Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, June 27, 2015

Worlds of Cloth

Perfect!
Tenting was my favorite thing in the world.
I could happily sit for hours in my soft, quiet shelter. Immersed in my own little world. Miles away from the business and bustle of life.
Or at least inches away.
On the other side of my blanket.
And my chair.
Oh, and the all-important pillow.
Okay, so tent-making wasn't an art with me. In fact, you could probably say that it was . . . fairly inexpert, invariably consisting, as it did, of a blanket tossed over a chair and held in place by a pillow.
Frank Lloyd Wright, I wasn't.
But I still loved it. Hiding in a shelter erected solely by my own two little hands.
For a short while, I was the queen of my world.
Then, one day, I was introduced to a whole new world. My brother, George, deigned to join me.
Something, I might point out, that rarely happened . . .
And instructed me in the creation of a complex, blanket draped wonder.
George set up chairs and draped them with covers, connecting them to each other and holding each in place by different items, drawing heavily from the various 'objets d'art' that Mom had strewn about the room.
The blankets were pulled over to the couches, secured, and then drawn to the tables. There, they were again weighted into place.
Slowly, our little 'club house' grew until it covered the entire front room.
The two of us stood back and surveyed it proudly.
It had an entrance. And a back door. It had twisting tunnels and little rooms.
It was perfect.
I was quivering with excitement. I couldn't wait any longer. I dove in.
"Careful, Diane!" George said.
But he was too late.
My rash action pulled on one of the blankets.
In fact, the blanket that was being held in place by a large, ornate, plaster vase.
Both slid from the table.
The blanket survived.
The vase didn't.
George and I stared, aghast, at the mass of wreckage.
And then, like a figure of doom, Mom appeared in the doorway.
"What are you two . . . my vase!"
There was no hiding it.
There was our intricate web of blankets, furniture and bric-a-brac.
To one side, a limply hanging corner.
And, beside it, the broken vase.
Even a fool could have figured out what had happened. And Mom certainly wasn't a fool.
"Did you kids use my vase for your fort?"
How did one answer that? I mean, couldn't she see it?
George was braver than me. "It was Diane's idea."
I stared at him. "It was not!" I said, hotly.
"Was too."
"Was not!"
"Too."
"Not!"
Okay, so our arguments could never have been classified as intelligent.
"Too."
"Not!"
"Too."
"Not!"
"Okay, enough!" Mom had worked her way gingerly across the sea of blankets, plucking up breakables as she went.
Finally, she reached the vase.
She set down the other objects she was carrying and stared down at it.
Then she looked at us.
"Ummm. Sorry, Mom," I said. Not entirely original, but it was all I could think of.
Mom picked up the vase. Then the pieces.
She looked . . . sad.
Mom never really had to discipline me. I could do it all by myself. I burst into tears. "Sssooorrry!"
She turned and looked at us once more. "I don't ever want you two playing with my things again."
"Oookaaay!" More tears.
I should have been on the stage.
Mom carried the pieces of her vase out of the room without looking at us again.
And just like that, our fort was no long the wonder it had been. George and I 'folded' the blankets and put things back.
Mom kept the vase, carefully gluing the numerous pieces back together.
To our 'waste not, want not' Mom, it was totally in character.
But it haunted us for years, in fact, it sat atop a cupboard at my Dad's apartment.
Haunting,
I still like to tent.
But fortunately, my husby introduced me to such marvels as . . . tent poles. Pegs. Guy lines.
What it lacks in ingenuity, it certainly makes up for in convenience.
And unbreakable-ness.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Featherheads

Admit it. He's cute!

