Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Preserved

And yes, that is a jester costume . . .
When we were teenagers, my husby and I got involved in theatre.
And stayed involved.
This year marks 48 years for me.
And slightly more for him.
I know, I know. Do the math.
That makes us both . . . old.
But we love it.
We raised our children on the stage.
All six of them.
A recent production, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers closed recently.
To a standing ovation.
Our youngest son, Tristan was singing the role of Adam.
And as I watched him, I couldn't help but remember his first time on stage, at the age of 5.
We weren't sure if he would remember lines, so we made him a mute.
Big mistake.
He hasn't stopped talking since.
Then I thought about all of the roles he has had in his short lifetime.
And other experiences he has had on the stage.
Let me tell you about one.
We were setting up the stage for a production of “I Hate Hamlet”.
Look it up. It's funny.
We were trying different configurations with our set pieces.
One piece, a double glass door in it's own frame, was built by a home builder.
He hadn't understood that set pieces were supposed to drag around easily.
And be . . . light.
He had built it according to building code requirements.
So . . . definitely not light.
We had stood it up and were discussing where it should go in the grand scheme of things.
My son, Tristan was sitting innocently in a chair on stage, waiting for his parents to finish moving furniture around.
We stepped away from the door, intent on another piece of scenery.
And that's when it tipped.
The door, I mean.
Forward.
Towards my son.
It was one of those things that you could see happening.
But were powerless to stop.
For a moment, time slowed to a crawl.
The door dropped.
Down.
Down.
And smacked the back of our son's chair off.
Really.
A large, heavy, wooden chair.
Broke the back right off.
Our son turned and looked.
The door had missed him, quite literally, by a whisker.
I watched him singing that night.
And saw him with his little family later.
I thought about that wall falling towards him so many years ago.
Obviously preserved for greater things.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Wire Art

Art isn't always found on display.
And real artists don't necessarily work in a studio.

A true work of art . . .
On a ranch, fences are rather important.
They mean the difference between control and chaos. 
With a good fence, one can dictate which animals live where.
And which of the bulls certain cows are exposed to.
It probably isn't obvious, but with purebred animals, control means the difference between a progressive herd.
And one that is headed only for the meat market.
It is an exacting science of reading pedigrees and understanding genetics.
I rode the horses and put cows where Dad told me.
You can see where I was on the 'ranching is science' scale.
So back to the control thing . . .
A good fence means that things are ordered.
Predictable.
Profitable.
Poor fences spell trouble.
And diminishing returns.
Thus, the most important task on the Stringam Ranch outside of actually . . . associating with the cattle, was building fences.
Something Dad did rather well.
Let me tell you about it.
Building a four-wire barbed wire fence takes many stages.
First, the building of the corners, a sturdy framework of posts and neatly twisted wire, capable of sustaining enormous pull.
Then stringing the wire between the corners. This is a tricky part. As my brother, George can attest.
Then, planting posts in a straight line along the wires.
Note: Hold post from the side 
Accomplished with a 'post pounder' mounted on a tractor. A useful, but potentially dangerous gizmo. (Side note: hold post from the side.)
Then tacking said wires to said posts.
This was my job.
All it took was a steady hand.
Or if you lacked that, stamina.
Which was what I had.
If the first whack or two didn't get the staple into the post, the next 14 whacks would.
Moving on . . .
This was at that point most of the fence-builders would pack up their tools and call the job finished.
And where the true artists shone.
Remember, we were talking about my Dad.
Once the fence was actually assembled, Dad would stand back and look at it.
I should point out here that the fields in Southern Alberta are seldom flat. They may not change much, but they do change.
And a fence has to run smoothly along them.
I emphasize the word 'smoothly'.
If a fence goes down into a dip, then up again, the tightly stretched wires can actually, over time, pull the lower posts up out of the ground.
True story.
And that is where Dad came in.
He would walk along the fence, find the places where the line would dip, and weight it.
Really.
He would find a large rock (not uncommon on the prairies), tote it over to the dip, fasten a wire around it firmly, then attach the rock to the fence, pulling the wires down so they followed the ground perfectly.
I had watched him do this so often that, to me, that's just how it was done.
I was wrong.
Once, an elderly rancher from west of us came looking for the county veterinarian.
Who happened to be out building fence.
The man drove up in his rusted old pick-up and stopped near where my Dad and brothers were working.
Climbing out of his truck, he greeted everyone, then stood and watched their activities.
Finally, Dad finished with his current wire and rock creation, and turned to speak to the old man.
Only to find him in tears.
Thinking the man had a real emergency, Dad quickly walked over.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Oh nothing," the old man said, blowing his nose. "It's just that I haven't seen that kind of fence-building in fifty years!"
True artists appreciate true art.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Pew

