Sorry but no, we don’t have a right to choose.

Maybe it’s because of the presidential election taking place right now, but you can’t read the news anymore without seeing something about women’s rights. And most of it I agree with. I do want equal pay for the same job. I don’t want more generations of young women growing up in a world that dehumanizes them and sees them as a sexual object. So yes, women’s rights…

But what about women’s responsibilities? All we ever hear about is who deserves what. We never hear about what people are responsible for anymore.

Women, we are not the same as men. By definition then, we are not equal. We’re not less. We’re different. We are the sex who has the ability to bear children. That’s a pretty amazing gift in my opinion, and one that I’d be envious of if I were a man.

Women talk about our right to choose. How blessed are we that we can choose to have a baby (God willing)? But guess what. We also have a responsibility. We are fully aware of how babies are created. We are fully aware of the consequences of our sexual actions. We are fully capable of NOT creating a baby if we don’t want one. There are plenty of methods for avoiding pregnancy, which I don’t need to spell out for anyone here. And if we should have an “oops”, we are fully capable of STILL preventing a pregnancy, and we’re fully capable of finding out if we’re pregnant very early on.

So I’m talking to adult women here, and I’m talking about normal circumstances. There is NO GOOD REASON that a late-term abortion should happen, and yet they still happen by the thousands. 27.4 per day in this country. That’s more than 1 per hour. That means that EVERY HOUR in this country, a baby who is developed enough to feel pain just as intensely as you and I do is killed. In less than 1% of cases, it’s because of rape or incest. In less than 3% of cases, it’s because the baby has health problems. In the remaining 96% of cases, it’s because it’s inconvenient to the mother. To be more specific, it’s because of:

• Inadequate finances
• Not ready for responsibility
• Woman’s life would be changed too much
• Problems with relationships, unmarried
• Too young and/or immature
• Children are grown; she has all she wants

Please let that sink in for a minute, and then ask yourself if you’re ok with it. Of course there’s a gray area that no one really knows what to do with. For example, the mother’s life is in danger, or a teen got pregnant due to rape and was too scared to tell anyone until the pregnancy was obvious. Those are awful situations and I wouldn’t judge a girl/woman who had to make a really tough decision like that.

But those situations are so rare. Even in most cases of rape, a woman can prevent the pregnancy or terminate it very early on. There’s no reason why she wouldn’t/shouldn’t know she was pregnant.

For a lot of people, this presidential election has been a nightmare. For me, the nightmare is because I cannot bring myself to vote for Hillary Clinton given her stance on abortion. Let me be clear. I don’t have any illusions that abortion will disappear someday or that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. I just want people to recognize what is being done to the most helpless… the most innocent members of our society. Doctors aren’t certain exactly when a baby develops the ability to feel pain. Most say it’s after 20 weeks. Some say it’s as early as 8 weeks. Hillary Clinton says it doesn’t matter. The woman’s right to choose what happens to her body takes precedence for Hillary. She says she wants abortion to be “safe, legal, and rare”. But a quick review of her voting record will show you that Hillary doesn’t reside in the gray area like most people. She has supported abortion up to full term, and not just for the health of the mother, but for those reasons I listed above as well.

She also votes in support of stem cell research on aborted babies. In case you don’t know what that means, let me educate you quickly. Dixogin is a substance that is injected into an unborn baby’s heart to give the baby a fatal heart attack. The claim is that the baby will die painlessly (although those who have experienced a massive heart attack describe them as extremely painful). A few days later, the deceased baby is removed from the mother. However, if the baby’s tissues are going to be used for stem cell research, dixogin is skipped because it poisons the tissues and makes them useless to researchers. So instead, the baby is just pulled apart alive.

I hope your stomach churns when you read that. Mine does. Every single time. There were medieval torture practices that sound very similar, except that they were used on men who were assumed to be guilty of some heinous crime. But society recognized that those practices were too horrendous and we’ve stopped them. But it continues now on our most helpless and most innocent. I hope the thought of that makes you as sick as it makes me. The practices we use to execute murderers are more humane than what we do to PAIN CAPABLE babies.

