Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, December 7, 2013

Christmas Bear


It was Christmas.
The time of magic.
Wonderment.
And gift-giving.
For a single mom with two little girls, an income sufficient for the necessities and little else, it was a time to get creative.
And Pinterest hadn't been invented yet.
She desperately wanted to give something to the family who cared for her two girls, but what could she afford?
She saw some little clay ornaments in a magazine.
Perfect! She and her girls would make a set of those.
They spent several evenings mixing.
Rolling.
Assembling.
Baking.
Painting.
And detailing.
Six little Christmas bears emerged.
Perfect and beautiful.
They were wrapped and presented.
And very, very much appreciated.
Move forward a few years . . .
Those same Christmas bears were the Tolley family favourite.
A reminder of the precious years when we welcomed two little girls and their lonely single mother into our family.
They were the first things out of the box when we decorated our Christmas tree.
And always handled with care.
Until that Christmas.
Let me tell you about it . . .
Our family had welcomed in two little special needs foster children.
A brother and sister.
Both had come from . . . difficult circumstances.
Christmas was something that had been observed only from a distance.
They were enthralled with everything.
The gifts.
The lights.
The baking.
The tree.
Especially the tree.
Four-year-old Little Girl spent hours looking at that tree.
And when looking wasn't sufficient, she would pull the decorations off.
Systematically tasting each one.
Most were inedible.
But the little salt-clay Christmas bears, that so closely resembled cookies, could, with just a little effort, be eaten.
She did so.
I caught her at it.
“No! Those aren't for eating!”
I took them away and tried to instruct and advise.
Then moved them up, out of reach.
But when I was downstairs doing laundry, she got into them again.
By climbing the tree.
And knocking it over.
A few minutes later, I sadly rescued what was rescue-able.
It wasn't much.
Only scattered, semi-chewed pieces remained.
One precious bear remained intact enough to still hang on the tree.
It hangs there today.
Minus both ears, it 'bears' the scars of its trauma.
Our little foster daughter has grown and gone.
The single mom is married with two more girls - most, themselves married with children of their own.
One, lone bear hangs every year with the other decorations on our tree.
But it isn't just a bear.
It's memories . . .

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Best of Days

Enjoy it now. It'll be gone tomorrow!
In southern Alberta, where I was raised, snow seldom stayed very long.
Even though it was winter.
Oh, it snowed.
Sometimes a lot.
But then the famous Chinook would blow through, drastically raising temperatures.
And melting said snow.
Let’s face it. When the temperature goes from ten degrees below freezing to twenty degrees above, snow disappears fast.
In a few hours, any accumulation would be limited to the ditches and snowbanks.
So when it snowed, and if one wanted to enjoy it, one had to move quickly.
Just FYI.
On with my story . . .
Someone was out in the yard.
Hollering.
I looked out the window onto a scene of glistening white.
And my oldest brother, Jerry, holding the family toboggan.
Squealing (and I do mean squealing) with delight, I donned snow pants, parka, boots, mittens, scarf and toque (it's a Canadian thing).
Remember what I said about the snow lasting a short time?
I donned them quickly.
In no time I was out with my brother.
All of our siblings joined us.
Well, all but tiny, month-old, elfin baby, Anita.
She wasn't coming.
Because.
Jerry sat our youngest brother, Blair, on the toboggan, then turned and started pulling the sled towards the river.
The Stringam ranch proper had been built in a bend of the south fork of the Milk River. Any sled-able hills were on the opposite bank.
We trudged along behind Jerry and his sled across the frozen river to the hills opposite.
Then, for the next couple of hours, we towed up and dashed down.
The older kids choosing the steep slopes.
The younger crew sticking with the gentle-er.
Our shouts and screams of sheer happiness echoing across the wide, open prairie.
Finally, it was time to head home.
Dusk comes quickly, even in Southern Alberta and, trust me, you really don't want to try to walk home in the dark.
We crossed the river once more and climbed the hill to the house.
To be greeted by the warm, aromatic smell of . . . baking.
In the entryway, we peeled off layer after layer, laughing excitedly and telling Mom about our adventure.
She just smiled and nodded.
Then surprised us with warm spudnuts (doughnuts made with mashed potatoes in the batter. Yum…) fresh from the oven, and gallons of hot chocolate.
Sigh.
The very best of days.

