Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Friday, December 2, 2011

Wind: Part One

 . . . like a tumbling tumbleweed!

Wherein We Prove That Wind and Little Kids Aren't A Good Mix . . .

The wind blows in Southern Alberta.
And I don't mean blows in the modern 'that really stinks' way.
Although it's true.
No, I mean blows in the old-fashioned 'wind is really strong' way.
Because it blows.
Hard.
From the West.
And constantly.
One never quite gets used to it.
Even when one is raised with it.
It's . . . irritating.
People try to cope.
They make jokes about it.
Like the farmer getting out of bed hours earlier than usual, telling his wife that he needs the extra time to drive to the next province because that's where his land has drifted to.
Or being able to tell how old a person is by the direction and angle of their leaning.
Wind is a part of living on the prairies.
You just do the best you can.
When my husby and I lived in our first home, a mobile one, we were careful to park it East to West, instead of North to South.
That gave our home a marginally better chance of not being rolled.
But our bedroom was in the West end of our trailer. Where the wind was the strongest.
All day, the trailer would buck in the wind.
And all night.
We never slept.
One time, the wind was so strong that Grant came home from work, put a hand under our little, built-on entryway, and lifted.
The little four by four room took off like a box kite.
Or Dorothy's house.
But there, all similarities end.
It didn't quite make it to Kansas.
And, though it might have taken out a gopher or two, there were no red slippers sticking out from beneath it when we found it later, about a mile away, happily sitting in the middle of the field.
Yes. The wind is strong.
Case in point . . .
I had been to town with my four kids, ages 6, 5, 2 and 0.
We pulled up to our little home.
I should point out, here, that our little home stood at the top of a small hill, clearly exposed to the prevailing breezes.
Which were . . . prevailing.
We got out of the car.
The older two boys made a bee-line for the house.
No sense in standing out in the open to be pummelled by God's natural sand-blaster.
I unbuckled my two-year-old, Duffy, and lifted him from the car, then turned and unclasped the baby's car seat.
Then I turned back and reached for Duffy's hand.
I missed.
He was eager to get to the house and was already following his two big brothers.
He got to the front of the car when a big gust of wind knocked him flat.
But it didn't stop with that.
Instead, it continued to blow, rolling him over and over, across the yard.
“Mommy!” he shrieked.
I didn't dare set the baby down for fear of the same thing happening to her, so I ran after him as fast as I could, still lugging the car seat.
It was like a scene out of a movie.
Little boy doing a tumbleweed impression while his mother, hampered by yet another child (with carrier), runs after him.
I'm sure I saw Charlie Chaplin do something similar.
I managed to catch my son.
Sometime before he reached Saskatchewan.
He was shaken up and dusty, but otherwise unharmed.
We grow them tough in the prairies.
Now we'll just have to work on growing them heavier.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Baby Swears

She of the foul mouth . . .

There are ways of making one's anger and frustration known.
Even when one is . . . little.
My friends two eldest children were having 'one of those days'.
When arguments erupted at regular intervals.
And no one was happy.
Periodically, one of them would go to their mother and say, “Sister said the 'S' word!”
Now their mother was an adult.
I probably don't need to point that out.
She knew what the 'S' word was.
But had no idea how her children had learned it.
Appropriate punishment was carried out.
A few minutes later, the other child was at her side. “Brother said the 'S' word!”
This went on for some time.
Finally, totally exasperated, their mother pulled both of them aside and asked them where they had learned the 'S' word.
“Well you and Dad say it!”
Now my friend lived in a non-cursing home.
Expletives were kept strictly within certain bounds.
She knew she had never, in her entire life, said the 'S' word.
She shook her head. “When did I say it?”
“Mom, you say it all of the time!”
“Really?”
“All the time!”
Finally, she realized that there was one question she had not asked.
“Kids, what is the 'S' word?”
Together they chorused, “Stupid!”
Ah. Okay.
Not a desirable word, but not quite what she was thinking, either.
Now everyone was on the same page.
We, too had our forbidden family curse words.
Mom and Dad had a problem with children abusing each other verbally.
Stupid was a no-no.
But we were raised on a ranch.
With hired men.
Whose language was, how shall I say it . . . colourful.
And it was inevitable that we should pick some of it up.
I remember the first time we heard our little sister curse.
It shocked my younger brother and I to our toes.
We stared at our tiny sister in disbelief.
Had we heard what we had just heard?
Mom was gonna have something to say about this!
We ran to tell her.
Let's face it, getting each other into trouble was the thing we liked doing the most.
Because.
“Mom! Mom! Anita said something bad!”
Mom stopped what she was doing and followed us to where the guilty party stood.
Feet planted.
Chin out.
Bristling with anger and defiance.
Mom knelt next to her.
“Anita, what did you say?”
“Nothing.”
“Anita, Diane and Blair told me you said a bad word. What was it?”
“I didn't say anything!”
“Anita!”
“Okay.” She sighed. “I said 'Stupid Poop'.”
Her three-year-old ears had heard what the hired men had spouted and processed it to this?
There was hope for the world after all.

