Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Saturday, June 7, 2014

Driving Miss Daisy

A guest post by my Husby, Grant.
Meet Daisy.
On the farm in the early 1960s, one of the daily chores – actually twice daily, morning and evening – was milking the cow. 
For a few years we had a super-gentle, highly-milk-productive Jersey cow named Daisy. 
In rotation with some of my brothers, our twice daily job was to go out into the north pasture, bring Daisy into the barn, and tease from her the twice-daily bounty of rich, creamy milk.
Milking Daisy wasn’t a terribly hard task.  She always stood very quietly while one of us milk-boys would sit on the three-legged stool beside her and extract her bounteous supply. 
Her only quirk – and I am convinced she knew exactly what she was doing – was that she quite enjoyed swishing her tail around to her human-occupied side, pretending to swat at flies but hitting us square in the side of the head with a rather hard and hairy-raspy appendage. I think it was her way of saying “hurry up, I haven’t got all day here!”  Daisy loved her rich pasture much better than the annoying milking barn.
Daisy’s pasture was directly north of the barn, and she seemed to always migrate to the far side, at least a half mile away.  When it was time for milking, we could always bet that she would be right in the far corner.  Bringing Daisy in was the hardest part of the milking routine, because we always had to walk out to bring her in – about a mile or more, twice a day.
Then, as a young lad, I discovered the concept of laziness.
I realized that Daisy was a gentle enough soul that I could actually hop up on her back and she would let me ride!  This cut down the twice-daily walking by half!! 
I thought I was pretty smart.
Except that Daisy liked her pasture. 
Oh, she would move alright when I was on her back, but she would head to yet another far corner of the pasture rather than towards the barn.
I decided that what Daisy needed was a steering wheel.  So one day, going out to get Daisy, I took an old corn broom with me, hopped up on Daisy’s back, and used the broom to “steer” her, so to speak.  She would start walking in a random direction, but if I wanted to steer her meanderings toward the left, I would cover her right eye with the broom – magic!  She would move left.  And of course the opposite happened when I needed to go to the right.  Within days I had the system perfected, and Daisy had been trained to take me right to the milking stall in the barn, complete with my laziness and broom steering mechanism.
Daisy was with us for many years.  I am sure my bones are still made out of her wonderful, fresh milk.  When Diane and I married, we bought two more lovely Jersey milk cows, Kitty and Bunny (that’s another story, click here) largely because of the good memories we had of Driving Miss Daisy.  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Doggy to the Rescue

A guest post by daughter, Caitlin.

In better health...
Back in October 2006, I was pregnant with my oldest daughter. 
Aside from the morning sickness that would hit any time it liked, it was a good pregnancy. 
During this time, I would sometimes hop the bus to the mall and peruse for some clothing that would fit my altering figure.
And occasionally find something for my hubby or the babby-to-come. 
One time, I went into a maternity store, but the only thing that caught my eye was a little stuffed dog toy. I bought it, thinking the new baby would (eventually) like to play with it. I paid for it, popped it in my bag and forgot about it.
I would remember it later . . .
Around that time, I was working women's clothing retail. It was my job to get the deliveries unwrapped and properly hung for display. I loved it, because it meant I didn't have to interact with people as much as the other ladies.
Ahem . . .
Also around that time, a rather nasty bug was making its merry way through everybody who worked there. It was a short-lived stomach flu, but it was still nasty.
Now, at the best of times, I dislike being sick. But I was about 5 months pregnant then, so I didn't have just me to worry about! The other ladies were very conscientious about my condition, but the bug wasn't.
I knew I had caught the flu when my hubby and I went to bed, and I couldn't control my nausea. Normally, I'd get a swift bout and I'd either run to the bathroom, or it would settle on its own. This night, after I ran to the bathroom for the third time, my sweetie got me a bucket to keep by the bed. By 3 am, I hadn't slept a wink, and I was starting to bring up food I hadn't even eaten yet.
Panic ensued.
Hubby bundled me into a jacket, and, bucket to hand, got me onto the next bus heading to the hospital.
We made it to the emergency, and when they found out I was pregnant and bringing up last week's meals, they tried very hard to get me in quickly.
Now, this was a hospital emergency ward. There were several other just-as-imperative cases there, including at least one car accident which I found out about after I'd been ushered into a cubicle and hooked up to an IV to combat my dehydration. They'd given me some Gravol to help with the nausea, and both hubby and I had managed to snooze a bit. 
Around 5 am, they took me in for an ultrasound to make sure the baby was okay. It was, and when they wheeled me back, I noticed a little boy in tears in the emergency cubicle across from ours. 
His was the family that had been in the car accident. He was fine, but both his parents were immobilized, pending further tests to ensure no damages to . . . well, anything. 
All that little boy knew was that he couldn't sit with Mommy or Daddy, and he didn't know anybody there. The nurses tried to keep him occupied, but judging by the tears, they weren't succeeding.
That's when I remembered the little stuffed dog in my bag.
I pulled it out and told hubby to give it to the nurse to give to the little boy. 
Since the crying stopped soon after that, I think my tactic worked.
I was judged well enough to leave around 6 am, and we packed up our few things to get ready to go. I happened to glance into the main area where the nurse's desk was, and saw the little boy laughing with one of the nurses. She was stuffing the little dog into a vaccuum tube and sending it zipping up and down the vaccuum chute in the emergency ward. Every time it popped back down, the little boy would giggle so cutely I couldn't help but smile. We left to the sound of giggles, and that's when I knew why that little dog had caught my eye.
It's been eight years, and I would love to know what happened to that little boy and his parents.
Sometimes, we're moved upon to do things that we wouldn't ordinarily do.
Like me buying stuff.
*snerk*
 Not even I can say that with a straight face . . .

