Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, August 31, 2013

Driving Under the Influence

Oh, sure. She's smiling now . . .
There are about thirty miles of smooth, fast highway between Claresholm and Fort MacLeod, Alberta.
And Mom was a strict teetotaler.
These two facts will become significant.
Later . . .
Mom was heading home.
She had been out running errands and attending meetings and doing various ‘Mom’ things and supper was beckoning.
Another ‘Mom’ thing.
She was also DUI(C).
Driving under the influence of children.
Between glances into the backseat and numerous yoga-moves to reach and supply her various and sundry children’s needs, her concentration on the road, and her straight-driving-ness (my term), were sorely hampered.
From time to time, the car . . . wove.
Said weaving was noticed.
A flashing light appeared in the rear-view mirror.
Mom frowned. A ‘what-on-earth-is-this-about?’ frown.
And pulled over.
A young policeman appeared at her window.
“Ma’am, I couldn’t help but notice that you were weaving a bit in the lane,” he said. “Have you been drinking?”
Mom sucked in a deep, indignant breath and glared at the young man. “I SHOULD SAY NOT!!” she said.
Her voice was . . . let’s just say ‘firm’.
With just a bit of fire behind the words.
The poor policeman turned red and literally crumbled. “Sorry to have bothered you,” he mumbled. Then, bidding her a hasty good-night, he left.
Or rather, retreated.
Mom nodded resolutely and, putting the car in gear, continued on.
The police car made a U-turn and fled.
The reason I’m thinking about this right now?
Where was Mom when another young policeman was handing me my speeding ticket for doing 40 in a 30?
I guess some people have it.
And some people don’t.

Sigh.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Learn. Then Teach

Okay, a bit older than our car, but you get the picture.
At some point during our junior year in high school, every student was required to take Driver's Education.
It wasn't an imposition.
Though most of us were farm/ranch kids and had been driving since we could see over the dashboard, none of us had ever been allowed to drive on a real road.
Okay, well, I have to admit here that some of us had.
Driven on a real road, I mean.
It's just that our parents didn't know.
Moving on . . .
So it was to be our first experience driving on a real road . . . officially.
The anticipation mounted as we completed every session of pre-driving training.
The lectures and films grew longer and more boring.
More and more, we craned our necks to glance outside at the shiny new car that would soon become ours.
We were getting feverish to actually take the wheel and floor the accelerator.
Finally the day came.
In groups of three, names were drawn.
And then it was my turn.
My time slot allotted.
My waiting at an end.
All right, yes, I still had to wait, but at least I knew just how long the wait would be.
Sheesh.
My group was scheduled to go out in a couple of days, after the end of the school day.
I counted the minutes.
And finally, it was our turn!
The other two students from my group slid into the back seat.
Our instructor, alias: my biology teacher, and I got into the front.
And that was when I discovered that this wasn't quite like any other car I had ever seen.
For one thing, it had two sets of foot pedals.
One on my side.
The other on his.
Weird.
We started out.
Slowly. Though every gram of me (and that was a lot of grams) was itching to stomp that gas pedal to the floor.
We made a circuit of the town.
So far so good.
I was instructed to head out of town along the highway.
Obediently, I followed my instructions.
All went well.
We made a safe (it can be done . . .) U-turn and headed back towards town.
As we were approaching the town limits sign with its stark and very pointed suggestion of speed, I turned to my instructor. "Does that mean we need to start slowing down when we get to the sign, or should we be going that speed when we reach . . .?"
I got no further.
My teacher decided, then and there, to teach me what the second set of floor pedals was for.
He stomped on the brake.
Whereupon (good word) I had a heart attack.
Fortunately, my varied experiences on the ranch had taught me that I could still function, even when my heart had permanently taken up residence somewhere in the vicinity of my throat.
But the lesson was well and truly taught. One must have already achieved the strongly suggested speed limit by the time one reached the sign.
Point taken.
After a few tense seconds of hands-over-the-face whimpering by both I and my teacher, we were once more off.
The rest of my turn passed without further incident.
Which was probably a good thing for my heart.
And my passengers.
We stopped back at the school and one of my team members exchanged seats with me.
I could officially relax.
For some time, we drove around the town.
Then, as we were following the dirt road north, on the far east side of town, our Social Studies teacher approached and flagged us down.
He did this is a subtle, yet clever way.
He drove past, honking, then pulled over to the right directly in front of us.
Our young driver squeaked out, "What do I do?"
Whereupon (that word again) our instructor told her to pull over directly behind the other car and put our car into 'park'.
Done.
She sighed and leaned back against the seat.
The four of us watched our social teacher walk around to our instructor's window.
The window was rolled down and the two began to visit.
Meanwhile, our driver was looking forward.
Towards the other car.
Which appeared to be getting . . . closer.
She stomped on the brake and quickly discovered that it wasn't we who were moving.
Ah! The other car was rolling backwards.
Toward us.
Our driver began to shriek, "Ooh! Ooh! What do I do?! Should I back up?!"
Both teachers looked up.
Just as the 'parked' car collided with us.
Shock warred with embarrassment on both faces.
It was quickly ascertained (another good word) that no damage had been done, either to property or personnel.
And everyone went back to what they were doing before our social teacher had entered the picture.
We completed our training.
Receiving full credit and accolades.
And all of us received our driver's licenses.
It really wasn't that difficult.
Look at the guys who taught us.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dreaded First Day