I have birds. 
Zebra finches, to be exact.They are easy to take care of, make cute little-bird sounds and are infinitely entertaining to watch.
I love them. It is a love affair that has been going on for eighteen years, now.
It all started innocently enough. I was directing a play that required caged birds as part of the premise. A local bird shop loaned us a canary, two doves and a finch.
 A cute little finch with a smart polka-dot waistcoat, red cheeks and a black and white striped tail.
During the days, not thinking it wise to leave our little rent-a-birds at the theatre, I brought them home with me.
One day, while I was in the other room, I could hear a cheerful little song. Rising and falling notes that sounded almost as though someone were swinging on a tiny, rusty gate. (A tiny, rusty, musical gate.)
I thought it was the canary, noted for their singing.
Entranced by the sound (and yes, I meant to use the word 'entranced'.), I hurried into the room, and stopped beside the canary cage.
The little yellow bird turned and looked at me.
And the little notes kept on.
Could canaries still sing if their beaks were closed?
My knowledge of birds was truly woeful.
I moved to the next cage. Two sweet doves blinked at me sleepily.
The third cage.
And my little maestro was revealed. Singing his little heart out.
My heart was captured.
He was my new - 2 ounce - Jose Carreras.
Later, onstage, when all the other birds were frozen with fear as the spotlights of the theatre shone on them, I heard that same little song.
Miraculously, with people spouting lines and charging back and forth across the stage, my little finch still found the courage to sing.
That was it. I couldn't part with him.
Fortunately, my husband agreed and, at the end of the play, when the other birds were returned to their shop, Peter stayed with me. (Peter finch. Has a sort of ring, don't you think?)
Soon after that, I decided that my little Peter needed a little mate.
And so Polly, she of the beautiful white feathers and similarly striped tail, joined our household.
She and Peter immediately set up housekeeping and a few weeks later, Piggy popped out of the nest. Followed shortly after that by Pepper, Poppy and . . . Percival? Pat? Plethora? Preamble? Pancreas? (I'm ashamed to say I've forgotten his name. I do know it started with a 'P'.)
They quickly outgrew the cage that had seemed so large only a short time ago.
My husband made them a new cage. A large cage in the shape of a grain elevator.
And my birds became a permanent part of our lives.
They are constantly busy. Constantly doing 'birdy' things.
Constantly entertaining.
One can almost hear the conversations as they alternately groom each other, or chase one another madly around the cage.
"Yes. Right there! That's the itchy spot. Oh get it! Get it!"
Or . . .
"Stop that racket!"
"But it's the same song you were singing five minutes ago!"
"I don't care! I don't like you singing it!"
Or better yet . . .
"What are you doing in my cage?!"
"I live here!"
"Well, who said that could happen!"
"What are you talking about? I was born here! To you!"
Or the ever popular . . .
"I don't like the way you look!"
"But I'm your son, I look like you!"
"Don't change the subject!"
In all the years of raising them, I have only been able to touch them when they first leave the nest and haven't quite gotten the knack of flying. Even then, I can only touch them for an instant.
I quickly pick them up, band their legs and let them go to become another cute, busy, easily-panicked member of my little finch society.
It's the one thing I wish I could change.
Well, that and the mess of torn newspaper and scattered feathers and seeds that constantly litter the floor beneath and around their cage.
I've tried taking them to task for this, using the same forceful, penetrating words as those I used in raising my children . . . you little monkeys! Clean up this mess!
They never listen.
Wait. Neither did my children! Sigh.
My private elevator.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Yowch.

Carefully, now . . .
By the early 1870's, smooth wire fences were fast being replaced by the new, and far more formidable and efficient barbed-wire.
Now, domestic (and no few wild) animals could be effectively contained.
Wars were fought by stock owners and free-range enthusiasts over this new invention and its perceived advantages and disadvantages.
And no few lives lost.
With the ending of the hostilities, barbed-wire became the accepted medium for fencing in the ranching and farming world.
Sometimes, I wish the outcome had been different . . .

The Stringam ranch was large.
Really large.
And, to keep its inmates (cattle) controlled, it was fenced with miles (and miles) of strands of barbed-wire.
Wire that had to be strung, stretched, looped, stapled, fastened, weighted and maintained.
And maintained. And maintained. And . . . you get the point . . .And all of this work had to be accomplished by weak, easily wounded human beings.
You can imagine the damage that two to four sharp points of wire, created to discourage even the most thick-skinned cow, could do so soft, very-not-tough skin.
I can count 13 scars on one finger alone.
Thank goodness for heavy, leather gloves and even heavier moosehide chaps.
Over the years, we thin-skinned humans had many differences of opinion with the barbed-wire which stretched across the ranch. Most trivial, requiring a Band-Aid or nothing at all.
But a few, fairly serious . . .
Once, my Dad and brother, George were stringing wire (A complicated procedure which required the paying out of four strings of wire from an apparatus on the back of the truck, closely supervised by said brother, George).
Dad hit a bump.
George was thrown into the tangle of wire, resulting in multiple deep gouges and cuts to his hands and arms.
Not good.
Or pleasant.
Band-Aids wouldn't do for that mishap.
He had to be sewn back together.
Like a quilt.
Only not as warm and cuddly.
But at least it was a mishap that could only be considered an accident.
My run-in with 'The Devil's Rope', could easily have been prevented.
If I'd been smarter.
Hmmm. Like most of my calamities . . .
I'd been out visiting the horses and was heading home.
There was a fence in the way.
Now a normal person would have employed the usual method for getting past a barbed-wire fence. Climb under or through. Climb up a post. Find a gate.
But not me. I was determined to simply climb over.
Now, I should mention here that climbing over a barbed-wire fence is entirely possible.
Just not very simple.
You have to do it carefully. Step on the bottom wire and bend the top wire down. Then lift your leg gingerly over the top wire and step to the ground. Then swing the other leg after the first.
Easy peasy.
As long as nothing gets caught. (Pant legs or crotches come to mind.) And as long as you can keep your balance.
I was only wearing a pair of shorts, so pant legs weren't even a consideration.
It never occurred to me that I should watch out for my actual leg.
The barbs entered my skin at mid thigh, and at the apex of my swing over the fence.
Ouch.
I lost my balance and fell over the fence.
Worse.
The barbs raked two grooves down the entire length of my leg.
Impressive.
The good news? I was over the fence.
The bad news? I now sported two 18 inch furrows from mid thigh to mid calf on the inside of my right leg.
Hmmm.
I got to my feet and looked around.
Good. Mom and Dad were away on a Hereford Tour. And no one had seen my folly.
I limped quickly to the house and made use of the first-aid kit that Mom always kept just inside the back door.
Smart woman, my Mom.
Then I stared at my injury. Visions of the rows and rows of stitches it had taken to sew my brother closed floated through my mind.
In Technicolor.
I definitely didn't want that.
But no Band-Aid could possibly cover this wound.
Finally, I twisted a clean cloth around my leg.
Then, belatedly, put on a pair of jeans.
Perfect.
A few days later, when my parents returned, Mom instantly noted my limp.
And made me show her my injury.
And then hauled me in to the doctor.
By that point, stitches couldn't have done any good. The doctor merely pasted my leg with goop. Applied some gi-normous bandages, and gave me a shot.
All better.
I still have the scars.
They remind me that, in a difference of opinion between me and barbed-wire, the wire is always going to win.
And always, always wear jeans.
Or armor.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Just Plane Dating

