Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



All of My Friends

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Cone-y

My Husby had as secret longing.
Oh, it wasn't a bad thing--unless you were the one purchasing the replacements. And, as I frequently pointed out, someone had to.
Maybe I should explain . . .
My Husby had a secret yearning to run over traffic cones.
You heard me right.
He had always wanted to run them over.
I don't know why.
Because they're there?
Because they silently direct his life?
Because they forbid entrance?
All of the above?
But the fact remained that he would dearly have loved to run one over.
And probably would, if he weren't married to me, the person who happily kept him on the straight and narrow.
“Honey, you're getting a bit close.”
“Honey, you'd better move back into the middle of the lane.”
“AAAHHH! HONEY, YOU'RE GOING TO HIT ONE OF THOSE CONES!!!
Driving with us was an interesting experience.
Moving on . . .
He finally gave in to his urge.
But not in the way you may think.
No.
He went out and bought himself a cone of his very own. For two days, it sat on my kitchen table where he could admire it. Then it found its permanent home in the center of our driveway, close to the garage entrance.
I stared at it.
Then at him. What on earth was he thinking?
I soon found out.
Every night when he came home from work, he drove over it, flattening it completely.
Then, when he backed out in the morning, it sprang back upright ready and waiting to welcome him home once more.
He was a happy man.
And who knew those things were so tough?
If I had found out sooner, I might have let him hit a couple.
Not.
Now, with that taken care of, all that's left is deciding what to do about my secret urge.
To drive through one of those little wooden barriers that they put across restricted roads.
I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Blue Plate Special


When this . . .
Becomes this . . .







Dinner time on the Stringam ranch was the best part of the day.
Plenty of good food.
Lots of company.
Stimulating conversation.
The quiet melding of day's work and evening's relaxation.
But, as usually happens, the good times must end.
And be followed by the un-stimulating. The mundane.
The dishes.
A subtle reminder that there was payment required for the privilege of eating at one of the world's best tables.
Sigh.
Everyone had their assignments.
Up until this point, mine had been to collect the silverware.
And things un-breakable.
Oh, and stay out from under foot of those whose job it was to deal with the more fragile of the table's settings.
But I had recently turned eight.
My duties had suddenly become more onerous.
Remember what I said about things breakable?
That would definitely come in here . . .
My job now included the ceremonial carrying of the plates to the sink.
The beautiful plates that featured a hand-drawn etching of either a horse or a bull.
For the first few weeks, I carried them one at a time.
It took a while, but no plate was damaged.
Then I got . . . efficient.
And creative.
If I scraped everything onto one plate, I could stack the plates at the table and, theoretically, carry them several at a time to the sink.
A much more efficient system.
And a great saving of my valuable time.
I did it.
First with a couple of plates.
Then three.
Four.
Finally, through a system of trial and error, I discovered that I could carry a total of eight plates at a time.
The time savings were astronomical.
I staggered under the weight of so many heavy dishes, but I got my job done in a fraction of the time.
Genius.
One evening, Dad had watched me at my job.
Eyeing the heavy stack of plates uncertainly.
“Are you sure you can carry all of those, Diane?”
“Oh, I do it all of the time, Daddy!” I chirped happily, pulling the stack towards me.
“Well they look a bit heavy for you.”
“On, no! Look. I can do it!”
No sooner were the words out of my mouth then the entire stack of beautifully illustrated plates slipped from my hands and fell to the floor.
It was a crash of Biblical proportions.
I don't know what that means, but it sounds mighty.
Which it was.
The crash, I mean.
For a moment, I stared in horror at the mass of broken crockery at my feet.
The sound had drawn people from the far reaches of the house.
And even in from the yard, where the cowboys were enjoying an evening smoke.
Everyone was present to witness my utter failure.
There was only one thing to do.
Cry.
And I made it good.
Angry words were swallowed as everyone rushed to comfort me.
Not.
“Diane, what did I just say?”
Gulp. “The stack was too heavy.”
“And . . .?”
“It wa-a-a-a-s!”
“Okay, no use crying over it,” Mom said, coming to my rescue. “Help me clean it up.”
I should mention here that Jerry, he whose job it was to wash that night, should have thanked me for relieving him of a large part of his chore.
He didn't. He owes me one.
Moving on . . .
One plate survived. One of the horses.
And it remained, a gentle, subtle reminder that one should never take on too much at once.
Or tragedy can follow.
Good lessons. Expensively taught.
Sigh.
The lone survivor.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Nine