And Hillary Clinton supports all of it. She calls it women’s rights. I call it bullshit.

Women, we have a RESPONSIBILITY, not a right to choose. If you shirk your responsibility, and wind up in your second or third trimester of a pregnancy that you don’t want, it’s your own damn fault, and that baby deserves better than a horrendous death at your irresponsible hands. Look into adoption.

Back to the nightmare of this presidential election. I don’t want to vote for Donald Trump. I really, really, really don’t. (I’ve been praying the GOP figures out how to remove Trump and replace him ASAP.) But I WON’T vote for a candidate who takes the stance Hillary takes on abortion. If she were even pro-choice except for late term, I’d vote for her over Trump. But she’s not. She’s pro-choice up to full term, and she supports stem cell research. Why is that not unacceptable to more people?!?! Tell me one other issue that’s more important than this. More important than life. More important than protecting the innocent who can’t protect themselves. If you can name one, you and I have nothing in common.

I wrote this today because this has been on my mind every single day for months now. Every single day, Hillary gets closer to the presidency, and closer to influencing decades and decades of new legislation, not only because of the presidency but because the new president will be likely be appointing 4 Supreme Court Justices.

In the time it took me to write this, another baby was killed. And felt everything.

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Something to be proud of

It’s quite possible that the thoughts I’m about to share are largely due to hormones, seeing as how I’m 8 months pregnant. Nonetheless…

Several months ago I found a picture of my late grandparents, Robert (Bob) and Inga Blair. I found a rustic frame to put the picture in and created a place for it on the bookshelf in my home office. It’s a simple picture—just the two of them standing in their dining room. Grandpa was wearing his good cowboy hat and Grandma was wearing earrings, so they must have been on their way to town. Grandpa’s arm was around Grandma, and she was holding his hand. They both wore their big smiles that had created deep lines in their faces over the years. Smiles that, if you knew them, reminded you of their wonderful senses of humor that had endeared the entire rural community to them.

Grandma and Grandpa

Grandpa was a small Irish man who was as tough as he was kind-hearted. He had a funny saying for every situation, and he never met a child or animal he didn’t love. He left home after the 8th grade with no possessions, started his family during the Great Depression, and accumulated more than 10,000 acres of land over the course of his lifetime. He left a legacy behind him, rich with not only possessions, but family and people who loved him. He was the bank when his friends couldn’t get a loan. He was the voice of reason when someone was being rash. And he was a scrapper when he was defending the code he lived by. At his funeral, friends shared memories of him that filled the room with laughter. I shared something I’d written about him called The Greatest Man I Know that filled the room with tears.

My grandmother was equally unique and wonderful. Her love for her family knew no bounds. She was a Norwegian woman with a personality big enough to handle my grandpa’s and a spirit light enough to appreciate his shenanigans. She was always trying to put meat on people’s bones. When we were young, she’d disappear into the other room and reappear with a measuring cup full of skittles for each of the grandkids that came to visit. We never did find her hiding place for those skittles. Grandma was a woman of few words, but when she spoke, you listened. She was the perfect complement to my grandpa, like a team of horses. They just worked better as a pair.

Without going into a lot more detail, suffice it to say that I loved my grandparents fiercely. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that the special role my grandpa played in my life is one that not everyone has had the pleasure of experiencing. Not everyone has had a rock—a role model—like my grandpa. For some reason, my brothers and I just wanted to make my grandpa proud. Sometimes that meant getting out the lawnmower and mowing his lawn without being asked. It would have been enough to hear him say thank you, or to receive that “good job” slap on the back from him that almost hurt… but he would also reward us with a crisp $5 or $10 bill. My brothers and I worked hard and played hard with Grandpa, and loved every minute of it. Some of my favorite memories of my childhood involve having an ice cream cone with Grandpa after a job well done, or taking a ride on the bench-seated 3-wheeler that Grandpa would pull out before the sun went down on a summer night. They were simple pleasures but they meant the world to us.

