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 annually at more than 20,000 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.

I’ll begin this series by telling the story behind two of my own tattoos …


In the late 1950s, Dad was a civil engineering student at Tri-State College in Angola, Indiana. Mom (well, technically, this was before she was Mom!) was working as a secretary at Wheeling Kitchen in South Wheeling. At some point during his studies, Dad found himself daydreaming of his love back home, and he doodled a heart with their names in it on a page in his engineering textbook.

Fast-forward some 60 years. Dad is retired and helping to care for Mom, who is now confined to a care facility because of her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. He has finally decided that it’s time to sell the family home and move to a smaller place, so my sister Rebecca and I are cleaning out the house in preparation for an estate sale. Any family that has dealt with dementia knows that the person with the disease is prone to “losing” or hiding valuables and money anywhere and everywhere. With this in mind, we were taking care to check all unexpected hiding places for things Mom may have concealed in a sock, purse or drawer.

We came across some of Dad’s college textbooks and were flipping through the pages as we had done with every book they owned, ensuring that Mom hadn’t stuck some cash between the covers. Inside one of the books, we found Dad’s heart doodle. The simple but sweet drawing penned decades before our parents’ love was tested by time and circumstance brought tears to my eyes. I snapped a quick photo of it before my sister added Dad’s book to her box of keepsakes.

A photo of Dad’s doodle.

After Mom passed away in 2016, I began thinking of ways to honor her memory with a small tattoo. It was then that I remembered the heart that Dad had drawn, and I decided that one day after he joined her on the other side, I would memorialize both of them by having that heart tattooed on my wrist.

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Earlier this year, my friend Dawnell and I were having one of our regular heart-to-heart chats about parenthood. I mentioned my tattoo idea to her, telling her I planned to have it done after my dad was gone. “Why would you wait?” she asked. “Why not do it while he’s alive to see it?”

Her question prompted me to do just that. I took my photo to tattoo artist Randy Oiler at Hot Rod Tattooing in Martins Ferry, Ohio, and he replicated my dad’s doodle perfectly. I love looking down at my wrist and seeing a physical remembrance of my parents’ love in my dad’s own handwriting.

A permanent reminder of Jean and Don’s love.


Several years back, my adult children and I wanted to get a family tattoo. We debated for ages on a design we could all embrace. Rachael and Travis were in college and on the brink of leaving home, and I was feeling the sting of my impending empty nest. So for me, we decided on a tree with deep roots to signify motherhood and home, with two leaves representing my kids blowing away in the breeze.

The roots of this family tree run deep and symbolize motherhood.

They would each come up with a single leaf design for themselves. For Mothers’ Day that year, my daughter and son made the necessary arrangements, and we visited Tony Provenzano, formerly of Greg’s Tattooing in Wheeling. (Tony now owns and operates Dark Horse Tattoo in Centre Market.) Tony did a great job giving each of us exactly what we wanted, and we now have a tangible, lifelong reminder of our family bond even when we’re miles apart.

The author’s adult children have leaf tattoos of their own design.

• 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.