Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Saturday, May 5, 2012

What I Meant to Say Was . . .


I know you’ve done it.
I know I have.
Blurted out something that sounded a whole lot different in your head.
It’s true.
Your brain coughs up a thought.
And hits ‘send’.
Then, somehow, during transition, it gets . . . mixed up.
Maybe exposure to the air changes it.
And it ends up sounding like . . . nothing you intended.
My mom was a master at this.
Example one:
Picture Christmas Eve.
Every available surface in the kitchen groaning beneath seven layers of freshly-baked Christmas delicious-ness.
No supper in sight.
A starving son-in-law, passing the piles of goodies.
Hunger overcomes discretion.
He pops a butter tart into his mouth.
Mom, emerging from the point of action in front of the oven, red-faced and carrying yet another pan of treats, “Don’t eat that! It’s for Christmas!”
Example two:
Mom brings home the good peanut better.
Not the cheap stuff which comes in a tin, allowing all of the oil to rise to the top so that the upper layers are too creamy and the bottom layers need to be chiseled from the container with a hammer.
Then passed through the meat grinder to make them of a consistency to spread.
Which tin, I should mention, is still on the shelf.
Gathering dust.
Sooo . . . good peanut butter.
Which is immediately set upon by the ‘finickily-starved’ (I just made that up) peanut butter fiends that inhabit the house.
 “I’m going to stop buying that peanut butter. You kids just eat it!”
Mom taught her daughters well.
I, too have had my share of ‘things-said-that-didn’t-come-out-just-right’.
We were discussing a young man of our acquaintance who had been born with weak joints in his hips.
My mother-in-law was cautioning my kids not to jump off the retaining wall in her back garden, citing this young man as an example of ‘damage that could follow’.
I knew that his condition was genetic.
Or congenital.
Which mean the same thing.
What came out was, “Oh, but I thought his condition was genital!”
Something vastly different.
Wait. Everybody un-hear that!
Just let me suck those words back into my mouth!
Admit it.
It’s happened to you . . .

Friday, May 4, 2012

C'ava Bite?


Want some?
My parents were very conscious of teaching us proper manners.
Starting at an early age.
There were ongoing lessons on ‘Please’ and ‘Thank-you’.
The difference between our ‘Inside voice’ and our ‘Outside voice’.
Being polite and respectful to others, especially other adults.
Offering aid when needed.
Being kind.
Oh, and sharing.
Dad had a very unique method of teaching this last aspect.
He would ask for a bite of something.
Usually something delicious that was being rapidly and happily consumed.
I should mention, here, that travels with my Dad were punctuated periodically by stops for the potty.
And treats.
Usually chocolate bars and pop.
A health food nut, he wasn’t.
Moving on . . .
Inevitably, once the frantic tearing of paper wrappers had ceased, Dad would approach whichever child was sitting closest.
The exchange went something like this . . .
Dad: “Oh, that looks good!”
Child: Hesitant nodding.
Dad: “Would you like to share with Daddy?”
Now here is where it got tricky.
The child never really wanted to share.
But this was Dad.
The man who had just provided the entire delicacy.
Perhaps sharing a tiny bit with him would be okay.
Hand, clutching said treat was cautiously extended.
Whereupon (good word) Dad would take a small bite.
Child went happily back to eating and Dad would consider the lesson on sharing well learned.
But sometimes, like all potential teaching moments, his lesson backfired.
The exchange then went something like this . . .
Dad: “Would you like to share with Daddy?”
Child’s hand extends what had only recently been a pristine bar of deliciousness.
And which now was a lump of goo.
Dad: “That’s okay. I don’t need a bite.”
Child happily goes back to eating.
The funny thing about this lesson was the fact that the Adult was the one learning.
What is the saying about teaching ‘old dogs’?
Case in point. Many, many years into the future . . .
My son was eating a chocolate bar.
I use this term lightly.
The liberal coating of chocolate on face, arms and clothing should have given ample warning.
But Grampa leaned toward him anyway. “Would you like to share with Grampa?”
My son held out his hand.
There was no discernible difference between fingers and actual chocolate bar.
My Dad stared at the proffered hand and smiled, with difficulty.
“That’s okay. Grampa doesn’t want a bite.”
The lesson? Sometimes, sharing is painful.
For the shar-ee as well as for the shar-er.
Some lessons take a long time to get through. 


