Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, February 14, 2015

First Valentine

My First Valentine is nearly 90 years old.

I have been visiting him and making sure he is eating and all of the important stuff . . .
Look at that sweet face . . .
I was out yesterday, at Dad’s local grocery, buying food.
I so love buying food!
I walked past a display of Valentine goodies.
And stopped.
There were several heart-shaped boxes.
 Beautifully, elegantly - decorated boxes.
Cute, colourful boxes.
Boxes with favourite cartoon characters printed on the lids.
Dozens of kinds to choose from.
Somewhere in the middle was a stack of boxes.
Simple.
Red.
They reminded me of something.
A gift from my Dad on a Valentine’s Day many, many years ago.
Dad always gave my Mom a heart-shaped box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day.
Always.
It was the one special day of the year he was confident in his gift-giving abilities.
The year I turned six was even more special for me.
It was the year that Dad first included me in the gift giving.
At breakfast that morning, he handed my mom a beautifully decorated large box of chocolates.
To much oohing and ahhing from us kids.
Then he smiled at me and handed me a box.
A small, heart-shaped box of chocolates all my own.
I stared at him.
Then at the box.
For me?
All for me?
He nodded. “For my littlest Valentine,” he said.
I jumped up and gave him a hug. Then snatched the box and fled.
The chocolates inside were gone faster than you can blink.
But the box remained.
 Because I like boxes.
For years, it held my smallest treasures.
Then, when I moved out, it remained with all the little keepsakes of my childhood . . .
I didn't mention the Valentine's display to my Dad. I thought that when the time came, I would just go and buy one of those boxes for him.
Last night, as we were sitting visiting, he asked me to get him his little sewing kit.
I went to fetch it.
And discovered that his sewing kit was my little chocolate box.
I held it in my hands and stared at it.
I was suddenly six years old again.
Receiving my first Valentine’s gift from my first Valentine.
Such a sweet, sweet memory.
I'm here to help my Dad.
But really, he is helping me.
A little the worse for the wear,
but it is over 50 years old! Like me . . .

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Family Car Trip

Ready to go.
Pictured L to R: Anita, Blair, Dad, George, Jerry,
Missing: Mom, Chris, Diane and the potty.
Traffic has slowed to a crawl.
Not a usual thing for a small, semi-hard-topped, two lane, secondary road twisting through the foothills of Southern Alberta.
The Stringams join the end of a line of cars.
Dad peers ahead through the windshield. "Huh. Weird." 
"What on earth could be causing this?" Mom spits on a Kleenex and starts to scrub the face of her youngest son. "Careful with that chocolate bar, son, you're getting it on your father."
"Can't see, yet. But the line will be straightening out soon and . . . ah!"
The line has done so and disclosed the culprit.
A house.
White clapboard.
Two storey.
Not something you see in the middle of the road every day.
Usually that's reserved for bungalows . . .
The house creeps along. The Stringams creep along behind it, more cars joining them every minute or so like the growing tail of some large, unwieldy monster.
"Mom! I have to go potty!" Little brother, Blair, is standing on the front seat and has started doing the dance.
"I wonder if he knows we're here." Mom pulls the potty out from under her seat. "You'll just have to go while we're moving, dear. We don't want to lose our place in line."
Right. Because the Stringams will be left behind as the rest of the line of traffic moves off at 10 MPH?
"Mom! I hate going when the car is moving!"
"Well, try not to miss." She turns to Dad. "How long till the turn?" 
"At this rate? About three days."
The family is heading to the relatives for dinner. Mom and Dad are beginning to hope that their food tastes 'just as good the second day'.
Mom opens her car door and dumps out the potty, then wipes it out with the spit Kleenex, stuffs it back under her seat and drops the used tissue into her handy-dandy paper bag trash receptacle.
She glances around at her brood. Four are scattered across the wide back seat.
Important note: Seatbelts and safety measures haven't been invented yet.
Jerry and George are arguing over a car magazine. Chris and Diane are reading. Diane is getting rather green around the gills.
Mom frowns. Might be a good time to distract Diane. She glances out the window, hoping to spot some horses. The only thing known to pull Diane from a book.
Blair is now happily parked in the front seat between Mom and Dad, looking at the pictures in one of his brother's comic books.
Anita is perched on Mom's knees, nose against the window and half-filled bottle of cream soda in her lap.
"Mom! I wanna drink!" George has given up trying to wrench the magazine from his older brother and is now sitting with his arms crossed on the back of the front seat.
"Okay. I just get one here . . ." Mom mimes taking a glass and turning on a tap. "There you go!"
"Mom! A real drink! Of Pop!"
Dad glances back at his second son. "There'll be plenty of pop in the well when we get there!" 
"You can have some of mine!" Anita offers her bottle.
George looks at the pale-pink liquid that started out a brilliant red and makes a face. "That's okay. I can wait."
"Mom? I'm car sick!" Diane has emerged from her book on her own.
Not a good sign.
Again the potty comes into play. Diane now sits with it on her lap.
"How much further?" Chris has come up for air.
"A year or two," Dad again leans forward and peers through the front windshield.
"I'll tell a story!" Mom volunteers. She proceeds to drag out her Reader's Digest and regale the family with a humorous gem about being raised in the ghettos of New York.
The story winds down and she closes the magazine.
George sighs. "I'm bored."
Mom blinks. That was fast. Then her face lights up. "Let's play a game! How about 20 questions?"
Jerry drops his magazine to the floor. "Okay! I've got it!"
"Animal, vegetable or mineral?"
"Animal."
"Is it dead?"
"Maybe."
"Hey! You can't have maybes! Only 'yes' or 'no'!"
The game is played to its usual conclusion.
Elvis.
And another round starts.
Blair and Anita have fallen asleep.
Mom rescues the offensive cream-soda bottle just before it tips over. She again opens her car door and discretely empties it out onto the road.
Diane imagines, for a moment what it must be like to follow the Stringam's car at 10 MPH. Heads bobbing about. Car door opening periodically to expel various fluids.
"Oh, look!" Dad grins and points. "The house is pulling over!"
Mom laughs. "Now that's not something you hear often!"
Mom always manages to keep her sense of humour. It's a gift.
Slowly, the line of cars begins to pull out around the house like a stream finding its way around a large, recently-dropped stone.
Dad pulls up beside the house driver and gestures to Mom, who rolls down her window. "Why don't you get a travel trailer, like everyone else?" he shouts with a grin. 
"I'm so sorry!" the driver shouts back. "Were you following me long?"
About four years, three months, twenty-one days, and thirteen hours, Dad thinks. "Oh, no. Not long!" 
They wave to each other and the Stringam car moves off.
Just another family car trip.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Forklift Fiasco

