I am a tattoo fan.
I like looking at pictures of interesting tattoos, I like getting tattoos, and I like coming up with complex tattoos that have a deeper meaning than they display.
I have only three though, the most recent being my kids’ names on my calf that I got on Sunday.
I have a philosophy behind tattoos that I think might anger a few people, but here goes:
I’m not going to put anything on my body that I wouldn’t be able to stand before the Lord and at least try to defend. That’s been my rule of thumb for all three tattoos, and I’ve had imaginary conversations with Jesus before getting each of them.
“Okay Jesus, this one is of each of my brothers, and I know it’s got cards, but it’s a play on words see, four of a kind, Sloats. That’s it, it’s family, I think You think family is pretty important, not more important than You, but still pretty important, so I just want You to know that that’s why I got this thing.”
“Travis, shut up for a second.”
“Have you accepted my gift of salvation?”
“You’re in. Come on.”
Now let’s move past this digression and get on to the show, which is my tattoos and their meaning.
|Tattoo Number One
Art by Brad Sloat, Ink work done by Spaded and Jaded
This is the tattoo I was referencing in my hypothetical conversation with the Lord. It’s a riff on the four of a kind hand in poker, and since there are four Sloat brothers, we thought it would work, and I think it does. Here’s the thing though. We came up with this tattoo while we were in Florida in 2008. Three of us were old enough to get tattoos, and we had Brad come up with the drawing. He did really well I think.
But here’s the kicker (heh). All of us swore we would get the tattoo. “Yeah Travis, we’ll get it. Let’s all get it, it’ll be awesome.” Josh was like fourteen at the time, and he was pressuring mom to sign for him to get it, like that could even happen, but we were in Florida and just assumed U.S. Law was no good there.
So we get back to Oklahoma, and I got mine done. I think it looks good. I love what it stands for.
Do me a favor the next time you see one of my brothers and ask them to show you this tattoo. Just do it. Just ask.
|Tattoo Number Two (and my breast, sorry)
Art by Thomas Blackshear II, Ink work by Squiggy at Just Another Hole
This tattoo really has a special meaning for me.
It’s of a painting called “Forgiven” by Thomas Blackshear II. The painting depicts Christ holding a man who is holding a hammer and a nail, which is obviously a representation of man putting Christ on the cross.
Underneath, I added the words, “The Beauty of Grace is that it Makes Life not Fair.” These are lyrics from Relient K, in their song “Be My Escape.”
I love that quote, and there is a story behind the image as well. You see, I first saw that painting in Mardell’s in Tulsa. I walked in to the store, was browsing through something or other, and I saw this painting. To date, it is the only work of art to make me cry upon first sight. I broke down. What it represents is powerful.
I’ve screwed up a lot. More than I care to admit. More than I will admit. And that image, to me as a Christian, is the allegorical equivalent of driving the nails into my Savior. And to see that He loves me enough to hold me as I do that…it’s incredible.
|Tattoo Number Three
Art by my children, Ink work by Caleb at Black Gold
Like I mentioned above, I got my third tattoo this past Sunday at Black Gold in Tulsa. I’d like to say this, out of all my tattoos, this one hurt the most. I’m almost positive there’s a metaphor there, as in my children hurt me the most because they’re at ages where they make me want to scream. But it seriously felt like Caleb was sawing my leg off. He kept saying things like, “Just breathe, we’ll get through this…”
My initial idea was to have my children draw the tattoo. Then Aven handed me a drawing of four playing cards with the kids’ names on them, and I knew I was asking them to do too much. Keeli wanted me to get “Okay Mustangs” and Jeremiah 29:11. That’s a heck of a combination.
So after a bit of deliberation, I decided to create my own design and get their names in it. Then I thought, “What the heck, let’s just get their names in their own handwriting.” Well, as you can see, with Aven and Akeeli that was fine. Drake on the other hand, well I guess he writes in Hebrew.
You can’t tell in the picture, but I also asked them what color of ink they wanted it done in. Aven picked black, Keeli was blue, and Drake said purple. Surrounding their names is the scripture reference Jeremiah 29:11, which was my dad’s favorite bible verse and says this: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.”
I love that verse. I love that my children are obviously part of God’s dynamic plan for my life. I struggle daily to keep my cool with them, and to treat them the way that they need to be treated. I get angry more often than not, I think because I hold them to too high a standard. I need to work on that.