Old Cowboy Joe was telling tales in Main Street yesterday,
Describing his adventures in the city far away,
But Joe, he didn’t know the terms or language he should use,
So Charlie helped him so his hearers wouldn’t be confused.

Now Joe said, “I arrived at church, t’was Sunday, ‘fore sunrise.
They had me park Ol’ Blue, my truck in their corral, sidewise.”
“It’s not ‘corral’, Old Joe,” said Charlie, in a quiet voice,
“It’s ‘parking lot’, please get it right. Just make the proper choice.”

Ol’ Joe just shrugged and nodded and continued with his tale,
“I left Ol’ Blue and moseyed to the door along the trail.”
Charlie rolled his eyes and leaned on in toward his friend,
“It’s called a ‘sidewalk’, Joe,” he said. “You’ll get it, in the end.”

Joe looked at him and made a face, then started in once more,
“I met this dude there in the church, he was just inside the door.”
“That ‘dude’ would be the ‘usher’, Joe,” said Charlie, with a grin.
“He’s the guy who meets you there, the instant you walk in.”

“He led me down the chute,” Joe said. “I followed where he led.”
“An ‘aisle’ not a ‘chute’,” Chuck said. “Come on, Joe, use your head!”
Joe rubbed his nose. “With Chuck’s consent, I’d like to end my tale.”
Then Charlie smiled, “It’d go so well if you, my friend, spoke ‘braille’!”

“I stood there, just inside the church and looked around a bit,
“The dude then led me to a stall and showed me where to sit.”
Chuck looked at him. “A ‘stall’?” he said. Then spat the word out, “Pew!”
Joe said, “That dame I sat beside? Well, that’s what she said, too!”

Monday's for POETRY!
Come on, it needs all the  help it can get!
Delores and Jenny agree with me.
Mosey on over and see what they've done...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Gates to...

Approach carefully. It's tricky
On a ranch, there are gates.
Many gates.
In the corrals, big gates made of long, wooden boards.
That are fun to swing on.
As long as your Dad doesn't catch you.
Ahem . . .
Along the hundreds of miles of barbed-wire fences in the pastures, the gates are made of . . . barbed wire.
Go figure.
Barbed wire gates are fashioned by four or five long pieces of wire stretched between two end posts. Then three or four lighter 'dancers' (smaller poles) are nailed to these wires to keep them from tangling when the gate is being opened or closed.
Barbed wire gates are a bit tricky, but easily used, once you get the knack. With practice (and a cooperative horse) one can even open and close these gates without ever having to get out of the saddle.
If one has an skittish (ie. stupid) horse, the mere thought of dragging a fence post and wires a few feet leads to Entertainment!
Notice the capital 'E'.
Okay, one doesn't have to look for excitement on a ranch.
Soooo . . . gates.
And using them.
My Mom, raised on a ranch and married to a rancher, never quite got the knack of the barbed wire gates.
I should point out here that, when we were riding, we took turns opening and closing. When we were driving, the person riding 'shotgun' was the designated gateman. Because Mom was so entertaining, she was always stuck in that seat. So the rest of us could watch.
Oh, Mom could open the gates, a trick in itself. And close them.
An even better trick.
But that is where her difficulty started.
Because somehow, she always closed them with herself on the wrong side. Whereupon (good word) she would have to either perform the entire operation again, or crawl through.
She always chose the latter.
And the rest of us had a good chuckle while she did so.
Okay, you're right, we did have to look for our entertainment.
But at least we didn't have to look far . . .