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Snapshot in Time

I loved skiing in my youth,
Went a lot, to tell the truth.
In solitude, or in a group,
I lived to sail and slide and swoop.

At times, a friend, I’d bring with me,
They’d follow as I taught, you see.
But I’ll admit right here and now,
I was somewhat past the old ‘snowplow’.

I’d haul their bodies to the top,
Then jump out when the chairlift stopped.
With brightened eyes and pink-nd cheeks,
Start a chase across the peaks.

One young man slid off the chair,
Then passed as I was standing there.
His rawness caused him no concern,
Just like me - till he missed the turn.

Complete abandon in his moves,
His ‘teacher’ wholly did approve,
Till I heard him shout, “How do you stop?!”
As he went off the six-foot drop.

Then, like a cartoon, one, two, three,
Two poles flew up, and just one ski.
Was I concerned? I’ll tell you so!
As I fell, laughing, in the snow.

This grizzled veteran of the hills,
Fin’ly crawled to view the spill,
And saw my good friend lying prone,
One skied. But well enough to groan.

I fished him out and we skied still.
Became the masters of that hill,
Then, round the fire at ‘apr├Ęs ski’,
Recounted the day’s deeds with me.

It’s forty years now, since that day,
But memories won’t fade away,
There’s still a yearning for those times,
Of air so clear and slopes sublime.

Too delicate as old age creeps,
Prefer my blanket, book. And sleep.
But I’ll not forget that day so prime,
A marvellous snapshot in time.

Each Wednesday, my good friend, Delores of Under the Porch Light produces a six word challenge.
It's been a few weeks since I was able to participate.
I'm so happy to be included this week!
Hop on over to see what her other victims participants came up with!
This week's words? grizzledpeakssolitudefiredelicateyearninga snapshot in time
How did I do?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Hawaiian Cowboy


