Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

All of My Friends

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Green Hand

It came out of the blue.
Or green, as you will soon see . . .
Mommy was working at her desk in her office.
Little Girl (hereinafter known as LG) was playing at her little craft table in the next room.
Now, I should probably mention, here, that LG is not one of those children who get into things. Nope. She is a 'rules' sort of person. She likes to know them.
And, on occasion, reinforce them.
Especially to any other children in the vicinity.
Also, as an only child, she entertains herself with admirable skill.
Sooo . . . back to my story.
Mommy: Desk.
LG: Standing in the doorway.
"What is it?"
Okay, now she's got mommy's attention. "Mommy, this happened."
Mommy turns around.
LG is holding up her left hand.
Which has been covered, wrist to fingertips, in green marker.
"LG (not her real name) what did you do?!"
"I'm sorry. It just happened."
"Your entire hand got coloured in green marker."
"Ummm . . . yeah."
"How did it happen?"
"I did it."
A shrug. "I just . . . wanted to."
"You wanted to colour your entire hand."
Mommy was getting a little lost. "But . . . why?"
Another shrug.
"What has Mommy said about drawing on yourself?"
"Not to do it."
"So . . . why did you do it?"
A third shrug.
"Let's go and wash, shall we. Then I think we'll have to put the markers away for a while so we can think about this."
And here's what we take away from this:
So you know--out in the world when people do seemingly inexplicable things. Things that make you stare at them and think to yourself: Really? You're going to go with that? Did you even think about this at all?!
Those things?
Yeah, it's still inexplicable.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Soggy, But Triumphant

Front to back: George, Me, Chris, Jerry, Dad and Blair.
Look closely. Can you pick out the intrepid swimmer?
I had never taken swimming lessons.
We simply lived too far from the city (Lethbridge) for it to be a priority. Or even possible.
But I loved to swim.
And, with the river in such close proximity, did it a lot.
In the summer.
In winter, for obvious reasons, we were pretty much shut out.
Then, someone of great intelligence from the town came up with a fantastic idea.
Why not hire a schoolbus and cart a load of kids to Lethbridge once a week?
It was genius!
Swimming lessons had become a reality.
I was going!
The bus ride was a treat. I wasn't confined to my usual fourth row back and Kathy had a portable record-player, which she kept going the entire trip.
Do you have any idea how many times you can listen to the Surfaris 'Wipe-Out' in a fifty-mile bus ride? Answer: A few.
The bus deposited us safely in front of the Civic Center and we scrambled madly for the door and the change rooms, then poured out into the main pool room.
We were ready.
The teachers began to sort us into groups, using a list of highly-specialized criteria.
How old are you? Are you afraid of the water? Have you ever taken swimming lessons before? What colour is your swimsuit?
Do you like boys?
Finally they had us, more or less, categorized.
I had never taken swimming lessons, so I was inserted into the beginners class.
“Okay, kids. See if you can put your face into the water.”
Woohoo! Compliance! I took off like a seal.
“Okay. You! Little girl in the blue swimsuit!” Sigh. “Would someone please fish her out?”
Have I mentioned that I like water?
“Are you sure you've never had lessons?”
Head shake.
“Well, I'm moving you up to the next level.”
And so it went.
By the time we were finished our one-hour lesson, I had been . . . promoted . . . seven times.
It must have been some sort of record, to go from the beginner level to the 'Junior Lifeguard' level.
In one lesson.
Who could have known that all my flailing and thrashing around like a demented fish had actually been getting me somewhere.
Or that, in the still water of a pool, with no current to fight, I could actually make headway.
Really fast headway.
Jerry (the only member of my family who could fight the river's current and win), eat your heart out.
Because miracles do happen.
I was suddenly the soggy and triumphant queen of my little, watery world.
It didn't happen often.
But it was a very good feeling.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Something's Sprung

March bows. A wave good-bye, she earns, 
And April comes and hope returns,
That soon we'll see some warmth and sun
And know that springtime has begun.

