Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

About those dirty hands July 1, 2017

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger at the 2016 North Morristown Fourth of July celebration. This photo and a comment on it prompted this post. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2016.


I FEEL THE NEED to defend my husband. And if I was on Facebook, I’d go directly to the source of an uninformed and hurtful comment about a photo I took of Randy’s hands while he was eating a cheeseburger at the 2016 North Morristown Fourth of July celebration.

The commenter wrote that she would not eat a burger “with those dirty hands/fingernails. Yikes.”


My husband at work in the automotive machine shop where he is employed as the sole employee. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2013.


I take issue with that. Randy is an automotive machinist and has been for about 40 years. He works in a dirty environment on heads, blocks, brake rotors, flywheels and more that are oily, greasy, filthy—whatever word you choose to define the grime he touches.



His hardworking hands are permanently imprinted with the residue of his labor. He washes his hands multiple times daily. Removing every trace of grease would be nearly impossible. It’s not like he’s coming to the table with hands just pulled from some project. They are as clean as he can get them without extensive scrubbing. To suggest otherwise is just plain wrong.


Just one example of all the work that awaits my husband in the NAPA automotive machine shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2013.


I’ve often felt that blue collar employees don’t get the respect they deserve. Randy is good at what he does. Really good. His skilled work is in high demand. Always. Few people do what he does. His skills are advanced beyond basic garage mechanics to precision automotive machining. He repairs everything from cars to vans, trucks, semis, forklifts, snowmobiles, motorcycles, tractors and more.

Randy holds an incredibly strong work ethic. I keep telling him that, at his age of 60, he doesn’t need to work so hard and long. He stopped working Saturdays only a few years ago, often puts in 9-hour plus days and, up until this summer, received only 10 vacation days annually. But he continues to work hard because he feels an obligation to his customers, the people depending on him to get their cars back on the road, their tractors in the field, their boats on the water.

I admire his dedication. And I recognize those “dirty hands/fingernails” as those of a man who is not always appreciated as he should be. Without hands-on skilled tradesmen and women, this country could not function. Randy may not have a four-year college degree, but that does not make him or his work any less important than that of a college grad.


Randy’s toolbox. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2013.


I realize I’m getting a tad off topic here. But I grow weary of a society that generally places a higher value on white collar workers. Fresh out of college, our son, now 23, started a job in the tech field at a salary more than double his dad’s pay and with much better benefits. We always want our kids to do better than us. That is a good thing. But this personal example within our family shows the disparity between blue and white collar workers and the minimal value placed on 40 years of experience and those without a four-year degree.


Randy enjoys a BBQ pork sandwich and a beer at the 2013 North Morristown July Fourth celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.


So, yeah, criticize my husband’s hands and you will hear from me. His are the hands of a man who has worked in his field for about four decades. His are the hands of hard work and dedication. His are not unwashed hands holding a burger.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


51 Responses to “About those dirty hands”

  1. Marilyn Donnell Says:

    Oh Audrey – That is a terrific, spunky, emotive story. When I first saw the photo I choked up because it looked just like my Dad’s hands. Dad would let us girls go to town on trying to clean his nails, but there was always a little trace of a hard-working honest laborer. Horray for blue collars and true worth of a life well spent.

  2. This post is beautiful, Ma’am! And so is your love for your husband. It’s so pure that you stepped up to defend him. And I agree with you- blue collared employees should be respected more! Much love!

  3. Best post! When I saw the photo pop up in my email, I thought-those hands have character. Thiose are strong hands with stories. Thanks for telling the stories.

  4. Rhonda Lloyd Says:

    I hace a son with the same “issue”. He is a very hard worker, but his hands are dirty too. Luckily,his boss appreciates his work ethic and ability and pays him accordingly. I, too, wish people would not just look at the hands,but realize what they do.

  5. treadlemusic Says:

    We are a nation that tops the world in soap used for personal hygiene!! Yup, that’s right. No where else on the planet is the “clean thing” (external body) held in such high esteme!!! Oh, how I wish that this very same society/culture would give even a modicum of attention to the current activities that are quite successful in destroying our fellow ‘man’. We come to the table with clean hands but our words are filthy knives slashing others to their very core……to put a one word generalized description ‘out there’…..our beautiful nation has taken a very “toxic” turn and there doesn’t seem to be any let up on the horizon.
    I applaud your “defense” of your sweet hubby and thank you for clearly sharing his traits/work ethic that are at the very core of what made this nation great….and is so appropriate to emphasize this July 4th celebration time. You go, Girl!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Ilene Atarian Says:

    Good for you defending your husband. Without our loyal craftsmen like your husband, we would be a sorry mess! So proud of you defending him the way you did!! Keep up the good work theboth of you!

