Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Saturday, October 5, 2013

When Rude Begets Rude

Thinking about travelling again.
A repost from a year and a half ago . . .

Our family loves taking holidays.
And for a simple country family from Southern Alberta, we have managed to cover a good portion of the globe.
We have had wonderful experiences.
Sunsets over the Mediterranean.
Fresh bratwurst in an open-air mall in Frankfurt.
Moving church services in an old cathedral in Cork.
A wild bus ride through the streets of London.
The smell of the dust in the air on a hot afternoon in Turkey.
The bustle on the streets in Paris.
But, sometimes, when we travel, we have . . . 'adventures'.
Let me explain . . .
We were touring one of the great cities in Europe.
And enjoying seeing things that for us, had existed only in pictures.
We wandered into a very popular tourist site.
And were instantly accosted by a small, but determined group of 'entrepreneurs'.
These people had made little bracelets and were anxious to make a sale.
At first, it seemed as though they wanted to present you with a little gift.
They would smilingly knot one around your wrist.
And I do mean 'knot'.
Pretty.
Then stand back and loudly demand money.
Great scam.
We had seen it happen to people walking just ahead of us.
“Keep your hands tucked in!” Grant whispered urgently to the rest of us.
“Don't let them grab you!”
I should point out here that we had no intention of letting them grab us.
And, through our travels, we had learned the great art of 'obtuse and avoidance'.
The tourist's best friend.
If you don't make eye contact and pretend you don't hear, you avoid a lot of unwanted purchases.
This didn't work here.
If you looked away, a pair of enthusiastic salesmen would move alongside.
One would grab your hand and the other would tie the bracelet firmly.
There was no way of getting rid of it, short of cutting it off.
You would be forced to pay.
We managed better than most.
You learn to be agile, working on a ranch.
But two of them had converged on our youngest daughter.
An outspoken girl of 21.
She had tucked both of her hands against her body and said, “No, thank you.” And, “I'm not interested.” And, “I don't want a bracelet.” several times.
Firmly.
Then she tried to break, as politely as she could, through the closed ranks around her.
Politeness and patience were wearing thin.
And not working in the slightest.
The salesmen had resorted to trying to physically take her hands, chattering enthusiastically in their native tongue.
She shifted back and forth, eluding them.
We started towards her, intent on rescue.
We weren't needed.
Before we could reach her, she suddenly shouted loudly at the two men, “Get the hell away from me!”
Did I mention outspoken?
All heads in the square turned.
Smiles broke out on many tourist faces.
The two would-be salesmen fell back and stared at her.
Finally, one of them drew himself up and sniffed, “There is no need to be rude!”
They disappeared, taking their little bracelets with them.
There was laughter and a small smattering of applause.
Okay, it came from us, but why haggle over details?
I was proud of my daughter.
She had tried to be polite.
She had tried to be firm.
But, faced with a situation in which neither of these tactics proved effective, she became fierce.
And won the day.
This was an isolated incident.
Fortunately, one of very few negative experiences we've had in our travels.
But it proved to us that when patience and good manners don't work . . .
Good old 'country spunk' will.
Travelling?
Take a farm girl.
"I have a baguette and I know how to use it!"

Friday, October 4, 2013

Spiders. And Me.


Daddy, my brother, George, and me.
No spiders were harmed in the taking of this picture.
But the area was scrutinized closely . . .
Spiders and I have always gotten along.
Provided they are on the opposite side of the room and in plain view so escape-age is entirely possible.
Or better yet, in an entirely different country.
Or planet.
Okay. Spiders and I don't get along.
It all started when I became conscious (ie. born) and lasted until . . . well . . . now.
As I grew, my persnickety-ness became more and more pronounced.
And pro-active.
I would carefully shake out each shoe before I put it on. (I had heard that people in scorpion-infested parts of the world do this regularly. I thought it a good idea.)
Check clothes and coat pockets with a flashlight.
All the usual things one could do while getting dressed.
Because you never knew just where those little beggers would be hiding.
Once, when I was sitting, minding my own business in seventh grade English, I saw a spider climbing down the wall next to me.
I kept a wary eye on it.
You never know – with spiders.
They're tricky.
It climbed slowly down.
Down.
And then scurried across the floor towards the person seated in front of me.
All senses were immediately put on alert.
A few minutes later, when something touched my leg, I leaped nearly seven feet into the air.
Truly.
It's a school record.
You can look it up.
And so it continues to this day.
I do put on a brave face for my children and grand children.
Unfortunately, it looks like the one I wear all of the time, just a little more . . . tense.
Teeth firmly clamped around bottom lip.
Knitted brows.
Sheen of sweat. Glowing slightly.
That sort of thing.
Evil world-destruction plotting spider is approached cautiously and swatted firmly with a fly swatter.
Then beaten unrecognizable with whatever is at hand.
Shoe.
Baseball bat.
I admit it.
Humane disposal and me and spiders don't fit into the same sentence.
Oh. Wait . . .
It's probably a good thing I live where I do, spiders here are teensy.
In Greece, they have been know to carry off pets and small animals and the occasional tourist.
True story.
Remind me to tell you about it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Gravy Wars

