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Half the Hand

I gazed upon my mother’s hands
That rivaled those of any man’s
                         Undoubtful
The hands that taught me wrong from right
Enfolding mine to pray at night
                         Devoutful

Those callused hands told voiceless tales
Of ranchin’ life and weary trails
                        They’ve weathered
Kept wild mustangs lizzy-tied
Until their devils deep inside
                        Were tethered

They’ve throw’d down calves in Satan’s lair
While turnin’ hide and singen’ hair
                       Transcended
They’ve strung up miles o’ fencin’ wire
And under stars a kindled fire
                       They’ve tended

They’ve punched out dough and put up chow
Pulled calves out of the rankest cow
                       And branded
They’ve scattered dirt on broken sod
When those she loved rode off as God
                       Commanded

And should God let me live to be
As tough as her I guarantee
                       I’d ruther
But if He won’t, I’ll understand
Just so He makes me half the hand
                       As mother…

© 2007, Diane Tribitt
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Diane told us this poem was was written with written with Georgie Sicking, well-loved octogenarian poet and cowboy—the term she prefers—in mind.

In a 1992 interview in American Folk's Biscuits and Gravy Quarterly, Georgie talked to interviewer Jack Lamb about being a woman who wanted to be a cowboy and a mother:

...I've spent a lifetime of doin' things that couldn't be done. And yet I look at it now, and it's been worth while. I feel like I've lived, I haven't just existed. I had women tell me, "you'll never find anyone that will marry a cowboy like you, and someday you'll want kids and you won't be able to because you'll be in a wheelchair from your work." It was cruel, but the friction they gave me made me more determined to be straight and be somebody.

It's been a tremendous fight, but I know I have enjoyed the best of two worlds. I know what it is to rope a wild mustang and have him hit the end of the rope, and I know what it is to rock a baby. I think I've truly lived...


Georgie Sicking, in a photo taken
 at a carnival while on her honeymoon

Georgie is the subject of an inspiring and award-winning documentary, Ridin' & Rhymin', and the author of several poetry collections. Her poem about "mustanging," "The Greatest Sport," is included in the 2006 edition of The BAR-D Roundup. Read some of her poetry and more about her, here.

Diane told us more about her inspiration for the poem:

I’ve only met Georgie once, at a gathering in Arvada...and was mesmerized by her. After fencing one day I was whining about my hands to Yvonne Hollenbeck. She chuckled and said it sounded like a poem coming on.

Later I thought about Georgie, and I remembered her hands. I thought about all the things those hands had done—as a woman, a horseman, a cowboy, a mother, a widow. I just plain admire her. I admire what she stands for. I admire what she’s done in her life. I thought about how she lived, and I thought about her children...She probably has no idea of how inspiring she is to us. She has earned every right to be called a cowboy, and she is one of the best ever.

Read more of Diane Tribitt's poetry here.

 

Grandma

I remember my old grandma in visions sharp and clear.
I can hear her voice. I can see her face as if she were still here.
She was a feisty lady, a working cowboy's wife,
And you could tell by looking that she'd had no easy life.

Though her wrinkles showed the years she'd lived, a girl's twinkle was in her smile,
And she'd waltz me 'round in her kitchen in an energetic style.
She had married my granddad when she was just sixteen
And stayed right by his side when times were good, and times were lean.

Through the children, sons and daughters, to which she joyfully gave birth,
Through the heartbreak that they faced returning two sons to the earth.
Side by side, they stood together; through the years they both did toil.
They were aged oak trees sheltering us, roots firmly in the soil.

And Grandma's was the heart and hand that kept us all together.
She gumptioned up the meek of us; the wild ones, she'd tether.
And when she dished out treats, she saw that each one got his part,
But she always saved the biggest piece for Grandpa, her sweetheart.

As she patted Grandpa's head or bent to kiss him on the cheek,
More love passed between those two than words could ever speak.
I can see her figure standing by her old wood-burning stove,
Or stepping spryly up into that pickup truck she drove.

