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 16, 2012

Peeling


Okay . . . well . . . it's tougher than it looks.

My Mom could peel potatoes.
I mean, really peel potatoes.
She did it so fast, that, for years, I thought each potato had two peels.
Because there was always peel where I thought she had already . . .
Never mind.
Okay, so brilliant, I wasn't.
When I was ten, she decided the time had come for me to take my place in the 'potato peeling' scheme of things.
I have to point out that I had been totally fine in the whole 'watching'.
But moms are never satisfied with the status quo.
Sigh.
And to top things off, she wasn't even there.
She had put a roast in the oven, vegetables on the stove, ready to turn on.
I did know how to do that . . .
And a pan of potatoes to wash, peel and cook.
She even gave me a schedule.
At four o'clock, I reluctantly set down my book and headed into the kitchen.
I stared at the mound of potatoes and sighed.
Surely there was a better way.
But this was the sixties.
Instant anything was in its infancy.
And TV dinners were something other families ate.
I picked up a knife and started.
In my mind, I could picture Mom's sure, steady stroke.
Denuding each potato in seconds.
And in one long peel.
Reality was a bit . . . trickier.
Little chunks of potato began to rain down into the bowl.
Hmmmm.
My potato skins seemed to be a lot thicker than Mom's.
Must be a different kind of potato.
Slowly . . . very slowly . . . the white potato began to emerge.
Somewhat smaller than the original.
Okay, a lot smaller.
But finally it was finished.
I glanced at the clock.
Suddenly, Mom's strict starting time instructions began to make sense.
This wasn't her first rodeo.
Three older siblings has stood right where I was standing. Risking life and fingers in an effort to provide the family with dinner.
I picked up the second potato.
Half-an-hour later, I looked down, proudly, at my pristine bowl of newly-peeled potatoes.
Hmmm.
What had once filled the bowl now . . . didn't.
I shrugged and put a pot on the stove.
Filled it to the instructed depth with water.
Added my potatoes.
And turned on the burner.
A few minutes later, Mom came home.
I proudly pointed to the now bubbling pots of potatoes and vegetables and waited for her praise.
She didn't disappoint.
“Good job, Diane,” she said, smiling.
Happily, I went to set the table.
A job I was comfortable with.
That was over forty years ago.
I did learn to peel potatoes.
In a lot less time.
And with a lot thinner peels.
I have never been able to match my Mom's lightning fast, and amazingly efficient knife, but I can make a fairly credible showing.
Or so I thought.
At our last family dinner, two of my granddaughters, ages six and nine, peeled all of the potatoes for the meal.
And when your feeding some twenty people, that is a mound.
They were quicker than I am.
I was suddenly reminded of my mom.
Sometimes excellence skips a generation.

Friday, June 15, 2012

First Love


What's not to love, right?

I was in grade four.
Nine years old.
At the dawn of a new age.
I had discovered boys.
Or more specifically, boy.
KS was smart.
Cute.
Sweet.
Taller than me.
And my neighbor.
He had everything important going for him.
At first, I didn’t know what to do with my newfound crush.
I really didn’t know what it was.
I had had plenty of boy friends in the past.
Boys that I competed against at every opportunity.
Sports.
Schoolwork.
But none that I just wanted to . . . be near.
Puzzled, I did all the normal things.
Followed him around at a discrete distance.
Hid behind cars and buildings if he looked in my direction.
Stared across the room at him in class.
Avoided him at recess.
What was this weird attraction?
I had suddenly developed mental ‘global positioning’.
I could tell you the precise location of KS at any time of the day.
Without ever seeming to look at him.
I’m sure I was pretty obvious in my interest.
But when you’re nine - and you wish it - you’re invisible.
Our class had a Box Social.
Okay, I know that dates me, but the fact remains.
All of the boys brought a box lunch for two and then shared it with his assigned ‘girl’ partner.
We lined up and the teacher numbered us off.
I tired to position myself so that I would match KS.
But my counting was off.
I ended up with a boy who brought peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Peanut butter and banana?
Revolting!
I had never heard of such a thing.
Nor had my stomach.
I looked longingly across the playground at KS and his partner.
Happily munching on whatever KS had brought.
Sigh.
Later that day, tired of listening to my bleating, my friends cornered KS and his friends and wrung a confession out of him.
He liked me!
It was the happiest day of my life!
So what did we do then?
Nothing.
We were nine.
Oh, occasionally, we would . . . you know . . . talk.
And once, I sat next to him in Sunday School class.
Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
But that’s about it.
My family moved.
And soon another crush filled my life.
Moving ahead.
I hadn’t seen or thought about KS for nearly fifty years.
Then, one day, there he was.
In my church congregation.
Now, until that moment, I couldn’t remember what the nine-year-old boy had looked like.
But I knew him as soon as I saw him.
Strangely, he hadn’t changed much at all.
Taller.
And definitely older.
But still that boy.
My first crush.
It made me smile.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Number One Aunt


