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

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by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Breaking Bread

Worth fighting for . . .
In the Stringam household of eighty years ago, all food was prepared from scratch.
Processed or instant foods simply didn't exist.
Nothing came packaged from the store.
Bread was something that emerged, nearly every day, from the oven of the large wood stove.
No other option was possible.
No other option was needed.
Grandma's crusty, fresh bread, hot from the oven, was the favourite food of my Dad's family of nine brothers and sisters and their home was nearly always awash in the wonderful smell.
But each large, beautiful loaf only had two ends.
Because bad manners hadn't been invented yet, it never occurred to Dad and his siblings that they could do anything about that.
Side note: My husband and his brothers, the creators of bad manners, would cut off every available surface – sides, top, bottom – after the ends had been claimed.
But I digress . . .
So, as the time drew nearer for the family to assemble for the evening meal, Grandma Stringam would slice one entire loaf of fresh, warm bread.
And place it neatly on a platter to go to the table.
That was about the time that every child in the house would suddenly appear.
And wrestle each other for the privilege of 'helping'.
Bruised but triumphant, the winner would carefully carry the precious platter of warm deliciousness to the table and park it in the centre.
Then he would quickly snatch one of the two crusty ends and set it on his own plate.
At first, the sacred placing of the bread was all that was needed.
But not for long.
Soon, the instant the bread was placed and the claimer gone, someone else would creep in and slide said crusty slice of yumminess to their own plate.
Then the next person would do the same.
And the next.
This would go on until everyone assembled for the actual meal.
Whoever possessed it at that time . . . won. Sort of like a game of 'hot potato', but tastier.
As time went by, more and more sneakiness was required.
The bread was placed under the plate.
Under the napkin.
Stabbed with the owner's fork.
The owner's knife.
Finally, in full view of whoever happened to be waiting in the wings for their turn, the possessor would lick the back of the hotly contested piece of bread. (Okay, remember what I said about manners? Forget it.) Then place the now-thoroughly-claimed prize on their plate.
The entire contest came to a screeching halt.
But only for a while . . .
Gramma and Grampa Stringam.
Oh, the bread she could bake . . .

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hot Hand

Mabel and Percy (Casey) Jones. 1924
My parents' good friends
Mom and Dad, newlyweds, were out for the evening with their friends, the Jones - their nearest neighbours.
At the Jones’ ranch fifteen miles away.
In a time when the closest thing anyone had to electronic diversion was a radio or phonograph, the two couples and one of the Jones’ eldest sons were engaged in the next best thing.
Parlour games.
Inevitably . . . cards.
They had been playing for most of the evening, amidst much conversation and hilarity.
Casey Jones (yes, that was what he was called) had been fighting a steadily losing battle.
Another hand was dealt.
And Casey loudly voiced his displeasure at yet another 'bad' hand, then sighed heavily and played his bad hand.
Badly.
As it finished, his wife, Mabel suggested refreshments and got to her feet. She bustled (yes, I meant to use that word) into the kitchen.
Mom followed her and the two women happily visited as they sliced cake and set out cups and saucers.
Meanwhile, the men stayed in the parlour, discussing the game and Casey’s apparent inability to win.
“It’s the lousy cards!” he said. “I’ve gotten nothing but bad hands all evening!” He got to his feet. “Something has to be done!”
He gathered up the deck and arranged them neatly. Then he disappeared into the kitchen with them.
Moments later, Mabel appeared in the doorway, tray in hands and announced that their game had officially concluded.
Casey had thrown the cards into the stove.
Yep. Something had to be done.
Good thing he was on hand to do it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Untrained Sneakiness

Caitlin Age 3
Nine o'clock pm.
Six happy, grubby little bodies scrubbed clean and clothed in freshly-laundered pajamas.
Six sets of shiny, white teeth brushed.
Six heads of hair neatly brushed.
Six stories read.
Six songs sung.
Six sweet, heartfelt prayers.
Six (times six) hugs and kisses.
And six children finally tucked up between fresh, clean sheets.
All are asleep.
Whew!
And now, their parents can relax, knowing that their happy, healthy and very active children have been properly prepared for a much-needed night's rest.
They can put their feet up and rejoice in a few stolen minutes of peace and calm. To visit together and catch up on the day's events.
All is well.
Then . . .
Little footsteps. Crossing the bedroom. Coming up the hall. Going into the kitchen.
The squeak of a refrigerator door.
Talk in the front room ceases. Two semi-alert parents are listening to the clandestine sounds.
Finally, the suspense is too much.
"Who's in the kitchen?"
Silence. A three-year-old intellect is working frantically.
"Who's there?"
"Ummm . . . not me!"
Healthy and clean and ready for bed? Yes.
Sneaky and clandestine and ready for a life of prevarication and/or crime? Not so much.

Monday, September 21, 2015

25

Yes, it's blurry.
Photographing children and wildlife. It's the same . . .
For two weeks, we’ve had our youngest son’s two children (ages 3 years and 16 months) in our home while their parents were exploring places warm and sunny.
I should probably mention that our home already houses four adults and one resident three-year-old.
It was, for the most part, a marvellous time!

Twenty-five things we learned:
1. Children are like the ocean. You never want to turn your back.
2. The decibels reached by the average toddler during normal conversation cannot be measured by normal means.
3. Enthusiasm and unhappiness are often expressed with the same ear-piercing wail.
4. Also hunger, I’m-not-tired, and he-took-my-toy.
5. Three-year-olds and scissors should never make even a passing acquaintance.
6. Just because they’re approximately the same size, two three-year-olds don’t always see eye-to-eye.
7. The definition of a toddler is someone two feet tall with an arm reach of eight feet.
8. The head is equipped with a solid bone for a reason.
9. Bike helmets should be a standard component of every outfit (see above).
10. Just because someone is looking at you, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are also listening.
11. Hiding places turn easily into finding places. A little too easily. Sooo . . .
12. Nothing is safe.
13. A toddler can – and will – eat their weight in food.
14. And, conversely, can live on air for an inordinate amount of time.
15. If you turn on the TV, the only time they notice is for the first three minutes.
16. And when you shut it off.
17. The bathtub is an excellent place to play.
18. Except when it has water in it.
19. If one wakes up in the middle of the night, one needs the company of a sibling.
20. And/or at least two grandparents.
21. If a diaper says 8 to 10 pounds, that really is all it will hold.
22. The amount of time one needs to hurry a toddler to the potty is proportionate to the amount of time it takes for them to realize they have to go and telling you.
23. There's nothing quite like a small herd of children greeting you enthusiastically at the door when you get home.
24. A toddler hug makes anything better.
25. A toddler kiss, ditto.

Their parents are home from a wonderful trip. Everyone has been happily reunited.
Grandma is going back to bed.


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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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