Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, November 10, 2012

Life on the Ranch

The new barn

I was privileged to grow up on one of the last of the large old ranches in Southern Alberta. Situated half way between the towns of Milk River and Del Bonita, it covered two-and-a-half townships, close to 92 square miles. 
Our closest neighbour was over nine miles away. 
A little far to drop by to borrow a cup of sugar, but close enough to help in the case of a real emergency, which was not uncommon on the large spread we ran, and with the number of people involved in the daily workings.
The ranch buildings themselves were nestled snugly in a bend of the South Fork of the Milk River. 
Towering cliffs surrounded us. Cliffs which were home, at times, to a pair of blue herons, and at all others, to marmots, badgers, porcupines, and a very prolific flock of mud swallows. 
We learned to swim in that river. 
We tobogganed down the gentler slopes of those cliffs. 
We built dams and caught frogs and snakes. 
I even trapped a full grown jack rabbit – almost.
It was an unusual life, as I have now come to know. 
At the time, it was normal. 
We thought everyone lived like we did. Far from any outside influences. Relying on each other. Immersed in the needs of the family and the ranch. 
For a child growing up, it was peace itself.

P.S. Most of the buildings are gone now, burned in the terrible grass fires of this past summer. But they remain solid and real in my memories.
And in my stories.
Stay with me and let me take you there . . .

Friday, November 9, 2012

Snow Day

Ahhhh! Snow!

I was raised on a ranch twenty miles from the nearest town.
It was a wonderful place in which to grow up.
I lived and worked and spent my days with family and farm animals.
A peaceful, beautiful sunlit life.
Except when it snowed.
And then it was something else entirely.
It was perfect.
Maybe I should explain . . .
To get to school each day, my siblings and I rode the school bus.
There were flaws in the system.
The bus driver of the day refused to make the entire trip to the ranch.
And instead, would meet us at Nine-Mile Corner.
Situated nine miles from the ranch.
Okay, so, creative name-ers, we weren't.
Moving on . . .
Every day, Mom, and occasionally Dad, would drive us to meet the bus.
So we would be driving a vehicle to the middle of nowhere to meet another vehicle.
We didn't always connect.
At which time, Mom, and occasionally Dad, would have to take us the remaining eleven miles into town.
Sigh.
And that was when the weather cooperated.
When it didn't, things were a tad different.
If it rained (and very occasionally, it did), the ungravelled roads were positively greasy with mud.
The chances of us making our connection became very uncertain indeed.
In fact, the chances of us making it anywhere safely or on time were . . . iffy.
If it snowed . . . well, that is another story entirely.
And now we get to the point of today's ramble.
During the winter, when it stormed, driving to the school bus was very nearly impossible.
But our parents would gamely try.
Unless told to do otherwise by someone in authority.
The announcer on the radio was just such an authority. 
When we awoke to howling winds and/or thickly falling snow, we would wait breathlessly to hear the magic words.
Which schools were being closed.
Inevitably, Milk River was on the list.
At which time, we would rejoice, loudly, and proceed to plan out a day of skating and/or sledding and/or playing in the snow. With fresh doughnuts and hot chocolate to follow.
The very best of days.
Because a Snow Day is a gift and isn't to be wasted.
Moving ahead . . .
When my own kids were growing up, schools were never closed due to snow.
But buses were often cancelled.
When that happened, even when our family was living in town, I kept my kids home.
Because a Snow Day is a gift and isn't to be wasted on going to school.
Moving ahead again . . .
Yesterday, a blizzard blew into Edmonton and area.
A large blizzard.
Preceded by freezing rain.
Which made the roads almost impassible.
The commute to work quickly became a snarled mess of broken automobiles and frustrated drivers.
I kept my Husby home.
Because a Snow Day is a gift and simply isn't to be wasted on going to work.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thankful for Books Giveaway Hop

Now is your chance to enter the Thankful for Books Giveaway hop sponsored by I'm a Reader Not a Writer and Tristi Pinkston!


I'm giving away a set of my Christmas books, Kris Kringle's Magic and Carving Angels.

One more chance this year to win both of them!
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Super easy!
Just be a follower and make a comment.
That's it!
That's all!
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Good luck!

