What is a ‘hand’?

 

Cowboy terminology defies modern usage of the English language. We use words in ways that someone from the outside just cannot understand. Cowboys don’t like to be laughed at, but the fact is that to anyone who doesn’t know what our words mean, the way we use them is actually funny. But the concept of ‘making a hand’ I hope can translate. Let me give it try.

I have been told countless times in my life to ‘make a hand’. It’s something adults in the cowboy world tell youngsters as much and as often as most other kids are told to “Sit up straight.” When used to admonish, it means something like: “Do your part. Don’t be lazy. Hustle. Quit jackin’ around. Don’t think about how tired you feel, finish your job.” But we all live to hear this phrase applied as praise from the chapped lips of rough-handed man who has become, in our eyes, the definition of the term “hand”.

“Try to make a hand gal,” he might say as you ride by him, patting your knee. And you swell with euphoric triumph that he spoke to you, blended with the terror of failure; and you try to stay focused on your work.

When the word ‘hand’ is used to describe someone, say, if you ever hear a person described as ‘a real hand’, it’s the highest complement in the cowboy culture. And it is rarely given to a woman. Very rarely. Furthermore, the complement is meaningless when it comes from someone who hasn’t earned the right to be called a hand themselves. This is because of all that is implied by the word: authentic, supremely skillful, tough, faithful,ever-ready, always putting your whole self into your work; it’s an ethic, and it’s part of our code.

I admit it’s pretty funny, really, to use the word ‘hand’. There are some other really funny words we use, like “sticky”, “fresh”, and “punchy”…I won’t go into all that just now. If you think of it in light of the common term ‘handy’, the real meaning will start to dawn on you.

For me, I would hope someone could write this on my tombstone. But I know that won’t happen. There have been some real stand-out days that somebody might say I made a hand, but truly I have never been able to surpass average performance at any of the cowboy’s celebrated skills. These days, though, I am finding this ethic applies to a person even outside the cowboy skill set. That’s what I want to tell you about here. You see, I am trying to make a hand at being a cowboys wife and the mama of a couple of youngsters. You’ll find this amusing as we go along, seeing as how I am as familiar with domestic duties and culinary arts as a gopher would be with skydiving. I’m here to show you (and myself!) that all it takes to really make a hand is heart. The only one who is really qualified to give you that title is God.

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This is Cody, my husband, trying to make a hand on a green horse at the neighbor’s branding.

 

Were we to translate Jesus’ parable into ‘cowboy-ese’, where the Master says, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into my rest,” it would be paraphrased, “Way to make a hand, kid.”

And I live to hear my Father say that to me one day.

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