Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, November 17, 2012

Definitely Unforgettable



I had been living in the big city of Calgary for three whole days.
My roommate got home from work just after I did.
“Hey,” she said. “How as your day?”
“It was good,” I told her . “I . . .”
“We've been invited to a party,” she said, sorting through the day's mail.
I stared at her. “But I don't know anyone.”
“Oh, it was our Landlord,” she said. “He's always throwing parties. And we're invited.” She looked at me. “He's quite a guy,” she added. “You'll never forget him!”
“Oh. Umm . . . okay.”
“Soo . . . let's go.”
“What? Now?!”
“Sure.”
I discovered that our Landlord lived in the apartment just below us.
And that the party was already well under way when we got there.
Food. Drinks. Laughter.
Music.
And lots and lots of people.
Lots.
We edged our way in.
“How did you get invited to this?” I shouted into her ear.
“He was out on the balcony having a smoke when I got home,” she said.
“Oh.”
“Come on. He wants to meet you.”
We worked our way through the crowded room.
As she edged me past yet another knot of happily engaged people, I happened to glance up at the wall closest to us.
Covering most of it, was the RCMP crest.
“Huh. Look at that!” I shouted. “The RCMP crest!”
My roommate nodded. “Yeah!” she shouted back. “Our Landlord used to be in the RCMP!”
“Cool!” I studied it as we made our slow way past. It must have been about four feet square.
Bright and shining in the dim room.
“Wow!” I shouted “If every officer wore one of those, it'd be like wearing a bullet-proof shield!”
And it was at that precise moment that the entire room happened to be drawing its collective breath in its collective conversations.
And the current song ended.
My comment rang out over the quiet room as though it had been shouted.
Which it had.
It was also at that exact time that my roommate stopped in front of a man in a wheelchair.
Obviously a quadriplegic.
“Umm . . . this is our Landlord,” she said. She leaned toward him. “This is my new roommate!”
The man was drinking a beer through a straw.
He nodded and smiled at his newest permanently-crimson-faced tenant. “Wish I'd had one of those 'bullet-proof shields',” he said.
“Ummm . . . yeah,” I managed.
“Would have come in quite handy.”
“Yeah,” I said again.
My roommate and I moved on.
“Wow! Look at the time!” I said. “We should be probably be getting back to the apartment!”
We had been there for a grand total of about five minutes.
And it was 4:00 in the afternoon.
But definitely time to head home.
After that initial awkward meeting, we were in his home many times.
Along with most of the people in the apartment building.
Always, he was cheerful and smiling.
And welcoming.
With never a word over the injury, sustained while on duty, that changed his life forever.
My roommate was right.
I never forgot him.

Friday, November 16, 2012

'Studying' Biology

The room of learning.
One of my favourite classes in high school was Biology.
We did exciting things in Biology.
Dissected worms.
Hid the teachers notes.
Dissected deer eyes.
Checked each other's blood pressure.
Dissected frogs.
Typed each other's blood.
Gassed a bat and then drowned it, mistakenly thinking it was already dead. (One of the more traumatic days in Biology.)
Watched our teacher try to blow up the lab.
Slept through informative movies.
Watched our newly-engaged teacher try to remember what he was supposed to be teaching.
Dissected rats.
Grew weird things in petrie dishes.
We had fun.
And we were a good class.
Didn't cause too much trouble.
I will admit that we had a 'lost and found' board in our Biology lab.
But I'm sure that everyone has at least one of those.
Where else would you tack the frog tongues, frog legs, rat tails, and other things guaranteed to gross out the more squeamish members of the classroom?
But there is one thing that I remember vividly from all of my years in biology.
And only because of the unfortunate way in which my teacher chose to say it.
Maybe I should explain . . .
We were studying something very pithy: friction.
Did you know that friction is responsible for a lots of things?
Traction, for one.
Gripping.
Stopping.
In fact if it weren't for friction, we would simply slip and slide around everywhere.
I know that sounds like fun, but it's really not.
Our teacher explained it very well.
And yes, this was the teacher who was newly-engaged and only visited our planet for very short periods of time.
He told us, and I quote, “Friction is caused by two bodies rubbing together.”
Did you know that?
We didn't.
But you can be sure that we, and especially the boys in the classroom, never, ever, forgot it.
After that, not a day went past without someone making the selfless offer to help someone else study friction.
True story.
Biology class.
What would school life be like without it?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Jerry


Today is my big brother's birthday!