  7. Almost Iowa Says:

    I will bet there is a whole lot less germs on a crankcase than there is on a keyboard.

    Well said, Audrey, the skill, knowledge and wisdom that it takes to be a machinist rivals anything to be found in an office.

    After moving to Almost Iowa, I got to know a bit about farming and farmers, and I am stunned by what they have to know to get themselves through another year.

    They have to be mechanics, machinists, meteorologists, agronomists, chemists, accountants, tax lawyers and commodity brokers. Plus, they have to be familiar with the state of the weather and politics in far flung places like Brazil and China – and they have to be really good at all of these things.

    • I am eyeing my keyboard and cell phone as I type, considering all of the germs that linger there. Way more than on a crankcase.

      You are right about farmers. Their knowledge and skillset is extensive. I come from a family of farmers.

  8. Jackie Says:

    Good for Audrey, I wanna say, “YOU GO GIRL”! I can see how that comment would be hurtful to you! You have written many times about your hard working Randy, his hands do tell a story, they are the hands of a man who serves, and works hard with pride in what he was blessed with… the know-how and commitment to help others. I find it admirable that Randy has stuck with a job that only allows him 10 days vacation a year, and probably doesn’t earn anywhere close to what he’s worth. You have good good man, count those comments as ignorance!!!

  9. Littlesundog Says:

    The hands of a mechanic are revered by me. I grew up with mechanics and farm folks who did their own mechanical repairs and were often found lending a hand to a neighbor with broken down vehicles or farm equipment. My dad often stopped to help a trucker or a motorist who was broken down on the shoulder, to assist, coming back to our car (while we waited in the heat or cold) with greasy hands, only wiping them clean with a grease rag he might have in the trunk. He carried tools in every vehicle – just in case! I have always been drawn to hands before most any feature on a person (except the eyes of course). I myself have working hands – not lady hands with supple skin and polished nails. It’s a pride thing for me. I like what Doreen had to say – we do live in a cruelty culture where there are expectations about how we look and there is a hierarchy of what we do for a living to be successful. Rough and dirty hands built this country. Bleeding hands. Hands with fingers and nails missing. What an ignorant and silly woman that was who made that comment. I hope at some point she has realization about what her words say about her.

  10. Virginia Updegrove Says:

    Audrey, I’m with the others. We have become a nation of people that don’t really think of the work that needs to be done. We have become such a throw away nation that it is just pathetic. Recently I had to purchase a new dishwasher and refrigerator. When they took out the old dishwasher, the comment was, “well your new one is not built like this”. My microwave is one that the church decided to throw out. My PhD in biochemistry but also a nuclear engineer husband who loved to work on things and yes had dirty hands a lot, decided he could fix it. In two weeks it will be six years since he passed and I’m still using the microwave. It had to be at least three years before that he brought it home. My dad put in beautiful stained glass in churches and glass in store fronts. Where would we be without these people? Think about it. Maybe we would all live in cardboard boxes. We NEED people like Randy. Thank you so much for such a beautiful article and the support you give your husband. Hopefully your son will think about picking up some if his dad’s wonderful traits.

    • You are right. We are a throw away society that doesn’t always appreciate fine craftsmanship and the value of hardworking hands. I would have liked you dad, whom I expect took great pride in his hands-on work. Thank you for sharing your insights and personal connection to a hands-on blue collar worker.

  11. Gerry and Judy Bosshardt Says:

    Just awesome AUDREY! You go girl…and what a wonderful example of a wonderful husband and provider.

  12. shiftinbeauty Says:

    “But I grow weary of a society that generally places a higher value on white collar workers…” I feel much the same as indicated in my first blogs and the reason I feel society really needs to shift their idea of beauty. People are so quick to judge based on looks instead of what makes a person beautiful. You are beautiful, your husband is beautiful and the fact that he worked so hard to provide and give opportunity to your family is beautiful. Very much enjoyed where your coming from!

  13. Thanks for your post, it was right on, one hundred percent. I worked rebuilding engines before, the grease and grime that goes with the job are almost indelible, not going away, quickly unless you remove the skin and fingernails. We’re living in an upside down world. The work ethic is gone, pretty well disappeared. 70 years ago people would gladly work for room and board, a place to sleep and food in your stomach was number one on the agenda at one time. I worked at a day labor place in Minneapolis so I could eat in 1965. The modern world is different today because there are not enough hands getting dirty, hands getting the jobs done, that need doing. Dirty hands should be an incentive to a better job. We should not have to bring in foreigners to do jobs and get their hands dirty, on our shift.