When colour will return anew,
And leaves come back and flowers poke through.
The grass turn green. The song of bird
Throughout the warming air be heard.

When soft and pristine breezes blow,
And places, then, to see. And go.
The doors and windows, closed so long,
Are opened wide to catch Spring's song . . .

It's here, you know, that airy Spring,
When bells ring out and songbirds sing,
There's warmth and joy and sunlight's gleam
And spring has sprung--cause I can dream.

Ready to set sail . . .

Someday . . .

Monday is for Poetry.
It starts the week off right, you see.
Now go discover what my friends,
Have done when they two wield their pens!
Delores at Mumblings is having an Ordinary Day
Jenny at The Procrastinating Donkey experienced a true modern dilemma.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


The cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
 And I do mean Cover!
While we're on the topic of modesty . . .
Bit of a departure today, because of an experience.
I had a swimsuit.
I made it.
Long. Old-fashioned. Neck to knees type.
Yes, popular at the turn of the century.
The Twentieth century.
I loved it. It covered me.
It encased anything that might otherwise unexpectedly fall out.
And saved me the aggravation of having to shave my nether regions.
I hated shaving my nethers.
Moving on . . .
Swimming was the only exercise I could do that didn't hurt something.
I swam a lot.
This necessitated my going to the pool.
Usually, I swam in the morning with the other octogenarians.
I fit right in. And no one could see well enough to notice that my swimsuit was different from those found at the local Zellers.
All was well.
But I missed my morning swim one day.
And was forced to go at a later time.
With the younger set.
Who could see.
I strode confidently from the dressing room towards the pool.
And that's when the trouble started.
A group of kids, probably in the 10 to 12 age range was sitting on a large, foam raft not too far from the entrance/exit to the change room.
I entered.
One young girl pointed. And laughed.
I suddenly felt as though I was in junior high again.
It wasn't a pleasant feeling.
But that's not important.
What is important, was how this young girl was . . . dressed.
Her slender little pre-pubescent body was covered, barely (and I use this term deliberately) by two almost non-existent triangles of cloth on her upper half and only slightly larger triangles on her lower half.
She was as close to naked as one can get and still legally appear in public.
And she seemed completely heedless, sitting there amongst other boys and girls her own age, laughing at someone who was dressed in a far more modest, albeit fairly 'unique' swimsuit.
I remember when near-nudity was a source of embarrassment. When one's worst dreams were of appearing somewhere public . . . in a less than exemplary fashion.
Okay, I have to admit that, that day, one of us was embarrassed.
Me. For her.
My point is this: When has modestly become an opportunity to jeer?
When did society do a complete turn-around? When did the naked start laughing at the clothed? (Not that I'm promoting the idea of the clothed laughing at the naked . . .) But when?
I have to admit that I believe in modesty.
It promotes confidence and self-worth. It promotes respectful behavior, both to oneself and to others.
I still wear a similar bathing suit, and will continue to do so.
I'm comfortable.
And isn't that the point?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Clothes Down Under

It was a hot summer day.
The girl whose family owned the only swimming pool in the town was hosting an impromptu pool party with her friends.
One girl came without a swimsuit.
“No problem,” the hostess said, “I have a whole drawer full. Just find one you like!”
She then waved, vaguely, before turning back to her other guests.
The guest disappeared, returning a short time later dressed in a modest blue two-piece.
Tossing out greetings to the young men and women clustered around the pool, she sauntered around to where her hostess was sitting.
And struck a pose.
“What do you think?”
Her hostess looked up, then shrieked and jumped to her feet. “Where did you get that?!” she said.
The guest blinked and glanced around nervously.
All eyes were on her.
“F-from your drawer, like you said.”
“The top drawer?”
“That's my underwear drawer!”
“Eeeeeeee!” the guest sprinted back into the house.
She had been covered.
In what could easily be mistaken for a swimsuit.
But just being told she was wearing underwear made her scramble madly for shelter.
I thought this story was hilarious.
Then, I saw it happen to my Mom.
Well . . . something similar, anyways . . .