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Blink

In happier times...

My Dad was in the blacksmith shop.
And wherever Dad went, we kids trailed after.
Because.
Why is it that everything Dad does is interesting?
For the first couple of minutes.
After that, one's short attention span rather gets in the way.
But I'm getting ahead of myself . . .
Two-year-old Blair had followed Dad to the shop. Mom was in hospital with newborn sister, Anita, and Gramma was babysitting.
But Dad did such interesting things . . .
For a short time, Blair had been fascinated with simply watching as Dad puttered.
Then, other interesting sights caught his attention.
Tools.
Horseshoes.
Old paint cans filled with stuff.
He began to explore.
Dad kept an eye on him as he toddled about.
Then, Dad turned on the air compressor.
Its roar filled the old, log-built room and drew every kid in the vicinity.
Blair.
He watched, fascinated as the wheel spun.
"Now you stay back, son," Dad told him firmly.
And he did. For a very, very long time. He was two. Thirty seconds is a very, very long time when you're two.
Dad turned his back for a moment.
Blair saw his chance. He moved forward and reached out to touch the spinning wheel. For a moment, he couldn't figure out what had happened.
Then the pain started.
He screamed.
Dad spun around to see Blair shaking his hand and spraying blood everywhere.
He grabbed him, pulled out his every-ready handkerchief to wrap around the wounded hand and headed for the house.
Dad made the trip to the hospital in record time.
And that is something when you are traveling on uncertain dirt roads.
Soon, Blair was home again, with a neat glove bandage around his pointer finger.
Which now was missing part of the first joint.
Dad figures that the spinning belt caught it and nipped it off against the flywheel.
A terrible wound.
Leaving a scar. And a story to impress girls with twenty years later.
Ahem . . .
But a fixable wound.
And a solemn reminder that turning your back for a second is all it takes.
Ranches can be dangerous.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wings of Death

Does this scare you?

Debbie's family lived on a ranch not far from ours. Her father had worked for my parents as a young man, before he had married.
They had remained good friends.
As had Debbie and I, once we had made our respective appearances (ie. born).
In our senior year, I stayed with them for a semester. They were kind, wonderful people. Very clever and full of fun.
Debbie and I had a room in the basement. Lovely twin beds and assorted other furniture.
With the lamp hanging over her bed.
This is an important point.
She was also terrified of moths.
Another important point.
And I liked to read at night after climbing into bed.
These all tie together.
Let me explain . . .
It was late. Debbie had long been trying to sleep.
I was reading.
It never occurred to me that I was being inconsiderate, though I knew full well the room's only light hung directly over her.
She tossed and turned and finally huffed and, throwing back the covers, got out of bed.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Bathroom,” she mumbled.
Just then, a moth that had been fluttering around in the light for the past half-hour, made the mistake of appearing where Debbie could see him. “Screech!” In a blur, she headed towards the door.
For some inexplicable reason, the moth followed her out into the dark hall.
You never can tell with moths.
There was another horrendous screech and Debbie darted back into the room, jumped into her bed and pulled the covers over her head.
The moth fluttered in happily behind her and was soon once more dancing in the light.
“STUPID MOTH! SHUT OFF THAT STUPID LIGHT!” Debbie shouted, through the covers.
I stared at the quivering lump that was my friend. “How on earth did you know the moth followed you into the hall?”
“HE TOUCHED MY FACE! SHUT OFF THE LIGHT!”
I complied.
Imagine. Frightened of a silly moth.
Now if it had been something truly scary. Like a spider . . .

