Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Horsecapades


See? Blue.
When my husband married me, he got more than he expected.
I came with baggage.
More correctly.
Horses.
One was blue in colour.
Aptly and creatively named, 'Bluey'.
Okay, so imaginative, we weren't.
Bluey was . . . not a pretty horse.
She was an appaloosa-cross mare. About ten years old.
Like many of her breed, she had no mane. And an embarrassment for a tail.
But she was gentle and quiet. Patient and un-stampedable.
Perfect for farm kids.
But Bluey had one fault.
She was tall.
Too tall for the average child to climb on unassisted.
And that's where my story starts . . .
Mark and Erik, our two oldest boys, were in Bluey's field.
Playing.
Mark, 4, especially loved to ride.
But neither he nor his younger brother could climb up on their gentle friend.
Even though she was perfectly willing to stand quietly while they tried.
First, it was Erik helping his brother.
But they quickly discovered that three-year-old Erik's muscles simply weren't up to the task.
Finally, Mark had an idea.
He could help his little brother get up on Bluey.
At least one of them could have fun.
I have often imagined the conversation . . .
Mark: “Here, Erik, I'll boost your up.”
Erik (eyeing the mare suspiciously): “I want to go home.”
Mark: “In a minute. First, you get to have a little ride.”
Erik: “Don't want to ride.”
Mark: “Yes you do. It's fun.”
Erik: “Pretty sure I don't.”
Mark: “You're little. What do you know? C'mon.”
Erik: “Sigh.”
He submitted.
Once he was safely installed, Mark stepped back.
And gave the mare a slap. 'To get her going'.
She went.
Right out from under Erik.
Not a good thing.
A short time later, two boys came to the house.
One in tears.
They had both learned an important lesson.
The hardest thing about learning to ride is the ground.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Holiday Monsters

Lake Okanagan. It only LOOKS peaceful and serene...
The Ogopogo was going to get me!
Ahem . . .
I have a vivid imagination.
I admit it.
It’s carried me to places near and far.
Most of which simply don’t exist.
But that doesn’t stop me from visiting them.
The problem with a vivid imagination is that it can cause you a lot of needless worry and some amazing heart gymnastics.
On with my story . . .
My family was visiting Penticton on the south shore of Lake Okanagan in the beautiful interior of British Columbia.
We had been having a marvelous time.
Picking fruit.
Eating fruit.
And stopping at any and all tourist sites.
Heaven.
We were camped just feet away from the shore of the lake.
A beautiful, peaceful body of water approximately 80 miles long and with an average depth of about 250 feet.
Now, I should mention here that I loved swimming.
I had learned in the muddy waters of the Milk River that flowed past our ranch.
We spent our entire summer in that river.
So, murky-ness didn’t scare me.
Nope.
What scared me were the tales of the great Ogopogo that supposedly inhabited that serene-looking body of water. The Ogopogo with its horse-shaped head and great undulating, serpent-like body that had been known to swallow native canoeists whole.
I stood on the beach and stared long and hard at the water, looking for anything that might betray the presence of the beast. Because I knew that, if I slid even one foot into that water, the monster would immediately sense the presence of a ten-year-old gleamingly white-skinned, skinny, tow-headed girl and think, “Oooh! My favourite meal!”
And pop to the top.
I knew it.
I would rather have watched my feet break through the scummy surface of some smelly municipal sewer than to disappear beneath the clear water of Lake Okanagan.
Except that sewers have been known to harbour their own monsters.
Sigh.
Finally, with much cajoling and some really pointed teasing, I waded in.
And I do mean waded – the water never reached my knees.
I wasn’t happy about it.
Every splash made me jump.
And I had a nagging, persistent feeling that great, piercing, bloodshot eyes were watching my every move, deciding where would be the tastiest place to sink sharp, ragged teeth.
I spent the entire ‘swim’ continually glancing behind me, certain I’d see a line of ripples leading in my direction. Or worse, a great, hulking form rising up out of the water, slavering jaws wide open and  . . . eww . . . dripping.
And where would my holiday be then?
Finally, I parked my little self on the beach.
Safely back from the monster-filled water.
Under a lovely, toasty sun.
I watched my brothers and sisters and scores of other foolish people as they tempted fate.
Silly people.
Obviously, not everyone can be as smart - and safe - as me.
Tourist view in Kelowna.