Our family was getting ready for church.
My current boyfriend, coming to church with my family for the first time and dressed uncomfortably in a shirt and tie, was seated in the great room, waiting for the rest of us.
I was the next to be ready, so I sat beside him and started talking.
Something I did a lot.
A lot.
But I digress . . .
My mother scurried out of her bedroom and started puttering around in the kitchen, in plain sight of the two of us. She put a roast in the oven for dinner and then started tidying up from breakfast.
I kept talking.
But for some reason, my boyfirend woudn't look at me, but stared, instead, out the window.
I kept talking.
He kept staring fixedly (good word) at something outside.
Suddenly, my mother, still in the kitchen, said, “Oh, my! Look at me!”
I did.
As she was making a fast exit towards her bedroom.
At first I saw nothing wrong.
She was dressed in her usual fashion. Undershirt, bra, full slip.
Skirt. Stockings.
Oh. Wait. Something was missing.
Her blouse.
Suddenly my boyfriend's fixed gaze made sense.
He had noticed as soon as Mom had entered the room.
Huh. Funny that I didn't see it.
Okay, so observant, I'm not.
Mom went through the rest of the day rather pink-faced.
Which was funny.
She had been completely covered.
Modestly, even.
In at least three layers of cloth.
But because the material had been termed 'underwear', she was embarrassed.
As I would have been.
As anyone . . . you get the point.
Aren't we weird?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Early Spell-Checkers

Speller extraordinaire
Speller less extraordinaire

Our second son is, in many ways, like his father.
It's a good thing.
One of the most notable is his ability to spell.
Anything. Any time.
It's a gift.
I should mention, here, that I don't have this gift.
Enough said . . .
It was the early 80's. My brother, Blair, was working on his Bachelor's degree in Engineering.
We had a computer.
Which he visited.
Our computer was in our eight-year-old second son, Erik's room.
Blair would work there by the light of a single lamp. We would hear the clicking of the keys late into the night.
Erik was supposed to be sleeping.
He wasn't.
Occasionally, the keyboard sounds would stop and I would hear the brief sound of voices.
Then the clicking would resume.
Finally, Erik came out of the room, needing a drink of water.
I was tidying the kitchen.
He moved close to me.
"Mom," he whispered. "Uncle Blair can't spell."
Ah. The occasional sound of voices was explained. Blair was consulting with his spell-checker.
It must have worked because he went on to achieve a doctorate in Engineering.
Okay, I admit that today's sophisticated spell-checker programs are probably more efficient and more easily accessible.
And don't need their sleep.
But none of those programs have personality. And certainly aren't as cute.
Yep. Progress isn't always progress.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


There were tears.
Cousins had been playing happily for some time.
They had ranged through the house: upstairs arranging the detailed and extensive Santa’s village; the basement with its vintage western village, playhouse, castle, train and Barbie dolls; the spare room and its Minecraft game.
The hours had passed peacefully as the parents visited.
Then, the tears.
Parent (and grandparent) ears perked up.
Said tears couldn’t be too serious. They were moving—coming up the stairs.
Granddaughter #6 appeared, cradling something. Her face the epitome of woe.
“Gramma?!” she wailed. “It’s broken!”
“What, Sweetheart?”
‘This’ proved to be a small, pink bunny, approximately four inches high, made of super-stretchy silicone.
Designed to be overextended and available at the local dollar store four-for-a-dollar.
With all the toys they had at their disposal, the one she was crying over was this inexpensive little bit of—let’s face it—trash?
She handed it to me. “See? The foot broke off!”
It had indeed. Snapped off cleanly, leaving the stump of a leg.
“Were the kids too rough?” I asked, in my sympathetic ‘Gramma’ voice.
“No. I did it myself. I stretched it too ha-ard!” The last word came out as a wail.
“Well, I’m sorry, Sweetheart, but this can’t be fixed.” I handed it back. “You will have to play a bit more carefully.”
Yeah. No real solutions here. I prepared myself for the protest.
She looked down at the poor maimed little toy and sniffed. Then she brightened. “Hey! Now it’s a pirate!” She spun around and started back toward the stairs. “Arrrr—me hearties!” she said as she started down.
Turning stretchy bunnies into—pirates.
It’s true. The power of positive thinking can do anything.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mary's Story Part Four

