Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, January 12, 2013

Building Castles in the . . . Front Room

I have a Ballista. And I know how to use it!

We have castles.
In our front room.
Two of them.
Because how can you have a proper siege or battle unless you have more than one castle?
Right?
Moving on . . .
Our grandchildren love them.
There is seldom a time when they are not crouched over the one or the other, hatching plans and enacting scenarios.
They are a joy to watch.
Our two-year-old had nabbed one of the ‘ballista’.
A siege engine that shot, not one, but six soft-tipped projectiles in quick succession.
All one had to do was rotate the main trunk to expose the next missile to the firing mechanism.
Not complicated.
Unless one is two.
She carried it to her dad.
And held it up.
Then silently gave him a handful of projectiles.
Let’s face it, it’s hard to do a lot of explaining when one has a soother in one’s mouth.
Obligingly, he loaded her little machine and handed the unit back to her.
Happily she grabbed it and scampered away.
“Does she know how to use that?” I asked.
A ‘flame’ tipped missile flew past.
“I guess she does,” he said.
It’s all in how you’re raised . . .
Castle #1 - The Good/Bad guys

Castle #2 - Ditto

Friday, January 11, 2013

Climbing? Yes. Flying? No.



Mom, George, Chris, Jerry, Dad and me.
Not picuted: The clothesline.

Climbing was my thing.
I loved it!
Ask anyone. My climbing ability was legendary. My experiences, many and varied.
Many's the time my mom would sprint up the old machinery hill to save her tiny daughter from the jaws of certain death.
Or at least from a very unpleasant fall to the bottom of the 100 foot TV tower.
And my father, too was no stranger to my favorite activity. During a visit with the manager of the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton, Alberta, the new chandelier in the great room was being discussed.
"It's magnificent," Dad said, gazing up into the rafters 50 feet above them.
"Yeah, we really like it," the manager said, following his gaze. "The only thing I'm concerned about is how we're going to clean it."
"Clean it!" Dad said. "Well, I have a daughter who will climb it!"
Together, my parents plucked me off the top of horses, bulls, pigs, haystacks, combines, tractors, trees, shed roofs, barn roofs, garage roofs, car roofs - I really seemed to have a thing about roofs - water towers, windmills, and even the propane tank.
Admittedly, a fall from many of them probably wouldn't have been fatal. Just . . . uncomfortable.
But no amount of lecturing or lurid stories illustrating the dangers of such activities could discourage me.
I just had to climb.
And then that fateful day . . .
Isn't it odd that fateful days never, ever seem to start out any different from any other day? I mean, sullen, red skies would be entirely appropriate. That way, you'd know that something momentous was about to happen.
But I digress . . .
I had discovered a wonderful new activity.
It included Mom's clothesline and the picnic table.
And climbing.
What else.
For some reason, the table had been shoved close to the clothesline. Close enough that someone daring - me - could make a run along the table and launch oneself - also me - onto the clothesline.
Now I should point out here that Mom's clothesline wasn't one of those boring long stretches of wire so useless to an enterprising youngster. No.
It was a new-fangled round one.
That spun if it was pushed.
And if you leapt and caught the wires just right, you could spin all the way around and back to the table.
Which I did.
Several times. In fact, I was the neighborhood champion. Again and again I would perform for my audience to appreciative oohs and aahs.
Several of the kids tried it, but no one could go quite as far or as fast as I could.
I decided it was time to up the ante, slightly.
I was going to try for a double axel.
Two times around.
It had never been done. Never even been attempted.
But I was going to do it.
My audience was assembled.
I dusted my hands together and poised at the back edge of the picnic table.
The crowd grew hushed.
I took a deep breath and launched myself along the table.
Perfect.
I flew gracefully across the intervening space.
Even more perfect.
I reached out for the wires.
And for the first time in my life, missed.
Missed?
I reached again, frantically, then looked up at the wires, as they slowly moved further and further from me.
How could this be?
With a heavy thump, I hit the ground, driving every square millimeter of air from my lungs.
My friends stared at me, frozen. Then there was a collective scream and they all rushed forward.
"Diane! Diane! Are you all right?"
I just stared at them and tried to catch my breath.
Then a horrified, "Diane, you're bleeding!"
I looked down. They were right. Blood was spattered on my shirt and shorts. I looked at my arms. My legs.
Nothing.
Then I tried to talk.
And realized where the blood was coming from.
My mouth.
Shocked, I put a hand over it.
"Mrs. Stringam! Mrs. Stringam!" several voices began shouting.
My Mom came on the run.
She was so used to me.
"Oh, my!" She knelt beside me and put a towel to my chin. "Open your mouth, Honey."
I tried to obey, but my mouth didn't want to. It had suddenly begun to hurt. It wanted to stay shut.
I felt the tears begin.
"It's okay, Honey, just open your mouth."
Finally, I was able to open it. A little.
Mom gasped, and put the towel over my mouth.
"Come on, Dear, let's get you into the house."
"Mrs. Strin-gam? Will Diane be all right?" I vaguely recognized Laurie's voice.
"She'll be fine, Dear. I'll just take her into the house and get her cleaned up."
Mom half-led, half-carried me into the cool, quiet house and sat me down on the cupboard in the kitchen. Then she sponged the blood off my face and neck.
"Let me have another look, Honey," she said.
Obligingly, though I really didn't want to, I opened my mouth for her.
"Okay, well, you've cut your tongue, Honey. It's probably going to hurt quite a bit. But it'll be all right."
So she kept saying. Why didn't I believe her?
"Here. Hold this while I call Doctor Clemente."
I took the towel she was pressing to my face while she went to the phone.
"Yes, Doctor." I could hear her in the hallway. "Yes. Okay." She hung up the phone.
Then she was back beside me. "Here, Honey, let me take it."
She gently swabbed at my mouth again.
Mom could make anything feel better.
Almost
Later, after I had refused supper, a new thing for me, I overheard her talking to Dad.
"Yes, I think it's bitten at least half-way through. It's still attached, but barely. The doctor thinks it will heal just fine, but it'll be a while, and it'll be painful."
A while?
That is parent code for 'forever'.
Sigh.
It did heal. And quite quickly, too, in 'Parent' time.
During that time, I was the focus of all of the neighborhood kids. Everyone would come up to me and ask me to stick out my tongue.
Then ooh and ah delightedly.
I was a celebrity.
It was almost enough to get me climbing again.
Almost.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Trees, Beautiful Trees