To this day, the opinion of my grandpa matters to me. It’s one of the reasons my hair has been long all my life. Grandpa liked it that way. He’s also big part of the reason I’m frugal with money. He didn’t buy what he didn’t need. He taught my dad to be that way, and from watching both of them make financial decisions for the ranch over the years, I’ve learned to be careful with money too.

Now, since finding that picture of my grandparents, at least a couple times per week I’ll look up from my work and glance at it. It always causes me to pause for a minute and remember them. It always causes me to shift my focus and see my life in simpler terms—the terms Grandpa lived by. I find myself wondering what Grandpa would say about my life if he were alive today. I wonder what questions he would have for my husband and what adventures he would have taken Mylo on out at the ranch. I wonder what new stories he would tell about his life as a young cowboy that he’d recall when spending a day with us now. (No matter how many stories he told, there were always new ones we’d never heard.)

Today I sat in my office chair, feeling my unborn son moving and kicking inside me, and I glanced up at that picture. Suddenly tears were streaming down my face, partly because I miss them, but mostly because my husband and I have decided to make our son’s middle name Robert. I think my husband agreed to it because he knows it means a lot to me, but he will never know how much it means. He’ll never know how sad I am that my grandpa never got to meet my husband… never got to look in my husband’s eyes and grip his hand firmly with a handshake that both greeted him warmly and evaluated him as a man. He’ll never know how much I wish my grandfather could have seen what a hard worker he is and how well he takes care of me and his sons. As I thought about this I was reminded of the Montgomery Gentry song, Something To Be Proud Of. You see, I know my grandpa would have been proud of the family I have and the life we’ve built. I know he would have liked my husband and I know the smile my sons would have brought to his face. So my tears as I thought about all of this come from sadness at the missed opportunity to see pride in my grandpa’s face. But they also come from the joy I have about my husband, my boys, and my opportunity to let my grandpa’s name live on in my son.

9/11 – The day America’s ego was bruised? What?!

Today is 9/11/2012, 11 years after “that day”. As usual on this anniversary, Facebook fills up with comments and pictures about the lost lives, the smoking towers, the heroes, and those still fighting the war that ensued. I posted one of those pictures today too, saying simply “We still remember”. But a lot of time has passed and by now, we are mostly paying our respects on this day. A lot of the emotion has faded.

Or so I thought.

Then I saw something that fired it all back up again. I saw a post that said, “2,976 people died on 9/11. 2,500,000 people died in wars justified by 9/11. 91,500,000 people died from hunger since 9/11.” And then I saw a comment under that post that said, “The subtext: Never in history has America’s ego been so insulted. Never again. Never.”

Ooohh, that pisses me off.

Who knows if those statistics are correct. I don’t care to check them. (I’m more of a forest person.) Let’s just assume they are. I understand the point that’s being made. And it’s true that when measured against the number of people who have died as a result of the war prompted by that day and world hunger, the lives lost on 9/11 are small in comparison. But to reduce that day to “America’s bruised ego” is insulting and irresponsible. In fact, someone should slap that person. I’d do it but he’s Canadian… too far away.

Let me tell you what that day was to me, one individual American who was as “unaffected” by the tragedy as any American can claim to be.

I was a college student in Lincoln, Nebraska. I was out for a run that morning before my classes started for the day. I had the radio on in my headphones and was flipping through radio stations looking for music. When no music could be found, I started listening to what they were saying and realized why every station was reporting breaking news. “America is under attack” is the phrase that rang through my head when I spun around in the street and sprinted back to my apartment. I turned on my TV just in time to watch the plane fly into the second tower on the live news report. I heard the panic in the reporter’s voice and felt my stomach rise into my throat. My hands covered my mouth and tears rolled down my face as I watched people covered in dust running through the streets.

Terror is what I felt.

I sat on the floor in my living room, unable to move. Unable to stop watching. Not sure what to do. I sat there, alone, feeling a million emotions as I watched citizens fleeing a tragic scene that kept getting more tragic with every passing moment. I sat there, listening to one story after another of another plane, another explosion, another attack. (You remember how many stories there were, some true, some not.) I felt helpless. Who would be next? Did I know anyone in those towers? How many people have been killed? Who is doing this and why?

