Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, October 8, 2011

Summer in a Quonset Part Six

Quonset and nearly completed house.
There's a garden in that yard somewhere!

I thought I would have so much time for various projects as the lazy summer stretched out before me, but as the days lengthened, so did our stride!
There was no grass to cut or watering got do, but there was a garden to hoe and we discovered we had planted it in the original garden of Adam and Eve.
The one they had when Heavenly Father punished them for being disobedient by sending them weeds so they could 'work by the sweat of their brows all the days of their lives'.
I decided that Adam hadn't tended his garden very well because there were a great many prolific varieties there that had undoubtedly sprouted from seeds of plants he had not pulled.
I crawled on my hands and knees trying to sort out my tender green vegetables from all the other abundant growth.
And then there was the rain.
It seemed like every time I thought I had a few minutes for my garden, it would rain.
All summer we alternated between a cold drizzle or a down pour. (The word COLD became part of us like our arms and legs. We had cold noses, cold toes, cold fingers, cold ears, cold tongues. Our whole internal tract must have been COLD.)
Rain sounded like several million marbles on the ribs of the quonset.
The first time I heard it, I thought it was hail. I ran anxiously to the door and discovered that it was only a light rain falling softly on the pasture grass.
When it became a downpour, the sound really rattled your brain.
One evening, we had just settled into our beds for the night when we heard the sound of thunder in the distance.
Would it come this way or would it pass?
Faint flashes of lightning lit the sky light and seconds passed before we heard the thunder.
I began to count the time between the flash and the crash. When the flash and crash came close together, I hid under the covers.
Unfortunately, it didn't shut out the sound.
We had given our children some instruction on what to do if there was lightening - stay away from fences or puddles or trees.
Just lately, we had added 'don't touch the side of the quonset'.
So when there was lightening, even in mild form, our children would pull their beds away from the walls.
We must have spread the alarm very impressively because they moved their beds about 16 feet from the wall!
This storm moving in on us sounded like a particularly violent one.
We could hear a roaring sound with the approaching rain.
When the pellets hit the shed, we knew it must be hail.
We covered our ears trying to cut out the awful sound.
It was like being inside a barrel with a million hammers pounding on its side.
Just when we thought we would surely go mad, the storm quit and we found the quiet almost as hard to adjust to as the noise.
This was our first experience with a hail strike in the middle of the night.
We felt we had been punished in a strange way and we fell into a restless sleep as the moon again lit the skylight

Friday, October 7, 2011

Summer in a Quonset Part Five

More of the story, as told by my Mom, Enes. From her journals . . .

It takes a great deal of courage to meet the challenges in our lives without any discrimination of our fellow beings - how much more courage we need with it.
I believe our children were faced with an overload.
I certainly admired them for their determination and diplomacy. They were in constant contact with the human element and from my observation, carried on beautifully.
"Are you really living out there in the shed?"
"Why yes, we are. We love it out there. Everything is so convenient and we have lots of fresh air and no grass to cut! We can just step into the car and drive out or our friends can drive in! We only have to walk a few steps and we can pet the animals! We don't have to worry about our muddy boots, though Mom does insist that we leave them by the door. We have great times playing hide and seek among the crates and boxes and the hopping game is the best of all. That is when you hop from box to box without touching the floor. We only play that game when Mom isn't around!"
By this point, the little friend was so entranced she couldn't wait for an invitation.
"May I come and stay with you sometime?"
"Sure. You can come any time you like," was the superior reply.
And the children did come and they danced about in happy glee. They fetched and carried and made the beds. They swept the floor, washed and dried the dishes and tidied the living room.
They helped me make pies and set the table. It was a happy, carefree experience.
And they left wishing they lived in a quonset.
There were problems with the clothes washing and the baths, but somehow, everything seemed to work out.
We 'borrowed' the bathroom of a friend.
Mom's 'home away from home'.
But the twice weekly trip to the Laundromat was an experience in itself.
I never knew there were so many interesting and unusual people in the world.
They must all frequent Laundromats.
I was constantly amused, entertained or shocked.
Laundromats seem to have a way of revealing and exposing personalities.
For instance - some people are very careful with their washing. The clothes are sorted in batches as to colour and material. White with white, dark with dark, nylon fabrics and socks and overalls separate. Warm water for most fabrics and especially wash-and-wear materials. The shirts and towels were washed separately and the white shirts and under clothing usually went about half through the cycle before the synthetic materials were added and so on.
Very particular.
Then there was the careless type who threw all the clothing into the washers in reckless abandon. Lumps and tangles with no thought of colour or material. The water temperature was set on hot and the sheets and dainty under things sloshed around with the overalls and socks. This type usually relined in a corner with a package of cigarettes, a bottle of coke and a tabloid magazine.
There was obviously no communication with the bread-winner of 'clothing provider' in that household. It must have been a monumental task to provide enough money to replace all the 'shrunk up' socks, 'shredded' underwear. And TV dinners.
The Laundromat was also frequented by frustrated young fathers with baskets of dirty diapers. The rude awakening from the romantic courtship and few short months of happy wedded bliss had left its anxious furrow forever etched on their foreheads. The diapers were dumped (lumps and all) into the washers and the wastes gradually wore away in the water. If they hadn't dissolved, they were left in the washer or caught in the dryer or dried on the diaper to be peeled off at home, before the baby wore it again.
I had a pleasant conversational exchange with many men and women, young, old, or medium.
Many revealed all their family secrets with was sometimes embarrassing. I couldn't help but think that it would be convenient, sometimes, to have a little switch that would cut off anything you didn't want to hear!
One old retired gentleman would come in with his small bundle of smelly laundry and the only family he had in the whole world, a skinny red Irish setter. He would dispose of his varied assortment of clothing into the washer and then he would settle himself on a bench and look about hopefully for a willing ear. Having found one, he would unwind and unload all his experiences of the last 75 years.
Many times, I provided the 'ear' for him and often wished I had more time to listen to him. He always talked me right out the door and I always felt as if I had very rudely left in the middle of the conversation. All the way home and most of the day I would chastise myself for not giving up a little more time for the sake of the poor, lonely old man,
Several times I invited him to come out and visit but he never came.
One day, I happened in as a young mother was taking her clothing out of the drier. She had thrown her husband's wash-and-wear trousers into the washer and set the dial on 'hot'. You never saw such a wrinkled up mess in you life.
She was almost in tears. "What can I do?" she whispered.
I tried to console her. "Maybe if you washed them again in warm water, the wrinkles may come out."
They never did and her husband must have been furious with her.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Summer in a Quonset Part Four

