Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, July 16, 2011

Guaranteed to Give You Chills! . . . or Something

Admit it - this strikes terror into your heart!

Mom and dad had a freezer.
Chest style. 26 cubic feet.
Whatever that means.
To me, that just meant that it was large.
They had had this behemoth since they were married.
It had far outlived it's 'best before' date.
Oh, it still froze anything and everything that was put into it.
It just didn't stay closed anymore.
Let me tell you about it . . .
Mom and Dad's freezer, aptly named 'Frigidaire', sat in solitary glory, in the downstairs bathroom.
In a space created especially for it.
Beside the shower cubicle. And across from the 'porcelain throne'.
For years, it had been humming busily along, doing freezer stuff.
Keeping cold things cold. And slowly filling with ice.
Every couple of years, Mom would take out whatever food was left in it, stack it all neatly aside, and attack the ice build up with an ice pick and a butter knife.
Then, she'd scrub it shiny, replace the food and start the whole cycle over again.
It was fun to watch.
Okay, yes, I probably should have helped, but why deprive Mom of something she so obviously enjoyed?
Well, that she appeared to enjoy . . .
Okay, I should have helped.
Geeze.
One thing of note: when one closed the freezer, one had to be very careful to push the handle in till it clicked, or in the middle of the night, or some other equally inconvenient time, the door would open. All by itself.
With scary amusing results.
One afternoon, the house was quiet.
Too quiet.
I was in the bathroom . . . minding my own business.
Without warning, the lid of the freezer opened.
With an appropriately eerie squeal.
Eeeeeeeeeeee . . .!
Now, my head knew that Dracula never really existed, except in the brilliant mind of Bram Stoker. And certainly, if he did exist, the last place he would appear would be in an old freezer.
In the middle of the bathroom of the Stringam ranch house.
By no stretch of the imagination would that be . . . romantic. (Does that word work here?)
But, no matter how frantically and reasonably my head was whispering all of this to my heart, my heart was still expecting Count Dracula to sit up, in all his dark majesty, maybe with a touch of real frost in his dark hair, and say, “Good evening!”
My business of the moment forgotten, I charged out of the bathroom, frantically zipping my pants as I flew.
Once in the family room, I stopped.
Sanity returned.
And I started to laugh.
And laugh.
I went upstairs and told my Mom.
She laughed.
One by one, we told it to every member of the family.
They all thought it was a huge joke.
Okay, we're weird.
I did remember to go back into the bathroom and latch the freezer properly.
Later.
And every time thereafter.
But now, years later, whenever I see a glistening white freezer, I half expect the door to open and to see Dracula sit up and smile menacingly at me.
It still makes me want to . . . mind my own business.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Travels . . . and Food . . . and Diane

Travel was so easy - Without Diane

Dad loved to travel.
And he was so much fun to travel with.
Dad would drive us to amazing places and show us amazing things, and sing and entertain us on the way.
And he took breaks.
'Breaks' which, for my Dad, meant pulling into a gas station and buying everyone a bottle of pop and a chocolate bar.
Notice, I didn't say 'healthy'. I just said 'fun'.
And sugar highs hadn't been invented yet.
To Dad, holidays were always taken across the border. He drove us all over the western half of the continental United States, with stops in California, Texas, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico.
We have pictures taken beside the 'Welcome to . . .' signs for all of them.
Travelling also meant meals on the road.
There were a lot of family-owned restaurants in the United States. And Denny's.
We saw them all.
And they made good food.
I love meals that someone else cooks.
And, let's just admit it . . . breakfast in a diner says 'holiday', doesn't it?
Sooo . . . breakfast. The most important meal of the day.
And the hardest one for Diane to eat.
Oh, I was enthusiastic.
And hungry.
But sometimes, it simply took a while for my stomach to awaken.
At least that's what Mom told me. And Mom was always right.
Plus, I ate too fast.
A character flaw that haunts me to this day.
Our family was travelling through Wyoming.
We had stayed the night in a hotel somewhere in the Star Valley.
It was time for breakfast.
Dad took us to a nice restaurant at the edge of town.
We were handed large, colourful menus. With pictures.
I loved pictures.
And shiny things, but that is another story.
There was one photo, in particular, that caught my attention.
It showed waffles. A golden heap of them. Topped with, wonder of wonders, ice cream.
I think there was fruit atop the ice cream, as a sop to nutritional convention, but all I really had eyes for was the cold, sweet stuff.
Who ever heard of ice cream for breakfast?
And the final miracle? Mom let me order them.
All of my dreams had suddenly come true.
My waffles arrived, in all of their sweet, golden perfection. Ice cream just nicely melting on top.
Ecstacy on a plate.
I dove in.
And I do mean dove.
I shovelled fast and hard.
Before the rest of the family was half through, I was licking my plate.
Ice cream is not something that you can allow to get away.
And then . . . my wonderful waffles and ice cream hit . . . my stomach.
It wasn't awake.
It didn't like it.
It would . . . GET RID OF EVERYTHING!
And so, my beautiful breakfast, so briefly enjoyed, ended up back on the plate.
Sigh.
My horrified siblings fled.
My patient parents cleaned.
And lamented losing a breakfast they hadn't even paid for yet.
And a daughter who was suddenly hungry again.
Never again was I offered more than the usual at breakfast.
Good nourishing food.
That stuck to my ribs.
Well . . . stuck, anyways.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I'm Convinced . . . Buy!