I don’t know how long I sat there before I finally got up and found my phone. I called my dad and asked him if he was watching the news. He wasn’t. I stayed on the phone with him while he turned on the TV, and I heard the change in his voice as he said “Oh my God”. I called my mom and brothers too, I suppose just because I felt the need to connect with someone. Before long though, the airwaves filled up and you could no longer make phone calls.

I went to campus that morning, but most of the classes were cancelled. Some professors had TVs on in the classrooms and were giving students a place to watch together. None of us knew what to do. We just sat there and cried. Helplessness is a horrible feeling.

As the days and weeks passed, I learned about how the terrorist acts affected not only people in the news stories, but people I knew. A Nebraska student died. Some lost loved ones. Some were supposed to be in the towers that day but fate intervened and kept them away. Some felt the call of duty and joined the military… left school. Airports were shut down and people couldn’t make it home. We were scared to go to football games because no one could be sure that the violence was over, and the media warned the public that large gatherings of people would make good targets for terrorists. The Nebraska football stadium held more than 78,000 people. (But why target Nebraska, right?  …. Right?)  So we went to the games anyway, but it was a subdued crowd, and we were happy to see the beefed up security and added screening.

We were scared to get on a plane after that. People I knew cancelled family vacations for that reason. We didn’t know where we were safe. Theories emerged and war was declared and people bonded together… united as one nation, under God. Yes, that’s right. Under GOD. We turned to our leaders for leadership. We turned to each other for support. We thanked our heroes. There were SO MANY heroes that day. People risked their own lives to save the lives of strangers.

A friend of mine posted this on his Facebook page today, under a picture of a chalkboard with the firefighters’ names and assignments from Ladder 118 in New York City: “The men from Ladder 118 ran deeper into the chaos and emerged at the doomed Marriott World Trade Center hotel. Survivors remembered seeing men with the number 118 on their helmets running up the stairs to help the panicked guests. They were never seen alive again.” And today we’re learning that many of the people at ground zero that day are suffering from various forms of cancer. The tragedy continues to affect us, and our government agencies and military men and women continue to serve their country in the fight against terrorism.

The fact is that most of the people killed that day were civilians. We had no warning. We didn’t even know who our enemy was. It was an act of terror, and speaking from personal experience, it was terrifying. I’m thankful that I didn’t lose anyone I loved at the World Trade Center or on United flight 93 or at the Pentagon that day. For those who did, I’m so incredibly sorry. No, the numbers don’t stack up to world hunger. But you know what? I don’t give a fuck. It wasn’t about numbers. And world hunger is not our fault; it’s a fact of life. The blame for this, however, lies squarely with certain people who should pay for what they’ve done.

To the person who called 9/11 the day America’s ego was bruised, shame on you. If your neighborhood was blown up to make a statement, I bet your pride would be the last thing on your mind.

I’ll get off my soap box now, with one last thought. I’ve done a lot of traveling… seen a lot of countries on various continents. Even lived overseas for a while. But with each trip, I was always so, so glad to be coming home. Yes, we have our problems but this is a great country. The best in the world if you ask me, and I’m proud to call it home.

God Bless America!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Gratitude

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.” ~Seneca

I feel gratitude right now. I have felt it before, sometime in college when I realized how lucky I was to have the family I have. Not everyone is so lucky. I didn’t always know that. As is so often true I suppose, I didn’t know it until I needed them. You don’t realize that someone is there to catch you until you fall.

I felt that same gratitude with every hardship I faced, until slowly I learned to stand on my own two feet. I stopped falling, or at least falling so hard.

I feel gratitude again now. I waited a long time for the man who would elicit such a feeling. Truthfully, I didn’t know exactly what I was waiting for, just as you don’t know what the best day of your life will be like until you’re living it.