(A short story of Fiction) Conclusion

We never got the chance to help Mary.
Two days after that visit, my husband's mother suffered a bad fall, breaking her hip and causing considerable extra damage.
For the next two weeks, when we weren't at Mother's bedside, we were running up and down the road at a frantic pace. Our visits to Mary were cursory and brief.
Through that time, she remained a beacon of light in a darkening world. Cheerful. Helpful. Always there with a smile and a story.
Ready sympathy.
And tea.
When complications set in, we were again by Mother's side, watching helplessly as she slipped quietly away from us.
Broken-hearted and feeling very much alone and vaguely as though we had failed somehow, we spent the next two weeks in a fog as we cleared out the family home and took care of the multitude of services that accompany letting go of someone so dearly loved.
It was a painful time for both of us.
Finally, feeling drained and ineffectual, we were once more in the car and on the road home.
Mary's house appeared in the front window.
"We can no longer be of help to my mother," Frank said softly. "But there's someone else we can help."
We didn't do anything for her during our visit with Mary that day, but it was exactly what the two of us needed.
She made us sit, served us tea and encouraged us to talk about Mother. Choice memories long buried were brought to light and, by the end of the visit, we were even laughing.
It was the beginning of healing.
With one thing and another, the next month passed far too quickly. Without the added incentive of returning to Mother's home, we found it difficult to make the time to visit Mary.
But finally, on a clear, bright Sunday, my husband made the familiar turn.
We found ourselves parked beside a strange vehicle.
Mary's car was nowhere to be seen.
We looked at each other and I shivered. We both knew it. Something was wrong.
We got out quickly and hurried toward the front door.
But the sight of two unfamiliar figures seated on the stone steps stopped us. "Hello?" one of them said.
We approached slowly.
"Hello. I'm Mary and this is my husband, Frank--" I began. I stopped. The couple, a young man and woman were staring at us strangely.
"We know who you are!" the young woman said softly, reaching out her hand. "We wondered if you'd come. We hoped we'd be here if you did."
I raised my hand doubtfully and felt it gripped tightly.
"What's the matter--?" Frank spoke up beside me.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Of course you don't know!" The woman dropped my hand and locked both of hers together. "I'm Mercy Edwards. This is my husband Jacob. We have quite a story to tell you."
"Yes?" Frank prompted.
"Well, she--the woman who lived here. She's--dead."
The words went through me like a bolt of electricity. "Oh, no!" I whispered.
Mercy turned to me. "I'm afraid it's true."
"But how? The last time we saw her, she was fine. Happy!"
Mercy smiled softly. "Yes. I'm quite sure she was." She took a deep breath. "And that's something we need to talk to you about." She turned towards the doorway. "Please, come in. I'm afraid this is going to come as a bit of a shock."
We followed her and Jacob up the steps toward the sweet, familiar home with dragging feet.
How could this be? My mind struggled to take it in.
They paused just outside the door.
Or the gaping hole where the door had been.
And that's when I began to notice the differences.
The front stoop that had been so neat and tidy was looking--neglected. Leaves and dirt had blown up and piled against the stone walls.
The tubs of flowers, so cheerful and bright had disappeared.
The sparkling clean windows were gone. I frowned and moved closer.
Gone. As though they had never been.
Everything seemed to slow down. I turned to Frank and clutched at his hand. He turned a pale face to me. "What's going on?" His voice was faint.
"Please," Jacob said.
Dazed, I looked at him. He and Mercy had moved through the doorway and paused there. He was beckoning to us.
Clutching Frank's hand, I followed them.
Mary's lovely, tidy home had been transformed.
Gone were the furniture and trappings. Curtains. Rugs.
The remaining bare, stone floors were heaped with dirt in little piles and eddies.
We walked through and into the kitchen.
The stove was gone. As were the table and chairs. The old sink, containing the remains of what looked like an ancient bird's nest was the only thing I recognized.
Frantically, Frank raced through into the bedroom. I followed slowly, stopping in the doorway.
The room was empty.
Completely empty.
The back door hung precariously on a single hinge.
The ragged shreds of the curtain that once covered it waved gently in a soft breeze that blew through the opening.
Frank came slowly back into the kitchen. "But this looks as though it has been deserted for--years.
Mercy nodded. "It has."
"But we were here--" he paused.
"Just a couple of weeks ago," I finished for him. "We saw Mary. Spoke to her. She was cheerful. Loving. Help-ful." My voice broke on the word.
Again Mercy nodded. "Not surprising. That sounds like Mary. That's what she is."
"Was," Jacob said.
She looked at him and smiled. "Is."
He shrugged, then nodded. "And this is the part I need you to prepare yourselves for. Mary died--" he paused.
"Yes?" I said. I shivered and moved closer to Frank. I suddenly felt cold.
"Mary died about ten years ago."
I had to sit down. I dropped abruptly to the dust on the cold, stone floor.
"But--how--? What--?"Frank was as confused as I.
The couple smiled. "Mary--comes back," Mercy said.
We stared at her.
"When people need her, when someone is alone, she comes back." She tipped her head to one side as she stared at us. "Have you been having some troubles?"
"Well--" Frank said slowly. "My mother just passed."
Mercy nodded.
"Mary helped us immeasurably. Especially in the last weeks."
"That's Mary. She just--knows. And cares." She straightened. "There's something else you need to see."
She and her companion moved through the kitchen and back into the front room.
Moving stiffly, I got to my feet and followed.
She was standing, staring at the fireplace.
Instinctively, my eyes followed hers.
There, framed neatly above the cold, long dead firebox was a large picture of Frank and me. The two of us were leaning towards each other and smiling broadly for the camera. Behind us, through clear glass windows, one could see the mountains, close up and falling away into the distance. The sun was just setting behind the furthest ones.
It was a beautiful picture.
Obviously the one taken by Mary with her ancient camera on our very first visit.
"Oh," I said, rather ineffectively.
Frank gripped my arm tightly.
"I think I need to sit down again," I said.
The two of us moved instinctively toward the spot where Mary's old, horsehair couch had stood.
And received yet another shock.
There on the window sills, exactly where they had been before, stood my row of plants. Healthy. Waving gently in the breeze blowing in through the gaping windows.
"We check in here periodically," the young man said. "And as soon as we walked through the front door, of course we saw the plants. And the picture. We figured that Angel Mary must be back."
"Angel Mary," I said.
"That is what she is. Our family angel." Mercy smiled and held out her hand. "Welcome to Angel Mary's forever family."

