Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

Daughter of Ishmael

by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

In The Beginning . . . Part 1


Yep. Mine!
Grant didn't have a chance.
Really.
Maybe I should explain . . .
My Dad sold the Stringam Ranch in Milk River and bought another ranch in Fort Macleod in the spring of 1974.
We – those of us still living at home - were rather excited.
Alright, yes, it was hard to leave the town where we all grew up.
And where the Stringam's had been a fixture for two generations.
But we were about to meet new people.
Have new experiences.
We packed our boxes and headed out.
I won't describe the move to you.
Mainly because I wasn't there for most of it.
I was studying Journalism at college.
But I managed to show up on weekends.
Mom and Dad worked their usual magic.
And within a few weeks, the Stringam family was officially ensconced in its new digs.
It was a beautiful spot.
In the shadow of the Porcupine Hills.
Just below Head Smashed In buffalo jump.
More about that later . . .
I'm sure you're wondering what this has to do with Grant.
Especially when he was living in France at the time.
Wait for it . . .
Our family are church-attending folk.
The first Sunday after moving found us standing at the door to our new chapel.
About to meet our new congregation.
It was a time of . . . hesitance?
Excitement?
Doubt?
Exhilaration?
No. I think fear more aptly describes it.
We entered and stood, uncertainly in the foyer.
Hanging on the wall directly across from the door, was a picture frame.
I walked closer.
It was actually a picture of . . . pictures.
Young men, ranged from the top to the bottom in a row.
Twelve of them.
With a country and dates listed beside each name.
The missionaries currently serving from that congregation.
I ran a practised eye down the row.
Hmm . . . pretty cute.
Also pretty cute.
Wow! Most of these guys were gorgeous!
I started at the top again.
This time, I looked a little more closely.
There! I thought to myself.
Third from the top.
That one's mine!
I sounded out his name.
Grant Tolley.
Yep.
Mine.
I studied the information beside his picture.
He was serving a mission in Paris, France.
Cool.
He had been gone six months.
That meant . . . eighteen months before he got home.
I'd be ready by then.
Time passed quickly.
And, suddenly, it was time for Grant to come home.
By this time, I knew his family quite well.
The anticipated Sunday when he was supposed to make his first appearance arrived.
No Grant.
“We've lost him!” his brother told me.
And they had.
Sort of.
Cancelled flights.
And a night's stay in New York had put him in the airport in Calgary a a day behind his anticipated arrival.
A lost telegram put his family at the airport at the originally scheduled time.
They waited in vain, finally giving up and making the two hour trip back to Fort Macleod . . .
Grant arrived.
I should tell you that the return of a Mormon missionary is pretty important.
His family and friends all gather at the airport and scream and make fools of themselves welcome him home.
Grant got off the plane, expecting his loved ones.
Picture here the quiet chirping of a lone cricket.
Okay, it wasn't quite that deserted, but you get the point.
He made a quick phone call.
And two hours later, his excited and worried family was gathered around him.
Ah. This was a little more like it!
The next Sunday, I finally got the meet him.
Mr. Third-From-The-Top.
Mr. I-Live-In-France.
Finally.
Mine.
Yep. He didn't have a chance.

Tomorrow. Grant's side of it . . .

Friday, June 1, 2012

Recording Life


You call it graffiti. I call it family history!

First, a little background . . .
I have to admit that I think it’s cute when kids write on the walls.
Okay, yes. I’m weird.
When my kids wrote on the walls, I usually accredited and dated it.
It was a record of their life.
We were living in a small house, built by my Husby, and set on a cinder block basement.
Also built by my Husby.
It was a temporary dwelling that would one day be our shop/cold-storage.
Once the real house he was building was finished.
The cinder block walls were bare and . . . grey.
Not pretty.
But as it was a temporary set-up, we endured.
Our eldest son, Mark had other ideas.
Okay, on to my story . . .
Mark was learning how to write his name.
Actually, he was getting pretty good at it.
M. A. R. K.
The trouble it is usually looked like this: K. R. A. M.
But he wasn’t even three yet, so we were pretty impressed.
We found his name scrawled everywhere.
On papers.
Furniture.
The piano.
But there was one place he most preferred.
The one place that seemed to get him the most ‘press’.
The walls.
Mark had been sitting on my bed in the cinder block basement, drawing.
I had left him happily engrossed while I went to change his baby brother’s diaper.
When I came back, the word, KRAM had been neatly inscribed on the cinder blocks.
In purple felt.
He had even followed the lines.
I looked at it.
Then at the suddenly-anxious little boy seated beneath it.
“Look at that!” I said.
He looked, then studiously turned back to his papers and continued to draw.
“Who did that?” I asked.
Again he looked.
Finally he shrugged. “Erik,” he said.
I glanced at six-month old Erik in my arms. “Erik?”
“Yup. Erik.”
“Erik wrote ‘Mark’ on the wall.”
“Yup.”
“Erik’s pretty clever.”
“Yup.”
Working on telling the truth remained.
But thirty-plus years later, K.R.A.M. is still written there.
Clearly.
Moving ahead . . .
When Mark’s eldest daughter Megan was two, she wrote on my wall.
He got a pen and put her name and the date beside it.
For posterity.
(Who says kids aren’t watching us?)
But eventually, the wall was painted and the precious record lost.
We learned something.
If you or your kids are going to chronicle your lives, make sure you do it on something that’s going to last.
Because it’s not just what you record.
But also how you record it.
So far, cinder block seems to be your best bet.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Tolley 'Spots' - And - Teaching Modesty to Three-year-olds