Just when you thought you knew what went on behind the scenes...
My daughter works in Theatre.
It is an adventurous, kaleidoscopic, challenging, exciting, sometimes disturbing way to make a living.
It also requires one to think quickly on one’s feet and handle any (and all) challenges that may be thrust in one’s way.
Because the show must go on.
Throughout her career, she has built sets, created props, installed/focussed/programmed lights, produced/managed entire shows and everything in between.
This story is about one of those ‘in-betweens’.
And the whole ‘show-must-go-on’ scenario.
The Fringe Festival was gearing up. (The Edmonton International Fringe Festival is an annual arts festival held every August in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Produced by the Fringe Theatre Adventures (FTA), it is the oldest and largest fringe theatre festival in North America. The Edmonton Fringe is a founding member of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals. Just FYI.)
Signage needed to be installed.
Attached to the existing street lights.
Someone with a height anomaly (as in ridiculously tall) needed to be found.
Or maybe they would just find a person who could run the forklift presently residing in the Fringe impound.
The call went out, in usual Theatre jargon. “I need someone to take their lives in their hands.”
And was quickly answered by my daughter. “I’ll do it!” A forklift was a machine. A benign, helpful, non-deleterious machine. I mean – what’s the worst that could happen?
Dutifully, she slipped into the driver’s seat and twiddled the unfamiliar controls.
Her braver-than-smart co-worker stepped into the appropriately-named man-cage and buckled up.
They were ready.
They approached the first light pole.
Daughter carefully, though rather jerkily, raised the cage plus co-worker.
Sign was duly attached.
Sighs of relief were heard.
Co-worker was lowered.
They approached the second pole.
This went on for some time.
Daughter was beginning to feel quite skilled. Even ambidextrous.
Then they reached one of the 104 Street light poles.
There was nothing to suggest that this was any different than the scores of others they had already approached and conquered.
But what they failed to see was the 104 Street sign dangling from the bracket on said light pole.
Co-worker saw it first. And tried to halt the inevitable: “You’re too close to the sign! Stop! Stop!! Stop!!!”
Crunch.
Oops.
The 104 Street sign, to this day, sports an impressive dent. Every time we see it (And it happens often because we are, after all, theatre people.) we point it out to whoever may be with us.
Our daughter’s handiwork.
We’re so proud.

P.S. Sometime, remind me to tell you about the Zebra.

Each Wednesday, Delores of Under the Porch Light issues a challenge - and six words - to her followers. It's fun. Hurry over and see what the others have come up with. Or better yet, join us! 
This week's words?
deleteriousambidextrousanomalyforkliftimpound and zebra.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

(Not-So) Aptly Named

Today is my eldest son's 38th birthday.
38th.
Wow. I've just realized how old that makes me.
Sigh.
The following is a story from many years ago.
When he was little.
And cute.

Okay, I still think he's cute . . .
Little Mark. And a friend.
Big Mark

Dr. Mark Reed Stringam.