This post is for him . . .
Jerry. My Hero. Age two.

I have two elder brothers, Jerry and George. 
The banes of my existence when I was four. 
This story is about Jerry. George gets his own.
-------------------------------------------------------
Jerry is my oldest brother. The one, chosen by the rest of us, most likely to be just like Dad. In my earliest memories of him, he is working. Hoeing the garden, mending fence, riding, milking cows. Always busy. Always cheerful.
Always teasing. 
He could put just the right inflection on the most innocent of phrases and it was enough to send his middle sister into paroxysms of anger. 
His favourite? “Oh, Diane!” Pronounced more like, “Oh, Di-Ane!” 
With the buffer of many years, it doesn’t seem so bad. Rather cute, really. But at the time, it was enough to set me off like a miniature Mount Vesuvius. 
Okay, so that particular volcano runs in our family. 
You should have seen George when Jerry used his favourite phrase on him! ‘Pimple pants’. 
Pimple pants? 
Now where would that have come from? And, more importantly, how does one get . . . never mind.
But the old phrase, “If we hated you, we’d ignore you,” certainly applied to Jerry. He must have truly loved us. He’d take us everywhere. Riding. Sledding. Swimming. Exploring. You’d just have to be prepared to put up with the teasing.
--------------------------------------------------------------
Jerry was the most amazing swimmer. He was the only one of us kids who could make headway against the current of the river. The rest of us were pretty proud when we could hold our own. That wasn’t good enough for Jerry. He would dive in and battle the current. And win. Races against him were moot. How could you even contemplate winning against the only ‘current defeater’ in the family?
The one good thing about the constant competition, however, was that when we were given swimming lessons, we could out swim all of the other kids. We weren’t weak swimmers.
Just weak against Jerry.
---------------------------------------------------
Dad had purchased a small ranch in the Coaldale area. Over an hour from the Milk River spread. A logistical nightmare for one man to run. But an adventure if said man put his four eldest kids on one of the ranches for the summer.
Which he did.
Soon after we took possession, however, we discovered an entirely unexpected crop which our new ranch produced in abundance.
Rattlesnakes. 
Big ones.
Jerry and George were hauling in the hay. Jerry on top of the stack . . . ummm . . . stacking. George tossing bales up to him. Jerry sat down on a bale, waiting for George to bring in the next stook. Just as his butt touched the bale, he heard the unmistakable, ‘tell-tail’ sound of a rattler. 
Sure enough, curled there at his feet was a small rattler, poised to strike.
Without conscious thought, Jerry pitched sideways off the stack, neatly avoiding being bitten. Then, boys being boys, the two of them closed in for the kill.
Sometime later, I was interrupted from my morning chore of . . . doing nothing . . . by the ring of the doorbell. Excited at the prospect of company, I raced for the door, only to discover – no one. 
I opened the door for a better view. Maybe someone was . . . you know . . . pressed up tightly against the wall so they couldn’t be seen from the doorway.
There, coiled neatly on the front step was a rattler. I never really noticed that it was rather . . . lifeless. 
Panic first, think after. That’s my motto. 
I screamed, and almost pitched backwards down the stairs. 
Then I heard laughter. And saw two brothers’ sunburned faces peeking around the door. “Did it scare you?”
No, this is my usual slap-dash method of pitching down stairs, but thanks for thinking of me. 
---------------------------------------------------------------
My friends wanted to walk into town and visit Charley’s. 
The soda shop hang-out. 
But I needed money. And neither of my parents were anywhere around. In disgust, I kicked at the dusty road and resigned myself to sitting and watching everyone else consume floats or shakes. Maybe, out of pity, offer me a sip.
Sigh.
Suddenly, Jerry emerged from the feed lot. The answer to my prayers. Maybe he would lend me a dime, or if I was really lucky, a quarter.
Okay, so my expectations weren’t very high.
I asked him. He grinned. One of two things was going to happen. Either he’d lend me money. 
Or tease me. 
And then lend me money. 
The day was mine.
“You can have all the money that’s in my pocket,” he said.
Uh-oh. A trick. He must be a broke as I. 
He reached into his pocket and pulled out . . . a handful of change. 
Pennines, dimes, nickels, quarters. I felt as though I had hit the jackpot. 
And he poured the glittering contents – all of it – into my waiting hands. I had enough for . . . anything . . . everything. 
He just smiled. And went to start chores.
-----------------------------------------------------------------
Jerry was out in the feedlot, feeding the yearling bulls.
Now let me point out here that yearling bulls are just like puppies. They love to play. And chase each other. And play. The major difference is that they weigh in the neighbourhood of 1600 pounds. A bit larger than your average pooch.
I had decided that I wanted to be where Jerry was. Maybe I could help. 
Or get in the way. 
I was equally good at both. 
I climbed the heavy board fence and sat on the top rail, watching. Jerry was pouring buckets of feed into the troughs and the bulls were delicately picking at it. Politely allowing everyone his own space. 
Not.
When feeding cattle, pushing and shoving is the norm. Reaching over or under your neighbour to get that tasty morsel directly in front of him - equally common. Manners flee when a bucket of grain comes into sight. 
For some time, this supper brawl fascinated me. I watched as these overly-muscled and underly-intelligent ‘adolescents’ bickered and fought over their evening meal. But as with anything, watching soon became boredom and I wanted to be in there. Ummm . . . helping. I scrambled down off the fence and started towards my brother. 
One young ‘Four-Footed Apollo’ spotted me. Someone to play with! He bounced towards me in his finest ‘let’s play!’ mode. 
The invitation on his part was misunderstood on mine.
All I saw was a mass of solid muscle, encased in a red hide, coming at me, death in his soft brown eyes. 
I screamed. 
And ran. 
Which was exactly what the bull was looking for. He followed. Still bouncing. This was fun!
I reached the fence just as my brother entered the fray. 
With a 5-gallon pail in one hand and an aluminum grain shovel in the other, he went for my attacker.
He swung the empty bucket at one side of the bull’s rump. That got his attention. Then, with the same accuracy and effectiveness, he bounced the shovel off the other side. The bull immediately forgot his erstwhile game with me and started back across the corral with Jerry in hot pursuit. Swinging the bucket, then the shovel, my brother chased the thoroughly frightened young bull, shouting with each blow, “Leave. My. Sister. Alone!”
My hero.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Another Winner!


