Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

Daughter of Ishmael

by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Remembering

Remembering Dad.
This post is from from May, 2014
Daddy and me.
Okay, picture us a few years older.
But just as cute . . .
I was on a date with my Dad.
The best of times.
I had been working at my 'first-official-job-wherein-Dad-was-not-my-boss' in Calgary, Alberta, and having the time of my life.
Have you noticed that saying 'having the time of your life' doesn't necessarily denote 'good' or 'bad'?
I mean, it could mean the worst time of one's life.
Or the best.
Just saying.
Moving on . . .
Dad had to come up to the big city on business and had stopped in to my work to ask the boss (whom he was good friends with and NO, that's not the reason I got the job. Not that I'm admitting anyway . . .) if he could take his best girl out on a date.
My boss smilingly agreed and I was free for the day.
There are perks to your father being good friends with your boss.
Dad took me to a football game.
It was a perfect day.
Crisp, cold air, but not too chilly.
Blue, blue sky.
Cloudless.
Okay, I'm remembering it how I want.
Dad and I had been sitting through the game.
Visiting.
Cheering on all of the guys in red, white and black.
I used to be a football cheerleader.
I had a vague idea of what the game entailed.
Get the ball across the opposing team's goal line.
By whatever means necessary.
Then hug the players if they won.
And especially if they lost.
But partway through the game, I had a blinding revelation.
“Dad, all of those players have spent all of this time fighting for control of the ball!”
Dad looked at me. “Yes,” he said, doubtfully.
“Well, I just had an idea!”
His eyes narrowed. Dad was used to my brilliant ideas.
“Go on,” he said.
“Well, if they're just going to fight over the ball,” I said, “why don't they just use two balls?”
Okay, we thought it was hilarious.
The guy in front of us? Not so much.
“Could you please shut up?” he demanded. “Some of us are trying to enjoy the game!”
We decided it was a good time for Dad to take me to dinner.
We went to my favourite restaurant.
The one I went to only when Dad was buying.
Old Spaghetti Factory.
Mmmm.
We were seated in the old trolley car that is central to every OSF restaurant.
Things were getting busy.
Soft music was playing.
Quiet talk and laughter around us.
Gentle chime of silverware on china.
Subdued, romantic lighting.
The server brought us our menus and fresh, warm bread with selections of butter, then withdrew while we sliced, ate and perused.
Dad was studying his menu.
“Can you read this?” he asked, finally.
I glanced down. “Ye-es,” I said, slowly.
“Well, I can't!”
Did I mention the 'subdued' lighting?
He pulled out a matchbook and proceeded to light a match.
Then used its light to read his menu.
The server sprinted towards our table.
“Problems, sir?” he asked.
Dad looked at him, lit match still in hand. “Nope.” Then turned back to his menu. “But I think my daughter and I are ready to order.”
There is nothing . . . nothing like a date with your dad.
Truly the time of my life.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Goodbye, Daddy

My Dad went home this morning at 3:20. Peacefully.
I know Mom was there and that, after more than a decade, they are finally together again.
He was - and is - the best Dad ever. 
I miss him already.
I hope you don't mind if I repost past stories of him for the next few days.
Remember this great man with me . . .

Mom and Dad.
Yes, they always dressed like that.

From June 6, 2011

Today is dedicated to Mark and Enes Stringam, my parents.
Mom and Dad were married 63 years ago today at the United Church in Brooks Alberta.
Reverend Dixon performed the ceremony, which was attended by family and friends.
But that was only the beginning.

The young couple immediately moved to the Stringam Ranch on the Alberta/Montana border.
Mom knew she was marrying the youngest son of a notable Southern Alberta ranching family. But what she didn't know, but quickly discovered, was that she had also married a clown. A joker. Tease. And all around goof.
The adventure had begun . . .

