Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Cowlights

One of a series of cartoons from the
'What I Saw at the Calgary Stampede' collection
By Calgary Herald cartoonist, Stewart Cameron
Cows.
I know you’ve seen them.
Quietly standing in the ranchers’ fields, peacefully grazing or happily chewing their cud.
Gentle. Calm. Maternal.
Okay, here is where I debunk the myth.
Because – and I know this will be shock to some – All Cows Are Not Created Equal.
Oh, there are many who are exactly as they appear. Tranquil. Easily managed.
But then there are some . . .
Maybe a story will illustrate.
My grandfather, George Stringam, and a group of men had gathered together a herd of cattle for shipping. These animals were from several different herds. None knew each other. (Yes, cows can tell.) And all were ‘feeling their oats’.
So to speak.
They had chased each other around the pens and corrals of the train terminal and finally managed to break down one of the fences.
Oops. I think Bossy did it!
Moving on . . .
One of the critters managed to escape through the newly-created exit.
And she was headed for the nearest far-away place and didn’t care who knew.
By this time, it was growing dark and all of the men were using lanterns to help them see to sort out the mess.
One of the ranchers, intent on stopping this determined animal stepped in front of her.
Yes, you heard that correctly.
His thinking was that if he swung the lantern in front of her, the cow would just naturally turn and head back to the corral.
Seems like a sound theory to me.
Of course it didn’t work.
The cow skimmed past him.
Closely.
In fact, so closely that one of her horns snagged said lantern.
The last they saw of her was a light going over a distant hill.
Do the words, “Follow me! I’ll light the way!” come to mind?
Don’t do it.

Friday, November 28, 2014

To Gramma's House

Gramma and Grampa Stringam
Beginning with Remembrance Day, going through Thanksgiving and into Christmas, the season of ‘family’ and ‘togetherness’ is upon us.
The best part of the year.
However, in 1912, ‘going to visit the family’ took on a whole new meaning.
Let me tell you about it . . .
My Gramma and Grampa Stringam, with their (then) three children, moved to southern Alberta in 1910, leaving their extended family behind them in Utah.
They settled in Glenwood and started to farm.
Outwardly, all was well.
Inwardly, one of them missed her mother.
Finally, after two years of pining and tears, the decision was made for an extended visit.
Gramma and her (by then) four children packed up and, kissing Grampa goodbye, boarded the train for Salt Lake.
The trip there was fairly uneventful, the highlight - seeing the sprinkler system in the Salt Lake depot.
But what came afterward . . . wasn’t.
Uneventful, that is.
Gramma and the kids climbed aboard another train for Salina and then the mail stagecoach from there over the mountain to Thurber and Teasdale.
A short hop by today’s automobile.
A considerably healthy prospect for the white-top mail buggy of the early 1900’s.
In the rain.
On one particularly steep pass, soaked through and tired, the team of horses gave out. Despite considerable encouragement, they refused to move one more step up the mountain, choosing, in typical balky-horse fashion, to back up instead.
They succeeded in backing the coach until they, quite literally, ran out of mountain. When the driver finally got them stopped, the vehicle’s wheels were hanging right out over the edge of the canyon.
Gramma and the kids were frantically extricated and gratefully took shelter under a large spruce, where they turned, as they had been taught, to prayer.
While they were thus engaged, the driver tried – unsuccessfully - to remedy the situation. The wagon remained hanging over the edge of the cliff.
A rather precarious position.
Meanwhile the little family under the tree had finished praying. And it was as that exact moment that a second white-topped buggy came up over the hill.
A buggy that was empty, save for the driver, a local real estate agent. Who, to the little family huddled under the tree, suddenly took on the aspect of a saviour.
The man stopped and surveyed the situation, then climbed down and, using a knife, cut the traces holding the horses to the buggy and led the animals to safety.
The mail man thanked him, threw his mail bags over one horse and mounted the other, and rode on over the mountain, abandoning his little group of paying passengers without a backward look.
On the side of a mountain. In the rain.
Don’t you hate days like that?
Fortunately, the real estate man was very kind and loaded Gramma and her kids into his buggy and delivered them safely to the nearest village.
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful.
Let’s face it. After this experience, most events would pale by comparison.
Gramma and her brood got their visit.
And, for generations to come, a story to tell.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Rock That Planning