We have a winner in the Thankful for Books Giveaway hop sponsored by I'm a Reader Not a Writer and Tristi Pinkston!
Congratulations!
A set of Kris Kringle's Magic and Carving Angels will be heading to the United States this time!



Thank you to everyone who entered.
I so wish I could give a set of my books to each of you!
Thank you for your support!
Diane

Claustrophobedience


Mom and I were visiting at my Auntie's house.
An innocent enough activity.
And from it, I got claustrophobia.
Maybe I should explain . . .
Mom and Auntie were in the kitchen chatting over cups of tea and home baked goodies.
My cousin and I had already done the rounds of the dessert tray.
Several times.
We retired upstairs to more important matters.
Play.
One of the bedrooms upstairs had no furniture in it.
Or at least, I can't remember any.
But it did hold a large carpet.
Rolled into a neat bundle.
It looked like a hot dog.
Let's face it. In my world, everything resembled food.
Moving on . . .
Suddenly, I got a marvellous idea.
“Let's play 'Hot Dog'!” I told my cousin.
“Okay,” she said enthusiastically, as though she knew exactly what I was talking about.
Which she didn't.
I unrolled the carpet and lay down at the edge.
“Okay. Now roll me up,” I commanded.
She did.
Cool!
Fun!
Neat!
Wait . . . I can't breathe!!!
I began to scream.
Okay, I could probably still breathe.
The ability to scream would indicate this.
My cousin, understandably concerned, stared at me.
Or at the rug that contained me.
I struggled mightily and finally, managed to extricate myself.
I headed for the nearest safe place.
My Mom.
I burst into the kitchen, every white-blonde hair standing on end and eyes like saucers.
“Mom! I nearly died!!!”
Okay, so melodrama and me were close, personal friends.
Mom set down her teacup and looked at me. “What?”
“I nearly died! I couldn't breathe!”
Mom frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“We were playing 'Hot Dog',” I told her.
She stared at me. “Hot Dog?”
“Yeah with the carpet. And I was the hot dog. And I rolled up . . .”
Suddenly, Mom understood. “Oh.” She gave me a stern look. “Diane, don't do that again!”
I admit that I often disobeyed my Mom.
Often quite deliberately.
But this time, I listened.
I like to think it was because I discovered the joy of obedience.
But, actually, I think it's because I discovered claustrophobia.
Obedience would have been more fun.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Through the Eyes of Our Soldier