My gandma gave me honest talk and the wisdom of her years.
My grandma gave me cookies as she wiped away my tears.
My grandma gave me spunk and grit to make it through each test,
But it's the love that Grandma gave that I remember best!

© December 9, 1994, Ann Sochat
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Ann Sochat's poetry here.

 

 

A Good Lickin'

I'll tell you something about mama cows.  They're protective as can be,
And they show deep, attentive care to their young progeny.
And one thing of which human parents might stand in awe:
Young calves are taught to pay attention.  Mama's word is law!
From the time they draw their first breath, and their eyes take their first blink,
She provides discipline and security, as well as milk to drink.
Calves will stagger to their shaky feet and with Mama go along,
Never venturing from her safe side until they're feeling strong.
And she'll bed them down in shelter if she has to go away,
And they'll stay right there and wait for her, even if she's gone all day.
Because all of those cows to you and me might look alike,
You would think that findin' Mama might confuse the little tyke,
But to find his mama, all he has to do is just inhale,
And his nose will lead him right up to his mama, without fail,
For, like women wearing perfume, I guess you could allow
That each mama's scent is different, though they all wear "eau de cow."
And if that baby calf could talk, like a small boy, he would shout,
"Really now, you've licked enough!  Come on, Maw, cut it out!
I can hardly keep my balance!  You're gonna knock me off my feet!
What is it with you mothers?  What's so great 'bout clean and neat?"
But he'll endure his mama's fussing, and in a year he'll be all grown,
And Mama will have a new calf, so he'll be on his own.
Life's cycle pushes onward.  We take each change in stride.
But there's something special about those days with our mama at our side.

© April 2, 1998, Ann Sochat                               
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

Read more of Ann Sochat's poetry here.

 

 

Biscuits

I've been eating biscuits for nigh on fifty years
So I figure a biscuit expert I am
And I'm probably the leading authority
On gravy and jellies and jam

Biscuits come in a host of shapes
They'll appear in a number of sizes
And my favorite time for their consumption
Is just before that ole' sun  rises

Their shape, for sure, means nothing
But size is another matter
On a good day I'll eat six or eight
And most times it's the latter

The ingredients of which a biscuit is made
Will tend to vary greatly
There's buttermilk, plain, and  sourdough
Can't say I've turned one down lately

I've had big ones and small ones
Some seem to swell up in your throat
Some so light they seem to float
A large percentage would sink a boat

I've topped 'em with gravy, so creamy and smooth
Shoveled 'em full of strawberry jam
I'll not forget 'em with Briar Rabbit syrup
Or Grandma's great country ham

Grandma's biscuits outshined 'em all
Even the great one's, her's were above
'Cause Grandma had one special ingredient
Every biscuit had a cupful of love

Those early morning breakfasts
In my memory will never fade
My favorite kind of  biscuits
Are the ones my Grandma made

© 2002, Jay Snider
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Read more of Jay Snider's poetry here.

Featured in "The Big Roundup," an anthology of the best of CowboyPoetry.com.

 

Nana's Rollin' Pin

Here I’m bakin’ Christmas pies on a warm, December desert day
Rollin’ out fresh pie dough, my mind lost in times so far away.
I look down at this old, rollin’ pin with pegged handles of bright red
And wish the wooden sounds you make were really words instead.

Perhaps you were a wedding gift carried in a new bride’s hopeful hand,
Sent on an eight-day train trip across American’s wide land,
Far from her Pennsylvania home to Wyoming’s prairie to homestead.
No two-story house awaited, just a one-room shack instead.

Their families had arranged it. Married to a stranger she barely knew.
She was the dutiful, youngest daughter. For him the honorable thing to do.
Did she ever wish things were different as she rolled out Sunday pies?
Did her dreams, once hopeful, fade in this wild ‘n’ lonely land and die?

Did she sing to her baby girl, playin’ games to fill the day
And the long weeks on the plains while her husband was away?
Did her eyes make orchards from the sage, green lawns from pasture grass?
Did she gossip with the cows and pigs? Did dogs dance with this Scottish lass?