Every Wednesday, Delores throws down the gauntlet.
A series of six words.
Which is then picked up by her disciples.
With more - or less - success.
You be the judge!

This week: Mellifluous, endangered, crabby, flaunt, gravy and turpentine

Gravy Wars

It's tougher than it looks...

Mom was an excellent cook.
She could make almost anything taste fantastic.
Almost.
She did have her weaknesses.
Her soggy boiled spinach was consumed only with copious amounts of vinegar or butter.
And we won’t even mention her disastrous attempts at lutefisk.
Though I have to admit I have yet to find anyone who can make that eat-able.
Moving on . . .
Mom taught me how to cook.
Of course I was always a better taste-er than cook-er.
But let’s not go there.
She showed me how to make a pot roast.
And how to use the drippings for delicious, smooth and mellifluous (does that work here?) gravy.
Yum.
Mostly, my forays into the heavenly land of roasted meat and gravy were acceptable.
Sometimes, they weren’t.
But it was one of those ‘less-than-satisfactory’ occasions that gave rise to a new family tradition . . .
On Sundays, before leaving for church, Mom had taught me to put a roast in the oven. Thus, when the family returned from services, the smell of deliciousness would be wafting through the house, making mouths water and giving the impression that food was forthcoming.
Which it was.
Eagerly, the family would perform such tasks as: Changing out of ‘Sunday’ clothes. Setting the table. Drooling.
While Mom (me) whipped up the accompaniments to the main dish.
In short order, everyone was seated and shoveling.
Until Mom (me, again) brought out the gravy.
Now, up until now, my gravy had been a little on the thin side.
On this auspicious day, it was . . . thick.
Really thick.
Eat with a fork thick.
Husby took the bowl, obligingly spooned some of the contents onto his potatoes and beef.
Spread it around with his knife.
And made an unfortunate comment of which the words ‘wallpaper paste’ alone were discernible.
Can I say it? It made me . . . crabby.
Let me get the turpentine to thin it out crabby.
After that, when the smell of roast beef drifted through the air, Husby was the person at the stove, making the gravy.
It has become a family tradition.
And his gravy is legendary.
He doesn’t flaunt his superiority.
Okay, maybe he does.
A little.
But it’s well-deserved.
Isn’t it amazing when traditions are started for the sole purpose of not endangering lives?
His.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Child of the Country

Today, in honour of the 29th anniversary of my 29th birthday, my favourite story:

Me. (Missing from the photo: the Chicken)
Harvest.
A mellow time.
A time to catch one’s breath and simply appreciate the bounty and euphoria of the season.
When the tireless efforts of every farmer in Alberta culminates finally in the production of golden streams of wheat, barley, canola and corn. Truckloads of peas, potatoes and sugar beets.
When sheds and storage buildings are full of the warm, sweet smell of new-mown hay and grasses, carefully dried.
On the Stringam Ranch, we, too had our harvest.
There was the bounty of endless (and I do mean endless, but that is another story) rows of garden produce to be brought in. Carrots, peas, beans, corn, turnips, potatoes, parsnips, beets, cucumbers. And many other things that a four-year-old simply couldn't name, though they did taste good.
Oh, and chickens.
Chickens?
The slaughtering of the chickens on the Ranch was a huge production. I can picture even now the great tubs of scalding hot water to loosen the feathers. The teams of choppers, pickers, and . . . innards removers. Everyone with a sharp knife or axe. Or with rubber-gloved hands working in the scalding water.
It was every parent’s dream for their small child.
Not.
But there I was. Bouncing from group to group. Being forcibly removed from the more dangerous situations.
Slowly getting covered in feathers.
Most probably looking like a large chicken myself.
When some of the more stringent voices hollering at me to keep away had finally effected obedience, and my initial fascination with viewing the death throes of the chickens had worn off, I was at a loose end.
Not a good thing for a four-year-old.
Mischief happens.
Not my fault.
The bodies of the chickens were systematically hauled away, so a closer study of them had proven impossible, but the heads . . .! Those were still there, lying forgotten near the chopping stump. They were piling up, obviously needing to be disposed of.
Please remember – I was a child of the Country.
Capital ‘C’.
One by one, I began picking them up and throwing them, unceremoniously, into the river, only a few feet away.
Hmmm. This was fun!
They would bob for a few seconds, then sink into the milky depths, perhaps to be eaten by some unseen fish, or maybe one of the monsters that our dog, Mike, was sure lived there.
I found a paint can lid. Great! Now I could throw the heads out four at a time. Much more efficient.
For some time, this obviously essential errand kept me occupied – to the vast relief of those who mistakenly thought they had more important jobs. I would collect the heads on my little ‘plate’, walk over to the river and . . . give them the Alberta version of a sea burial.
It was genius.
To a four-year-old.
Then the fateful, life altering event. I picked up a head, deposited it on my plate . . .
AND. THE. BEAK. OPENED!
No word of a lie. It opened! It was possessed! It was going to get me!
Straight into the air, the plate went.
By the time it and its contents had hit the ground, I was already halfway to the house screaming, and I quote, “THE CHICKEN HEAD! THE CHICKEN HEAD!”
Not very inventive, true, but effective.
It stopped the entire production line for several seconds. Mostly, I admit, so the people could laugh, but why haggle over details?
Mom consoled me, between chuckles, and all was smoothed over.
Except for one thing. From then on, I was afraid of chickens. I learned to wrestle 2000 pound bulls without turning a hair, but tell me to collect eggs from under a 3 pound pile of feathers and I was a quivering mass of . . . something soggy and cowardly.
My family still laughs.
There is an addendum to all of this. When my husband and I were on our honeymoon, we decided to make a day trip to the Calgary Zoo.
Fun!
There was a display of emus. And a machine that dispensed grain to feed them.
Put in a quarter, get a handful of feed. All went well to that point. I approached the emu with my little handful of grain.
It moved closer.
I moved closer.
It looked over the fence.
I looked at it.
Its beak opened.
And my new husband was suddenly staring at the handful of grain that magically appeared in his hand.
I was halfway to the car screaming . . .
You get the picture.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tradition. Tradition.

Made ya look . . .
She was home alone on a Friday night?
This woman with five kids, one husband, and a very limited budget?
How could this be?!
Therein hangs a tale/tradition . . .
I’m sure most of you have heard of the giant Costco store chain.
Well, perhaps you didn’t know that Costco is famous, not only for quality merchandise, but for handing out said merchandise.
One bite at a time.
It’s true.
You can wander through the acres and acres of store, perusing the shelves - piled, quite literally, to the rafters - and on nearly every ‘street’ corner, encounter someone in a red uniform, cutie hairnet and gloves, handing out sweet little tastes of deliciousness.
In a white, paper cup.
Okay, so I admit that not everything is deliciousness.
The person handing out the pickled asparagus usually only has one person in line.
Me.
Moving on . . .
You can shop - and graze - to your heart’s content.
And in under an hour, your tummy and shopping basket are comfortably full.
So back to my friend, blissfully home alone in a quiet house on a Friday night . . .
How did she do it?
Her husband, may his name be praised, loaded their five children into the car every Friday night and carted them all off to Costco.
Their budget didn’t allow for much shopping.
But the kids had the time of their lives sampling the wares.
One each.
Everyone had a blast and the whole outing was, in a word, economical.
And he’d been doing this nearly every Friday since the first was born!
Genius.
Trust me, it isn’t easy to find outings for large families that don’t break the bank.
(Our brood and the West Edmonton Mall Waterpark have a history.)
Ingenuity, opportunity and the desperation of a flat pocketbook all combined to create a fun family evening.
That’s how traditions are started.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Newly-Weds

Another of my Dad's favourite stories.
And, who knows . . . maybe it happened . . .?


Newly-Weds

They’d been married one week, plus a day,
Sylvester and his good wife, May.
And May thought she should mark the date,
With something special for her mate.