What Grade Five Taught Me


Yep. That's me. Heart-breaker extraordinary.
It was 1965.
And I had just realized that boys didn't have (as I had always suspected) cooties.
I also discovered that I was capable of being a two-faced non-friend.
The two went together.
Perhaps I should explain.
Grade five.
The year when math problems became more . . . problematic.
Times tables proved important.
Story writing, more intense and personal.
Mrs. Herbst officially turned into Oh-Teacher-of-the-Blue-Hair.
And boys became . . . interesting.
The latter started with a note, passed to me during free reading.
“Will you go to the movie with me on Saturday?”
It was signed, 'Paul'.
What???!
A boy?!
Wanted to go to a movie with me?!
What should I say?
What should I do?
What should I wear?!
Shakily I wrote, “okay” on the note and passed it back.
He unfolded it, read it and smiled at me.
And that was it.
My feet didn't touch the ground for the rest of the day.
For the rest of the week, actually.
Saturday was a long time coming.
I should mention, here, that Paul was one of the cool boys.
The popular, cool boys.
And way out of my league.
But his group adopted me as one of their own.
For the first time in my life, I was hanging with the cool crowd.
Back to my story . . .
I don't remember much about the movie, other than it was an Audie Murphy and involved something called 'cactus torture' which made me, quite literally, sick to my stomach.
And that Paul held my hand through the whole thing.
Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
After that, we met every day on the playground and on Saturday afternoons at the movies.
For about a month.
Suddenly, Paul had his eye on someone else.
And I was no longer one of the cool crowd.
Bitter and angry, I rejoined my old group.
Who took me back in without so much as a frown.
For half a morning, I complained bitingly.
Making acid comments about 'the cool kids' and how fickle they were. And mean. And nasty. And . . .
You can see where this is going.
“Well, you're with your old friends now and that's all that matters,” one of my group said.
“Yes,” I said. “I wouldn't go back with them if they begged me!”
Just then, three of the cool girls came over to us. “Diane. Lloyd likes you. Do you want to come back to our group?”
I sprinted to join them.
Didn't even look back.
Now I met Lloyd every day on the playground and held hands with him at the Saturday afternoon movies.
I know what you are thinking.
Fickle non-friend.
And you're not wrong.
Ahem . . .
This went on for some time.
Throughout the rest of Grade five in fact.
Then my popularity waned.
And died.
And do you know what?
My old group again took me back.
Without even a sideways glance.
This time, I stayed.
We went through grade six together.
Then Junior High.
Then Senior high.
And we had fun.
I discovered that it all comes back to math.
♀ + ♀♀♀ = ☼♥♫.
♀+ = brain-dead non-friend.
I learned my lesson.

P.S. At our class reunions, I've discovered that we are no longer divided into the 'cool' kids and the 'dweebs'. The 'cool' kids have had just as many challenges in life as me and my group. The same heartaches. The same joys and reasons to celebrate.
Life is the true leveller.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Planning Rocks

Yorkshire Pudding. A solid piece of our history.

My Husby is a Planner.
Really.
It is a legitimate occupation.
He plans . . . stuff.
He has built his career doing it.
Mostly, he plans things like: Museums. Displays. Art galleries. Special facilities for storing special collections.
It has been a varied and unusual career.
And he is very good at what he does.
Except when he tells his wife that whatever she is doing would work better if she used a different system.
That never turns out well.
Moving on . . .
Several years ago, he was leading a team of designers in Fort McMurray.
They were re-designing the displays at the Oil Sands Interpretive Centre.
A fun and exacting job.
Requiring many months spent in the rapidly expanding oil city of Fort McMurray, Alberta.
At the end of one particularly long day, the team was seated at what had become their favourite restaurant.
Doing what had become their favourite pastime.
Eating.
One of the team members had order a roast beef supper.
With all of the trimmings.
One ‘trimming’ was a large Yorkshire Pudding.
With gravy.
Now I’ve had Yorkshire pudding.
In all its glory.
I love it.
But this particular pudding had been baked too long.
Or left uncovered.
Or simply neglected.
It was, to use a rather over-worked phrase, ‘Hard as a proverbial rock’.
Its owner poked at it morosely.
“This thing is inedible,” he said, sadly. “It looks like one of the rocks in the display case back at the Centre.”
Husby suddenly looked at him, his face breaking into a broad smile.
All eyes were on him as he explained his idea for yet another display.
Then everyone got up and, pocketing the pudding, headed back to the Centre.
A short time later, they had the cover off the large display of rocks (and other things solid and impenetrable).
They rearranged, creating a perfect little space for this, the newest addition.
One of the designers looked at the other placards in the case, figured out the font used, and quickly typed up an official-looking label.
When they left the building later that night, the display of rocks was richer by one, ‘Jurassic Pudding Stone’.
Nothing more was said.
In due course, they completed their assignment and separated, each going back to their normal lives.
Several weeks later, my Husby received a phone call.
From the director of the newly-refurbished Interpretive Centre.
“Ummm . . . Grant? Did your team touch our rock display case?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, there seems to be an addition of which I’ve only very recently become aware.”
“Oh?”
“Yes. Something called a Jurassic Pudding Stone. Now I looked through every one of my books and couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally, I removed the cover and examined the ‘stone’.
“Yes?”
“Well, it looks to me like a very old, very tired Yorkshire Pudding.”
“Well, that is odd.”
There was silence at the other end. “So you don’t know anything about this?”
“I don’t understand why you are asking me.”
“Well, it seemed . . .  odd. And I thought that you and your team . . .”
“It does sound very interesting and I’d love to see it when I’m up there again.”
Notice the clever prevarication (Ooo. Good word!)?
Back to my story . . .
“Oh. Well, I just thought of you guys and . . . well . . . okay.”
Need something planned?
A building? A display?
A prank?
I know someone you can call.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Our Iron Lady