This poem was originally written when our eldest turned nine.
Since that day, we've had many family members pass that great milestone.
Our fifth grandchild just attained it.
This is for him . . .
Eldest son, Mark, Nine Years Old
Number Five. With grandparents . . .
Well, now I'm nine and you can see
The changes time has wrought in me.
I've grown three feet since I was born,
As tall and slim as a stalk of corn.

I've learned about so many things,
I know of bikes and kites and strings.
I can cook and clean and comb my hair,
And help my brothers with evening prayer.

I can haul in wood, or hammer nails,
Or water trees with heavy pails.
I can hold the baby, shine my shoes,
Or sit with you and discuss the news.

I can play piano perfectly,
And beat you at Monopoly.
I can take out garbage, weed and hoe,
Then eat the carrots, row by row.

In fact I've grown so big and tall,
With doing chores and playing ball,
That maybe you can't really see
How young and weak I still can be.

How I take Raccoon to bed at night,
And ask you to leave on the light.
How I still like my whole face kissed
And like to make a 'Christmas List'.

And even though I numb your knee,
I like to be held tenderly.
I like to know that you are proud
And have you tell me right out loud.

Please understand, with all my size,
With knowing looks in big brown eyes,
That I am not as big, you see
As my outside appears to be.

Ignore my size and adult airs,
Forget that I've climbed lots of stairs.
Just hug and kiss and try to see
That little child inside of me.

Mondays would be just another day without poetry!
My friends Delores and Jenny agree.
Visit them and see how they've started their week!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Making His 'Mark'

The scene of the crime
University of Guelph
Notice the tower in the back.
That's all. Just notice it . . .
It's the end of June and the high school graduations have been ongoing for weeks.
They remind me of another grad that I only heard about, but that will stay with me forever . . .
I don’t want you to get the idea that my Dad, Mark Stringam, was a trouble- maker.
Okay, maybe I do.
Dad was a trouble-maker. I think it had something to do with being born on April 1.
If the theory that ‘the day makes the child’ means anything.
Okay, yes, I just made that theory up.
Moving on . . .
So Dad was born on April 1 and thought it was as good an excuse as any to be . . . mischievous.
His pranks at home and in grade school are many.
And varied.
And will be dealt with in future blogs.
This story is about a prank from his college years. One where foresight would have been helpful.
Another of his smellier pranks is illustrated here.
Back to my story.
Dad went to Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph.
Named for the beautiful province of Ontario, where it resided.
Okay, so creative naming wasn’t their strong suit.
It was an excellent college.
It managed to take a young goof-ball.
And turn him into a learned, young goof-ball.
He graduated in 1948.
It was a date worth celebrating.
So his classmates did.
With bottles and glasses of things alcoholic.
But Dad didn’t drink.
He had to get creative and endanger himself in a whole different way.
Something he accomplished by hanging (with a couple of friends) from the water tower and painting a large ‘Grad 48’ on the side.
Dad’s 'celebrating' could be seen for miles.
He was very proud.
Not everyone saw the beauty and creativity in Dad’s accomplishment, however.
There were words.
Loudly and irately spoken.
By people in authority.
Which Dad ignored.
And then a team of steeplejacks was brought in from Toronto to paint out his sign.
And obliterate what the management considered his lack of creative and artistic talent.
Pfff. What does management know?
Dad watched the men clamber around on the tower.
Taking hours to do what had only taken him minutes.
But he learned something:
1. Jobs requiring you to dangle 100 feet off the ground should be undertaken with safety apparatus.
2. Any job worth doing is worth doing well.
3. Steeplejacks make more money than veterinarians.
Oh, I’m not saying he internalized what he learned.
He just had fun learning it.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Good Prank