Admit it, you want the 20 mule teams, too!

On the Stringam Ranch, electronic media was in its infancy.
We had one TV channel.
And that only came on for a limited number of hours per day.
Mom would park me in front of the TV just shortly before 10 AM, and I would stare at the 'Indian head' test pattern until the National Anthem.
And then, magically, The Friendly Giant would appear.
He read stories and played music.
Just for me.
Of course there were other programs. The Jack Benny Show. Leave it to Beaver. Lassie. The Wonderful World of Disney. Bonanza. Ed Sullivan.
And Woody Woodpecker, that always came on when I was supposed to be gathering the eggs. (But that is another story.)
Each memorable by itself.
And each enhanced by the ads woven skillfully between and throughout.
I loved the ads.
The wonderful, amazing ads that, in 30 seconds or less, could convince me that now, thanks to the additive of the month, I could have cleaner wash.
Or whiter teeth.
Or better coffee.
We weren't actually coffee drinkers, but I was sold by the ad that asked, “How do you like your coffee?” and answered, “Why, I like my coffee . . . Crisp!”
How convincing were such ditties as, “You'll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent!”
Inevitably followed by, “Mom, I want to brush my teeth!”
Or, “J-E-L-L-O!” Which was the immediate precursor to snack time.
I was mesmerized (and yes, I meant to use that word) by the ad featuring several pickles dancing around, singing, “You can tell a Heinz pickle, by its crunch!” and ignoring the jar, who implored them to get back inside before they got eaten up. And, after all of them were eaten, that same jar lamenting, “You can't tell a Heinz pickle nothin'!”
That was hilarious. And if something made me laugh, I had to have it.
We simply couldn't do without it.
Mom had to buy it.
Or make it. Or do it.
The Kraft ads with the smooth-voiced narrator and the wonderful scenes from the perfect Kraft kitchens.
Mmmmm. Mom could do that.
The housewives in the pretty dresses, pearls, pumps and a miniscule apron demonstrating everything from floor wax to cookware.
Well . . . my Mom always wore a dress, and an apron. And I had seen her in pumps and pearls whenever she and Dad went out.
But for some reason, I couldn't get her to combine them when doing housework.
“No, Mom, you have to do it this way! Like on TV!”
Moms are weird.
The Marlboro ads convinced me that I wasn't a real man if I didn't sm . . . okay, so I know I could never be a real man, but . . . never mind.
Mom was off the hook there.
She did buy boxes of Kellogg's frosted flakes because Tony the Tiger said they were “Grrrrreat!”
She didn't have to worry about Esso, though.
I had a bit of a problem with putting a 'Tiger in my Tank'.
I wasn't quite sure how Tony would feel about that.
She never bought me the tiny, little chuckwagon I so desperately wanted, that drove through the house carrying . . . ummm . . . whatever it carried. I confess, I never really got past watching the tiny little driver and team.
I begged and begged my Mom for the 'Five Pounds Thinner Girdle' from playtex or the 'Cross Your Heart Bra' from the same company.
And I couldn't understand why that made her laugh.
Every time.
I also tried to convince her that she needed to be using Ivory Snow for all things 'baby'. And to add the power of the Borax 20-mule team to everything else.
Actually, I just wanted the mule team. I can't tell you how many boxes I opened looking for them.
Mom probably can.
Moving on . . .
We ate Campbell's soup on occasion and I tried to look plump cheeked and shiny like the Campbell's kids.
I also wanted the bowls they ate from.
Because.
She balked at that.
She did buy me Kraft Peanut Butter.
Oh, occasion, she tried to substitue some inferior brand that was on sale, but, inevitably that jar of lowly second-rate peanut butter went stale on the shelf.
I had seen the ads.
I chewed Wrigley's Juicy Fruit Gum because it had better flavour and wanted only Chiquita bananas because the girl had a neat hat.
'Carnation hot chocolate was frothy great – and – so easy to make'. And it went so well with 'Jiffy pop, jiffypop the magic treat. As much fun to make as it is to eat!'
Okay, I have to admit it.
Ads worked for me.
It's probably a good thing that we didn't have more channels.
Mom never would have survived.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Last Fun Phone Call

