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.

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.

And They Lived Happily Ever After

“Click!” The deafening whisper of the screen door latch.

The distant low purr of a diesel engine and the unmistakable rattle of a stock trailer arrested my ears moments later. A horse nickered. It faded into the early morning dark. Quiet again.

I lay in bed for as long as I could, giving it all I had to try to sleep. Nevermind, I thought. I rolled myself and the 60 odd pounds of baby weight out of bed, rubbing my happily rounded belly. I told the baby girl good morning.

Following the strong smell of coffee into the kitchen, I paused for a second, longing to taste some. But ‘the baby didn’t like it’. I could still hear that screen door latch ‘click’, it echoed like thunder in my mind. I went outside and stood in the cold of an October morning in New Mexico’s high desert mountains. Yes, there were stars. I smelled the dust that my cowboy’s rig had stirred up on our dirt road. Then, I heard it: a far away cry, a whistle. A wild, desperate song made by a voice I could pick out of thousands. It was my horse.

Alone, like me, on a morning we both knew we should have gone with the others. Oh how badly I wanted to answer him back with a cry of my own! But in a way, he was singing the song of my heart. Most people-and horses- spend a big chunk of their time on earth looking for that place they belong, but not me. No, not me. And it’s double hard to know your niche and have to stand behind a glass wall and do something else; just watching the weather change, unable to change with it like always.

Ranch life has a rythm that the cowboy and his family know well. I was raised in it and it’s ingrained so deep that it is hard to think of life in any other frame. I get a big kick out of the brave women who come out here from town because they fell in love. They bring much needed melody to that rythm we all pound out year after year.

As a young girl I dreamed of being in love and ‘happily ever after’, like all the others do. It just never included the details, like pregnancy. Or cooking. Or toddlers. Not once did it occur to me during the fun of falling in love that I would be standing on the porch, heavy with child, waving goodbye in the dark. The way I saw it, heck, we would just be riding colts side-by-side and I would be his right hand. We would come in at night and just have a ball talking about doing it all again the next day. Every day would start with coffee together, the chink of both our spurs making a theme song to ride to. And children would be great. I had already planned which horse I would turn into a kid mount when the time came. So, see? Kids wouldn’t slow us down at all.

I was pretty shocked that morning sickness could keep me from helping the neighbors brand. And just as surprised that after you have a baby, you’re ten times as tied down as you were when you weighed like a weaner calf. Ah, well, to quote a grand Texas lady I once knew: “Things happen just about the way they’s s’posed to.”


happily ever after1
Cody and me, Cheyenne, summer 2012

Welcome to my happily ever after. I’m just as in love as ever with my handsome cowboy. I love to watch him ride off on a colt and come back a couple hours later, grinning ear-to-ear, asking me and the two little Landry’s to come watch him show off the handle on his pony. Do I still wish I was beside him? Yep. Every darn day. But I’m finding that the more I pour myself into those little ones and the more heart I put into keeping our house a home, I’m still his right hand man. It’s like I was always told growing up: make a hand. Look around and see what needs to be done and do it. Don’t sit back and wait for quitting time. Don’t hesitate. Don’t ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ before you jump in to help. Hustle. Get in there and make a hand. I don’t always get things done right. You know that sense of belonging and niche I mentioned earlier? Well, I’ve come to accept that it’s not the all important thing it appears to be. Sometimes our weaknesses show our true colors better.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ my rest upon me.” 

1 Corinthians 12:9






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