Department of the Tattoo
Submitted by: Michael Wheat
There was this nice lady who worked in the little cubby hole Post Office in the back corner of the Woolworth Store in the Admiral shopping center just two blocks from my home in Tulsa. She sat behind a barred window.
She had a tattoo.
This was in the early 1960s.
My grandfather had tattoos on his arms. I remember an anchor on one arm, and a swaying lady with a grass skirt on the other. They were from his U.S. Navy days before the Great War when he helped to build the fortifications on Corregidor more than a hundred years ago.
The Woolworth store in my neighborhood had a lunch counter where my buddies and I would sometimes order a “Suicide” fountain drink, a mixture of carbonated water with Coke and chocolate and cherry syrup mixed in.
It cost twenty-five cents.
The Woolworth store also had a candy counter, and the cute teenage girls wearing white aprons behind the counter flirted with us as they measured and bagged up Mexican peanuts or M&Ms for a quarter for four ounces. Once in a while they would tip the scales. And smile.
I did a lot of business with the nice lady behind the cage at the little post office in the back corner of the Woolworth store. I had pen pals, you see, in Georgetown, British Guiana and Bedford, England and Port of Spain, Trinidad.
The lady behind the cage at the little post office knew me by my name, which she pronounced with a heavy German accent.
“Vhat can I do for you today Mister Veet?” she would ask. And she would give me a few stamps in exchange for a dollar. And she would say, “Goot day!”
When she handed over the stamps and my change I could see the tattoo on her arm.
It was a number, blurry green and faded with time and memory. The lady behind the cage was a survivor of the Nazi death camps.
Even today, when I see what was once a beautiful patch of skin adorned with a tattoo, perhaps created for some special event, I remember the lady with the tattoo on her arm behind the cage in the back corner of the Woolworth store.
And I wonder, in her previous life under the terror of the Nazi regime, if she may have worked in a similar store, selling candy or hats, or perhaps she was a school girl, about my age at the time, who may have had a penpal.
Until she was taken to the concentration camp where she received the tattoo.
I think about her once in a while. I think about her today. And I weep in her memory.
“Goot day!” she would say.
So it goes…