Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, February 2, 2013

My First Valentine


My Dad is nearly 88 years old and has been ill for some time.
I’m here making him eat and I think he is feeling a little better.
Thank you to everyone who has expressed concern. Your thoughts and prayers are definitely helping!
Look at that sweet face . . .
I was out yesterday, at Dad’s local grocery, buying foods that would hopefully tempt an invalid.
Yummy things like plump chicken breasts. Crisp, fresh vegetables. Packets of rice and spices.
I so love buying food!
I walked past a display of Valentine goodies.
And stopped.
There were several heart-shaped boxes.
 Beautifully, elegantly - decorated boxes.
Cute, colourful boxes.
Boxes with favourite cartoon characters printed on the lids.
Dozens of kinds to choose from.
Somewhere in the middle was a stack of boxes.
Simple.
Red.
They reminded me of something.
A gift from my Dad on a Valentine’s Day many, many years ago.
Dad always gave my Mom a heart-shaped box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day.
Always.
It was the one special day of the year he was confident in his gift-giving abilities.
The year I turned six was even more special for me.
It was the year that Dad first included me in the gift giving.
At breakfast that morning, he handed my mom a beautifully decorated large box of chocolates.
To much oohing and ahhing from us kids.
Then he smiled at me and handed me a box.
A small, heart-shaped box of chocolates all my own.
I stared at him.
Then at the box.
For me?
All for me?
He nodded. “For my littlest Valentine,” he said.
I jumped up and gave him a hug. Then snatched the box and fled.
The chocolates inside were gone faster than you can blink.
But the box remained.
 Because I like boxes.
For years, it held my smallest treasures.
Then, when I moved out, it remained with all the little keepsakes of my childhood . . .
I didn't mention the Valentine's display to my Dad. I’m thought that when the time came, I would just go and buy one of those boxes for him.
Last night, as we were sitting visiting, he asked me to get him his little sewing kit.
I went to fetch it.
And discovered that his sewing kit was my little chocolate box.
I held it in my hands and stared at it.
I was suddenly six years old again.
Receiving my first Valentine’s gift from my first Valentine.
Such a sweet, sweet memory.
I’m here to help my Dad.
But really, he is helping me.
A little the worse for the wear,
but it is over 50 years old! Like me . . .

Friday, February 1, 2013

Putting the 'Ghost' in Ghost Town


My Dad is ill. I am going to stay with him for a while . . .
A repost . . .

Vacation.
The best of times.
The worst of times.
My parents had decided that our family needed to visit Montana.
And, more specifically, the Ghost Town of Virginia City in Montana.
It sounded . . . Old Western.
To those of us from the ranch, that translated to mean – exotic.
We led a small life, I admit it.
I don't remember much about the 'getting there'.
I was four.
It was long.
And sleepy.
Suddenly, I was stumbling along wooden slats with my Mom.
Then being carried by said Mom.
We were in an old fashioned, western town with boardwalks and hitching posts. There were even a couple of watering troughs.
But no horses. I noticed that straight off.
We went into the museum.
I should explain, here, that there are two different kinds of museums.
The slick, professional, institutional showcase of fact.
And the humble, heart-felt, community tribute to history or 'collection of stuff out of Gramma's wash shed'.
(Because my husby is an historian, we've seen many, many examples of each kind.)
Moving on . . .
Virginia City's museum was the warm, homespun type.
Long glass-topped tables filled with . . . curiosities. Those little, wondrous items which fill the local citizen's heart with awe and amazement.
But really don't have a global impact.
I stared obligingly at antiquated pieces of equipment and tools. Signs and billboards of past eras. Household paraphernalia. 
Oh, and the preserved bodies of two-headed lambs and calves and kittens. 
While my family wandered around, I stood nose to nose with one or another of these amazing specimens.
While they exclaimed about 'memories' I pointed out numbers of eyes and ears.
It was a fascinating visit.
But it ended all too soon.
And suddenly we were back outside on the boardwalk.
We moved to the next building, a drug store.
It certainly didn't look like the one in Milk River.
But I was willing to give it a shot.
I followed Mom inside and wandered up the first aisle.
Stuff.
Boring.
Maybe if Mom picked me up again . . . things always looked more interesting when she carried me.
I help up my arms.
She obliged.
I was right. It was a bit better from up here.
We wandered through the store.
At the back, against the wall stood a large, wooden cabinet.
With one door.
Which was closed.
I stared at it as we grew closer.
It seemed . . . mysterious.
Okay, I admit, I didn't know what the word mysterious meant.
But the mere mention of the word sounded . . . mysterious.
Mom stopped beside the cabinet, which had the only closed door in the entire place.
I stared hard at that door. What secrets did it hide?
Candy? Toys? Maybe another two-headed kitten?
I looked at Mom. “Open it, Mom! Open it!”
“Well I don't think I should,” she said uncertainly, glancing over at the proprietor.
He merely smiled and nodded.
“Open it, Mom! Please?!”
“Well, It's probably storage or something.”
“Open it! Open it!”
“Well, I guess it's all right.” Another glance at the proprietor.
“Open it! Open it!”
Her hand reached out and grasped the knob.
I held my breath. What were we going to see?
Something magical?
Something wildly exciting?
Something . . .
The door swung back with an appropriately spooky 'screech'.
Hanging quietly within was a skeleton.
Human.
“Ai-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi! Close it! Close it! Close it!” I hid my face in Mom's shoulder.
Mom must have swung it shut.
I didn't see.
And I missed quite a bit of the rest of the Ghost Town of Virginia City, glued as I was to her shoulder.
But that was all right.
I had already seen the ghost . . .

