Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, July 6, 2013

On a Bicycle Built for Me

Bygone days . . .
My daughter and I are looking for new bicycles.
And the irony is just sickening.
Let me tell you why . . .
I was five and quite ready to move up from the tricycle that had served me well. I was ready learn to ride a two-wheeler.
I could ride almost anything with four legs and, on the ranch, the choices there were nearly endless.
But when it came to bicycles, I had . . . less.
Choices, that is.
There was my older brother's bike. But the bar made the fact that I was short and couldn't sit on the seat, impossible.
The one that was closest to my size was ‘Alfred’, my brother George’s bike.
It was a hand-me-over from our oldest brother, Jerry, and had already gone many, many miles.
Been refurbished and set to go many, many more.
Younger brother on 'Alfred'. Handed down again.
But it was out of bounds for me.
Because.
That left the bigger bike.
Mom’s classic.
The old green one with the balloon tires.
The one that stood almost taller than my head.
There was no way I could remotely come near to sitting on the seat, but I discovered I could manage nicely if I just stood on the pedals.
The whole time I was riding.
The amazing thing is, for the behemoth it was, that bike was astonishingly easy to ride.
And a fantastic bike to learn on.
In no time, I was whizzing up and down the tree-lined drive, pumping madly as I tried to keep up with my
fleeter, older brother.
I don’t remember actually riding it when I could reach the seat and the pedals at the same time, but for a few years, that bike and I were good company.
My brother perched on my gold beauty
(sans tassels)
Until Dad brought home a solid gold beauty.
Just for me.
Complete with a banana seat and ape-hanger handle bars (with gold streamers) it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.
We were instantly fast friends.
And I do mean fast.
And the novel ability to be able to sit while I pedaled was . . . novel.
And remarkable.
We spent many hours and miles together.
Until I outgrew it.
You’d think I would then have turned to the old, green reliable, now that feet and seat could actually work in conjunction with each-other.
But I didn’t.
Nope.
After riding my gold beauty, I wouldn’t be caught dead on that old thing.
Moving ahead many, many years.
My daughters and daughters-in-law bike every morning. With assorted grandchildren as out-riders and three of us towing little trailers, we resemble a parade.
All we need are the balloons.
And clowns.
Okay, just the balloons.
The little blue $99. special I have been riding has been sadly outclassed by my DIL’s vintage, pink marvel.
I have ridden it.
It is delicious.
I want one.
So my daughter and I have determined to find bikes exactly like it.
Now, for the ironic part.
It is precisely like the bike I learned to ride on.
The old green reliable.
The one I wouldn’t be caught dead on.
Balloon tires and all.
See? Irony.
I’ll let you know how it goes . . . 
Today. See the pink beauty somewhere in the middle? Mmmmm.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth

My good friend, Delores, of The Feathered Nest, issues six challenge words every Wednesday, that we participants have to make head and/or tails out of.
Usually we make both.
Here are this week's words, which just happen to coincide with the start of this year's Calgary Stampede. 
Recalcitrant, fangs, dithering, glassy, rodeo, wet
And this is my response:

Today, if they’ve dried Calgary out,
‘S the day when people cheer and shout.
This day begins the rodeo,
Come and join me, we will go!
No dithering on which things to see,
There’s something there for you and me.
There’s sexy cowboys by the score,
With hats and jeans and so much more . . .
Recalcitrant, okay, I know,
But still they have that ‘something’ glow.
And horses, (wow!) alert and bright,
Each one a glassy, shining sight.
For people who for ‘country’ yearn,
There’s much to see and more to learn.
[Regrets to vampire fans. While there,
No fangs are present anywhere.]
So come to Calgary, it’s not wet,
The floods are gone, the stage is set.
Come see (and get your money’s worth),
The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth!




Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fourth!

Today is the celebration of the birth of a great nation.
The country where my grandparents were born and raised.
And where most of my family still lives.
I both love and salute you, my neighbours!
In the best way I know how.
With pie.

My Mom. Doing what she did best!