You decide . . .
Every week, my good friend, Delores of Under the Porch Light, hands out a challenge. 
A six-word challenge.
This week's words?
piercing, persistentmunicipalsewersglancing and bloodshot
What else would that suggest but a visit with the scourge of Lake Okanagan, the Ogopogo?!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Difference Between Men and Women


I know it's hard to tell, but there are differences . . .

My husby and I were just finishing supper.
The doorbell rang.
He went to answer it.
It was a good friend from our Drama Society, who needed to discuss . . . drama.
We sat down in the living room.
And discussed.
Then, as usually happened, the discussing turned to visiting.
But something about the visit was odd. He wouldn't look at me.
I should point out that this was a man that both my husby and I had been good friends with for over fifteen years.
Our families were close.
We had spent many, many hours together, rehearsing, performing  and directing plays.
And much of that time had been spent in visiting.
This was the first time he wouldn't look at me while doing so.
Weird.
An hour and a half later, he left.
I shook off my uneasy feelings and went to get ready for bed.
I opened my mouth to floss my teeth.
And discovered that a leaf of lettuce was neatly covering one of my upper front teeth.
Not wedged between.
Not faintly visible.
Covered.
Like it had been painted.
Green.
Ick.
I stared.
Suddenly things were becoming clear.
Suddenly I knew why our friend hadn't been able to look at me during our visit.
I turned to my husby.
“Honey, I have a lettuce leaf covering my tooth!”
“Yes.”
Okay, a man of many words, my husby isn't.
I swallowed. Hard.
I knew the answer, but I asked it anyway. “Was it there the whole time we were visiting?”
“Yes.”
“Why didn't you tell me???!!!”
“I didn't want to embarrass you.”
“What?! You don't think I'm more embarrassed now?!”
He shrugged.
I took a deep breath.
“Honey, I want you to promise me something.”
“Okay,” he said, rather warily.
“Promise me that if you see anything, anything that I would be embarrassed about, you will tell me.”
“Umm. Okay.”
And there we see a fundamental difference between men and women.
Women will go out of their way to tell a total stranger that the tag is sticking out of the back of their blouse.
Or that they have something stuck in their hair.
Or that they have some gravy on their sleeve.
And then offer aid.
Men don't.
Tell, that is.
Or aid.
If they observe it at all, they keep it to themselves.
Even with other men.
I once saw a man standing in a group of men with his zipper down.
And his shirttail sticking out of said zipper.
And no one told him.
I asked my husby afterwards if he had observed it.
“Yes.”
“Why didn't anyone say anything?!”
“Didn't want to embarrass him.”
Doesn't it occur to these people that it's infinitely more embarrassing to discover these things for oneself hours later?
Yep. Men and women.
Some of our differences are delightful.
And some . . .

