Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, May 26, 2012

Wave! It might be someone we know!


Ready to head to town!

The Stringam Ranch was twenty miles from the Town of Milk River.
For the first twelve miles out of town, you were passing through other ranch properties.
So your chances of meeting another motorist were pretty good.
After that, there was just one destination.
The Stringam Ranch.
Any traffic that came out that far needed emergency veterinarian assistance.
Or knew the family.
And the spread that appeared around mealtimes.
This is a long-winded way of telling you that, on any given trip into town, Dad knew every single driver that we passed.
A cloud of dust would appear on the horizon, growing larger.
Finally a small dark spot could be detected, right at the base of said cloud.
The speck grew larger.
And larger.
Finally became recognizable as a vehicle.
Dad would slow down and pull over to the right side of the road.
Because lines hadn’t been introduced into our part of the country.
And who could paint a line on dirt anyway?
Moving on . . .
The other driver would also slow and pull to his right.
The two would give each other a friendly wave.
And continue on.
Whereupon (good word) I would bob up out of wherever.
“Dad! Who was that?”
“That was Mr. Angel.”
“Oh.”
I would disappear again.
Another vehicle.
Another wave.
Me bobbing up.
“Dad! Who was that?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Lindeman.”
“Oh.”
As we grew closer to town, the vehicles were more numerous.
“Dad! Who was that?”
“Mrs. Swanson.”
“Oh.”
I should mention that there was one vehicle that I recognized.
Even as a four-year-old.
It was an old car, driven very, very slowly.
I don’t remember what year or model though my brother, George, will.
It was driven by a hat.
I am not kidding.
A hat.
A nice men’s hat.
I would stare in astonishment as this particular, peculiar vehicle drove past.
Yep.
Just a hat.
It was the one time during our entire trip that I wouldn’t bother my dad.
Because I knew who that hat was.
It was Grampa Balog.
After it passed, I would slump down on the seat.
Why couldn’t I have a hat for a Grampa?
A hat that could drive cars.
Some kids have all the luck.
Moving ahead several years . . .
Yesterday, I was driving with one of my grandkids.
One of the hundred-or-so cars that we passed was driven by someone I knew.
I waved.
“Grama! Who was that?”
And I was instantly transported back fifty-plus years.
I was four years old again.
And my Dad knew everyone on the road.

Friday, May 25, 2012

'Babe' Enes


I know, I know. Who'd of thought . . .

Girls raised on a ranch, doing 'ranch stuff' alongside the men, are often mistaken for yet another of those men.
Until someone gets close enough to see that there are definite differences.
It's the original 'gender confusion'.
Now, on to my story . . .
My Mom, like her daughter after her, was raised on a ranch.
Surrounded by brothers.
I had three.
She had eight.
I had sisters.
She didn't.
She spent her days working alongside her brothers.
And playing sports.
I spent my days occasionally crossing paths with my brothers as they worked.
And playing make-belief.
No big surprise that, of the two of us, she was the one with the biggest muscles.
And the most athletic ability.
But like me, dressed in jeans and shirts, and with fair hair cropped short, she was often mistaken for yet another brother.
Shortly after she and my father were married, they were invited to join with the rest of their rural Milk River community in an afternoon pot luck and a game of baseball.
Mom excitedly prepared yummy eats.
Sandwiches, salads and her special 'out of this world' pie.
And grabbed her baseball glove.
The two of them spent a wonderful time, eating and visiting.
Mom got to know many of her neighbours.
The nearest of which lived nine miles away.
Finally, the food was packed up.
And the game began.
Mom was picked early.
She was obviously young and strong.
And there had to be an even number of guys and girls on each team.
Her 'captain' didn't realize that he'd just picked a ringer.
Mom walked up to the plate for her first turn at bat.
The ball came towards her.
She swung.
Remember where I mentioned that she had played sports with her brothers?
She often beat them.
The bat connected with the ball with a healthy 'crack'.
And sent it out of the park.
So to speak.
The ball shot over the outfielder's heads.
They stared at it blankly for a moment.
Then started to run.
Her team was ecstatic.
One young team member crowed loudly, “Atta Boy! Enes, old girl!”
And the confusion continues . . .