Tools for tagging and/or causing trouble
As the only veterinarian for 100 square miles, Dad was called upon for many different animal situations.
Some dire.
And some not so much.
It was also his job to carry out the government programs of the time.
Brucellosis testing, for one.
And vaccinating for whatever was currently deemed important.
I should probably explain that, when a government vaccine program was initiated, the bottles of vaccine were sent along with little, metal tags.
After an animal had been properly vaccinated, a tag was clamped at the edge of one ear.
Proof of the deed.
Both duties involved long hours standing beside a chute - vaccine gun in one hand and tagging pliers in the other - while cattle were shuffled and sorted.
One herd was taking a particularly long time.
Unseasoned help?
Uncooperative animals?
Whatever the reason, Dad found himself standing for long periods of time with literally nothing to do.
Not a good situation for someone like him.
Mischief happens.
The owner had turned away, trying to see over the fence at what was going on in the next pen.
Dad glanced over.
The coat and coveralls the rancher was wearing were . . . right there.
Hmmm.
He reached out with his tagging pliers.
And tagged.
Deftly (Ooh, I like that word!) and effectively pinning the man's coat and coveralls together.
The work continued.
Cattle were pressed forward down the chute.
Vaccinated and tagged.
And released.
Finally, the long job drew to a close.
As Dad was packing away his instruments, the rancher invited him inside for a chat and a hot drink.
I should mention here that the people who live in the wide stretches of ranching country are among the most welcoming and friendly in the world.
Any excuse is a good excuse for an invitation to visit.
I love it.
Back to my story . . .
Dad accepted the invite - albeit reluctantly. He knew what was coming . . .
The two of them walked to the farm house.
And into the back porch.
Dad removed his boots.
The rancher did the same.
Dad removed his coat.
The rancher . . . didn't.
Oh, there was an attempt.
Some grunting and a couple of gruff words.
But, for some reason, the man and his coat simply couldn't . . . part company.
So to speak.
Finally, the man stripped off his coat and coveralls together.
And discovered the little, metal clip that held both of them firmly together.
He turned an accusing glare on Dad.
Who, with a wide grin on his face, found somewhere else to look.
The tag was easily pried off.
And coat and coveralls hung neatly – and separately – in the closet.
But the prank was never forgotten.
For years afterwards, whenever vaccinating, my Dad, veterinarians in general, the Government, ranching, chores, or ranch life were mentioned, that rancher would recall the time that Dad stapled him into his clothes.
The days come and go on a ranch.
But a good prank goes on forever.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Home Wreckers, Inc.

I really wanted to take Shop class.
Working with power tools. Smelling the aroma of freshly-sawn wood as you constructed your first-ever end table.
Making pottery and jewelry.
A handi-girl's dream.
But in 1970 (yes that's really when I started high school) at Erle Rivers High in Milk River, Alberta girls weren't allowed to take Shop class.
I know. Because I asked.
Moving on . . .
I, and the rest of the girls, took Home Economics. Home Ec., for short.
Or Home Wreck, as it was not-so-affectionately titled.
So we were 'Home-Wreckers'.
The place where we 'learned' to sew.
Cook.
Clean.
And generally find our way around running a home.
Once I got past not being able to take Shop, I really had fun.
I sewed a potholder. An apron.
And a little purple linen dress with the sleeves in backwards.
Sigh.
I baked cookies. Made Chicken-a-la-King served in little toast cups.
And Gourmet Hot Dogs.
I learned the proper way to scour pots (and the sink).
Scrub a floor.
And generally make my house squeaky clean.
Sew straight. Cook carefully. And scrub hard.
I did pass. With unremarkable marks.
And, surprisingly, I actually used some of the things I learned.
And still do today.
There is a codicil:
Now my brother . . .
Yes, they allowed boys to take Home Ec. 
For one glorious week sometime during the year.
And yes, I know it wasn't fair . . .
My brother remembers Home Wreck differently.
He remembers cooking.
Something he excels at today.
And hunting for mice with frying pans and spatulas.
Boys make everything more fun.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dining Car

