Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Great Jam Test

Mmmmm. 

Sweet, tasty stickiness.
It categorizes you.
Marks your place in the family.
Even decides if you will be granted admission to the family.
It provides delicious accompaniment to your breakfast, and, at times, other meals during the day. (Members of my family eat it the Swedish way, with grilled cheese. Ick!)
It is yummy, and, if not eaten in copious (Ooo, good word!) quantities, is even very good for you.
I'm talking about jam.
Tasty, sticky, always lands toast-side-up. Jam.
More particularly, strawberry vs. raspberry.
It is the family 'Maginot Line'.
You can be on one side or the other.
Both of which are tasty.
Or so I'm made to understand.
But wander over to the other side only in times of dire necessity, like when your server has run out of packets.
My Husby and I realized very early in our marriage that we needed to have a jar of each on the breakfast table.
His - strawberry. Mine - delicious.
Oops.
I mean - raspberry.
And, as our kids grew, they learned to take sides.
Mine.
Except for our second son, who is Switzerland.
And prefers apple jelly.
We don't talk about him.
Moving on . . .
Once the lines were duly drawn in the family nucleus, it was time to start challenging prospective additions [i.e. fiancé(e)s] to declare their preference.
I should point out here that it is a grueling test.
The nervous neophyte is seated at the breakfast table. The two jars are brought forward. The family waits, breathlessly.
And I do mean breathlessly.
If anyone takes their time making a choice, family members have been know to pass out cold.
I won't tell you what we do to them while unconscious.
Teeheehee.
But I digress . . .
The prospective member of the family makes a choice.
And my side cheers.
It's true.
Every single one has chosen raspberry.
Until our last son-in-law.
Who chose . . . poorly.
I maintain that he was coached.
Money might even have changed hands.
So the score now stands at : strawberry - two, raspberry - 10.
And one son who will not be mentioned.
Now for the next generation.
Our eldest grandchildren are ready.
Time to make a choice . . .

Friday, February 14, 2014

Accidents With Dad. Part 2

Dad’s talking.
I’m listening . . .

Every. Square. Foot.
The annual production sale at the Stringam ranch was the highlight of our year.
It’s when we had the most visitors.
The most traffic.
The most income.
And the most work. Both before and after.
Before, we had the cattle and the ranch to prepare and beautify.
After, we had the deliveries.
Our family hauled cattle to nearly every square foot of North America.
Every. Square. Foot.
It was a slow, exacting task.
Driving the length and breadth of this continent in a truck, hauling a boatload of bawling cattle. Mapping out places to stop each night so the animals could be released, fed and watered.
Then loading them up the next morning to continue the journey.
Yep. Slow and exacting.
And it wasn’t without its own adventures.
Due to oversight, wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time, misfortune.
Stupidity.
Or all of the above.
Let me tell you about it . . .
Mom and Dad were trucking cattle through Alberta.
They had only been on the road a few hours.
And were, ironically enough, just passing an auction market where a cattle sale was ongoing.
A truck pulled out.
Pickup. With the tailgate down.
This will become significant . . .
Spotting the slow-moving vehicle, Dad pulled into the other lane to give it a wide berth.
For several seconds, the two of them occupied close quarters.
Dad and his heavy rig in one lane.
The man and his pickup in the other.
Then, suddenly, inexplicably, the pickup decided to pull over.
Directly in front of Dad.
The collision was immediate.
And inevitable.
Remember when I mentioned the pickup’s tailgate?
Well, that comes into play here.
Dad hit that tailgate going sixty miles per hour.
Both vehicles jammed to a halt.
Then the drivers, both unharmed, got out to inspect the damage.
The grill of Dad’s truck had been caved in, rupturing the radiator and radically displacing the fan and other important features.
Interestingly enough, though, the gate had slid with surgical precision between the headlights and the running lights of the truck, leaving all four intact.
So the front of the truck had been crushed.
But without cracking a single light.
Okay, well, it was interesting to us . . .
Dad scratched his head and looked at the driver of the pickup. “Why did you pull over in front of me?” he asked.
“Oh, I was sure you could stop,” was the reply.
Dad blinked.
The man repeated the statement to his insurance company.
Who also blinked.
And paid.
Dad’s been involved in two automobile accidents in his life.
Both resulting in considerable vehicular damage.
And neither of which was his fault.
I wish I could say the same about me.
Sigh.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Accidents with Dad. Part 1

More stories with Dad.
Today: his first automobile accident . . .

