Zen Spot #264 - Mindfulness, meditation and Willy's rose tattoo December 21, 2019 00:00

Love is a funny thing

My grandfather Willy, as he was known to his friends, tattooed my grandmother’s name on his arm one year before she agreed to marry him. With an eighth-grade education, and tens of thousands of miles of experience driving a gasoline tanker truck across the northeast, he was never short on guts. The glee he demonstrated, fifty years after the fact, of having spent one month on a Georgia chain gang for punching a liar in a bar was, to me, both confusing and sublime. That said, he expected my brother and I to attend college and live a life very different than his own. Blood was expected to spill no blood.


He’s been gone since 1987. To this day, however, I can see him walking through poor neighborhoods filled with people who can barely make ends meet — and who sometimes have to spill enough blood to make a point. If the assailant is violently missing a tooth, or quietly missing a bed for the night, he is Willy. Willy was every man who scrapes and spills.

These men carry a distinct sub-dialect of the already unique Philadelphia accent. Generations of the barely literate in Southwest Philadelphia spill as much blood on the language as on the sidewalk. Charles Bukowski’s dirt ,  the dirt I love so much ,  is under the fingernail of each vowel. Or, under the tongue of each speaker’s guardian angel.

Churches, roses, passion & fire engines

A Methodist, my grandfather never went to church to my knowledge. Though, whenever we drove by the local Methodist church, he’d point to the red front doors. He'd tell me about the day he painted each door after having hitchhiked back from Georgia. They’d been painted over many times over the course of the intervening decades, but that day remained vivid and valued. 

Red, the color of a passionate love. Red, the color of a rose. Red, the color of a fire engine. I suspect that, if he’d painted the doors blue, I’d never have known he painted the doors at all. The color, for some reason, was important. It’s importance was implicit. The color of the front doors of a building he refused to enter was important to him. Perhaps he felt he wasn’t worthy to open either. All the blood spilled outside.


Among the things often discussed in my family was the fact that my grandparents couldn’t get married in the Catholic church because of Willy’s religious upbringing. Instead, they were married in the parish Rectory. My great-grandfather saw to the priest’s participation, so as to make the marriage official in the eyes of God. I’ve heard a little of the priest’s blood was spilled to ensure his participation. 

Ironic, all the way around.

A man with a flower on his arm

Willy loved passionately. He told me that he knew he was going to marry my grandmother the first time he saw her , before he’d even spoken with her. The man who never entered his own church spilled blood and faith onto his arm.

My blood.


About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?