Pie.That king of treats.The amazing union of lightly browned and flaky crust and yummy filling.And topped with a delicious scoop of iced or whipped cream . . .It's like heaven.In your mouth.Spilled on the floor and reduced to its sticky, disparate parts, it's not as good.But we won't go there.And I just finished cleaning.So . . . pie.Today is pie-making day.Whenever our family celebrates, we do it with pie.It's a long-standing tradition . . . that spans one generation.Okay, we started it, but it's still a good tradition!So, because today is the anniversary of the birth of a great nation, and every party requires pie, I will spend today making it.Pie, I mean.I love doing this.My Mom made fantastic pie. Sweet. Flaky. (This is the only place where 'flaky' is a good thing.)And utterly delicious.And so, when I make it, using her recipes, it's like spending time with her.I even have the above picture, which I prop up and talk to.Okay, it's weird, but she's been gone for over a decade and I miss her.And now, in honour of this great occasion, I am including eight of my favourite 'pie' quotes:

1. "Keep your knives, we're having pie!"  ~ My Dad. Just before Mom whacked him.
2. "Keep your fork, Duke, there's pie."  ~ The proprietress of a diner to the Duke of Edinborough.
3. "A boy doesn't have to go to war to be a hero; he can say he doesn't like pie when he sees there isn't enough to go around." ~ E.W. Howe
4. "But I, when I undress me
Each night, upon my knees
Will ask the Lord to bless me
With apple-pie and cheese."
                  ~ Eugene Field
5. "Thy breath is like the steame of apple-pyes."  ~ Arcadia   Robert Green, 1590
6. "In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."  ~ Isaac Asimov
7. If all the world were Apple pie, 
And all the seas were ink, 
And all the trees were bread and cheese, 
What would we have to drink?  
                   ~ Unknown
7. "Pie? Is that those round things?" ~ My FIL. Just before my MIL whacked him.
8. "It is utterly insufficient (to eat pie only twice a week), as anyone who knows the secret of our strength as a nation and the foundation of our industrial supremacy must admit. Pie is the American synonym of prosperity, and its varying contents, the calendar of the changing seasons. Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie-eating people can ever be permanently vanquished."  ~ EDITORIAL New York Times, 1902
Which is your favourite?

I have to go. My Mom is waiting.
Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Dollies

See? Adorable!
How come my sister had one?!

Why couldn’t I have one?!
Life isn’t fair!!!
Maybe I should explain . . .
The Christmas I was one, my big sister got a doll.
Well, to be honest, so did I.
But hers was amazing.
Dressed in a gorgeous pink satin dress with tiny white socks and adorable little shoes, she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. She had Auburn hair, like my sister and a cute little face with eyes that opened and shut.
AND SHE COULD WALK!!!
No word of a lie. If you held onto her hands, she could walk!
She was perfect.
Now, I must admit that I recognized none of this when the doll first appeared in our household.
My recognition of her perfection happened a few years later.
When I discovered this treasure sitting in lonely glory on my sister’s bed.
Did I mention lonely?
Now there’s something I should probably point out here: there were two things I could not stand to see when I was little.
1.      A naked doll. (Just imagine how cold they must be!)
2.      A lonely doll. (Oh, the poor thing!)
Okay, yes, I had issues, but I was nothing if not sympathetic. A lonely doll was just asking to be played with. Even if one had been told – many times – to LEAVE MY DOLL ALONE IT'S JUST TO LOOK AT!!!
Pfff. That was just silly. Why would anyone have a toy they didn't play with?!
I scoped out the neighbourhood, than scooped the treasure off the bed and proceeded to walk her all over.
Do you know how many baby steps it was from one side of my sister’s room to the other?
A lot.
We played happily for some time.
Or at least until discovered by my sister.
Usually said discovery was in the form of: “Mom! Diane’s got my doll again!”
Whereupon (good word) I would answer from somewhere under the bed: “Do not!”
This went on for months.
Until I discovered that one could actually buy horse models.
Of every colour and breed.
And in all different sizes.
After that, my sister’s little beauty remained in lonely glory on the bed.
And the sisterly conversation in her room changed to: “Mom! Diane’s got her horses all over my floor again!”
And me, again from under the bed: “Do not!”