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lego - The Leading Edge In Home Defense


Approach with caution!

We were visiting/staying with my husband’s sister.
Her home was in the country, surrounded by acres of Adventure.
Our kids loved it.
They had worn themselves out and were tucked into their respective beds.
The visiting adults had finally followed their example and were peacefully snoring.
My Husby and I were on the hide-a-bed in the family room.
All was quiet.
I should explain, here, that our bed was situated at the top of the stairs.
And that the master bedroom was down said stairs.
And that anyone wanting to use the bathroom would have to walk between our bed and the only source of light in the entire house, the glass doors.
Back to my story . . .
I heard a noise.
As the mother of six, I was instantly awake.
A floor was creaking.
Someone was coming up the stairs.
An adult-sized figure materialized out of the gloom beside me making their slow, careful way towards the bathroom.
For a moment, they were silhouetted against the door/window.
Then they disappeared.
I’m not making this up.
They disappeared.
One moment they were there.
Black cutout against the lighter door.
And the next . . . gone.
I sat up.
“Who’s there? What happened?”
My whisper sounded loud in the stillness.
My Sister-In-Law’s voice from the end of the bed, “[Minor expletive removed here] Lego!”
The figure reappeared, rising up from the floor.
Its gait subtly altered, it continued towards the bathroom.
Only those who have had the misfortune of stepping on a Lego block with an unprotected foot know the pain.
Let’s wince together.
This story’s for us!

P.S. I've just had an amazing thought! Spread Lego blocks around the house for defense. As long as the enemy approaches barefoot, you've got them!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

'Lectronic Love


My baby sister is here from the East coast for a visit.
The best of times.
She has a job which requires her to be on her feet.
And she has a sprained ankle.
The worst of times.
But the story of her ankle has a hilarious twist.
If you'll pardon the pun . . .
Baby Sister is a runner.
She lives in a remote area and, when family, employment and weather allow, runs in that beautiful place she calls home.
Woodsy trails, old forest and the slight tang of salt in the air.
Mmmmm.
Where was I?
Oh, yes.
Baby Sister.
And running.
On this particular day, she was rounding a curve, heading for home.
Just ahead of her, the school bus had just dropped off her son and a few of his friends.
They acknowledged her presence with a wave and started walking along the road.
And that's when she hit something.
Tree root.
Uneven surface.
Whichever.
It sent her tumbling.
Her ankle took the brunt of the force.
The four teenagers saw her go down.
Three of them sprinted towards her.
Concern writ large.
One . . . didn't.
Her son.
Now I don't want to suggest here that he is uncaring or unfeeling.
Because he isn't.
In fact, he is a very affectionate and loving boy.
But the fact remains that, while the others were hurrying to her assistance, he was bent over his phone – texting.
Yep.
Texting.
His friends got her up and, working together, managed to help her hobble the short distance home.
Seated there, her foot up, she picked up her phone.
She had a text.
'RUOK?'
It was from her son.
See?
Caring.
Well, caring in 2012 . . .

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

And Still He Married Me . . .


First Dates are like Dress Rehearsal. If a Dress Rehearsal is terrible, the play will be great. Likewise, if the First Date is terrible, the Marriage will be great.
                                                         Diane Tolley



Thirty-Six years today!
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 the movie.
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.
Sigh.
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.
They must be out.
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.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Public Manners - or - "Oh, I can clear out a room!"


Well I don't get it.
Do you?

