of the thistle is awesome. Here's the legend, from the web site Scotlandsource.com:

How, you may ask, did such a thorny flower become a national emblem ?

Well, so the story goes, a very long time ago when Scotland was ravaged by Viking invaders,
a group of Scottish fighting men were resting overnight in a field.
Unknown to them, a raiding party was preparing to attack this group of Scots, under cover of darkness.
As the attacking Vikings approached the encamped Scots, they stood on a patch of Thistles with their barefeet

and, of course, let out cries of pain as the thorns dug deep into the soles and toes.
The Scots, having been awakened by this rammy, were able to fight off the attackers.
So, from that day , the Thistle has been adopted as Scotland ' s National Emblem.
( Well, can you think of a better explanation ! )
Nowadays, the Thistle is widely used to signify the " Scottishness " of countless products,
services, organisations, etc., and can be seen everywhere.

So that lowly little weed that stung my ass as I stopped in a field to pee on my way to my family's house from Prestwick Airport may have saved the Scots at a crucial time in history.  Then yes!  I might be the only one to know the whole story about why I chose a thistle, but no matter.  I would go forth confidently, knowing protection in the best genealogical sense of the word.  Take THAT, Vikings.  You can't catch us asleep at the wheel; the little purple flower that grows everywhere will see to that.  Aye, it will.

But here’s the thing. My mom is second generation American and HER grandparents emigrated from Italy and Norway. So feasibly, my relatives could have been amongst the Viking marauders who were caught barefoot by the thistle and then killed. So can I celebrate the thistle, knowing this? It has gone round and round in my head. I can’t resolve it.  Would it be a virtual "screw you" from half of me to a fourth of me?  Because I'm proud of ALL my heritage, Scandinavian included.  What if one of my Viking ancestors WAS among that crew that was trying to sneak up on the Picts (or whoever they were way back then)?  And here I am gloating over it.  Making my ancestors in Heaven mad.  Or worse, sad.  And definitely offended.

And so I walk past the tattoo parlors with a glum countenance.  I could be in there getting my thistle.  I have collected pictures of thistles for the last 20 years to give my tattoo artist inspiration.  Here they are:
Sad, isn't it.  But hey, I'm sorry, that's just the way it goes.  And in a way I guess it's all right, since I haven't yet decided where on my body to put this thistle tattoo.  When I do, in fact, get it.  Certainly not on my foot.  Maybe that'll placate 'em up in Valhalla.  Oh wait...there's still the one-fourth Italian to contend with...

No comments:

Post a Comment