Hmmm . . . maybe we can make it work...
The Stringam ranch was twenty miles from the nearest bus route.
But it still managed to attract a lot of employment-seekers.
In the earlier days, cowboys would arrive on their horses.
In my day, they arrived by ‘hitch-hike’.
Because they had been pointed in our direction when they got off the bus in Milk River and no one driving that road would ever pass by someone on foot.
So they arrived.
Often hot and sweaty.
But usually ready to work.
There were exceptions.
Oh, they still arrived, hot and sweaty.
It was the ‘work’ thing that they weren’t ready for.
Those didn’t last long.
Case in point:
A young man arrived on the bus from Hawaii.
Okay, yes, I know that’s impossible.
Let’s just say he arrived on the bus.
And that he was from Hawaii.
Sheesh.
He told the local bus-terminal operator that he was a cowboy looking for work.
Dutifully, the operator called Dad to see if the Stringam Ranch could use an extra couple of hands.
If they were attached to a large, happy, Stetson-sporting fellow from Hawaii.
Well, this was something new.
Our first Hawaiian cowboy.
Dad drove the twenty miles to bring this curiosity home.
He was a pleasant fellow.
Charming and cheerful.
And he sure loved Mom’s cooking.
So far so good.
Dad gave him an assignment. An easy one, to start. Tear out the fence along the tree-lined drive.
Dad wanted to replace it and he needed the old one removed.
Our newest hand was given tools.
Instructions.
And left on his own.
Some time later, he was discovered, lying in the shade, visiting with my eldest sister while she shelled peas.
He looked at Dad.
“Oh!” he said, jumping to his feet and hurrying back to work.
Dad went on with his day.
Only to stumble across the young man, once more, lying in the shade and visiting with my sister as she snapped beans.
Dad merely raised his eyebrows.
“Guess I’d better get back to work,” the young man said, pushing himself to his feet and sauntering back to his job.
Sometime later, the bell rang, calling everyone to supper.
The young man was first in line.
Smacking his lips over more of Mom’s cooking.
After supper, he remained in his seat and chatted with my sister while she washed the dishes.
For the next two days, he managed to find time to talk to my sister whenever she set foot outside.
He talked as she weeded the garden. Washed the 4-H calves. Hauled hay. And shucked corn.
Are we seeing a pattern forming here?
Progress on his own project was minimal.
Actually, non-existent.
On the third day, Dad loaded him into the car after breakfast and gave him a ride back to the bus stop in town.
The job that had taken him three days?
My brothers finished it in three hours.
That was our one and only experience with a Hawaiian cowboy.
I’m sure there are other Hawaiian cowboys.
Who are very hard workers.
They just haven’t made it to Milk River, yet.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ted

A guest post by my baby brother, Blair Stringam.
I can call him that because it's my blog...
Got grain?

While growing up on the ranch, we had some very special pets.  
There was the perpetual dog - or dogs - that wandered around with us.  
A cat that would ride on our shoulder when we fed the cattle. (This cat was unique. When we opened the feed bin doors, the resident mice would scurry and the cat would jump off our shoulder and chase/catch said mice. Then he would climb up on the fence, drop down on our shoulder as we walked by and ride to the next bin.) By the way we had a very creative name for him.  He was called “Cat”.
But probably the most loved pet that I had was a Hereford herd bull that we called “Ted”.  
When Ted was growing up we had him in a pen with several other bulls his age. He was always the biggest one in the group.  
We would feed him and his pen mates in the morning and in the evening.
The feeding routine usually involved: me opening the grain bin door and grabbing a bucket. And Ted moving quickly in behind, gently pushing his head under me and shoving me up on the pile of gain so he could eat.
At this point I would finally manage to get the buckets filled, carry them to the feed troughs and deposit the feed there.
Ted would decide that it was easier to get the feed from the trough and go over there to finish his meal.
Then it was safe to shut the bin door and move to the next pen.
Ted grew until he weighed over 2000 lbs, but was always very quiet and very tame.  Dad kept him on the ranch and used him as a herd bull because he was so big and quiet.  In the winter, we would keep him in a small pasture where we would feed him grain and hay and get him fattened up for the next breeding season.
When I completed my daily chores, I would feed Ted at the end of my routine. 
Ted was always at the other end of the pasture.  
I couldn't just call him. I had to walk out and chase him in for feed.  
Well not really chase.
I’d walk out and climb up on his back. Ted would then walk toward the feed trough.  However, he would usually stop at least once or twice. This meant that he wanted to be scratched. As I scratched his back, he would resume his walk.
Once we got to the feed trough he would bow his head toward the ground and I would slide down his neck over his head and grab a bucket of grain. 
We had Ted on the ranch for a few short years.  When he developed a problem that our veterinarian father couldn't fix, sadly, Ted left this world.  
Most people have favorite pets.
I think my sister had a favorite horse. Or ten.
For me, my favorite was big, gentle, half-the-size-of-a-truck Ted.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Spare

