Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Friday, November 6, 2015

Mostly Good

I have a selective memory.
Sometimes, there’s a reason . . .
I was going on a date. A nice young man had asked and we were heading out to see a movie.
It was one I’d seen before. Death Wish. A Charles Bronson getting-it-done, bad-guys-beware sort of movie.
I had recommended it to my date. I had seen it already and remembered it as a most satisfying experience where the bag guys get got and crime in New York hits an all-time low.
All because of one man who, for some reason, decides to take the law into his own hands.
We pulled up to the drive-in entrance, paid our fee and found a place to park.
“You’ll love this movie!” I told my date as I stuffed popcorn into my mouth. “Charles gets it done!”
The lights came up on the screen. The opening credits. Opening scene.
Two women getting attacked in their own apartment.
I slid to the floor and stuffed my fingers into my ears.
My date, wide-eyed as he watched the screen, finally turned to me. “I thought you said it was a good movie!”
“Oh it is! Is the bad stuff over?”
“Ummm . . .”
I slid back into my seat. “Oh, I love this part! Where Charlie takes out his attackers with a roll of quarters!”
And, just like that, I realized something.
I had never seen the ‘bad part’.
I had covered my eyes and plugged my ears until that scene was over.
Fast forward forty years.
I still do the same. Ignore the ‘bad parts’. Well, first of all, I avoid violent movies altogether, but when I’m sitting through a movie and it unexpectedly dumps a nasty scene on me, I cover my eyes – usually with Husby’s hand. Let's face it, through my lens, Platoon was just a walk through the jungle with some soldiers.
I don't like it when good people get hurt. It happens enough in real life. I don't like it in my entertainment . . .
I’ve seen a lot of good movies.
Just don’t ask me to ‘scene-by-scene’ them for you.
I might leave something important out . . . 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Moving Music

I forgot! One last story re. Player Pianos.
Because we moved a lot . . .

Player pianos are HEAVY!
About 400 pounds heavier than a normal upright grand.
Ugh.
The first (and only) time we moved it ourselves, it took a crew of eight men and a donkey to get it the four blocks from our old rental to our newly purchased.
I'm sure friendships were strained along with the muscles.
We vowed never to test our friends again, and, when we moved next, this time from Edmonton to Beaumont, shelled out the bucks to hire a professional moving company.
Dorcy's.
It came highly recommended.
I made the call.
On moving day, two burly men (wearing weight belts over their clothes) showed up.
With a little, square, leather-covered dolly.
That was it.
Two men. And a dolly.
Sounds like a movie title.
As first I studied them suspiciously. Even took a gander through the window to see the big, clean Dorcy's truck parked outside. (I wasn't about to let impostors in, let alone allow them to touch our 800 pound treasure.)
But they were legit. And they knew their stuff. They sat the dolly down beside the piano, each took an end and hrruummpp! they lifted that beastie and set it down on the dolly. Then squeekee-squeekee-squeekee-squeekee, they shoved it out the door and into their waiting truck.
It took about five minutes.
Or less.
I watched them go, thinking of the effort and strain and bad language that had accompanied that last move.
Dorcy's had just become our greatest friends.
Our next move from Beaumont to a farm just outside Beaumont was handled by the same men.
With the same dolly.
And in about the same time.
Then the move back to town when we sold the farm.
In the words of the new Dorcy's employee: We took the call to pick up a piano just outside of Beaumont. My co-worker handed me the sheet and I wondered at the look on his face. As we grew closer to the address, he started to sweat a little. Then, when your driveway appeared and grew closer, he uttered these words, "No . . . No . . . NOOOOO!!!!"
Not only was our piano popular in our family, it had finally achieved infamy.
That has been our last move.
To date.
I still have Dorcy's on speed dial.
Herman

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On a Final Note...