Notice the trees. Please.

When I was fourteen, Dad decided to combine the best of all worlds.
He sold the old family ranch twenty miles from the town of Milk River and bought a new spread.
Somewhat closer.
The new Stringam ranch grew from the ashes of the old town slaughter house.
Situated immediately adjacent to the town – and I do mean immediately – it retained all the charm of living in the country.
Within walking distance of everything ‘town’.
Perfect.
There was just one drawback.
Remember when I mentioned that the ranch grew from the ashes of the old town slaughter house?
Well, that was, quite literally, true.
The slaughter house had burned to the ground.
And the town butcher had taken it as a sign that it was time to retire.
Dad was only too happy to help him out.
And bought an almost bare patch of ground.
Oh, there was pasture. Plenty of it.
But no buildings to speak of.
My parents had to start from scratch.
After several months of construction, corrals, barns, outbuildings, quonset and finally, home, appeared.
That was the easy part.
Now, I should point out, here, that Milk River lies nestled in a crook of the actual Milk River.
On the prairies.
The rolling, grassy, windswept, breathtakingly beautiful, treeless prairies.
Our recently vacated old ranch had been planted, sometime in the thirties, with acres of trees.
Thought it had many, many amenities, the treeless state of this new place was achingly obvious.
Mom set out to do something about it.
And roped us kids into helping.
Sigh.
We planted trees.
Acres of them.
And then, if that weren’t enough, we watered trees.
Acres of them.
Oh, we used the garden hose – for as far as it would reach.
Then we used a little water tank on wheels.
It was aching, back-breaking work.
But who is going to sneak away to happier pursuits when one’s mother is out there, sweating beneath yet another bucket of water?
No one could be that heartless.
Okay, well, we couldn’t.
Dad would have had something to say about it . . .
Another sigh.
We hand-fed those trees the entire time we lived there.
Then dad, he of the itchy feet, bought another ranch, this time near Fort MacLeod, Alberta.
One that was, mercifully, well treed.
Happily, we packed our buckets and moved.
But we often drive past the old place, whose trees are now forty years old.
They stand tall and straight and look like they’ve been there forever.
I guess we gave them a good start.
And that’s all that matters.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Dishes with Sisters

My older sister and me.
Oh, and with George.
And part of Dad
And a little bit of Blair.