Sigh.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My Best Holiday

Vacationing in style.
It was the trip to end all trips.
Disneyland.
That magical place that only existed in my dreams.
And I was going there.
My Dad had come up with the plan, mostly because we had been everywhere else on the western half of the continent.
We kids were . . . ummm . . . a bit enthusiastic.
And we were going over Christmas, so none of that pesky waiting for Christmas morning. Instead, we took care of all of that days earlier.
We handed over the reins of ranch management to a young couple, packed up the truck and camper (nothing but first class here!) and headed out.
At first, singing and talking about the wonderful and exciting experiences that were before us, sufficed to keep us entertained. Then book reading, desultory (real word) conversation and looking out the window.
By the way, looking out the window was my Mom's favorite pastime on our car trips.
Mom was decidedly predictable.
Kind of like my car sickness.
But that is another story . . .
Christmas day was . . . different.
We couldn't find a Denny's anywhere.
And no other restaurants were open.
None.
Dad finally found what could only be deemed a 'Greasy Spoon' or 'Dive' and we ate surprisingly good burgers and fries.
For Christmas dinner.
Memorable.
Then we were again on the road.
As we drove further and further south, the weather grew noticeably warmer. Slowly, layers of clothing were shed. By the time we reached Los Angeles, we were down to just one layer. (Unless you count our underwear. Which I do.)
How freeing.
We stopped at Marineland.
And Knotts Berry Farm
And Hurst Castle. Which I loved and where I would gladly have taken up residence.
Except that the guards found me.
Guards definitely don't have a sense of humor.
Or paternal instincts.
Moving on . . .
Then, finally, Disneyland.
Dad managed to find a parking spot at the outer rim of the lot, quite near Canada, actually, and we trudged with purpose towards . . . the Great Gates.
The doorway to magic land.
The entrance to dream world.
Access to . . .
You get the picture.
At that point in time, one did not buy a 'pass'. That would have been . . . convenient.
Instead, we all got coupon books.
There was a section of 'first run' attractions. A section with 'lesser', but almost as popular. And several sections after that.
The 'Haunted Mansion' had just opened.
Need I say more?
The only problem was that this was the first sunny day in Los Angeles for several weeks.
And the entire population of the planet had suddenly decided that Disneyland was the place to be.
We had to share our magical world with 70,000 other people.
Sigh.
The line-ups were so long that choosing which ride to go on was not a matter of which was the most exciting, but which was the most available.
My brother and I stood for 3 hours to see the Haunted Mansion. The entire afternoon.
Oh, it was definitely worth it, even though George refused to go in the same car with me and I had to be frightened out of my wits all by myself.
For some reason, he had a problem with me wrapping my arms around his neck and screaming into his ear.
Brothers are weird.
After that, things are rather a blur.
I remember seeing Lincoln giving an address.
The real Lincoln. Somehow, Disney had convinced him to come out of retirement (re: death) and perform for us.
We went on a few 'ride' rides that didn't have enormous lineups.
And, at sundown, went for a romantic ride on the Mark Twain riverboat.
Yes, I'm sure the sign said 'romantic'.
I was, again, with George.
Who told me to stay on my side of the boat. Okay, so, what did he think I was going to do? Cuddle up to him and coo in his ear like all of the other people were doing?
Ewwww!
I remember eating a lot.
But then, I always remember the food.
And I remember thinking it was the best day of my life.
We only had one day there, but there were no complaints because Dad then took us to San Francisco and we got to ride the trolley car and tramp around Alcatraz Island.
And I got a shirt that said 'Property of Alcatraz - Unlisted Number' which I thought was hilarious.
And then, home. Which was an adventure all by itself.
We hit high winds near Pocatello, Idaho that nearly tipped us over, so Dad and the rest of the family parked in a campground.
With the truck's nose facing into the wind to keep it from performing gymnastics.
And he put George and I on the bus home.
Apparently, the couple looking after the ranch had to leave.
Who listened?
All I knew was that I got to ride on a Greyhound.
Okay, it was with my brother, but why haggle over details?
It was the perfect end to a perfect trip.