Stringam Ranch - everything . . . except a phone
“I want to talk to Jody.”
“Number, please.”
“Six.”
Electric ringing.
“Hello?”
“May I talk to Jody?”
“Yes, one moment.”
“Hello?”
“Jody! We got our phone!”
It was the most exciting day of my life.
The Stringams. That weird family who lived at the back of beyond, had joined the twentieth century. The modern world had finally found its way to our door.
But therein lies a story.
The Stringam ranch was twenty miles from the bustling metropolis of Milk River (pop. 499). The phone lines went as far as Nine Mile Corner, a bend in the road situated, interestingly enough, just nine miles from the ranch buildings.
The phone company refused, uncategorically, to take the phone lines any further. Why would people living that far from civilization need the convenience of modern communication?
Why indeed.
But Dad wanted a phone.
As the only veterinarian in the area, he needed a phone.
Dad was determined to have a phone.
Finally, he bought all of the poles and cable to run his own phone line.
He and the hired men spent several weeks installing said poles and cable.
Voila!
The magical day dawned.
The phone company unbent enough to hook up our line to theirs. (And then proceeded to run many, many lines off of it, but that is another story.)
The family gathered around the large, wooden box.
It shrilled. Twice.
Two longs.
We stared at it.
Then looked at each other.
We had arrived.
From that moment on, the peace of the Stringam home was often shattered by the shrilling of the magical box in the hallway.
And the pounding of numerous feet as various denizens of the house sprinted to answer.
It was a whole new, and very exciting, experience.
Followed, soon after, by the discovery that, if one was careful, one could gently lift the receiver and . . . wonder of wonders . . . listen in on other conversations on the 'party' line that had nothing to do with you.
I'm sure I don't need to tell you why it was called a 'party' line.
My sister and I became the masters of it . . .
“Well, I'm sure she meant well. But I can tell you that Gloria wasn't very flattered.”
“Well, I can imagine. Poor Gloria!”
“Yes. I mean, I can only guess, but I would well imagine that being told that one was as big as a whale, albeit a pretty whale, wouldn't go over too well.”
“Well, I wish I'd been there. I would have given her a piece of my mind!”
“Well, Dorothy brought a yellow jellied salad with bananas in it that was just divine. I got her recipe!”
“That reminds me. I wanted to get Dorothy's recipe for her devil's food cake.”
“Oh, I have it, just wait a moment.”
“Ladies?”
“Umm, yes?”
“Sorry to interrupt, but I really need to use the 'phone.”
“Oh, sorry, Hank. Problems?”
“Yeah. I need to talk to Joe at the feed store.”
“Go right ahead. Grace? I'll get that recipe and get back to you.”
“Thanks, Mabel.”
This was fun!
Another conversation . . .
“Well, she was out half the night!”
“No!”
“Yes! Until midnight! And when she got home, Papa could smell . . . liquor on her breath!”
A sucked in breath. “Oh! What did he do?”
“Well, he wasn't happy, I can tell you! She's grounded for a month!”
“A month!?”
“Yes! And that includes prom and everything.”
“She might as well die right now!”
“Exactly!”
And another . . .
“Well, Doc, my poop looks like . . .”
We ended that conversation before it was begun.
And . . .
“Okay, don't spread it around . . . yet . . . but the Larsons are going to be away next weekend.”
“Really?”
“Yes. Jeff says his folks should leave about 6.”
“So what time does the party start?”
“Well, he has to do chores and tidy up the dishes, so 8:00 should about do it. He will beep the phone line twice when he's ready.”
“We'll be waiting.”
Finally . . .
“You have to be careful what you say on this line. Uncle Bob may be listening in.”
“I am not!”
It was the most fun we had ever had.
Until we were introduced to . . .
“Hello?”
“Is your 'fridge running?”
“Just a moment, I'll check.”
A pause.
Then, “Yes. Yes it is.”
“Well, you'd better go catch it!”
Ah. the memories.
I don't remember the last conversation I had on the old party line.
I should.
Because now, phone lines are private.
And boring.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It's All About the Food. And My Mom

