Caitlin Thornton could not quite fathom the words that had just come from her mother’s mouth. The Springfield College fifth-year senior, at the time having just finished her sophomore year, had decided after a long time of deliberation to go ahead and proceed with getting a tattoo of three little footprints on her left wrist. Little did she know that her mother had a twist to her plan.
“When I turned 19 I said, ‘Mom I’m going to go do this,’ and she asked if she could come with me, and she actually got the three footprints too,” Thornton said.
Thornton was stunned by her mother’s decision to get matching footprint tattoos, but the Athletic Training major did not oppose the idea, instead embracing it.
“It was something that could mean so much to both of us,” Thornton said.
Her father, on the other hand, received a shock when he saw his wife upon returning from the visit. Thornton’s father, Edwin, had been expecting to see Caitlin sporting her new ink, but certainly not his wife, Candace.
“I think my dad was really surprised too, because my dad was actually hiking the Long Trail, so he had been gone for 20 days, and he came home and my mom was like, ‘So…I got it with her,’” Thornton said.
It was only fitting that Thornton and her mother ended up getting matching tattoos, because the idea for the tattoo stemmed from a lifetime of the mother and daughter’s relationship, starting with a last name.
Candace Thornton’s maiden name was Foote, which she fully embraced and turned into her personal trademark.
“Before I got married, I would always sign my name with a little footprint,” Candace said. “With my husband, that became a thing that I would just sign the footprint a lot of times. I would always use that as my little mark.”
Candace’s use of the footprint as a symbol was transferred to her two children, Lane (Thornton’s older brother) and Thornton herself.
“As I was growing up, I used to get things with feet on it all the time,” Thornton joked.
This gifting of footprint-related items resulted in some inspiration for Thornton’s tattoo, starting with a poem and culminating with a ring.
“The poem ‘Footprints in the Sand’ has always meant a lot to me, just because life is so stressful, and it’s really scary to go through on your own and the poem ‘Footprints in the Sand’ is a promise that you don’t have to,” Thornton said.
The poem, written by Mary Stevenson, is about a person who is walking along the beach with the Lord as scenes from their life flash across the sky. For each scene, there are either one or two corresponding sets of footprints in the sand. The person notices that during the lowest periods of their life, only one set of footprints is present. Confused, they ask the Lord why He was not there during the bad times when they needed Him most.
“The Lord replied, ‘The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.’”
The poem has always meant a lot to Thornton, who has kept a copy of it by her bed for years as a reminder that she is never alone. According to Thornton, without her mother’s influence of giving her footprint-related items, she may never have discovered or fallen in love with the poem.
The thought for a footprints tattoo popped into Thornton’s head during her freshman year of college, because it would serve as a permanent reminder of the poem’s message. After informing her parents of her desire to get a tattoo, her mom gave her the go-ahead…with one catch.
“I said, ‘You know, live with the idea for a year because it’s very permanent, and see if you still feel like you want it,’” Candace said. “Well, in that year I started thinking, ‘That’s a really cool thing.’”
After a year, Thornton’s desire had not waned, so her mother asked permission to get a matching tattoo with her. Thornton chose her design of the three footprints based on a ring that her parents had bought her in high school that had three footprints on it.
The matching tattoos have a special meaning for both Thornton and her mother.
“There’s some days that it’s what really gets me through the day is knowing that I’m not alone,” Thornton said. “It’s [there] to remind myself because sometimes it’s hard to believe that someone really wants to be there for you all the time.”
“Sometimes I look down and think of her,” Candace added. “Caitlin and I have always been close, and it’s just something special to share.”
Thornton wanted the tattoo to be on her wrist because she had no intention of hiding it. To her, it served a larger purpose.
“I always wanted it out there in the open not just for me, but I think that it’s been a really good conversation starter,” she said. “There isn’t always a blinking sign that says ‘I believe in God,’ and I think that when someone asks me about it, it’s an opportunity to say, ‘This is what I believe and this is how I get through.’”
Now wrapping up her last semester at SC, Thornton has no regrets about her permanent ink because of the lasting statement it makes not only to her, but also to anyone who sees it.
“You can’t get rid of a tattoo, [and] you can’t walk away from your faith. It’s there. It’s who you are,” Thornton said. “I think that was really a statement to me that even though college is really a hard place to be and to have faith, you can’t rub it off. It’s not going to go away. I think it made me stronger having it.”