My husband had a few house rules when our children were young. No piercings, (other than earrings for the girls), no tattoos and no foreign steel parked in his driveway. You bought American or nothing. Those rules were in effect until you were 18 years old and able to support yourself.
And by and large our children respected those rules. But our eldest son Guido cut it a bit close one year just three months before his 18th birthday. He and a buddy took a road trip to the Kentucky Derby which is always held the first Saturday in May. His birthday is in August.
In a moment of what I can only conclude was temporary insanity, he decided to get a tattoo. It is a beautiful three- masted schooner with a scroll beneath it that reads: Homeward Bound. Guido, a homebody never lived more than a block away from us his entire life. So it made sense that those words became his personal motto. But it was more than that. I suspect he felt a deep connection to the Simon & Garfunkel song of the same title, “Homeward Bound.”
When he returned home from the Derby, good Catholic guilt kicked in and he confessed his transgression to me and his grandmother and the siblings. So we formed a small conspiracy to protect his secret until he graduated in June and celebrated his 18th birthday in August. It also helped he was an apprentice cement finisher and had a steady income soon meeting Jimmy’s two requirements, i.e. legal age and an income.
Unfortunately for Guido it was a very hot summer that year.. And so he was often seen around the house long sleeved flannel work shirts. He’d exit the shower with two towels, one around his waist and the other around his shoulders like a shawl. He tried to not cross paths with my husband by either working late or leaving the house early. He paid his younger siblings two dollars as look outs alerting him to the arrival or departure of his father.
Meanwhile my husband blissfully went about his day watching the comings and goings of his brood. When he wasn’t working, he spent time with the family, played catch in the driveway, read the newspaper, attended wakes, and watched TV.
After a long hot summer the big day finally arrived. We celebrated Guido’s birthday with the traditional banana nut sheet cake from Lawson’s. We used the same single red taper candle for all birthdays. We sang, Guido blew out the candle and wished to tell his father something.
He announced to his father that he had gotten tattoo for his birthday. Right on cue, his siblings feigned surprise. The little ones especially had been practicing their “surprise expression” for days. We all held our breath.
My husband nodded and finished eating his cake.
Guido was surprised. “You mean you’re not upset?”
“Initially I was upset but watching you sweat all summer trying to hide it more than made up for the deception. And you didn’t get it for your birthday. So go to confession for that lie!”
“How did you know?” Guido asked.
“Easy,” his father replied. “You broke the first rule of secret keeping.”
“And that is?”
“You tell one person, you tell the world.” And he pointed to everyone in the kitchen.
Suddenly the kitchen emptied – the children ran out like rats deserting a sinking ship (or in this case a three-masted schooner).