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Things Aren't Always as They Appinkle


  1. Picture him in 'pinkle'
    Families with children are inevitably the recipients of bags of kindly donated clothing.
  2. Families with lots of children receive lots and lots of clothing. And
  3. Not everything is as it appears.
These statements go together.
Maybe I should explain . . .
We had six children.
Still do, but that is another story.
Moving on . . .
For this reason, everyone who knew us, and even those who only knew OF us, brought us enormous donations of clothing.
They figured we needed it.
They were right.
Every time another large carton of clothing was dropped off, my children went through it.
Laughing and chattering excitedly.
It was like Christmas morning.
Some items were chosen as keepers.
Others were packed back into the box for donation elsewhere.
In one large box, there was a pinkle jogging suit.
You heard me right.
Pinkle.
Not quite pink/not quite purple.
A little 'hoodie' jacket and pants.
My son, Erik grabbed it.
He liked the bright colour.
For many months, it became his outfit of choice.
The first chosen when his clean clothes were stacked in his dresser.
The one that had to be sneaked out of his room for cleaning.
He was warm.
He was distinctive.
He was . . . let's put it this way – he was the brightest coloured boy in the whole second grade.
He loved that suit.
Occasionally, it would need repair.
Dutifully, I sewed up ripped seams or fashioned knee and elbow patches.
Then folded it and put it back into his dresser.
Where he would snatch it up eagerly.
This went on for several months.
Finally, my growing boy . . . outgrew it.
Something even I could do nothing to help.
The pinkle suit was sent to live out its last days in the rag bag.
Move forward several years.
Erik, now a married father of three was talking about that suit.
That horrible pink suit that I made him wear.
Day after day.
Week after week.
Month after . . . well, you get the picture.
Made him wear???!
“I thought you liked it!” I said.
“I hated it! I was trying to wear it out!”
Oh.
See?
Things aren't always as they appear.



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How Does YOUR Garden Grow?


Mom. My gardening hero.

In the spring, a young man’s fancy turns to romance.
A young woman’s fancy turns to gardening.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it . . .
It’s spring!
Even in northern Alberta, we have spring.
It just comes later and leaves earlier . . .
And spring means gardening!
My mom was a gardener.
One of those m-m-m-m-major gardeners.
Her patch of vegetables covered roughly two acres.
Give or take.
And was enough to provide the entire ranch population with food for much of the year.
I had been out in her garden from the time I could lift a hoe.
And even sooner (see here).
Not necessarily productive, but learning.
By the time I was married, I thought I knew everything there was to know about gardening.
Boy, was I wrong.
Did you know that those little plants don’t plant themselves in neat, tidy rows?
No.
They have to be painstakingly put there.
Oh, I admit that I watched Mom string a long piece of twine and follow it with a hoe to make sure her garden was aesthetically pleasing.
But it never occurred to me that her actions had a point.
But I was willing to learn.
My Husby rototilled a large patch of ground near our home.
Armed with a century’s worth of seeds, I started out.
Planting turned out to be quite easy.
Stretch the string.
Follow the line with a hoe.
Plant the seeds.
Cover them up.
Turn on the sprinkler.
Wait.
I should probably mention that while waiting, you have to keep an eye on things.
Otherwise, the weeds tend to overpower the plants.
In my first garden, I had planted a couple of rows of tomatoes.
I love tomatoes.
I had no idea that they needed to be started sometime in . . . December.
The little plants poked through the ground.
As did the weeds.
The interesting thing about weeds is the fact that they adapt themselves to fit perfectly with whatever vegetable plant they are near.
Thus, tomato weeds look like tomatoes.
Carrot weeds look like carrots.
And so on.
My tomatoes had emerged.
The weeds that accompanied them looked nearly identical.
They even smelled the same.
Which was which?
I studied the two plants.
Finally, I made a decision and started pulling.
Soon the rows were clean and tidy.
Happily, I turned the sprinkler on my garden and went back into the house.
A short time later, my mother-in-law, also a master gardener, came out for a visit.
She stood at the end of my garden.
“Why do you have two tidy rows of weeds, Diane?”
I stared at her.
Then turned to look at my tomatoes.
I had chosen . . . poorly.
Then she gave me a piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten.
“Diane. If you’re in doubt about a plant, pull it up. If it comes back, it was a weed.”
Good advice.
Doesn’t help much, but good advice all the same.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Onion Warfare