On their honeymoon, they chose to camp. Rustic. Earthy. Isolated.
All the perfect ingredients for a newly-married couple.
Then it rained.
And got cold.
Whatever clothing dad took off, mom put on.
Then they moved their tent into a nearby shelter, along with all of the other campers in the area.
Okay, so intimate, it wasn't.
Just at dawn, Dad, always an early riser, got up and made a beeline for the showers.
Mom awoke some time later to the loudly-belted strains of "'Cause some dirty dog put glue on the saddle!" (Still a family favorite.) Shaking her head, she turned over to complain to Dad about the rude person singing in the showers.
But Dad wasn't there.
It was about then that Mom realized just who was making all the noise.
And still she stayed married to him.
* * *
Once she was settled on the vast Stringam ranch, Mom quickly discovered that life wasn't so different from what she had known on the Berg Ranch near Brooks. There, she and her mother had the care and feeding of Mom's father and eight brothers.
Now, she had the similar responsibility for Dad (this new goofball husband), and six hired men.
It was a toss-up as to which group could eat more.
Fortunately, Mom soon proved that she was more than capable of satisfying any hungry person, or persons, who strayed into her kitchen.
She spent a lot of time in that kitchen.
And in her vast gardens, which supplied food for that kitchen.
* * *
There was a bell on the ranch.
A large bell, rung only at meal times and in case of dire emergency. A bell that could be heard, on clear days, at a distance of five miles.
Only authorized people were allowed to ring this bell.
And Mom wasn't, yet, authorized.
But she wanted to be.
The bell's cord draped temptingly through her kitchen window and over her sink. Teasing her with its proximity and, at the same time, its inaccessibility.
She glanced at it. Right there. Just a little pull. Only a tiny ring. No one would even notice . . .
Sigh.
Sometime later, while maneuvering a stack of dirty dishes towards the sink, she inadvertently caught the forbidden cord.
A loud 'clang' made her freeze instantly.
Oh-oh.
Moments later, the kitchen door burst open, revealing a very concerned Dad. "What is it? What's the matter?"
Mom looked at him, red-faced. "Nothing, dear. I just happened to catch the cord . . ."
"What's happened?" One of the hired men had come in just behind Dad.
"Is there a problem?" Someone hollered from the front door.
"Everyone okay in there?" Mom didn't even know where that voice came from.
Two more men bumped into those already assembled in the kitchen. "Someone need help?"
Mom could now hear the pounding of hoofs coming up the driveway.
Could she possibly just sink into the floor?
"False alarm, boys," Dad said, grinning at Mom's red face. "Let's get back to work."
The kitchen emptied out and Mom could hear Dad making explanations out in the yard.
Soon she was alone again.
Well, at least she knew that the bell worked. Sometimes a little excitement was a good thing.
She stared at the cord.
* * *
Dad spent a lot of time out riding. And when he wasn't riding, he was working somewhere in the barns or corrals. Or moving irrigation pipe. Or hauling hay or feed. Or doing one of the million or so things that went into ranching. And when he wasn't doing that, he was, as the area's only veterinarian, making vet calls.
To say that he was busy is a distinct understatement.
We kids saw him at mealtimes, or when we went out to the barnyard to get in his way . . . help, I mean.
Often, his duties would call him from the supper table and he wouldn't return until long after we were tucked in for the night.
He would quietly enter the house and tip-toe to his bedroom.
Then he would empty his pockets onto the carved-leather organizer on his dresser, before getting ready for bed. Coins, his jackknife, keys, instruments. Everything contained in those pockets would be dropped into the various different compartments.
They made a 'thumping' sound as they hit the leather. A soft but very distinct sound.
And it vibrated into every corner of the house.
Inevitably, I would wake to the sound of the creaking floor as Dad crept down the hall.
Then I would hear the tell-tale thump of his pockets' contents, hitting the organizer.
I would sigh happily and turn over.
Dad was home. All was well.
* * *
I don't know how they did it.
Mom and Dad had six children and numerous hired hands. Together, they still managed to organize and direct the various operations that went into running a ranch and household. Feeding, milking, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, cleaning, sewing, repairing, overhauling, riding, fencing, driving, having babies, parenting, reading, cooking, canning, church responsibilities, veterinarian calls, Hereford club duties, neighborly visits and on and on and on. The only way they could have accomplished it all was to never sleep.
To say that I'm proud of them would be a vast understatement.
To say that I'm grateful, even more so.
Today is their day.
I love them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Very Short Trip

