Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Little Carbon in the Biscuits

Picture him 20 years younger.
The hair was red . . .

Dad was the youngest in a family of 11 children.
He had never been anywhere.
His father needed to take supplies to one of the family cow camps.
Dad was five.
Old enough, finally, to go along.
The two of them started out.
The camp was about 35 miles away over roads that were mostly trails across the prairie.
Though the day had started out beautiful, the weather quickly turned sour.
As often happens in Southern Alberta.
Before they could start for home, a blizzard blew in.
Travel quickly became impossible.
Granddad decided that he and his youngest son would have to bunk with the rotund keeper (who also served as cook, bottle washer, chore boy, range rider and chief spinner of horrendous tales), of the camp.
Dad was beyond excited.
It was his first time sleeping away from home.
The next morning dawned bright and clear.
As often happens in Southern Alberta . . . too.
Before the two of them left, however, they were offered breakfast by the keeper.
He made bacon and eggs and, because the old camp stove was rather unpredictable, biscuits that were burned black.
At first, Dad turned up his nose at the sight of the large, black lumps, but, after seeing his father eat a couple, he decided to try.
They weren't too bad.
He even got through a second.
Safely back at home a few hours later, as they were sitting down to lunch, his mother asked how he had liked it at the camp.
Dad was quite excited about the whole experience and talked about it enthusiastically.
He wished he could have stayed.
His Mom asked what he had eaten for breakfast.
It had been great, he enthused.
And he had eaten all of it!
"What did you have?" his mother asked.
"Bacon 'n eggs 'n coal!" Dad said proudly.
No wonder people were hardier back then.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Totally By Surprise

Caught One!!!
May 1, 2006 was my Husby's and my 30th anniversary.
Rather exciting on many levels.
But, because we had celebrated our previous anniversary in a more exotic locale, and were still paying off the bills, we opted for a quiet celebration with just the two of us.
At home.
That was the plan.
Then our youngest daughter announced that there was going to be a banquet for her College graduating class on that date.
We were excited to observe our daughter's special time.
It would be a dress-up affair.
Ooooh!
With free food.
That someone else cooked.
Life just didn't get any better.
My Husby and I could celebrate our anniversary on any date about or near the actual date.
So we happily dressed in our best and got ready to go.
It had been a busy day already.
Our daughter, Caitlin and her husband, Steven had borrowed our music equipment to do a dance for some friends.
My Dad had come up for the weekend.
He was on the board of his housing development and needed to see their lawyer first thing on Monday morning.
So he had decided to make a weekend of it and stay with us.
I was happy to have him there.
He didn't visit often enough.
Just before we left for Tiana's dinner, we made certain that Dad was able to visit with relatives while we were gone.
He left.
All was well.
Then Tristan, our youngest son, announced that we needed to stop at the Church on our way past.
They were rehearsing a play and he had promised them a costume.
No problem.
We drove into the parking lot and our two youngest got out and went inside.
My Husby and I waited.
Finally, Tristan came out.
“Oh, you guys have to come in and see this,” he said. “It'll knock your socks off!”
I looked at my Husby, who shrugged and shut off the van.
“What's a couple of minutes?” he said.
We went inside.
The hallway was deserted.
Tristan led us to the gym.
He pushed open the door.
And the first person I saw was my Dad.
What on earth was he doing here?
At a rehearsal?
He was with my Aunt June.
The relative he was supposed to be visiting.
Okay, this was getting weirder and weirder.
The door opened wider.
And I saw that the room was filled with friends and family.
Wow! Everyone I knew in one room.
My only thought? 'Oh, boy. We're going to be late to my daughter's dinner.'
Then I saw my daughter.
She was smiling and excited.
And standing next to the music equipment that had been borrowed 'for a friend's dance'.
And that's when it hit me.
There was no graduation banquet.
There was no friend's party.
There was no lawyer's visit.
They had all been a ruse to get my Husby and I into that room for our surprise 30th Anniversary party.
And I was truly surprised.
And had a wonderful time, visiting and sharing memories.
And listening to beautiful music.
How my kids managed to plan and execute it, on Facebook and through assorted emails without me catching on or even becoming suspicious is a mystery to this day.
Well, this is me we're talking about.
Okay. Maybe not such a surprise after all.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

If You Can't Take the Pressure . . .