Or did you bring back memories of lace curtains and oak-paneled halls,
Of satin gowns, long, white gloves worn at Pittsburgh’s social balls?
Did she miss her only sister, ‘Lizbeth, her three beloved brothers?
Were there things she could share with no one but her mother?

Her marriage was not happy. Financial failure turned her husband cruel.
He left for California the day my mother graduated from high school.
Nana never remarried. She took pride in being on her own
‘Til diabetes made her so ill, Mom had to sell her mother’s home.

I remember my folks throwin’ out things from the upstairs window,
Nana’s upturned face, tear-streaked, as she stood watching from below.
We moved her from Newcastle to the Big Horn Valley wide and green.
Two pick-ups held her memories of the fifty years she’d seen.

Once a week, Nana would pick one of us four kids for a special time,
And spend the afternoon teachin’ us to cook and bake real fine.
I can hear her patient voice tellin’ us youngin’s how to bake
In our big, yellow kitchen, Christmas cookies we must make.

Dozens of decorated delights to hang on the tree or eat.
Plus plenty more for neighbors on their Christmas plates of treats.
We must save some for the mailman on his cold, country deliveries,
And, for Teacher, wrapped in a flowered handkerchief, from Joyce and me.

Apple dumplings, hot cinnamon rolls, sour-cream chocolate cake,
Baking powder biscuits, golden brown, and sourdough bread to bake.
Churnin’ cream to golden butter, drainin’ cottage cheese in a pillow case,
Cannin’ chokecherry and wild plum jam, delicious smells filled the place.

For ten years she lived with us, tellin’ stories, crochetin’ doilies of fine lace.
In sixty-one she crossed over in her sleep. This desert is her resting place.
Few of her things were left to me, two photo albums, a Black Hills gold pin,
And one keepsake I’ll always treasure, this old, wooden, rollin’ pin.

© January 3, 1992, by Janice E. Mitich All rights reserved Picture Rocks, AZ 85743 

Dedicated to the memory of my Nana, Eleanor McFarrin Kramer Luce, 1899-1961, a true Lady and Heroine of the West. She got back to Pittsburg only once, over 30 years later, for the funeral of her beloved sister, Elizabeth, my namesake. My twin sister, Joyce, and I have diamond rings made from one of Aunt Elizabeth’s cocktail rings, which Nana inherited.

Nana (Eleanor M. Kramer Luce) Mom's mother with Joyce and me taken on the steps of the Methodist Church, Newcastle, WY on Easter morning (4/17/49) when Joyce and I were 4 years old.  Nana would turn 50 years old that September.

At Nana's house on our Easter trip in 1953. From the left, is Joyce (8), Mom, Janette (5) Dad, Jerry (4) and me.  We were getting ready to drive back to Sheridan.


 

A Rancher's Wife

When our Mother met Dad, in the forties, and said, "Yes, I'll take your hand,"
 She knew it wouldn't be easy wedded to a man in love with the land.
You see, this Wyoming lassie fell in love with a Wyoming cowboy.
 Yearnin' for all the comforts of life, would surely, their love destroy.

The sight of a line of fat cows headin' into a windmill tank,
 Meant more to him then sacks of gold safely locked in a bank.
The picture of horses runnin' and buckin' through gray sage and belly-high grass,
 Was priceless compared to drinkin' champagne or eatin' pheasant under glass.

She raised four kids in lonely, ranch houses while Dad headed up different brands.
 Pumped well water, washed dozens of diapers which chapped and reddened her hands.
Sledge-hammered lumps of black coal and chopped wood for cast-iron stoves.
 A trip to buy groceries or take a child to the doc, fifty miles she often drove.

She traveled country, dirt roads through the hail, the rain, and the snow.
 And if the signal came through clear,  she'd whistle and sing to the radio.
Up north, the winter sun sets early.  It's near dark by four o'clock.
 She'd get home after supper time for us kids and the livestock.

She did all the chores one spring, when a bronc broke Dad's leg in a fall
 With the river lappin' at the back door, from spring melt of a record snowfall.
She waded through manure and river water to milk the cows twice every day,
 And us kids probably drove her crazy 'cause we couldn't go outside to play.