There is a scene in the movie, “Over the Hedge”, in which the skunk, using only those talents with which she was blessed at birth, saves what could have been a dire situation.
When she is thanked and congratulated, she says, simply, “Oh, I can clean out a room!”
In this movie, that ability is treasured.
Our family has that talent.
To clean out a room, I mean.
We just don’t do it the same way the skunk does.
I thought I should mention that.
Maybe I should explain further . . .
When our family was young and all still at home, we used to take them out once a month for ‘Adventure Food’.
We couldn’t afford to take them around the world, so we took them to different countries - gastronomically.
It was fun.
But we had six children, 11 years apart.
And usually a couple of foster children, just to round out the numbers.
Seating us required thought.
And ingenuity.
And definitely patience.
I should point out here that our children were very well behaved.
No running around.
No loud voices.
No leaning over the booth to see what the people next door were eating.
Okay, I will admit, that was my Husby, but we broke him of that habit.
Moving on . . .
We would stand quietly while the staff of this month’s chosen restaurant dashed about madly, shoving tables together and generally re-arranging the furniture.
Then we would take our places and start passing menus.
Up to and including this point, the restaurant was usually crowded.
Diners enjoying the food and the ambiance and the company.
We would order.
Now with six to eight children and two adults, this took some time and organization.
Finally, the server would tuck her notepad into her apron pocket, gather up the menus, and disappear in a kitchen-ish direction.
We would relax and look around.
The restaurant would be empty.
Really.
Empty.
Every. Single. Time.
How fast can people finish their conversations and their food and disappear?
We timed them.
Five minutes.
That’s how long it took to sort through our family’s order.
On the good side, we then had the restaurant to ourselves.
On the negative side, we felt rather . . . conspicuous.
But we were Tolleys.
That didn’t bother us for long.
Not when there was good food.
And plenty of stories to tell.
Moving ahead . . .
My Husby and I swim every morning.
It’s great exercise.
And one ends up clean at the end of it.
This morning, when we got to the pool, it was crowded.
Many people sharing the six ‘business’ lanes.
We joined the queue.
And started swimming.
When we had finished our respective routines, we got out and walked to the hot tub for a soak.
And realized that we had that small pool to ourselves.
Then we looked around.
And realized that we had the entire room to ourselves.
Everyone had left.
Everyone.
We had done it again.
All of this time, we had figured that the sheer numbers that made up our family had scared people away.
In reality, it had been us.
Who knew?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Boys


And they look so innocent . . .
It had been a tough day.
And we had three boys.
Those are my excuses . . .
The day had started out slowly.
Mark had sleep-walked and nearly mistook the closet for the bathroom.
Caught just in time.
Because I am superwoman.
Shortly thereafter (oooh, good word), Mark and Erik had staged an argument/battle over the TV remote.
I should explain, here, that the word 'remote' was largely optimistic at this point.
There was a device.
Attached to our VCR by a long cord.
Thus, 'remote'.
Moving on . . .
Our two oldest boys were fighting over it.
Mom won.
By banishing them to opposite sides of the family room.
Neither of which was close enough to the TV to allow access to said remote.
They were watching 'Black Hole'.
Again.
It was the only approximately 'family' movie that our newly fledged VCR rental outlet had.
Both of them could quote it by this time.
They began to discuss whether they should do what Mark wanted - watch it again - or flip to the TV for the daily episode of Sesame Street. Erik's idea.
More arguing.
Won by Mom again, when she suggested, rather forcefully that the time had come for them to go outside and bother their father.
Whereupon (another good word) they found themselves in the great outdoors.
With their little brother.
For a while, they sat and pouted.
Then Duffy discovered the mud puddle.
A short time later, there was a timid tap at the front door.
I opened it.
There was a figure standing there.
Vaguely human in shape.
Roughly the size of my third son.
Several scrubbings later, I realized that it was, indeed, Duffy.
Whose brothers had doused him, quite literally, in his own discovery.
The culprits were discovered, some time later, hiding in the basement of the house their dad was building.
Still giggling.
I dragged them into the house.
To apologize.
And to eat lunch.
Was it really only noon?
They immediately began to argue over who got the yellow cup.
And where each of them would sit.
I settled it again.
No one got the yellow cup and neither of them got to sit remotely close to where they wanted. In fact, they were lucky to be sitting at all!
As they finally bowed their heads and started scooping up Mac and Cheese, I told them, “I think I'm going to take the three of you in to the 'used kids' store and trade you in on girls!”
My second son looked at me, round-eyed. “Can you do that?”
I laughed. “No,” I reassured him.
“Oh.” He went back to scooping.
But sometimes, I wish . . .

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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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