Doing what she does best . . .

There's one in almost every family.
That wonderful Aunt who collects children and adults around her like a rock star.
Our family has one.
The Aunt, I mean, not the rock star.
I will call her Aunt June.
Or AJ for short.
Where she is, there are changing hair colours.
Plenty of hugs.
And much laughter.
She might be tiny, but she's mighty.
She was one of the last to join my mother's family, marrying the youngest brother, Leif.
And has been a joy to the entire family ever since.
AJ was a city girl.
She and my Uncle met at a dance class.
Which he was taking.
And she was teaching.
It was love at first . . . step? Twirl? Swoop?
All of the above.
They courted.
People did that back then.
Married.
They did that, too.
And set up housekeeping.
*  *  *
AJ knew that her new husband came from a long line of ranch stock.
Known horsemen and women.
She decided that she need to fit in.
She would take riding lessons.
Presenting herself at the local stables, she was paired up with a gentle horse.
She groomed it.
Talked to it.
Hugged it.
Even got up on its back.
When telling the rest of us about this experience, she exclaimed, “It was such a sweet gentle horse. I could climb all over it and it never even moved!”
Whereupon (good word) Uncle Leif, in his quiet, dry manner said, “Because it was stuffed!”
That earned him a smack on the shoulder.
* * *
AJ has long been a great favourite with my children.
Have I mentioned that my children have a rather bizarre sense of humour.
Heaven knows where that came from . . .
When our eldest son was married, AJ and the rest of the great Berg family were all invited to the festivities.
Two of our sons brought a clipboard to the party.
I wasn't sure why.
Until AJ showed up.
She was met by the aforementioned sons . . . and their clipboard . . . as she queued up to enter the building.
“Name?”
“Aunt June.”
Obvious checking of a 'list'.
“I'm sorry, Ma'am, you're not on the list.” Turning to Uncle Leif. “You, sir, you're okay to go in.”
“Oh!” Aunt June said, laughing. “You come here! I'll show you a list!”
Remember where I said tiny, but mighty?
That would apply here
* * *
At the time of my eldest daughter's wedding a year later, our second son was deployed in Bosnia. We had a life-sized picture of him made and hung on the wall in the foyer of the church.
Life-sized is, for him, really, really tall.
In the picture, his hand was extended.
Written beside this hand were the words, 'You must be this tall to get into the reception. Except for you, Aunt June. You have KP. Get to the kitchen!'
We were all standing in the reception line, greeting and smiling.
Suddenly a loud cry emanated from the front foyer.
“Oh!”
We all looked at each other.
“Aunt June is here!” my Husby said.
* * *
When our military son was preparing for his overseas tour, AJ was more than a bit concerned.
She insisted that he couldn't go unless he received her 'official permission'.
Finally, my Husby drafted up a letter for her to sign.
In it, our son's 'commanding officer' agreed to:
  1. Ensure that Erik ate well and was happy and healthy.
  2. Was in no danger.
  3. Was tucked in at night.
  4. Jammies donned.
  5. And Teeth brushed.
  6. With his teddy bear.
  7. And that said CO would read him his bedtime story.
All in return for her support.
AJ signed.
Reluctantly.
Then kept close tabs on our overseas son.
* * *
I was recently at a gathering of my wonderful Berg family.
AJ was there.
Warmly welcoming everyone – and I do mean everyone - with a firm hug and lively interest.
Ahhhhh!
Does your family have an Aunt June?
If not, we loan her out.
Sort of a 'Have Hugs – Will Travel' program.
There's certainly plenty of love to go around.