She butchered deer, elk, and chickens, rabbits, ducks, and antelope.
 'Cause eatin' beef or that veal parmesan wasn't in our horoscopes.
If the place had enough water, she'd plant corn, 'taters, and rhubarb.
 Can apples and peaches bought from peddlers who drove into the yard.

Our vacations were campin' in the Big Horns, up in that cool mountain air.
 Boy, Mom could catch those big rainbows like a kid who hadn't a care.
We had our secret patch of wild raspberries and would fill up our coffee cans,
 And eat 'em on homemade ice cream, 'long with fresh trout fried in a pan.

With a tarp draped over the stock rack, Dad built a tent for them on the truck.
 While underneath a canvas, groundsheet, us three, little girls she would tuck.
We'd make our last trip up the mountains, in August, before school would start,
 To spend the day pickin' chokecherries to make jelly and syrup so tart.

In first grade, Joyce and I were thought old enough to be left home all alone.
 Mom got a job as a Bell operator, would check on us by using the phone.
It seems all the time we were growin', she held some kind of job in town,
 So Dad could have all his horses and to help keep the bills paid down.

Us kids sure got treated poorly whenever Mom and Dad wintered in town.
 We wore boots and Levis® to school which would make the principals frown.
Back then girls had to wear dresses with ski pants to keep their legs warm.
 Like a cow on the prod, she protected us,  sayin' girls in pants weren't any harm.

By the time Joyce and I were in high school, we'd moved nearly fifteentimes.
 That's more than most city folks ever  move, even in their entire lifetime.
But Dad had to rope and tie his dreams.  Livin' in town made him feel dead.
 You know we thought nothin' of it, 'cause that was the life that we led.

At times Dad had to build saddles and tack, or tool push in Wyoming's oil fields,
 Or hire out to work winter line camp to keep finances on an even keel.
But,  they worked as a team of strong horses.  Oh, the fine coursers they flew.
 "Cause, you see, this Wyoming-bred Lassie loved fat cows and good horses, too.

coursers the path or course of a well-trained team of horses, or reindeer working together


Dedicated to my Mother, Elizabeth Francis Luce,(1921-1986)  who, with her
parents, homesteaded southwest of Newcastle in Claraton, Wyoming. Thank you for giving up so much and making it possible for us to grow up on ranches and not in town.

© August 17, 1998 by Janice E. Mitich
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

  Mom (2nd from left) and the Glasby children, taken in 1928 at the school in Clareton, Wyoming (a small oil town about 30 miles southwest of Newcastle.  "The Glasbys were the family Daddy hired to help on the farm.  They lived in Nana's homestead house which had been moved to Daddy's place," Mom wrote on the back of the photo.

  Mom, age 18, taken in August 1940 in Newcastle, Wyoming,and printed in the "Dogie" (Newcastle High) annual.  She is wearing a divided denim skirt, satin blouse and neckerchief, black broad-brimmed hat, and black flat-heeled boots like today's motorcycle boots.  "Women didn't have ladies cowboy boots much then."  She's riding Euna Holst's horse.

  Mom (Elizabeth Frances Luce Prell) and Dad (George Burton Prell) taken on March 29, 1953 at Nana's (Mom's mother) house in Newcastle,  Wyoming.  We had been living in Sheridan for three years and had gone to Newcastle for a visit over Easter. 

 

Read more of  Janice Mitich's poetry here.

Featured in "The Big Roundup," an anthology of the best of CowboyPoetry.com.


Old Reddy

Old Reddy, one big shorthorn cow, was mother of our herd,
But unlike most the cows today, she wasn't registered.
When moving from Arvada to the beet farm on the plain,
Dad's family moved Old Reddy in a boxcar on a train.

The railroad offered emigrants the cars at reduced rate.
As farmers went to farming land, the road would ship their freight.
Old Reddy's calf had had a calf, and they were squeezed in too.
Along with Reddy's other calf, the one that was quite new.

When household goods were loaded as were implements and tools,
Then Dad and Grandpa climbed aboard despite the railroad's rules,
Which said that people couldn't ride in boxcars with their things.
They had to go as passengers and sit on seats with springs.