The food had been, as per Mom’s usual standard, delicious.
The conversation had flowed, eddying around such topics as - the day. School. Ranch work. Friends. Town politics.
I was sitting in a contented stupor.
Well fed.
My favourite people in the world around me.
Life was better than fabulous.
“Chris and Diane,” Mom said, smiling at us. “You girls are on dishes tonight.”
And, just like that, my euphoric bubble burst.
I could almost hear the ‘snap’ of its passing.
We looked at each other.
“Okay!” Chris said, bouncing to her feet.
Have I mentioned that my older sister is one of those people who is always willing and cheerful?
She is.
Most of the time, I liked it.
Just not tonight.
My reaction to Mom’s announcement was anything but enthusiastic. “Dishes!? Mooom!”
Okay, I admit that my reaction was purely for selfish reasons. I was in the middle of a good book and my plan had been to drop straight back into it after supper.
But Mom’s word was law and I dragged myself to my feet and helped my perky sister scrape and stack the mountain of dishes.
We did fine to that point.
Now here is where the differences between her way of accomplishing the task, and mine, met.
And clashed.
When she washed, Chris liked to leave the tap on just a tiny trickle. Then she could wash, rinse the item by passing it through the stream, and set the dish into the draining board.
I, on the other hand, preferred the ‘turn-the-tap-on’ method.
Wherein one would turn on the tap each time one was ready to rinse.
In my opinion, it wasted less water.
Here is where I admit that Mom simply put some rinse water into the second sink and . . . dipped.
But who wanted to do it Mom’s way?
I was washing. So I got to choose.
Tap on. Rinse. Tap off.
“Why don’t you just leave it on a trickle?” Chris asked. “It saves time.”
Already feeling disgruntled, I mumbled, “I prefer it this way!”
Big sigh from older sister.
Wash. Tap on. Rinse. Tap off.
“Diane, this is really starting to bug me! Just leave the tap on!”
“Fine!” I turned on the tap and let it trickle.
Chris smiled and continued to dry dishes.
I washed something. Then, out of habit, turned the tap, forgetting that it was already on.
“Diane! It’s already on!”
“Oh, right. Sorry.”
Another dish.
“Diane! It’s already on!”
“Right.”
Another dish.
This time, I turned the tap a little more forcefully than usual.
Not a problem if it wasn’t already on.
Which it was.
The water splashed out, soaking every available surface.
And my sister.
“Diane!”
Oops. “Umm . . . sorry?”
“Ugh. Get out of here and just let me do it!” She reached for the wash cloth and, just like that, I was out of a job.
I stood there for a moment and watched her.
Then I shrugged and went to find my book.
Sisters.
Pffff.                                              

