Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

Daughter of Ishmael

by Diane Stringam Tolley

Giveaway ends April 08, 2017.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Our First Christmas

Grant and Diane
The very early days of marriage, of most marriages, in fact, are days of exploration and discovery. Of the combination of ideas and ideals. Of the solidifying of the ties binding the couple together.
So it was in our house. The happiness that goes with simply being together. Peace. Love. Joy. One imagines that it will last forever. And it does. Until . . . The First Conflict.
I use this term lightly, because it really wasn’t a conflict, but more of a steady pull in two different directions. He wanted us to spend Christmas with his family. I wanted to spend it with mine.
I won.
Mostly, I admit because I painted a rosier picture than he did. I snared him with magical words like . . . food, fresh baking, treats, candy, chocolate, sugar, sugar, sugar. Okay, I exaggerated. But my family really did have fun on Christmas Eve. And I wasn’t ready, yet, to miss it.
And my Mom was a really good cook.
He gave in. And so, Christmas Eve found us nestled snugly in the bosom of my family, preparing to enjoy. Unfortunately, the preparing part went on a little too long.
My eldest sister, Chris was home for the holiday and she and Mom, demon bakers both, were lost in their own fragrant world. Admittedly a pleasant place to be, albeit rather ‘calorific’. The rest of us floated by periodically, sniffing, staring hungrily at the stacks . . . and stacks . . . of pies, cookies, cakes, butterhorns, brownies, fudge, cookies, lemon squares, butter tarts, cookies.
There really were a lot of cookies.
Dinner was forgotten as more and more goodies emerged from the cavernous depths of the great ovens. Cries from hungry tummies grew more and more insistent. Also, the younger set was getting impatient. It was time for that games of games, anticipated for a whole year. The annual Stringam bloodbath. The Christmas game of Rummoli.
With real poker chips.
Okay, so it wasn’t a bloodbath. Not even particularly violent. But it was as close to gambling as the Stringam gang ever got. And we really did anticipate it feverishly. Well . . . some of us looked forward to it with excitement. Okay, I really liked it. Geeze.
By 10:30 pm, many had given up the thought of getting ‘Christmas Eve’ started. Baking was still being pulled from the ovens, dinner still hadn’t materialized and even the faint hope of a Rummoli game had long since vanished. My husband looked at me. He was too kind to put it into words, but I was getting fairly good at reading him, and his expression said, “For this, we gave up an eight-course meal with my family?” I shrugged my shoulders and tried to laugh.
It was a weak attempt.
He decided to take matters into his own hands. He got up and wandered nonchalantly past the stack of baking which completely covered the counter and nearly filled the space between the upper and lower cupboards.
Seriously, we’re talking an area eight feet long and somewhere between 18 and 24 inches deep. Covered. With. Fresh. Baking.
His hand snaked out, nabbing a butter tart. Quicker than the eye can blink, it was in his mouth. All of it. The heavenly combination of flavours poured through his soul like celestial honey. His knees grew weak. He brought his teeth together to begin chewing this small slice of perfection. Mom straightened from pulling yet another pan out of the oven, her face flushed with heat and effort.
He was caught. He suspended all chewing movements and tried to look innocent, but Mom could spot sneaky behaviour at 1000 paces. Certainly she could recognize it standing across the counter.
The counter filled with mouth-watering . . . but I digress.
She set the hot pan on the cupboard, placed both hands on her hips and levelled a glare at him. “Don’t eat that!” she said. “It’s for Christmas!”
He stared at her. Then at the mounds of baking that couldn’t possibly be eaten in the next 24 hours. In the next 24 days. He put up one hand to cover his mouth. And the precious contraband that now had a home there. No way was he removing it from his mouth. All sorts of places in his body would have rebelled if he had tried. “Sorry,” he mumbled, slowly backing away, his hands spread apologetically.
We never did get our Rummoli game.
Or supper.
After that, my husband and I saved Christmas Eve for his family. And Christmas morning for mine. It was easier on our relationship.
Oh, and the statement, “Don’t eat that, it’s for Christmas!”
Quoted every time someone pops something into their mouth. Year round.

Gramma Berg’s Crutches

Gramma and Grampa Berg
It was a magical time. Gramma Berg was staying over. For days and days. And she could always be counted on for a snuggle, or a story, or a song, or a treat.
In that order.
She moved slowly. The result of having a shattered kneecap. I only knew that she couldn’t get away from me.
Oh, and that she had crutches.
I loved those crutches. It didn’t occur to my four-year-old brain that they were a necessary part of Gramma’s mobility. I saw only that they were just right for me. I would put the little bar (intended as a hand hold) under my arms and, with the top half of each crutch weaving far over my head, hop from one end of the house to the other. Then back. Then back again.
All day.
Sometimes I would mix it up a little and hold up the left leg instead of the right. Either was exciting. And daring.

Okay, I was four. My life to date hadn’t been filled with momentous events. But I digress.
There was one problem with my fascination for Gramma’s crutches. She needed them. And I usually had them. Somewhere else.
Something had to be done.
My Dad, always excited at the prospect of a new engineering task, saw an opportunity. And took it. He would make new crutches. My size.
Happily, he spent many hours in the blacksmith shop, designing, measuring, cutting. Crafting. Finally, voila! Crutches. Perfect four-year-old size. He brought them to the house. It was nap time and I was blotto on the couch, having passed out during Friendly Giant.
Again.
Not one to let such a minor thing as a sleeping child thwart him, Dad stood me up and thrust the crutches under my arms.
I can picture it now. Small, skinny white-haired child – literally - asleep on her feet. Head lolling to one side. A tiny snore. (Okay, my imagination’s good. I admit it.) Dad holds her up with one hand while trying to brace the crutches under her arms with the other. For this story, a Dad with three hands would probably be advisable. She folds like cooked spaghetti. He tries again. Same result. Finally, defeated, he lays her back on the couch and braces the crutches against it for her to find when she is a bit more . . . conscious.
Which she does.
From then on, my crutches and me were inseparable. They were even tied behind when I went riding. I almost forgot how to walk. Strangers to the ranch would shake their heads sadly at the little crippled child making her way across the barnyard. Then nod and acknowledge that she sure had learned how to move quickly, poor little mite. I feel guilty for the deception. Well, a little. A real little.
Okay, not at all.
I certainly learned to manoeuvre those little crutches. The only thing I never mastered was walking while lifting both feet at the same time. And, believe me, I tried.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch house, Gramma was delighted to have her crutches back. She could get around once more. She could be portable, helpful, useful. All the qualities she found so satisfying. She could even challenge me to a race.
I won.

Daughter of Ishmael

Daughter of Ishmael
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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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