You see food. We see . . .

Yesterday’s blog reminded my Husby of something.
If you haven’t read that post yet, you can do it here.
Then we’ll all be on the same page.
So to speak.
Ready?
Moving on . . .
In Grant’s small community, Church socials were a highlight.
Tables groaning with delicious food.
And best friends.
An eight-year-old boy’s finest moments.
But once the ‘eating contests’ and trips to the dessert table had reached a point that even eight-year-old boys are satiated, what’s next?
Well, there’s always . . . imagination and creativity.
And, trust me, when boys are that age, the ceiling’s the limit.
Quite literally.
Grant and his cronies had stuffed themselves.
The only things left on their slicked-clean plates were little pickled onions.
That no small boy would be caught eating.
Ever.
One of them picked up a small onion and put it on his spoon.
The others watched, horrified.
Was he really going to . . .?
He turned his spoon and . . . flipped it.
The onion shot across the table.
Landing with a small, wet ‘sploop’ (made up word – but expressive).
Everyone stared.
Hey! That looked like fun!
Instantly, four small onions were placed on four small spoons.
Flick.
Four little, pickled projectiles shot off in different directions.
It was fun!
“Let’s go for distance!”
Four more onions.
Four more spoons.
Flick.
“Mine went further! Mine went further!”
“Let’s go for height!”
“Wait, we need provisions!”
A short raid on the pickle platter.
As astonished parents looked on.
Then:
Four more onions.
“Ready?”
Flick.
“Oh, wow! Look at how high Grant’s went!”
Grant’s did achieve more height.
And, because of that, greater distance.
It shot across the room and landed in the plate of a man seated opposite.
A man who was still visiting and eating.
And not really noticing what was on his plate.
The unsuspecting man speared the onion and popped it into his mouth.
Chewing happily.
Never knowing where the onion had come from.
The four small boys crowed with delight.
It was the highlight of their evening.
Vainly, they tried to duplicate the feat.
Raining little onion balls down on unsuspecting heads.
Finally, one of their little missiles actually . . . hit . . . someone.
Game over.
Instantly.
After that, the little pickled onions, which had usually sat forlorn and forgotten on the buffet table, were the first to go.
What doesn’t disappear into the mouth, will still . . . disappear.
Ask any small boy.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Diane Takes on Church Politics - or - The Battle for Bananas


