Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Fish Feet


My friends and I were visiting/doing gymnastics on the living room rug.
This was long before I had six babies.
And said goodbye to the stomach muscles I knew and loved.
I should probably also point out that our living room was large.
Just not large enough.
Explanations are in order . . .
We had been doing forward and backward rolls.
Head stands.
Cartwheels.
Hand stands.
My personal favourite.
Now I was demonstrating the newly-discovered joys of the hand spring.
Something I had only recently become proficient at.
On the very large mats in our high school gym.
“It's really easy,” I told my friends. “You just start with a little . . . hop.”
I proceeded to demonstrate.
“Oooh!” my friends said. “Let's do that one!”
For the next few minutes, they tried.
With varying degrees of success.
“Okay, show us again,” one of them said.
Feeling rather important, I stepped to one side of the living room.
Put both hands into the air and hopped forward.
Hands came down neatly to the floor.
Feet came up.
Feet flipped over.
And this is that climactic moment where I came to grief.
I should explain that one wall of our living room was taken up by a large, brick fireplace.
It was beautiful.
And very functional.
With a large hearth.
Upon which our aquarium sat.
Complete with fish.
And fifteen gallons of water.
You've probably guessed that when rapidly-moving feet hit glass aquarium walls, something's definitely going to give.
And it's not the feet.
One of mine went right through the side of that aquarium.
Now I know you've seen how impressive a broken aquarium looks on TV and in movies.
With water and fish pouring out onto the floor.
It's really only impressive on the screen.
Because, in reality, it makes a huge mess.
And one can't do anything to stop it.
Even when one tries manfully to hold in the water.
With both hands.
With fish and water pouring everywhere, I screamed for my mother.
Who came running from the kitchen.
Tea towel in hand.
Vastly inadequate for the job at hand.
“Oh, my!” she said.
My mother was the master of the understatement.
The entire front room carpet was rapidly becoming victim to a small wall of water.
And helpless fish were flopping about everywhere.
I was standing in front of the aquarium with both hands out.
Accomplishing nothing.
In a flash, she had run to the kitchen and returned with a jar to collect fish and what water she could.
Then, theatrics over, the cleanup started.
This is where the movies are so much better.
You see the great aquarium die.
And the water and fish pour everywhere.
You just don't get to see the massive cleanup that follows.
And this was before the days of wet/dry vacuums.
We scraped water from that carpet, soaking it up with towels, for hours.
Who knew one aquarium could hold so much?
Finally, we were done.
Carpet still decidedly damp.
Aquarium gone. Little pot, with fish, where it had once stood.
And three teenagers banished to the yard.
For a moment, we sat there, staring at each other.
Then, “Hey!” I said. “Let me show you something!”
Ah, the indomitable, undaunted human spirit.
Undampened by set-backs.
So to speak.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hiking . . . With Kids

Yep. Just add 'cute'.

If there’s a cute way to say something, kids will find it.
It’s up to the adults to remember . . .
Nearly every year, our family vacationed for a week in Banff, Alberta.
We loved it there.
We had a particular hotel we liked to frequent.
Our kids learned to swim in the pool.
Play kick-the-can in the nearby woods.
Use the workout room for . . . working out.
Climb a neighbouring mountain to breakfast at the top.
Wander through the nearby townsite.
Hike.
Avoid the herds of elk.
Fail miserably at tennis.
Play wall-e-ball in the squash courts.
And sit by the fire in the evenings playing games.
For that one week, we existed in paradise . . .
It is still our favourite destination.
Unfortunately, our little two-bedroom apartment no longer accommodates all of us.
But we arrange for extra rooms and those who can, come.
Now our children are passing their wonderful memories on to the next generation.
Teaching their children in the pool.
Showing them the best places to hike.
And that is where this story is leading.
I do take a while, don’t I?
Moving on . . .
We were doing the ‘little kids’ hike around Cascade pond.
The easiest one of all.
It is a lovely spot, with trails and bridges in a figure eight around and over a round pond.
An opportunity to see nature up close without a too-arduous hike to and from.
The smallest children were with us.
Feeling very important as they participated in their first hike in the wilderness.
Our (then) three-year old granddaughter had stopped with her mother to look at something.
Then, seeing that the rest of us had moved on without them, she ran to catch up.
It wasn’t far.
Unless you were three.
By the time she caught up to us, she was pressing one small hand to her side. Obviously, someone had developed a stitch.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“Oh, my feelings!” she said breathlessly.
What can make a stroll through the beauties of nature just that much better?
A little touch of ‘cute’.
Going hiking?
Take a child.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

First Prayer

"Eyes!"

