Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

Daughter of Ishmael

by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Language Lessons


Our Engineer - the one on the left
Our second son, Erik, enlisted in the army corps of engineers.
For a boy from a devout Christian home, it . . . took some adjustment.
He enjoyed the brother/sisterhood that sprang up around him the moment he walked in the door.
He loved the work and the action.
And disassembling/cleaning/reassembling guns.
I know, he's weird.
But the one thing he really had to adjust to was the language and personal habits of the men and women he was now associating with.
Most particularly the language.
Although I have had my moments in the past (see here), we are not, as a whole, a cursing family.
Neither are we anxious to push our beliefs/customs on anyone else.
Erik just had to learn to deal with it.
And he did.
Without following the crowd.
Which he also did.
Let me explain . . .
Erik and several other soldiers were changing the tracks on one of their squad's tanks.
A heavy, though not necessarily complicated task.
It required brute force and patience.
Something with which my son had endless experience.
He was manipulating one of the wrenches, trying to loosen bolts which had obviously become a part of the track and/or frame.
Failing to budge them by normal means (repeated pressure and positive thinking), he resorted to harsher methods.
Body weight and periodic jumping up and down on the wrench.
The results were negligible.
He continued on, undaunted (good word).
Grasping the wrench, he threw his whole weight onto it.
The wrench slipped.
And caught his finger between it and the track. Between a hard and a harder place, so to speak.
Something had to give.
One of the culprits . . . with some buddies

Let's just say that neither tempered steel member of this trio was about to.
Give, that is.
That left his finger.
The world went purple.
Then plaid.
It does that.
Erik dropped the wrench, grabbed his sadly assaulted finger and did the dance of pain.
For several moments, he hopped and jumped, cavorting gracefully around the yard.
"DZE! DZE! DZE! DZE!"
I'm not really sure how to spell it, but that's how he describes the sound he was making.
Moving on . . .
Minutes later, with the pain at more or less manageable levels, he returned to his task.
He lifted his wrench.
Only noticing, then, that the entire yard full of soldiers has stopped what they were doing and were staring at him.
Speechlessly.
He looked at them. "What's the matter?"
One of the soldiers stepped forward. "Geeze, Tolley, even then you didn't swear!"
Erik had no idea anyone had noticed his expressions of choice.
Obviously, they had.
Even a good thing gets noticed.
Sometimes.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Bus(ted)


 . . . or something similar.

You've heard the stories from the past where kids had to walk to school through eight feet of snow.
Uphill.
Both ways.
Well, those didn't apply to me.
I rode the school bus.
Which was an adventure in itself.
Stay with me . . .
School buses in the early sixties were very similar to those driven today.
Yellow.
I'm almost sure there was an engine under the oversized and bulbous hood.
They had a driver.
Seats.
Windows.
And lots and lots of kids.
But busses in the sixties had a few 'extra' features.
Forms of entertainment that simply don't exist today.
Too bad.
Busses today have powered windshield wipers that are sturdy, dependable and have several settings.
They keep on working through rain, snow, sleet, hail.
In fact, anything that may be thrown at the all-important front windshield.
The busses that carted me to and from school had wipers, too.
Just not the kind you see today.
They had what is know as 'vacuum' wipers.
I'm not sure what made them work.
But I know what didn't.
Revving the engine.
If it was raining hard and the road was on an even grade with no challenges, all was well.
But if the bus was required to do something untoward . . .
Like move faster.
Or go up a hill.
The engine would rev.
And the wipers would quit.
The driver would have to roll down the side window and stick his (or her) head outside so they could see.
If the driver took his foot off the accelerator, the wipers would start again.
Push the pedal down? They stopped.
It was enormously entertaining.
But not nearly as much fun as when the bus was required to go up Angel's hill.
Yes. We really had an Angel's hill.
Oh, it's not what you're thinking.
It was simply the hill that led to the Angyal family's ranch.
But I digress . . .
Our rather aged vehicle had a hard time going up that hill.
Sometimes, if we had a larger than normal load (perhaps all of us kids had eaten breakfast, for example), the bus wouldn't be able to make it.
We'd have to get off and trail along behind till it reached the top.
Well, we younger kids would trail.
The older kids would push.
Whereupon (good word) we would all clamber back aboard and happily find our seats once more.
Huh. I just realized that we did have to walk uphill to get to school.
Pushing the bus.
Beat that!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