Mom. All pressed and ready to go.

My mom was an iron-er.
A Demon iron-er.
She ironed everything.
Shirts. Pants. Dresses. Shorts. T-shirts. Socks. Pillowcases. Handkerchiefs. Sheets. Pajamas.
I kid you not.
Everything.
And when I say ‘she’, I mean her girls.
From the age of eight, I had my own little ironing pile.
Admittedly, it was the more easily ironed items. Pillow cases, handkerchiefs, and  . . . flat stuff.
But it was all mine.
No other hands could – or would - touch it.
Ever.
In fact, it would still be there waiting for me, even if I’d been hiding in the barn all day.
Ahem . . .
Mom was very particular about her ironing.
Everything had to be done just so.
I was fortunate in that my items left very little scope for mistakes.
My sister wasn’t nearly so lucky.
I can still see my mom preparing things to iron.
She would sprinkle everything with water, via a spritzer attachment atop a seven-up bottle.
Incidentally, we thought that said spritzer would be great fun in a water fight.
It wasn’t.
Moving on . . .
Then she would carefully roll the sprinkled items into a tight bundle and put them into a plastic bag.
Then put the plastic bag into the fridge.
I know.
I thought it was weird, too.
She said something about ‘keeping things moist’.
Who listened.
One by one, the items were pulled from the bag and ironed.
Then hung.
Then put away.
There was a definite process.
And one didn’t dare skip any of the steps.
Because Mom always knew.
Even if one folded up the handkerchiefs into tiny, tiny little squares.
Tiny.
Those gimlet eyes saw through everything.
Sigh.
Though most everything these days is permanent press, I still iron.
Sometimes.
Okay, I admit it, the bottom of my ironing basket has never actually been seen.
There is a dress down there in a size three!
It’s like an archeological dig.
I miss my Mom.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Oh, to Remember!

Yep. Back then, the brain . . . worked.

The summer I was ten, my oldest sister, Chris, volunteered to run a summer day camp for the kids in Milk River.
We had a marvellous time.
Games. Treats. Crafts. Treats. Contests. Treats. Activities. More treats.
I was ten.
Anything to do with food took priority.
Hmm. Still does in fact.
Moving on . . .
Chris put heart and soul into the program.
There were no parameters laid out, so she had to come up with the guidelines and curriculum herself.
She did a wonderful job.
Part way through the summer, she decided that it would be fun if she got all of the kids involved in performing a play.
And not just any play.
The Wizard of Oz.
A fairly ambitious undertaking for a seventeen year old girl and her group of pre-teens.
First, she had to come up with a script.
That was all right, because our family had the story on an LP.
LP.
Go ahead. Google it. We'll wait . . .
And that's where I came in.
I had one talent as a child.
I could memorize.
If I listened to it once, I could pretty much give a detailed description.
If I listened to it a lot?
I could recite it.
With voice inflections and sound effects.
And that was what I did.
For three days, I recited and Chris wrote.
The entire hour-and-a-half of 'The Wizard of Oz'.
As it had been recorded.
We had our script . . .
I should mention here that we never got to perform our play.
We simply ran out of time.
But we learned something important.
If you wanted anything remembered, let Diane listen to it ad infinitum for a couple of days and it was there forever.
Word perfect.
This skill stayed with me for a while.
In fact, I played the lead some years later in 'The Rented Christmas', and memorized the entire play.
To the point that I served as the prompter.
On stage.
My point in telling you all of this is simply to reminisce.
And to lament.
I've been trying to figure out what I just had for breakfast.
I can't - for the life of me – remember.
Oh, for just a portion of that bygone talent!
Sigh.

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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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