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Irrigation 101. My Introduction



Irrigation. So simple, a child could do it.
The Stringam Ranch sits in a bend of the south fork of the Milk River.
In the driest part of Southern Alberta.
The driest.
Now, I know that residents from Medicine Hat will try to argue the point but don't listen to them.
After all, they come from a place named 'Medicine Hat'.
Enough said.
Most of the land around the ranch is used as pasture.
Nothing else will grow there.
But the acres immediately beside the river, the 'hay flats', have much more potential.
They can be irrigated.
I'm sure you've seen the giant wheel-move irrigation systems capable of watering an entire quarter-section of land in one pivot. Enormous constructions that transport themselves in a wide arc from an end point and effectively bring the gift of life to whole crops at once.
All at the push of a button.
It's fascinating.
It's wondrous.
It wasn't what we Stringams had.
Our system was . . . erm . . . modest.
And connected, disconnected and moved by hand.
Twice a day.
Our favorite chore.
Not.
Morning and evening, the pump would be silenced. The 16 foot lengths of aluminum pipe disconnected and drained one-by-one. And then moved to the next position 40 feet away and reconnected.
It was Dad, Jerry and George's job, mainly.
But I helped.
Once.
And therein lies a tale.
So to speak.
Early one summer evening, because Dad and Jerry were busy doing other things, Dad asked me to go and help George move pipe.
I stared at him.
Me? Do you know what you're asking?
Dad turned away, so I shrugged and followed my brother into the lower hay flat.
He shut off the pump.
I watched.
He walked over to the line.
I followed.
He unhooked the first pipe.
Again I watched.
He unhooked the second pipe.
He was really good at this.
He unhooked the third pipe.
I noticed that my light-blue pants looked white in the fading light.
He unhooked the fourth pipe.
We were having a beautiful sunset. Wonderful shades of red and orange against the clear blue of the sky.
He unhooked the fifth pipe.
I stopped looking at the sky and noticed a gopher nearby. Cheeky little guy was just sitting there. Watching us.
He unhooked the sixth pipe.
I chased the gopher into its burrow.
He unhooked the seventh pipe.
I tripped over the sixth pipe on my way back.
He unhooked the eighth pipe.
"George, is this going to take much longer? I'm tired."
He unhooked the ninth pipe.
And beat me with it.
He didn't, really, but I'm sure he wanted to.
By the time 'we' were done moving pipe and had the pump going again, one of us was sweating profusely.
I'll give you a hint.
It wasn't me.
After that, George never allowed me to come with him to move pipe.
Something about me being worse than useless.
Go figure.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Dad's Plate