My Dad.
Husband. Father. Grandfather. Great-grandfather. Adviser. Confidante. Friend.
Veterinarian.
Rancher extraordinaire. Breeder of purebred polled Herefords, single-handedly working to improve the beef industry in Alberta.
And succeeding.
With so great a man as his example, our eldest son could only profit from sharing his name.
And so we decided to name him Mark.
Enough background.
My parents had taken my husband, myself, and our two small sons to dinner to celebrate my birthday. It had been a lovely time. Wonderful roast beef for which the restaurant was famous. Wonderfully sparkling, satisfying conversation. Two well-behaved little boys. (Hey! This is my story. I can remember it the way I want!)
We were replete. On every level.
It was time to go.
I packed the baby into his carrier and my dad picked up Mark, his fourth grandson (the first named for him) and we headed towards the door.
In the entry, we paused for a few moments, waiting for my Mom.
Mark Jr., safely ensconced in his grandfather's arms, began to look around. He discovered a pin in the lapel of his grandfather's suit jacket.
A spiffy gold pin in the shape of a polled Hereford.
Oooh. Shiny.
The small hand reached out, caressing the fascinating bit of gold.
Pretty.
"Do you like that, Mark?"
"Mmmm."
"Do you know what it is?" A note of pride crept into the grandfatherly voice.
Small head nodding.
"What is it?"
Our son, the namesake of the great Hereford breeder who was holding him, the small child who had been around cattle since he was born, could not help but get this right.
We waited breathlessly for the answer.
Mark screwed up his face thoughtfully. Then smiled. "Pig!" he said.
Oh, how have the mighty fallen . . .

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Paradise Lost

I'm a maker-of-beds; a bed-maker, me.
I do it to make things as neat as can be.
My Husby’s a nest-er; glad burrower, he.
Rolled in the bedclothes, cocooned in debris.

I'm ready as soon as my feet hit the floor,
To straighten and tighten and tuck and restore.
While Husby, yes he of the im-press-ive snore
[Through his actions], explains just what bedding is for.

We don’t argue or fight – we’re above all of that,
We don’t even have what you might call ‘a spat’.
But with such different wishes, his – messy; mine – flat,
You’re wondering how we've avoided combat . . .

Well . . .

There’s something that you need to know about me,
I'm sneaky. Hereafter, I'm sure you’ll agree.
Through the night, he may bundle as tight as can be,
But, sooner or later, he’ll have to go [pee].

Forgive my crass blurting of natural acts,
But this is what happens. Yes. These are the facts.
As he nips to the ‘john’ to regroup and relax,
His spouse leaps from bed, morning ritual enacts.

Emerging, he sees, once again, he’s been bossed.
That his needed relief didn't come without cost.
He looks at the blankets, once comfy and tossed,
Heaves a soft, simple sigh for his Paradise Lost.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Tree Speak

My Trees . . . and some of their brothers
I had to bundle up for my walk this morning.
It was -28C (-19F) with a nasty, evil north-westerly wind blowing. Temperature allowing for wind chill = -40C (-40F)
I walked fast.
The most difficult part of my walk is past the south end of a wide park.
In the summer, it is truly beautiful.
In the winter, with a north-westerly (see above) wind blowing, it is an open space where the elements can really get up a head of steam. So to speak.
As with many things in life, though, once one gets through the worst, the best appears. 
Just past the park is a stand of hundred year-old pines.
Instantly, the force of the wind is lessened to insignificance.
There is only a soft 'hiss' as it threads its way through the green boughs. 
I stopped, as I do every morning, to listen.
Instantly transported back to a special time in my childhood . . .
In 1938, as a young man, my dad planted two pines in back of the family's home on the Stringam ranch.
Twenty-two years later, those same trees, now behemoths among their lesser brothers, sat in the front yard of the newly-constructed ranch house.
The kitchen, dining room and garage faced those trees.
And my bedroom.
It was summer.
One of those special days of pure, clear air, blue skies and soft wind.
When living on the prairies is is a gift of inestimable value.
It was early. Mom had been stirring in the kitchen since dawn.
I was lying awake in my bed, listening to a sound that drifted in through my opened windows and was, at once, calming and intriguing.
I had never noticed it before.
A soft ssssssssssssss.
Mom came into the room and sat on the edge of my bed.
“Time to get up, Pixie-Girl.”
“Mom, what's that sound?”
She cocked her head to one side and listened. “What sound, Sweetheart?”
“Listen.”
She went still.
“There. Hear it? That ssssss.”
She smiled. “That's the wind in the trees outside your window.”
I stood up on the bed and looked outside.
The two great trees were there in the front yard, effectively screening the house from the rest of the ranch buildings.
They were still.
Then I heard it again. Ssssss.
This time, I noticed some movement in the huge branches. Slight. But there if you looked.
My trees were speaking to me!

Standing there this morning, surrounded by the massive evergreens, I closed my eyes and I was a little girl again, lying in her bed.
With my mom busy in the kitchen.
And my trees as whispering and murmuring to me from the front yard.
The sweet sound of memories.

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