Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, May 9, 2015

Home Run

The mighty Ball Player/Cheer leader.
At the Stringam ranch, size definitely mattered.
Average was never good enough.
The buildings were oversized. The land was oversized. The animals were oversized.
Well, at least that's how everything looked to me.
I was four.
One thing that was larger than normal was the barnyard and I know that because . . . well, I'm getting ahead of myself.
The game of preference among the ranch residents was baseball.
On summer evenings, once all of the animals had been properly tucked in for the night, the hired men would challenge each other - and any one else who could swing a bat - to a game of pick-up.
In the barnyard. (Remember what I said about size . . .?)
I was always parked safely atop the fence behind home plate and charged with the solemn duty of being the sole member of the audience.
They told me it was because I was the best at cheering. But I knew differently. It was because they feared my 'heavy hitter' status.
Well, if they wanted me to cheer. Cheering was what they would get.
Enthusiasm, I had.
Unfortunately, staying power, I didn't.
Inevitably, something would distract me. A cat. Dog. Butterfly. Imagined cat, dog or butterfly. Clouds. Grass. Wind.
And quite often, the game went far past my all-important bedtime - which, I might point out, came while the sun was still high in the sky and which was a terrible waste of daylight, in my opinion.
But I digress . . .
Once a summer, we had a most magical Saturday. When the haying is finished and the evening chores are still hours away.
Time for the annual Saturday afternoon baseball game.
Even my mom left her evening meal preparations and myriad other duties and joined us. (I should point out here that Mom was probably the best hitter of the lot - a fact that rather irked most of the hired men.)
My Mom, Dad and brother, George, were playing on a team with two of the men. My elder brother Jerry, sister Chris and four other men made up the other side.
I was, once more, on the fence.
Figuratively and literally.
The game was pretty much tied up.
Whatever that meant.
Al was up to bat and there was a strange gleam in his eye.
Not that I could see it. On the fence. Remember?
He nailed that ball and it sailed straight and fast, over the heads of our intrepid outfielders, and towards the barn. The new barn. With brand new windows.
One of which did not survive what happened next.
Everyone gasped and winced when the tinkle of breaking glass reached us a split second later.
Our only ball disappeared inside.
Time was called as everyone scrambled toward the barn.
Al was left at home plate, still clutching the bat, a look of horror on his face.
For the next half-hour, we searched for that ball.
The shattered window bore mute evidence of it's passing. But it was not to be found.
Directly inside the row of windows was a corridor which ran in front of the tie-stalls and allowed for feeding. On one side of this corridor, the outer wall, on the other, solid, wood planks reaching to a height of about five feet and forming the front of the stalls. Then there were the stalls themselves. Then another, wider corridor. And on the other side of that space, the tack rooms.
Every square inch of the tack rooms, stalls and in fact, the whole lower floor of the barn were minutely searched.
No ball.
And chore time was fast approaching.
And people were talking about Al's hit as having been 'over the fence'. There were several long faces as the members of the opposite side acknowledged that Al's team had just drawn into the lead by one run.
Those people frantically began sifting through the hay in the mangers. The straw on the floor.
Still no ball.
"If we don't find it soon," my dad said, "we'll have to quit. We have to do the chores before it gets dark."
Redoubled efforts.
Still no ball.
Then Al, he of the mighty swing, walked over to the broken window to inspect the damage more closely.
"Well, here it is!" he said.
The rest of us turned to look. Sure enough, he was holding our baseball.
"Where was it?" Dad asked.
"Here. On the windowsill."
"What?" Everyone clustered around.
"Yeah. It was sitting here on the windowsill."
"But how could that be?" Mom asked. "It went through the window like a shot. We all saw it."
"I dunno. I just found it sitting here on the windowsill."
"Well, that is strange."
They probably figured out instantly what had happened, but I had climbed on one of the horses and missed the dénouement.
Fairly typical for someone with my short attention span.
The game went on and the incident was relegated to an amusing side note in a (with the exception of the broken window) very fun afternoon.
It was years before I figured out exactly what had actually happened.
I'll leave you to figure it out . . .

Friday, May 8, 2015

Parking Marks

My stylin' ride.
The grocery store in Milk River in the 50's was on main street.
Parking was on the street.
Angle only.
I know this doesn't seem to have much to do with my story, but wait for it . . .

