Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, August 20, 2011

You've Been Skunked!


Guelph - 24 years later - the smell is almost gone . . .

Dad was a veterinarian student in Guelph, Ontario.
That fact, alone shouldn't strike terror into anyone's heart.
It will.
Christmas 1946 was a special time.
The veterinarian students (hereinafter known as the Vets) had pooled their resources and bought some decorations and a small tree.
These, they had used to decorate their balcony.
It looked quite festive.
They were rather pleased with themselves.
Something that happened often.
But I digress . . .
Other students also noticed their efforts.
Students who were either too broke or too lazy to decorate their own area.
Not a good situation.
Things happen.
The Vets came back from class a couple of days before Christmas to discover that their tree was . . . missing.
Investigation was indicated.
After a short, very short search, they discovered that the thief or thieves had left a trail of decorations down the hall.
Obviously the work of amateurs.
The Vets followed the telltale trail into their neighbor's corridor and, further, into one of the dorm rooms there.
Oh, if only Law and Order could be this easy to figure out.
They knocked.
Politely.
Actually, they probably hammered violently, but my way sounds better.
Moving on . . .
Several young men answered the door, then vehemently (good word) protested their innocence.
And as strongly denied that they had access to the closet to which the trail led.
Undaunted, the Vets demanded that they open the door or it would be gently pulled from its hinges.
At that point a key was quickly produced, the door opened, and the disclosed tree retrieved.
The Vets wasted no time in restoring it to its rightful place of honor on their balcony.
All was well.
Or almost well.
Remember. These were young men.
In college.
Payback was indicated.
Two of these young men had recently uncovered a den of skunks.
As part of their training, and because they were bored, they de-scented those skunks.
But saved the glands.
Weird.
One of them suddenly came up with a brilliant plan.
They would chop up the glands, add a little water, then carefully fill a syringe with the resulting goo.
No sooner imagined than accomplished.
Now, I should point out here that, in the late 40s, each door in the dorms at Guelph, and indeed, everywhere, opened with a large, old-fashioned key.
The keyhole was big enough to peek through.
And certainly large enough to accommodate a syringe needle.
While everyone was at class, the two vet students took their syringe and squirted a little of their prized 'essence' through the keyhole of every door in that corridor.
The smell was immediate . . . and indescribable.
Hmm. Maybe they had been a little precipitate (another good word)?
But the damage was done.
For the last day before vacation, everyone who had anything to do with that building, did it in as brief a time as possible.
Sleeping was out of the question.
Most of the young men simply left town as soon as their last class was over.
Perhaps distance would lessen the smell.
Dad didn't give the prank much thought during his Christmas vacation.
Some things are best forgotten.
And, astonishingly enough, by the time they got back to the campus, the smell was all but gone.
Good thing carpets hadn't been invented yet.
But everyone learned something from the experience.
            1. Leave skunks alone.
            2. Never, ever play tricks on veterinarian students.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Dating Disasters in the 40s



Who wouldn't want to date this face?!
My 86-year-old Dad and his good, good friend, Shirley just left to head back home after a visit.
I'm missing them already.
So today's post, in honor of my Dad, and because I have 'dating' on my mind, will be about . . .
Dad's Worst Date, Ever!!!
This should be fun . . .