A repost for Remembrance Day:

Erik, right and a colleague, Larry.
 On the back of the picture, it says: 'I'm the one in green'.
Remembrance Day.
A day set aside to think about all of the people who have served us by laying down their lives.
And who are risking their lives today.
The ultimate sacrifice.
My thoughts are turned to the times when my husband and I have toured memorials around the world.
The military cemetery in Cambridge, England, where we had to leave because I was crying.
The Vietnam memorial in Washington. DC, when we watched a worker do a 'rubbing' for the brother of a fallen soldier, before we had to leave because I was crying.
The bunkers on the beach in Normandy, before we had to leave because I was crying.
The tiny military museum in the English countryside that we had to leave because . . . I think I'm beginning to see a pattern.
My second son served for eight years as an engineer/mine specialist in the Canadian army.
Including a peace-keeping mission in Bosnia. (When he returned home, he walked over to the lawn and just stood there. When asked why, he said, "I haven't been able to simply walk over and stand on grass for 10 months. This feels wonderful!)
I thought it particularly appropriate to include excerpts from some of his letters home . . .
Be warned, he was a soldier and had a wicked sense of humor and . . . opinions . . .

14 June
Greeting, Earth Dwellers,
The average temperature is currently hovering around +34C, which it has been all week. My secretary, Aida, was translating the radio for me and told me that these temperatures are the hottest in 68 years. Boy, are we lucky. The humidity is about 10000000% on top of that, so as you towel off from your freezing shower, the water droplets are replaced by sweat droplets as fast as you can wipe them off. I'm drinking 10 liters of water a day. 4 of them during my workout alone. Just crazy.
*  *  *
I forget what the date is, July something.
Hi, everybody!
I hope you all had fun at camp this last week, You'd better have. I had a lot of fun diving on the island of Vis. Even without the diving, the scenery was unbelievable. Except for the old ladies on the beach without tops on. Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!! That sort of thing could scar me for life. It should be illegal. Fortunately, I spent lots of time under water. I even held an octopus. He wasn't impressed. His suction cups felt really neat, though. The laser vision burns, though. Who knew octopus could cook their own food? National Geographic had taught menothing!
NOTHING!
Calm now.
*  *  *
I'm doing well, since you asked. I just drove here for the first time yesterday, and I had a lot of fun. The road signs are just a vague suggestion to the motorists here, so I had to adjust my driving doctrine to suit the conditions. Basically, we speed everywhere, and pass when we want to. Even driving like a maniac, my boss, Major Thelwell, says that I'm the safest driver she's seen here. I can't wait to drive around with her at the helm. Apparently I'm in for an exciting trip.
Later this week, I get to drive to Banja Luka on Tuesday, Zgon on Wednesday (it's right beside Kluc on the map, if you're looking for it), and then we go to Sarajevo by way of Tuzla on Thursday, returning on Friday by going through Kakanj. Basically, I get to see the whole country in a week. Sarajevo will be fun, I think.
Please send pictures of the dogs. I told my assistant, Aida about them and she wants to see them. There are a lot of dogs around here, but most are the end result of decades of hasty, unplanned dog sex. There was a cute little puppy who lives in the entrance bunker at the camp in Zgon, though. He was there with all the guards who were dressed in their fighting gear, and he was inspecting our vehicle while we talked to the guards. What a little cutie. I think he was a little Doberman without a docked tail, and no doubt he gets away with murder at the guard bunker. Fortunately, everyone seems to like Canadians.
*  *  *
The Book of Bosnia
Chapter One
1. And it came to pass that the soldiers of the Queen did go forth into the land of Bosnia, to bring a lasting peace unto the land.
2. And the soldiers did look about them and did see many peoples throughout the land, and behold, the land was bountiful, and beautiful to be seen.
3. And it came to pass that there was a spirit of contention throughout the land, causing much death and destruction.