Ready for town . . .
We lived 70 miles from the nearest city. Thus, a 'trip to town' was more of an event.
Inevitably, I got car sick. Not a pleasant thing for anyone stuck in the vehicle with me.
And, being four, I sometimes confused being excited with being sick.
Let me explain . . .
On the ranch, the most exciting thing our Dad could say was, “Everyone get in the car, we've got to go to the town!”
It was equivalent to being told we were going to Disneyland.
All right, I admit it, sophisticated world travellers, we weren't.
We would then pile into the car (And I do mean 'pile'. Seatbelts hadn't been invented yet.) and head up the gravel road towards the great white lights of Lethbridge. The trip took an hour and a half. Or more, when Diane was one of the passengers.
Invariably, at some point between the ranch and the first town, Milk River, a small voice would pipe up from the back seat, “I'm sick!”
The car would slide quickly to the side of the road. Mom's door would fly open. Diane would pop magically to the top of the heap of humanity in the back seat and . . .
I'll leave the rest to your imagination.
Every trip.
Every time.
But then . . . something changed.
The little voice would speak up sooner.
And sooner.
Until the car wouldn't even have made it out of the driveway before the fateful words were heard.
Mom and Dad tried to puzzle it out. Why was Diane getting sick so quickly after getting into the car?
They must have figured something because they certainly came up with an effective solution.
On that fateful day, Dad announced that he had to make a trip into town.
With much talk and laughter, we kids piled (that word again) into the car.
Dad got in. His door closed.
A pause while he found the key and jammed it into the starter.
He turned the key.
The motor roared to life.
He reached for the gear shift.
“I'm sick!”
His hand hovered there for a split second. Then dropped down and shut off the key.
“Then, you'd better stay at home with your Mom.”
What?! No! I stared at him, horrified.
“Go on. Get out.”
The tears started.
I should mention here that my Dad is a real push-over for tears.
Any tears.
Except, obviously when his small daughter needs to be taught a lesson.
“Diane. Get out.”
“Daaaadddyyy!”
Suddenly, Mom was there, opening the car door.
“Nooooo!”
She carried me, by now crying bitterly into the house and set me down on a kitchen chair.
Over my sobs, I heard the car start up and pull out of the driveway.
They were really going to leave me! It was more than my little four-year-old heart could handle.
I lept off the chair, ran to my parent's room and crawled under the bed.
Now, I should point out here that, never before or since have I crawled under my parent's bed. Maybe because, never before or since has anything been that traumatic. But I digress . . .
I lay under there, sobbing for hours. (Or more probably five minutes – it's all the same when you're four.)
Suddenly, a banana appeared at the side of the bed. A fresh banana, with the peel still on, but just slightly opened to reveal the yumminess underneath.
It stayed there, just temptingly out of reach.
I looked at it. I love bananas.
And it really looked good.
I slid towards it. Just a little.
It stayed there.
A little more.
I could almost reach it.
More.
There! I could touch it.
And I was out from under the bed.
“Are you feeling better?”
I looked up. Mom was sitting there on the floor, holding the banana.
I nodded and crawled into her lap. She held the banana for me to take a bite, then handed the rest to me and snuggled me tightly.
I munched my way through the treat, still sniffing occasionally.
Mom waited until I was done.
“Was it good?”
Nod. Sniff.
“Would you like something else?”
Nod.
She stood up, taking me with her and carried me into the kitchen.
Where she fed me a cookie.
Then another.
Why does everything look better on a full tummy?
Then she sat down. “Diane, in the car, were you really sick?”
I stopped chewing and looked at my cookie. Then I stared at her, wide-eyed.
“I don't think you were, were you?”
Slowly, I shook my head.
“So why did you say you were?”
I looked at the cookie again, my mind working frantically.
“Were you excited about going to town?”
I nodded.
“Okay, I want you to think about this . . .”
Great. Thinking. My forte. Not.
“When we go in the car, I don't want you to say that you're sick. Unless you really are sick.”
I turned that over in my mind. I nodded.
“Can you remember that?”
Another nod. I started chewing again.
Mom smiled and stood up. “Good.”
And, oddly enough, that was all it took.
Never again did I pipe up from the back seat for anything less than genuine illness.
Or the potty, which Mom kept under her car seat.
But that is a whole other story.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Coyote Un-Sightings