See?
It seemed like a good idea.
Movie night in town.
A bit romantic.
A bit relaxing.
And a much-needed break from two tiny children.
Mom and Dad piled into the car and headed out.
Unbeknownst (Ooo! Good word!) to them their neighbour to the west also thought it was a good night for a break. The difference was that she and her friends decided to take their break at the local bar.
And they had begun a bit earlier. In fact, they were taking last call, just as my parents were starting out.
Their two worlds collided, quite literally at the town bridge.
Oh, and you should probably know: DUI hadn't been invented yet.
Milk River, the town, nestles closely to Milk River, the river. On February 28, 1952, there was only one bridge spanning the foaming torrent - okay, the frozen-over, snow-covered mass of ice.
This bridge was sturdy - iron bolted to iron bolted to concrete – and built to withstand all sorts of abuse.
Good thing, too.
There was only one problem. It was a narrow bridge. One car at a time, thank you very much.
Mom and Dad were approaching from the south.
Carlights ahead told them that someone else was approaching from the north.
No problem. Dad slowed his vehicle.
The car opposite did the same.
As Dad was much closer, he took that as a sign that he should continue.
He drove onto the bridge.
Then realized that the car coming toward them, was still coming toward them.
The two of them met at the far side.
And not in a good way.
The driver of the other car, in a warm, invincible glow derived from her time spent with friends at the local bar, decided that, though it had never happened before or since, two cars would fit nicely on the bridge.
She was wrong.
Her car hit the bridge support hard enough to shake up her passengers.
And knock out her own front teeth.
The car then spun around and neatly caved in the side of Mom and Dad’s car.
Dad quickly determined that Mom was uninjured, then jumped out and ran over to the other vehicle.
The driver’s face was swollen and bleeding from her forcible connection with the steering wheel and Dad didn’t even recognize his neighbour. Now panicked, he ran to the theatre a quarter of a mile away to use their phone, quickly calling the police.
Then he ran back.
I should mention, here, that the road across that bridge is a major Canadian route. Part of the Alaska Highway. On a quiet evening in 1952, the fact that it was completely blocked didn’t even raise an eyebrow.
In fact, no one noticed.
Okay, major route is only a subjective term.
Back to my story . . .
Mom and Dad did what they could for the passengers of the other car.
The police arrived and alternately helped and pried.
Finally clearing the road for any possible future travellers.
The passengers received medical care.
And everyone limped home, surprisingly (except for the missing teeth) uninjured.
Mom and Dad missed their movie.
But that was okay.
They were unscathed.
And reality is far more exciting.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rusty, Yellow, Gift Horse

There’s an old saying, ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’.
Now you should know that horses, as they get older, show it mostly in their teeth.
The older the horse, the more outward sloped the teeth.
Umm . . . ick.
I’ll talk more about this later . . .
On with my story.
We once received a gift horse.
Okay, well, it was a yellow Chevette.
But it was a gift.
The car was . . . old.
Rust spots bloomed like a garden.
The doors hardly closed.
Or if they did, hardly stayed closed.
The internal organs alternately belched or squealed.
There was, literally, no back floor on the driver’s side.
And pieces quite frequently dropped off.
Made scraping sounds on the pavement, or detached altogether, only to be run over by the vehicle that had lost them.
Case-in-point: The muffler. It dropped to the ground during an early-morning commute and the car lurched suddenly up on one side as the wheels ran over this former appendage.
The car had one thing going for it. It had a new engine – put there by our good friends, the former owners. Who then made the magnanimous gesture of presenting it to us.
Why did they do such a thing?
Because they had finished school and had made the recent move to newer, or at least less rusty.
Why did we go on driving such a testament to rust?
We were still poor college students with four kids and little means of support.
And needed all the help we could get.
So ‘Ol’ Yellow’ made the daily commute to college with my Husby.
Often, he would sit in traffic, cars around him humming or growling happily.
While his car made its convincing impression of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Without the cuteness.
Or magic.
This went on for a couple of months.
Finally, my Husby neared graduation. He would soon have a Master’s degree under his belt.
It was time to move up a notch on the whole ‘commuter car’ scale.
Time to sell the car.
We weren’t asking much.
Just pay for the ad and the car is yours . . .
No bites.
We tried to give it away.
Still no takers.
Finally, Husby took to leaving it parked at the college with the keys in it, hoping to entice some desperate, or at least near-sighted, student into taking it for a spin.
A long spin.
Nothing.
Oh, come on! Vehicle theft had reached near epidemic proportions on that campus!
Obviously, the students were a bit . . . judicious . . . with their choices. Choosing cars that were . . . road-worthy.
And didn’t stick out like warty, rusty thumbs.
Not the car, but you get the idea . . .
Sigh.
We finally got rid of the car.
Traded it on a push, pull or drag sale.
I think we even got $500.00 on the trade!
So, back to the gift-horse scenario.
And the looking of said horse in the mouth.
In the usual sense, it means that one shouldn’t start to find the faults in a gift.
In our case, we did look.
Saw the new engine. 
And ignored the rust spots and obvious problems.
Which later proved . . .rather important.
My lesson? Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Let the rust and disease put you off right from the beginning.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Ice Cream Idiot