Note the pressure 'bob'. It's there for a reason . . .

During their early years on the ranch, my parents sponsored several German immigrants.
They all proved to be wonderful, industrious, conscientious people.
Eager to work and to become 'Canadians'.
One of the girls, Erica, was helping Mom in the house when my next older brother was born.
She proved to be invaluable with the household chores and cooking, but struggled at learning English.
Mom knew a little German, however, so they managed to muddle through.
On a few occasions, though, the language barrier proved to be a . . . barrier.
Erica was fascinated with the pressure cooker.
That miraculous appliance that could cook food in a fraction of the time.
The microwave of the 50s.
Apparently, though they were widely used in Canada, they hadn't caught on in Erica's part of Germany.
Mom had tried to school Erica on the proper use of this amazing new contraption.
She had managed to get through steps one through four.
  1. Food and a small amount of water is placed inside
  2. Seal adjusted
  3. Lid screwed on and
  4. Pressure bob applied.
I should point out, here, that those are the easy steps.
Then comes the actual cooking part.
And this was where Erica always came to grief.
She couldn't seem to grasp that, if the pressure rings are up on the pressure bob, the kettle is full of . . . pressure.
Up to this point, Mom had always been there to divert disaster.
But on this particular day, Mom was still in town running errands.
Erica decided to cook dinner on her own.
What a glorious opportunity to try out the fabulous new invention!
All went well.
Pots alternately steamed and bubbled.
Dinner was nearly ready.
Erica pulled the large pressure cooker off the stove and gave it a quick dunk under a cold stream of water.
Then she wrenched off the lid.
The lid and released steam hit her full in the face.
Beets flew everywhere.
Erica screamed and ran out on the front steps.
Dad heard her screaming and come running.
There he found the poor girl, confused and in obvious pain.
Her nose was bleeding profusely and she had obviously been scalded.
He got her into the bathroom, where he started her soaking her face in cold water.
When Mom came home a short time later, she bundled Erica into the girl's bedroom and applied teabags to the exposed areas.
They proved to be quite soothing and she was able to rest.
Then Mom was able to start on the kitchen.
Which looked like a slaughter house.
Beets were everywhere.
Mom even found one on top of the knick-knack shelf in the corner.
Remarkably, a month later, Erica had healed without a mark.
But Mom was taking no further chances.
Though the pressure cooker remained in plain sight, the pressure bob, the little gizmo that made everything . . . dangerous, was hidden in a very secret place.
Never store the gun and the bullets in the same cupboard.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Husband for Sale

Perfect for each other.

My Mom had been raised on a ranch.
She knew cattle
And  could speak the language with anyone.
But there were times when she longed to change the conversation.
She and Dad were out with a group of friends.
Fellow ranchers.
The conversation veered, as it always did, to the discussion of the newest miracle bull.
"That 55L! What a bull! Longest animal I've ever seen!"
An animal's length is important. More beef on the hoof.
Just FYI.
The men were enraptured.
The women, silent, polite listeners.
Mom tried to add some colour other than red and white to the conversation.
We did something different this weekend," she said. "We went to a Gilbert and Sullivan . . ."
But the men's conversation continued unabated.
"You know, 55L was unknown until his calves hit the ground! Long. Tall. Big as colts!"
"We saw the Pirates of Penzance," Mom finished weakly.
No one heard her.
She sighed and withdrew.
But her mind was working busily.
A few days later, Mom again took a back seat to Dad's cows.
Giving up on a much anticipated wedding because Dad couldn't go.
That was the last straw.
The next day, she decided to play a prank on my Dad.
She called the local paper and had this ad inserted:
            HUSBAND FOR SALE - Cheap
            Complete with blue jeans, SSS monogrammed shirt, 
            rubber boots, old floppy hat, B.S. spattered coveralls, 
            pitch fork, scoop shovel, feed bucket, 
            25 Hereford cows and one grumpy bull. 
            Not home much. 
            Speaks only COW. Call 244-2108
Then she waited.
Not a word was said, though she saw my father reading the paper and knew that he always finished every word.
The next day, another ad appeared, directly below Mom's.
This one read:
            HONEY FOR SALE
            The sweetest gal this side of Texas. Good mother, 
            helpful, kind, patient, understanding, loving,
            cheerful, caring, cooperative, self-sacrificing, 
            grateful for all favours, especially a frugal income, 
            and as a bonus, is beautiful and loves 
            my Hereford cows. Call 244-2108.
Enough said.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ski Pants for Sale - Cheap

Skier Extraordinaire!