Dad was home from college for the Christmas vacation in the winter of 1946.
He'd been working very hard.
At least that is what he told me.
Moving on . . .
He was ready for some fun.
What could be better than a dance?
With girls.
He gussied (real word - I looked it up) up and drove to Raymond, a nearby town.
The band was hot (my word) and the girls were cute.
He was in heaven.
One young lady (hereafter known as The Girl) particularly took his eye.
He asked her to dance.
The Girl agreed.
They danced.
He asked her again.
Again she said yes.
They danced.
This went on for some time.
Finally, he asked if he could call on her.
This was the 40s. Guys said things like that . . .
The Girl was most agreeable to that suggestion as well.
He floated home.
A couple of days later, he drove out to see her.
Now, I should point out, here, that it was only about twenty minutes from Dad's family home to The Girl's family home. When the conditions were good.
As in - during the summer.
But it was winter.
Anything goes.
Dad reached the girl's house just as a blizzard hit.
That was okay with him. He was warm and safe.
And he had The Girl totally to himself. (Well, totally to himself if one didn't count her parents and siblings. Siblings friends . . . you get the picture.)
They enjoyed a few minutes of conversation.
Things were going well.
Then, the doorbell rang.
Dum, dum Duuuum!
Actually it probably sounded more like," Bing-bong!"
But that would be boring.
And totally not-ominous.
The story needed ominous-ness.
On we go . . .
It was another guy.
And from the ensuing conversation, one who was already close friends with The Girl.
For the remainder of the evening, the two of them tried to engage The Girl in conversation.
And glare unobtrusively at each other.
Finally, the evening drew to a close.
It was time to leave.
Then, the ANNOUNCEMENT.
I capitalized this because it's important.
The Girl's mother announced that the blizzard had grown so bad that she would allow neither of the suitors to leave.
The two of them would have to spend the night.
Okay, not so bad.
Together.
Umm . .
In the same bed.
Yikes?!
It was the most uncomfortable night Dad had ever spent (including his time serving in the army).
At daylight, he peeked out the window.
The storm had blown itself out.
It was the best sight of his life.
No need to even stop to dress as he'd not bothered to undress.
In fifteen seconds he was out the front door.
Leaving an astonished The Girl's mother with a batter-coated spoon half-raised in greeting.
Dad left in such a hurry that he even beat the snowplows.
He didn't care.
The sooner he made it home, the sooner he could begin to forget the whole thing.
And 65 years later, he's beginning to.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

First Date

The cute one. Bottom row. Second from the right. 

First dates.
Relationship killer.
Or kindler?
I had known Grant for just over two months.
We attended the same church.
He was cute.
Really cute.
He was mine.
We decided to go on a date.
Well, actually, I decided and he . . . never mind.
He was driving a volleyball team to an away game.
Because he could.
I went along, sitting right behind the driver.
Huh. He was even cute from that angle.
The team played. We drove home. And that's as far as our plans went.
But there was still evening ahead.
What to do?
We stood there.
Awkwardly.
Finally he proposed that we go to his parent's house and see what movies were on TV.
It was the early 70's. Your choices were limited. In fact, you were pretty much stuck with whatever your one TV station had planned.
We were lucky. There was a movie programmed.
But that's where our luck ran out because it was a movie that both of us had seen.
And neither wanted to see again.
Sigh.
But we grabbed snacks and settled in.
I should point out here that Grant was the middle child of a large family.
And yet we had the front room to ourselves.
On a Saturday night.
Go figure.
Moving on . . .
I watched.
He slept. (Something that happens to this day, but I am getting ahead of myself . . .)
When the movie ended, sometime around midnight, I woke him and indicated that I was more than ready to go home.
Sleepily, he complied (real word).
The miles to the ranch were covered quickly as we talked and laughed.
A little too quickly.
And suddenly, by the light of his car headlights, we were staring at my parent's house.
What to do?
Kiss?
Shake hands?
It had been a wonderful evening. We had talked and laughed.
And he had taken a nap.
Perfect.
We settled on a hug. And the promise of a second date the next evening.
Really perfect.
He walked me to my door. And we discovered that, for the first time in the history of the world, Dad had locked it.
Really.
It had never happened before.
I turned the knob in disbelief. What on earth was going on?
I walked around to the main doors.
Also locked.
I had somehow slipped into an alternate universe.
I went to my parents bedroom window and tapped softly.
"Daddy?"
"Mom?"
No answer.
I tapped louder.
Still no answer.
What was I going to do? Visions of staying the night in one of the barns flashed through my head.
I suddenly missed my bed.
I walked back to Grant, still waiting patiently beside the first door.
"Maybe we can open the window into Daddy's office," I said, pointing to the window beside the door.
"Okay."
I tried to push it up.
It moved.
Half an inch.
"Maybe if we pry it . . ."
Obligingly (great word) Grant grabbed a nearby shovel and pushed the edge under the window.
It slid up some more.
He applied greater pressure.
Another inch.
Then, the shovel broke.
I am not making this up.
It really broke. The bottom edge came right off.
Huh. I didn't know they could do that.
Stupid, cheap shovel.
Fortunately, by this time, I could get my fingers under the window and was able to shove it upwards. I climbed through, turned and waved good-bye to my date and slid the window shut.
All was well.
The next day was Sunday. I was looking forward to seeing Grant in church. I had settled myself in the chapel and was watching the door.
He finally came through it, rather red-faced and sat beside me.
I stared at him.
He was embarrassed.
Huh.
Later, he told me that, as he had entered the building, he had met my father and our Bishop just inside the front doors.
My Dad had grabbed his hand in greeting, then hung onto it and turned to the Bishop.
"Bishop, do you know that this young man broke into my house last night?"
Grant's heart fell into his shoes.
Really.
It's still there today.
Moving on . . .
Dad then turned to Grant and said, "Didn't you get it?  I didn't want her back!"
Sigh.
Did I mention that Dad is a great joker?
But to this day, I wonder if he really meant it.
Don't Die With Your Book Still In You
Carving Angels: A delightful story. An old blind man regains his desire to carve.
http://bit.ly/nttqEj