Ray Tolley, my father-in-law (hereinafter known as FIL) was a man of integrity. Honest, forthright and industrious, he worked the land on his farm near Fort Macleod, Alberta with skill and patience, gleaning a good crop from the dry land every year but one until his death at the age of seventy.
FIL was a man of faith. Of deep thinking and wisdom.
He was also a man with a wicked sense of humour. Because, let’s face it, how could one have endured the hours he did sitting on a tractor, without one?
From using a ruler to measure ability (which was inevitably ‘nigh onto nothing’), to posing the conundrum, ‘which would you rather be – dumber than you look or look dumber than you are?’ to which the forgone conclusion was always, ‘How could you?’ (Yeah. Try to get out of that one . . .), FIL personified the image of weather-beaten farmer, tanned of face, hard of muscle and clever of tongue.
He had many sayings, most gleaned from family, neighbours and reading, but my personal favourite was when he’d come home and dramatically exclaim to his grandkids that, “I almost saw a coyote today!”
Inevitably, one or more of the younger kids who hadn’t heard this one before would get caught up in the conversation. “Really, Grandpa?” Then the reality of the statement would sink in. “Ummm . . . how do you almost see a coyote?”
The slow grin. The uh-oh look. The sure sign that someone had taken the bait and was about to be ‘had’.
Then, the punch line.
“If he’d been there, I’d have seen him!”
FIL left us over thirty years ago and, if he were still alive would be well past 100. But when one of his sayings crops up in a conversation, we know he’ll never truly be gone.
There it is!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Getting to Know You

The children’s organization in our church begins when the children are three.
Watching those little ones come into the room for the first time to join the older kids is quite a treat.
They look so tiny.
Enough background . . .
In an effort to get to know each of the children, a survey was distributed at the beginning of the year.
These are the answers my three-year-old granddaughter (hereinafter called GD3) supplied.

Primary Spotlight 2015
I came down to__[earth]__ from my Father above.
My home has __[
five]__ people and __[1]__ animals to love.
I like to __[
go on doughnut dates]__ with my family.
If you see someone with __[
hazel]__ eyes and __[curly brown]__ hair, it could be me.
I like learning about __[
the alphabet]__ when I go to school.
When I grow up, I want to be __[
four years old]__ (I think that would be cool)
In my spare time, I think __[
watching movies with mom]__ is fun.
And I like to eat __[
cucumbers and marshmallows]__ when the day is done.
I like the color __[
pink, purple and green]__ when I am making art.
On Sunday __[
Sunbeams]__ is the class I go to
Singing __[
Popcorn Popping]__ is one of my favorite things to do
On __[
October 11]__ you can say “Happy Birthday” to me
Thanks for getting to know me!
Each week, one child is selected and the answers are read out one by one.
Then the other children in the room try to guess who the ‘spotlight’ is.
When GD3’s was read, things went something like this:
Teacher: I came down to earth from my Father above.
GD3 (loudly): Hey! I came down to earth too!
Teacher: My home has five people and one animal to love.
GD3 (more loudly): Hey! That’s the same as me!
Teacher: I like to go on doughnut dates with my family.
GD3 (louder yet): Hey! Doughnut dates! That’s what we do!
Teacher: If you see someone with hazel eyes and curly brown hair, it could be me.
GD3: Wow! I have hazel eyes! Look!
I think you can see where this is heading . . .
For every answer read, GD3 was deafeningly ecstatic that someone else liked/did/had the same things she did.
By the time the survey was done, every other person in the room had their hand up.
The first time, ever, that that had happened.
Primary. The most entertaining part of Sunday Church attendance.
P.S. I can see a future in theatre, but I do hope GD3 never tries to go into politics.

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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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