Dinner time was special in our house.
It was the time when everyone gathered.
When everyone ate.
And everyone visited.
We are a family of expert visitors.
Sometimes, the talk and laughter would go on for hours.
Long after the eating had finished.
It was the best part of our day.
And every dinner time began with prayer.
Thanksgiving for the food.
For the blessings of the day and every day.
For each other.
Our children had been raised with prayer at meal times.
It was as important as the food.
As soon as each of them began to speak, they had their turn.
Gently coached in the very earliest days.
Given their freedom as they got more proficient.
And kids can certainly pray.
Sometimes those prayers would go on for some time.
Blessing everything from their friends to their toys to their favourite TV programs.
It was . . . sweet.
And went by all too quickly.
Our kids are all grown up now.
With families of their own.
But prayer is still a big part of their lives.
And especially their mealtimes.
And the next generation is being carefully trained up.
Case in point:
Yesterday, our eldest daughter and her family were sharing the evening meal with my Husby and I.
Everyone sat down.
I looked around. “I think it's Baby girl's turn to say the prayer.”
I should point out, here, that this little girl is just learning to talk. Her vocabulary of decipherable words is . . . not extensive.
And this was her first opportunity to say the prayer.
Everyone bowed their heads and closed their eyes.
Little arms were folded.
Beloved Heavenly Father,” her mother began.
There was a pause as we all waited for the expected response.
The repetition of her mother's words.
Baby girl opened her mouth. “Eyes!” she said.
We're thankful for our blessings,” her mother went on.
“Eyes!” Baby girl said louder, pointing to her mother.
We're thankful for safety today.”
“Mama! Nose!” She was making progress.
We're thankful for this wonderful food.”
“Mouf! (Something unintelligible) Mouf!”
Please bless it to nourish us.”
“Eyes!” We were back to that.
In the name of Jesus Christ . . .” her mother paused.
“Elbow!”
Way wrong.
Amen.”
A chorus of 'Amen'.
Than another chorus of long-suppressed chuckles.
“Oh, Sweetheart, you said your first prayer!” I said. “You're such a big girl!”
She clapped.
Her words weren't 'right'.
But the food was well and truly blessed.
As were we.
A precious moment indeed.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Mystery Meat

Mmmmmm . . .

Every family has customs at Christmas.
Some are fun.
Some funny.
Some weird.
Our family has several that fit into this last category.
One is Christmas stockings.
Okay, yes, I know that many, many families enjoy the custom of stuffing a stocking for each family member.
It's what goes into said stockings that sets our family apart.
Maybe I should explain . . .
On Christmas, after the kids have been shuttled off to bed, Mom and Dad (alias Santa) bring out the loot.
Erm . . . gifts.
Each stocking is laid out and stuffed full.
I look after the common, everyday, run-of-the-mill gifts:
1.Toothbrushes.
2. Socks.
3. Underwear.
4. The orange in the toe.
My Husby looks after the strange and bizarre:
1. Various styles of catapults.
2. Magnets.
3. Quirky -- ie. strange – books, puzzles and games.
4. Expanding T-shirts. Just add water.
5. And little tins of meat.
I know what you're thinking.
Why on earth would someone give his kids catapults.
You weren't?
My mistake.
Sooo . . . tinned meats.
Every year, each of our children found a tin of . . . something . . . stuffed into the inner reaches of his or her stocking.
And I'm not talking tuna fish here.
These were tins of something fancifully called: Vienna sausage.
In various flavours.
All neatly and brightly and attractively packaged.
And yes, I realize that there may be people around the world who love Vienna sausage.
My kids were raised on the prairie.
And served beef three meals a day.
With the occasional foray into the world of chicken or pork.
If the animal didn't originally bellow, oink or cluck, they regarded it with deep suspicion.
Or outright revulsion.
Okay, the ingredients listed on the Vienna sausage tins said: beef and/or chicken and/or pork and/or meat.
But it was mechanically de-boned and mixed with . . . other stuff.
So in the words of my kids, mystery meat.
Need I say that my Husby's gifts weren't received with gladness?
Probably not.
Oh, they tried it.
The very first year.
It . . . wasn't popular.
No tin was every willingly opened again.
And when the detritus had been cleared from the front room after the all-important opening of the gifts, the only things remaining were several tins of meat.
Left where they had been dropped upon being discovered.
Husby immediately scooped them up and stowed them carefully away.
Only to bring them out and drop them into another stocking the next year.
One particular tin of sausage re-appeared six years in a row.
The last year in Argentina, where our youngest son was living at the time.
His roommate ate it.
Something we didn't think was possible.
One of our kids asked their father why he kept putting those little tins of -to them- inedible meat in the stockings.
His answer surprised all of us.
“Because I want you to appreciate that we live in a place where we have plenty. That tiny tins of mystery meat can be laughed over and disregarded. We are very blessed.”
We truly are.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Judgement Seat