There is an addendum . . .
This summer, we were camping with our good friends and the topic of Disneyland came up.
They've been several times.
I described my own experience.
They stared at me in disbelief. "You mean you only got to go to one major attraction?!"
I described the circumstances again.
More incredulity (another real word). "You drove all that way and hardly got to do anything?!"
And for the first time, I thought about that.
Huh. We had only gone on one main ride. We had wandered round the place and seen a lot of other people going on other rides. We had eaten treats and watched exciting things.
And it had been a very long drive.
Nope, it was still worth it.
The best holiday, ever!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Happy Birthday, My Canada

First, a little background: Canada Day is the national day of Canada, a federal statutory holiday celebrating the anniversary of the July 1, 1867, enactment of the British North America Act, 1867 (today called the Constitution Act, 1867), which united three colonies into a single country called Canada within the British Empire. Originally called Dominion Day , the holiday was renamed in 1982, the year the Canada Act was passed. Canada Day observances take place throughout Canada as well as among Canadians internationally.
Now, on with my story . . .

Saturday, July 1, 1967.
My Grade seven teacher had been harping on endlessly about this important date.
Something about it being Canada’s Centennial.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Canada.
And had celebrated her July 1 birthday with great enthusiasm for each of my 12 years.
I just didn’t see what made this particular birthday so important. Centennial? What did that mean?
Okay, maybe I was just a bit stuck inside my own world . . .
But I was more than willing to go to choir practice to perfect our renditions of ‘Oh Canada!’ and ‘God Save the Queen’.
And excitedly discuss the day’s planned activities with my friends.
And anticipate a holiday, even though it didn’t include missing school.
The day dawned, clear and bright.
And my family wandered over to the newly-erected ‘cairn’ down by the Milk River.
Flags were flying.
And grinning, happy people were beginning to gather.
Lots of people.
I excitedly greeted my friends as they arrived.
Finally came the time for us to assemble on some risers set up near the cairn.
There was clapping and excitement.
We sang. 
To further applause.
And not a few tears.
And then, the speeches.
And, suddenly, I realized what it was that everyone was emotional about.
My country, this country that I loved, was 100 years old.
100.
Wow.
That was significant.
And I was a part of it.
It was 46 years ago.
Today, my country is 146 years old.
Happy Birthday, my beloved Canada.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

All Too Human


Fellow Cookie Lovers
Cookies. The ultimate in snack foods. That perfect balance of sugars, grains, fats, and deliciousness. And the most unique and perfect forum for getting small, semi-disguised chunks of chocolate into your mouth. Chocolate that you can savor.
But dismiss as insignificant when tallying your calorie count at day's end.
Or at least I can.
I love cookies. And I make the mistake of baking them on a regular basis.
Call me a glutton for punishment.
Or just a glutton - the shoe fits. (Or did, before I started making cookies.) But I digress . . .
My six children have been raised on my cookies. Mostly with some form of chocolate as a noteworthy ingredient. They love those small handfuls of pure perfection as much as I do.
Bliss.
But life, and reality, tend to sneak up on you and smack you soundly, just when you aren't paying attention. And so it was with my cookie consumption.
I was going merrily along, enjoying my cookie-filled life until, one day, I drug my favorite and freshly-washed jeans out of the drawer . . . and couldn't do them up.
Now I know this has happened to many of us, and certainly is nothing new, but it was a first time for me.
And it made me . . . unhappy.
To make matters worse, which we all try to do far too often, I decided to step on the scale.
I should note here, that the person who invented the scale, and non-stretchy clothes, was a nasty, evil individual. But again, I digress . . .
I had to make some changes.
Or buy a new wardrobe.
Finances won. Losing weight was in order. And the first thing to go was my mostly-cookie diet.
I baked one last batch . . . and started eating them as though they constituted my last meal on earth.
Finally, heroically, I put the lid on the still-half-full cookie jar and left the room.
But they . . . called to me.
Cookies do that.
Finally, I could stand it no longer. I answered that call.
I went back into the kitchen and discovered that my beloved cookie jar . . . was empty.
At first, dismay. Then, relief.
"Who ate all the cookies?"
From somewhere in the house, my daughter, Tiana's voice, "Tristan!"
Also from the nether regions of said house, my son, Tristan's voice, "Sorry!"
Me. "Oh thank you, thank you, thank you Tristan! I could hug you! I just couldn't leave the silly things alone!"
A pause, then my daughter's voice, "Tiana."
The cookie doesn't fall far from the tree.

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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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