Mom usually came into town once a week to do the grocery shopping.
For me, it was a magical time. Mind you, I was born with unfettered enthusiasm. For me, everything was magical. But I digress . . .
On this particular occasion, my brother George was with us.
The two of us had been separated because he was causing fights.
Not me.
Never me.
Ahem . . .
So George was in the back seat and I was in the front.
Mom parked the car in front of the AGT building, directly across from the grocery store, and got out.
When we made to follow her, she put out her hand and told us to stay where we were.
As punishment for being so disruptive on the trip into town, both of us were forbidden from going into the store.
Mom was only going in for a moment.
We could sit in the car quietly and think about what we had done.
We each thought about it in our own unique fashion.
George pouted. Arms crossed, face fixed in a frown of displeasure.
I did gymnastics.
I should probably point out here that the seats of our (then) late-model car were wide.
And long.
And bouncy.
I started out small. Bouncing up and down in a sitting position.
Then I discovered that I could get more height if I got up on my knees.
Finally, I was standing, hands on the back of the seat, jumping up and down. I think I hit my head numerous times on the roof, but no brain, no pain.
I continued to bounce.
I should point out here that, in the 50's, crime hadn't been invented yet. It wasn't unusual for people to leave their kids in a car. With the keys in the ignition.
And the car running.
Don't condemn my Mom. She was a product of her time.
I bounced closer and closer to the steering wheel and wondrous, automatic gearshift attached to it.
Closer. Closer.
And then . . . that one bounce too many. I came down on the gearshift.
The car lurched into action, leaping over the curb and across the sidewalk on fat, whitewall tires.
I think I screamed, but I can't be sure.
There was a distinct 'crunch' and the car came to a sudden stop.
I don't remember George's reaction. I think he remained stoically silent in the back seat.
I picked myself up off the floor and began to cry.
And suddenly, my Mom was there. Holding me in her arms and telling me that everything was all right.
Mom was really, really good at that.
After she had calmed me down, she set me back on the seat and put the car into reverse and edged back off the sidewalk. Then she put it into park and, this time, shut it off and we all got out to survey the damage.
The bumper had pierced the stucco, leaving a half-moon crescent in the wall of the building, just below the front windows.
Where the entire AGT staff had assembled.
They waved, cheerfully.
Mom sighed and towed us into the office to explain.
The office workers were remarkably forgiving of the whole incident. Even laughing about it.
Red-faced, Mom was soon able to drag George and I back to the car.
I think I received a lecture on using the inside of the car as a playground, but it wasn't very forceful.
Probably because Mom realized that the whole thing wouldn't have happened if she hadn't left the car running.
The mark I had made in the wall remained there for many, many years. Until the building was renovated and re-faced, in fact.
Some time after my escapade, a second crescent appeared in that same wall, just a few feet from mine, obviously from a similar source.
I examined it carefully. It was a good attempt.
But mine was better.
Circa 2011. (52 AD (After Diane))
Note the damage. Or not . . .

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Prayed Awake

See? Adorable.

I went away to school.

Far away.
It was the most difficult four months of my life.
But I learned a lot.
Most importantly, I learned that I really don’t like to be away from family.
All I could think about was being home.
I learned a lot about prayer in those days.
It got me through.
My five roommates were great. Supportive, fun, encouraging, sympathetic.
And they taught me something about prayer as well.
Maybe I should explain . . .
I lived in an apartment with three bedrooms.
Each shared by two girls.
My roommate, Bev, was a sweetheart.
Kind. Sweet. Patient. Soft-spoken.
And very strong in her faith.
It was not unusual for her to kneel in prayer for a long time.
A. Very. Long. Time.
At some point, shortly after we became roommates, I realized that she wasn’t praying.
She was asleep.
There. On her knees on the hard old floor.
It couldn’t have been comfortable.
After that, when she had been praying for what seemed a sufficient amount of time, I would make some noise.
Not a lot.
Just enough so that if she really had dozed off, it would stir her.
And save those knees.
Now Bev was nothing if not proactive.
She saw that she had a problem and did what she could to fix it.
She bought a book, ‘How to Pray and Stay Awake’.
I applauded her positive, pre-emptive spirit.
That evening, she sat down happily on her bed and opened her new purchase.
A few minutes later, I glanced over at her.
She had nodded off over her book.
And was snoring softly.
Some things you just can’t fix.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Snow Drop