However, I love them. They are a permanent part of my life now. And if the Lord asks me to defend any of my tattoos, I think I’ll have an argument. Not that I’ll argue with the Lord. I wouldn’t dare.
Love you guys.
“Then the drill instructor said ‘Be the one. Be the one that looks over to find your family.’ I tried to keep my eyes straight, but I had to see if y’all were there. I looked over and found you, then I was able to focus on the run. Some guys had parents that showed up late, after Family Day was over.”
I was nervous. I won’t pretend I wasn’t.
I know I said in the last blog that I wasn’t worried they would take his smile and his laugh, but I was. Deep down, I wondered what had happened, and if they had managed to suffocate my brother and replace him with a finely tuned Marine.
We drove on to the base Thursday morning, were searched, then allowed through to the proceedings. We parked and walked to a clearing where we were instructed on the rules for the day. It was a drill instructor who I guess had the most public speaking experience, and who instructed us not to “walk on his grass or his parade deck.”
I won’t bore you with the minutiae the day consisted of. I’ll skip straight into the good stuff.
“There’s a Starbucks somewhere on this base. I gotta have some Starbucks. Let’s just walk around until we find it.”
The drill instructor yelled his last words to a crowd of surging family members kept at bay by a few stern looking young men in crisply starched uniforms, green belts, and hats like I see on the highway patrol here in Oklahoma.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…YOUR MARINE!”
The crowd broke, and in that moment, I saw what pure, distilled happiness looks like. Moms rushing to hug their sons, fathers holding back tears and waiting to shake the hands of the boys they used to make sit up straight.
It was awe-inspiring. In fact, I held back for a moment, just a moment, to both fully appreciate it and to try and sneak a picture of Josh hugging mom. I felt a bump, and then…
“Will you MOVE. Jesus!”
Cue the record scratching, jaw dropping, and angry stare from me. Some lady had just ruined my moment. And she called me Jesus, and I was clearly not wearing a robe. I guess she could have been uttering a prayer to the Spirit, asking Him to move among those in the crowd, but the look she was giving me makes me think she was the furthest from the Spirit she’d ever get.
“I’m just looking around to see if everyone is taking their hats off to eat. I don’t want to be the only one who does. Travis, do you see anyone? Are their hats off? I wanna eat this burger.”
Finally I broke through the crowd, fighting back tears, watching my mom brush them out of her eyes, and watching Josh hug and kiss his girlfriend. The drill instructor made it very clear that moms were to get their hugs first.
He looked skinny. My brother, never one to be extremely thin, lost a great deal of weight at boot camp. He said it’s only thirteen pounds, but I think it’s more. He looked different. I went to him, unsure of a handshake or a hug.
The he smiled, hugged me, and said, “How you doin’ bro?”
And just like that, I knew my brother was standing there.
We walked all through the base that afternoon. We laughed, we talked, he told us horrifying stories about yellow hand prints on the wall and something called a “peanut butter shot.”
It’s not what you think it is. At all.
I don’t want to go into detail too much because I honestly don’t know if I’ll get him in trouble for disclosing any of his stories.
I must say, I held it together remarkably well. It took about ten minutes, and the whole family was joking with him like usual, not being serious about anything, teasing him about looking over his shoulder every time he thought he saw a drill instructor.
I had two little slip ups. The first was when the drill instructor asked for all the moms to cheer for their sons. Then he said, “Where are all my dads at?”
The second time was in a store on base, and they had some t-shirts hanging up. Every kind of Marine slogan you’ve ever heard. Then one caught my eye.
Marine Dad. He called me ‘sir’ first.”
I excused myself and walked outside for a bit.
“I better run back in there early. The drill instructor said ‘Be the one. Be the one who is late today.’ They still have me for one more night. I’ll see you guys tomorrow. Be ready to drive. I’m ready to get home.”
Five hours passed in the blink of an eye. I watched Josh eat a burger, drink a coffee, turn down numerous attempts to buy him other foods, and hold hands with his girlfriend while talking to other recruits, all nervously looking around and laughing.
My mom made one of the drill instructors stop and take a picture with Josh, which I laughed about for an hour, and I would absolutely post the picture on here if I didn’t think it would get him drawn and quartered when he went back.
I tried to feed a seagull in the parking lot and he stopped me, grabbing the crackers out of my hand and telling me how he would be the one to get in trouble if anyone saw me doing that.
I watched my brother walk away quickly across the parking lot, pants and shirt still as crisply ironed as they were when I first hugged him. He looked like a man on a mission, but he looked familiar. He looked like my brother.
