Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, May 2, 2015

Starting at One

A re-post of our first date to commemorate our thirty-ninth anniversary.
First Dates are like Dress Rehearsal. If a Dress Rehearsal is terrible, the play will be great. Likewise, if the First Date is terrible, the Marriage will be great.                                                         Diane Tolley

Thirty-nine years today!
First dates.
Relationship killer or kindler . . .
I had known Grant for just over two months.
We attended the same church.
He was cute.
Really cute.
We decided to go on a date. Well, actually, I decided and he . . . never mind.
The first half of the date was fairly low-key:
He was driving a volleyball team to an away game.
Because he could.
The team played. We drove home. And that's as far as our plans went.
But there was still evening ahead.
What to do?
We stood there.
Rather awkwardly.
Finally he proposed that we go to his parent's house and see what movies were on TV.
It was the early 70's. Your choices were limited. In fact, you were pretty much stuck with whatever your one TV station had planned.
We were lucky. There was a movie programmed.
But that's where our luck ran out because it was a movie that both of us had seen.
And neither wanted to see again.
But we grabbed snacks and settled in.
I should point out here that Grant was the middle child of a large family. And yet we had the front room to ourselves.
On a Saturday night.
Weird.
Moving on . . .
I watched the movie.
He slept. (Something that happens to this day . . .)
When the movie ended, sometime around midnight, I woke him and indicated that I was more than ready to go home.
Sleepily, he complied (real word).
The miles to the ranch were covered quickly as we talked and laughed.
A little too quickly.
Suddenly, by the light of his car headlights, we were staring at my parent's house.
What to do?
Kiss?
Shake hands?
It had been a wonderful evening. We had talked and laughed.
And he had taken a nap.
Yep. Wonderful.
We settled on a hug. And the promise of a second date the next evening.
And now perfect.
He walked me to my door. And we discovered that, for the first time in the history of the world, Dad had locked it.
Really.
It had never happened before.
I turned the knob in disbelief. What on earth was going on?
I walked around to the main doors.
Also locked.
I had somehow slipped into an alternate universe.
I went to my parents' bedroom window and tapped softly.
"Daddy?"
"Mom?"
No answer.
I tapped louder.
Still no answer.
They must be out.
What was I going to do? Visions of staying the night in one of the barns flashed through my head.
I suddenly missed my bed.
I walked back to Grant, still waiting patiently beside the first door.
"Maybe we can open the window into Daddy's office," I said, pointing to the window beside the door.
"Okay."
I tried to push it up. It moved. Half an inch.
"Maybe if we pry it . . ."
Obligingly (great word) Grant grabbed a nearby shovel and pushed the edge under the window.
It slid up some more.
He applied greater pressure. Another inch.
Then, the shovel broke.
I am not making this up.
It really broke. The bottom edge came right off.
Huh. I didn't know they could do that.
Stupid, cheap shovel.
Fortunately, by this time, I could get my fingers under the window and was able to shove it upwards. I climbed through, turned and waved good-bye to my date and slid the window shut.
All was well.
The next day was Sunday. I was looking forward to seeing Grant in church and had settled myself in the chapel and was watching the door.
He finally came through it, rather red-faced, and sat beside me.
I stared at him.
He was embarrassed.
Huh.
Later, he told me that, as he had entered the building, he had met my father and our Bishop just inside the front doors.
My Dad had grabbed his hand in greeting, then hung onto it and turned to the Bishop.
"Bishop, do you know that this young man broke into my house last night?"
Grant swears his heart fell into his shoes.
Dad then turned to Grant and said, "Didn't you get it?  I didn't want her back!"
Did I mention that Dad is a great joker?
But to this day, I wonder if he really meant it.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Hot Mom

Watch me as I melt . . .
Have you noticed words you say
Mean something different today,
Than what they meant so long ago
When you were young and days went slow?

There are a few that fit, I think,
Like ‘gay’ and ‘pot’ and ‘spam’ and ‘shrink’.
But one I’ve kept throughout my life
As daughter, sister, mother, wife.

The word is ‘hot’, I’m here to say
And has been used most every day.
When I was four, it simply meant
I was too warm, my vigour spent.

Then teen-aged years crept up on me
And ‘hot’ meant something else, you see.
T’was what we all aspired to,
When hanging round the kids we knew.

But now I’m old, my hair is grey
And ‘hot’ is with me every day.
In seasons cold, and seasons warm,
Somehow the word has lost all charm.

‘Cause now it’s simply how I feel
When’er my world begins to reel.
The slightest stress, the merest strain
My temp is through the roof again.