Our youngest daughter and her family are staying with us for a while.
It almost makes up for the long days and weeks when they were living in another part of the world.
Almost.
Last night, during dinner, Tiny Girl (hereinafter known as TG) was having her first taste of life as a grown up. She had spurned her high chair and was sitting like a big girl on a booster seat.
The best of times.
She also discovered, during this exciting experience, how much better everything tastes when it is eaten from someone else’s plate.
Happily, TG let her own food cool while she gobbled whatever her mother was eating.
And it reminded me of something . . .
My Mom made wonderful breakfasts.
Most of the time, they included eggs. In some incarnation.
One of my Dad’s favourites was eggs fried.
Mom would place two perfect little white-jacketed yellow orbs on his plate and he would happily proceed to take fork and knife and slice through them, cutting them neatly into uniform bits.
Then he would scrape them carefully back together, sprinkle the resulting mixture with salt and pepper and voila!
Breakfast.
I had watched this same process since I could remember.
His food always looked soooo good.
“Dad? Can I have a bite?”
He looked at me. “May I have a bite?” Dad was always correcting my grammar.
May I have a bite?”
Mmmm. It was soooo good.
“Can I have another?”
May I . . .?”
May I have another?”
Mmmm. Even better.
Then Mom would set my plate in front of me.
Carefully, I would copy Dad’s technique to the best of my ability.
Slice. Slice. Slice. Slice.
Gather.
Sprinkle.
Eat.
Yum.
Hmmm.
Wait. I’m sure it tasted better off his plate.
“Dad? Can I have another bite?”
He looked at me. “May I have another bite?”
May I have another bite?”
He gave it to me.
Mmmm. I was right.
It did taste better.
I had made a momentous discovery.
Everything was better off Dad’s plate.
Later, I discovered that this was also true with Mom’s plate.
Or my Husby’s.
I did draw the line there.
Total strangers do regard you oddly when you ask.
Okay, I never really did it.
But I wanted to.
“I’ll have what you're having!”
Literally.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tree Talk


My Trees . . . and some of their brothers

I had to bundle up for my walk this morning.
It was -28C (-19F) with a nasty, evil north-westerly wind blowing. Temperature allowing for wind chill = -40C (-40F)
I walked fast.
The most difficult part of my walk is past the south end of a wide park.
In the summer, it is truly beautiful.
In the winter, with a north-westerly (see above) wind blowing, it is an open space where the elements can really get up a head of steam. So to speak.
As with many things in life, though, once one gets through the worst, the best appears. 
Just past the park is a stand of hundred year-old pines.
Instantly, the force of the wind is lessened to insignificance.
There is only a soft 'hiss' as it threads its way through the green boughs. 
I stopped, as I do every morning, to listen.
Instantly transported back to a special time in my childhood . . .
In 1938, as a young man, my dad planted two pines in back of the family's home on the Stringam ranch.
Twenty-two years later, those same trees, now behemoths among their lesser brothers, sat in the front yard of the newly-constructed ranch house.
The kitchen, dining room and garage faced those trees.
And my bedroom.
It was summer.
One of those special days of pure, clear air, blue skies and soft wind.
When living on the prairies is is a gift of inestimable value.
It was early. Mom had been stirring in the kitchen since dawn.
I was lying awake in my bed, listening to a sound that drifted in through my opened windows and was, at once, calming and intriguing.
I had never noticed it before.
A soft ssssssssssssss.
Mom came into the room and sat on the edge of my bed.
“Time to get up, Pixie-Girl.”
“Mom, what's that sound?”
She cocked her head to one side and listened. “What sound, Sweetheart?”
“Listen.”
She went still.
“There. Hear it? That ssssss.”
She smiled. “That's the wind in the trees outside your window.”
I stood up on the bed and looked outside.
The two great trees were there in the front yard, effectively screening the house from the rest of the ranch buildings.
They were still.
Then I heard it again. Ssssss.
This time, I noticed some movement in the huge branches. Slight. But there if you looked.
My trees were speaking to me!