The ranch cook. With Chris and Jerry.
Mom could make anything taste good.
And it didn't matter what she had going in her life, meals were always plentiful and on time.
She would serve a full, cooked breakfast of ham, eggs, pancakes and oatmeal, with lunch simmering on the stove and dinner baking in the oven so both meals could be produced quickly as soon as she got done gardening, cleaning or doing chores, got back from driving us kids to school, picking up whatever was needed from the hardware, the feed store, and the grocery, and attended one of her numerous Herefrord club meetings or quilting or sewing bees.
Sometimes I think about the scheduling nightmare that her life must have been.
Thinking about it makes me tired.
I've said it before, I'll say it again . . .
She was a saint.
But back to the food . . .
When Mom was 10 years old, she went with her dad and brothers up to the Berg family's 'other place' to cook while Grandpa and the boys brought in the hay crop.
She often described the little wood stove she used for her meals.
“It had the littlest oven,” she told me, “just big enough to fit in one pie.”
She was making pie???!
At ten years old???!
By herself???!
Okay, 'saint' just doesn't quite cover it.
By the time I was ten, I figured I was doing extremely well because I knew how to eat pie.
But I digress . . .
So, at the age of ten, she was doing all of the cooking for her father and three older brothers.
Well, she certainly learned how to cook.
Mom could open the fridge (that same fridge that one of us kids had just looked into and pronounced, 'empty'), and produce a hearty, rib-sticking meal.
In minutes.
And totally without the aid of a microwave.
Okay, she had all the modern conveniences. Electric stove. Running water.
Toaster.
Cheese Whiz. (But that is another story . . .)
But still, the meals she could produce.
Mmmm.
Her roasts were works of gustatory art.
Her pastries and pies had to be tasted to be believed.
Even her vegetables were unsurpassed by anything available in the vast dining world.
Mom could take cauliflower that she had grown and preserved (freezer – another story). Cook and serve it in such a manner that not a scrap was left over.
I tried it with my kids.
Somehow, when I prepared frozen caluiflower, it just came out . . . soggy.
And disgusting.
Oh, Mother, where art thou?
I did learn how to make her pies.
But that was all.
To this day, my siblings and I contact eachother regularly, asking if anyone knows the recipe for . . .
No one does.
When I cross over to the other side, it will be with a pen and paper in hand.
The first thing I will ask Mom will be, “What the heck is your recipe for your angel food cake topping?”
Notice I said 'heck'. That's because you can't use anything stronger in Heaven.
Where I know Mom is.
Probably cooking.
Sigh.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Name Game

Mom and Dad, with Pimple Pants,Red, Jerry and Bert

Parents put a lot of thought and even prayer into the naming of their offspring.
Why, then, do they go to such lengths to never use those names?
My name is Diane. Mom loved that name, so, when I made my appearance, she was happy I was a girl. Now she could use it.
Let's face it, 'Diane' for a boy just doesn't fit quite as well. But that's another story.
As a second name, she chose Louise, after my Aunt Louise. A really, really sweet lady.
So, Diane Louise.
Works for me.
I called myself Tony.
I'm not sure why.
My Mom's working name for me, however, was 'Pixie'.
?????
Ocassionally, she would vary it.
“Oh, here's my little Pixie-Girl.”
Or, “What do you want, Sweet-Little-Pixie?”
I think it might have had something to do with my size.
Okay I know that, looking at me now, one would find this hard to believe, but, at one time, I was under height.
And definitely under-weight.
Those were the days.
Sigh.
Moving on . . .
Later, when I was nine, I got my hair cut.
Really short.
I loved it.
So did my Dad.
He changed my name to 'Mike'.
I'm almost sure it had nothing to do with our dog. He of the same name.
Mom was horrified.
“Mark! She has a perfectly good name. Use it!”
I know he was as bewildered as me.
Ummm . . . which name?
Diane? Louise? Pixie? Tony?
I'm beginning to see why I'm such a confused person.
So, Lou I became.
????? Again.
Mom retaliated by calling me, 'Diane'. For the first time in my life.
Then, my brother, George, got into the game.
His name for me was Bert.
Because.
Coming from someone whom Dad called 'Dard', and Jerry called 'Pimple Pants', I wasn't worried.
Rusty, or Chris as she had been christened, had no opinion.
Neither did Blair . . . er, 'Bare Blue', or 'The Great Root Blair'. Of couse he was only two, so he could be excused.
And Anita was a baby. She was simply 'Sweetheart'.
At that point. She, too would have her time.
And names.
Jerome got off easy.
Actually, that's a story in itself.
He was always, 'Jerry'. To everyone. Except when Mom got angry.
Then, he became Jerome Allen, or worse, Jerome Allen Stringam.
All the 'angry' names, as they are truly known.
But I've wandered from the point.
Which was me.
And my names.
So, I've been through Diane, Louise, Tony, Pixie, Mike, Lou and Bert.
Now, my Honeybunny (don't ask) calls me, Honey. And my kids call me Mom.
Or grandma.
Dad still calls me Lou.
I'm so blessed.

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