The proper wearing of the dress. As seen here . . .

Our (then) five children had a problem.
All of them.
Chicken pox.
Every little body was covered.
Even the baby.
Sigh.
For a week, I spent my time applying the current ‘itch-free’ salves.
Filling the tub with baking soda and water.
Satisfying odd food cravings.
Did you know that warm brownies and/or chocolate chip cookies make chicken pox itch less?
Well, they do.
Moving on . . .
For our eldest daughter Caitlin, aged three, the chicken pox were an adventure.
An adventure that took a little turn.
Up.
Let me explain . . .
Caitlin would lift her little dress and look at her tummy and exclaim, “Look, Mommy! Chickie Spots!”
“Yes, sweetheart. Put your dress down.”
She was so interested in these spots that she spent most of her time with her dress up around her ears, looking at them.
I would hear her in various rooms of the house, speaking obviously to one or more members of the family. “Look! Chickie Spots!”
Followed by, “Caitlin! Put your dress down!”
Finally, not receiving the excited reaction she wanted, she would return to me.
“Look, Mommy! Chickie Spots!”
“Yes, Sweetheart. Put your dress down. Have a cookie.”
I should have known that she would require a bigger audience.
I should have realized that, to her, anyone coming into the house must be interested in her current fabulous condition.
I didn’t.
My good friend, Tammy came to the door.
I greeted her and she stepped bravely into the ‘plague house’.
We chatted a bit.
Then Caitlin appeared.
I didn’t move fast enough.
Up came the dress.
“Look, Sis ‘Sin! Chickie Spots!”
She laughed and nodded appreciatively. “Yes. You certainly do have the chicken pox.”
At the same time as I was saying, “Caitlin! Put your dress down!”
Sadly, this was only the beginning.
Long after the Chicken Pox had disappeared, Caitlin was still hiking up her little skirts and exclaiming, "Look! Chickie Spots!"
Two things came from this experience.
1.   I always put shorts on under Caitlin’s dresses after that. Little girl panties are cutest when they are hidden.
 2.  The phrase, “Caitlin, put your dress down!” became immortalized in the annals of Tolley history.
Caitlin is grown and married now, with her own little girls.
She has long since learned to keep herself properly covered.
But her youngest insists on pulling her dresses up around her ears.
No spots, yet, but we’re hopeful.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Remembering Recess


Milk River Elementary. My home away from home.

The Milk River Elementary School, house of learning to some two hundred children, was on the north-east corner of the town.
On the north and east, it was bordered by farmland.
On the south, by houses.
And on the west, by the field that stretched between it and the high school two blocks away.
The only playground equipment was a set of teeter-totters (see-saws) at the east end of the school building, and a monkey-bar on the west.
Oh and sometime between grades three and four, near the garbage, they installed a tether-ball pole.
The very latest in school-ground play equipment.
Let’s face it, dependance on toys and/or playing apparatus for entertainment wasn't expected.
Or necessary, as it turned out.
Because we made up our own games.
And two hundred-plus kids pooling their collective imaginations can come up with a lot of 'entertainment'.
We held impromptu races.
Which Kathy 'The Jet' Angyal always won.
Flag football games.
I should probably mention, here, that I never saw the use in just grabbing the flag when you can grab the whole kid.
And Lloyd Eagleson has the scars to prove it.
Climbing 'the rock'.
But that was only for the older, cooler kids.
Hide and seek.
Fun, but limiting when you had nothing but an open field in which to hide. (Or the neighbour's barley crop, which stood some feet over our heads. Just FYI.)
Tag. In its many incarnations.
Regular.
Frozen.
Poison.
Kick the can.
And King of the Castle.
Games of hopscotch.
There was one time we tried to get really creative and have some fun 'off site'.
And had an early brush with the law.
But that is another post . . .
Several of the girls played jump rope games.
Very popular and truly amazing to watch.
I, who had a hard time walking and breathing at the same time, was astounded at what many of those girls could do.
And while chanting/singing, too.
I never saw the use for it, though I did try.
But after getting my feet knocked out from beneath me for the 40th time, I gave it up as hopeless.
And put the jump ropes to better use.
I should remind you that we were mostly farm kids.
And I and many others, like me, were completely infatuated with horses.
Thus, skipping ropes immediately brought to mind – harnesses.
Because.
We would pass the rope around the middle (waist) of our chosen horse, hang onto the ends, give the accepted 'start' command in a firm voice.
Giddyap! or something similarly creative.
And we were off.
Horse pulling.
'Driver' . . . umm . . . driving.
Around, over and through the other kids on the playground.
It was fun.
When we tired of running, we would nip into the aforementioned barley crop across the road and pull up armloads of green, sweet-smelling 'hay'.
As feed.
And to build little nests for our steeds.
You know, now that I think of it, I wonder what the farmer thought when he saw the ragged south-east corner of his crop.
As Milk River still went on to produce three 'Barley Kings', I guess our armloads of stolen barley stalks didn't make too much of a difference.
Back to my story . . .
I was there recently.
At Milk River Elementary, I mean.
The school now has extensive and obviously expensive playground equipment.
And trees.
And tall fences.
The monkey bars are gone.
As are the teeter-totters and tether ball.
There are still farmer's fields to the east.
But a large ball-diamond had been constructed on the west side, between it and the high school.
And houses and development on the north, completely eliminating our old barley field.
I stared at the 'developed' space and pictured us kids playing and laughing at recess and noon hour.
Do these modern children, with their modern conveniences, have as much fun as we did?
Somehow, I doubt it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Parentisms: The Second Verse