Throughout the years, they have continued to speak to me.
As we all grew older . . .
Standing there this morning, surrounded by the massive evergreens, I was a little girl again, lying in her bed.
With my mom busy in the kitchen.
And my trees as whispering and murmuring to me from the front yard.
The sweet sound of memories.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Travels with Diane. Warning: Gross


Travel was so easy - Without Diane

Dad loved to travel.
And he was so much fun to travel with.
Dad would drive us to amazing places and show us amazing things, and sing and entertain us on the way.
And he took breaks.
'Breaks' which, for my Dad, meant pulling into a gas station and buying everyone a bottle of pop and a chocolate bar.
Notice, I didn't say 'healthy'. I just said 'fun'.
And sugar highs hadn't been invented yet.
To Dad, holidays were always taken across the border. He drove us all over the western half of the continental United States, with stops in California, Texas, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico.
We have pictures taken beside the 'Welcome to . . .' signs for all of them.
Travelling also meant meals on the road.
There were a lot of family-owned restaurants in the United States. And Denny's.
We saw them all.
And they made good food.
I love meals that someone else cooks.
And, let's just admit it . . . breakfast in a diner says 'holiday', doesn't it?
Sooo . . . breakfast. The most important meal of the day.
And the hardest one for Diane to eat.
Oh, I was enthusiastic.
And hungry.
But sometimes, it simply took a while for my stomach to awaken.
At least that's what Mom told me. And Mom was always right.
Plus, I ate too fast.
A character flaw that haunts me to this day.
Our family was travelling through . . . somewhere.
We had stayed the night in a hotel.
It was time for breakfast.
Dad took us to a nice restaurant at the edge of town.
We were handed large, colourful menus. With pictures.
I loved pictures.
And shiny things, but that is another story.
There was one photo, in particular, that caught my attention.
It showed waffles. A golden heap of them. Topped with, wonder of wonders, ice cream.
I think there was fruit atop the ice cream, as a sop to nutritional convention, but all I really had eyes for was the cold, sweet stuff.
Who ever heard of ice cream for breakfast?
And the final miracle? Mom let me order them.
All of my dreams had suddenly come true.
My waffles arrived, in all of their sweet, golden perfection. Ice cream just nicely melting on top.
Ecstasy on a plate.
I dove in.
And I do mean dove.
I shovelled fast and hard.
Before the rest of the family was half through, I was licking my plate.
Ice cream is not something that you can allow to get away.
And then . . . my wonderful waffles and ice cream hit . . . my stomach.
It wasn't awake.
It didn't like it.
It would . . . REACT!
And so, my beautiful breakfast, so briefly enjoyed, ended up back on the plate.
Sigh.
My horrified siblings fled.
My patient parents cleaned.
And lamented losing a breakfast they hadn't even paid for yet.
And a daughter who was suddenly hungry again.
Never again was I offered more than the usual at breakfast.
Good nourishing food.
That stuck to my ribs.
Well . . . stuck, anyways.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Starting Them Early


I was washing the dishes.
A fairly mundane, and totally necessary occupation when the house is filled with small children.
Our two-year-old (herein after known as TYO) came into the kitchen.
“Oh!” she said, hurrying over to me. “Dishes!” She started pulling up the sleeves on her dress.
I was just loading the last of the dishes into the washer. “Sorry, Sweetie,” I said, “ I've just finished.”
There were a couple of lids that still needed to go in, so I handed them to her and directed placement.
Then she turned and trotted out.
Thinking she was finished helping, I started to put water into the sink to clean the bigger things that didn't quite fit into the washer.
Suddenly TYO was back.
She had gone down the hall to the bathroom and retrieved the small stool we keep there to facilitate smaller statures reaching the sink.
This, she set in front of the sink and climbed upon.
“Okay,” she said.
I smiled at her. “Are you ready to wash the dishes?”
She nodded.
“Okay!” I handed her the cloth and she swished happily away over the pots and pans.
She looked so . . . intent and grown up.
The last things in the sink, the egg cups, proved a bit distracting. These were fun to simply play with.
So I let her, while I wiped off table and cupboards.
Soon, we were done and TYO stepped down, picked up her stool and carted it back to the bathroom.
I will admit, here, that she was a trifle damp – both on her rolled-up sleeves and the front of her little dress.
And her cleaning style was lacking somewhat in effectiveness.
But she was enthusiastic.
And determined.
And very, very happy.
Someone is being taught very, very well.
It’s a wonderful thing.


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