Delores of Under the Porch Light issues a challenge once a week. USE THESE SIX WORDS IN SOMETHING. OR DIE. 
Okay I made up that 'die' part. But the rest is true.
This week's words were:  surprisearomaticelfintoboggansteep and dashing
How did I do?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Wiping in Canada, Eh?

A repost of my favourite Christmas shopping story.
Because I'm still sick.
Sigh . . .
Red Mittens - not just for hands any more!
We were shopping.
I will admit, here, that shopping is not my favourite activity.
I need a really good excuse.
It was Christmas.
Okay, Christmas is a really good excuse . . .
My youngest two children and I were out to find a gift for Grant.
Their Dad, my Sweetheart.
The hardest person to shop for.
After much wrinkle-browed thought, we had decided that whatever we were seeking would best be found at Lee Valley Tools.
My husband's favourite place on earth.
Really.
It is a long-standing family joke that he must go once a month to LVT to pay homage to Thor, the Tool God.
But I digress . . .
We set out.
It was December.
Winter.
In Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, winter equals snow.
Ask anyone.
But avoid those with chattering teeth.
Th-th-they c-c-c-can n-n-n-never be t-t-t-trusted.
Or understood.
Where was I?
Oh, yes. Winter. Shopping. Setting out.
At first, things went well.
A heavy, wet snow was falling thickly, but the window wipers were managing to keep the windshield clear – sort of.
We made it into the city.
And immediately slowed to a snail's pace.
Let me describe the scene for those of you not familiar with travel accompanied by snow: All roads are now white. And slippery. All surfaces have become heavily coated in ice. Nothing is recognizable. Little is even visible.
The windshield wipers are your best, and only, friends.
But even they, too, get clogged with snow and need the occasional boost.
This is accomplished by stopping. Getting out of the vehicle. And slapping said wiper against the window hard enough to remove any accumulated snow.
Or, if you are my husband, by opening the driver's window and catching the wiper when it is in its furthest upright position and giving it a quick snap while it is still in motion.
It's all about timing.
And coordination.
Neither of which I have.
And both of which were to be needed shortly.
Several times, I pulled out of the crawling traffic and performed the necessary operation to clear the windshield.
Then waited for a break in the traffic and pulled back in.
Total time wasted? Hours.
Okay, well, it seemed like hours.
There must be a better way.
I would try Grant's method!
Genius!
When the traffic had stopped for yet another light, or stalled vehicle, I quickly rolled down the window. Then I reached out.
I waited for just the right moment, when the wipers were at their apex (neat word, right?)
Closer. Closer.
There!
I reached out and caught the top of the wiper.
Snap!
Okay, that didn't sound good.
As the wipers began their downward stroke, I realized what I had done.
The blade was still in my hand.
I had snapped the entire thing off it's arm.
Umm . . . oops?
The window quickly became covered in a blanket of white.
Well, half of it at any rate.
Unfortunately, it was the driver's half.
Rather necessary if you want to see where you are going.
And usually, the driver does.
Something needed to be done.
And there was no one but me to do it.
Rats!
Quickly, I climbed out and switched my only remaining wiper blade to the driver's side.
Okay. Now I could see.
That's important.
But now, the other side of the windshield was suffering from the lack of wiper-age.
Hmm.
I looked around.
Our options were . . . limited.
“What about this?” My daughter's voice from the back seat.
She was holding up her red mitten.
I stared at it.
Huh. Might work.
I took it and, climbing out into the storm once more, proceeded to tie it to the other wiper arm.
There.
Perfect.
We switched on the wipers.
Wipe.
Wipe.
It worked!
Now we had a wiper and a . . . mitten.
I don't have to tell you how it looked.
In point of fact, we giggled every time that mitten came into sight.
We finished our trip.
Shopping done. Purchases made.
Van safely parked back on the driveway.
And Grant replaced the wiper that had so inconveniently decided to come off.
Stupid thing.
The wiper, not Grant.
I learned several things from this:
1. Don't shop.
2. Don't drive.
3. Don't live in Canada
4. Don't go anywhere without your red mittens.
Okay, you're right. I didn't learn anything because:
1. I still shop.
2. I still drive.
3. I still live in Canada.
Pack your mittens!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Envying Kris Kringle