So know, if you should hear me speak,
And perspiration starts to streak,
That being sexy’s mostly not
What’s meant when’er I say “I’m hot!”

Thursday, April 30, 2015

'Shain' of Command

Okay, I'm not sure if this is what it looked like,
but I know it had four wheels and seats for all of us . . .
My sister, Chris had turned 16.
And gotten her driver's license.
For us kids on the ranch, the world had just gotten a whole lot smaller.

It was our first foray into town without parental supervision.
For the first time, ever, there would only be siblings in the car.
A truly magical night was planned:
1. Great company. (Jerry and George wouldn't tease me, even once. They had promised.)
2. Great entertainment. (The Friday night movie was always a first-run hit, thanks to the theatre politics of the time - but that is another story . . .)
3. Our own little Envoy station wagon. (With two-week veteran, Christine, at the wheel.)
4. An anticipated stop at the local drive-in after the movie. (Mmmm . . . burgers . . .)
5. The heart-stopping possibility of joining a queue of cars cruising main. (Our first chance to participate. Somehow, cruising main had never been considered when Mom or Dad were chauffeuring . . .)
Yes, magical was the right word.
And it all happened. The movie, the drive-in, the cruise.
Best. Night. Ever.
Then, as with any magical night, twelve o'clock came. With some sadness, our little Envoy was pointed towards the far distant lights of home and ordered to return us there.
Obligingly, it started out.
Then, partway home, it stopped.
My two mechanically-minded brothers scrambled happily out of the car. Almost instantly, they spotted the problem. A disconnected fuel line. Easily repaired.
I think they were a bit disappointed the problem was eliminated so quickly; they would have loved to crawl over, under and through  . . .
We were again under way.
Only to stop once more a few miles further down the road. This time, out of gas. Obviously, the fuel line had done more than just briefly stop the engine.
We four independent kids sat there in the moonlight, wondering what to do.
And suddenly realizing that independence wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
Let me paint you the picture . . .
The year was 1966. Phones had just recently been installed in the ranching country of Milk River and ran on the 'crank' method. (Our ring was two longs, by the way.) Cell phones existed only in Star Trek. We were about 6 miles from town. The nearest neighbours were at '117', a ranching community about 5 miles away. Our home was a further 9 miles from there. Few people used this road during the day, and even fewer by night. The chance of rescue by someone heading home was slim to non-existent.
It was a fairly warm night with a full, bright moon. Still, we were hesitant to start walking. There was no possibility of getting lost, but wolves, though not common, weren't unheard of. Or cougars either, for that matter.
What to do.
And then we saw lights. Behind us, coming up from town.
Real lights. On a real vehicle.
Coming fast.
Now who on earth could that be at this time of night on these roads?
An elderly pickup slid to a halt beside us. The dust always followed directly after, settling belatedly down over the scene.
Two doors popped open.
And two bachelors who lived in the foothills west of our ranch leaned into the window. The smell of their breath hit us before they had even opened their mouths.
And suddenly it became clear just why we weren't the only crazies out at this time of night.
Obviously, DUI hadn't been invented yet.
"Hello, Kids!" the first one said, slurring his words slightly. "What'sa matter?"
"We've run out of gas," Chris said, hesitantly.
"Oh tha's no problem," the second said. "We've got a shain!"
Oh, goody. They had a shain.
The 'shain' turned out to be a chain, which they proceeded with . . . colourful language and various starts and stops . . . to hitch to the front bumper of our car.
"All set, kids?"
My sister gripped the steering wheel.
And we were off!

Let me just say this . . . elderly bachelors, driving an equally elderly truck, and having just come from their twice yearly trip to the bars in Sweetgrass, could sure cover the ground.
We approached speeds nearing 50 miles per hour. And that was on gravel roads, at night.
And hitched to the vehicle in front of us by a 10 foot shain . . . erm . . .chain.
I was right. My sister, though just a two-week veteran, was a veteran. Her driving that night would have inspired Mario Andretti. (Go ahead, google him. We'll wait . . .)
At one point, the chain came off and the ancient truck drove on without us. We coasted to a stop and watched them go, wondering if they would even notice.
But half a mile further up, they slid to a stop in a cloud of dust, and then dutifully returned. After repeating the whole 'sorting out the shain' episode, we were off again.
The lights of the ranch never, ever, looked so good.
The men dropped us and our lifeless vehicle in the barnyard, waved cheerfully and wound their way back up the drive.
We marched happily to the house, full of the excitement of the evening and its hair-raising conclusion.
I have to tell you that was just the beginning of many, many trips to town for fun and entertainment.
But somehow, no matter what was planned, nothing quite matched the adrenaline of that first experience.
I guess 'brushes with death' hold an excitement all their own.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A P-P-Poem for T-T-Tuesday

Sailor Sam’s a nervous sort,
So when excitement thrums,
Can hardly stammer out a word,
A stutter-er, becomes . . .