I hollered out to him one last time.
“I thought you said you were going to run, Marine!”
He turned and laughed, turned back around, and for a brief second I thought he would break into a jog. But he didn’t. He kept walking. He kept being my brother.
I’ve been in California now for a full 24 hours.
I can sum it up entirely with just one picture.
Today is the day.
I’m sitting here watching The Missus—who took the easy way out and flew in last night—get ready, and all I can think about is today.
The day I get to see Josh for the first time in three months.
The day when I see him in his boot camp outfit, or whatever it is.
The day I see him march. Yell “Yes sir!” at the top of his lungs. Stand at attention, parade rest, all that stuff. Hug mom. I get to see how much weight he’s lost, how short his hair is, and how he stands taller and with more pride.
The day I see him grown up.
I’m not afraid I won’t recognize him. I’m not afraid he won’t smile and laugh when he sees us, and I know for a fact he won’t cry when he hugs mom or his girlfriend. That’ll be my job, just like now.
I wish to hell my dad could be here to see this.
I’m going to do my best to hold it together and get some pictures of him doing his Marine thing. Then they give us something called “Family Day.”
|I am petrified of accidentally walking on the parade deck.|
One thing keeps running through my mind after reading that.
It’s My Brother. They will never take that title from him.
“Mom, when is dad coming home?”
Those are the first words I remember coming out of my baby brother’s mouth. I’m sure if I took a minute and really focused, I could come up with something else, but that’s what I remember.
Our dad had been dead only a few hours when he asked that question. ***
|Four of a kind: Sloats.|
I’ll never forget letting him drive my car for the first time. I’ve blogged about it before, but I can condense it here for those who haven’t heard the story.
Josh could not have been more than 10 years old. I needed to move my car a few feet from the driveway to the patio to do something stupid to it, like add subwoofers or crappy undercarriage lights.
Josh wanted to drive. I thought, “eh, what’s the worst that could happen?” and I let him hop behind the wheel, scoot the seat up, and give it a go. The car rolled a few inches then caught the lip of the patio and wouldn’t move.
“Alright, Josh. I want you to reach down and just tap, just TAP the gas. You understand?” “Yeah!”
He floored it.
The car jumped over the lip, hit a picnic table we had on the patio, shoved it off and directly to our pool, which it would have destroyed had I not jumped into the car and mashed the brakes with my hand.
Josh looked at me, eyes wide, breathing hard, not scared at all.
“THAT. WAS. AWESOME!”
He called me one night about six months ago.
“Travis, I’m going to join the Marines.”
I laughed at him.
“No you’re not, it’s not that bad at home.”
To tell the truth, I was kind of upset with him. For those of you who aren’t intimately connected with my family history, my dad had three brothers, just like me. Out of those four boys, one died at the age of 9, the other at the age of 20, and my dad at the age of 40.
Four brothers. Now one. The oldest is still alive. I am also the oldest.
I am absolutely petrified of losing one of my brothers. One of my biggest requests to the Lord is that He’d take me home first, to spare me the pain of losing any more of my family. I am scared to death at the thought of one of them dying before me.
As for military service, I’ve always supported it, but never really seriously considered any one of my brothers joining. Brad talked about it some, but never did. Jordan and I never really even considered it. It’s one of those things where you think “Oh, that’s fine for other people, but not for us.”
Well, it turns out Josh was serious. All three of us tried to talk him out of it. We insulted him, laughed at him, and told him how the Marines would eat his lunch. He’s a small town kid from Okay, Oklahoma. He wouldn’t know anyone. He has authority issues. People would stick bars of soap in pillow cases and make him their girlfriend.
We probably overdid it.
But he joined up. Then he left us for three months so he could go to boot camp.
He wrote the family a letter the other day, his last one before graduation from boot camp in San Diego.
Jordan tried to read it.
It took Brad, faithful, strong, dependent Brad to read it.
“I got my Sloat name bar the other day. I think dad would be proud of me.”
I can’t even fully comprehend how proud our dad would be of you, Josh. I’m proud of you. Mom is proud of you. Aven and Akeeli are proud of. EVERYONE here is proud of you.
Tomorrow I’m going to wake up and head to my mom’s house, where I’ll meet Jordan, my mom, and Josh’s girlfriend Miesha. We are going to get in a van and drive 24 hours to San Diego. The Missus will fly out on Wednesday evening, and we’ll all be watching Josh walk across the stage and become a Marine.