A guest post by Grant Tolley

 For all of our married life, my Beloved’s and my favourite Christmas story (other than the one in the Book of Luke) has been the movie Miracle on 34th Street (the original – we haven’t quite brought ourselves to see the recent version).  A perfect story, perfectly written and superbly presented on-screen by perfectly-cast actors and actresses.  I think we have worn out three or four different copies of the movie. I know that the story and character of Kris Kringle inspired Diane to write her two stories about Kris which have been published as novels (see the sidebar to this column if you haven’t noticed them before.  The third story in the trilogy is in pre-publication.  Read them.  I promise you won’t be sorry).

I myself have always identified with the Kris Kringle character, for some reason.  I have always been in awe of the perfect love that Kris held for everyone he met, but in particular for the kids.

All of this led me several years ago to ask my Beloved Diane – superb seamstress that she is – if she would make me a ‘really nice’ Santa Clause suit and herself a Mrs. Santa dress, so that we could be Santa and Mrs. Santa at Christmas.  I think I envied Kris Kringle.  I wanted to experience what Kris experienced in the movie when he so joyously put those children, totally unknown to him (but then again maybe not), on his knee in Macy’s Department Store and talked and sang with them, and hugged and loved them.

So, my Beloved complied and created the outfits you see above.  (She didn’t sew Little Bug, one of our 8 precious grand-daughters, but we both had an indirect hand in putting her together too.)  I told you she was talented, no? And some years ago, we began going out and about, visiting families and church halls and office parties and hotel ballrooms, as Santa and Mrs. Santa.

I thought I would share with you some special experiences that I feel we have stolen from Kris Kringle. I could write a book.  Literally.  But I will resist, in favour of reporting a few things that happened last weekend as Mrs. Santa and I went out in our 1979 Buick sleigh, into the delightful Christmas world.

I am in the habit of lifting the kids and putting them on whichever of my knees is aching the least that particular day.  I ask their names, their ages, about their school-work, their home, families, whether they fight with their siblings, and inquire about their love for their parents.  Eventually I get to: “What would you like for Christmas?”

Now you can probably imagine the wide range of answers that Santa gets to that particular question.  Answers have ranged all the way from “I don’t know yet, Santa”, to “a candy-red Lamborghini”, to “a billion dollars”.  Last weekend, a young mother put a precious 5-year-old boy on my knee, Bobby.  Next to Mom was Husband-Dad, on crutches and sporting a large cast on his right leg. “What would you like for Christmas, Bobby?”  “I want my Dad’s leg to get better.” Some inquiries indicated that Dad had been badly injured in a work accident.  While I was trying to swallow the lump in my throat, Bobby continued.  “So he can wrestle with me some more.”  Two lumps later, Santa did his best to grant Bobby’s wish with guarantees of good doctors and nurses and medicine to help Dad’s leg to heal, and abundant best wishes for good health and many future wrestling matches – which (just whispered between Bobby and me) I guaranteed Bobby would win. I wish I had a picture of Bobby’s smile.

A little later came Ava, a precious 8-year-old.  As I propped her on my knee and inquired about her life in Grade Three, I noticed that she was not very exuberant about much of anything.  “What would you like for Christmas, Ava?”  “I’d like for my Daddy to get better.”  “Is your Daddy not feeling well?” I inquired.  “No,” said Ava, dropping her eyes and her heart. “He’s got cancer.”