Me and my Partner in Crime/ Future Best Friend

I was sitting in a Sunday School class yesterday.
The group was studying a particular scripture.
It concerned what happens when we all die.
The teacher explained that, when we die, all of us will be taken back to that God who made us.
I was with him that far.
Then he explained that everyone will wait there until the final judgement.
The righteous in a state of peace and calm.
The wicked in a state of anxiety knowing that the final judgement won't be pretty.
It was an interesting class.
It reminded me of something.
Because I have an active imagination.
And because I can't pay attention to anything for more than two minutes.
Unless there are moving pictures and/or shiny things . . .
My next older brother, George, and I used to squabble.
A lot.
It was his fault.
I can say that because this is my blog.
Okay, yes, it's connected to his blog, but I'm going to worry about that later.
Moving on . . .
I don't think we could exist in the same room for more than a few seconds before a fight would break out.
She's touching me!
He's taking my toys!
She's playing stupid games!
He says I'm playing stupid games!
HE/SHE'S BREATHING MY AIR!!!
You know the drill.
My mother tried all sorts of remedies.
Chores.
Confiscation of treats.
Loss of privileges.
The only thing that worked was 'time out'.
George and I spent many, many minutes thus engaged.
Or rather dis-engaged.
For first offences, such as minor disagreements over toys, she started out small.
“You two go and sit on a chair!”
This punishment was usually informal.
Consisting of a few moments spent sitting at opposite ends of the table.
If the crime was a bit more serious, ie. name-calling, time was added.
“You two sit there until the timer on the stove goes off!”
Rats.
Then there were the major offences.
Where things had gotten a little . . . physical.
Hair pulling and/or pinching and/or scratching.
“Both of you sit there on that piano bench until your father gets home!”
Oh, man.
Not only did we lose playing privileges.
But we had to sit in very close proximity to the person who had landed us in this predicament.
Sigh.
Did you know that, sometimes, older brother have cooties?
Well, they do.
Just FYI.
So there we sat.
Back to the discussion in Sunday School.
And I don't mean to be disrespectful.
But I think I know precisely what the teacher was trying to tell us.
My brother and I sat on that piano bench for what was probably only a matter of minutes.
But which seemed like hours to a four-year-old.
In a confined space.
Unable to leave.
Waiting for the punishment of a just father.
Yep. I know.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Insignificant. A Short Story. Conclusion