It has finally snowed in Edmonton, Alberta.
Significantly.
The first real snow of the winter.
I know. I know.
Weird.
The skiers are ecstatic.
And that reminds me of a story . . .
My siblings and I loved to ski.
Our Dad had introduced us to it the winter I turned eight and it had become a . . . habit.
Well, actually more of a fixation, but we'll go with habit.
We went every chance we could get.
And scoured the catalogues for new and wonderful accessories for our grand passion.
I had just made my first official 'ski' purchase.
New ski pants.
They were expensive.
But gorgeous.
Dark brown.
Perfect fit.
I was going to wow everyone on that hill!
I couldn't do it with my skiing.
This was the next best thing.
I should explain, here, that ski pants in the 60s weren't the stretchable remarkable cloth that we have now.
In fact, they were distinctly . . . un-stretchable.
Something which will figure largely in my story later.
But they had little side zippers at the ankles.
And they had little elastics that slid under your foot.
They were nifty (real word).
Happily, I donned them and my brother and I were off.
Now, I should explain, here, that Big Mountain in Whitefish Montana was a wonderful place to ski.
There were numerous slopes.
Each with its own particular brand of ski tow.
I always chose the expert slope.
Not that I could actually ski the expert slope.
For two other reasons.
  1. It had a ski trail that wound around behind and through the wonderful forest, and
  2. The trail came out at the top of the Intermediate slope, allowing the skier to then ski to the bottom.
  3. Comparatively unharmed.
It was the best of all worlds.
I made my first run to the top of the expert slope.
Disembarked.
Well, slid off the chairlift into a heap.
But to one side.
An important point.
I got my limbs more-or-less together and headed for the mouth of the trail.
It was stunningly beautiful.
The sun was shining.
There had just been a fresh fall of snow.
Over a foot of sparkling, fluffy whiteness blanketed the landscape.
I took a deep, satisfying breath of the spicy air and slid onto the trail.
For the next 20 minutes, I was in heaven.
Finally, the trail ended.
I slid quickly out onto the slope.
Only to discover that it hadn't yet been touched by . . . anything.
It was still in it's pristine, just-been-snowed-on condition.
It took me a few moments to discover that this could present a problem.
The trail I had been on had been fairly packed.
My skis were still on that level.
They hadn't yet adjusted to the extra foot of snow.
I was sliding along with everything below my knees hidden in the fresh snow.
For a second, it was fun.
Then I hit something.
I never discovered what it was.
A rock.
A lump of ice.
Whatever.
It stopped me.
Instantly.
I wasn't prepared.
My body, already bent forward in my best 'snowplow' position, bent further.
In fact, I whacked my forehead on my knees.
Something I wish I could do today.
But I digress . . .
My glasses popped off into the deep snow.
Oh, rats.
I rubbed my head and scrabbled around in the snow, finally, triumphantly extracting my glasses.
Then I straightened.
And felt a draft.
Oh-oh.
Remember what I had said about my ski pants being - not stretchy?
This would be where that fact comes into play.
When my body had done its 'fold-in-half' trick, it proved to be something my new pants had been completely unprepared for.
They split from waistband to waistband, right along the crotch.
I was now effectively wearing two pant legs.
Held up with a narrow strip of cloth at the top.
I definitely needed a longer coat.
Or a loincloth.
And this was the first run of the day.
Sigh.
I made the run down the slope as carefully and unobtrusively as possible, then sneaked to the truck and my suitcase.
The change from my new, albeit flimsy ski pants to my usual jeans was accomplished in a minimum of time.
And I was back on the slope.
For the first few runs, I carefully peered at people to see if anyone recognized me as the almost-pantless girl who had been on the slope a short time earlier.
But, as no one seemed to be paying much attention to me, I finally relaxed.
But I learned something that day.
Expensive can sometimes mean cheap.
It just costs more.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Vaccinations 101 -or- Man, It's Cold!

