Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, October 4, 2014

Thank you, Teacher.

Thank you, Miss Wornoski


Miss Wornoski and her 31 little readers
I love to read.
It started very early.
Grade one.
Miss Wornoski taught me.
I don't remember the mechanics of learning.
Only the sudden explosion of knowledge that came with recognizing series of letters strung together.
Miss Wornoski had a list of words on a large flip chart.
And each of us in the class was taken, publicly, through it.
I remember her pointing to each word with a long, slender stick and the victim participant having to then read it out.
A word about the stick. It was about three feet long, with a soft, squishy, plastic, cone-shaped tip.
Tons of fun to play with when the teacher wasn't in the room.
Ahem . . .
Day by day, she worked her way around the room.
Closer and closer to me.
Who would have guessed that panic was one of the subjects taught in the first grade?
Well, it was.
Very well.
If I would have studied the chart, I would have realized that I could read every word on it.
But I didn't.
Thus started a pattern in my life that has served me far too well.
But I digress . . .
Finally, it was my turn.
Miss Wornoski looked at me. “Diane.”
Everything I had ever known simply . . . fled.
Taking my blood and body temperature with it.
A now-frozen lump, I turned slowly and stared at her.
“Its your turn, dear,” she said softly.
Her words might as well have been: Ready! Aim! Fire!
I was about to die.
I swallowed.
And nodded.
The pointer was raised.
I watched as it moved.
Sooo slowly.
Tapped on the first word.
“And,” I said, shakily.
Next word.
“The.”
Next. Ooh, a toughie.
“Into.”
Next.
“For.”
And so it went.
Pointer . . . pointed.
I said the word.
Pointer moved on.
I was doing it!
The panic started to ebb.
With only one slight hesitation, on the unbelievably difficult word, 'house', I was done.
Faster than anyone.
Miss Wornoski smiled. “Very well done, Diane,” she said.
I had done it!
Celebrations were in order.
“Diane, sit down.”
Later.
She handed me my first. Real. Book. “Here, dear, read this,” she said.
And she moved on to the next student.
I stared at the book she had given me.
The Little White House.
There was a picture of a boy riding a horse on the cover.
We were instant friends.
I opened it and, for the first time began to read a story to myself.
Riveting tales of Tom, Betty and Susan as they:
  1. Helped their parents
  2. Got presents
  3. Rode Pony
  4. Played with Flip
The magic had begun.

There is a codicil . . .
My Husby and I were on a book-signing tour through the US.
We stopped at a tiny little restaurant in tiny-er Dell, Montana, called the Calf-A.
Exceptional food, especially the roast beef.
And pie to die for.
Sorry. Moving on . . .
The restaurant was housed in what had been the little country school.
The blackboards and even some of the pictures and furniture were still there.
On a shelf was a stack of old text books.
While waiting for my order, I wandered over and looked at them.
And there, right in the middle was my book.
My first book.
Just as I remembered it.
I dragged it out and hurried back to our table.
“Look!” I shoved it under my Husby's nose. “Look! It's my first book!
I sat down and opened the cover.
Instantly, I was transported back to my sunny classroom at Milk River Elementary.
To my seat beside the windows.
Right in front of the teacher's desk.
I could smell the chalk dust.
And see Miss Wornoski taking yet another student through her chart of words.
Paradise.
I had nearly read The Little White House through by the time our meal arrived.
Not a statement on how long it took to be served.
But rather on how quickly I could now read.
Thank you, Miss Wornoski.
You changed my life.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Punch Line

The Stringam kids loved a scary story.
Okay, yes, it usually meant that one of us (ie. me) couldn't sleep afterwards.
And needed to leave a light on.
Or, better yet, crawl in with my parents.
But still, I loved to be scared . . .
My older sister, Chris was a master at it.
Scaring, that is.
She knew dozens of deliciously frightening tales.
It was a perfect partnership.
The scare-er and the easily - and very vocally - scared.
Chris would gather whatever siblings were near by.
And, with them cuddled close, launch into her current favourite.
Her soft voice would wind through the story, slowly spiralling up in volume and suspense . . .
Or suspenders, as my dad used to call it.
. . . to the end.
Her reward? Several squeaks of alarm as she loudly barked out the climactic line.
“I've got you!”
Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!
“Bloody boots!”
Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!
“Ivory soap floats!”
“Eeeeeeeeeeeee!”
Okay. I admit it. She had it down . . .
My parents were building a cabin on St. Mary's Lake.
The fact that it wasn't quite finished didn't deter us from actually using it.
In fact, our summer was usually spent . . . finishing.
We had finally gotten to the painting. Had actually spent most of yet another glorious summer morning doing just that.
Lunch was finished.
Chris had gathered my younger brother and I on our parent's bed.
For a few delightfully shivery minutes, we could have story time.
I should mention that, unbeknownst (Oooh, good word!) to us, Mom had finished the lunch dishes and returned to her painting.
Right outside the window of the room we were gathered in.
Chris was building to her usual grand finish.
Bloody boots!”
Blair and I were completely absorbed.
Bloody boots!”
We barely breathed.
Bloody boots!”
Hands started twisting.
"Bloody Boots!"
Hearts were starting to pound.
Mom stuck her head through the window. Bloody boots!
Her timing and delivery were perfect.
Our story teller proved that she was as capable as any of us of being startled.
And Mom was rewarded with three squeaks of alarm.
Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Yep. Mom got it.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Geezer in the Gazebo