4. And the soldiers dwelt in a tent.
5. Now the soldiers went forth unto the people, saying:
6. What is wrong with you people?
7. Lo, these words were heard by many, and the people did listen. But the people did not speak English, so they did continue to fight, and ignored the Queen's soldiers.
8. And there was no air-conditioning to be had.
9. Now the soldiers were angry, because the people were fighting among themselves, and many people had died. Plus one leg had fallen off their foosball table, which did enrage them.
10. Therefore, the soldiers did cry out to their Lord:
11. "Oh, Lord, why hast thou forsaken this land?"
12. And the Lord did hear the cry of the soldiers, and did pity them, and did say unto them:
13. "Quit whining! For crying out loud. You sound like a bunch of little girls!"
14. And many great and glorious things did the Lord speak unto the disgruntled soldiers in this manner, until the soldier's hearts were softened and they did fall to the earth in amazement.
15. Lo, their parachutes had not opened.
16. Now the soldiers were of the mind that the Lord had played a rotten trick on them, what with the parachutes and all, so therefore the soldiers did decide to bring peace unto the land of Bosnia by circumventing Him.
12. And it came to pass that the soldiers did cry unto a false god.
18. And this false god was called Chrétien, the father of lies, the ancient enemy of all men.
19. And Chrétien did speak words unto the soldiers, but the soldiers were deceived, and did misunderstand his words, since Chrétien cannot speak any mortal language.
20. And it came to pass that the soldiers began to wander aimlessly throughout the land, and their faith did diminish, and they forsook the false god Chrétien, and did end their days as wanderers, eating berries and kittens and other nasty stuff.
21. And peace was brought by Superman, and there was much rejoicing.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Our Family Music


I was raised with good music.
Differing styles and tastes.
But all good music.
Let me tell you about it . . .
When Mom got up in the morning to start breakfast, the first thing she turned on was the radio.
Her music of choice?
Country.
I grew up on the sounds of Jim Reeves, Hank Snow, Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr. and The Carter Family, interspersed with the daily beef market prices.
Did you know that the rhythm of nearly all of their music suggested riding a horse?
And that you could wear out the patch of carpet between Dad's armchair and the end table in pretending you were riding?
In perfect time.
Well, you could.
And I did.
I did a lot of riding to music.
When I wasn't actually on a horse.
Dad's music of choice was classical.
Oh, and some nonsense.
We'll go with the classical.
On Sunday mornings, we would inevitably be awakened by the beautiful strains of strings and horns, perfectly, hauntingly played.
His stereo could hold a large stack of LP's. One by one, they would drop and play.
The working mechanism in his stereo was shaped like a snake.
It would settle slowly over the next record, never taking its white, staring eyes off us kids.
True story.
My little sister enjoyed her little children's albums.
And Christmas music.
Both of which began to be played on the first day of school in the fall.
Ad infinitum. Ad nauseum.
My older siblings and myself preferred rock and roll.
The Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly gave way to The Beatles, CCR and The Who.
Oh, and the Monkees were in there somewhere, though their album suffered a rather tragic end.
Moving on . . .
My little brother, who was sandwiched between my little sister and myself, had no say.
Because.
To say our home was filled with music would be an understatement.
It was crammed full.
Moving ahead many years . . .
We raised our family in the same way.
Country, Classical, Rock and Roll, and even some Celtic and Folk.
I can hear the stereo going now.
Summersong by The Lettermen was followed by Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. An all-female Celtic group is now singing, “A Place for Us.”
Husby has obviously put in his usual mix.
Let the music roll.

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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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