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Parking For Dummies


See? There's hardly any dent!

Driving is important.
At least when you live on a ranch a million miles from anywhere.
Well, not quite a million, but almost.
Moving on . . .
And it happened early.
Driving, I mean.
As soon as I was able to reach the pedals on the tractor and still hold onto the steering wheel,  I was driving.
Mowing, baling, stacking.
There were lots of reasons to perch me up on 'the beast' and start the engine.
But on a tractor, I had the entire field to turn around in.
And on the Stringam ranch, the fields were . . . large.
Enough background.
At the age of twelve, I graduated to the pickup.
Again, I was limited to travelling in the fields and doing ranch work.
But I was still driving.
And in control.
More or less.
One morning, bright and early, I decided to go for a ride.
I don't know why.
It was spring.
I'm an idiot.
Take your pick.
Anyways . . .
Because I was still a fairly new driver, and driving was still a treat, and because I was basically  lazy, I decided to take the pickup to the far corral where my horse, Peanuts was currently residing.
All went well.
I drove there and parked.
Spent an hour or so with my horse.
Drove back to the ranch house.
And that's where everything went wrong.
Sigh.
I should probably mention that I had gone riding very early. So by the time I returned, everyone was still in dreamland.
I drove carefully up to the carport situated, by the by, directly beneath my parent's bedroom.
And very, very carefully drove into it.
And I do mean 'into'.
Crunch.
Oops.
Frantically, I backed up.
And clipped the pillar again.
I tried to straighten out and hit it a third time.
And a fourth.
The truck just kept getting more and more . . . crooked.
Stupid machine.
Fifth.
Sixth.
This was going nowhere fast.
By now, my door and the pillar were probably looking like hamburger.
Can wood and/or metal look like hamburger?
And suddenly, there, standing in a shaft of early morning light, was my father.
Now I should explain to you that my Dad always wears pajamas.
Nicely pressed, matching button-up top with trousers (that Mom cuts off just below the knee and neatly hems).
They are quite a sight.
But I digress . . .
At this time, I only vaguely noted his light green PJ's.
Because Dad. Wasn't. Happy.
I let the engine die.
We stared at each other.
"What the hell is going on here?!"
Okay, he's a rancher. Sometimes they say 'hell'.
But only when really perturbed.
Usually when I'm around.
"It's okay. I can fix it!"
"Diane, get out of the truck!"
"I can fix it, Dad!"
He just looked at me.
I know that look. I've seen it before.
A few times.
Ahem . . .
I climbed sheepishly out of the truck and moved towards him.
"What on earth are you doing? You almost shook me right out of my bed!"
"Umm . . . I went for a ride."
"In the truck?"
"Well, Peanuts is clear over . . ."
"I know where Peanuts is."
"Well, I drove over there and went for a ride."
"At five o'clock in the morning?"
"Well, yes."
"Get in the house."
One never moves faster than when avoiding fallout. I knew this from past experience.
I disappeared in a heartbeat.
There were a couple of 'bruises' on the support of the carport.
And a dent in the truck door. (Which popped out when Dad went to get the mail and slammed the door.)
So the damage was relatively minor.
I did learn to drive.
For real.
But I'll always remember that first time.
And my Dad in his PJ's.
Some things you just never forget. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Little Sister