My Husby loves the movie, “The Sound of Music”.
In fact, if favourites were discussed, that title would probably be the first to come up.
Most particularly, he loves the gazebo scene.
And its accompanying song, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”.
Really loves it.
To the point that, if ever a gazebo is sighted, he has to run inside and sing.
Badly.
Really badly.
Badly on purpose.
Just to embarrass his kids.
He's very, very good at it.
Inevitably, after he has run joyfully to the gazebo and danced around inside for a few minutes, singing at the top of his lungs, his children have disappeared.
Totally.
Completely.
You thought children could disappear quickly in a shopping mall?
That doesn't even come close to how quickly they can vanish when their father-figure is embarrassing them.
Suddenly they have, quite literally, ceased to exist.
And they only reappear some time later.
When anyone – anyone – who might have witnessed their father's performance has defected and/or suffered an aneurysm.
As my Husby has aged, the suitability of the words of the famous song have . . . lessened.
With his usual creativity, he has managed to 'age' the words to suit.
Both parts.
Because you never know when some old lady will want to sing along . . .

[him]
You wait, old girl, on an empty stage
For fate to turn the light off
Your life, old girl, is a filled up page
About which you should not scoff.

Should not scoff.

You are sixty, going on seventy
Baby it's time to think
Better beware, be canny and careful
It's hard to be old, I think.

You are sixty, going on seventy
Old goats will get in line;
Eager old cads and nimble old dads
Will be wanting all of your time.

Totally unprepared are you
To face the world of time.
Timid and shy and scared are you
Of geritol and lime.

You need someone older and wiser
Telling you what to do!
I am seventy going on eighty -
I'll take care of you.

[her]
I am sixty going on seventy
I know that I'm naive
Old goats I meet may tell me I'm sweet
And willingly I believe.

I am sixty going on seventy
Beautiful as a rose
Widower dandies, wheelchair bandies
What do I want with those?

Totally unprepared am I
To take a man again.
Timid and shy and scared am I
Of geezers who call themselves men!

I need someone older and wiser
Telling me what to do.
You are seventy going on eighty,
I'll depend on you!

*  *  *

A word?
If you're walking with us out in public and a gazebo appears in the distance?
Distance yourself.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Passing the Pancake Crown

Yes, she could do other things, too . . .

Breakfast.

One of the three best meals of the day.
And especially when one stumbled from bed into the kitchen and realized that Mom had the griddle out.
Mmmm. Pancakes.
The best of the best.
Mom's pancakes were famous.
Well in our world.
Light and fluffy and oh, so eat-able.
And when one started eating, one simply couldn't stop.
My record?
Twelve.
Dripping with butter and syrup.
Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.
When I started dating my Husby, I couldn't wait for him to taste my Mom's pancakes.
Fortunately for him, and his status as boyfriend without sleep-over benefits, there were times when she made them later in the day.
What is even better than breakfast for breakfast?
Breakfast for supper.
My Husby-to-be agreed that Mom's pancakes were truly remarkable.
So much so that he asked her for her recipe.
Now, you have to realize that, by this time, Mom had been making these same pancakes for nearly forty-five years.
She could do them in her sleep.
An important skill first thing in the morning.
But I digress . . .
“Hmm,” she said, frowning thoughtfully. “Sure I can give you the recipe.”
She then proceeded to list ingredients and amounts.
As she had been adding them for decades.
“A couple of scoops of flour. Eggs. Sugar. This much salt.” She held up finger and thumb pinched together. “A couple of cake spoons of baking powder. Milk to make it batter-y.”
My Husby-to-be was frantically scribbling, a slight frown between his brows. When he was done, he stared at what he had written. “Ummm . . . okay,” he said doubtfully.
And he went home and tried them.
Adjusted ingredients and tried again.
And again.
For over 38 years, he has been struggling to get it right.
He's still not there.
And Mom took the original recipe with her when she passed on.
Sigh.
I love pancakes.
I miss my Mom.