Now I know that I paused for a very long time there; I lost count of the number of lumps I swallowed, to try to carry on.  Ava was very forgiving of the long silence, and snuggled into my furry red coat.  I know that I eventually said a few words of encouragement to her, but I don’t really remember what they were.  But what has stuck with me ever since, and will for the rest of my life, is the pure love that emanated from little Ava as she snuggled into my red coat.  In a time and a season where commercialism and self-interest and greed try to overtake us, Ava had thoughts only for someone else.  I learned much in those few moments.  From an 8-year-old.

My Beloved will tell you that I have always been a pushover when it comes to 3-year-old princesses. (Diane was a little older than that when she first pushed me over, but that’s another story).  As I sat in my Santa chair on the weekend, a 3-year-old whose name I have forgotten saw Santa at the other end of the hall.  She literally peeled her coat off and threw it over her shoulder in the general direction of a mother, yelled “Santa!!!” and then sprinted across the room and threw herself into my arms.  I got one of the firmest, warmest, longest, loving-est hugs from a very small someone I did not know, but who knew me.  And loved me. 

I do not envy Kris Kringle any longer.  But I fully intend to keep encroaching on his turf.  He’s got a really good thing going.

Merry Christmas, everyone.  Peace on earth, good will, and love to you all.
From Santa Claus.
And a 3-year-old princess. 



Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Mrs. Santa's Panties

A Guest Post by: Grant Tolley

In recent months I have taken to walking during my lunch hour.
Walking is my favourite form of just plain old exercise. A holdover, I guess, from my Boy Scout days when I always enjoyed hiking in the mountains and following a long trail through the forests and the trees.
But I digress already.
My noon-hour constitutionals take me most days to a shopping plaza that is about 2 ½ kilometres away from my office.
When I get to the plaza, I often visit the bank there.
I usually have to put some money in so that they can keep operating.
Ahem!
When I am not paying penance to the bankers, I sometimes wander through one or more of the commercial establishments.
Now I should say that I am not much of a shopper-for-the-sake-of-shopping. But in recent years – since the marriages of my children and the arrival of an increasing gaggle of grand-kids – I have taken to just wandering through stores, casually watching for a bargain on something that one or the other of them would like or could put to good use.
So I buy it, and salt it away in my joint-occupancy-with-my-Beloved closet, which holds most everything except what a closet is normally supposed to hold.
So the other day, I had found a small item or two, which I had cradled in my arms (having being either too short-sighted or just plain stupid enough not to have picked up a shopping basket) – and I headed to the cash register.
Now you must understand that this was the first really cold day of our winter, so I had on my bulky winter jacket, accompanied by dis-en-handed gloves which I held in one hand, holding the several items I needed to pay for, and then trying to fish my wallet out of a pants pocket that just happened to be underneath all of the above, and encumbered further by a set of keys and a blackberry, all not-so-neatly crammed into the same pocket.
I don’t have a clue who the idiot was who put all that stuff in there.
Needless to say, standing at the cash register, I was delayed somewhat on my wallet-fishing expedition, which held up the line of people behind me.
One of my own pet peeves! People who wait in line for 20 minutes to pay for their purchases, then wait until the cashier says “Twenty-eight dollars and two cents, please”, before they even start looking for their wallet or opening their purse.
And then inevitably not finding it.