Standing: Bern, Eldor, Glen
Sitting: Mom

On Mom's first day of school, she spoke almost no English, only Swedish.
This is her story - in her own words from her journals . . .

My first day of school was anticipated with the fear and anxiety which had been passed down to me from my brothers who went before me.
I recall horror stories with exaggeration about strappings, sitting on a stool at the front of the room for being late, and beatings from older boys.
Beware of the 'older boys'.
As the time came for me to make my debut, my legs became so numb that I could hardly walk.
I was so afraid.
Winnie Charleton (two years older) kindly took me by the hand and led me into the one-room schoolhouse.
Mrs. Hunter smiled as she pointed to the desk at the front of the room where I would work.
Four other girls sat behind me in the same row.
"Good Morning, boys and girls!" said Mrs. Hunter.
"Good Morning!" responded the class.
All except me.
Mrs. Hunter looked at me with a lop-sided smile.
"Can't you say, Good Morning?" she asked.
"Yah," said I, then quickly, the line I had rehearsed with Mama, "Min nom Enes. I am half past six."
Little titters rippled around the room.
"Would you say that again, please?" asked Mrs. Hunter.
Luckily, I understood.
"Min nom Enes, I am half past six."
The giggles turned into a roar as the thirty or so children rocked with laughter.
I was so humiliated that I laid my head on the desk and covered it with my arms.
What would my punishment be for this, I wondered?
Mrs. Hunter simply said, "Enes - that's a nice name."
Then she turned to the blackboard and wrote her name.
I worried all day about the punishment I would receive, but nothing happened.
We were given our first primer and we tried to copy the words DOG and CAT. We copied numbers, 1 to 10, and played 'I Spy'.
My fears finally dwindled.
School was actually fun!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Going Back


Prince of Wales Hotel at Waterton Lakes Provincial Park.
Paradise.

I have always lived in the shadows of the Rockies.
And by doing so, have been in close proximity to one of many national parks.
Nowadays (real word, I looked it up), that means either the Banff or Jasper National Parks.
In my early years, it was Waterton Lakes.
How our family loved Waterton!
Every summer we spent at least a week there, staying in one of the tiny, rustic cabins perched on the very shore of Upper Waterton Lake or in the beautiful old log cabin which belonged to some good friends.
We would swim in the gi-normous (my word) outdoor community swimming pool. Spend endless hours riding around the town on rented tandem bikes or surreys. Visit Cameron Falls or hike to Cameron Lake. Climb Bear's Hump. Explore Prince of Wales Hotel. Shop.
Then there were the lakes. One could fish there. Or boat or 'swim'. (I use this last term lightly because this was a mountain lake, and only a couple of degrees above freezing . . .)
The activities were many and varied.
Paradise for a little girl.
Especially since it was the fifties and crime hadn't been invented yet.
Mom could feed us breakfast and send us out the door, secure in the knowledge that we could play safely throughout the townsite.
Except that we had strict instructions not to go near any wildlife.
And Waterton certainly had that.
It wasn't unusual to open the front door and see a herd of deer lying around the front yard, placidly chewing their cud.
Or to have to retreat into a store because a bear was making its way slowly down main street.
That was especially okay, because ice cream was easily obtained and one could enjoy a treat and a show while one waited for the rangers, or for the bear to move on.
Whichever happened first.
It was no wonder that our annual pilgrimage to Waterton was our most anticipated tradition.
My family went back for a reunion.
I was amazed at what had changed in the years since my last trip.
Oh, there were some fondly remembered places still in existence.
Many of the stores and shops were the same, or at least similar.
The topographical sites were still there. Bear's Hump. Cameron Falls. The hiking paths I had enjoyed as a child.
And the Prince of Wales Hotel still majestically dominated the townsite.
But all else had changed.
We tried renting a tandem bike, but the only one left had a towel for a seat and was so rusted and stiff that riding it was more torture than pleasure.
The swimming pool had disappeared.
In its place stood a great hotel complex.
Our friends' cabin was gone, burned to the ground in a massive and heart-wrenching fire. It, too had been replaced by newer and more modern.
Our little cabins were also gone. The campground had been expanded to include the lot where they had stood.
We wandered around for most of a day, reminiscing.
It was still Waterton.
There was still a lot to see and do.
Watch the deer and other animals wander freely throughout the townsite.
Hike. Explore the great Hotel. Fish. Shop.
'Wade' in the lake. (We now called it for what it was . . .)
Boat.
Swim in the new hotel's grand indoor pool.
Just not the things we most fondly remembered as children.
Who was it who said, 'You can never go back'?
They were wrong.
You can.
Just be prepared for some changes.
Where did you spend your summers?

