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Wiechmann: What Every Ranch Wife Wants for Christmas

 

To all the ranchers out there who haven’t done their Christmas shopping yet—and yes, I know that’s all of you—I have a little secret to let you in on. It will save you wandering aimlessly around the feed store on the evening of December 24th wondering whether to get your wife a kitchen gadget or a new fence stretcher. Here’s what she really wants: a standardized list of all of the hand signals you use!

It is commonly bantered about that women are hard for men to understand. Well, sometimes we find you hard to understand, too. Does that wave mean come, or stay where you are? Do those gesticulations mean to back straight up or to angle the trailer a little farther south? Should I interpret that arm motion to mean ‘turn the herd in at the gate’ or ‘hold them up and count them through the gate?’

Every ranch wife longs to understand which of her husband's hand signals means move faster and which one means stop. Photo by Ruth Wiechmann

I was barely into my teens when I first experienced this mysterious form of communication. I was on a tractor doing something and Dad waved at me.



That’s nice. I thought.

I waved back.



He waved again, with a grander gesture this time. It began to dawn on me.

He must want something… But what?

I had no idea if he meant for me to stop, back up, go forward, raise up the implement I was pulling, quit and do something else, or go home for lunch. I got off the tractor to go over to where he was waving his hands at me to find out.

“It always means _______ when I wave like that,” he explained.

I was still confused, and though I don’t remember what he was trying to get across that day, I do remember vividly other days when I didn’t see his hand signals and the results were mildly disastrous and more than a little traumatic.

So all you guys can toss the shopping lists. What we ladies need is the ranch equivalent of Semaphore Signals. You know, that little chart with the man and his flags? Spell out your gestures with their meanings so that we can study up before the next big project. That way, when we’re bringing up the tail end of the herd, we will know whether you mean to bring them more slowly or to make them hustle when you wave at us from the front.

We know that we can count on plenty of external factors to foul up communications: blowing wind, bawling calves, barking dogs, and bad cell service are pretty much a given on any ranch. And we also know that no matter how many questions we ask before hand to try to be prepared, there will always be something you remembered at the last minute, or some unforeseen need that arises halfway between the yard and the lost forty. Spending a little time spelling out what your left hand making circles in the air and your right hand slapping your leg means will save you weeks (and a sizeable bill) with a marriage therapist trying to school us in the nuances of healthy communication. It will also eliminate those tense moments of “Why didn’t you do XYZ?” when we thought you meant to do YZX.

Never mind the diamonds, jewelry, lingerie, latest western fashions, fascinating kitchen ware, footie pajamas, chocolate covered strawberries, and all the other things that advertisers on the radio, television and the internet are trying to convince you to spend some hard earned cash on. Get a little notebook at the dime store, pull out your ball point pen and get to work. Make a list of common hand signals and their meanings.

Oh, and get her a new pitchfork. She may swoon when she opens that notebook and she is going to need something to lean on.

 


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