Getting Tattoos in Our 50s


Did you ever want to be a badass? Like maybe for an hour or two? Maybe in your own wimpy way (that wouldn’t be considered badass by any stretch of the imagination on Sons of Anarchy)? I’m talking about the type of badass where you go to bed knowing you didn’t hurt anyone’s feelings, and you wake up in the morning with a clean conscience. Badass Light. No killing. No one-night stands. That’s what I aim for. (I can’t speak for Bill. Well, I frequently do, so I’m gonna go out on a limb and say he agrees with me. His idea of badass is pouring wine on top of chocolate ice cream then adding chocolate chips.)

If you want to be REALLY badass, though, get a tattoo. We’ve visited two tattoo parlors, one in Wisconsin for the original tattoo, and a second in Hawaii for an embellishment. Having gone through the tattooing experience twice in four years, I have a new level of respect for the people who get them, the tattoo artists who do them, and the parlors who host this sinful behavior. Haha. Just kidding.

Our tattoo experiences were sentimental and emotional but laced with an undercurrent of rebellion. The more I talk to people about their tattoos, the more I learn that tattoos are rarely the result of an impetuous, drunken romp. Most people tell me they got them for some endearing, sentimental reason (like to support a loved one’s battle against cancer).

Our first tattoo was initiated by Bootie Pepper, and as soon as the tattoo artist, Jeremy, learned that my husband, daughter and I were all tattooing my departed son’s name on our arms, he offered us the family discount. I didn’t know parlors had such a policy. How cool is that? He immediately recognized that this was an emotional experience for us.

When in Jeremy’s parlor, the first thing I noticed was the music. You’re familiar with a clinic setting where soothing elevator music wafts through the air? How about your hair salon, where coffeehouse-style music plays? Tattoo parlor music isn’t either of those. The one on Water Street had hard-pounding metal head music (for lack of a more nuanced genre) crackling through what I can only describe as disturbed air.

Here’s why the vibe was disturbed. The walls were adorned with skulls and crossbones and semi-nude photos of mostly women—all with lots of tattoos—and the furniture was of the grunge motif. We signed flimsy consent forms and were taken to a back room, not unlike a physician’s office, that had an old, recycled optometrist chair anchored to the floor. (I wondered what happened to those, and now I know.) My senses were again assaulted with more nude photos—tattoos inked everywhere conceivable. Like everywhere on the human body. Everywhere.

Jeremy spoke in quiet tones and clarified what he was doing for each one of us. Bill scoped out the sterile nature of the supplies and proposed technique, and we were off to the races. Jeremy began by popping the movie The Hangover into his video player—at high volume. The soundtrack competed with the metal head music overhead, sending me into sensory overload. Since I wasn’t high on marijuana—or any other substance—I asked Jeremy if we could mute the TV, and he happily obliged. (We were touched by Jeremy’s generosity and overall professionalism while getting our three tattoos.)


Bootie Pepper got Tedd’s name on her wrist, where she can not only see it but also cover it with a watch for job interviews and meetings.


Sarah Tat

The cool thing about this initial tattoo of my son’s name is that it’s in his handwriting. We lifted it from his signature on a school paper. I elected to have it in blue—the color of his eyes—scribed onto my left forearm, so I could read it anytime. It’s always there, a reminder of my deep and abiding love for Teddy. With the pain of each stroke of the tattoo gun, I was reminded of my son’s passing, the pain I felt, and how I confronted it. I lived, and the pain diminished in time, becoming bearable. And, his name is a reminder that he lives on through me until we reunite in afterlife, in many moons, of course.

Tat-Ola inking

Four years later, we were vacationing in Hawaii. After my daughter and her boyfriend returned to Wisconsin, my 80-year-old mother-in-law joined Bill and me for a week.

Tattoos with Nana

While there, we met relatives of a work colleague. Ola, an islander who is a well-known singer, also runs a tattoo parlor. Both my husband and I expressed a desire to add to our existing tattoos—a cross and wave for me—and a cross with some Polynesian thatch work on my husband’s.

Todd Fresh Ink

Ola carefully considered our requests, knowing how sentimental the original tattoos were, and invited us to his tattoo parlor. Ola’s parlor, Kauai Kulture Tattoo, is located in Hanapepe, Kauai along a river. It’s in a beautifully renovated two-story building on the second floor.

In contrast to the Eau Claire parlor, Ola’s place is open-air, casual and relaxing, with a mix of Hawaiian and Blues playing. Ola appreciates the human connection—as much as anyone I’ve met—and was a perfect blend of artist and meticulous proceduralist as he embellished our tattoos. I did NOT experience any sensory overload in the tranquil atmosphere of Ola’s parlor.

Tat-Todd bare chestI wish I could maintain Bill’s stoic look on my face while enduring the pain.

Tat Face Grimace

Tat fresh ink

Mine. You can see the original Teddy here with the cross and wave added. Fresh ink with the blood seeping along the lines.

Tat - nine months later

The second one is a pic 8 months later. With sun and time, the tattoo developed a faded patina. I see I have a lot more room for a sleeve. What do you think?

We brought Grandma Nana to the parlor, because she’s super hip and cool, wearing her leopard-print tops and skirts. I know some people are hesitant to get a tattoo because they’re afraid of how it will look when they age and acquire some wrinkles. Since Nana is 80, I told her now was the time to get the tattoo because she knows where her wrinkles are and can tattoo around them. (She still didn’t bite.)

Nana Brenecke's

I featured Ola and his tattoo parlor in a scene in my book, Amanda’s Dragonfly, where Jen, Amanda, Tommy and his dad, Cy, go for tattoos after a big shoot out.

If you’re unsure about getting a tattoo, remember that you can go for a free consultation and have them draw it on your skin in a Sharpie marker. Take your time to consider the design and location on your body before you make a final decision.

Free tip: If you’re trying to think of an activity that the entire family will enjoy when your children reach 18, I’d recommend a tattoo. Think of the lifelong memories you’ll create from just the one experience! Remember to ask for the family discount.




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