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Horsie Riding

Horses came in all shapes and sizes on our ranch.
All shapes.
And sizes.
Oh, and materials.
Maybe I should explain . . .
On a working ranch, the horse is the best, most used tool.
I’m talking about the warm, four-footed, rather hairy type here.
Or, as my machine-loving brother titled them, the hay-burners.
Paired with a rider, horses work the cattle.
Check fences.
Provide transportation.
Ditto, entertainment.
And make pushing, pulling, dragging or carrying just that much easier.
No self-respecting ranch could be run without its four-footed hay-burners.
On the Stringam ranch, the people could be divided into two horse camps.
Those who loved them.
And my brother, George.
Oh, we got him up there.
But only when there was work to be done.
Moving on . . .
I was the leader of the opposite camp.
I lived, ate and breathed horses.
Had been known to hang out with them at any and all hours of the day or night.
Been observed taking the occasional nap in close proximity.
And pretended and improvised when there was no horse to be had.
Did you know that the wide arm of an overstuffed chair or couch makes an excellent substitute?
Well, it does.
I spent a lot of hours in that particular ‘saddle’.
Had some amazing adventures.
And had even been known to get pitched off on occasion.
My next younger brother, Blair, age two, was following in the paths I had created.
Riding the same mounts.
Then, one Christmas, he was given another option.
He got our family’s first spring horse.
King Prancer as it was nobly named.
And our world was never the same.
Now, when we wanted to kite off to the imaginary prairie, doing imaginary deeds of wonder and saving the lives of countless imaginary people, we could climb aboard the King.
Okay, yes. He was technically Blair’s.
But I was bigger.
Ahem . . .
That sturdy little spring horse provided us with hours (and hours) of entertainment.
Until Mom told us we had out-grown (what on earth did that mean?) it and that it was time to be handed down to the next generation. ie. little sister, Anita.
Suddenly, I was back on the old stand-by. Riding the range with my trusty, slightly dusty steed.
Sigh.
Why am I telling you all of this?
My granddaughter, age two was in the living room, playing.
I went in to check on her.
She had straddled the arm of our overstuffed couch and was riding, hell-bent-for-leather, across the ‘prairie’. Whooping and hollering impressively.
It was no King Prancer.
But it sure made Gramma smile.

George and me.
Before the chair became a steed.
Blair. And the real thing.


The next generation: The King. Anita.
And a friend.
Okay, close to the real thing. George and me again.
The King. And Blair.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Scary Side of Smoking

Admit it. This is scary...

Okay.

Maybe I overreacted.
Maybe.
We were on holiday.
In a foreign land. France, to be exact.
And having a glorious time.
Our family had just finished an underground rafting trip.
Did I mention that we were under the ground?
Well we were.
And it was fantastic!
Feeling slightly euphoric, we had driven to our hotel and were unpacking in the parking lot.
Suitcases.
Food.
Other stuff that wasn't suitcases or food.
Our rooms were on the second floor. One door opening from the long communal balcony into two separate units.
I dragged myself and my load up to the second floor.
Then looked back into the parking lot where the rest of the family was still in the process of unloading/loading.
There, standing in the very center of the lot was a young man, dressed completely in black.
Black hoodie pulled up over his head so that only his nose showed.
He was just standing there quietly.
Looking up at me.
It was . . . startling.
I stared back at him for a moment, then turning, shoved my key in the door and escaped into my room.
Throwing my load onto the closest bed, I took a quick look around.
Nice, quiet little room.
Two double beds.
Comfortable.
Then I walked over to the window.
And threw open the curtains.
The man in black was standing directly outside the window, now looking into my room.
I screamed.
I admit it.
He had been mysterious, standing down there in the parking lot.
Standing right outside my window, he was downright frightening.
And really, really creepy.
He made some sort of gesture, but I didn't notice.
I was too busy pulling the curtains shut and crawling under the bed.
Okay, so heroine material, I'm not.
My husby toted his burden of suitcases, etc. into the room a couple of seconds later.
And stared at me as I crawled out from under the bed.
“Ummm . . . looking for anything in particular?”
“No. That guy just frightened me,” I said, as calmly as possible.
“What guy?”
“The one dressed in black. Out there on the balcony.”
“There was a guy out on the balcony?”
“How could you miss him!” I demanded. “He was right there!”
My Husby walked across the room and whipped the curtains back.
I caught my breath.
Isn't this sounding mysterious?
There was no one there.
“But he was right outside! Looking into the room!” I stomped over to the window and peered out.
The man had disappeared.
“Huh. Weird.”
My husband was staring at me. “I think you were down in that cave too long,” he said.
I snorted.
I want to point out that it was a ladylike snort. Because I am a . . . oh, never mind.
When my kids arrived a few seconds later, I challenged them.
“Did you guys see the scary guy in black?”
They too, stared at me. “Scary guy in black?”
“Yeah. He was down there.” I pointed.
“Oh, you mean the one down in the parking lot who was trying to bum cigarettes?”
Cigarettes? Ahem. "Yes. That would be the one.”
“Yeah. We just told him we didn't smoke and he left.”
“Oh.”
So much for my scary encounter.
I had been hiding under the bed to escape a . . . broke smoker.
Holidaying can be such an entertaining experience.
For so many reasons.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Back End of Things

