Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, June 29, 2013

Dixie Cup Summer

Summer. Say ahhhh!
It’s summer time in Northern Alberta.
The snow is finally gone. (It’s nearly July. No self-respecting snow bank would dare stay past the middle of June.)
And the people have emerged into the glorious, life-giving sunshine.
That’s exactly what we were doing yesterday.
Emerging.
It was the final day of school for three of my grandkids and celebrations were in order.
A school picnic with friends and family on the school grounds.
We talked and laughed and reminisced about the past year.
Ate hot dogs and bags of chips and drank small containers of chocolate milk.
And then they brought out the Dixie ice cream cups.
My daughter handed me one to feed my granddaughter, seated on my lap.
I pulled off the cardboard lid and, just for a moment, I was remembering all of the times in my childhood that celebrations ended with those little servings of creamy deliciousness.

In a paper cup.
With a small, wooden spoon.
Special school events when I had finished eating whatever Mom had packed in my lunch kit.
And the teacher brought out the large box of little cups with the long strip of paper-packaged wooden spoons.
Church socials when my tummy was groaning with all of the good things I had just stuffed into it and I was sure I couldn’t possibly eat another bite.
Until the Dixie cups showed up.
Family reunions.
Track Meets.
Cattle tours.
All of them ended with those little paper cups of cool, creamy, delicious ice cream.
I looked down at the cup in my hand. White. Vanilla. Just starting to melt around the sides.
Perfect.
I took the little wooden paddle and dug in, then handed it to my granddaughter.
I know what you’re thinking and no, I didn’t take the first bite myself.
Though I wanted to . . .
The slightly rough feel of the wooden spoon on your tongue.
The sweet cream melting and filling your entire being with joy.
The bottom being just slightly too near the top.
Sigh.
That occasional ecstatic moment when a second round appears.
Perfection.
Oh, there were differences.
The cup I held was plastic, as opposed to the light cardboard that used to be.
And the little wooden spoon was mostly a paddle with no distinct ‘business’ end.
And the product inside didn’t have quite the ‘cream’ that I remember from my childhood.
But still, it was delicious. (Yes, I did finally sneak a taste.)
And satisfying.
And memory-dredging.
And when the man came around and offered us two more?

Heaven.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I Love My Life

It's time, once again, to use Wednesday's Words, graciously supplied by my good friend, Delores from The Feathered Nest.
This week's words?
graduate, fancy, ruler, swinging, penchant, flag
Today, I feel like poetry . . .

My Life

Sometimes I like to speculate
My penchant to be all things great . . .
A Ruler sitting there in state,
My food served on expensive plate.
To nod as people remonstrate,
And wave as children graduate.
Have fancy clothes to duplicate,
And flags that wave as people wait . . .
But such is not to be my fate.
I have no life to complicate,
No strangers to accommodate.
Instead, I can collaborate
With those whom I proliferate.
And so, if I hallucinate,
While swinging on a rusty gate,
With kids in age from one to eight,
Please know, I LOVE MY LIFE. IT'S GREAT!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Feeding Mark

Mark and some of his family. Feeding the next generation . . .
It only ever happened once.
But I’ll remember it forever.
Maybe I should explain . . .
My Husby and I raised six children.
Four of them, sons.
They are, all of them, tall people.
Ranging in height from just under six feet to six foot, eight inches.
They were, all of them, big eaters.
And that’s where my story starts.
My oldest boy, Mark, ate like a bird. And by that, I mean he consumed his weight in food every. Single. Day.
His next brother, Erik, wasn’t far behind.
We used to joke that we simply gave each of them a trough and a shovel.
And watched the food magically disappear.
The two of them easily ate as much as the rest of the family combined.
It’s true.
In fact, when Mark moved out, our food bill was cut in half.
When Erik moved out, ditto.
But back to that day . . .
It was a coupon day at the local McD’s. Two-for-one.
My Husby (a coupon collector extraordinaire) had managed to hoard a mittful of the colourful, valuable bits of paper.
We loaded the kids into the car for a rare, but fun, family treat.
And we were off.
Feeling distinctly magnanimous, we told the kids to order what they liked.
And Mark did.
His order? Four Big Macs. Two large orders of fries. Two large drinks. And four apple pies.
Did he eat them?
He did.
And, swallowing the last bite of apple pie, he turned to me and said something I’d never heard.
Before or since.
“I’m full.”
Wow.
I stared at him. Had I heard correctly?
He nodded and patted his stomach.
Who says miracles no longer happen?!

There is a little addendum:
As we were leaving the restaurant, I had linked arms with each of my tall eldest sons. We were laughing about something that one of them said. Full and happy.
A woman seated near the doors looked up and smiled. “I just love seeing brothers and sisters such good friends!” she said. “It’s inspiring!”
We smiled back and thanked her, not bothering to explain that one of those ‘siblings’ was, in fact, the mom.

