Three years ago, Gary DeSutter made a promise to his grandson. It was a promise he hoped the Bakersfield, Calif., boy would forget. But Patrick McCord, who graduated in June from Stockdale High School, remembered and held DeSutter to his word.
DeSutter recalled, “When he was 15 years old, he asked me, ‘Papa, will you get a tattoo with me when I turn 18?'”
DeSutter, a retired truck driver, said he would. When McCord recently turned 18, he and his 66-year-old grandfather went down to the Sacred Gypsy Tattoo & Art shop on 19th Street in downtown Bakersfield, where artist Ronnie Corbitt etched a guitarist on McCord's arm and Roman numerals signifying the pair’s birthdates on DeSutter’s arm.
“That's it,” said DeSutter, who had been tattoo-free. “I won't be getting another one.”
DeSutter, who retired in 2006 and moved from Bakersfield to a senior mobile home park in Oceano, Calif., said his wife of 47 years, Beverly, was OK with him having a tattoo. But he admitted to squirming when his Bible study session recently discussed the book of Leviticus: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you. I am the Lord!” He said his pastor, who knew about his tattoo, reassured him the New Testament is more forgiving.
DeSutter has plenty of senior and baby boomer company these days when it comes to getting tattoos. A 2008 Harris poll concluded 20 percent of Americans 40 years of age and older have at least one tattoo.
Researchers involved in the Harris poll, as well as earlier ones conducted by Scripps-Howard and Ohio University, and the Pew Research Center reported the biker-lawbreaker stigma of having a tattoo is giving way to acceptance.
Rocket, who insists that is her only name, is the receptionist at the Sacred Gypsy. She reported seeing more boomer-age people coming into the shop to get their first tattoo. Many of these customers are women.
“Girls are tougher,” Corbitt said. “They can handle it better.”
Shop owner Justin Foss recalls tattooing a 90-year-old woman who always wanted to have a tattoo. She came in with her daughter and granddaughter, who also got their first tattoos as a “sort of final thing they could do together.”
“Attitudes are changing. It is much more socially acceptable,” Foss said, crediting celebrity tattoos and media exposure for the acceptance.
Retired Bakersfield junior high school teacher Susan Reep treated herself to a tattoo for her 60th birthday. She had been thinking about getting a tattoo for more than a decade and decided to do the deed at a tattoo expo at the Bakersfield Convention Center. She had the image of a blue and green gecko etched on her shoulder, which she explained is the least likely spot on her body to sag. She plans to have a raven tattooed on her other shoulder.
While she was tight-lipped at school about her tattoo, some students found out and spilled the beans at her retirement party two years ago.
How did her family react? She said her husband approved, but “my father doesn't want to look at it. He thinks it's creepy. My (adult) kids accept that mom has always been a little different.”
Neither DeSutter nor Reep have had problems with their tattoos, although Reep conceded the procedure hurt like crazy. But whether they are getting a tattoo out of love for a grandson, or to fulfill a dream, boomers are warned there could be complications.
Shops must have a permit from the Kern County, Calif., Environmental Health Department and artists must be registered. Explaining this is to assure a level of care and training, Environmental Health
Director Matt Constantine said his department has received complaints about bacterial infections and about tattoo shops being operated illegally.
This article written by DIANNE HARDISTY appeared first in The Bakersfield Californian on Aug. 10, 2009.