Especially in a purse – in my Beloved’s purse, her cheque-book usually ends up hiding right underneath the kitchen sink.
But I digress again . . . .
I am sometimes annoyed by those persons – and now I find that I are one!
Begorrah!
A woman behind me starts talking.
To me.
I keep fishing, more hurriedly, figuring that she is like me, and I am annoying her by delaying the line. I drop my gloves.
I stoop to pick them up – and drop one of my purchases out of my arms.
The woman laughs.
Laughs!
At me!
And keeps talking.
I’m not hearing much of what she says, because my eyes are on the floor – not literally, but almost -- and my ears can’t seem to work at the same time that my eyes do under duress.
I toss my gloves onto the counter, stoop to pick up the dropped item – oops, make that now “items” -- which I quickly scoop up and throw onto the counter.
Whereupon one skids to the other side of the counter and falls, again, at the feet of the cashier.
“I’m sorry,” I say generally, hoping to include both the cashier and chattering Mom-like lady behind me.
And then I notice: Chattering Mom-Lady is smiling -- and still laughing!
And then, with my eyes back in their sockets, I stop to listen.
Amidst chuckles, Mom-Lady is saying to me, “Don’t you just hate it when that happens! Every time I get into a rush, that happens! Why it happened to me just the other day, and I bent over to pick up the new underwear . . . . “
My mind starts racing . . . . Is this going to be one of those way-too-much-information-from-a-total-stranger type of stories?
“. . . and when I finally bent my back upright again – that floor is a looong ways down there, these days . . . ." – she points to her rumpled grey hair doing its best to escape from underneath a too-small-for-so-much-hair, Canadian-flag touque -- “I turned to the guy behind me and tried to give him the panties that I had just picked up off the floor, and I told him, 'You dropped your boxers, Sonny!' And he just about fell over laughing!”
I smile, as a jolly guffaw that reminds me of one of Santa Claus’ rolling belly-laughs rises up through Mom-Lady and shines out through her face.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” I mutter in an attempt at an apology.
“Oh my heavens!” says Mom-Lady, to me and the world in general. “I'm not in any hurry, Son! You just take your time.”
Fifty-nine years old, and she calls me “son”.
“Thanks,” I mutter again. “You’re very patient.”
By this time I have successfully completed my fishing expedition, the cashier has completed the transaction, and I am attempting to put on my gloves and retrieve all my shopping bags. There is one left on the cashier’s counter that I don’t quite know how I'm going to retrieve.
“Can I help you there?” Mom-Lady queries.
Having only two fingers left on which a shopping bag could be hung, I turn to Mom-Lady and, pointing with my last two fingers at the last bag on the counter, say to her, “Would you mind handing me my panties there?”
Mom-Lady guffaws, long and loud. I'm afraid we might have to call 9-1-1.
The cashier is laughing. As are two or three people in the line-up behind us.
Between rumbles of laughter, Mom-Lady hooks the last bag on my last two fingers, and says: “You have a great Christmas, son.”
Son. She called me “son”, and she couldn’t have been more than 5 years older than me. My hair was just as grey as hers. And even more rumpled.
“And you too, Mom” I reply through my smile.
As I think about Mom-Lady on my walk back to my office – arms loaded with shopping bags, for 2 ½ kilometres – I think, what a genuine human being! What a wonderful person!
Where so many others might have been consumed by Queue Rage – or Road Rage – or Airplane Rage, or so many other of the non-existent syndromes that we have invented as an excuse to be rude and impolite and impatient and unkind – how very nice it is to encounter whom and what I regard as a genuine, true, Gentle-Woman.
Might Santa Claus bring us many more – this year and every year.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Bow City Spectacle (A Short Story) Conclusion