Epicentre of church politics in the 60s

I've been reading about the politics being played out in some organizations in the modern world.
Even churches have their internal power struggles and vying for position.
It reminds me of our church suppers.
Maybe I should explain . . .
In the sixties, we had Church Socials.
Big pot luck dinners.
For any and all occasions.
Christmas.
Easter.
New Years.
Fall.
Thursday.
They were fun.
Everyone would show up with their large families and a huge dish – or dishes - of something delicious to share.
The food would be arranged on a long series of tables.
Everyone would load a plate.
And the visiting would begin.
Good food.
Good friends.
It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon or evening.
Invariably, there would be someone’s Grandma’s recipe for home-fried chicken.
And many, many incarnations of potato/meat casseroles.
Salads by the creative and colourful dozens.
Home-made rolls just begging for a large dollop of freshly churned butter.
And desserts of enough variety and inevitable tastiness, to make decision-making difficult to impossible.
But there was one draw back.
As with all pot lucks, the first in line got the most choices.
Made quickly to avoid ‘pot luck crush’.
What is ‘Pot Luck Crush’, you ask?
Imagine a river, dammed by a small obstruction.
Pressure builds.
Finally, the obstruction is forced out and shoved quickly downstream to oblivion.
Pot Luck Crush.
My cousin, Reed was usually the first in line.
He had made an art of choosing – and heaping - quickly.
His favourites were the salads.
I should mention here, that two of the most popular salad dishes were the green jello salad.
With shredded carrots.
And the yellow jello salad.
With sliced bananas.
The carrots in the carrot salad tended to be suspended throughout.
The bananas, however, inevitably rose to the top.
And that’s where Reed came in.
He would deftly and expertly – and quickly - scrape the entire layer of bananas from the salad.
Then move happily on to the rest of the offered dishes.
His actions weren’t popular.
Usually, from further back in the line, there would be a howl of protest.
Reed would just grin.
The you-should-have-tried-harder-to-be-first-in-line grin.
The rest of the assembly would be stuck with banana-less salad.
Or what amounted to plain lemon jello.
But the sheer volume of other dishes soon silenced any further protest.
And before long, everyone was happily munching.
Until the next time.
When Reed would again slip deftly and expertly to the front of the line.
Yes.
Even in the sixties, we had church politics.
The difference was that they were over bananas.
Maybe not so different after all.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

We Have a Winner!

I just realized that I forgot to post the name of my wonderful, stupendous, fantastic winner!
Congratulations to
Kris of 

Basketball Bribery


You can't do this standing at the back . . .

In Milk River, in Southern Alberta, Basketball was the reigning sport.
All of the 'cool' people played basketball.
My family tried hard to be 'cool'.
Well, at least we all tried out for our respective basketball teams.
'Mixing in' during the practice/game was never a problem.
We were used to wrestling with furry creatures that outweighed us by hundreds of pounds.
Fighting for possession of a ball (with an opponent who didn't outweigh us at all) was child's play.
We could nip in, latch onto the ball, and nip out again, before anyone even knew we were there.
But the important point was that we nipped.
Moving ahead . . .
Having been raised with the idea that all children needed to play some sort of organized sport, I enrolled our two oldest boys in community basketball.
At that point, our family was living in the city.
Children raised in the city are different than those raised on a ranch.
Or at least mine were.
They were polite.
Distinctly un-aggressive.
And perfectly willing to stand back quietly let everyone else go first.
Everyone.
They would even pause and say, “excuse me”, if they happened to bump into someone.
All good qualities.
Except when playing basketball.
'Polite' players don't often get their hands on the ball.
Players who stand back and allow everyone else to go first end up . . . somewhere near the back.
The action passes them by.
Literally.
For the first few games, I watched as my tall boys stood back and let the play go on ahead of them.
When I talked to them about 'getting in there', they stared at me, horrified.
“Mom, we can't do that! That would be rude!”
Sigh.
Now I had a new dilemma.
How to teach them that sometimes, being a little bit pushy was not only allowed, but required.
I decided to go with bribery.
For every foul they collected in basketball, I would pay them a dollar.
Okay, yes, I know how this sounds.
Hear me out.
It got them in there.
Fighting for possession of the ball.
Actually touching the other players.
Trying to get there ahead of everyone else.
It made basketball players out of them.
I should point out that after a few weeks of this, I had to withdraw my offer.
They were getting a bit too aggressive.
But they had learned.
Moving ahead again . . .
My oldest grandson is in his first season of playing soccer.
He has been taught manners.
To be polite and never rude.
His father despaired of getting him into the action.
I reminded him of his early days playing basketball.
And my unorthodox solution.
Hmmm.
He and his son went off to the game.
A short time later, they were back.
“How did you do?” I asked.
“Oh, he was great!” my son said. “He almost made a goal! He got an assist!”
“Wow! What made the difference?”
“I offered to buy him a new Lego video game if he scored.”
Ah.
And another generation benefits from a little bribery.
It's a good world.

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