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Baby Words

Husby and I spent the last weekend in Provo, Utah.
He, walking, relaxing and catching-up-on-sleep in the Marriott.
Me, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ally Condie, Brandon Sanderson, James Dashner and Jennifer Nielsen at the Storymakers Conference.
Yep. Just me (and over 700 other writers) were all sharing with and learning from the best and brightest, including several New York Times bestselling authors.
What a weekend!
But, as with any good thing, it ended. And now I have the long months to wait until Storymakers 2018.
But, after we had packed up and checked out, something happened that made the joyous weekend of books and words last just a teensy bit longer . . .
Husby and I decided to attend Church a short distance from the hotel. We walked in as the congregation was singing a hymn. (Yes, we were late.)
We took a seat near the back, where many of the families with small children had taken up residence. (And yes, I was missing my grandchildren, so this was the perfect place for us.)
A tiny girl—just shy of actually walking—was in the pew just across the aisle from us. For the first few seconds, she stared steadily at Husby’s bearded face.
Yeah, he gets that a lot.
Then another couple walked in (We weren’t the latest arrivals. Whew!) with a tinier baby in a carrier. They took a seat a few rows back from us and set the carrier down on the floor in the aisle right next to their bench.
The little girl’s attention was immediately diverted. “OOOH!” she said, pointing to the baby. Getting down on her hands and knees, she quickly closed the distance between her and her soon-to-be-best-friend.
Her parents watched her go.
Did they jump up and retrieve their wandering daughter?
Nope.
Instead, her father quietly took out a board book and propped it up on the floor in the aisle beside their family’s pew where it would be in plain sight of their little explorer.
The tiny girl sat down beside the baby carrier, then spied the book.
“OOOH!” she said again. She started crawling back toward her family. And her book.
Halfway back, she again sat down, her head swiveling between the baby and the book. Hmmm . . . which to pursue?
Finally, decision made, she closed the distance between her and her reading material. Happily, she grabbed the book. Her dad grabbed her and the two of them proceeded to make their way through something brightly-coloured and catchy.
The baby in the carrier slept on, unaware that her friend had abandoned her for an adventure of the printed kind.
And I realized how important it is that we are readers. That we are raising future readers.
And the thought struck: If more children chose reading over hanging with friends, what kind of world would we live in?
Just wondering . . .


Monday, May 15, 2017

Honey Bun

My husby and I went to dinner today.
It’s something we both like to do.
(Let’s face it, I love it when someone else cooks,
Then tidies and does dishes, too.)

Talk drifted through topics both varied and wide,
Like politics, family and pain,
(With short bouts of silence to fork in some food,)
Then starting the talk once again.

We studied our fellow restaurant customers,
And yes. All our comments were nice.
(I know it was something you wondered about,
We were tempted at least once or twice.)

Then the dialogue turned, as it oftentimes does,
To topics light-hearted, amusing,
(I admit I prefer it when talk turns that way
I find it to be less confusing.)

We were talking of heroes and who we thought great,
Of qualities never found lacking,
And whom should be honored. Whom we should retain,
And which should just be sent packing.

My Husby’s my hero, I’ll freely admit.
Though, compared to the others, he’s…round.
His kindness and his generosity shine,
And with many good things, he abounds.

But Husby decided as the talking went on,
My Stud Muffin he just couldn’t be.
Instead he’d consider himself something more,
He’d be my Stud Bun now. To me.

So know as your reading this, Husby and me,
Are having some wonderful fun,
Exploring and wandering throughout the world,
Just me and my honey(stud)bun.

Monday needed help.
So Delores, Jenny and I decided that a little poetry would liven things up a bit.
This is my attempt. 
Hurry over to see what they’ve done!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Something Scary