Waterton Lakes National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Peace Park, and a Biosphere Reserve. The only park in the world that has these three designations.
Visit it!

Heroes of Faith, True Stories of Faith and Courage

I love stories of heroes.
People with strength and courage who stand up for themselves and others.
Even when standing up would be uncomfortable and sometimes downright dangerous.
There have been many in history who have given everything for what they believe. Joan of Arc and the ancient apostles of Jesus Christ spring instantly to mind. 
And Jesus Christ, Himself.
There are modern examples as well. And many are showcased in the new book by my friend, Marlene Bateman Sullivan: Heroes of Faith, True Stories of Faith and Courage.
Marlene has collected stories of people who survived impossible hardships, such as A.C. Christensen in a Japanese prison camp. Held to their beliefs in the face of unsympathetic regimes like the Torontos in Germany. Carried on through vast physical challenges as did blind Samuel Jenkinson.
Each is a story of determination, strength and real courage.
I loved this book.
I am in awe of such people.
And wonder if I would ever have their courage.
I hope I never have to find out . . .

Synopsis
Our fast-paced society loves adventure and it loves a hero—but what about Latter-day Saint heroes?  Are there any?  There are plenty!
Heroes of Faith, True Stories of Faith and Courage, is a collection of twenty-four riveting stories about people who rose above difficulties and impossible odds to emerge triumphant. You’ll read about stalwart men and women who stood firm and valiant in the gospel in spite of dangerous mobs, flying bullets, physical handicaps, extreme hardships, and dictatorial regimes.
It's fascinating to read about the exploits of real heroes and when that hero is acting in accordance with the principles of the gospel, the adventure is not only thrilling, but inspiring as well. In these days of increasing trials and tribulation, we can all use some worthy role models, especially those that strengthen our faith and increase our testimonies.

Biography
Marlene Bateman Sullivan was born in Salt Lake City, Utah.  She graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She is married to Kelly R. Sullivan and they are the parents of seven children. 
Heroes of Faith is available at these outlets: 