Coldest summer on record - and no heat!

In the summer of 1968, my parents sold our home ranch out on the south fork of the Milk River, and bought another place nearer to town.
There were myriad challenges.
But the most important was that it was bare land.
Absolutely everything needed to be built.
Construction was immediately started on a new home, and at the same time, on several barns, corrals and outbuildings.
The ranch buildings arose much more quickly than the house.
And that left us in a further dilemma.
Where to live.
The people who had purchased the ranch were justifiably anxious to take possession and our new house was far from completion.
My parents decided to move us into the newly-completed, steel-ribbed quonset.
It was an adventure.
And it's told here by my mother, Enes, from her journals.
(If you missed part one, you can find it here. Part two. Part three.)

Mornings were always very chilly - as was the whole summer!
With the exception of about two hot days, who could have foreseen the coldest summer in history?
Well, maybe Grey Eagle Child who forecast the coldest summer or fiercest winter every year. Sooner or later, he's right!
We never lingered over dressing in the morning, for with a Swish! Swish! on would go our clothes, socks, sweater, snow boots and usually jacket.
I would shiver my way over to the stove and turn the oven and all four burners on at once, even if I only needed two.
They must have given psychological heat because any heat calories were certainly lost in the voluminous stratosphere of the shed.
All plates and bowls would go into the oven while I prepared the meals and in order to conserve every calorie of heat.
And every one would be seated at the table and the blessing asked before the plates and food were brought out.
Then, if we hurried, the first mouthful of food would be too hot and the last one would be too cold!
Most of the time, we could see our breath. Our youngsters had great fun huffing and puffing about.
Every day brought a whole new series of unusual experiences.
Friends dropped in regularly for a momentary cheerful exchange and we enjoyed their ribbing.
"When's the auction?" one asked as he came through the one huge sliding door.
"Should get a blueprint of this," said another. "House, barn, shop and garage, all in one!"
Meanwhile, our new house was slowly taking shape.
Our amiable carpenter was trying to keep a dozen people happy by spreading his services around so thinly that he managed to put three nails in our house each week - and I believe sometimes he only managed two.
It was most frustrating and when the rain poured down along with the temperature, my temperature rose.
"Oh, what I would like to do to that carpenter," I fumed.
However, there were other days.
We were constantly amused by the sudden flood of traffic past our 'summer' home.
Necks would crane and eyes would stare.
One gal drove clear off the road!
Usually we made an effort to give them value for their effort.
I would come out with a bin full of garbage or we would scoot one of the youngsters out to the outdoor privy.
It was most interesting to watch the children on the school bus.
When it stopped, there would be a sudden surge of eager youngsters to the 'viewing side' and the bus would lurch dangerously over the roadside ditch.
I would dispatch our youngsters with a cheerful smile and a kiss and a tiny prayer in my heart that they would not be ostracized from humanity.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Summer in a Quonset Part Three

Yep. We were living in the feed lot.