  14. Neil Says:

    Visible cleanliness does NOT equate to true cleanliness! People pick up all sorts of bacteria from door handles, hand rails, cell phones, hand-shaking, etc, and never give a second thought to eating with those filthy, disgusting hands! Don’t even get me started on the people who walk out of a public restroom without washing their hands – ugh!!!

    The CDC handwashing guidelines tell us to wash with soap and water, vigorously scrubbing the lather for 20 seconds. Make sure to hit the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under the nails. A lot of people also forget that their thumbs are part of their hands! Antibacterial soap is not necessary, and some infection control experts think it’s possibly harmful in that it interferes with the normal bacterial flora that helps to keep harmful bacteria in check.

    In reality, Randy probably has cleaner hands than most people. Why? Because his hands get really soiled, he spends more than 20 seconds scrubbing (most people probably spend 5 to 10 seconds, if that) and he also applies a lot of friction in order to get them clean. The remaining imbedded dirt? It’s part of his normal flora.

  15. How rude of that person. I have dirtier fingernails than that (broken too) just from gardening – what an incredibly unevolved comment. I am appalled on behalf of you and your husband. My husband is also a blue collar worker – his hands never look clean and believe me he eats PLENTY of hamburgers and is never sick. I cannot believe anyone would even SAY such an insulting thing. Glad you wrote this. Really got my goat. love love c

  16. Mike Says:

    This one really hits close to home. My Dad, even at 70, still works on cars. He comes from a long line of farmers, mechanics and construction workers. Those hands will never be “clean” but they will always be there for anyone broken down and in need at strange hours of the day. They were there for me when I scrapped a knee, needed a little spanking, and hold my Mom when her parents died. They hold the stories of time and experience that no time at my keyboard will ever know. So to the detractors of those hands I say sorry but I’ll take those hands any day. They have taught me so many things I can never repay him for.

  17. My husband has often said
    there is a huge void in the field of skilled tradesmen and machinists. He has been a non-college educated computer draftsman for over twenty years and often goes into shops to supervisor the building of the machines he and his boss design. He laments how few there are who can not only read their blueprints but actually turn them into physical, working machines. And you are right in saying this country would be nowhere without skilled tradesmen. I dare say the country would not even have been built without them. I could get on a soapbox from here but I have a feeling you know exactly where I’m going with this. Good post.

  18. Roy Androli Says:

    I don’t believe you need to defend your husbands dirty hands. I worked in grease and grime for a number of years and the solvent cleaner he probably uses cleans his hands a lot cleaner then any the complainer has used in there whole life time. Randy, thanks for being you guy and a guy that really works for a living.

    • Perhaps I’m not defending dirty hands as much as I am the entire blue collar workforce, which deserves respect. Thank you for stopping by, Roy, and for being a guy who is just fine with grease and grime on his hands.

  19. I have a fondness for hard workin hands – reminds me of my grandparents as well as other family members who get their hands dirty making a living and at times doing what they love to do 🙂 Happy Day – Enjoy!

  20. pkpm519 Says:

    We grew up in a family of hands that were scarred and had dirty fingernails. These were the hands of working men and women that oiled in the dirt…so that others might eat and enjoy their machines!
    We were farmers, my dad repaired farm equipment and charged our neighbors far less than he was actually worth. Dad told us one time of a man wh commented that he had never done anything that got his hands dirty enough to really need washing! How sad, that he has no idea of the work that goes into the items he uses and eats and wears!

  21. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Any real hard working man would say a little dirt and grease never hurt anyone!

  22. Beth Ann Says:

    Look at all of those wonderful comments admiring your wonderful husband’s hands, his work ethic and your obvious love of him. I can not add anything more other than to say that I have met your husband and know that he indeed is a truly good man who deserves much more than shallow criticism.

  23. Valerie Says:

    Beautiful post and it certainly sparked a lot of people’s emotions! Randy sounds like a great guy!

  24. Rosalie Quale Says:

    I totally agree with this. Our country would be nowhere without blue collar workers of all types. Who is going to do all the car repairs in 10 years? Garages are already having a hard time keeping up with the work. I also think back to Dad rushing in from the barn on a Saturday night, doing a quick change and heading to church, along with a lot of other dairy farmers from Buckman. What was more important – being spotless or getting to church on time?

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