I’ll cry. It’s what I do.
I’m going to post a few more things about Josh this week. Give him a blog dedication of sorts. I think he deserves it. Truthfully, all of my brothers deserve it. We are Sloats.
|The night before he left. I’m praying they didn’t take his sense of humor.|
I think it all starts with the first time my dad took me rabbit hunting.
He had gotten me a shotgun for my thirteenth birthday, an old Stevens Savage 12 gauge that I still have to this day. We wanted to get out and test it, and rabbit hunting seemed as good a test as any.
My dad was a paragon of gun safety. He made sure he drilled into my head all the proper procedures for safe and happy hunting, then we went out.
We walked about 25 feet apart so we would have a greater chance of scaring up rabbits. All of the sudden, one appeared in the distance, about thirty feet ahead, and in between us. My dad looked at me and said, “Shoot it son.”
I drew a bead on the rabbit, who was frozen momentarily, deciding which way to run. As I looked down my shaking gun barrel at the supposed doomed creature, it suddenly decided which way it wanted to run: right at us.
Being an ambitious and aspiring new hunter, I did what I thought was the smart thing. I kept a bead on that rabbit as it came closer, closer, and eventually passed in between us, when I realized I was now pointing a loaded gun at my father.
He spoke quietly, patiently, but in volumes.
“Put the gun down.”
***My brother Brad has the hunting gene in our family. I read a lot and am generally considered the “book smart” one, Brad is the hunter/gatherer and has the best work ethic, Jordan is incessantly teased about being the milkman’s son, and Josh is…well, Josh is now The Marine, but that’s another blog.
In the past few years, my want to go hunting again has increased slightly. I’ve been rabbit hunting with a few friends since then, and I haven’t pointed a gun at anyone, and I think our Sunday School class (which is filled with hunter/gatherers), has kindled a long-dead interest.
So this year I borrowed a bow and arrow from Brad, bought a license and archery tag, bought a deer blind (since I cannot climb trees due to my symmetry), and The Missus started calling me “The Great White Hunter.”
I did not shoot a deer with a bow and arrow.
While I have a knack for hitting an archery target, I seem to have trouble actually getting the deer to come towards me, even though I stood really still and smiled a lot.
When rifle season opened, Brad and I talked about going together. So I bought yet another tag, and the date was set.
On Thanksgiving morning, I woke up at five a.m., took a shower with scent-free soap, purposely neglected the brushing of my teeth, and drove 40 miles to a remote location in the woods with my younger brother, two guns, and a package of wafers that supposedly smelled like deer vagina.
We set up the blind, loaded the guns, and Brad placed a deer vagina wafer delicately on a tree beside us.
We waited. Then we Facebooked. Then we heard crows for two solid hours. Then he stuck a deer vagina wafer under my nose. Then he pulled out a deer “call” that sounded like one of those things you get as a prize at Chuckie Cheese.
We did not, however, see a single deer.
***The morning after Thanksgiving, I decided to go hunting on my own terms.
I woke up at 7:30 or so, got around slowly, and made it to the woods at 8:45. I loaded up my deer blind, my gun, my camera, and The Missus’s Nook Tablet, and traipsed through the woods like the proverbial bull in a china shop.
I found a spot near a deer feeder that was not mine. I thought, “you know what, I bet I can kill one here.” I looked for a hunter, did not see one, and set everything up.
The Lord, as you know, moves. After setting all of my stuff up, I realized I had forgotten my chair.
I am fat. I need a chair. Sitting on the cold ground does not become either my buttocks or my spirits.
So I walked back through the woods, got my chair, and started back through the woods to my blind. On the way, I realized that the spot I was set up in was probably not very ethical. I had not spent the money or the time feeding these deer, so I decided I should move.
I got back to the blind, packed it up, and moved it to a new location, where I set everything up and got everything inside it yet again.
And…yet again, I realized I had left something behind.
The Great White Hunter strikes again.
By the time I got everything set up and gathered in the blind, I was exhausted. I sat in a chair for 25 cold minutes, got up, gathered it all back up, and left.
***As I sat in my recliner that evening looking at the pictures on Facebook of all of my friends who had shot a deer, I realized something. I realized that in all honesty, I’m just not a hunter. But that didn’t shake the want I had to keep trying.
I looked at a certain picture of a very good friend of mine, and I commented on it to The Missus. She said, “I bet Zac took him, you should send Zac a text. I bet he’d take you just for the laughs.”