L'il Sis

I have a little sister.
She looks just like me.
Except that she has red hair.
And big blue eyes.
And a cute little chin.
And long eyelashes.
Okay, she doesn't look like me at all.
I love her anyways.
We grew up together, as often happens in families.
And had experiences.
Which also often happens in families.
When Anita was two, my mother asked us older kids to take her swimming with us.
Brave woman, my mother.
But I guess she thought that Chris, at 16, was responsible.
And she was.
Really, really responsible.
When she was awake.
A bit older. Just a bit
On this particular occasion, she had her radio. And her dreams of her current boyfriend.
And the warm sun. And the hot sand.
You're right. It wasn't her fault.
She dozed off.
The rest of us played happily for some time.
I was standing knee deep in the milky water, trying to catch a fish that insisted on swimming tantalizingly close.
Closer. Closer.
Then a strange sound intruded.
A sort of . . . gasping.
I looked up.
Five feet from me, little Anita had toddled off the sandy shelf where she had been sitting, playing, and fell into the river.
She was just coming up for the second time.
Nonchalantly (I like that word), I reached out and grabbed her swimsuit, pulled her out and plopped her onto the sand once more.
She gasped and coughed a couple of times, then went back to her toys.
I turned back to my hunting.
It wasn't until years later that I remembered the incident.
And shivered with 'what might have happened'.

*  *  *

When I was ten, my oldest sister, Chris, moved out.
I suddenly had that hitherto (real word) unheard of treat - my own bedroom.
It was wonderful.
During the day.
But, being alone at night for the first time, I made a discovery.
At night, things looked vastly different.
The darkness held many suspicious creaks and shadows.
And, unfortunately, my imagination was always awake.
I needed a companion.
Someone who would protect me from . . . whatever lay in wait in the dark.
My sister's room was right next door.
Okay, she was three, and who knew what she would be able to do if we truly were confronted with . . . whatever lay in wait . . . you understand.
But she was warm.
And breathing.
She was all I had.
Carefully, I would creep into her room, lift the sleeping little girl from her bed, and tuck her into Chris' side of the bed.
Then I would happily snuggle into my side and fall immediately asleep.
If Mom asked in the morning, I simply told her that Anita had crawled in with me in the night.
Everyone was happy.
And no one knew that Diane was afraid of the dark.
Until now.
Oops.

*  *  *

A few years later, we were in the river.
Again.
And Anita was with me.
Again.
This time, it was my turn to be in charge.
And think about boyfriends.
Because my boyfriend was with us.
He and I were sitting in the sand at the edge of the water, visiting, when a sound intruded.
Again.
Only this time, it had just a bit more volume behind it.
"Diane!" someone shrieked.
I looked up.
Anita, who had been floating quite happily close to the shore in an old inner tube, had strayed too far out into the river.
She was now in the grip of the current.
Nonchalantly (that word again), I waded out. Then swam that last few feet towards her.
This time, however, when I grabbed her, she grabbed back.
And nearly drowned me.
Finally, I managed to turn her and her inner tube away from me, then kicked the both of us to the shore.
Then really shivered with 'what might have happened'.
Why do so many of our near-misses happen in water?

