Writer’s note: Tattooing has been done for centuries for a variety of reasons. Some cultures tattooed for religious reasons; others for branding, healing or punishment. In other cultures, tattoos signified societal status or were obtained as living souvenirs of visits to foreign lands. Also, once thought of as related to gang membership or prison time served, the art form has become more mainstream only in recent decades.

According to the website History of Tattoos, U.S. citizens now spend 1.65 billion dollars annually at 20,000 plus tattoo parlors around the country. A few other statistics: 36 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have at least one tattoo, and 30 percent of all U.S. college graduates have tattoos. Of those looking to get inked, 43 percent want a tattoo with a personal meaning.

That desire to tell a personal story in a permanent manner is the focus of this series. If there’s a special story behind your ink, please contact Ellen at ellenmccroskey@comcast.net for possible inclusion in upcoming posts.

Some of us are fortunate enough to be born into families that we cherish throughout life and well beyond it. Wheeling resident David Valentine realizes that isn’t true in every case, so he feels particularly blessed to have been raised by parents he wanted to honor in a permanent way.


David is a second-generation American with deep family roots in both Italy and Hungary. He is a graduate of Linsly School in Wheeling and West Liberty University and also completed his master’s degree in counseling at the ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­University of Dayton. Since 2000, he has worked for the West Virginia Division of Rehabilitation Services as an employment specialist.


Both David’s maternal and paternal grandparents immigrated to the United States to find a better life and start their families. His late parents, Albert and Marie, were the first generation of their families to be U.S. citizens by birth.

Once they were married, Albert and Marie established the conventional family unit of the times — he was the breadwinner, and she was the homemaker. They raised their three children with traditional values where family honor was paramount. Albert, a beloved and well-respected local physician who famously finished medical school in only 18 months, was a hero figure to his young son David.

“It would be unheard of today to graduate medical school in that short a time,” he says. He remembers well his father’s hectic practice at the Wheeling Clinic as he was growing up. David also recalls with fondness how much his parents adored their grandchildren when they came along.


david valentine wheeling tattoos
The caduceus symbol will always remind David of his late father.

“I had been wanting a tattoo for decades,” David said. After his father passed away in 2007, David finally got his wish when he commissioned Greg Basil of Greg’s Tattooing in Fulton to tattoo a special caduceus of David’s own design on his left upper arm.

In part because of a series of misunderstandings and confusion, the caduceus is now symbolic of the medical profession, particularly in the U.S. This easily recognizable insignia shows a winged rod with two snakes entwined around it vertically.

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Like nearly all other American doctors, Albert adopted the caduceus as a symbol of his medical practice. David remembers the emblem vividly from his childhood, as it adorned his father’s white coat and black leather medical bag. For David, the caduceus will always be an evocative reminder of his dear dad and the distinguished medical career he enjoyed.

Above the emblem, David had Greg inscribe the word Papa, the Italian word for father. Beneath it is the Italian phrase, Famiglia Per Sempre, which means “Family Forever.”


Roses are a cherished memory of David’s late mom.

Since his teen years, David helped his mom Marie with her yard work and gardening. She grew gorgeous roses as far back as he can remember.

Although David considered it a lot of work in the moment, the time he spent helping his mother with her rosebushes is now a treasured memory.

“Roses take a lot of care,” David said. “There’s a science to it; you have to fertilize and prune them carefully. Her two large rosebushes yielded 75-150 buds every year. There was never anything wrong with Mom’s roses; no diseases; nothing.”

Marie put the same care into raising her family as she did tending to her roses, and her devotion to them both made a lasting impression on her son. When she died in 2014, David chose to honor her memory with a special rose tattoo.

This time, he asked Tony Provenzano of Dark Horse Tattoo in Centre Market to create a unique design. Tony designed the heart-shaped rose, which is now in full bloom on David’s right upper arm. Just above the colorful bud is the word Anya, Hungarian for mother.


David also has the first names of each of his children tattooed in a simple typewriter-like font on the inside of each bicep. In the future, he plans to add a picture to each one. “Possibly Pebbles and Bam-Bam,” he laughs.

David Valentine honors his children with simple tattoos of their first names.

In years gone by, family histories were frequently recorded in family Bibles so that generations to come would have a record of special memories. Though this tradition seems to have fallen by the wayside, many people today choose to preserve a prized family memory by carrying it with them on their person, just as David does. For as the Italians say, “La famiglia è la patria del cuore” — Family is the heart’s homeland.

• A lifelong Wheeling resident, Ellen Brafford McCroskey is a proud graduate of Wheeling Park High School and the former Wheeling Jesuit College. By day, she works for an international law firm; by night, (and often on her lunch breaks and weekends) she enjoys moonlighting as a part-time writer. Please note that the views expressed in her writing are solely her own and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else, including her full-time employer. Through her writing, Ellen aims to enlighten others on causes close to her heart, particularly addiction, recovery and equal rights. She and her husband Doug reside in Warwood with their clowder of rescued cats, each of whom is a direct consequence of his job as the Ohio County Dog Warden. Their family includes four adult children, their spouses and several grandkids.