Sometimes my wife is a genius.
So I sent the text message.
***The next morning I woke up at 4 a.m. I decided there was no way I was taking a shower/putting on deodorant/brushing my teeth. I drove to a convenience store where I was to meet Zac.
The night before, he had told me he would supply everything. The gun, the blind, all of it…except one thing, a chair. I needed to bring a chair.
“No problem,” I said, because in fact I had the chair in the back of the truck already.
So at 4:45 a.m. I gathered The Missus’s Nook Tablet, the turkey hat she’d knitted me, a Red Bull, and the rest of my gear and got in Zac’s truck.
Approximately 15 minutes later I realized something. I’d left the chair.
“No problem,” Zac said. “I’ve got a bucket you can sit on.”
When we arrived at our hunting destination, I told Zac I had brought the Nook with me to read in case I got bored. He told me that was fine, but he was going to keep a lookout because you had to really pay attention to see the deer out there. Sufficiently shamed and feeling like a kid, I left the Nook behind and made up my mind to be the most attentive non-hunter in the world.
So I sat there, on a bucket, in the cold, for two hours, looking. The sunrise was absolutely breathtaking, and even though the deer blind was nowhere to be found, we both blended in perfectly with the surrounding landscape.
All of the sudden, I saw a flicker of white around 500 yards in front of me. I asked for the binoculars, and sure enough, there was a deer.
I made some sort of herky-jerky slapping motion at Zac’s arm, trying to ascertain the universal sign for OH MY GOD IT’S A DEER LOOK IT’S A DEER.
Zac saw what I saw, and he told me to watch it until it got closer. “It’ll come down the ridge,” he said.
“IT’S A DEER I WANT TO SHOOT IT NOW LET ME SHOOT IT,” was my interior monologue.
So we waited. And sure enough it got closer…according to him. You see, I had lost sight of it. He kept giving me reference points to its location, but I could not for the life of me see this deer.
Then, finally, she marched back into my view, but unfortunately, still too far away. Right after that, she walked behind a group of trees, and left me shaking and amped on Red Bull and adrenaline, waiting for her to come out in a clearing where I could get a better shot.
Zac leaned over to me and said, “Travis, she’s walking that way, but she may all of the sudden pop up a lot closer, so you need to be ready.” We got his rifle loaded up and got me into a shooting position, and I just did everything in my power to sit still.
Afterwards, Zac told me, “Travis when I told you it could pop up closer and to be ready, you started breathing real heavy. It took all I had not to laugh.”
Then we waited again.
I got a swat on the arm, signaling me to look right in front of me. And there she was 175 yards away, right in the spot Zac predicted she might pop up in.
“Travis. Shoot her.”
“Travis. Shoot her now.”
“Travis. Just pull the trigger.”
“Travis. Just shoot at her. Now.”
For some reason, my gun wouldn’t stay still. I’m not saying Zac intentionally gave me a gun with a bunch of loose parts and a scope that kept jiggling around on the target, and I guess it could have been that I was all jacked up on the afore mentioned Red Bull, but the scope wouldn’t stop moving and all of the sudden I just decided to squeeze the trigger and before I knew it the gun had gone off and there was a lot of smoke and through that smoke I saw a deer jump once, twice, three times, and disappear.
I had missed.
I looked at Zac and said, “Man, I missed her.”
“Travis, I don’t know. She acted hit. Did you see her actually run out of that thicket?”
I hadn’t, but it didn’t matter, I knew I’d missed. The gun was simply shaking too much, it was the first time I’d ever shot at a deer, I knew I’d missed. I was sure excited though. I took out my phone and sent a message to The Missus, “I SHOT AT A DEER.”
Zac, firmly believing I had scored at least a hit, decided to go track it. He left me at the site of the shooting, to give him directions on where to walk. He got to the place where the deer had been, and all of the sudden he was waving me over.
Could it be?
I practically ran to where he was, and he said, “I see blood.”
I didn’t stick around to see it. Instead, I walked to where I thought I hadn’t seen the deer anymore, and as I walked over, I saw her, laying there, still.
“Please, oh man, please be dead.”
She was dead.
The Great White Hunter had finally won. After three days of trying, forgetfulness, and not brushing his teeth, he had won.
I pulled my phone out and sent the following to The Missus.
|“I KILLED A DEER!”|
I got a short and sweet text message back.
“TODAY YOU BECOME A MAN.”
I absolutely love this life of mine.