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

When Mommy's Home With Me

In a word?
Never have I found a book that so perfectly describes the many different roles of being a mommy.
On every page is a mommy who does--or did--have a profession that is now either juggled around or has been sidelined for the 'Mommy years'.
A picture book full of heart and with which every mommy--and their children--will connect.
The bright, busy pictures and cheerful rhyme captivated my grandchildren at the first glance. And second. And third.
Okay, we read it a lot.
And this Gramma? Cried.
Every time.
Here is one example chapter:

My Mommy was a pilot,
And now she's home with me.
She lifts me high into the sky;
I feel like I have wings!
Then I put down my landing gear;
The runway is in sight.
I get a tickle-tune-up 
And a bedtime kiss goodnight.

Got kids or grandkids?
This is a great way to tell them what Mommies do!
P.S. Have tissues handy.

About the author and illustrator:
Alison Benson Moulton has run the early literacy program for babies at Caldwell Public Library for five years. She brings arts to her community as the executive director of Caldwell Fine Arts, where she manages a performing arts series and educational outreach programs. After graduating magna cum laude from Brigham Young University in Family Science with a minor in English, Alison was a child abuse prevention specialist and grant writer, for the Family Support and Treatment Center in Orem, Utah. After moving to the Navajo Reservation, she was an adjunct instructor at Dine College. Another move brought her to Florida, where she worked at Girls and Boys Town as a foster parent to 20 teenage girls. Since settling in Idaho, she has written songs for two albums for the New York Times Bestselling author, Marla Cilley (The FlyLady) and two albums for country singer Eric Dodge. For two years, she was a guest blogger for a weekly family life post on the popular blog
Kinsey Beckett received a BFA in illustration from Brigham Young University. While at BYU, she took a variety of design classes and interned at the Chiodo Bros, an animation studio in Burbank, California. Kinsey works in traditional media, such as acrylic paints, but also is proficient at graphic design and stop-motion animation. Her professional work includes an animated short for Glenn Beck’s national TV show, and illustrations for clients such as Protection 1, Brite Energy, and LinkedIn.
When Mommy's home with me can be found at these fine stores:

Monday, April 17, 2017

Mary's Story: Part Three

(A short story of Fiction) Part Three of Four

As our visits continued, we quickly came to discover the positive, independent attitude and irrepressible sense of humor that marked our new friend.
A scream, then sounds of a struggle. Then . . . gurgling.
"Mary are you all right?"
A rather breathless, "Come in! Come in! I'm here in the kitchen!"
I set my newest addition to her plant collection on the floor and the two of us quickly made our way through the inner door.
There we found our friend collapsed in a chair, head on the table, obviously convulsed with-- emotion.
Her large, grey cat was sitting on the table beside her, poking at her hair with a soft paw.
I hurried to her side and put a hand on one shaking shoulder. "Mary, are you all right?"
A blackened face appeared, with two bright blue eyes looking out of it.
She swiped at some clear, wet streaks on her cheeks. "Oh, Mary! Frank! You're just in time!" she gasped out.
"Mary, what's wrong?"
"Whoop! Nothing that a person with a stronger stomach than I can't take care of!" she chuckled.
I realized that her shoulders had been shaking, not with tears as I had first imagined, but with laughter. I stood back. "What happened? What can we do?"
Still chuckling, she scrubbed at her face, smearing the wet, teary streaks. "Well, I guess for one thing, you can get me that coal scuttle over there." Mary waved a hand, indicating the ancient metal bucket beside the stove.
Frank hurried to bring it over.
"Oh, and the broom and dustpan." Mary glanced down and, for the first time, I realized that we were standing in a light carpet of ashes.
I stepped to one side, feeling the slight crunch as my foot came down on still more debris.
"Ick," I said.
"Good word!" Mary said, "and totally appropriate."