P.S. We love you, Aunt June.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Watering the Pigs


My Husby and I were leaving for ‘town’.
Living where we were at the time, on a farm between Fort Macleod and Lethbridge, said trip, or others like it, were a highlight.
We buckled our baby in.
I climbed into my seat.
Grant started the vehicle and began backing up.
Suddenly, he stopped.
And shut off the truck.
I looked at him. “What are you doing?”
“Just realized that I forgot to water the pigs! I’ll be right back.”
He jumped out of the car and ran to the pig pen.
Now, I should mention, here, that the pig pen was just out of sight of where my baby and I sat in the truck.
We waited.
And waited.
Finally, impatient, I climbed from the truck and walked over.
But as I came around the corner of the building, I saw my husband, back to me and facing away from the pig pen.
I won’t say exactly what he was doing, but it definitely had something to do with water.
I stood there for a moment.
Finally, “Just what are you watering those pigs with?”
He jumped. “Ummm . . .”
But a new term had just been created.
From then on, in the Tolley family, if someone had to . . . relieve themselves, instead of the generic, ‘have to see a man about a horse’, or the more boring, ‘where’s the restroom?’, we used the newly created, ‘gotta water the pigs’.
It worked.
And yes. Our family is weird.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mom? Can I Have a Taste?

Mom and her mixer. The source of all that was delicious 

Mom was in the kitchen.
Baking.
My favourite thing.
I was in my usual spot.
Seated on the cupboard beside her Sunbeam mixer.
That maker of all things delicious.
She added something to the mixture already in the bowl and turned on the beaters.
Mmmmm.
Could anything look better?
I leaned closer.
“Mom? Can I have a taste?”
“Honey, it’s just sugar and butter and eggs.”
“But it looks so good!”
“Okay.”
She stuck the tip of the spatula into the batter and held it up for me.
I leaned in and licked.
It was delicious!
Mom just shook her head, rinsed the spatula and continued adding ingredients.
“Mom? Can I have another taste?”
“In a moment, dear. It’s almost ready.”
I sighed and fidgeted impatiently.
Finally, she added one last ingredient.
Vanilla.
I should mention here that vanilla smells much better than it tastes.
Just FYI.
Then she got a spoon and gave me a dollop of batter.
Mmmmm. Even better than the last taste.
“What is it?” I licked the spoon.
“White cake.”
“I like white cake.”
“I know.”
Mom scraped the batter into a cake pan and shoved the pan into the oven.
I looked around.
Usually, by this time, the sound of the mixer had attracted all the youngsters in the vicinity.
And some of the adults as well.
But there was no one.
The world was mine!
“Mom? Can I lick the bowl?”
Licking the bowl.
That ultimate in rewards.
That oft hoped-for and seldom granted treat of treats.
I should point out that it didn’t actually involve ‘licking’ the bowl.
Mostly it consisted of running a spatula around the inner surfaces, catching every minute spec of deliciousness.
Okay and there was some licking involved.
Mom set me on the floor and handed me the bowl and spatula.
I sat where I landed and started in.
Could life possibly offer anything better?
Moving ahead . . .
I was making banana bread this morning.
My fourth granddaughter was seated on the cupboard beside me, mouth sticky from ‘tastes’.
I spooned the batter into pans and put them into the oven.
“Grandma? Can I lick the bowl?”
The circle is complete.