My sister-in-law gave me a card once. I can’t remember the reason for the card… a birthday maybe. But I do remember what it said. I saved the card and committed the message to memory. It was meant to encourage me–to give me strength to continue waiting. She had waited and found my brother. She knew I was waiting too. The quote was from the movie “How to Make an American Quilt”. It was an excerpt of this:

I know our marriage has as good of a chance of being wonderful as it does missing the mark.  However, I’m banking on our love for each other to weigh a bit heavier on the wonderful side. As Anna says about making a quilt, you have to choose your combination carefully. The right choices will enhance your quilt. The wrong choices will dull the colors, hide their original beauty. There are no rules you can follow. You have to go by your instinct.  And you have to be brave.

Today I’m stepping back to look at my quilt. It’s wonderful. I chose my colors well. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s warm and comforting. At the center of the quilt is the man I chose. Surrounded by him are a wonderful and bright little boy, my step-son; a loving mother-in-law who would give us the world if she could; her husband, who is endlessly patient and kind; and two dogs, full of personality and quirks.  The backing of the quilt is my family, who support and love the colors I’ve chosen. In pieces, we’re chaotic, but sewn together, we make sense. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s my quilt.

I am walking through life, wrapped in soft armor. And I know who to thank for it…

Life is so, so sweet

For the second day in a row, at 6:30 pm, give or take 10 minutes, I opened the door to our house and was hit by the smell of a hot, home cooked meal. And I was greeted by smiles from the most handsome man I know and his precious little boy. Tension melted off my shoulders and I became acutely aware of how happy I was to be home.

How happy I was that this was my home.

How lucky I was that I found him.

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If you had asked me a year ago where I would be this July, I never would have guessed that I would have moved to Colorado Springs, be engaged to a Navy fighter pilot, and be learning to be a mom. My life has shifted 180 degrees, in the direction I’ve always wanted it to go but couldn’t take it there alone. And I can now confirm that what I always believed turned out to be true… that it would be easy when I met the right man. That everything would fall into place and I would “just know”. That my priorities would shift and I wouldn’t be so career-focused. That everything would make sense.

What I didn’t know, however, was that it is possible to be in a relationship and to be in love every day. It is possible to be in a relationship and to be perfectly content with life… to be free of anxiety and doubt. I didn’t know what it was like to trust someone fully. I had always felt the need to hold something back… love or time or (sadly) money… to protect myself. I had never met the man I could invest in fully and throw caution to the wind. Until now.

But now, here I am, coming home to a home cooked meal on the days that I work and he doesn’t. And I sometimes come home to find flowers on the table for me, just because… or a refrigerator stocked with foods that he doesn’t eat, like Greek yogurt and hummus. And I always come home to a man who greets me with a smile and is as excited to spend the evening together as I am.

And have I mentioned how handsome he is??

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I have found such joy in simplicity. Such fulfillment in being a part of a family. Just this morning, Little Man followed me around the kitchen, still in his pajamas, giving me hugs every few minutes. I stopped what I was doing and knelt down for a full-on hug, where he rested his head on my shoulder, and overflowed my heart. Just a hug. Who knew that was all it would take.

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Life is so, so sweet. I am so blessed.

 

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The Search for a Cowboy

If you’ve read any of what I’ve written, you know that I appreciate and attempt to live by an old-school value system that came from my old-school upbringing. I don’t run across a lot of other people my age who grew up on a ranch, attended a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher for kindergarten through eighth grade….  and ate lunches comprised of vegetables from the garden washed in water from a livestock tank to avoid going to the house and being put down for a nap. So now that I’m an adult (and a contemplative one at that), I’ve thought a lot about how my upbringing has translated into my search for a husband.

Or really… my search for a cowboy.

I’m speaking metaphorically when I say that, because I’m not actually looking for a man with a big belt buckle who saddles up a horse to start the day’s work. Rather, I’m looking for a certain mentality. I’m looking for the way in which a man conducts himself, and the standard he holds himself to. You see, there are certain traits that I associate with cowboys, and those are the traits that capture my attention and command my respect. Those are the traits that cause me to put a man on a pedestal and look at him with admiration in my eyes. This list is not comprehensive, by any means, but it’s a good start.