What did you do during Spare?
Spare.
The best part of the school day.
The period when one catches  up on things.
Gossip.
Flirting.
Sleep.
Okay, I admit it, one could even catch up on school work.
If one was so inclined.
Pfff . . .
In Junior high, Spare was always supervised.
Nominally.
For the supervising teacher, it was also a time to catch up on things.
Reading.
Marking papers.
Sleep.
The class would steadily grow noisier and more unruly.
Until things reached a certain pitch.
The teacher would look up. “Okay class. Settle down!”
And the whole process would start over.
One time, the teacher had just lifted her head.
But before she could utter the fateful, silencing words, another teacher (obviously misled by the noise level), appeared in the doorway.
“Who’s babysitting you guys!” she demanded.
Loudly.
Then realized that her friend and fellow teacher was properly seated at the ‘supervisory’ post.
Oops.
As we got older, supervision became more and more . . . Slapdash? Haphazard? Cursory? Superficial?
I’m going to go with Non-existent.
We were required to police ourselves.
It wasn’t too bad.
By this point, there were several of my classmates who actually wanted to finish their homework.
Weird.
They would effectively shush us if we got too noisy.
Kill-joys.
But we had nothing on my Dad’s class.
Oh, they weren’t noisy.
Or unruly.
Just . . . creative.
Case in point:
A girl in Spare was reading the newspaper.
For those of you in the virtual world who are unfamiliar with the word ’newspaper’, it was a collection of news and advertising, published daily, and printed on very large sheets of paper.
Google it . . .
The girl was engrossed in an article in the top right-hand corner.
Her absorption left the entire bottom half of the paper unguarded.
Normally, not cause for concern.
But, remember – Dad was in the room.
As she read, he approached quietly.
And, squatting down beside her, lit the bottom left corner of her paper on fire.
Yes.
On fire.
So . . . creative, he definitely was.
Cautious?
Not so much.
The girl soon realized that something was amiss.
She glanced down.
Her paper was rapidly being consumed.
She blew on the flames a couple of times.
Dropped the paper and stomped them out.
Then levelled her best glare at the guilty party.
Because, let's face it, everyone knew who it was . . .
Spare.
The best part of the school day.
For so many reasons.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Troll. And Kids

For three wonderful years, we lived in a perfect house.

Oh, don't get me wrong, all of our homes have been wonderful.
And very comfortable.
But this particular house was all of those things.
And a little bit more.
Because it had a stairway that was perfect for playing 'Troll Under the Bridge'.
It's a real game.
You can look it up. It will be found somewhere under 'Tolley: Favourite Games'.
True story.
Okay, my Husby made it up.
But it was still fun.
The stairway in our house consisted of a short upper set of six thickly-carpeted steps.
Ending at a wide, also-carpeted landing.
Then a 180 degree turn before descending the last six steps to the basement.
A beautiful hunting/trapping/escaping set up.
Which was very well used.
My Husby would pretend he was a troll and lay on the stairs.
His head just poking above the top stair.
All of his little Billy Goats Gruff could try to run past him along the upper hallway.
Screaming and giggling wildly.
One by one, he would nab them and demand to know who they were.
One by one they would answer, “I'm a Billy Goat Gruff!”
Whereupon (good word) he would shout, “No Billy Goats on my bridge!” and set them behind him on the landing/prison.
Then, as he hunted for more victims, the entrapped would escape back up the stairs, still screaming and giggling.
And join once more with their fellow little goats in teasing and tantalizing the troll.
This went on for some time.
Usually until Dad got played out.
Then, one day, we moved from that house.
Subsequent (Ooo, another good word!) houses had similar, but not quite as perfect designs for playing Troll Under the Bridge.
The family made do.
Move forward 20 years . . .
Our present house is entirely unsuitable for the game.
It is a bungalow with one long, very dangerous, grandma-nightmare-inducing stairway.
We have put a gate at the top, which is rigidly patrolled whenever grandchildren come over to play.
A great disappointment to grandchildren who have been raised on stories of Troll Under the Bridge, as fondly told by their parents.
But in our front room, we have a large hassock. (Ottoman, pouffe, footstool.)
Leather covered.
Padded top.
And it stands in front of our couch.
With a two-foot space between.
Hmmmm . . .
A few pool noodles strapped together with a bit of duct tape.
Voila!
A bridge.
Propped between the couch and the hassock, the scene for the new and improved Troll Under the Bridge.
Which the next generation of Tolleys has taken to with great enthusiasm.
With just as much noise and exuberance as their parents.
There are a couple of subtle differences, though.
  1. The grandkids are a bit craftier than their parents had been.
Our nearly-four-year-old grandson, when seized and questioned by the troll, answered readily, “I'm a troll.”
My Husby/Troll blinked.
This was a first.
But, since trolls are allowed on the bridge, the boy was allowed a free pass.
Smarty pants.
  1. The troll gets played out rather quickly.
He is, after all, an older troll now, with lots of grey hair and a few creaking joints.
Usually, he is finished long before the shrieking hoards are even close to admitting defeat.
And after they leave, he collapses on the couch and takes a nap.
Ah, the price of joy.

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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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