"But Mary, what happened?"
"Well, I was working on my quilt when I heard the most awful scrabbling sound here in the kitchen."
"Scrabbling sound?" Frank said.
"I don't know how else to describe it," Mary said. "I hurried in here and realized that the sound was coming from the chimney."
"Oh, dear," I said. "A bird?"
"Yes. The screen around the chimney must have blown loose or something and a bird got in there. Poor thing. I didn't have a fire going as I had been planning on cleaning out the ashes later today, but there must have been some residual smoke or something because, as I was trying to figure out how to help it, it quit struggling and I heard it fall to the bottom of the chimney."
"Oh, the poor thing!" I said. "So did you reach into the stove to help it?"
"Well, I tried. But when I opened the door, there was no bird in sight. So I decided that maybe it was just buried in the ashes. I brought the coal scuttle and a candle and peered into the stove. I discovered that there are a series of bars across the bottom of the chimney, where it joins the stove."
She shook her head. "I put the light further in and could see . . . something lying against those bars. I reached in . . ." again her shoulder began to shake with laughter.
"Mary, what happened?"
"I grabbed what I thought was the bird's foot, thinking I'd just pull it out. But what I got was the bird's beak."
She laughed again.
"I don't know why, but it seemed so much more--personal--than a foot. I screamed and pulled my hand back, then lost my balance and landed, face-first in the ashes." Her eyes twinkled from their sooty frame. "Then all I could do was laugh. That's when you two came in."
We stared at her.
What would this marvelous, independent woman think up next?
She got to her feet. "I'd better get this cleaned up."
"Please let us do that for you!" I said.
She sat back down. "You know what? I'm going to let you."
Frank and I swept the normally spotless floorboards clean, dumping the ashes into the coal scuttle and setting it back beside the stove.
The Frank grabbed a small shovel and broom from hooks on the wall and proceeded to sweep the rest of the ashes and soot from the stove, adding them to what we had collected from the floor.
Mary got up again and moved over to the counter. She picked up a small mirror and peered into it.
"Oh, my!" She traced one sooty finger across her equally sooty face, then looked up at us.
"You have to admit, this is an improvement!" she said, her eyes twinkling.
She dipped steaming water out of the reservoir attached to the side of the stove and, pouring it into a little pan in the sink, quickly washed the ashes and soot from her face, hands and arms.
Finally, looking a bit more like Mary, she dried herself on a towel.
"There. That feels better!" She turned and looked at Frank, who was just finishing with the stove. "Oh, thank you, dear boy," she said. "You are so kind!"
Frank set the coal scuttle beside the stove and walked over to the sink to clean his hands.
Then Mary grabbed some pieces of wood from a stack beside the cupboard and quickly laid and lit a fire.
Closing the stove door, she turned and looked at me. "Well this was hardly the way to welcome my friends into my home!" she said, smiling.
"Maybe, but at least we'll never forget it," I said.
She laughed. "Let's have tea!"
"First, where can I put those ashes?" Frank asked.
"Oh, just leave them there. I'll tote them out later."
"No, I like to finish my chores once I start."
Mary smiled. "Well. all right." She moved to the doorway of one of the bedrooms and pointed. "There's a door to the outside behind that curtain. You'll find a pit for the ashes not far from the back of the house."
Frank lifted the scuttle and disappeared through the door.
"Now, you set yourself right there at the table and I'll get the tea together, dear," she said to me.
Obediently, I settled into the chair she had just vacated. We chatted while she bustled around.
By the time Frank came back through the door, carrying the now-empty bucket, she had laid everything out on a tray and was dipping water out of the reservoir into her little teapot.
"Everything's just about ready, my boy," she said. "Now you two go out into the front room and I'll follow."
The tea tasted especially good. Maybe because it contained even more love than usual.