Dad’s been telling stories again . . .

This . . .

Plus this . . .

Plus this . . .

Plus this . . .

And finally, this.

He had just left his newborn daughter and her mother sleeping happily at the hospital.
The newly-minted father stepped out into the sunshine and grinned.
He needed to celebrate.
He stood there for a moment.
Then it hit him. What better way to celebrate then with a dish of ice cream at the Spudnut Shop?
Soon he was standing in the familiar café, studying the menu on the wall.
Hmm . . . he’d always wanted to try the Idiot Sundae.
He took a deep breath and grinned.
Perfect!
He stepped to the counter and placed his order.
“Just take a seat, sir,” the soda jerk said. “We’ll bring it right out.”
He did.
And they did.
Now I should probably mention, here, that the Idiot Sundae was a concoction of twenty large scoops of various flavours of ice cream. With all of the fixings.
All. Of. The. Fixings.
And one spoon.
The . . . platter . . . was brought out.
And slid carefully onto the table in front of him.
Heaven.
Another grin as he picked up the spoon.
And started working his way through the melting mound of deliciousness.
He did well.
One scoop after another disappeared.
Finally, there were only three scoops left.
He stared at them.
Three scoops.
He groaned.
He.
Just.
Couldn’t.
Do.
It.
He dropped the spoon in defeat.
So close.
So very close.
And today, almost 65 years later, he remembers those three scoops left melting in the dish.
And wonders.
Was he an idiot for leaving them?
Or just an idiot for ordering in the first place.
You decide . . .



Monday, February 10, 2014

More Snow


George and Me.
One of us was smart . . . and the other has her hair in curlers.

I never was a particularly timid child.
In fact, if one were searching for words to describe me, 'timid' probably wouldn't have even been considered.
Boisterous. Cheerful. Loud. Noisy.
These all would have been correct.
But timid?
No.
And yet, there were certain times when 'timid', even fearful could have been used with complete accuracy.
Let me explain.
It was the fifties.
We had a TV.
And one channel.
Which came on the air at 10:00 in the morning and left the air at midnight.
I often watched as 'Oh, Canada' played in the morning.Because I had already been watching the Indian Head test pattern for half an hour, waiting for Friendly Giant.I never got to hear the playing of 'God Save the Queen' at midnight.
Because, let's face it, I was four.
By that point in time, I had been in slumberland for hours.
Moving on . . .
When the TV station was not airing, we had 'snow'.
And not the good kind.
White, yes, but that is where all similarity ended.
It was static-y.
And, when your brother turned the volume up loud . . .
Scary.
Said brother discovered this early.
And used it often.
If he was playing in the living room and didn't want any Diane type company, he would turn on the TV, confirm quickly that there really was nothing on, and turn up the volume.
Whereupon (good word) I would run, shrieking, from the room.
Heh. Heh. Heh.
Mom couldn't get after him because he hadn't said or done anything to me, personally.
Simple.
Genius.
Fool-proof.
And the room was cleared for another half-hour of uninterrupted fun.
Until Diane forgot everything that had just happened and ventured, again, into the front room.
TV. Volume. Repeat.
So you see where the word 'timid' comes in.
Unfortunately, the word 'brainiac' never applied.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Gold Medal Mother

The only surviving picture of Andrew
With the eyes of the world focused on the Olympic stage, I thought now would be a good time to introduce another category.
That of 'Mother'.