In the summer of 1968, my parents sold our home ranch out on the south fork of the Milk River, and bought another place nearer to town.
There were myriad challenges.
But the most important was that it was bare land.
Absolutely everything needed to be built.
Construction was immediately started on a new home, and at the same time, on several barns, corrals and outbuildings.
The ranch buildings arose much more quickly than the house.
And that left us in a further dilemma.
Where to live.
The people who had purchased the ranch were justifiably anxious to take possession and our new house was far from completion.
My parents decided to move us into the newly-completed, steel-ribbed quonset.
It was an adventure.
And it's told here by my mother, Enes, from her journals.
(If you missed part one, you can find it here. And part two here.)

The Long First Night

It was long past our bedtime before we managed to get everyone settled.
The shed had become very chilly with the setting of the sun and we found that we had to dig out many extra blankets.
It was really quite snug in our beds.
There is really something quite special about your own bed. If you could take it with you wherever you went, any place would feel like home.
As we lay there quietly listening to the last sleepy little giggle, though no words were spoken, I know we shared the same thoughts. Surely this was the most unique experience of our lives and certainly a satisfying solution for now.
And we were soon asleep.
I woke with a start!
Something had awakened me.
Something weird.
The shed was very dark and all I could see was the sky-light.
For a moment I couldn't seem to collect my facilities.
Where was I?
And what had startled me?
It was very still - a deafening kind of stillness.
Then, suddenly, a scream pierced the silence.
It was half wail, half screech and it was very close.
My hand clamped on my husband's arm and he stirred.
Then we were mesmerized by another wail - much longer than the first.
"What is it?" I whispered.
"I don't know!" he replied, "but it sounds like an animal of some kind."
Again the night stillness was shattered by this weird weeping sound.
It was right outside the shed wall.
We must surely have invaded the private territory of some wild beast. His voice was fraught with angry indignation.
I imagined a huge cat-like monster, his teeth and eyes glistening.
"What are we going to do?" I gasped.
"I'm going out to shoot him!" said my practical husband as he proceeded to dress in the dark. "I have a gun in the pick-up."
I lay back, shivering and pulled the bed clothes up around my chin. "But he might . . ." I couldn't manage to form the words.
"I'll be careful," was his parting shot and I watched helplessly as his dim form vanished into the thick darkness towards the door.
The door slid open and shut.
The screaming had stopped.
The stillness was awesome.
Every nerve and muscle tense, I huddled under the covers.
Suddenly, the moon shone through the cloud cover and the sky light brightened. I could see the monster shapes of furniture in the dim light.
One of the children stirred and laughed weirdly in his sleep.
The shed was suddenly like a huge, black cave and I felt unknown things lurking in its murky depths. At any moment, bats would descend in a cloud, their sharp teeth and claws poised.
Another scream echoed through the night. This time, its creator seemed to have moved away toward the river.
Where was my husband?
The clock on the head board of our bed said 1:30 A.M.
For an eon, I lay there waiting for the sound of the snarling monster attacking.
I could just picture my helpless mate walking into a trap.
One apprehensive hour later, Mark returned and as he undressed and slid his cold feet into bed, I learned through a whispered exchange that he had spent the whole eternal hour observing safely from the cab of the truck!
He had seen nothing.
The children slept through it all. The events of the day had tired them more than we thought.
Some time in the wee hours of the morning, I slept.
But with the coming of daylight, the young bulls to the south of the shed began to test their voices in preparation for the 'bull chorus'.
Further sleep was obviously out of the question.
First we had the deep bass. Then the baritone. Then the alto.
Then the tenor broke away in careless abandon. He sounded like the braying of an ass.
Morning also set off another reaction.
As the early sun's rays hit the quonset, we became the unwilling audience to the pop-pop-popping conversation of hundreds of bolts in its ribs.
The temperature change had obviously set off a chain of protests from our little bolt friends.
Day had come.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Summer in a Quonset Part Two

In the summer of 1968, my parents sold our home ranch out on the south fork of the Milk River, and bought another place nearer to town.
There were myriad challenges.
But the most important was that it was bare land.
Absolutely everything needed to be built.
Construction was immediately started on a new home, and at the same time, on several barns, corrals and outbuildings.
The ranch buildings arose much more quickly than the house.
And that left us in a further dilemma.
Where to live.
The people who had purchased the ranch were justifiably anxious to take possession and our new house was far from completion.
My parents decided to move us into the newly-completed, steel-ribbed quonset.
It was an adventure.
And it's told here by my mother, Enes, from her journals.
(If you missed part one, you can find it here.)