I probably don’t have to tell you that Canada is a large country.
In bygone years, the men who manned the trains crisscrossing it spent a long time aboard those trains.
A long time.
In those days, they spent much of the trip and all of their downtime in the little caboose as it clicked faithfully along the rails at the tail end of the train. It became their little ‘home away from home’. There, they did their visiting, sleeping, reading, game-playing, cooking and eating.
Let’s discuss these last two for a moment . . .
One group, in an effort to be fair, took it in turns to cook and wash up.
They had one rule: If anyone criticized the cooking in any way, their turn was accelerated instantly through the queue and they found themselves with spatula (or spoon) in hand for the next meal.
Yeah. Probably best to keep your mouth shut unless you had a hankering to take over as cook.
So the men silently choked down whatever they were given. No matter how unpalatable.
They still had to take their turn when it came, but at least they weren’t handed the apron at a moment’s notice.
One man in the group seemed singularly unable to create anything remotely appetizing. Or even edible.
Yeah. We’re definitely not talking gastronomic ecstasy here.
His friends were enduring his most recent effort, silently forking down breakfast.
Or what passed for breakfast.
One man poked disconsolately (real word!) at the blackened bit of char that had started life as an egg.
The cook narrowed his eyes, his hand tightening spasmodically on the spatula.
This is my story. I’ll imagine it how I want . . .
The man looked up and forced a smile at the cook. “Hank,” he said. “You burned the eggs.”
Hank smiled slowly and moved toward him, already extending his cooking utensil of choice.
“Which is truly remarkable,” his friend added, “Because it’s just how I like ‘em!”
Creative criticism.
It’s an art.
P.S. The trains that span our great country no longer pull a caboose behind them. With faster trains and shorter hauls between stops—and with improvements in technology—they simply aren’t needed.
I miss them.

The cover for my book, Daughter of Ishmael is once more in the news!
Having won the contest last week, it is now in the running for a larger prize.
Could you go to: http://indtale.com/polls/creme-de-la-cover-contest
And give it your vote!
You know I'll love you forever!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

All You Need

Finished at last.
Note: Large silver quonset (Center)
House, far left.
For one summer, the Stringams lived in a quonset.
Between moving from one ranch to another.
And waiting for our house to be finished.
You can read about it hereherehereherehereherehere, or here.
(It was a long summer . . .)
We had electricity, but no indoor plumbing or heat.
It could easily have been an ordeal.
My ultra-organized mother made it an adventure.
But even SuperMom couldn't control the weather.
And summers must end.
Especially in Canada.
It had been getting colder.
Noticeably colder.
We could lay in our beds and see our breath.
A fact that made us reluctant to leave said beds.
And we were setting new records for getting dressed.
Mom was starting to gaze longingly at her nearly-finished house across the field.
The one that didn't yet have any indoor plumbing or heat.
Rather like the place she was living in.
But it did have one attractive attribute.
One modern convenience.
It had a fireplace.
Okay, well, maybe not such a modern convenience.
Moving on . . .
Mom had been nervously studying the weather forecast every day.
And eyeing the house.
Which crept all-too-slowly towards completion.
Which would come first?
Winter?
Or her beautiful new home?
And then, the day arrived when all discussion became moot.
Because no one tells winter when to arrive.
Which it did.
With a fury.
A not-so-rare September blizzard.
We had a little lead time.
Schools were quickly closed to give students time to bus home.
Anyone who's ever been caught out on the shelter-less prairies in a blizzard knows that that is something to be avoided at all costs.
When we arrived at the quonset, it was to see Mom and Dad frantically packing.
For the next couple of hours, we carted carloads of necessities from the quonset to the house.
By late afternoon, though, the time was definitely up.
One could no longer see to drive.
Even in the barnyard.
We would have to make do with what had already been hauled.
Mom started organizing.
A few hours later, everyone was quite comfortably settled in the one room of the new house that was inhabitable.
The downstairs family room.
Mom had bedrolls laid out.
An electric stove set up.
And ropes strung to hang things on.
The kids were soon fed and in bed.
The dishes washed and stacked.
Mom still didn't have indoor plumbing.
In fact, nothing in the house worked.
And there was a monster storm was raging outside.
But Mom was doing something she had been dreaming about since she first set foot in the quonset, months before.
Sitting in front of a fire.
With every part of her warm at the same time.
Life was good.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Printed Love