Okay. I'm only going to say this once so pay attention!

A few days ago, I wrote an article about my FIL and his 'Parentisms'.
Little phrases that parents love to use, either as an exclamation point, or just to confuse their children.
Apparently, I struck a nerve.
A good nerve.
Several readers shared their own Parentisms with me
I just had to pass them on . . .
Delores: Mom..."Sit up, shut up and eat up"
Dad..."There's that elf again looking in the window"
Mom..."Don't make me get the fly swatter"

Joanne: Mom's classic: “Don't taste it, just eat it.”

Jeremy: Dad ever stated, “Don't make me pull this car over.”
Mom was equally famous for, “Wait until your father gets home.”

Dr. Ann: One I loved to hate was: "Stop crying unless you want something to cry about!"

Kelly: My Nana used to say, "You look like you were pulled through a hedge backwards," and somehow, I knew just what that meant!

Ah, the memories!
Aren't they priceless?
I would add to those my Mom's famous, “Oh my stars and garters!” Or, “this kitchen is closed due to illness. I'm sick of cooking!” And her favourite, “You have two choices for supper – take it, or leave it!”
And my Dad's “Don't make me come back there!” Or, “If you're going to roughhouse, do it outside!”
But my father lived to recite and many of his most notable Parentisms were designed more to confuse than to exclaim.
“How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”
It took me years to figure that one out.
Parentisms are fun.
But they can backfire.
For example:
One of Dad's favourite sayings was, “Have you ever seen a gopher gopher a gopher?”
I can't tell you how long it took me to understand that one.
Oh. A gopher go for a gopher.
Ha! Funny!
But this one finally tripped him up.
He was used to his farm kids.
And our rather . . . ribald . . . sense of humour.
One of my cousins was visiting from the big city.
Dad recited his little 'gopher' ditty.
She stared at him, wide-eyed. Then told him, “My dad says that's not nice.”
“Oh.” Dad got a bit red-faced.
And a little more cautious.
But it didn't stop him.
Fortunately for us.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Shovel This! - or - Now that it's Spring, let's talk about Winter!


A normal Northern Alberta winter.

