Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Tell-TALE Heart

Oh, it's not as innocent as it appears . . .

Maybe it wouldn’t have been quite so bad if I hadn’t just finished reading Edgar Allen Poe’s “Telltale Heart”.

Maybe . . .
It had been a busy day.
Busy.
Our children, and our children’s children, had just left. With six originals, plus spouses and offspring, that comes to . . . quite a number.
I had collapsed into the couch for some well-deserved R & R.
After the noise from so many bodies, the silence was almost thick around me.
I laid my head back. “Ahhhhh!” I relaxed there for a few moments.
Hmmm.
Funny.
I could hear the sound of my heart beating.
I smiled.
Then frowned.
Wait. I put one hand to my chest. That couldn’t be my heart. It was a different rhythm.
I sat up and looked around. The sound was gone.
Weird.
I got up and listened. Made a circuit of the room.
Nothing.
I must have imagined it. I relaxed back on the couch again. Laid my head back.
There it was!
The steady ca- thump, ca-thump of a heart.
Coming from . . . inside the couch.
My couch was haunted!
I leaped to my feet and went in search of my Husby. He would be able to tell me that I was just imagining things. And that my furniture hadn’t really taken on a life of its own.
“Sit down, honey,” I directed. “No. Right here.”
He sat down, eyeing me doubtfully.
“Now lean your head back.”
He did so, still keeping his eyes on me. Then, those eyes widened. He sat up and looked at the couch.
“You hear it, too?” I asked.
He nodded, still staring at the couch. He leaned over again, putting one ear against the fabric. “Huh,” he said. “I hear a heartbeat.”
“Is it a sign or something?” I asked.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. What on earth would a couch with a heartbeat be a sign of?
Humour me . . .
He shook his head. “There must be some explanation.”
“Well, you have to admit that it’s not every day you have furniture that develops . . . bodily functions,” I told him.
We took turns sitting on the couch and pressing our ears against the back. Each time, we heard the steady thumping of a heart.
Stranger and stranger.
Our front door opened and we both jumped. It was our second son, returning to pick up something his family had forgotten.
“Erik! Come in here!” We directed him to the couch. “Sit here!” We pushed him down. “Now put your head against the back.”
He did so, thinking all the while that both of his parents had suddenly taken the last bend in the road before reaching the loonie bin. Then he frowned. “It that . . .?” He turned his head and pressed his ear against the couch then looked up at us. “It’s a heartbeat.”
“I know!” we said together. “Our couch has a heartbeat!”
He frowned and put his head down once more. “Yup. Definitely a heartbeat.”
He got up and started probing the cushions.
“Erik, what are you doing?” I suddenly had visions of him coming up with a bloody, beating heart grasped in one hand.
“Ah!” he said, pulling his hand out. He was clutching a soft, furry little lamb. With cute little ears and a tiny little stub of a tail.
“I think this is your problem,” he said.
He put the lamb against my ear.
Ca-thump! Ca-thump!
“Oh!” I said. I took the lamb from him. “Ummm . . . why does it have a heartbeat?” I asked stupidly.
I’m sure the rest of you have heard of these things, but I swear I had not . . .
“It’s supposed to be soothing to a new baby,” Erik said.
“Oh.”
“Yeah. You put it in the cradle. The baby’s used to the sound of a heartbeat. It soothes them.”
“Huh.”
He took it back and flipped a switch. The beating sound stopped.
He laughed at the two of us staring down at the little lamb. Then he left.
Case of the Possessed Couch solved.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Dadisms That I Didn't Want to Learn

Dad: In fine form . . .
Still thinking of Dad at this important new time of his life.
A story by baby brother Blair:

There are many things that I learned from dad growing up. I am very grateful for them, though I was not happy to learn many of them at the time . . . 
Growing up on the ranch was an educational and fascinating experience.
As a young child, I was very enthusiastic about getting up and going outside to explore.
But an interesting thing happened when I was suddenly given the responsibility of feeding and caring for the animals. When morning came, I was exhausted and somehow robbed of 1 or 2 hours of sleep throughout the night.
I began to dread mornings.
Dad would call down to my room and tell me to get up. If he didn’t hear any reply from me, I’d hear, “Are you getting up?”
I would reply in the affirmative, then promptly fall back to sleep.
About 15 minutes later, dad would come downstairs. I’m sure he knew that I was still trying to squeeze in my last few minutes of slumber.
Somehow I could hear dad coming down the stairs to my room and I would fly out of bed.
Big Brother, George on the other hand dealt with mornings with outstanding ‘get-out-of-bed’ powers. His clock radio would go off and he would reach over, shut it off and sit up on the side of his bed staring at the wall for about 5 minutes. Then he’d get up for the day.
I couldn’t understand how he was able to do this.
Either he was superhuman or he was . . . superhuman.
I thought about this for a long time and finally decided that it had to be his clock radio. It must have some special ability to wake him up and get his day started.
It had to be the reason that he could get up so easily.
I approached dad and tried to share my newly acquired knowledge.
The conversation went something like this:
“Dad I am having trouble getting out of bed in the morning.” I thought that it was good to start by acknowledging the problem and thus side with dad. That way he would move to my side and see my way of thinking. “If I had a clock radio, I could set it to turn on a few minutes before it was time to get up. Then it would slowly wake me and I would be able to get up in the morning.”
Then dad made one of those profound statements that, if I had known, I would have plugged my ears and said “Bla bla bla, I can’t hear you!” However, it was said and, before I realized that it, the statement was resonating with great force inside of me.
“If you can’t do it now you won’t be able to do it later.”
Those words echoed in my ears over and over. At the time, I tried to rationalize that dad was wrong and he didn’t understand me.
But the little voice inside was saying that dad was right.
I decided that I was going to prove him - and that little voice - wrong. I would save my money and buy a clock radio and get out of bed at the right time in the morning.
And dad would know that my thinking was not flawed.
I looked and looked for the clock radio that would do the job, finally finding a Lloyd’s clock radio in the Eaton’s (Google it) catalog. It was really cool looking and would undoubtedly wake me easily. I would welcome the day refreshed and effortlessly slide out of bed.
I ordered the radio and excitedly waited for its arrival.
When it finally came I took it out and marveled at its beauty.
I plugged it in and listened to the radio and thought, ‘This is great! Now I will be able to wake up to the latest top 40 songs!’
That evening I placed the radio on my night stand and set it to turn on 15 minutes before I had to get up.
When morning came, the radio obediently turned on as programmed. I lay in bed wishing that it would shut off, but it played on. Somehow the top 40 hits did not sound as good in the morning.
I reached over and hit the snooze button.
A short time later dad was calling down to my room.
I told him I was getting up and promptly fell asleep.
Then I heard dad coming downstairs and jumped out of bed.
After following the same routine for a few days, I realized, sadly, that dad was right.
If I can’t do it now, I won’t be able to do it later.
Don't you hate that?
Mr. Morning vs Mr. Sleep-Till-Noon

Thursday, July 17, 2014

To My Daddy

My dad, my hero, is starting the next phase in his life. He has chosen to move to the Senior's Lodge in his neighbourhood. 

I know that everyone ages, but the Dad I see in my head is still the strong, independent rancher. It's a bit of a shock to see him scurry along with his walker.

His steps are a little slower each day. But he remains cheerful and full of stories.
Today, Daddy, I'm thinking of you.
A repost of a poem I wrote to all the Fathers in my life . . .
My Dad and me
It starts out with a snuffle – a voice he's never heard before,
And suddenly, he's a Father and there's a whole new world in store.
The time goes by, he's changed a thousand diapers, maybe more,
His hair's grown grey along the sides, his back is bent and sore,
He knows feeding, changing – is expert on most everything that's sold,
Imagine how much more he'll know when his child is two days old . . .

The years fly past, his baby's reached the great old age of three,
That wondrous time when head and hands reach just above the knee,
The scars have healed from babe's first tooth, the child can even talk,
The tiny hard hat's put away – his little one can walk.
The child is toilet-trained, survived each illness, scratch and sore,
Dad knows it all, good thing because his wife just had two more.

His babes grow tall - or he grows small – there's a definite shift in size,
He's not as smart as he once was, through his adolescent's eyes.
He's older now and he can see both sides of any fight,
But it matters not 'cause like his child, he knows that he is right.
And as he watches, painfully, the sometimes good and bad,
There's one thing that will never change - the fact that he's their dad.