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Think or Thwim


Okay, it was scary.
But it turned out all right . . .
Our family have always been swimmers.
Our children are introduced to the water soon after they arrive.
And spend copious amounts of time there.
When we take a holiday, our choice of hotel is always based on whether or not it has a pool.
On to my story . . .
We were in Great Falls with my Husby's eldest brother and his family.
We had a favourite hotel there.
With *gasp* two pools.
The main pool was popular.
And usually busy.
We had decided to gather beside the smaller pool.
Adults, visiting.
Kids, playing.
Because we grown-ups hadn't planned on swimming, my Husby put on his suit under protest.
But I insisted.
At least one adult needed to be prepared.
We went down.
And spent a pleasant half-hour talking and laughing.
Now I should explain, here, that this smaller pool had one major draw-back.
It really wasn't made with children in mind.
It was roughly circular in shape.
And was shallow at the outer edges.
And deep in the middle.
I know. Weird.
Moving on . . .
Our oldest boy, aged four, was playing happily with his cousins in the shallows.
The kids were shouting and giggling and generally making 'happy' sounds and our oldest nephew, aged six, was keeping up a continuous dialogue of, “Mom! Dad! Look at this!”
His parents had tuned him out.
Something I simply couldn't do.
And for which I am eternally grateful.
“Mom!” he shouted.
I turned and looked at him.
“Mark's down there!” he said, pointing toward the centre of the pool.
My Husby looked at me.
“Get him!” I shouted.
He jumped in and an instant later, came up with our little boy.
For a few seconds, Mark coughed and gasped.
Then cried.
And just like that, our swim was over for the day.
We left the next morning, everyone well and happy, and completely unaware of the psychological damage that had been done.
A few days later, we took our family down to the river to our favourite swimming hole.
Though the water came no higher than his ankles, Mark refused to put one foot into the river.
Odd.
Later, we went to the local swimming pool for what had always been our favourite Saturday evening activity.
Mark, our fish, clung to the ladder and screamed.
Okay, something was definitely wrong.
For the next few months, every time we tried to go swimming, it was the same.
People splashing around.
Mark sitting as far from the water as he could get.
Hmmmm.
A year passed.
Without much change.
Then our family moved to Edmonton.
Within hours of getting settled, my Husby discovered the local rec centre.
And their 'wave pool'.
Sounded intriguing.
What on earth was a wave pool?
We packed up the kids and went to investigate.
It turned out that a wave pool was just that.
A pool.
With waves.
For fifteen minutes, the water was calm.
Smooth.
Then a horn would blow and the waves would start.
Small, at first, then growing in size until they were . . . significant.
Mark had been paddling in the ankle-deep water at the shallow end.
A big step for him.
The horn sounded.
He looked up.
And stared at the wall of water coming toward him.
Okay, it wasn't a wall.
Maybe more of a . . . fence?
Well, maybe a median.
But it was definitely coming toward him.
We watched as he considered his options.
Then, to our surprise, he dropped to his knees and . . . let the wave roll over him.
And just like that, his fear was gone.
Our fish was back.

There is a codicil:
Mark is married now, and the father of four.
Several times a week, he takes his family swimming.
It is their favourite activity.
Every time they appear with wet hair and faces glowing with exercise and happiness, I give thanks for the therapeutic properties of waves.

Aaahh! Therapy!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Not Your Ordinary Insurance Agent


Dad was making a trip into town to see Mr. Hofer.
His insurance agent.
My brother, George, and I fought over who would be the first in the car.
Now, I'm sure you're wondering what there could possibly be at an insurance agent's office that would interest two children, aged six and four, respectively.
It would be a legitimate question.
Maybe I should explain . . .
Mr. Hofer had an office in the old railroad station in Milk River.
It was an unremarkable place.
Slat-covered windows.
Certificate and picture-hung walls.
Creaky, wood floors.
Heavy, smooth oak chairs with arms.
Tall, wooden filing cabinets.
Stacks of folders and papers.
Bookcases.
And in one corner, a very serviceable desk, piled high with paperwork.
It smelled of old building.
Dust, books and paper.
On the surface, there really was nothing that would entrance and amaze . . . umm . . . anyone.
But Mr. Hofer's office held a secret.
A very special secret.
Hidden deep in the very bottom drawer of that oh, so serviceable desk.
A secret accessible only upon reports/illustrations of exemplary behaviour.
A whole heap of magic.
In shiny, brown wrappers.
Hershey bars.
But we couldn't ask for them.
Oh, no.
We had to wait patiently and quietly, seated in those hard wooden chairs, while Dad conducted his business.
Trying hard to look anywhere but at that drawer.
Then, if we had been 'good', we would be invited over.
The much-anticipated drawer opened.
And the treasure revealed.
Only then could we avail ourselves of the treat.
Mmmmmmmmmmmm.
Perfection.
Between you and I, Dad didn't visit his insurance agent nearly enough.

Well worth the wait.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Enes Berg Stringam: In Memorium


A Repost on this, her birthday.

