My tattooed grandpa

By Agnieszka Biernacka 

I’ve felt that in the past few years tattoos no longer spark much discussion among most people. Whether fully tattooed, whether colourful or black. Everybody can wear what they want – where they want. Me, I got my first tattoo three years ago, together with my sister. We wanted to have something in common, something we could look at any time and immediately think of each other. In the end we got four little snowflakes that have a personal meaning to us. My tattoo is on my left ankle, my sister’s is on her right ankle.

Basically, in this article I want to share a short anecdote about how I grew up with tattoos. My paternal grandfather has both of his forearms covered in large tattoos. He got them at a time in his life when things weren’t running very smoothly, and he just didn’t think much about the consequences. Because in Poland, tattoos were socially tainted with strong prejudices, both at the time when he got them on his arms and even still when I was a child: having tattoos was considered criminal and aroused fear in those who saw the tattoo. As a child, I didn’t understand that the “images” on my grandpa’s body were actually tattoos, I loved him just the way he was. Even though my other grandfather had none, I never questioned that. It was simply like that and I had two really wonderful grandpas.

But not everyone around me was of the same opinion about my grandfather’s tattoos. For example, however, in an event that occurred on grandma-and grandpa-day when I was in kindergarten. In Poland, grandma- and grandpa-day is celebrated on January 21st and 22nd. When I was a child, a coffee and cake afternoon was usually organized in kindergarten or at school for this reason. One time we even painted portraits of our grandparents. Just like all the other children, I painted my grandma’s and grandpa’s – with all the trimmings – including the tattoos. 

The kindergarten teacher didn’t really know what the big pictures on my grandfather’s arms involved, so one day she called my father about it to avoid an awkward situation during the celebration, because she was worried my grandpa would be embarrassed if I gave him a picture of himself with those tattoos that were so intimidating for many people. Well, she first took my father into her confidence.

I only found out about all of this years later when my father and I had a chat about it. He thought the conversation with the kindergarten teacher was highly amusing. She had no idea how to address him about my painted picture and so she hummed and hawed. Since my grandfather was his father and my father himself was often asked about the tattoos when he was at school, he straight away knew what it was about and what he had to say. After he openly explained that the pictures were in fact tattoos, she was really embarrassed that she had asked him about this taboo topic. She then immediately ended the conversation.

Nowadays I gladly tell that my grandpa has tattoos. It’s funny to think your own grandpa gave way to trends before it was cool to be fully tattooed. And it’s good to know that nowadays it’s not socially criticized anymore.

Translated into English by Joeline O’Reilly

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