“Norma, have you seen—?” I stopped in the doorway.
My sister was standing atop a chair.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Standing on a chair doesn’t seem so strange.
What makes it unique in this case is that the chair was atop a table. With that table perched rather precariously on the couch.
So my rather cumbersome and less-than-svelte sister was on a chair. On a table. On a couch. With her white head a mere inch from the very, very tall ceiling in our front room.
Yeah. That was my reaction, too.
I hurried over to her. “Norma, are you insane?!”
She peered down at me and grinned. “Ummm—probably.”
I gazed up at her. “Do you mind telling me what you’re doing?”
She looked around, still with that large grin on her face. “Just—seeing.”
I frowned at her. “Seeing?”
“Mmm-hmm.”
“Seeing—what?”
“What she sees. She must float around up here—our ghost—looking down on us.” She raised her eyebrows. “It’s quite a view!”
I stepped back. “You are insane!”
“I know it’s kind of a roundabout way of doing it.”
I made a face. “You think?”
“And I know what you’re going to say.”
“I’ve already said it.”
She laughed. “You’re going to say, ‘Back in my day, people didn’t hearken to insidious voices that told them to stand on chairs.”
I stared at her. “I’ve never talked that way in my life.”
“Oh. Well. Someone would say it.”
I rolled my eyes. “And we both know who that someone is.”
Norma suddenly squeaked loudly and quickly began to lower herself to her knees.
“What?” I looked around. “What did you see?”
“Oh, Sis! I saw—” She stopped talking as the pile upon which she perched rocked dangerously. Norma stopped moving. When it settled a moment later, she finished climbing down from the precarious stack.
“What?! What did you see?” I repeated.
“Oh, you simply wouldn’t believe it! It was the scariest—” she said over her shoulder as she disappeared through the doorway into the kitchen.
Whatever scary thing I wouldn’t believe was lost as the door swung shut between us, blocking all sound.
What had she seen? Was our friendly neighbourhood ghost back in residence? Had Elvis returned? Had they invited friends? I walked over to the couch and looked up at the ceiling but could see nothing. Maybe if I stood a little taller.
I stepped up onto the couch and looked up again. Still nothing. Maybe a bit higher?
In a moment, I was standing atop Norma’s chair. I probably don’t have to tell you it was still perched on the table. On the couch. And yes, I did feel a bit foolish.  I put my hands on the ceiling and peered around.
What on earth had Norma been looking at?
Just then she came back through the kitchen door. “What are you doing up there?”
I looked down at her. “Ummm—seeing?”
“Well, while you’re seeing, could you please get that cobweb?” She handed me the duster and pointed. “We can’t have that in the house. It’s downright scary!”

Once a month, Karen issues a challenge. A word challenge. Words from each of her followers are distributed among the rest of her followers.
It’s fun.
This month, my words were: Insidious ~ Hearken ~ Back in my day ~ Roundabout
And were submitted by: The Bergham Cronicles

Here are the rest of Karen’s writers:
Baking In A Tornado                        http://www.bakinginatornado.com
Spatulas on Parade                         http://spatulasonparade.blogspot.com/
The Blogging 911                         https://theblogging911.com/blog/
Bookworm in the Kitchen      http://www.bookwormkitchen.com/
The Bergham Chronicles                  http://berghamchronicles.blogspot.com
Simply Shannon                           http://shannonbutler.org  
Southern Belle Charm                    http://www.southernbellecharm.com  
Part-time Working Hockey Mom         http://thethreegerbers.blogspot.ch/
Climaxed                                       http://climaxedtheblog.blogspot.com

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Hood

My life has been spent in one gang or another.
My first was quite innocent: sisters and brothers.
From there, I moved up a bit: toddler who dared,
With my nursery gang, all of my exploits, I shared.
Later, my friends and I played in the street,
Our gang was the best and the fleetest of feet.
In school, I discovered a super new bunch,
We hung out together at recess and lunch.
In junior high, ‘cool’ was the group to be in.
And you’d do almost anything just to begin.
My friends in high school were the brightest and best,
Better, I thought, than were all of the rest.
And then finally, in college, the group I located
Was a gang who chased stories and issues debated.
But now I’ve discovered the best gang of all,
Yes, sometimes, they’re noisy and like to start brawls.
They messy, untidy. I do most of the work.
I feel like a cook, driver, cleaner. Or jerk.
But I love every one of them, I’ll not withdraw,
I’m in this gang forever, ‘cause they call me ‘Ma’!
I know in the world, there is stuff that is good,
But I’ll hang with my gang. We’ll be here in the ‘hood’.

Every month about this time, my good friend Karen of Baking in a Tornado give us a chance to contribute a poem on a theme.
May’s? Motherhood. My favourite topic!
See what the others have done!
Karen of Baking in a Tornado
Lydia of Cluttered Genius
Dawn of Spatulas on Parade
Sarah of Not That Sarah Michelle
Kristina Hammer, The Angrivated Mom

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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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