My Kingdom for a Horse

Delores of The Feathered Nest has issued another challenge.
Six words, completely unrelated, that we, her obedient and willing partners-in-crime must stitch into something cohesive.
Or at least read-able.
This week's words?
Ignorant, monstrosity, grating, fiend, speckled, lavender
Make something of those, if you can!
                        *  *  *

I love art.
But I am not an artist.
For me, coloured pencils are used only for . . . colouring. Though I can, if I concentrate, stay within the lines.
Stick figures elude me.
Anything more complex is simply drifting in the realms of impossibility.
But, as I say, I love art.
Colourful creations of fantasy. Black and white impressions. Scenery and/or animals.
But the one subject I most love, and am most particular about, is horses.
Standing, running, jumping. Breathing. Everything they do is pure poetry.
But, though the possibility of me actually drawing or creating a picture of a horse is so remote as to be impossible, I am very particular about my horse pictures.
They have to be believable.
The flank has to be just so. The legs. The curve of the neck. The head.
Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time with them.
Maybe it’s just because I’m picky.
Maybe I just know that, if a horse had shoulders like that and that twisted back leg, riding him would be like taking the train.
Without the rails.
My parents had many pictures of horses in their home.
Most were sold or donated as their places of residence shrunk.
But two remained.
One, an original oil of a horse herd in full gallop, was beautiful.
The other, a head study of a mare and foal done on black velvet with a lovely lavender background, was not.
I mean, it was still far better than anything I could have done myself.
And the foal in the picture was quite good.
It’s the mare that I found grating.
If you put your hand over her nose, her softly-speckled eyes are warm and gentle as she gazed fondly at her offspring.
But if you lifted your hand, her twisted nose, with its nostrils wrapped around and extending into each other, made her into a monstrosity.
A fiend.
Quite simply, there was no way she could breathe.
And how did her top jaw keep from falling off?
Whenever I looked at it, I wondered how my parents, horse-loves both, could abide this picture.
Why am I telling you this?
Because my Dad told me he was bringing me my beloved horse picture.
It was time.
Happily, I cleared a spot on the wall in the front room.
A place of honour to do justice to the work of art that would shortly reside there.
Then, I waited.
His car pulled up.
He got out and quietly retrieved a large, blanket-draped bundle from the back.
Happily and proudly, he bore said bundle into the house and placed it into my arms.
Eagerly, I unwrapped and let the covering fall.
You know those movies when something startling happens to the character and there are violent bursts of violin music as the ‘whatever’ get closer and closer?
Well, I definitely needed that violin music.
Dun! Dun! Dun!!!
Because the picture he had brought was not the incredible shot of horses running.
No.
It was the quiet study of freak and foal.
I stared at it.
Then at my smiling father.
The word ‘aghast’ comes to mind.
Not wanting to be ignorant, I obligingly hung it in the prepared spot.
For all of my Dad’s visit.
Then it went to a better place.
The garage.
I have another horse picture there now.
One I chose.

Sorry, Dad.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Recipe for fun:
Eleven-plus kids.
Five mothers.
One Gramma.
Two gracious hosts.
And lots and lots of sunshine . . .
Yesterday, my daughters, daughters-in-law and grandkids spent the morning at my cousins' amazing home 'in the bush'.
Picking raspberries. Roasting hot dogs. Hiking through the bush.
Umm . . .
Would it be cliche to say that a good time was had by all?
Because it was . . .
Grandchild #1.
#5

#2
#12. Any minute now . . .
#10
#7
#3
#8



#9
#11

#6


#4

Hike!
Mmm. Food.
Back from the bush and counting noses.
I need a nap!




Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dog Training

From this . . .
To this.
Note: Please disregard the human . . .