And so it goes, he does his best, survives on little sleep,
He goes to work each day, comes home and tends his growing sheep.
There is little recognition for the work he does each day,
A baby hug, a chocolate kiss may be his only pay.
But he strangles his impatience as he watches tiny hands,
And he gently speaks when teenage heads just do not understand
His prods and pushes – anger, too, he tempers, 'cause he cares,
His one reward, his children's love, he treasures through the years.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Potato Peeling Posterity

Okay . . . well . . . it's tougher than it looks.
My Mom could peel potatoes.
I mean, really peel potatoes.
She did it so fast, that, for years, I thought each potato had two peels.
Because there was always peel where I thought she had already . . .
Okay, so brilliant, I wasn't.
When I was ten, she decided the time had come for me to take my place in the 'potato peeling' scheme of things.
I have to point out that I had been totally fine in the whole 'watching' scenario.
But moms are never satisfied with the status quo.
Sigh.
And to top things off, she wasn't even there. She had put a roast in the oven, vegetables on the stove, ready to turn on.
I did know how to do that . . .
And a pan of potatoes to wash, peel and cook.
She even gave me a schedule.
At four o'clock, I reluctantly set down my book and headed into the kitchen.
I stared at the mound of potatoes and sighed. Surely there was a better way.
But this was the sixties. Instant anything was in its infancy.
And TV dinners were something other families ate.
I picked up a knife and started.
In my mind, I could picture Mom's sure, steady stroke, denuding each potato in seconds.
And in one long peel.
Reality was a bit . . . trickier. Little chunks of potato began to rain down into the bowl.
Hmmmm.
My potato skins seemed to be a lot thicker than Mom's.
Must be a different kind of potato.
Slowly . . . very slowly . . . the white potato began to emerge. Somewhat smaller than the original.
Okay, a lot smaller.
But finally it was finished.
I glanced at the clock. Suddenly, Mom's strict starting time instructions began to make sense.
This wasn't her first rodeo. Three older siblings has stood right where I was standing. Risking life and fingers in an effort to provide the family with dinner.
I picked up the second potato.
Half-an-hour later, I looked down, proudly, at my pristine bowl of newly-peeled potatoes.
Hmmm.
What had once filled the bowl now . . . didn't.
I shrugged and put a pot on the stove. Filled it to the instructed depth with water. Added my potatoes.
And turned on the burner.
A few minutes later, Mom came home.
I proudly pointed to the now bubbling pots of potatoes and vegetables and waited for her praise.
She didn't disappoint. “Good job, Diane,” she said, smiling.
Happily, I went to set the table. A job I was comfortable with.
That was over forty years ago.
I did learn to peel potatoes. In a lot less time. And with a lot thinner peels.
I have never been able to match my Mom's lightning fast, and amazingly efficient knife, but I can make a fairly credible showing.
Or so I thought.
At a recent family dinner, two of my granddaughters, ages six and nine, peeled all of the potatoes for the meal.
And when you are feeding some twenty people, that is a mound.
They were quicker than I am.
I was suddenly reminded of my mom.
Sometimes excellence skips a generation.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Speaking Donkey

One technique . . .
The neighbours shook on the agreement,
Both pleased with the ample outcome.
One had a small bag of money.
The other a helper/chum.

“Treat him gently,” the past owner cautioned.
“He’ll work hard if you’re quiet and nice.”
“That’s the method I find beneficial,
I do hope you’ll employ my advice.”

His neighbour and friend merely nodded.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “That I’ll do!”
Then he smiled at the beast’s former owner,
And happily bade him adieu.

Then he picked up the small donkey’s lead rope.
And started to lead him away.
But his new beast had other ideas,
All the creature would manage was, “Braaay!”

Through the day, that new owner tried coaxing,
With gaits from advance to reverse.
Till as the day aged and got darker,
Pleasantries got increasingly . . . worse.

As the last of the warm sunlight vanished.
His frustration had swelled to the brim.
He called his dear friend to inquire.
“What on earth can I do now? With him?!”

“I’ve tried coaxing and pleading and charming.
And patting and offering treats.
My gentility’s swiftly declining.
I am quickly approaching defeat!”