We were sitting quietly during the drive home, each of us busy with our own thoughts.
"Do you know that Mary doesn't have a bathroom?" Frank said suddenly.
"Bathroom. Mary doesn't have a bathroom."
"I rather guessed. I didn't see one on our initial tour and none have sprung up since then." I looked at him. "But did you just discover this? You've been all over that house, tinkering."
"Well, I just never thought about it. I never went into her bedroom, and I just sort of assumed that there must be a little one in there. You know, joined up to the kitchen or something. With a little pump--"
I looked at him. No plumbing in the kitchen and you thought she would have it in a bathroom?"
"I know. Silly, right? Anyways, she has an outhouse, probably built when the rest of the house was built, out behind."
"Yeah. It's stone, like the house and really is quite nice."
"But it's still an outhouse."
"Well . . . yeah."
"Not very pleasant in the winter."
"Definitely not." He looked at me. "And another thing. She has a big washtub hung against the back wall. And a scrub board."
"I didn't know you knew what a scrub board was."
Frank made a face at me. "Of course I know what a scrub board is. I've seen them played as instruments."
"Oh, that would explain everything!"
He laughed. "Anyways, I think that Mary scrubs her own clothes and takes a bath in that washtub."
"My thinking exactly!" He frowned. "The thing is, I can't help but think of what her life must have been like, living in the city with its obvious amenities. And then, when she is in the winter of her life, moving back here, were there really aren't any comforts at all."
"Well, she does appear to love it," I said, doubtfully.
"No phone. No plumbing. Fireplace and stove for heat. The only modern convenience she has is electricity, which she hardly uses." He looked at me again. "My point is--how can we help her?"

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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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