A cowboy lives by a code of honor. Somewhere along the way, people pick up a set of rules or principles to live by. Sometimes their parents give it to them. Sometimes it comes from an influential figure, or maybe even the military or an amazing coach. But this code of honor guides a man to do what is honorable, whether or not it’s easy. For example, a student’s code of honor requires that the work he turns in be his own. A soldier’s code of honor requires him to stand and fight rather than deserting his fellow soldiers. A father’s code of honor requires him to protect and teach his children to the best of his ability. A cowboy looks for the appropriate honor code and upholds it without needing to talk about it or be praised for it. He does it because it makes him a man.

The code of honor really encompasses everything that follows, but I think it’s worth detailing them anyway.

A cowboy has good work ethic. He does what is necessary to get a job done. He takes pride in his work. Simply good enough is simply not good enough.

A cowboy is compassionate to children and animals. He recognizes that he has a duty to those who cannot help themselves, and he gladly shoulders that responsibility. I’ve never met a true cowboy who didn’t play with children or love a good dog. I’ve never met a true cowboy who was cruel to his horses. In fact, a cowboy will take any measures necessary to correct a man who is abusing his power and strength with those weaker than himself. He defends the weak, and he’s not afraid to teach a lesson that needs to be taught to those who don’t.

A cowboy respects women. Men and women are different by God’s design. It’s unfortunate, in my opinion, that society has worked so hard to mask those differences. But a cowboy sees and appreciates them, and cherishes a woman for the ways in which she differs from himself. Now don’t get me wrong… not all women conduct themselves in a way that warrants respect, in which case, a cowboy simply moves on. But when he does find a good woman, he knows how to treat her.

A cowboy respects his elders. At some point in his life, he will slowly take over the responsibility of caring for his parents in the ways that they used to care for him. He will value their wisdom, listen to their stories, and cherish the time he has to bridge the gap between generations before that opportunity is gone.

A cowboy makes no apologies for being a man. Even in the midst of a society that has devalued masculinity, a cowboy remains masculine. He recognizes that it’s in a woman’s nature to test him and make sure he won’t break… make sure he has the strength to be her man. (Forgive us. We don’t even know we do it sometimes.) Men are naturally more inclined to be competitive, to enjoy sports or the great outdoors or whatever their particular “thing” might be. A cowboy embraces what’s in his nature, pursues his interests and desires, and is a better husband, father, friend because of it.

A cowboy is prepared physically, mentally, and spiritually to fight for what is right. That means he protects his family, stands up for what he believes in, and fights for his country if necessary. And he takes the steps necessary to make sure that he can.

A cowboy is humble. He recognizes that even if he has spent a lifetime working tirelessly toward his goals, he is still thankful for his health and good fortune. He doesn’t look down on others and doesn’t forget to count his blessings.

A cowboy has quiet strength. I’ve found that the strongest of men are sometimes the ones you’d least expect. That’s because they’re humble (see above). And you only learn how strong they are when they are tested. You learn just how much of a rock a man is when you push on him, attempting to move him. A cowboy will allow you to push, but when you reach his limits, you’ll be stopped in your tracks and no amount of pushing will budge him. The loud one in a room… the boastful one… is not a cowboy.

Lastly, a cowboy has courage. Winston Churchill said “courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities… because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” Without courage, a person cannot hold themselves to any of the standards listed above, because inevitably his convictions will be tested. Courage will be required to stay the path, to uphold his code, to fight for his beliefs, and to withstand pain because sometimes life delivers pain. To recognize your own faults and correct them requires courage. Even to love requires a great deal of courage. A cowboy has enough of it.

So there you have it. The man I seek is a cowboy, not by occupation or dress, but by the qualities I’ve listed. I’ve been disappointed by the lack of cowboys in my generation, but once in a great while, one will appear. He might be a business owner, a salesman, a construction worker, an accountant, or a pilot. But regardless of how he looks on the outside, he’s saddling up and riding for the brand… a true cowboy at heart.

Bravo to all of you who are.

My grandfather and his brothers, the Blair boys. Their parents are on the left.