Oh sure . . . they look healthy now . . .
It gets very cold in Southern Alberta.
And calves need to be vaccinated.
And ranching can be a dangerous business.
These statements actually go together.
To create one of the scariest experiences of my young life.
Let me explain . . .
Dad was at a neighbouring ranch, on a -40 spring day, vaccinating the new spring calf crop against Blackleg.
I should probably tell you that Blackleg is a particularly vicious and deadly disease, caused by a spore in the ground.
This tiny spore, inadvertently ingested by calves between six and twenty-four months of age can cause death within 12 to 48 hours.
Nasty.
And impossible to treat, once an animal has been infected.
But, happily, almost completely controlled by early vaccination.
Early.
As in 'before-it-gets-warm-in-Alberta'.
So, sometime before July.
That explains Dad, the calves and the cold.
Moving on . . .
The calves were being shuffled down a chute, one by one, to receive their vitally necessary little jab.
All was going well.
One group finished.
Another being sorted into the catch pen for further shuffling.
Meanwhile, Dad had placed his pistol syringe under his coat to keep it, and the vaccine it contained, from freezing.
Remember? Minus 40?
One of the animals in the pen bumped into him.
The syringe pricked the skin of his belly.
Those needles are sharp for a reason . . .
He could only have taken in a very minute amount of the Blackleg vaccine.
But it was enough.
By the time he finished with the herd, he knew he was in trouble.
He drove himself to the hospital.
And stayed there.
For three weeks.
He was a very, very sick man.
But his strong constitution and normally healthy lifestyle finally tipped the balance and he began to respond to treatment.
At the end of the third week, a thinner, whiter version of my father returned home.
My brave mother hadn't explained, at least to the younger half of the family, exactly what was wrong with Daddy.
We knew he was in hospital, but had no idea why.
Or how serious it was.
It was only years later that I found out the whole story.
Okay. Much too late to panic now.
But we learned several things from this experience:
  1. Vaccine for calves should really only be given to calves.
  2. People don't respond well to it.
  3. Never hold one's syringe under one's coat.
  4. Don't vaccinate in the cold.
  5. So all vaccinating should be done in . . . Arizona.
  6. And you might just work in a little holiday at the same time . . .
You heard it here first.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Any Excuse for a Water Fight.

Not just for vaccinations any more . . .

My Dad once shot my Husby through the wall of our family home with a pistol.
Maybe I should explain . . .
The first summer after my Husby and I got married was blistering hot.
Dad decided that the ranch house needed air conditioning.
There were a few complications.
It was a very old house.
With very small windows.
Difficult to park one of the quick and convenient 'window-mount' air conditioners.
He decided that he would have a unit installed in the wall of the family room.
Easy.
All one had to do was remove a window-sized chunk of wall and voila!
Instant access.
Now who to talk into the job?
Ah. His newest son-in-law.
The one who could do everything.
Handy.
My Husby was happy to do it.
He'd never done it before.
And it presented a new and different challenge.
Excellent.
He collected his tools and started in.
Measuring and measuring and cutting.
(Because measuring is twice as important as cutting, he informed me.)
Then he removed the outer siding from the chosen square.
Then the insulation and finally, the studs.
They were a bit trickier because he had to cut them from the outside, then go inside to pull the nails from the panelling.
But finally, all that remained between he and the family room was the inside panelling.
This was fun!
He pulled the last of a two-by-four from its former home.
Then looked down.
The front of his T-shirt was wet.
He looked up into the eaves.
Had he hit a pocket of water?
Was there a bird?
Nothing.
He looked down.
His shirt was wetter.
Weird.
Then he looked at the wall.
Just in time to see a tiny jet of water spurt from one of the nail holes that had so recently held the studs in place.
There's something your don't see every day.
Another spurt.
His shirt was getting quite wet by this point.
“Hey!” he shouted.
Then, from the other side of the wall, he heard my father. “Did I get you?”
“Yes, you got me!”
One last squirt.
“Hey!”
The sound of laughter.
Triumphant laughter.
How he had done it was soon explained.
Amidst chuckles.
Dad had gotten one of his vaccination guns (a syringe designed to vaccinate several head of cattle in quick succession) and, filling it with cold water, had poked it through one of the nail holes in the old panelling.
The rest is self explanatory.
But those guns can really shoot.
Some people never grow up.
It's a good thing.

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