Mom
January 6, 1924 to April 9, 2002
My Mom was raised on a ranch in Southern Alberta.
Near Brooks.
She was the only daughter of Ellen and Petrus Berg.
And only sister to eight brothers.
She thrived on their ranch.
Then she married my Dad.
And moved to the Stringam Ranch.
Where she continued to thrive.
Even with feeding ranch hands.
Having six babies.
Cleaning, gardening, cooking, baking, sewing, driving, preserving, chore-ing, wife-ing, mother-ing.
And everything in between.
She was a marvel of ingenuity.
A tower of strength.
And a fountain of energy.
And then, after she had raised her kids and was finally ready to relax and realize her fondest dream – to spend her time writing – she got sick.
Parkinson's.
The same disease that finally claimed her father's life.
She was devastated.
But only for a while.
With her usual grit, determination and courage, she started a Parkinson's work-out group.
And a Parkinson's support group.
Which she continued to shepherd while her disease slowly overtook her.
Finally, as her condition deepened, hospitalization was required.
And she was forced to let go.
Dad placed her in a care facility in Taber, Alberta.
The finest he could find.
Then he took an apartment a block away so he could be with her every day.
Because dinner together at the end of the day was a family tradition.
And he wasn't about to let something as paltry as Parkinson's disturb that.
For several years, they continued in this manner.
Mom, slowly slipping away.
Dad attentive.
The staff of the home watching over them both.
Then, one day, Mom refused to eat.
And shortly after that, slipped quietly into a coma.
Slowly, the family gathered to say our final 'See you soon!'.
We stood beside her bed and clasped her hand.
Held her and held each other.
Then, as always happens in the Stringam family, as the minutes ticked by, we started telling stories.
And laughing.
Something Mom loved.
And, as though that was the signal she had been waiting for, Mom slipped away.
Leaving us with her sweet memory.

There is an addendum:
Dad had chosen the best care for his beloved that he could find.
And he had done well.
The people in the home were kind and attentive to Mom.
Carefully caring for her every need.
Right up until the last.
Even as she lay in a coma, and everyone knew the inevitable outcome, they made sure of her comfort.
Lying in her bed, Mom had rubbed a small sore on her heel.
Her caregiver said, “Well, that can't be comfortable. Let's fix it.”
And she proceeded to place a small, round band-aid on the aged heel.
This was a woman in a coma.
Seemingly oblivious to everything and everyone around her.
And yet, her care-givers were concerned for her comfort.
Later, when my sisters and I were dressing her for her funeral, we noticed that little band-aid.
We left it.
A symbol of the love and care we all felt for our mother.

Mom would have been 89 years old today.
We miss her.

Thinking of you, Mom.

RAGGLEROOT


Book Three in the Flin's Destiny Series
By Erik Olsen

A long-ago partnership gone horribly wrong.
A twisted and evil horticulturist with a nasty taste for revenge.
A young hero determined to save both his friends and his world.
Magic rings.
Sentient and blood-thirsty plants.
Plots.
Twists.
Disasters.
Raggleroot has them all.
And more.
This middle-grade story will keep the young readers firmly 'rooted' from start to finish as the forces of evil, led by the super nasty and fantastically smelly Raggleroot, combat the forces for good led by the heroic Flin and his friends.
Will Raggleroot, and the evil plant mutations he has spent his life creating, win? And succeed in escaping the underground world that has been prison for so long? And will Flin and his friends be able to combat the combination of forces that are gathering to stop them?
This third instalment in the series will keep you reading to the very end.

I was provided a digital copy of this title for the purpose of this review.

Brief description of the book:
Flin has always been told to stay away from the doors with five clover leaves. But when his only option to return home lies behind those doors, he’s forced to go against everything he’s believed. What he discovers is not only devastating, it’s deadly. Full of humor, action, and twists, this can’t-miss read is sure to keep you entertained to the very last page.

Meet the Author:
Erik Olsen lives in Sandy Utah, where he enjoys the mountains and is surrounded by a great family and friends that have continued to support him throughout his writing quest. After having one of the world’s craziest dreams, he began writing a series of five books detailing it, called Flin’s Destiny, which is full of continuous action and adventure deep in the earth and keeps you wanting more.

You can learn more about Erik’s writing at www.flinsdestiny.com.
And check out his other books: CobbleCavern and The Garden of the Lost Souls.

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