I'm getting into Christmas.
And what better way than a repost of one of my Christmas Short Stories?!
If you missed Part One, you can go here
Part Two is here.
And Part Three here.

Don't worry. You won't miss anything . . .

Conclusion.

For the next several weeks, the town was abuzz with talk from both Jenna Grace's camp and from F. Roddy's.
Floats were being assembled in nearly every available garage.
Both town bands, the high school marching and the veteran's brass were rehearsing nightly.
Not one, but two Town Sweetheart contests were held. (The town's one hair dresser worked straight out for two days solid, finally collapsing into her own wash chair after completing Mrs. Jasper's elaborate upsweep.)
And, strangely, two Santa's had been engaged. Sleighs, reindeer and all.
Colorful posters from F. Roddy's group began to appear, proclaiming the date and route of the much-anticipated parade.But before anyone could read them, they were quietly replaced by posters from Jenna Grace's camp.Which were subsequently torn down and replaced themselves.
This went on until the very day of the parade.
But, as the date and time were consistent in both, the general populace didn't really take much notice of the details, other than that the route would, at some time or other, follow main street.Thus it was with great anticipation, that the entire town, or at least those few who were not actually in the parade, lined the single main street on the chosen date.
The day was perfect.
Snow had fallen, but only enough to provide a white backdrop to the festivities.
The air was crisp, not too cold, but just enough to put a snap into the air and tint cheeks and noses pink.
The hot chocolate vendor in front of the city hall was doing a brisk business, as was the hot cider man across the street in front of the pool hall.
The smell of freshly-roasted nuts and popcorn filled the air and made smiling mouths water.
There was much talk and laughter and jostling for position.
Finally, the sound of drums.
Everyone stilled and necks craned as people tried to catch the first glimpse of the marching bands which would lead the way.
"They're coming from that way!" Mayor Mayor shouted, pointing to the north.
"No, I think I can hear them coming from this way," Kevin Rhymes said, pointing in the opposite direction.People strained first one direction, then the other.
Surely the music was coming from both directions?
Sudden movement.Ah. There, led by F. Roddy Digby enthusiastically swinging a long, gold Marshal's pole, were the town veterans, their brass instruments gleaming in the noon sun, as they blared out their own version of 'Jingle Bells'.Behind them, colorful floats and decorated bicycles.
Wait. There was more music.
Different music.Peoples' heads spun back as the High School marching band came into sight.
From the opposite direction.
Led by a smiling Jenna Grace Chappell, waving her own shining symbol of authority, and stepping smartly to the strains of 'Here Comes Santa Claus', they quickly closed the gap that separated the two bands.
Two bands?
Two parades!
The people clapped and cheered.
This was the best parade ever!
For a moment, anyway.
When the two groups were no more than twenty feet apart, Jenna Grace and F. Roddy suddenly came to a stop.Facing each other.
In the very center of main street.
Each parade came to a halt behind them, stepping smartly in place as the bands continued their respective musical selections.
Narrow-eyed, Jenna Grace and F. Roddy glared at each other, still continuing to beat to the music with their Marshall's poles.
Then F. Roddy raised his eyebrows. "What are you going to do now, Chappell?" he shouted, grinning.
Jenna Grace's eyes flared and, without warning, she swung her Marshal's pole like a baseball bat.
F. Roddy let his pole slide through his fingers and turned to meet the blow.
A hollow 'clang' rang out over the combined music of both orchestras.
It acted like a signal.
Still marching in place, the bands immediately increased their volume, attempting to drown out their opposition.
The two Marshals in the center were doing a lively dance, swinging and ducking as they alternately tried to hit their opponent and avoid the other's pole.The cacophony of sound increased.Brasses versus brasses, drums against drums, and over it all, the hollow 'crash' and 'clang' of the two Marshal's poles.
The respective songs ended.
One of the tuba players collapsed against his fellows as he blasted out one final note.
There was a moment of comparative silence as each group drew breath to begin again.Only the rat-tat-tat of the snare drums continued, along with the occasional sound of Marshal's pole meeting Marshal's pole and the grunt of the two protagonists.
Suddenly, Jenna Grace's pole found its way through F. Roddy's defense and hit him squarely in the solar plexus.
F. Roddy went down like a sack of potatoes.
But as he went, he lost his grip on his pole and it fell with evil precision, hitting the top of Jenna Grace's head, who summarily joined him on the pavement.At that moment, a lone trumpeter began to play 'Let There be Peace on Earth'.
The rest of his orchestra took up the tune.
Then the players from the opposite group joined in.For the first time, real music drifted from the assembled musicians.
Then the trumpets in the front row of the Veteran's band glanced towards the side street open before all of them and looked back at their fellows in the other orchestra.The front row trumpets of the High School band nodded and both groups turned, as one, and started down this new path.Soon the rest of the two parades were following (adroitly avoiding their two erstwhile leaders now sitting up dazedly on the hard pavement), and weaving together to form one giant procession.
The assembled townspeople followed, clapping and laughing and also pointedly stepping around the two on the ground.Finally, Jenna Grace Chappell and F. Rodney Digby were alone in an empty street.They stared at each other.
Finally, F. Roddy reached for his much abused Marshall's pole. He stared at it for a moment, then sighed softly and struggled to his feet. "May I assist you?" he said."Yes. Please," Jenna Grace replied, reaching for her own battered pole.
F. Roddy reached out a hand and helped her up.
The two of them walked shakily over to the curb and sat down.
For several seconds they remianed there, listening to the fading music.
"So, where did we go wrong?" F. Roddy said.
"I don't know," Jenna Grace replied. "But we did go wrong. Somewhere."
Again, they were silent.
"Care for a cup of hot chocolate?" F. Roddy asked.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bow City Spectacle (A Short Story) Part Three

I'm getting into Christmas.
And what better way than a repost of one of my Christmas Short Stories?!
If you missed part one, you can go here
Part Two is here.
Go ahead. We'll still be here when you get back . . .