The ship was cruising east to west,
The sails were athwart,
When wide-eyed Sam approached the Cap,
With something to report.

“C…C…C…C…C…C...” he said.
The Captain signed ‘okay’.
“Th…Th…Th…” the sailor gasped.
He’d nothing else to say.

The Captain’d heard poor Sam before,
He knew what Sam should do.
“Just sing it, Seaman,” Captain said.
“You’ll find that you’ll get through.”

Sam went away and thought a bit,
Then came back to his chief.
And cleared his throat and tunefully
He started his debrief.

“Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind . . .
The bloomin’ cook fell overboard,
And is forty miles behind!”

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Gopher Tail

Nature boy.
It was 1934 and the Stringams had a gopher problem.
For any of you who have lived on or near a farm/ranch, you know that gophers cause no end of troubles. They dig burrows that can and do break the legs of horses and cattle. They eat grain intended for the livestock. They make little gophers, who then become big gophers who, in turn, add to the all-of-the-above-mentioned problems.
The fact that they’re cute and furry with big, dark eyes, has no bearing on the story. And no, Diane, you can’t keep one!!! Sorry. Remembering my childhood and the voice of my father there. Back to my story . . .
Nine-year-old future-Dad-to-Diane had been assigned the all-important job of gopher eradication. It was a fairly simple process.
1. Find a burrow.
2. Set the traps.
3. Dispatch the cute but unwanted vermin that wound up in the traps.
Oh, and:
4. Remove the tails from the dead gophers and give them to your father and receive one penny.
Yep. Simple.
A little background is needed: The Stringam chicken coop was actually a cave dug back into the cliff. Faced with river rock, mortared together with mud, it seemed an impregnable fortress for things feather-headed and vulnerable. The feather heads were moved in.
And almost immediately, attracted something that liked things feather-headed and vulnerable. Something small and gopher-sized that could dig through the mud mortar and into the coop.
I should also mention that gophers really weren’t known for their chicken-dispatching tendencies. This was one weird gopher.
Dad hunted around and finally discovered its burrow. Then set his little snares. And waited.
After four days, he decided that nothing was going to be fooled into stepping into his cleverly-disguised traps, so he walked over to the burrow, prepared to dismantle the whole set-up.
And discovered that he had finally been successful.
He had snared a gopher.
But what a gopher!
He stared at it. It was the approximate colour of a gopher. And furry. But there, all similarities ended. This animal was absurdly long. And narrow. With a long tail.
Dad shrugged. He had a job to do and a penny is a penny. He moved closer and reached for the animal.
Then jumped back in alarm as the animal leaped at him, hissing.
In Dad’s own words, “It scared the wits out of me!”
The intrepid hunter burst into tears. And ran to his brother, Lonnie, working in the shop a short distance away. Lonnie, with still-sobbing Dad following closely behind, went to take a look at this strange gopher that had the nerve to scare his baby brother.
“You’ve caught a weasel!” he said.
Weasels are also persona non grata on a farm/ranch. They eat the chickens (see above). Just FYI.
In short order, the weasel suffered the same fate as a gopher would have.  The chickens stopped dying and peace was restored.
But the best part was that Dad got a whole nickel for the weasel’s tail. Four cents because it was four times longer than a gopher tail.
And one cent for tears and anguish.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The End of a Show

We are theatre people.
Have been for more years than I care to confess.
My Emperor's New Clothes, the play we have been producing for four months drew to a close last night.
So many hours of hard work for so many wonderful people.
And such a triumph!
Let me give you a glimpse (Photos by Kristi Pfeiffer):
The whole crew. (Minus a few musicians . . .)

The Emperor (his daughter and the townspeople) singing about his favourite subject. Him.

The show did not lack in smacks!

My son, the cop, in 'disguise'.

The Emperor at the point of discovering 'he has nothing on'!


Our intrepid co-director, Kathy.

Kathy's intrepid other half, Jodi.

My son, Mark, who composed the music.

Husby and me. Doing what we do best.
And now the bitter-sweet moment has arrived.
The work is over.
But the 'togetherness' is, too.
The memories will live on forever!
Thank you to my ward/theatre family.
I love you all!

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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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