“I will come,” said his good friend and neighbour.
“For there’s something you clearly have missed.”
In a flash, the two friends stood together.
The past owner had come to assist.

“Now tell me ‘bout all you’ve attempted,”
He asked of his tired, red-faced friend.
“I won’t insinuate that you’re hopeless!
Though your schemes have not worked in the end!”

The new owner quickly apprised him.
Outlining the things he had tried.
The coaxings and pleadings and charmings,
The hands full of oats he applied.

The past owner was listening closely.
Then grabbed up a board near the shed.
And calmly approaching the donkey.
Whacked the beast once in the head.

The new owner stood in amazement,
Staring aghast at his pal,
“You said kindness was just what was needed.
I was using your own rationale!”

His friend merely smiled and nodded.
“There’s something you haven’t got yet.
Though gentle’s the much-preferred method.
His attention, at first, you must get!”

I'm so happy when I am able to participate in Delores of Under the Porch Light's Wednesday Word Challenge!
This week's offering? insinuatemethodreversepleasantriesdonkey and darker.
Yikes! 
See what her other loyal followers have done . . .

Monday, July 14, 2014

First Crush

What's not to love, right?
I was in grade four.
Nine years old.
At the dawn of a new age.
I had discovered boys. Or more specifically, boy.
KS was smart.
Cute.
Sweet.
Taller than me.
And my neighbor.
He had everything important going for him.
At first, I didn’t know what to do with my newfound crush. I really didn’t know what it was. I had had plenty of boy friends in the past.
Boys that I competed against at every opportunity.
Sports.
Schoolwork.
But none that I just wanted to . . . be near.
Puzzled, I did all the normal things.
Followed him around at a discrete distance.
Hid behind cars and buildings if he looked in my direction.
Stared across the room at him in class.
Avoided him at recess.
What was this weird attraction?
I had suddenly developed mental ‘global positioning’. I could tell you the precise location of KS at any time of the day.
Without ever seeming to look at him.
I’m sure I was pretty obvious in my interest. But when you’re nine - and you wish it - you’re invisible.
And then . . . that day . . .
First, our class had a Box Social.
Okay, I know that dates me, but the fact remains.
All of the boys brought a box lunch for two and then shared it with his assigned ‘girl’ partner.
We lined up and the teacher numbered us off.
I tired to position myself so that I would match KS.
But my counting was off.
I ended up with a boy who brought peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Peanut butter and banana? I had never heard of such a thing.
Nor had my stomach.
And the two of us agreed that we'd be happier with our mutual ignorance.
I looked longingly across the playground at KS and his partner.
Happily munching on whatever KS had brought.
Sigh.
Later that day, tired of listening to my bleating, my friends cornered KS and his friends and wrung a confession out of him.
He liked me!
It was the happiest day of my life!
So what did we do then?
Nothing.
We were nine.
Oh, occasionally, we would . . . you know . . . talk. I called him on the phone once, to beg a ride to church. And once, I sat next to him in Sunday School class.
Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
But that’s about it.
My family moved. And soon another crush filled my life.
Moving ahead.
I hadn’t seen or thought about KS for nearly fifty years.
Then, one day, there he was in my church congregation.
Now, until that moment, I couldn’t remember what the nine-year-old boy had looked like.
But I knew him as soon as I saw him.
Strangely, he hadn’t changed much at all.
Taller.
And definitely older.
But still that boy.
My first crush.
It made me smile.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bodily Functions

Burper.
For those of you who associate with them, you know that little boys find bodily functions hilarious.
Screamingly so.
If someone passes, in the course of living, a bit of air – either up or down – the little boys in the room are rolling on the floor laughing (Or ROFL in text-speak).
The subtleties that may be a by-product of such occurrences, they might be missing.
Maybe I should explain . . .
My eldest granddaughter had just finished eating.
Things were processing nicely.
In the course of said processing, a bit of air was released.
Resulting in an explosion commonly known as a ‘belch’.
She smiled and said:
“Excuse me for my rudeness.
It wasn’t very smart.
But if it'd gone the other way,
It would have been a . . .”
She judiciously paused there.
Her little brother bobbed up from whatever he had been doing and shouted, “Strawberry!”
Sometimes, they get it.
And sometimes . . . they don’t.
Burpee. With ice cream mustache.

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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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