Yeah. We can do better.
I had long, skinny children.
Who always outgrew their clothes in length, far before said clothes fit them in width.
As they grew, fitting them got to be a greater and greater problem. 
Did you know that few companies, back when my babies were growing, created clothing for children who look like they have been shaped in a taffy-puller?
Or on the torturer’s rack.
Well, it’s true.
And, by the way, shaping children in either of those methods is illegal.
Just thought I’d point that out.
So . . . long, skinny children . . .
Ever try to find pants to fit a 28 inch waist and a 38 inch inseam? 
I did what any desperate and decidedly broke mom would do. I started making my children’s clothes.
All of their clothes.
Shirts, pants, shorts, dresses, skirts, blouses.
PJ’s.
I even took a short course in making 5-pocket blue jeans and made them.
Rivets and all.
I made so many and got so proficient that I stopped even needing instructions and could whip up a pair – from cutting to trying on the finished article – in less than two hours.
I had even been known to make them in my sleep.
Of course they didn’t look quite the same.
But I digress . . .
One thing I discovered with blue jeans was the fact that you are fairly limited in things you can do to make them . . . remark-able.
Oh, you can sew trim into the outer seams.
And use different colours of thread.
But probably the most noticeable of TYCD (things you can do) is to mess with the back pockets.
And yes, I went there.
I embroidered many things on my kids’ back pockets.
Pictures.
Slogans.
Designs.
Then I got the wild idea of using their initials.
Genius.
Only they didn’t always agree.
For example, Erik refused to wear his jeans embossed with the giant letters ‘E’ and ‘T’ on his back side.
I don’t know what his problem was. I thought it would be cute to be called ‘ET’.
Finally, in an attempt at mollification, I added a ‘B’, for his middle name of ‘Blair’.
It passed.
I then used the same idea for his next older brother’s jeans. Robin Duff Tolley. What could be better than ‘RDT’?
He thought it was great.
Until his father asked what the ‘RDT’ stood for. “Rabbit, duck, turtle?”
“Nooo! Robin Duff Tolley!”
“Oh. Rabbitduckturtle?”
“Nooo!”
Yeah. Those pockets had to come right off.
I replaced them with something a little less controversial.
Like squiggles.
But the name remained. From then on, our Duff was known as Rabbitduckturtle.
Have you ever heard of the consequences of labelling a child?
Well, the stories are true.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Mom Logic

Dad, Jerry and Chris
About 3 BD (Before Diane)
But 5 minutes AC (After Coats)
Our kids and grandkids were over for the weekend.
Fortunately for us, spring has finally arrived in Edmonton, Alberta, and they were able to spend much of the day outside.
One grandson, anxious to rejoin his cousins on the pirate ship in the backyard (yes, we have a pirate ship in the backyard) was frantically looking for his coat.
Which he had discarded when he had come inside.
Moments before.
“Can’t find it!” he lamented loudly.
“Well, Sweetie,” I said. “I don’t know . . .” That was as far as I got.
Because, suddenly, I was remembering my Mom.
And something she said to us every time we were bewailing the loss of some article of clothing.
Which happened often.
Ahem . . .
There would the usual scurry to find said article of clothing.
Coat.
Hat.
Boots.
Shoes.
Pants.
And then the inevitable words, “I CAN’T FIND IT/THEM!!!”
Followed, if one were really good, by tears.
I was really good.
Just FYI.
Back to my story . . .
Mom would appear on the scene and immediately bring the problem into ‘Mom’ focus with the words: “Well, I don’t know where I put it/them when I wore it/them last!”
We would frown because adult-sized Mom would never, ever have fit into it/them.
And this was NOT helpful!
Then she would laugh.
Whereupon (good word!) we would sigh and slump and renew our search.
So, back to my grandson.
The three-year-old standing indignantly in the middle of the kitchen.
I smiled. “Well, Sweetie, I don’t know where I put it when I wore it last!”
He frowned at me.
I heard laughter from the periphery. And “I remember Mom saying that to me!”
Some things lose nothing in the years.


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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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