Ranching is wonderful.
Most of the time.
You get to spend your days outdoors, working in the pure, sage-stuffed air.
See the heat shimmer on the tops of hills.
Watch the prairie grass bend in the breeze.
You witness births and new life. See groups of calves, and sometimes their mothers, cavort and snort and play.
And see the milk cow try to run with the deer.
You can bury your face in your pony's thick, warm winter coat and just breathe in his 'horsey' smell.
You have long, wonderful talks with family members as you ride to or from.
And while you're working together.
It's a peaceful and serene existence.
And the scenery breath-taking.
But occasionally, it gets pretty gritty.
There are disasters.
Pain.
Death.
But even these can result in something beautiful.
Let me explain . . .
As occasionally happens, a young heifer (cow that hasn't yet produced a calf) got 'exposed' to a bull.
She caught. (Became pregnant)
But something went wrong.
Perhaps because she was so young. Perhaps because she had some physical and undetected abnormality.
Whatever the reason, she was dying and there was nothing that could be done to save her.
And her calf was just days away from being born.
My Dad had to make a quick decision.
He decided to take the calf early and then put the suffering mother out of her misery.
Fortunately, in times like these, a trained veterinarian can work very, very quickly.
One life saved.
Another let go.
And we had a new little bull calf.
An extremely healthy and active little bull calf.
I called him Andrew.
Because.
But Andrew didn't have a mama.
Normally, this doesn't present too much of a problem.
You simply adopt the calf onto another mama.
It isn't easy, but it's worth the effort.
Unfortunately, there were no 'mamas' available.
Bottle feeding was indicated.
Now any of you who have bottle fed a puppy or kitten or other young animal know that it's a time-consuming and constant thing.
Not so with calves.
They only need to be fed three or four times a day.
Fairly simple to work around.
And fun for the kids.
So we dug out our bottle and formula and gave our little man his first feeding.
He sucked strongly. A good sign.
On to the next hurdle.
Finding him a place to bunk.
Firmly rejecting our son's offer of his room, we decided on the corral.
There was only one problem.
The corral already had an occupant.
Old Bluey.
Bluey was an older appaloosa mare, gentle and slow.
Her mottled black and grey hair gave her a distinct 'blue' colour.
Thus the name.
Okay, so creative, we weren't.
Back to the problem . . .
We decided that Bluey probably didn't propose much of a threat to our little Andrew.
We carried the calf into the pen and set him down.
He stood there for a moment.
Blinking.
Then he spied Bluey.
Bawling loudly, he headed towards her.
She stared at this little apparition.
And moved away.
He kept on coming.
Again she moved.
This went on for some time.
Finally, deciding that Andrew would be all right, we left them together.
A few hours later, I took a new bottle of formula to our little orphan.
And received the surprise of my life.
There stood Bluey, with the calf beside her nursing loudly.
Nursing?
I should point out here that a horse is generally considerably taller than a cow.
Certainly, Bluey was taller than Andrew's mother had been.
In fact, to simply reach the mare's udder Andrew had to stretch as far as he possibly could.
But he was doing it.
And Bluey was letting him.
It was a miracle.
Another thing I should mention is that a calf is a lot rougher while nursing than a colt. Calves get very 'enthusiastic'. And if the milk slows down, they butt their head into the cow's udder.
Not so with colts. They are quite gentle. Even mannerly about their feeding.
I probably needn't point out that Andrew was a calf.
And an extremely enthusiastic one.
I watched as he butted his head into Bluey's udder. I could almost feel her wince.
She raised her leg and closed her eyes for a moment.
Then she lowered her leg and let him nurse again.
It truly was an amazing sight.
Throughout the summer, Bluey nursed Andrew.
Once, we left the calf in the corral and took Bluey out to bring in the herd, intending to capture them in that same corral.
As we drew close with the herd, someone opened the gate.
Little Andrew came running out, searching for his 'mother'.
And bawling loudly.
Bluey nickered back at him anxiously and he quickly found her and took up a position at her side, following along happily.
Eventually, in the fall, all the calves were weaned, taken from their mothers and put into the feedlot together.
For a day or two, there was a lot of bawling and angst.
Then they discovered the feed troughs.
And discovered, too that they had very short memories.
Peace was restored.
Bluey, too, resumed her peaceful life as though it had never been interrupted.
There is an addendum . . .
I checked Bluey's udder once while she was with her little adopted boy.
She had no milk.
None.
She had done all of that 'Mothering' with an empty udder.
The pain must have been exquisite.
But she did it.
Cheerfully.
Yep. Definitely a gold medal performance.

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