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Dirty Work


Oh sure, she looks clean now . . .
Ranching is not 'clean' work.
I had been main herdsman for my Dad for several months.
This combined my favourite activity, riding, with various other responsibilities.
Like checking the herd every day for cows that were calving. Cows that looked like they were about to start calving. Or cows that looked like they were thinking about starting to calve.
Ranching takes a lot of head work . . .
Also helping them when it became necessary.
And hauling feed.
Cleaning pens.
And grubbing around the barnyard doing whatever Dad came up with.
Yep. Not clean work at all.
This day, though, I was determined to stay . . . unsoiled.
My new boyfriend was stopping by and I wanted him to see me as the picture-perfect cowgirl.
Sun in her hair and smelling of the outdoors - grass, sage, and fresh air.
Things started well.
I buckled the riding pad on my horse, thus eliminating the possibility of being covered with hair when he arrived.
Then rode out to the calving pasture.
It was a bright, fresh morning with just a bit of a breeze.
Perfect.
I finished my initial sweep.
The easy, treeless part of the field.
Hmm . . . no cows inconveniently doing messy things.
I started back, this time through the brush and small trees.
Still nothing.
Everyone was grazing happily, or contentedly lying down, chewing their cud.
It was a peaceful scene.
A clean scene.
I rode into the last copse (real word, I looked it up) of trees.
And there she was.
That one cow determined to undermine my perfectly planned morning.
Obviously calving.
And just as obviously having trouble.
Rats.
I rode over.
Yep. Trouble.
The calf's head and feet had emerged, but the little creature was obviously caught at the shoulders.
Poor thing.
Thoughts of my pristine wardrobe disappeared as I considered my next move.
The cow had to be herded to the ranch buildings.
And quickly.
We made it in record time, considering she was in heavy labour.
Finally, she was enclosed in the nearest empty corral.
I slid off my horse and quickly erected a 'pen' of plank walls around her, further hemming her in.
Then I reached for the calf's little white feet.
But this cow didn't want my help.
And certainly wasn't disabled by any discomfort she might be feeling.
I should have realized that a cow who had made the trip from the field to the ranch building at the speed she had, while in labour, was actually SUPERCOW.
As my hands closed firmly over her calf's feet, she made a leap, flattening my hastily-erected fence and pulling me through the rubble.
Now a normal person probably would have let go at that point.
I guess I'm not normal.
Because I didn't.
Let go, that is.
Instead, I desperately hung on to those feet as the cow pulled me around the corral.
Through the dust.
And a couple of icky pools.
And that's when the calf . . . fell out.
Soon, mother and baby were happily together.
And I was headed to the ranch house.
I needn't tell you how I looked.
From head to foot.
My boyfriend's truck and I reached the front gate together.
It's all about timing.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Almost Struck. Twice.


Blair in a less threatening situation. A bit less . . .

The calving field (aka: the tree field), was a half mile from the ranch buildings.
Not so great a distance if you wanted a good walk, or a short ride.
But a marathon in length when you were pushing sick, weary stock.
Dad, always the thinker, came up with plan 'B'.
Metal corral panels that could be instantly set up anywhere.
Genius.
In the corner, next to the road and immediately adjacent (good word) to the main gate, he assembled his new acquisition.
Shiny green panels of tubular, green-painted steel.
Heavy-duty. Solid.
And set up at a moment's notice.
The answer to all of our prayers.
Okay, we hadn't been praying about it, but you get the picture.
Moving on . . .
We rounded up the herd and pushed them into the corrals which had magically appeared in their own field.
I can't tell you how easy it was.
Okay, I probably could, but . . .
Ahem.
All was going well.
Never say that when ranching.
Because the God of Ranching, immediately begins to get creative.
And sends all sorts of 'challenges'.
On this particular day, he sent Nature.
Capital 'N'.
Now, ordinarily, I love storms. The bigger and noisier, the better.
But this storm was a bit different.
There wasn't any wind. A miracle where we lived.
Or rain.
There was only lightning.
And we were standing immediately adjacent (that word again) to metal corrals.
I needn't tell you that lightning likes metal.
My Dad, my younger brother, Blair, and I were busily engaged in . . . cattle stuff.
We really didn't notice the approaching storm until it broke, quite literally, over our heads.
The air suddenly turned a sort of greenish colour.
Then a deafening ZZZZZZZZZZST!
There was a transformer on a tall power pole immediately outside the main gate of the field, not 30 feet from where we were working.
It exploded.
No, really.
It was there one moment.
Then gone the next.
A curl of smoke rose from the place it had been.
It was rather hard to ignore.
We all froze in our various positions.
Dad and I outside the corral.
Blair stuck in the middle.
With several head of cattle.
Instinctively, he started towards the corral fence.
“Freeze!” Dad barked.
Blair did.
The cattle weren't as obedient.
Now that I think about it, cattle never are.
Obedient, I mean.
But I digress . . .
Let's just say that they were nervous, shall we?
They immediately began to move around, jostling Blair and each other.
“Blair! Don't move!” Dad said. “The next strike will be close!”
Sometimes I hate it when people are right.
Again, the greenish colour.
Again the loud ZZZZZZZZZZST!
Again the exploding.
But what I can remember most is Blair, staring at me from inside that metal corral.
That green lightning magnet.
Completely helpless.
I know I did do some praying then.
That second strike hit the next power pole, just down the road from the first one.
And then the storm moved away from us.
We started breathing again.
Moving.
I probably don't need to describe Blair's sprint across the corral.
And vaulting of the fence.
Let's just say that the Olympics committee would have been impressed.
For several minutes, we just stood there. Breathing.
Outside the corrals.
Thankful to be alive and safe.
It was some time before Dad could convince us to get back to work.
Not an unusual challenge.
But this time we had a good excuse.

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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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