When they arrived they had no bull.  A neighbor lent them his,
And thirty she-stock later they were in the dairy biz.
They milked the cows and sold the cream to pay living expense.
They fed the skim to pigs and calves.  Back then that plan made sense.

The family bought two Hereford bulls in l922,
But it wasn't 'till the '30s that their milking days were through.
Then Dad decided they'd raise calves and let them milk the cows.
The family'd go to raising beef.  Be simpler anyhows.

They sold all but some white-faced cows in l948,
And bought some more big Hereford bulls who helped them propagate.
My Dad maintained the cows they kept, the ones that were his picks,
Were from old Reddy's lineage and were stronger for the mix.

© 2002, Jane Morton
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Much of Jane Morton's poetry is about her family.  The roses mentioned in this poem are the same variety that many pioneer women brought West, and they are still prized and cultivated today.  It is said that it in recent times, the remnants of these roses made it possible to trace and restore parts of the Oregon Trail. 

 

Grandma's Roses  

The men cut grandma's roses down.  They said they  blocked the view.
Where driveway met the county road, a mishap might ensue.

And then they sprayed the roots and ground so plants cold not regrow.
It was the Harison's yellow rose she'd planted long ago.

They could have left the bushes there and cut them back a bit.
Had Grandma been alive today, she would have had a fit.

I wasn't there when it was done or would have stayed their  hand.
At least I could have saved some shoots had I known what they planned.

I guess they didn't know that rose had come by wagon train.
Well wrapped in dampened gunny sacks, it crossed the western plain.

Gram painted blooms on china plates and pictures for the wall.
The yellow hue spread color through the ranch house I recall.

Those roses were our heritage as much as was the land.
It didn't matter to the men.  They didn't understand.

Though antique roses could be bought, they wouldn't work for me.
They wouldn't be my heritage or speak my history.

Dad said you couldn't kill the things.  I thought that he was wrong.
I knew that little rose was tough, but probably not that strong.

Those plants withstood the wind and cold, the hail and searing heat.
But in the face of this attack, they went down to defeat.

The sight of roses dying there had torn me up inside.
I felt as wasted as the leaves on canes they'd tossed aside.

For when they sprayed the roses' roots, they got some of my own..
A part of me died back that day.  My heart weighed many stone.

Come spring I saw a little shoot the far side of the fence.
The Harison's rose was coming back, and here was evidence.

I've come to think my family was something like that rose,
A tough and prickly people who had weathered many blows.

They gener'ly weren't people who could give in graciously,
But struggled through hard times and debt and clung tenaciously.

And when they seemed most down and out, and all their hope 'bout gone,
They drew strength from the land they loved and managed to hang on.

©  Jane Morton
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.


Yoo-hoo

My mother always called, "Yoo-hoo," so we would look her way.
She did it at the sale barn one cattle auction day.

Dad brought his cows to market there, as he did every spring.
He liked to watch the auction and his cattle in the ring.

Some Hereford cows were milling round, and others bawling loud.
The auctioneer was trying hard to stir the morning crowd.

My folks were in their usual seat where they had said they'd be,
And I had started toward them when my mother spotted me.

She jumped up quick and called, "You-hoo," and then she waved her hand.
She'd bid on thirty Herefords with our own CU brand.

The auctioneer looked toward my mom and gave a little nod.
A feedlot buyer raised her bid, and I was thanking God.

I didn't dare to signal her for fear they'd think I'd bid,
And Mom had no idea at all of what she almost did.

So needing to get down there fast, I headed for the stair.
Then came another, "You-hoo Yo-ooooo," that caught me unaware.

I'd almost closed the distance when my mother waved once more.
The auctioneer acknowledged her, the way he had before.

I watched the feedlot buyer as I slipped into my seat,
And when the fellow didn't bid, my heart near ceased to beat.

My dad sat focused on the ring completely unaware
Of all the action going on right there beside his chair.

From up in back there came a bid, and I could breathe again.
I prayed the field had narrowed down to real cattle men.