It's snowing.
Spring is here.
A normal Northern Alberta winter.
In Southern Alberta, in winter, we get snow.
I’m sure that doesn’t come as a surprise to many of you.
The only problem is that it never stays.
Usually within days of falling, Southern Alberta snow melts away under the warm breath of a powerful Chinook.
True story.
Thus, throughout winter, it snows.
Then melts.
Then snows.
Then . . . you get the picture.
I’m sure Southern Alberta is the only place on earth that can go from -40C (-40F) to +20C (+68F) in the course of three hours.
It is a bit disconcerting at times . . .
In college, I dated a boy from Red Deer.
Okay yes, technically, that is only about five or so hours drive north of where I was raised.
But a world removed in weather patterns.
In Red Deer, in winter, it snows.
And stays.
And snows some more.
And stays.
I learned about this on a visit to his family one long weekend in February.
Picture going from brown grass and snow only in the ditches, to snow piled four and five feet deep.
There was even snow on top of the fence posts.
Imagine that!
For the first day, I simply stared.
So this is what winter is supposed to be like!
It was . . . beautiful!
But all of that snow causes . . . difficulties.
The sheer weight of it piled on roofs threatens the structural integrity of the homes.
Don’t I sound like an engineer?
I’m quoting, by the way.
Snow piled high on roofs must be removed. No Chinooks to do the dirty work for you.
People have to climb up and actually . . . shovel.
At first, it was an odd sight.
People standing on their roofs, shoveling snow.
But, after a day or two, I got used to it.
Then it was my turn.
To shovel, that is.
My boy friend’s grandmother’s house was one of those piled high with heavy white stuff. It positively groaned under the weight of it.
It needed relief.
We volunteered.
Well, actually, he volunteered.
And I simply nodded and smiled.
I found myself standing atop what looked like a large, white muffin.
Did I mention that there was a lot of snow?
Somewhere beneath us was his grandmother’s single story home.
We set to work.
The actual removal of the snow didn’t take long.
The house wasn’t that large.
As we alternately scraped and shoved, our collection of snow on the ground grew deeper.
And deeper.
We were nearing the end of our task.
I slid a large shovelful over the edge and peered down at the huge drift that had collected beneath me.
My boyfriend joined me.
I looked at him. “Do you think you would get hurt if you fell off the roof and into that?” I asked, pointing.
He frowned, thoughtfully. “No, I . . .”
That was a far as I let him get.
 “Aaaaah!” Poof!
He was right.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Classroom Whiskey

Okay, this is my last story about whiskey.
For a while . . .

Grade: Ten.
Age: Fifteen.
A good time to make a statement. Just be sure you are making a good statement . . .
Dad was sitting in class.
Learning.
Okay, I have my doubts, too, but he stands by the declaration.
The teacher was espousing something important. She skewered the boy seated in the desk next to Dad with a gimlet gaze. “Bill!” she said.
Bill sat up straight and tried to appear attentive. “Yes, Ma’am?”
Kids were very polite in the forties.
It was at that precise moment that Dad felt the first unmistakable twinges signalling a forthcoming sneeze.
A large one.
Silently, he opened his mouth.
“Bill, can you tell me . . .?”
The rest of the teacher’s question was completely submerged beneath the thundering sound of Dad’s sneeze. “AHHHHHHH . . . WHISKEY!!!”
Of course everyone heard.
Of course, everyone laughed.
When order was restored, they all realized that the teacher was still standing as she was, awaiting her answer.
“Erm . . .” Bill said, turning slightly pink.
“Bill? Were you considering your answer? Or were you listening to Mark sneeze.”
Bill frantically sorted his options. Finally, timidly, "C-c-could you please repeat the question?"
The teacher rolled her eyes and complied.
Dad – and everyone else – learned something from this.
Never bring whiskey into the classroom.
It’s disruptive.
Just FYI.



Sunday, May 3, 2015

Little Ears

Don't let that innocent face fool you...
My parents didn’t drink alcohol.
But even in such a family, the topic does come up . . .
Christmas was nearing and Mom and Dad had been in Lethbridge all day. Shopping.
It had started out as a joyous occasion, with brightly-lit and garishly-decorated shops to visit. Lunch at an amazing diner with marvelous spinning stools.
That . . . spun.
Okay, they were almost a little too marvelous.
Santa to see and talk to/cry about.
Amazing piles of toys and goodies that were right at the level of mesmerized little eyes.
Heaps of slushy snow scraped up by the grader and specifically designed for small, booted feet.
Little bottoms that had to be repeatedly dusted off because of the heaps of said slushy snow scraped up by the grader and specifically designed . . . you get the picture.
Evening was nearing and, with two tired little kids in tow, the family was standing on the street corner, mentally going over their shopping list.
“Okay,” Mom said. “I think we’re nearly done. The only person we have left to shop for is Jerry.”
I should probably mention, here, that the aforementioned Jerry was now the sad and sorry little boy currently clutching his mother’s hand. As the afternoon had worn on, and his two-year-old patience had shortened, his opinions on everything had increased perceptibly in volume.
For a few moments, Mom and Dad discussed possibilities for their small son.
Little ears were hearing.
Finally, Dad shrugged. “Oh, let’s just get him a bottle of whisky!”
“Mark!” Mom didn’t think it was as funny as Dad did.
“Well, it’s getting to be supper time,” Dad said. “Let’s head home.”
The light changed and the four of them stepped, along with scores of other people, into the street.
Suddenly, over all the noise and confusion of a city street in the throes of ‘Christmas’ rose a piercing, small boy’s voice. “I don’t want to go hooome! I want some whiiiisky!”
And we’re done.

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