Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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March 22, 2014

Tattoos of Va.’s Eastern Shore show hometown pride

ACCOMAC, Va. — Eastern Shore of Virginia native Bill Truitt grew tired of trying to explain the odd geographical location of his homeland.

“It’s that little thing that hangs off the map,” Truitt would say.

It’s a problem faced by most proud residents of Accomack and Northampton counties when they’re elsewhere in the world — everybody knows the unique shape of the Virginia mainland; few know much else.

Adding to the insult, people slow on the geographic take usually lump the Virginia Shore in with Virginia Beach or Maryland.

Truitt, who hails from Melfa but now lives in New York state, no longer has the problem. He just rolls up his pants to give folks an artistic visual.

It reveals a huge color tattoo of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, complete with barrier islands, blue water in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, and a line representing the Route 13, the main highway.

He’s fond of the finished work.

“It touched my heart,” he said. “My mom always told me if you are going to mark your body, do it with something you’ll never regret.”

Truitt isn’t alone. For a decade, Daniel Bloxom of Machipongo also has had a large ink tattoo of the Virginia Shore on his left arm.

Like Truitt’s, it shows remote islands, seaside bays and stops hard at the state line, as if Maryland or even Delaware didn’t exist.

One of his favorite pastimes is pointing out to people enjoying an afternoon on the water their location on his tattoo.

“You can show them exactly where they are out in the boat,” he said.

It also helps during those troublesome geographical conversations.

“People always ask where the Eastern Shore is,” he said.

Taylor Riley, a tattoo artist and manager at East Coast Tattoos in New Church, said the Virginia Shore has a certain sense of place that instills pride and belonging.

So when it comes to a permanent skin mark, the outline of Northampton and Accomack counties is a natural choice.

“People are proud to be from here,” said Riley, who has completed countless tattoos of the Virginia Shore map.

“They know they are not going to regret getting something like that on them.”

Other customers prefer a variation on their Eastern Shore pride — he also has completed tattoos with the letters “ESVA,” for Eastern Shore of Virginia.

His most popular tattoos also have an Eastern Shore theme — they are coastal, nautical or beach designs.

But the tattoo of the outline of the area has caught on locally, he said.

Many who get the simple tattoo outline of the Eastern Shore, which can be completed in about a half hour, also request a star beside their hometown.

And customers get them all over their bodies. Men mostly get the Virginia Shore outline on their arms. For women, it’s a little more creative.

“Places where girls like to get tattoos — the hips, the backs, their legs, their feet,” said Riley.

Finding the cause of the Virginia Shore’s community loyalty, or how it translates to a permanent body map, is hard to pinpoint.

Only a 17-mile bridge connects Northampton County to its mother state, creating some isolation.

The Eastern Shore is attached to Maryland along a 14-mile imaginary line that runs from the Pocomoke River to the Chincoteague Bay, but many Virginia Shore residents rarely think of the state except for an occasional Saturday night in Ocean City or a shopping excursion to Pocomoke City or Salisbury.

It creates an us-against-them uniqueness for residents of an area that is not really like anywhere else. So East Coast Tattoos doesn’t usually get requests to include much else in a Virginia Shore tattoo.

“People up in Maryland aren’t as proud as people from the Eastern Shore of Virginia,” Riley said. “The map that I usually do is from the Virginia line down.”

A contractor with General Dynamics, Truitt, 39, moved to New York when he was engaged. Many family members and friends remain on the Eastern Shore.

“You don’t talk to your neighbors up there. I see my neighbors when they’re carrying their trash out,” he said.

“Down here, we’re family.”

He first had his Eastern Shore tattoo made with a black outline. Later, he had another tattoo artist color it in.

“I’ve got a lot of tattoos,” he said. “This one means the most.”

Bloxom, 31, who took a map to the tattoo parlor to give the artist a plan to use, has lived in both Roanoke and Blacksburg after graduating from Nandua High School.

But it wasn’t home.

“I hated the cold weather,” he said. “I hated the mountains. Truth be told, I didn’t like the people out there that much.”

A planting and harvesting supervisor with Kuzzens Inc. of Exmore, Bloxom hopes he is back to stay.

“There’s nowhere like the Eastern Shore,” he said, adding of the tattoo, “It’s my odd way of showing how I love the Eastern Shore.

“It’s a pride thing.”

Truitt agrees that the area offers a special way of life that he is proud to display.

“I can hunt, I can fish, I get to see old friends,” he said. “We don’t get the luxury of jumping on a four-wheeler (in New York).”

So if folks begin to ask Bloxom where he grew up, don’t be surprised if he peels off his jacket.

“I can just roll up my sleeve,” he said.

Ted Shockley writes for the Eastern Shore News

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