Yorkshire Pudding.
A solid piece of our history.
My Husby is a Planner.
Really.
It is a legitimate occupation.
He plans . . . stuff. Has built his career doing it.
Mostly, he plans things like: Museums. Displays. Art galleries. Special facilities for storing special collections.
It has been a varied and unusual career.
And he is very good at what he does.
Except when he tells his wife that whatever she is doing would work better if she used a different system.
That never turns out well.
Moving on . . .
Several years ago, he was leading a team of designers in Fort McMurray.
They were re-designing the displays at the Oil Sands Interpretive Centre.
A fun and exacting job.
It required spending many months in the rapidly expanding oil city of Fort McMurray, Alberta.
At the end of one particularly long day, the team was seated at what had become their favourite restaurant.
Doing what had become their favourite pastime.
Eating.
One of the team members had order a roast beef supper.
With all of the trimmings.
One ‘trimming’ was a large Yorkshire Pudding.
With gravy.
Now I’ve had Yorkshire pudding.
In all its glory.
I love it.
But this particular pudding had been baked too long.
Or left uncovered.
Or simply neglected.
It was, to use a rather over-worked phrase, ‘Hard as a proverbial rock’.
Its owner poked at it morosely.
“This thing is inedible,” he said, sadly. “It looks like one of the rocks in the display case back at the Centre.”
Husby suddenly looked at him, his face breaking into a broad smile. All eyes were on him as he explained his idea for yet another display. Then everyone got up and, pocketing the pudding, headed back to the Centre.
A short time later, they had the cover off the resident large display of rocks (and other things solid and impenetrable).
They rearranged, creating a perfect little space for this, the newest addition.
One of the designers studied the other placards in the case, figured out the font used, and quickly created an official-looking label.
When they left the building later that night, the display of rocks was richer by one, ‘Jurassic Pudding Stone’.
Nothing more was said.
In due course, they completed their assignment and separated, each going back to their normal lives.
Several weeks later, my Husby received a phone call from the director of the newly-refurbished Interpretive Centre.
“Ummm . . . Grant? Did your team touch our rock display case?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, there seems to be an addition of which I’ve only very recently become aware.”
“Oh?”
“Yes. Something called a Jurassic Pudding Stone. Now I looked through every one of my books and couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally, I removed the cover and examined the ‘stone’.
“Yes?”
“Well, it looks to me like a very old, very tired Yorkshire Pudding.”
“Well, that is odd.”
There was silence at the other end. “So you don’t know anything about this?”
“I don’t understand why you are asking me.”
“Well, it seemed . . .  odd. And I thought that you and your team . . .”
“It does sound very interesting and I’d love to see it when I’m up there again.”
Notice the clever prevarication? (Ooo. Good word!)
Back to my story . . .
“Oh. Well, I just thought of you guys and . . . well . . . okay.”
Need something planned?
A building? A display?
A prank?
I know someone you can call.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Iron Lady

Mom. All pressed and ready to go.
My mom was an iron-er.
A Demon iron-er.
She ironed everything.
Shirts. Pants. Dresses. Shorts. T-shirts. Socks. Pillowcases. Handkerchiefs. Sheets. Pajamas.
I kid you not.
Everything.
And when I say ‘she’, I mean her girls.
From the age of eight, I had my own little ironing pile.
Admittedly, it was the more easily ironed items. Pillow cases, handkerchiefs, and  . . . flat stuff.
But it was all mine.
No other hands could – or would - touch it.
Ever.
In fact, it would still be there waiting for me, even if I’d been hiding in the barn all day.
Ahem . . .
Mom was very particular about her ironing. Everything had to be done just so.
I was fortunate in that my items left very little scope for mistakes.
My sister wasn’t nearly so lucky.
I can still see my mom preparing things to iron.
She would sprinkle everything with water, via a spritzer attachment atop a seven-up bottle.
Incidentally, we thought that said spritzer would be great fun in a water fight.
It wasn’t.
Moving on . . .
Then she would carefully roll the sprinkled items into a tight bundle and put them into a plastic bag.
Then put the plastic bag into the fridge.
I know.
I thought it was weird, too.
She said something about ‘keeping things moist’.
Who listened.
One by one, the items were pulled from the bag and ironed.
Then hung.
Then put away.
There was a definite process.
And one didn’t dare skip any of the steps.
Because Mom always knew.
Even if one folded up the handkerchiefs into tiny, tiny little squares.
Tiny.
Those gimlet eyes saw through everything.
Sigh.
Though most everything these days is permanent press, I still iron.
Sometimes.
Okay, I admit it, the bottom of my ironing basket has never actually been seen.
There is a dress down there that's a women's size three!
It’s like an archeological dig.
I miss my Mom.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Little Religious Education