*  *  *
Who wouldn't trust that little face!
Today, Anita is a wife and mother. She runs a million-dollar business that she created. She is a flight attendant and cub leader and community organizer.
And still has time to run and keep fit.
But when I think of her, I still see the little girl who broke the lamp for which Blair took the blame.
Who was bright and cute and smart.
And who gave Mom the last of her grey hairs.
The little girl who loved to organize.
And wrap packages.
And get into my things.
And who's middle name, though she would claim it's Faye, is really Trouble (notice the capital 'T').
Today. Or at least not many days ago . . .
Huh. In some ways, she hasn't changed.
But now, she lives most of a continent away.
I miss her.
I love her.



Monday, August 15, 2011

Blogging Keeps Me Outta Trouble . . .


Camping - my way

I blog.
And now you're probably wondering why on earth I'm blogging about blogging.
Wait for it . . .
My blog is a series of short stories about growing up.
Huh. Me. Growing up.
Most people think it didn't happen. Couldn't happen. Will never . . . but I digress . . .
Occasionally, I feel guilty about spending such a lot of time with my beloved blog.
Even entertain the thought of abandoning it.
But then, someone tells me to continue.
Usually this is a reader (I do have them . . .). Or a person who has read a particularly amusing tale (true story). But sometimes, it is someone . . . OFFICIAL (dun, dun, duuunnn!).
This has happened to me.
Twice.
The first was my publisher, Cedar Fort.
Imagine my joy . . . "Diane, get your name out there. Blog. Get people reading your blog."
It's like being told, firmly, to "Eat that chocolate! All of it. Don't miss a bite! Oh, and lick the wrapper when you are done!"
Mmmmmm.
Where was I?
Oh, yes. Bog.
And officiality. (is that a word?)
I scurried (favorite word) to obey, frantically typing little stories and posting them. Then telling everyone in Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Google . . . you get the picture . . .
It was . . . fun. (Fun being 'ten' on the 'fun-ness' scale.)
All was well.
Then, another magical day.
I was sitting in Church ( I do that sometimes) and our Stake President was speaking.
And what pithy, uplifting theme did he choose to advocate?  
Blogging.
You heard me right.
It was from the pulpit.
I am not making this up.
His exact words were, "I encourage you to blog. Blog. Blog. Blog. People are reading your stories. They are making a difference."
Okay, I know that there were many, many people in the congregation, but I'm sure he was talking to me.
That made it official. With a capital OH!
And good enough for an elbow in my husband's ribs and a hearty "Ha! Told you so!"
So I blog.
Officially.
It just doesn't get any better.
So, admit it, you're convinced. Blogging is what you want to do.
Now, how to do it?
First, choose an amazing topic.
For example, what do you most enjoy reading or hearing about?
Surprise! That's what your blog should cover.
Things you enjoy.
That was easy.
So now you are writing a world-class blog. How do you get to be, for want of a better term, better?
Be entertaining. Be unexpected. Be humorous. Be inventive. Be courageous.
Okay, yes, also be honest.
Sigh.
Then get yourself known.
How, you ask?
Well, you could do something outrageous.
But, trust me, that just creates more problems.
I know.
Really.
Moving on . . .
The best way would be to blog every day. Get your name out there every day.
Post every day. (Have I said 'every day' too much?)
And read other blogs.
Comment.
Their authors will follow you back.
In a non-creepy way, of course.
And before you know it, your readership has gone from zero to sixty to six hundred to . . . you understand.
Don't Die With Your Book Still In You
Carving Angels: A delightful story. An old blind man regains his desire to carve.
http://bit.ly/nttqEj

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