The epic Southern novel, Gone with the Wind, describes Scarlett O’Hara with “skin so prized by southern women and so carefully guarded with bonnets, veils and mittens against hot Georgia sun…” A perfect description of Mama. Her skin looked like buttermilk and was beautiful and unblemished until the day she died at age 82.
Skin is our largest organ. It protects us against invading pathogens that seek to attack our bodies as well as insulating and regulating our temperature. It can be a thing of beauty. Mama was born in 1916, long before folks in America began defacing their skin with graffiti, piercing, and cooking in frying beds. Piercing was unheard of, except for putting rings in hogs noses to keep them from rooting out of their pen.
Mama didn’t go to the cotton field at daybreak with the rest of us. First, she first had chores to do. There was well water to draw and fill the black iron kettle in the backyard where she washed our clothes. After wringing and hanging them on the line to dry, she cleaned house, cooked dinner and finally dressed in her work outfit. She arrived at the cotton patch around 9 a.m. clothed from head to toe and looking like an Arab sheik. Her bonnet, made from a Martha White flour sack and snuggly tied beneath her chin, enclosed her head. She wore one of Daddy’s work shirts buttoned to the top; loose fitting jeans and gloves made from old socks with the ends cut out allowing her fingers to poke through. No ray of direct sunlight touched her white skin. At bed time, she plastered her face with Avon cold cream. Back then, women took great pride in their skin – like Scarlett O’Hara did. Tattooing, piercing, and frying would have been unthinkable.
When I was a kid I saved my cotton picking money so I could attend the County Fair and see what we called the “freak show:” a two headed calf, bearded woman, and the tattooed lady. That kind of entertainment has “gone with the wind.” Nowadays, you can go to Walmart and see tattooed ladies all day long for free.
The first time I saw a tattooed lady outside the County Fair was in court many years ago. Her name was Rebel, and she had a garland of flowers tattooed around her ankle. I mentioned to my client that it was strange to me. “Heck, that ain’t nothing,” he said. “I know a guy who has a gopher rat tattooed on his privates.” Ouch! How drunk was he, and how many men did it take to hold him down?
In 1995, while interviewing a WWII Veteran, I noticed an American Flag tattooed on his forearm. It was upside down. “Aww, I was drunk,” he said embarrassed “and so was the tattoo artist.” It’s a rite of passage for servicemen to get a tattoo. I got mine in Juarez, Mexico when I was 16. It seemed the cool thing to do, along with smoking.
When I was young, tattoos were simple like: “I love Mom” on a man’s shoulder or perhaps a girlfriend’s name over an arrow piercing a heart. Now, I see what looks like chicken scratching tattooed on arms and necks. It must be “I love mom” written in a Chinese dialect, I don’t know.
Why do people get tattoos? To paraphrase Henry David Thoreau, a monkey in Hollywood gets a tattoo and all the other monkeys want one too. Monkey-see-monkey-do. Young people – called millennials– have a need to express themselves. It’s normal. My generation wore Mohawk haircuts before moving on to long, scraggly hair. A classmate dyed one half of his hair orange and peroxided the other half. Nothing much changes in life, just names and locations. Brittany Howard, lead singer of the Alabama Shakes, of whom we are immensely proud, has the shape of Alabama tattooed on her right shoulder and a red heart designating Limestone County. Pretty smart. It promotes her band and her business.
It gave me an idea. Unfortunately, millennials are saddled with college debt, can’t get a job and many have to live with their parents, eat Mama’s cooking and sleep all day. I have a solution for them. Express your inner self and earn money – lots of money. Turn your skin into a walking billboard! NASCAR drivers sell space on their race car and coveralls to STP, Good Year, Coors Light and Pennzoil. They earn big money. So why can’t you?
Since retiring, I live on a fixed income while the cost of Viagra, Dulcolax and prune juice is rising. My medical co-pay shot up from $15.00 to $40.00 per office visit. Pretty soon I’ll be back drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. I need more income. I propose to sell tattoo space on my chest to Pfizer Pharmaceutical that says “BODY POWERED BY VIAGRA.” On my arms, “WANT TO SUE? CALL ALEXANDER SHUNNARAH, NOW.” Tattooed across my forehead will be “BRAIN FUELED WITH DEWAR’S SCOTCH,” and on my rump, “PROTECTED WITH PREPARATION H.” I figure I’ll soon be picking up seashells at Gulf Shores and sipping Mint Juleps.
Millennials, you can cash in too! Guys, a gopher tattooed on your privates would be an excellent D-Con ad, but I wouldn’t advise it. Women are afraid of rats, even dead ones. Women are creative and clever. A notable local and classy lady told me she is having “MOM” tattooed on her rump. I can just hear people on the beach oohing and ahhing, “How sweet.” When she stands on her head, it says “WOW.” Clever, huh?
Full figure folks can really cash in. They have more skin available to sell more ad space. Unfortunately, the wormy-looking runner types will miss out on this financial opportunity. They won’t have enough skin for a beef jerky ad. Times have changed for sure. I bet if Scarlett O’Hara were alive today and you saw her on the beach at Gulf Shores, sipping a Mint Julep, she’d be wearing a string bikini, her skin cooked to a crisp, “I love Rhett” tattooed on her rump, and a hog ring in her nose.
Yes, the wind has changed.
Tattooing is a 2-3 billion a year industry. Artists earn $100,000 plus annually. An even more profitable business is outpacing tattooing: a multi-billiion dollar industry removing tattoos.
The wind always shifts.
By: Jerry Barksdale