Dinnertime is family time.
And sometimes, you learn a lot.
Let me tell you about it . . .
We had been steadily working our way through husby’s homemade beef stew.
With yummy thick slices of bread.
The conversation – revolved.
Three-year-old Granddaughter #6 (hereinafter known as G6) had finished and was waiting, somewhat patiently, for the rest to follow.
So she could be excused.
Suddenly, she remembered something exciting.
She had just received a new set of scriptures.
And in them, right there in the front, was a picture of Jesus.
This was news that simply couldn’t wait.
She had to show us.
She scrambled down from her chair and ran to fetch her book.
Opening it to the correct page, she proudly displayed the picture for everyone.
The conversation went something like this . . .
G6: “Look! It’s Jesus! Jesus. Everyone! Jesus!”
Daddy: “What’s Jesus’ last name?”
G6: Blank look.
Grandma: “What’s Jesus’ last name, Sweetie?”
G6: Blinking and blank look.
Grandma (speaking slowly in her best this-is-a-hint voice): “Jesus C-h-r-i-s-t . . .”
G6 (light dawns): “Oh!” Big smile. “Amen!”
So just in case you’re wondering about that elusive last name . . .
Now you know.
The picture.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Memories

Yep. Back then, the brain . . . worked.
The summer I was ten, my oldest sister, Chris, volunteered to run a summer day camp for the kids in Milk River.
We had a marvelous time.
Games. Treats. Crafts. Treats. Contests. Treats. Activities. More treats.
I was ten.
Anything to do with food took priority.
Hmm. Still does in fact.
Moving on . . .
Chris put heart and soul into the program.
There were no parameters laid out, so she had to come up with the guidelines and curriculum herself.
She did a wonderful job.
Part way through the summer, she decided that it would be fun if she got all of the kids involved in performing a play.
And not just any play.
The Wizard of Oz.
A fairly ambitious undertaking for a seventeen year old girl and her group of pre-teens.
First, she had to come up with a script.
That was all right, because our family had the story on an LP.
LP.
Go ahead. Google it. We'll wait . . .
And that's where I came in.
I had one talent as a child.
I could memorize.
If I listened to it once, I could pretty much give a detailed description.
If I listened to it a lot?
I could recite it.
With voice inflections and sound effects.
And that was what I did.
For three days, I recited and Chris wrote.
The entire hour-and-a-half of 'The Wizard of Oz'.
As it had been recorded.
We had our script . . .
I should mention here that we never got to perform our play.
We simply ran out of time.
But we learned something important.
If you wanted anything remembered, let Diane listen to it ad infinitum for a couple of days and it was there forever.
Word perfect.
This skill stayed with me for a while.
In fact, I played the lead some years later in 'The Rented Christmas', and memorized the entire play.
To the point that I served as the prompter.
On stage.
My point in telling you all of this is simply to reminisce.
And to lament.
I've been trying to figure out what I watched last night on TV.
I know it was a good movie. And that I enjoyed it immensely.
I can't - for the life of me – remember.
Oh, for just a portion of that bygone talent!
Sigh.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Served With Love

Mmmm . . . love.
We were invited out to dinner last night.
Our hostess served us Turkey a la King.
And fresh, warm muffins.
With a crisp spinach salad.
Everything was absolutely delicious.
Which is usually the case when someone else cooks.
But as I was eating my salad, I suddenly remembered the spinach of my youth . . .
My Mom was a terrific cook.
Really terrific.
I can't remember anything that she made that I didn't like.
From her breakfasts of pancakes or waffles or bacon and eggs, through to her suppers of roast beef or shepherd's pie or veggies with cheese sauce, and everything in between.
Terrific.
But Mom had been raised by her Mom to believe that everything . . . everything . . . needed to be well done.
Meats.
Carbs.
Even veggies.
All had to be baked or fried or boiled to 'within and inch of their lives'.
Or at least until they had lost whatever colour they originally had.
It wasn't until I was married that I discovered the joy of 'medium rare' and 'tender crisp'.
And sometimes . . . raw.
I remember the first time someone served a mound of fresh, crisp cauliflower.
Uncooked.
With dipping sauce.
I stared at it.
Weird.
Cauliflower was suppose to be served steaming hot.
With cheese sauce.
I didn't even try it that time. Merely having seen it was sufficient for me.
Shortly afterwards, I did.
Try it, I mean.
I found it delicious.
And it opened a whole new world for me.
A world of colour and taste and texture that I never knew existed.
Back to the spinach.
Do you know how my Mom always served it?
Boiled.
Not steamed. Boiled.
I kid you not.
Then serve it as a glop on our plates.
With vinegar.
And you know something else?
We loved it.
Slurped it down like it was our last food on earth.
My point here is that I love food the way I prepare it now.
But I loved it equally as well when Mom fixed it.
I guess it all just comes down to how much love is served with it.

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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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