P.S. I'd give you the recipe, but it's a work in progress. I'll let you know . . .

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Brave

When the daughter of my Dad's friend brought her future husband to meet her family, this is what her Dad told her/them.

True story.
The brave young man married the girl anyway. 
I just thought it would sound fun as a poem . . .

Intended

Her family had all been awaiting this call.
When they finally could meet her intended.
Unsure if a wedding ball'd ever befall
Or if spinster-hood ever portended.

But a young man, she'd met who was perfect, she'd bet,
In whose honour and love she felt sure.
So homeward, she'd set, their opinion to get,
And to tell her her choice would endure.

Her father shook hands with her sturdy young man
And questioned him closely a while.
They talked of his clan, and he asked him his plans,
Then he turned to his girl, with a smile.

“From all that I hear, you have nothing to fear.
But if his standards aren't mine and your mother's
Don't worry, my dear,” he said to her, clear.
“He'll be buried out back with the others!”

Monday, September 29, 2014

Un-natural Nature

Follow us! We know the way!
Our family was hiking.
The Fenlands Walk in beautiful Banff, Alberta.
A gorgeous two kilometres of shady trails, small bridges, and old forest next to the Bow River.
An easy walk for a group whose members ranged from six weeks to 69 years.
We discovered woodpeckers, squirrels, chipmunks, several ravens, and at least one bull elk.
Dozens of nests.
And, at last count, nine burrows.
Two members had fallen over tree roots and skinned their knees.
One had walked into a branch and gotten moss and/or bugs in her hair.
Three had been chased back onto the trail by Gramma.
One had run into a tree while looking . . . elsewhere.
Two slipped and soaked at least one shoe.
And one had to be nursed.
It was a fun, family type of outing.
Our favourite sort.
Beside the trail were the remains of a large, rotted tree.
A tree that had lived its life.
Perhaps a hundred years or so.
Been struck by lightening.
And then finished off by millions of carpenter ants.
A graceful, natural end to a monarch of the woods.
Our second son was explaining all of this to a rapt audience of five and six-year-olds.
He grabbed the top of the ancient trunk.
“And you see? This is what happened after the tree was killed,” he said, pulling it aside slightly to illustrate.
The entire trunk separated down the middle with a soggy crack.
Our son stared at the remains.
A bit stunned by what had just happened.
The kids were delighted.
They hadn't expected such a grand show on our little walk.
“Wow!” one of the cousins said to his son. “Your Dad just ripped that tree in half with his bare hands!”
His son grinned. “Yup,” he said, matter-of-factly. “My Dad is amazing.”
You can discover a lot of things when you walk through the woods with your family.
Not all of them are about nature.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Just Yesterday

We vacation in Banff, Alberta.
To our family, the most beautiful little corner of the world.
Smelling the sun-baked pines as we hike.
Tasting the pure, clear water.
Renewing our up-close-and-personal relationship with the mountains and all things forest.
This was our 24th year at the Rocky Mountain Resort.
Our family was raised here.
Our kids learned to swim in that pool.
Lob tennis balls across the net in that court.
Work out in that gym.
Follow those trails.
Paddle down that river.
Wonderful, sunny, happy times anticipated throughout the year.
Enjoyed fully and completely, then given a fond farewell until the next time.
This year was a bit different.
Many of our kids were here.
With their kids.
Our little two-bedroom apartment has, of necessity, grown to three similar-sized units.
With a different family filling each one.
There was much scurrying down the porch or across the bridge to the other apartments.
Much giggling and laughter as the cousins played together.
Movie night took up one entire living room/dining room/kitchen.
Just to accommodate the excited little watchers.
And we filled the pool.
One of our granddaughters, aged five, was just learning to swim.
For the first time, she announced that she no longer wanted to wear a life vest.
I was standing at one side of the pool as she swam to me from her mother on the opposite side.
“Kick your legs!” I called to her.
She swam furiously, finally touching my hands and standing up.
Glowing with accomplishment.
And quite suddenly, I was remembering saying and doing the exact same thing with her mother and aunts and uncles.
In the exact same spot.
I'm sure it was just yesterday.

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