I could hear her voice as I came down the hall.
It was raised.
Have I mentioned I don’t like raised?
I don’t.
“What?! What?! What are you talking about?! How is this my fault?!” The rather grating voice was up at least two octaves.
Oh, man. Someone was getting it in the ear. Instinctively, my steps slowed.
“I’m going to come right through this phone and choke you till you’re dead!”
Better listen, pal. If it could be done, she’d be the person who could do it. Every alarm should be going off in your head. I shivered. I could just picture that burly arm emerging from the receiver.
“Why you little pipsqueak! I’ve got half a mind to ta- . . .” the voice broke in the middle.
Uh-oh. He cut her off. Buddy, never cut her off.
“Why you . . .!”
Silence. Buddy was talking again. We were obviously dealing with a rebel here. A rather brave rebel.
“But . . .!”
More silence.
“I’m telling you, it’s smashed! Smashed!”
It didn’t seem possible for that voice to rise higher, but it did.
“And we’ve waited weeks for that airplane model! Weeks! It’s the key display for our annual Royal Spring show! Made by prisoners while they were in a POW camp in Japan. Have you got no respect, man?!”
Oh, man. She’s playing the respect card . . . I’d reached the end of the hall. The wide reception area was before me. I could see Clara’s desk. She was turned slightly away, but I could see how red her wide face was. I rubbed a hand over my head and seriously considered a full retreat.
She turned slightly. I froze. What is it they say about carnivores’ visual acuity?
A model airplane was sitting in front of her on her desk. I frowned. It looked all right to me. Could this be the subject of her discussion?
She suddenly vaulted to her feet. “You listen to me, you . . . you . . .” Words seem to fail her. Her face was now more of a purplish colour.
I stared. I’d never seen this happen before.
“Well, it’s up to you to send someone to fix it!” A pause. “I don’t care if he just finished his rounds for the day. I need him to come back!” Another pause. “Listen, mister! I’ve got half a mind to bring this by your office and stick it in your one good eye!”
Uh-oh. She was threatening real violence now. Maybe I should . . . I stepped into the room.
Clara spun around and looked at me. Then jammed the phone down on its cradle. “Well, it’s about time! I’ve been screaming at your boss for 10 minutes!”
“Uh. Yeah. He sent me here as soon as he heard your voice. Was there something you need me to fix?”
She made a face.  “Are you kidding?” She moved around her desk. “Maybe we should stop meeting like this.”

For years, Delores of Under the Porch Light has issued her six-word challenge.
And challenging it is.
But Delores is retiring. 
Our dear friend Elephant's Child has assumed the duties for the near future.
Words for Wednesday hangs in the balance.
It's been some time since I was able to participate.
This week, I'm back!
This week's words:
ChokeRespectSmashAirplaneRoyal, Spring
And/or
Good, EyeBurlyAlarmStick, Rebel
Hop over to EC's and see what the others have concocted!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Beginner

Another of Daddy’s favourite stories . . .