Monday, June 11, 2012

Art for the Non-Artist


I'm not an artist.
Really.
I'm not being modest or anything.
I'm really not an artist.
But in elementary school, everyone was an artist.
Because the teacher said so.
I should probably mention, here, that my painting of a tree looked . . . ahem . . . nothing like a tree.
Oh, it had a trunk.
Or more accurately, a TRUNK.
One large swath of brown paint.
Straight from the bottom of the page to the top.
Then there were leaves.
Okay. Well I thought they were leaves.
My teacher was kind.
She merely smiled, tucked my painting away, and gave me something else to work on.
A lump of clay.
This was more like it!
She handed out more lumps of clay. “Now class,” she said, “I want you to make me a dinosaur!”
Oooh! That would be so much fun!
I tackled my lump of dark grey clay with enthusiasm.
Around me, dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes began to appear.
Triceratops.
Tyrannosaurus.
Looking more and more realistic.
I looked at my clay.
It closely resembled . . . a snake.
I worked some more.
Molding. Pressing.
Then looked around again.
Next to me stood a Brontosaurus.
Next to him? Stegosaurus.
I turned back to mine.
A snake.
But with legs.
I made the legs thicker.
Now I had a snake.
With thicker legs.
I kept at it.
My teacher walked by and nodded encouragingly.
Well it looked encouraging to me.
I thickened the body.
Accidentally pressing down on the back end.
My sculpture sat up.
Yup. Sat up.
Huh.
Suddenly, it looked like a bear.
I smiled and made a large pot-shaped lump and put it between the four feet.
It really did look like a bear.
My teacher stopped beside my desk.
“Diane, I thought I told you to make a dinosaur.”
“Ummm,” I said.
“That's definitely a bear.”
I looked down at my sculpture and nodded.
“A remarkably good bear.”
The teacher sounded as surprised as I was.
Again, I nodded.
“But you were supposed to make a dinosaur.”
“Do you want me to start over?”I asked, my hand hovering uncertainly over my work of art.
“No!” she said quickly. Then, a little more calmly, “No. You just keep working on that and we'll see.”
I shrugged and bent the legs around the honey pot.
Then I flattened them a bit at the bottom to form paws.
Then I stared at it.
A bear.
Where had that come from?
My teacher was just as astonished as I was.
She entered my sculpture in the local elementary level art fair.
My family and I moved before I found out how it did.
And definitely before I got my sculpture back.
But I've often wondered.
Both where it came from.
And where it went.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Music to Get Ejected By . . .


Okay, I'm not sure, but I think this is what it looked like . . .

 Dad had a new toy.
A small musical instrument called a ‘musette’.
The fact that he was in his first year of university didn’t stop him from playing it.
He and a group of friends were riding the streetcar home from Sunday Services.
They were a happy bunch.
Talking.
Laughing.
Dad was tinkering about on his new toy.
Much to the discomfort of the other passengers.
I should mention, here, that Dad has a beautiful singing voice.
I’ve never heard him play the musette.
Possibly because of what follows.
Moving on . . .
The streetcar conductor called back to the group of boys, “You! On the harmonica! Please stop playing!”
Dad stopped.
For a moment.
Then, thinking that the conductor could no longer hear him over the noise of the rest of the passengers, he started again.
“You! Stop playing or I’ll have to kick you off the bus!”
Dad sighed and dropped the musette into his lap.
He looked down at it.
Just one more . . .
“Okay. That’s it!
The bus slid to a sudden stop.
“You! With the harmonica! Off!”
Dad got to his feet.
“And the rest of you with him! Off!”
His friends looked at each other.
Then, disgusted, they too got to their feet and followed the author of their misfortunes off the bus.
And began the long walk back to the University.
Moving ahead nearly seventy years . . .
My Husby and I had moved our family to Edmonton.
Six hours north of where I was raised.
I met an elderly couple at church.
We started to visit.
They discovered that my maiden name was Stringam.
“Well, who do you belong to?” the man asked.
“Mark is my dad,” I said proudly.
“Mark,” he said. Then, “Mark! He got me kicked off the streetcar!”
The good things we do are quickly forgotten.
The mistakes?
They go on forever.

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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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