In Southern Alberta, in winter, we get snow.
I’m sure that doesn’t come as a surprise to many of you.
The only problem is that it never stays.
Usually within days of falling, Southern Alberta snow melts away under the warm breath of a powerful Chinook.
True story.
Thus, throughout winter, it snows.
Then melts.
Then snows.
Then . . . you get the picture.
I’m sure Southern Alberta is the only place on earth that can go from -40C (-40F) to +20C (+68F) in the course of three hours.
It is a bit disconcerting at times . . .
In college, I dated a boy from Red Deer.
Okay yes, technically, that is only about five hours drive north of where I was raised.
But a world removed in weather patterns.
In Red Deer, in winter, it snows.
And stays.
And snows some more.
And stays.
I learned about this on a visit to his family one long weekend in February.
Picture going from brown grass and snow only in the ditches, to snow piled four and five feet deep.
There was even snow on top of the fence posts.
Imagine that!
For the first day, I simply stared.
So this is what winter is supposed to be like!
It was . . . beautiful!
But all of that snow causes . . . difficulties.
The sheer weight of it piled on roofs threatens the structural integrity of the homes.
Don’t I sound like an engineer?
I’m quoting, by the way.
Snow piled high on roofs must be removed.
No Chinooks to do the dirty work for you.
People have to climb up and actually . . . shovel.
At first, it was an odd sight.
People standing on their roofs, shoveling snow.
But, after a day or two, I got used to it.
Then it was my turn.
To shovel, that is.
My boy friend’s grandmother’s house was one of those piled high with heavy white stuff.
It positively groaned under the weight of it.
It needed relief.
We volunteered.
Well, actually, he volunteered.
And I simply nodded and smiled.
I found myself standing atop what looked like a large, white muffin.
Did I mention that there was a lot of snow?
Somewhere beneath us was his grandmother’s single story home.
We set to work.
The actual removal of the snow didn’t take long.
The house wasn’t that large.
As we alternately scraped and shoved, our collection of snow on the ground grew deeper.
And deeper.
We were nearing the end of our task.
I slid a large shovelful over the edge and peered down at the huge drift that had collected beneath me.
My boyfriend joined me.
I looked at him. “Do you think you would get hurt if you fell off the roof and into that?” I asked, pointing.
He frowned, thoughtfully. “No, I . . .”
That was a far as I let him get.
 “Aaaaah!” Poof!
He was right.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Unorthodox Team-Building


Moral Booster Extraordinaire

For most of his career, my Husby was privileged to work for the Culture department of our province.
He built museums.
Big, beautiful, world-class museums.
Two were built at the same time.
The two best.
And biggest.
The Reynolds museum in Wetaskiwin.
Devoted to the telling of the story of the automobile.
And the Remington in Cardston.
Which beautifully describes the world of the horse-drawn . . . everything.
Building a single museum took teams of hundreds.
Building two?
The same hundreds.
Working twice as hard.
The stress levels reached, at times, unbelievable levels.
When that happened, morale slipped to compensate.
And everyone in the office seemed to walk around in a dark cloud.
My Husby, the project manager, felt he needed to do something.
A co-worker in an office at the opposite end of their suite, had a Playmobil Stagecoach.
Lovingly displayed behind glass in her office credenza.
It was driven by a little, whip-toting man-figure.
With a tiny, formally-dressed woman-figure and a second bowler-hatted man-figure tucked inside.
Strapped to the coach were an impressive array of cases, crates and barrels.
With a little strong box beneath the feet of the driver.
The coach was pulled by two horses, complete with tiny harnesses.
It was a cute set.
Totally in keeping with the theme of the museum its owner was currently engaged in building.
Husby studied it carefully.
And came up with a brilliant plan.
He would buy a little set of Playmobil figures of his own.
And 'stage' a little excitement.
He duly bought a set of Native American Indians.
War paint, war drums and all.
Which he then set up in his own book case.
Then, one evening after everyone had gone home, he stepped into his co-workers office.
Tied up the horses and the men with thread.
And kidnapped the little woman.
With the barrel.
And the strong box.
Leaving behind a ransom note demanding ‘Tahitum Treatum’.
Tahiti Treat.
 A soft drink that is no longer available but which was, then, my Husby's favourite.
He tied up the woman and sat her and her strong box in the centre of a circle of Braves.
Locked behind the glass doors of the top shelf of his bookcase.
Then he went home.
The next morning, he waited for . . . developments.
He didn't wait for long.
A loud shriek brought everyone from their offices.
Continued loud words drew them to the office at the end of the hall.
“Look! Look what someone did!”
There was much talk.
And, something that hadn't been heard in the office for some time.
Laughter.
Husby was conspicuous by his absence.
Everyone marched into his office.
“Grant, what do you know about . . .”
They got no further.
Every eye went immediately to his book case.
And the little 'kidnapping' scene displayed there.
“Aha! So it was you!”
Husby put on his most innocent expression and shook his head.
“I don't know what you're talking about,” he said.
He too walked over.
“Well, what do you know,” he said. “Look what those little guys have been up to! Imagine that!”
To say that the office buzzed for most of the rest of the day would be an understatement.
The next day, the ransom was paid and the woman, and her strong box, returned.
Then it was the co-worker's turn.
Retaliation is sweet.
Other Playmobil sets were purchased.
And the battle commenced in earnest.
Ranging over much of the office.
For the next few weeks, people arriving at the office would immediately head for one office or the other.
Just to see what had developed during the night.
It started out each day with laughter.
And the mood lifted perceptibly.
It got them through.
The museums, both of them, were completed.
And opened to world-wide acclaim.
Those responsible were given new assignments.
The group drifted apart.
But all of them remember those dark days.
When the work seemed insurmountable.
And morale was rock bottom.
When one man's ingenuity and 'joie de vivre' lifted everyone's spirits.
Who knew that all it took to improve morale was a 'little' kidnapping?

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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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