'Stupid poop' remained our most formidable curse for many, many years.
Until it was replaced by something more worldly, as recounted here.
Ah, the price of living in the world . . .

Monday, November 28, 2011

Gratitude Giveaways Winner!

Congratulations to Martha of Martha's Bookshelf.
She is the fantastically lucky winner of a copy of Carving Angels!
Yay!
And a very big thank you to everyone who entered the contest!
I write for you!

Of Tables, Wind and Making an Ash of Oneself

Grant build our family a picnic table.
Cedar.
Nice.
It was the scene of many, many family meals and celebrations.
And occasionally the scene of . . . adventures.
Let me explain.
First, a little background.
Grant built a little home for us.
Okay. Originally, it was built as a dog kennel.
Then converted to a chicken coop.
Then we cleaned it up, insulated and panelled the interior.
Put down new flooring.
And we moved in.
Snug and cozy.
It was heated with a wood stove.
That is an important point.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
When I was expecting our fourth child, we decided that we needed more than 300 square feet to live in.
Grant built a basement and we moved our little house onto it.
Wow! Double the space!
We could now have such luxuries as . . . bedrooms!
A bathroom!
Luxury indeed.
But still heated with a wood stove.
Now comes the part where the picnic table and the wood stove come together.
It was winter.
Not much call for meals outdoors on our picnic table.
It had been shoved close to the house.
One day, just as we were preparing to head into town, Grant decided to clean out the little stove.
He carefully collected the ashes into a paper sack and carried them outside to put in the ash can.
Yes, we really had an ash can.
Don't ask.
Moving on . . .
One of the kids had a minor emergency just as my husby reached the front door.
He set his bag of 'mostly dead' ashes on the picnic table and scrambled to take care of the problem.
Done.
Then we packed up and left.
The bag of ashes sat, forgotten, in the centre of the picnic table.
I should explain, here, that the wind always blows in Southern Alberta.
This is important.
We were gone for some hours.
The wind blew on the little paper sack full of ashes.
And finally, ignited some of them.
They consumed the bag.
Then started on the nearest combustible object.
You guessed it.
Our picnic table.
Pushed up tight against the house.
When we returned from town, my husby stopped the car and turned it off,
Then hollered something unintelligible and ran for the house.
I was busy unbuckling children and pulling the baby out of her car seat.
I turned around just as Grant appeared with a bucket of water.
Which he threw on the picnic table.
It was then that I noticed the plume of smoke.
And heard the hissing of unhappy flames meeting . . . something extinguishing.
I moved closer.
Grant stood, surveying our picnic table.
Or, through the smoke, what was left of our picnic table.
An expression of relief and chagrin on his face.
“What on earth happened?” Me.
“I think I must have left the bag of ashes on the table.” He.
“Huh.” Me.
I herded the kids into the house while Grant poured more water on the picnic table.
Later, we took stock.
The table, miraculously, was mostly intact.
The bag of ashes had burned a large (12”) hole in the very centre.
The rest of it was still usable.
The miraculous part was the fact that the fire had confined itself to the centre of the table.
With the brisk wind, it could easily have burned the entire thing.
Not to mention our house.
Miracles, indeed.

There is a codicil.
My brother, Jerry, and his family were over to our little house for dinner.
As they were leaving, Jerry spotted the hole in the middle of our picnic table.
He laughed, sat down and said, “This porridge is too hot! said Papa Bear.”
Miracles aside, it was pretty funny.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mrs. Santa's Panties By Grant Tolley