I took Mom's hand soon as I could and held it tight in mine.
I said, "How are you doin', Mom?"  She said, "I'm doin' fine."

Now Mom had been to auctions, and she knew what not to do. 
Of course a real no no would have been to call, "Yoo-hoo."

But Mom forgot herself that day and learned to her chagrin
How close she came to buyin' back the cows that Dad brought in.

©  Jane Morton
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

 

Mom's Job

Mom's fight to keep Dad's clothes in shape
   near drove her to despair,
Especially in the days before
   she knew of wash and wear.

She worked to keep him lookin good,
   his clothes all neat and clean.
She battled 'gainst manure and mud,
   and grease from some machine.

Clothes faded in the wash and sun.
    Barbed wire would snag and tear.
He wore the buttons off his shirts
   and lost them who knew where.

When Mom replaced a button, which
   "had been put on with spit."
She looped strong thread through all the holes,
   and firmly anchored it.

She never sat to rest her feet,
   but what she had to mend,
Or darn his socks, a thankless job,
   that never seemed to end.

Mom never would have understood
   kids torn and ragged jeans.
She would have thought the wearers came
   from families without means.

Mom felt the way her husband looked
   reflected on her care,
And  "tacky" was the kind of look
   my mother couldn't bear.

He had his job, and she had hers.
   It was her source of pride.
She did it almost sixty years,
    until the month she died.

© 2006,  Jane Morton 
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Read more of Jane Morton's poetry here.

Featured in "The Big Roundup," an anthology of the best of CowboyPoetry.com.




As Birds Fly from the Nest
 

You'll miss those muddy footprints or small feet tracking sand,
You'll wish for smudges on the glass left by a little hand.

You'll find yourself just wishing for a broken window pane,
or wagon or a ball glove that's left out in the rain.

'Cause when those days are with you and you long for peace and rest
you'll find too soon you'll have it just as birds fly from the nest.

You'll wish for little kids to beg for cookies or for pie
and wish for candy traveling from the cupboard on the sly,

you'll wish for dressing him all up in clean and ironed shirt
to only find it covered with a fresh supply of dirt.
 
And then that little girl, with her doll and pretty smile
will only be around you for a tiny little while.
 
Too soon her heart is taken, and on that I can attest,
she'll be someone else's darling just as birds fly from the nest.
 
Take some time to smell the flowers as you often hear folks say
'cause all too soon you're wishing for what you once had today.
 
As the evening shadows lengthen and the sun sets in the West,
you'll find that time has flown away like birds fly from the nest.

  © 2006, Yvonne Hollenbeck
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.



Read more of Yvonne Hollenbeck's poetry here.




 

 

Start As You Mean To Go On...
For Nellie Flora Demasters 


Tiny hands clutching blue granite-ware plates
Along with a flour-sacking towel.....
"Gramma, I can't hold onto them both!
My hands is a little too small!"
"Of course you can, honey, you're a big girl........
Dryin' two's as easy as pie;
Just hold 'em like this and wipe the top
Then change to the other side."

"But if I change 'em, they'll fall on th' floor
An' then they'll break all to Hell!
Mama says I ain't learnt a darn thing
Since th' day I cracked out of my shell!"
"First, don't you start cussin', Nellie Byrd...
Yer a little too young fer sich things.
An' next I ain't noticed you lackin' sense.
Look how good you done on shoe strings".
 
" Let's get back to th' dishes now, if you please..
I was taught by my Ma in days gone
That you always find you do better when
You start as you mean to go on!"
"What that means to little ones like you
To come out ahead in th' end,
Learn to do it right th' very first time
So you won't have to learn it again."

"Now hold 'em this way and wipe th' top,
Then change them around just like this..
See I knew all along you could do it!!
Come here and get a big kiss!"
'Start as you mean to go on' are words
I learned long ago to live by..
In a kitchen beside a wood-burning stove
Holding two big blue plates to dry.

© 10-21-00, Byrd Woodward   
 This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 
 

Read more of  Byrd Woodward's poetry here.

Featured in "The Big Roundup," an anthology of the best of CowboyPoetry.com.

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