Riding for the brand

In some states, a brand is still a legally enforceable sign of ownership of livestock and a good deterrent to theft. South Dakota is one of those states. Around this time of year, ranchers are “calving”, and pastures become filled with playful babies and fiercely protective mommas. (If you don’t believe me, stand between a cow and her calf when the calf starts bawling. You’ll learn exactly how fast you can run when a 1500 pound animal charges you.) A few months from now, all the ranchers in the community will start planning their brandings. From sunup to midafternoon, an entire community shows up to help, and then they’re fed and boozed and sincerely thanked. All the ranchers take turns, until every calf in the county is branded.

Branding day

A branding is, in my opinion, a lost form of community that was once a necessity. Now there are very few reasons for people to rely on each other the way a rural community does when a huge task needs to be accomplished. And believe me when I say that rounding up an entire herd of cattle, separating the calves from the cows, vaccinating all the cows, and branding all the calves is a huge task. It would take a family a week to get it done. But it takes a community half a day. People are always glad to help because they’re appreciative of the help they receive when it’s their turn. And while it’s hard work that sometimes leaves you bruised and sore, it’s also a lot of fun. Good conversations are had on horseback, kids learn to rope and have a rare chance to play with the neighbor kids outside of school, and the men take every opportunity to make each other the butt of a joke. Someone inevitably falls in fresh manure or gets tripped by a rope that the horse is pulling a calf with. And if you’ve never been in a rocky mountain oyster fight, you haven’t lived! (Gross!)

Dad's and Grandpa's brands

Livestock branding dates back to several thousand years B.C. In the 1500’s, branding made its way to the Americas by way of the Spaniards. In the time of the Old West, the phrase “ride for the brand” was coined. Brands are legally registered and available for purchase. Both the symbol itself and its location on the animal are part of the brand. The best ones are simple, easy to read, and easy to apply. Good brands are often handed down through generations and can be sold with a ranch. My grandfather’s brand was “lazy B U on the left hip”. Dad uses it now, but his used to be 7NL, which looks the same upside down, so it was easy to apply. My brothers and I all had a brand for the handful of cattle our dad and grandpa gave us. Mostly it was to make us feel special. Mine was “rafter SS”, which looks like two S’s with a roof over them.

A brand is a ranch’s (or rancher’s) trademark and it represents pride and duty. Ranch hands (or cattle hands) in days of old were expected to “ride for the brand”. That meant that they were expected to hold themselves to the standards of the ranch. It meant they could be trusted to treat the ranch as their own; to care for every bull, cow, and calf and make sure they were all accounted for; and to put the welfare of the group above their own personal gain. In return, the rancher treated them like family. There was a fierce sense of loyalty, but at the same time, no contracts were ever signed. The ranch hand was there by choice… he chose to ride for the brand… and could count on being rewarded fairly. In the words of Louis L’Amour, riding for the brand was “an expression of loyalty to a man’s employer or the particular outfit he rode for. It was considered a compliment of the highest order in an almost feudal society. If a man did not like a ranch or the way they conducted their affairs he was free to quit, and many did, but if he stayed on, he gave loyalty and expected it.”

But those days are over, and sadly, some of the virtues of the times have gone with them. The Code of the West was a good one though, and even though its origin is foreign to most of us now, I see no reason why young generations shouldn’t strive to uphold it. Shouldn’t we still “ride for the brand” for the company we work for? Like the ranch hands of that time, we are free to leave a company whose mission we don’t believe in or culture we don’t like. If we choose to stay, though, don’t we owe our loyalty to a company that treats us fairly and respectfully?

In relationships as well, shouldn’t we “ride for the brand”? How many times have you heard someone complaining about their significant other? Why? We’re free to go aren’t we? But if we’ve chosen to be involved with someone… especially if we’ve chosen to marry the person and start a family… don’t we owe our loyalty to them? And that includes the times when they aren’t watching or within earshot. The only person you’re hurting is yourself if you choose to live a double life—to be involved in something that you don’t believe in.

No one is perfect, and every day is a new struggle to live a life of integrity… to like the person we see in the mirror every morning. But today I challenge everyone to “ride for the brand”… whatever your brand might be.

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