What would you do?
If you could . . .
Conclusion

Marie took a bite of her sandwich. “So what have you decided? Are you going to come with us this weekend?” she asked.
“I can think of nothing I'd like more,” Lucy said.
“Really?” Marie stared at her. “Cause you usually don't like going into the outdoors. You always complain about how dangerous it is.”
“Well, maybe I've got a little secret,” Lucy said.
“A secret?” Marie looked at her. “Something that makes it less dangerous?”
Lucy smiled. “Maybe.”
Marie shrugged. “Well, anyway, we're planning on leaving after work on Friday.”
“Meet you at the front doors?”
“Sounds good!”
*  *  *
“Oh, I've waited all week for this!” Frank said, relaxing back into his chair.
“Just look at that sky!” Marie said. “You simply can't see a sky like that when you're stuck in the city!”
Lucy smiled.
“Lucy! You're not smothering yourself in repellant!” Darius said.
He handed a bottle to Frank, who squirted some into his hands and started rubbing his head and arms.
“No need,” Lucy said.
“What?” Marie stared at her. “This from the girl who bathes in the stuff?”
Lucy's smile grew wider. “I just happen to know something you don't,” she said.
“What can that be?” Marie asked. “Frank, hurry up. There are people in line.”
Frank handed the bottle to Marie.
She popped the lid and poured a line down one bare thigh. Then held it up and shook it slowly from side to side. “Lucy. Last chance. Want some?”
Lucy shook her head. “No, I'm good,” she said. “I happen to know that no mosquito will ever bite me again.”
The others stared at her.
“Mosquito?” Marie asked. “What is that?”
Lucy laughed. “Of course you don't know,” she said. “I killed the first one. Snuffed the entire species out before they even got a toe hold.” She leaned back in her chair and sighed. “Best moment of my life.”
Marie blinked, then shrugged. “I have no idea what you are talking about,” she said. She pushed the top back on the bottle and dropped it under her chair.
Lucy was watching her. She frowned. “Wait. Marie, hand me that bottle.”
Marie picked it up and tossed it to her.
Lucy turned the bottle and stared at it.
There was a picture of the lizard on the front.
“T-spray? T-Spray!” she looked at her friends. “What is this?!”
They stared at her.
“This from the woman who has been basting in the stuff for the past how many years?” Frank said.
Darius pointed to the picture. “I assume that the person who discovered time travel and has spent the past year trotting through the eons can read?”
Lucy glared at him. “Of course I can read,” she snapped.
Darius pointed to the words under the picture.
Lucy frowned and pulled the bottle closer. Repels tyrannosaurs and most species of carnivore. Not effective on water beasts.
Just then, a loud roar split the silence.
“Oh, rats,” Marie said. “The tyrannosaurs are out.”

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Insignificant. A short story. Part Three


What would you do?
If you could . . .
Part Three

“It is with great pleasure that we present this award to the team of Lucy Snow and Lawrence McGovern.”
The applause was thunderous as Lucy and Larry made their way to the podium. Breathless and smiling, they stood there in the spotlight and waved to the crowd.
“Dr. Snow? Dr. McGovern?”
They turned.
“The Scintell Company is proud to present you with this award of astounding achievement,” Dr. Rogers said, holding out a large, silver plate. “In recognition for your amazing contributions this year.”
Lucy reached for the heavy trophy. “Thank you, Dr. Rogers,” she said.
“We are honoured,” Larry added.
Dr. Rogers laughed. “It's so nice to be able to come out from behind the president's desk once in a while and mix with the people who do the real work in this company.” He put a hand on each doctor's shoulder. “And especially when it is for something this momentous.”
“Well, Dr. Rogers, we have to return the thanks,” Lucy said. “If it weren't for the support and the faith of this company, Dr. McGovern and I would never have been able to achieve this milestone.” She looked out at the crowd. “And thanks to all of you!” She held up the trophy. “This is for all of us!”
The applause and cheering were deafening.
Dr. Rogers was back at the mike. “So, what's next?” he asked.
“Oh, we have many plans,” Lucy said, her eyes glowing. “Many, many plans.”
* * *
“Is that what you're going to wear?” Larry asked.
“Lare, this is all about functionality, not fashion,” Lucy said.
“Okay,” Larry grinned. “If you say so.”
“Oh, shuddup and get on with it,” Lucy said, grinning.
Larry laughed. He twisted a couple of dials. “Okay, I'm ready,” he said.
Lucy pulled the strap of a small bag over her shoulder and buttoned her heavy, cotton jacket. “Me, too,” she said.
“You're sure you've got it right this time?”
“Lare, haven't we done this enough times that you can stop asking me that?”
Larry shrugged. “You keep looking and looking,” he said, “and you haven't found them yet.”
“I'm feeling lucky this time,” Lucy said. “My research was just a trifle off before. I'm sure I've got it right this time.”
“So . . . how long do you want me to give you?”
“Oh, say . . . two days?”
“You think you can find them and finish the job in that short amount of time?”
“Lare. I told you. I've done my research this time.”
Larry shrugged. “You're the boss.”
“I am,” Lucy grinned. “And don't you forget it.”
“Well, I guess we should get on with it.”
“Wish me luck,” Lucy said, stepping into the booth.
“You don't need it,” Larry said. “You've got research!”
Lucy stuck her tongue out at him.
“But, good luck!” Larry pushed the brown button.
An orange glow filled the booth. With a slight 'pop', Lucy disappeared.
Larry set some controls and glanced at the clock. He pressed a button. “Trial 238, proceeding,” he said. “Time: 2:59 PM.” Then he left the room.

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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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