A chicken dinner was her plan
She dug out pot and frying pan,
Consulted her mom’s recipes,
For gastronomic ecstasies.

All afternoon, she cooked and stirred,
By her love for her Sylvester, spurred,
At last she had the table set,
With goodies from her kitchenette.

She heard his step upon the stair,
And quickly pulled him to his chair,
He saw the things that she had done
And gently hugged his Honey-bun.

They ate enthusiastically,
Of fluffy spuds and buttered peas,
And other dishes by the score,
Each one, another to adore.

But when the crowning dish arrived,
So very prettily contrived,
He carved, and laid the pieces down,
And poured out fine, rich gravy; brown.

Then the anticipated taste,
And, suddenly, his smile displaced.
“My dear,” he said, with quite a sniff,
“What did you stuff the chicken with?”

She smiled upon him brilliantly,
Then sighed and answered blissfully,
“That part, I didn’t have to follow,
For the chicken wasn’t hollow!”


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Big Brother

Yesterday was my brother, George's, 60th birthday.
This needs commemorating!

Then
My big brother, George, and I are two years and four days apart.
When I was born, he wasn't quite ready to have a younger sibling. But, eventually, he accepted me.
It only took fourteen years for us to become best friends.
In our early days, George and I mostly avoided one another. Whenever we tried to play together, we inevitably ended up fighting. Usually the fights were over who started the fights, but why quibble over details?
Fortunately, living on the ranch, there were numerous other opportunities for mischief than playing with siblings.
George had his things mechanical, I had horses.
It was a perfect world.
* * *
When I turned twelve, the magical world of 4-H opened up before me. Finally, I, too, could belong to that tantalizingly exclusive club that my older sister and brothers all enjoyed. I, too could choose a calf and raise it for a year. And go on tours. And calf-club meetings.
Life just didn't get any better.
Dad brought in a group of weanling calves for us to choose from. I instantly decided on the little red-and white-one. No, that little red-and-white one. There. The one next to the other little red-and-white one.
Okay, so they were all red-and-white.
I finally made my choice and my calf, along with my siblings' calves, was shut into a special pen.
For the first day, I was ecstatic. I couldn't stop looking at my calf. He was perfect! He was going to be a champion.
He was mine!
I watched as George hauled feed into the pen, both morning and evening.
This was exciting! This was fun!
He offered to let me carry the pail.
This was . . . work!
And I think that was the last time, ever, that I fed my own calf.
If it weren't for steady, reliable George, all of my 4-H calves would have starved to death.
And, oddly enough, he never complained.
* * *
Fourteen! I was finally able to attend my first dance!
George drove us there.
I think I danced twice. (One was 'Hey Jude', the customary and interminable last song, which one would inevitably end up dancing with someone who smelled funny.)
After the dance, George and I stayed in the kitchen and talked until four am.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
After that, we spent hours every day, just talking. Movies, books, friends, dates, music. The topics were endless and interesting.
And fun.
We never seemed to run out of things to discuss.
Which of my girlfriends had a crush on him this week.
School. (Miss Mueller, my English teacher loved my brother, but hated me. Go figure . . .)
Dating. When I turned 16, this was a new and wondrous world for me. George guided me through some of the pitfalls and heartbreaks. Once, when my date abandoned me for another girl at a dance, George provided a ride home. And a shoulder.
He got me through.
* * *
In his twenties, George decided to travel down another road. In black leather, long hair and a beard. And on a Harley.
Still then
He was still my beloved brother. Just a bit . . . scarier to look at.
Once when he was coming for a promised visit, my second son Erik, then six, waited up to greet him. When this long-haired man appeared, Erik took one look and fled down the stairs to his bed.
It was very shortly afterwards that George asked me to give him a haircut.
And not long after that when he decided that he needed to settle down.
For many years, he had struggled with relationships and church attendance/standards. Then, just before he turned 50, he made some needed changes.
And then he met Mikenzie.
She, too had experienced hardships in her life. But, like George, she was ready for something . . . eternal.
I was a witness as the two of them, dressed in white, knelt at the altar and gave their vows to each other. And to God.
I couldn't help but think of my former long-haired, black-leather-clad brother as he took his new wife into his arms and kissed her.
And accepted her daughter as his own.
Forever.
Today, as always, George is busy, organized, and frightfully clean.
But perhaps for the first time in his life, he is buoyantly happy.
And that makes me happy.
Happy 60th, big brother.

Now, with Mikenzie

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