Grade Twelve English 30.
My favourite class of all time.
What could possibly be better than reading books and stories and then talking about them?
Or of writing your own?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Our teacher was a veteran of many, many years. She had taught each of my three elder siblings and survived.
And now it was my turn.
Most of the time, I was fairly quiet in her class - choosing mostly to listen as the conversations went on around me. Keeping my opinions to myself, except when they could be submitted in a written format.
My grades were good.
We were working our way through a thick volume of short stories. Some exciting. Some bizarre. Some sweet and romantic.
It was during this last that I came to grief.
Let me explain . . .
We were reading a story about a man who saw a beautiful hand-made doll in the window of a local shop. The doll affected him greatly. It seemed to 'speak' to him.
He purchased it and tried to find out more about it and the person who had made it.
He discovered that the doll and others like it were made locally and that a woman usually brought them in to the shop a few at a time.
He tracked down the woman.
She was not the artist.
Instead, she kept the real doll-maker a virtual prisoner, and forced her to keep making dolls, which were then sold.
The imprisoned doll-maker was justifiably sad and put all of the love she would have given her unborn children into her dolls. Which was why they were so beautiful.
The man fell in love with the captive doll-maker, stole her away and married her.
And they lived happily ever after.
Okay, I admit it, when I read this story, I discovered that I'm a romantic.
I loved it.
Loved the 'happily ever after' ending.
I was excited for the discussion to start . . .
“How many of you liked this story?” the teacher asked.
My hand shot up.
Then slowly lowered as I realized that I was the only person in the class who had raised one.
“This story was drivel!” the teacher said. “Absolute tripe!” She stomped around the front of the class. “Stupid romantic nonsense! Waste of good print! Waste of time!”
She added several more derisive comments, then stopped and stared at me.
My hand was back on my desk.
“Well, I thought it was romantic!” One of the other girls tried to come to my aid.
The teacher snorted. “Hmph! Don't know why it was included in this book! Maybe as an example of lousy writing!”
The class was silent.
“Asinine garbage! Should be torn out of the book!” She glared around. “Any other thoughts?”
Let me put it this way . . . the discussion following this story didn't take up much time.
The story was given a brief technical reckoning, then dismissed.
And the class moved on to the next story.
I moved with them, reading and responding to my assignments.
Suspense.
Mystery.
Humour.
But I never forgot my first romantic story.
I read and re-read it.
Loving it more each time.
Mmmm.
Romance.
I still think I was right.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Back of His Head

I was visiting my folks, we had had a nice day,
I’d been married three weeks, had been living ‘away’.
“There’s just one thing I hate about marriage,” I said.
“When he goes out the door. It’s the back of his head.”

“I wish he could stay at home always. With me.”
Dad smiled, “You’ll be glad when he goes, Hon, you’ll see.”
“With your work and your chores, he’ll just be in the way,
You’ll be glad for the back of his head every day.”

Now I have to admit often Dad had it right,
With his bits of advice and his splendid insight.
But, frankly, in this, well Dad’s counsel was flawed,
(I still marvel at this ‘cause that really was odd!)

And for forty-one years now, my Husby’s left home,
Dressed in his best, with his hair freshly combed.
His tie in its place and his briefcase in hand,
With footsteps so sure, his position, he’s manned.

And each day as I stood there, to bid him good-bye,
I have to admit, there were tears in my eyes.
But happiness bloomed when, once more, he’d return,
Worn out from his day, as our living, he’d earned.

But something quite different has happened today,
‘Cause this was the last time I’ll send him away.
Today, he retires. Yes his work life is done,
And from here on I’ll spend my days with ‘HoneyBun’!

So, Daddy, I know that you’re watching from ‘there’.
I know, your advice you dispensed ’cause you cared.
But in this you were wrong, Dad. You have to agree,
I’m happy ‘cause Husby’ll be home now, with me!

Mondays are for Poetry!
My good friends Jenny and Delores agree with me!
Head on over and see how their week is starting!
You'll be glad you did!

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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