The rain poured down persistently,
For days he’d stared out wistfully.
A last, he stood with arms outspread,
“I’m bored,” he, to his mother, said.
She thought about it for a time,
(Impressed I say all this in rhyme?)
And then suggested to her son,
“If all your chores, indeed, are done,
The only thing I can suggest
For you, a hobby would be best.”
“A collection, maybe? Moths? Or stamps?
Now go – and to your room, encamp.”
The little boy gave it some thought,
Decided moths were what he sought.
Donned raingear, to the store betook,
To find himself a research book.
Then home amid the raindrops sped,
Threw coat, and landed on his bed.
He read for several hours there,
Then came to mom in clear despair.
“I’ve read that book from end to end,
But failure did the words portend.
For though I read so eagerly,
No single ‘moth’ word did I see!”
His mother frowned and asked to look,
Obediently, he fetched the book.
She turned it over, understood
Just why it did him little good.
‘Advice to the Beginning . . .’, true.
A wealth of facts from those who knew.
But the last word in the title there,
Had caused her fine, young son to err.
It stood out plain from all the others,
The last word there (you’ve guessed it) ‘Mothers’!
Advice to
Beginning Mothers
You can see where he went wrong.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Ranch TV

A guest post by Little Brother, Blair Stringam.

It's either the news ... or Bonanza.
A few (okay, many) years ago, my sons asked me how old I was.
I paused for a moment, thinking “Do I tell them my age and have them run around the neighbourhood saying my dad is ## years old?”
Then I remembered something that my dad did when, as a young boy, I asked him questions.
Deflect.
I told them, “I’m so old, we didn’t have calculators when I was your age”.
My boys looked puzzled.
I then said, “I’m so old, we didn’t have computers when I was your age.”
Now they really looked puzzled.
I thought, “Hey this strategy is working!”
Then I used my greatest line, “I’m so old, we didn’t have colour TV when I was your age and when we tried to watch TV this is all we could see.” I turned on the TV to a channel that had snow and the familiar, buzzing, electric, static sound. My boys stared at me, sighed, and went off and found something to play with.
I silently congratulated myself. Now my boys wouldn’t be stating that their dad was old as dirt. Or at least they wouldn’t have the hard facts to support that story.
Okay, yes, I had just given them other facts about calculators, computers and TVs, but a 6 and 4 year old will have a difficult time trying to express/explain that to their friends.
Genius.
I have reflected on that brief brush with possible neighbourhood embarrassment a few times since then.
Despite being accused of saying: “When I was your age I had to milk 50 cows and walk up hill to school in a blizzard when it was 40 below” (all fact, BTW), the things I said to my boys were true. 
Really.
Growing up on the ranch, we didn’t have a computer.
I got my first calculator when I was 14.
And the TV reception was bad despite the fact that the antenna was on the hill where all the old machinery (with the extra metal to help with reception) was parked. I remember wondering why there were snow storms in programs based in Hawaii and California. 
I will admit the snow came in handy when a scary program was on such as Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte or Dracula. I was still scared because of the music and talking, but all I could see were shadows.
Well, when I came out from under the coffee table to look.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

To Dads

We are a story-telling family.
I know this won’t come as a surprise.
Every day, throughout our children’s growing-up years, much time was spent in reading (or simply telling) stories.
Many of the best were told while sitting around the table after the evening meal.
Sometimes, for hours.
But the most precious were those told by their father after everyone was scrubbed, brushed, pajama-clad and in bed.
That’s when the Hobbit, Uncle Wiggly, and Dr. Seuss came over for a visit.
For many years, every evening, several small Tolleys could be found with little clean bodies curled up under warm blankies, but minds and imaginations far, far away as their father took them on adventure after bookcover-bound adventure.
Surely the best of times.
One evening, because of pressing duties, their father was absent.
It’s didn’t happen often.
The story-telling passed, necessarily, to me.
Everyone was ready.
Everyone was set.
Mom came in with the book.
It went something like this . . .
“Mom?! Where’s Dad?”
“You know Dad has a meeting tonight.”
“Oh. Right.”
“Okay, kids, where did Dad leave off?”
“Ummm . . . Uncle Wiggly . . .” the voice trailed off.
“There! Where the bookmark is!”
“Oh. Right. Okay, let’s go.”
Reading commences . . .
After a couple of pages, a small, rather sleepy little voice, “You read good, Mom, but I like it when Dad reads.”
“Really?”
“Yeah. He does the voices.”
Here’s to all the Dads in our lives.
Going out to work to support. Staying home to raise and nurture.
And read to.
Thank you.
P.S. A side note: One of the kids’ favourite books was Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. They shook their heads over the main character’s inability to even consider the possibility of eating green eggs.
With ham.
One morning after a particularly strongly worded joint condemnation of said character, their Dad greeted them with a breakfast of green scrambled eggs. With colour-coordinated ham.
They wouldn’t eat them.


Story time continues . . .

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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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