Home!
I drove right into the quonset and parked close to the living room area.
My thoughtful husband had already arranged the living room furniture in an orderly manner - complete with end tables on each side of the sectional couch.
It looked . . . inviting.
I wanted to drop my weary bones into the nearest chair!
However, there was no time.
Everything else there was chaos. Packing crates, boxes, and furniture everywhere.
Doc was busy setting up beds and improving bedrooms with dressers and wardrobe cases for partitions.
The electrician had been busy and two deep freezers were already humming their normal tune whilst preserving the family food.
My stove was being set up in the kitchen area east of the living room space, and it was comforting to know that I would be able to use most of the electrical conveniences I enjoyed.
Two tables were set up in the kitchen - one to be used as a work table and the other for eating our meals.
A set of steel shelves had been erected beside the tables for storing dishes, bowls, kettles and all my baking and cooking materials.
We had found an old cutlery drawer and it came in very handy when it came time to sort all the various kitchen tools.
I covered most of the articles on these shelves with tea towels. We discovered, with some annoyance, that the cement dust settled everywhere.
No amount of sweeping seemed to solve this problem.
In fact, I think it aggravated it!
We covered most of our furniture with grey flannelette sheets and old bed spreads. They stood like great, hooded monsters in the fading light.
It was nearly time to have our evening meal and the thought of food was farthest from my mind.
Our children were dancing about the crates and boxes in gleeful abandon and I hated to intrude upon this carefree joy with restrictions.
Luckily, I didn't have to.
A dear, sympathetic neighbour brought in a hot, steaming casserole of peppered steak and a crisp green salad. (I shall always have a soft spot for hot, peppered steak and a thoughtful friend.)
We suddenly discovered that we were not only hungry, but ravenous.
Just to smell this delicious food set our taste buds to dancing. We set the table quickly and all sat down together to share a moment of thankfulness and enjoy this wonderful food.
It had been a long day, this 23 of June. A warm, sunny day after the refreshing rain of the night before.
It was a day full of sound and activity, of confusion and frustration.
A day ending one segment of our lives and beginning a new one in a long chain of segments - each one an event that would shatter, frustrate or console us as we met new challenges.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Summer in a Quonset Part One

Everything Under Construction

In the summer of 1968, my parents sold our home ranch out on the south fork of the Milk River, and bought another place nearer to town.
There were myriad challenges.
But the most important was that it was bare land.
Absolutely everything needed to be built.
Construction was immediately started on a new home, and at the same time, on several barns, corrals and outbuildings.
The ranch buildings arose much more quickly than the house.
And that left us in a further dilemma.
Where to live.
The people who had purchased the ranch were justifiably anxious to take possession and our new house was far from completion.
My parents decided to move us into the newly-completed, steel-ribbed quonset.
It was an adventure.
And it's told here by my mother, Enes, from her journals:

The red letter day was here.
There could be no more stalling - no more postponing - no more compromising.
We had sold our house three months before and we just must move!
All the planning and indecision washed over me like a cold shower.
Nothing had been resolved, though all angels had been considered.
While our new home was being built, should we move into a motel? To a trailer? Rent a house?
All of them were ticked off for various reasons - too expensive, too many children (six when our eldest was home), and homes to rent were not available.
There was one alternative, however.
My rancher/veterinarian husband had built a quonset.
A huge quonset (100 feet by 40 feet).
And it had a cement floor, smooth in the center and rough at one end where he eventually planned to build a barn with stalls for convalescing animals. (The rough floor would keep the animals from slipping.)
It had a cold water outlet and a sewer outlet at the rough end.
I don't know how the great light dawned, but we suddenly came up with this fantastic idea.
Why not move into the quonset for the summer?
We could assemble our living area in the center near the water outlet and carry all our waste water to the sewer outlet in the future barn space.
It would work.
We still had many misgivings about living in 'the shed' and they seemed to multiply as the day for the move drew nearer.
So, it was with many the doubts still swimming through my head that I set myself to the task of packing.
The confusion grew as the moving van arrived and it progressed steadily through the length of the day until by late afternoon my mind and limbs were numb.
Finally, though, I was looking about the nearly-empty home I loved.
It was as if I were viewing a funeral procession of a dear friend.
The car was packed to the roof. There was room only for me as the driver, and my littlest child, Anita, on a heap of articles beside me.
Thank goodness the others were all in school and didn't have to witness this agonizing transformation. (Although I had reason to suspect that they were entranced by the whole idea - anything so unusual would be a great adventure!)
They could not possibly perceive all the 'mechanics' of the operation. And definitely would not experience the re-organization and planning that would have to be done before our family would resume a smooth day-to-day living.
No one could help me with this.
I felt as if I had been prepared for slaughter and my unwilling body was being swept toward the surgeon with scalpel poised and grinning teeth mocking me.
Life's necessities and comforts had gone.
I had to accept that.
So, with a firm grip on the steering wheel and quivering lip clamped firmly in my teeth, I shifted the family car into reverse and drove resolutely toward my 'summer home'.

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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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