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At 101, grandma is old enough to get a tattoo

SPRING HILL — Mimi Rosenthal, 101, pushed her Winnie Walker off to the side and sat back in the black leather chair. At 4 feet, 10 inches, her feet didn't quite rest on the floor. And for her third tattoo, she wanted to be comfortable.

"Let's find something for your feet," said tattoo artist Michelle Gallo-Kohlas, a longtime family friend entrusted with the honor of inking Rosenthal's arm.

Several teenage girls' voices traveled down the hall Saturday afternoon from the waiting room of Requiem Body Art, an upscale piercing and tattoo shop.

"Is she getting a tattoo?"

"Are you serious?"

"That is soooo cool!"

For Rosenthal, who was born in a small Kansas town in 1909, life has been an adventure.

She studied journalism in Nebraska and advertising in New York. She married a man she has outlived by nearly 50 years. She has two daughters, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

She spent the majority of her life living and working on Long Island, and has an accent to prove it. But she got to see the world — Portugal, South Africa, India and China — thanks to her career in a travel agency.

At 85, Rosenthal was diagnosed with breast cancer. With the help of chemotherapy, she conquered that, too. Now she lives in Surfside Beach, S.C., with her daughter. She spends her time reading the New York Times online, communicating on Facebook and participating in a couple of book groups.

And with her characteristic wit, she has embraced body art.

"Did you say your friends call you the Tattoo Lady?" a reporter asked.

"I was kidding," she dead-panned.

At age 99, Rosenthal decided to get her first tattoo, a tiny blue butterfly about the size of a dime.

Gallo-Kohlas remembers Rosenthal looking at the finished tattoo and proclaiming it too small.

At 100, Rosenthal tried again, this time much bigger and on the other leg.

The silver-dollar-sized flower was better, but it required her to lift her pant leg to show it off. Next time, she decided, she'd get one on her arm.

Meredith Herrmann, 34, eyes her grandmother's tattoos with a smug sense of irony. Herr­mann remembers the family's reaction when she got her own first tattoo at 17.

"We're Jewish," she said. "I thought they'd kill me."

And what did Rosenthal think back then?

"She didn't approve at first," Herrmann said. "It's such a generation gap."

So what changed Rosenthal's mind?

Why a tattoo? Why now?

"Why not?" Rosenthal said.

Whether it was her idea or the suggestion of family members is debatable.

Rosenthal says they love to say she's 101 and has a tattoo.

They say she likes the attention.

On Saturday, Gallo-Kohlas worked carefully and slowly on the fleshy part of Rosenthal's left arm.

She had selected a yellow sunflower for this tattoo.

"Her skin is so fragile," Gallo-Kohlas said. "It's like uncharted territory."

It took longer than they thought it would, but Rosenthal was pleased with the results.

"It's pretty," she said with a broad smile.

Will there be a next time?

"Next time I'm getting it on my butt," Rosenthal said, kidding again.

Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at slmarshall.sptimes@gmail.com.

At 101, grandma is old enough to get a tattoo 08/21/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 21, 2010 10:32pm]
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