A good day on so many levels.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Language Barriers

Yumm. No matter what it's called . . .
We live in Canada.
French and English are spoken here.
Quite often in the same sentence.
But that doesn’t mean that all of us speak both languages fluently.
Or at all.
Oh, and my second son, Erik, worked at the local Sobey’s grocery store.
I realize that these facts seem to be irrelevant.
Wait for it . . .
It was a normal day at work.
Erik, one of the numerous stock boys, had spent the day uncrating merchandise.
Stocking shelves.
Packing groceries.
And helping customers find things.
Sometimes, this last duty was the most demanding. And amusing.
A woman had been wandering up and down the soft drink aisle for several minutes.
And had enlisted the aid of at least one other stock boy and, finally, the store manager.
She was growing impatient and a trifle red-faced.
Erik set down the box he was carrying and went over to see if he could help.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” the manager was saying. “We simply don’t carry that kind.”
“I got it here!” the woman burst out. “The last time I was in this store! Right in this aisle!”
The manager shook his head. “I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Ma’am,” he said quietly. “We’ve never carried that.”
“Young man! I took it right out of this aisle. Right here!” she pointed. “See? There with all of the grape juice.”
The manager followed the pointing finger. Then shook his head. “I’m sorry, Ma’am,” he said. “Grape juice is all we carry. We have no Raisin juice.”
The woman dropped her arm and frowned. “Are you telling me I’m stupid?”
“No, Ma’am, no!” the manager was quick to disagree. “I just think you may be mistaken. Something that happens to all of us. Me, in particular!” He smiled.
Erik stopped beside them. “Anything I can help with?”
The manager looked at him. “This customer is looking for some Raisin juice,” he said. “I’ve told her we don’t carry it.”
The woman glared at him, then turned to Erik. “And I’ve told him that I got it here,” she said stoutly. “Right here! Raisin juice!”
Erik looked at both of them for a moment. Then he reached out and turned around one of the Grape juice boxes.
‘Raisin’ was plainly visible on the label.
‘Raisin’ is French for ‘grape’. Just FYI.
Both of them stared at it.
“Oh,” the manager said.
“That’s it!” the customer said happily, grabbing the box and departing.
The manager looked at Erik and shrugged.
“Who knew?” he said.
Who indeed.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Of Life and Death

Getting ready to lead the parade. With my friend, Janice in the background.
One lives very close to nature on a ranch.
Close enough to get the wind in your eyes.
The dust in your hair.
Or a hoof in the teeth.
The short, sometimes tragic lives of the animals under one’s care are very much the core about which the ranch world revolves.
Case in point . . .
Dad had purchased a tall, rangy, slimly-built black horse to add to the family string.
Who was immediately tagged ‘Slim’ or ‘Ranger’.
Okay, so imaginative, we weren’t.
He was beautiful.
Coal black with just a couple of touches of white about the head.
He was also gentle and a good worker, with long legs that could really stretch out and cover the ground.
And important selling point when the average pasture was more than a mile square.
There was only one draw-back to the beautiful new member of our cattle-working team.
Somewhere in his past, he had been abused.
Probably by a man.
Because it was nearly impossible for a man to get close to him.
Oh, once he was properly haltered, he was gentle and compliant.
It was just getting to that point that was the problem.
We kids could walk up to him anywhere and slip a halter over that magnificent head.
But one of the men . . .?
Usually, Dad simply handed me the halter and let me go into the corral to slip it on. Then he would take the lead from me and proceed to tack up.
But if I wasn’t there, only the lariat made catching this horse possible.
This went on for years.
I don’t know what he had against men.
But it went deep.
One Saturday morning, when the horses were brought in, Ranger wasn’t with them. I looked the herd over carefully as they milled about, blowing hard and pretending to be nervous and skittish.
It was my first time in the corral for several days, so I wasn’t sure if he had simply been kept in the barn for some reason.
I shrugged and, slipping a halter over one shoulder, climbed the fence and dropped down inside.
Immediately, the horses turned to look at me.
Now, a neophyte might imagine that it would dangerous to enter a corral with several horses still prancing about, but the truth is, horses are very careful of their feet and legs. And they really, really don’t like stepping on anything squishy.
Like humans.
Oh, they’ll snag the occasional foot with (ouch) star-sparking results.
And sometimes, they’ll let fly with a couple of hooves, especially if startled.
But if they know you’re there, a well-behaved horse will pretty much mind their manners. I slipped my halter over Peanuts’ head and led him toward the gate.
“Where’s Ranger?” I asked Dad as he moved past me with his own halter in hand.
“He’s gone,” Dad said.
I frowned, but let the remark pass as we led our respective horses to the barn.
Then, later as we headed out toward our day’s goal, I turned to him.
I should note, here, that there was usually a lot of land between us and whatever herd we were expecting to work that day.
It left room for a lot of conversation.
“So, what happened to Ranger?” I asked, fully expecting the ‘I sold him’ response.
It’s a funny thing about animals on the ranch. You get attached, but you don’t get sentimental. It’s a fine line, but it protects you somewhat.
Dad sighed. “We had to work cattle a couple of days ago and you were in school,” he began.
Hmmm. Why did the alarm bells begin to ring?
Dad went on, “I had to rope him.” He paused. Then sighed again. “He went down.”
Uh-oh. Not good.
Dad shook his head regretfully. “When he came back up, his leg had obviously been broken.”
I felt a tingle go up my back. A broken leg on a working horse? That’s a death knell for sure.
Horses are heavy. And their lives depend on their legs. Thus their skittishness about endangering them in any way. Immobilizing a horse long enough for those heavy bones to knit properly? Very nearly impossible. The animal is usually only good for breeding afterwards.
And a gelding? (A male with the ‘man’ parts removed.) Really of no practical use whatsoever.
“What did you do?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“We had to put him down,” Dad said. There was the regret of ‘if only’ in his voice. If only he had done things differently. If only one of the kids had been around. If only . . .
We kept riding while I turned this over in my mind. I knew there was really no other practical solution, but when one is considering one’s friends, it’s not quite that simple.
The horse string on the Stringam ranch changed throughout the years. As horses aged or became unsuitable, they were sold off to perform some other practical use and new horses were brought in to replace them.
But I’ve never forgotten that magnificent, black gelding.
The one that had a history.
The one that was so hard to catch.
He personified the hard, ultimately practical spirit of the ranching life.
Definitely not a life for the faint of heart.



Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hard Lessons

Kids and food and . . . the Table
In 1979, to facilitate my Husby completing his Master's degree, we moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
We brought everything we owned in one of my Dad's cattle trailers.
He cleaned it first.
Sort of.
Moving on . . .
But there were one or two things that we didn't bring.
One of them was a decent kitchen table and chairs.
We had to dip into our savings and buy something.
I should point out here that Kijiji didn't exist in 1979.
Or personal home computers.
At least in our home.
So we were stuck with the local paper and the classifieds.
But the tables we found listed were worse than the one we had left behind.
We finally decided we needed to go to a furniture store . . .
We had done this once before.
Gone to a furniture store, I mean.
It was fun.
And expensive.
But exciting.
We pulled up outside in our little wheezy van and sauntered inside where we were met by a young man with a big grin.
A really big grin.
Looking back, we should have suspected something.
We didn't.
We told him what we were looking for and he led us to the 'kitchen' section of the store.
Wow.
Okay, we weren't expecting that much of a selection.
We divided our options into two categories. 'Those we could afford'. And 'those which were really nice'.
The choices suddenly became easy.
We were down to two.
The one we finally decided on was a faux-wood topped, tubular-chrome-legged marvel.
With four chairs of genuine fake-leather.
We had hit the big time.
The only problem was that we were already a family of four.
And family member number five was definitely on the way.
More chairs were indicated.
No problem, the young man said. The company who made the chairs was right here in Winnipeg. They could easily be ordered and at a very special price.
Bingo!
We handed him our savings and he filled out the paperwork, promising to send in the order for our four extra chairs as soon as we left the store.
Then he helped us tote our new table and existing chairs out to our little van.
We were kings!
Happily, we set up our new acquisitions (good word) in our little kitchen.
Perfect!
Then we waited for our four extra chairs.
And waited.
Finally, we tried to phone.
Huh. Line out of service. Strange.
We drove over to the store.
And found it closed.
Weird. For a Tuesday.
A large piece of yellow paper, fastened to the front door, fluttered in the slight breeze. We got out of the van and moved closer.
It was a notice from the police.
Something about signing the paper if we were owed anything by the young men who had absconded (Great word, eh?) with all available cash and left the country.
We stared at the paper.
Then at each other.
Did this mean what we thought it meant?
Had we just been ripped off?
I suddenly wanted my chairs!
We had paid for them!
Jerks!
Grant signed the paper and we were duly contacted by the police and able to place our claim.
The problem was that we were owed a mere $200.00 and that put us far down the list of claimants. The likelihood of recouping (I'm just full of neat words today) our losses was slim to nil.
I should mention here that the people at the top of the list were a newlywed couple, furnishing a new apartment. They had paid for their furniture, but were having it delivered.
I guess $10,000.00 (a boatload of money in 1979) was just too much for the store owners to resist. They had taken the money and anything else not fastened down and left the city.
The young couple's furniture had not left the store.
They were furniture-less and out their $10,000.00.
Suddenly our little $200.00 seemed very paltry.
But I still needed my chairs.
We went to the furniture manufacturer and explained the situation. They were very nice and gave us our chairs at their cost.
So, when we worked it out, taking into account the money we had paid Crooked Smiler Guy and what the manufacturer charged, we had actually gotten the chairs for the normal retail price.
We really hadn't lost anything.
And we finally had our chairs.
Oh, they were a slightly different colour from the first four, but why quibble over details?

That table and chairs lasted us through six children and twenty five years.
As it was nearing the end of its life, my husband decided to realize a dream and build a new one.
He did it.
A large, round, solid oak table, capable of seating 12 comfortably and 14 if you want to be really friendly.
He finished it just in time.
I tried to set a casserole on our old table and the poor thing collapsed, casserole and all.
And no, that isn't a statement on my cooking . . .
It was given an undignified farewell at the city dump.
And Grant moved in his great oak wonder.With twelve chairs that matched.
And that we didn't have to chase down and beg for.
Lessons learned.
More people. More food. And . . . the replacement.

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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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