For over thirty years, our family raised Old English Sheepdogs.
A wonderful breed.
Hairy, yes, but loyal, gentle, protective and very, very smart.
Easy to train.
Dozens of puppies left our home in those years, successfully joining other families.
All with the same amazing temperament.
Well, almost all.
There is an exception to every rule.
Apparently . . .
I received a phone call from one of my puppy people. Their puppy, at the time, was about six months old.
Her: “We are moving and won’t be able to take our dog with us.”
Me: “Oh. Well, I don’t have anyone waiting for a puppy right now . . .”
Her: “That’s all right. We don’t want any money back. We just want to drop him off.”
Me: “Ummm . . .”
Her: Click.
Now I want to mention a couple of things:
1. OESs grow to be . . . large. They need to be trained early – before they outweigh you.
2. When we placed our puppies, it was only after a quick course in ‘puppy-training’. For the new owners, not for the dogs.
3. Said owners then went home with food, instructions, toys, and an informative book. Unfortunately, whether or not they read that book was totally up to them. And:
4. Follow-up phone calls after purchase don’t necessarily disclose training problems.
All of these points were brought distinctly to our attention when said puppy showed up later that day.
Oh, dear.
For the first time, I saw what could happen to a pup when he was given little-to-nothing in the way of instruction.
And weighed in at a few ounces less than a Buick.
The owner appeared at the door.
Handed me the leash.
And disappeared.
Really.
I don’t think I’ve seen anyone move that fast.
Ever.
The dog and I regarded one another.
Then I shrugged and pulled the cretin untrained dog into the kitchen.
He proceeded to jerk the leash from my hand, dart under the living room table, and make a deposit.
Large.
Whereupon (good word) I recaptured the leash and tried to drag the monster toward the back door.
And that’s when things sort of fell apart/came together.
He growled and tried to bite me.
Have I mentioned how gentle this breed is?
Smart?
Loyal?
Protective?
Well, they are.
And it was never more apparent than at that moment.
Because my three (Yes, I had three full-grown OESs in the house. But that is another story.) attacked the newcomer.
As one.
Their coordinated effort would have been admired by special forces troops worldwide.
One had him by the back of the neck. One by the flank. And the third, by the throat.
Individually, we peeled them off.
Then checked for damage.
No blood had been spilt.
Miraculously.
But the dog that got up from the bottom of the umm . . . dog pile . . . was not the same one who had gone under in the first place.
Nope.
This dog was sweet. Gentle. Eager to please.
Everything that the OES breed is noted for.  
Huh.
He went on to a new home. A better home. And a successful adoption.
But we all learned an important lesson that day.
If you’re dealing with a difficult problem . . .

Take your pack.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Splish-Splash


Front to back: George, Me, Chris, Jerry, Dad and Blair.
Look closely. Can you pick out the intrepid swimmer?

I had never taken swimming lessons.
We simply lived too far from the city for it to be a priority. Or even possible.
But I loved to swim.
And, with the river in such close proximity, did it a lot.
In the summer.
In winter, for obvious reasons, we were pretty much shut out.
Then, someone of great intelligence came up with a fantastic idea.
Why not hire a schoolbus and cart a load of kids to Lethbridge once a week?
It was genius!
Why hadn't anyone thought of it before?
Now I could take lessons and my parents would only be responsible for getting me to and from Milk River.
Okay, it still meant a twenty-mile hike into town to drop me off and another twenty miles to pick me up, but why haggle over details?
I was going!
The bus ride was a treat. I wasn't confined to my usual fourth row back.
I was suddenly riding with a different group of kids than I ever saw from said fourth row back.
And Kathy had a portable record-player, which she kept going the entire 50 miles.
I can't tell you how many times we heard 'Wipe-Out', but it was . . . umm . . . a few.
The bus deposited us safely in front of the Civic Center.
I should mention here that I've often wondered about bus drivers. What they do in their off hours, when they aren't very closely closeted with a rowdy group of young people.
Can't you just picture a group of them sitting around with shaking heads and “Let me tell you . . .!” stories?It's a wonder that more of them don't drink.
But I digress . . .
We scrambled madly for the door and the change rooms, then poured out into the main pool room.
We were ready.
The teachers began to sort us into groups, using a list of highly-specialized criteria.
How old are you? Are you afraid of the water? Have you ever taken swimming lessons before? What colour is your swimsuit?
Do you like boys?
Finally they had us, more or less, categorized.
I had never taken swimming lessons, so I was inserted into the beginners class.
“Okay, kids. See if you can put your face into the water.”
Woohoo! Compliance! I took off like a seal.
“Okay. You! Little girl in the blue swimsuit!” Sigh. “Would someone please fish her out?”
Have I mentioned that I like water?
“Are you sure you've never had lessons?”
Head shake.
“Well, I'm moving you up to the next level.”
Okay.
And so it went.
By the time we were finished our one-hour lesson, I had been . . . promoted . . . seven times.
It must have been some sort of record, to go from the beginner level to the 'Junior Lifeguard' level.
In one lesson.
Who could have known that all my flailing and thrashing around like a demented fish had actually been getting me somewhere.
Or that, in the still water of a pool, with no current to fight, I could actually make headway.
Really fast headway.
Jerry (the only member of my family who could fight the river's current and win), eat your heart out.
Because miracles do happen.
I was suddenly the soggy and triumphant queen of my little, watery world.
It didn't happen often.
But it was a very good feeling.

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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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