Part Three.

Over tiny chicken sandwiches, the Ladies Aid discussed the certain disaster that was to befall their tiny town on December 3.
Mrs. Jasper got so animated that she spilled her tea.
Right into Mrs. Wayan's lap.
A portent of things to come . . .


The first meeting of the Christmas parade committee was held on October 13.
Chairs had been set up in a non-committal and unbiased circle in the center of the high school gym.
Jenna Grace and F. Roddy were among the first to arrive.
Pointedly ignoring each other, they took seats at polar opposite sides of the circle.
Then they spent the remaining few minutes alternately ignoring or glaring at the other.
Reba wheeled in a coffee/tea cart and parked it beside a waiting table. She pulled out several pans of bars and divided her time between slicing and setting out and hovered anxiously over a fat tea kettle.
The room began to fill with chatting, happy people.
They drifted over to the refreshments and filled plates and cups. Then they found seats in the circle.
The two already seated said nothing.
Slowly, the chatter died out and people uncomfortably concentrated on eating and drinking.
Jenna Grace cleared her throat. "Well, now that we have finished with the 'party' part of the meeting, maybe we can get down to business."
"Exactly what I was going to say," F. Roddy said. "If you hadn't ignored decorum and jumped in."
"Decorum?" Jenna Grace's eyebrows went up. "I just thought someone with a brain should take charge."
"And you just assumed that could be you?" F. Roddy looked at his fingernails.
Jenna Grace puffed up like a toad. "What are you saying, Froddy?" she said. "That you should be in charge?"
"Well you got something right," F. Roddy said, ignoring her mocking use of his name.
The crowd had gone completely silent by this time and were watching the two carefully, their heads swiveling back and forth from one to the other.
Jenna Grace calmed herself with obvious effort. "I think we should put the person in charge who has already proved their leadership skills," she said, smoothing one hand over her immaculate hair.
Jenna Grace always wore her grey-streaked hair scraped tightly into a bun at the back of her head. The thought of even one lock escaping was unthinkable.
"And just what have you organized?" F. Roddy demanded. "I know they were looking for someone to run the cock-fighting out at Cowells. Is it your fine hand we see in that?"
Jenna Grace puffed up again. "How dare you!" she hissed.
"Oh. Sorry. Was there something else?"
"You know dam - darn well, Froddy, that I've organized and directed the Ice Cream Festival for the past eight years!" she shouted.
"Maybe one day there'll be actual ice cream there," F. Roddy said.
Jenna Grace surged to her feet. "I refuse to sit here and be insulted!" she said, and turning smartly, marched towards the door.
"Good. Now you can go somewhere else to be insulted," F. Roddy said.
A sharp "Harrumph" was his only response.
The door banged shut.
"Well, now maybe we can get down to business," F. Roddy said.
An uncomfortable silence met him.
"People?"
"I'm sorry, F. Roddy," Dennis said, getting to his feet. "I agreed to work with Jenna Grace and I'd better honor that."
F. Roddy nodded. "Anyone else?"
Several other people stood up and followed Dennis out the door.
"Well, that's that," F. Roddy said. "Now shall we get down to work?"
Surprisingly, they managed to plan the basic framework for the entire celebration.
"See what you can accomplish when you have the right people?" F. Roddy asked.
Meanwhile, Jenna Grace had circled her wagons on the far side of town.
"Well," she said, tapping several sheets of paper together. "I think that's enough for our first evening. You have all been remarkably efficient and cooperative. Our basic plan is complete. Now all that's left is to flesh it out."



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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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