In recent months I have taken to walking during my lunch hour. 
Walking is my favourite form of just plain old exercise. A holdover, I guess, from my Boy Scout days when I always enjoyed hiking in the mountains and following a long trail through the forests and the trees.
But I digress already.
My noon-hour constitutionals take me most days to a shopping plaza that is about 2 ½ kilometres away from my office – I'm glad to say that I quite enjoy walking 5 kilometres or so most every day. 
For me it is the most natural thing in the world to do, and the most healthy.
When I get to the shopping plaza, I often visit the bank there.
I usually have to put some money into the bank so that they can keep operating.
Ahem! 
When I am not paying penance to the bankers, I sometimes wander through one or more of the commercial establishments. 
Now I should say that I am not much of a shopper-for-the-sake-of-shopping. But in recent years – since the marriages of my children and the arrival of an increasing gaggle of grand-kids – that I have taken to just wandering through stores, casually watching for a bargain on something that one or the other of them would like or could put to good use. 
So I buy it, and salt it away in my joint-occupancy-with-my-Beloved closet, which holds most everything except what a closet is normally supposed to hold.
So the other day, I had found a small item or two, which I had cradled in my arms (having being either too short-sighted or just plain stupid enough not to have picked up a shopping basket) – and I headed to the cash register. 
Now you must understand that this was the first really cold day of our winter, so I had on my bulky winter jacket, accompanied by dis-en-handed gloves which I held in one hand, holding the several items I needed to pay for, and then trying to fish my wallet out of a pants pocket that just happened to be underneath all of the above, and encumbered further by a set of keys and a blackberry, all not-so-neatly crammed into the same pocket. 
I don’t have a clue who the idiot was who put all that stuff there.
Needless to say, standing at the cash register, I was delayed somewhat on my wallet-fishing expedition, which held up the line of people behind me. 
One of my own pet peeves! 
People who wait in line for 20 minutes to pay for their purchases, then wait until the cashier says “Twenty-eight dollars and two cents, please”, before they even start looking for their wallet or opening their purse.
And then inevitably not finding it.
Especially in a purse – in my Beloved’s purse, her cheque-book usually ends up hiding right underneath the kitchen sink.
But I digress again . . . . 
I am sometimes annoyed by those persons – and now I find that I are one! 
Begorrah!
A woman behind me starts talking. 
To me. 
I keep fishing, more hurriedly, figuring that she is like me, and I am annoying her by delaying the line. I drop my gloves. 
I stoop to pick them up – and drop one of my purchases out of my arms. 
The woman laughs. 
Laughs! 
At me! 
And keeps talking. 
I’m not hearing much of what she says, because my eyes are on the floor – not literally, but almost -- and my ears can’t seem to work at the same time that my eyes do under duress. 
I toss my gloves onto the counter, stoop to pick up the dropped item – oops, make that now “items” -- which I quickly scoop up and throw onto the counter.
Whereupon one skids to the other side of the counter and falls, again, at the feet of the cashier.
“I’m sorry,” I say generally, hoping to include both the cashier and chattering Mom-like lady behind me.
And then I notice: Chattering Mom-Lady is smiling -- and still laughing! 
And then, with my eyes back in their sockets, I stop to listen.
Amidst chuckles, Mom-Lady is saying to me, “Don’t you just hate it when that happens! Every time I get into a rush, that happens! Why it happened to me just the other day, and I bent over to pick up the new underwear . . . . “
My mind starts racing . . . . Is this going to be one of those way-too-much-information-from-a-total-stranger type of stories?
“. . . and when I finally bent my back upright again – that floor is a loooong ways down there, these days . . . ." – she points to her rumpled grey hair doing a good job of escaping from underneath a too-small-for-so-much-hair, Canadian-flag touque -- “I turned to the guy behind me and tried to give him the panties that I had just picked up off the floor, and I told him, “You dropped your boxers, Sonny!” And he just about fell over laughing!”
I smile, as a jolly guffaw that reminds me of one of Santa Claus’ rolling belly-laughs rises up through Mom-Lady and shines out through her face.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” I mutter in an attempt at an apology.
“Oh my heavens!” says Mom-Lady, to me and the world in general. “I'm not in any hurry, Son! You just take your time.”
Fifty-six years old, and she calls me “son”.
“Thanks,” I mutter again. “You’re very patient.”
By this time I have successfully completed my fishing expedition, the cashier has completed the transaction, and I am attempting to put on my gloves and retrieve all my shopping bags. There is one left on the cashier’s counter that I don’t quite know how I'm going to retrieve.
“Can I help you there?” Mom-Lady queries.
Having only two fingers left on which a shopping bag could be hung, I turn to Mom-Lady and, pointing with my last two fingers at the last bag on the counter, say to her, “Would you mind handing me my panties there?”
Mom-Lady guffaws, long and loud. I'm afraid we might have to call 9-1-1. 
The cashier is laughing. As are two or three people in the line-up behind us.
Between rumbles of laughter, Mom-Lady hooks the last bag on my last two fingers, and says: “You have a great Christmas, son.”
“And you too, Mom” I reply through my smile.
Son. She called me “son”, and she couldn’t have been more than 5 years older than me. My hair was just as grey as hers. And even more rumpled.
As I think about Mom-Lady on my walk back to my office – arms loaded with shopping bags, for 2 ½ kilometres – I think, what a genuine human being! What a wonderful person! 
Where so many others might have been consumed by Queue Rage – or Road Rage – or Airplane Rage, or so many other of the non-existent syndromes that we have invented as an excuse to be rude and impolite and impatient and unkind – how very nice it is to encounter whom and what I regard as a genuine, true, Gentle-Woman.
Might Santa Claus bring us many more – this year and every year.



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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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