When we purchased our player piano, it came with 170+ player rolls – some dating back to the ‘teens’ of the 1900s.
If you’ve never seen one of said rolls, they’re quite interesting. They look like the old-time official perforated cards that the government used to send out. Yes, I’m that old . . .
The piano generates suction, which pulls the roll in. Then these holes allow the suction to break in very specific places, causing the corresponding note to play. Yeah, it makes no sense to me, either. And it has been explained and explained. Look! A squirrel!
All I know – or care – is that when you insert the roll in a certain way, flip this lever, and pump the pedals, music emerges.
Nice music.
Music that no human being – unless he is equipped with four hands and/or thirty fingers – could play.
An aside here – Husby and I, while in Buffalo, New York, visited the last of the piano roll makers, QRS. And actually watched one of their musicians play out a new roll. And I use the world ‘play’ deliberately. He was seated at a large apparatus that vaguely resembled a piano. On steroids. It was hooked by numerous appendages to another apparatus that was marking a long strip of paper.
The whole process was fascinating. And busy enough to keep even my attention.
Back to my story . . .
As I mentioned, our piano has to be pumped to work. So, you have to work to make it work.
You realize just how much effort it takes when you’ve played three or four rolls in succession.
Whew!
Fortunately we had lots of eager feet and legs.
I remember, years ago, when I was on one of my fitness kicks, I asked Husby for an exercise bike.
And he bought me four new rolls for the piano.
Now I can see his reasoning – beautiful music AND lots of exercise – then, I wasn’t as impressed.
Our player piano has been the focal point for our family for an entire generation. Tonight, I’m introducing the next generation.
You’ll probably be able to hear us . . .

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Play On

Husby and I both love music.
When we married, one of our biggest problems was how to mesh two gi-normous (my word) record collections.
We did it (and still have it . . . somewhere . . .).
We both love to sing, but only Husby plays an instrument. (You should hear him on the bass guitar!)
With the acquisition of our new piano, we discovered a whole new world of music in the one hundred seventy+ rolls (dating from the early 1900s) that accompanied it.
The words are usually written on the rolls, so, as they play, one can sing along. If one is so inclined.
We were.
At the top of our voices because, hey, that sucker is loud!
When there weren’t any words, we had a plethora of non-musical - musical instruments to accompany. Kazoos. Noisy, rhythm gadgets. A Stumpf (yes, I spelled it right) fiddle.

Our family spent hours around that piano. Making music.
Or, more probably, noise. But we absolutely loved it.
And our kids know all the words to such timeless classics as: Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour on the Bedpost Overnight?; Pip, Pip, Toot, Toot Good-bye-ee; The Hawaiian War Chant; Little Bo-Peep Has Lost Her Jeep; Over the Waves; Shuffle Off to Buffalo; I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream; Hungarian Goulash and dozens (I do mean dozens) more.
A little aside here: Those words pop up at the best times. When our daughter met her future husband (a man from England with accompanying beautiful accent) she hit him with the words to Pip, Pip. And received what we have discovered is an appropriate response, “I’ve never used that word in my life!”
Can I say it? That piano changed our lives – or more correctly, molded our lives.
One last story tomorrow . . .
Mr. Stumpf. You though I was kidding, right?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Playing Piano

I’m a piano player.
That sounds really good, so I’ll say it again . . .
I’m a piano player.
My problem is, the only piano I can play is my own.
Maybe I should explain . . .
I’ve always loved the piano. I would sit and listen for hours to someone who can really play. Classical, modern, ragtime. You name it – I would happily listen.
In an effort to get to that level of expertise, I even condescended to taking lessons. Oh, not for very long. My ADD wouldn’t allow for any extensive concentration.
But for a while, about when I was 12, the piano and I were very good friends.
Fast forward several years, a marriage and a few children.
Husby, the kids and I were driving through Lethbridge, Alberta.
Suddenly, Husby made a sudden – and quite violent – right-hand turn.
I looked at him questioningly as I clutched at the door handle.
He merely pointed toward a white, hand-lettered sign tacked to the light pole we were just passing. It read: Garage Sale. There followed a list of items. Then, right at the end, someone had scrawled in large letters: Player Piano.
Okay, yes, I knew what a player piano was. Husby loved them. We had even tried out a few of the modern, electronic does-it-all-for-you types at local music stores. Then noted the (for us) astronomical price and fled.
This time, with a private seller, he must have been hoping our chances were better.
He was right.
It proved to be the home of a dear friend’s parents.
And soon the deal had been made.
We were the proud new owners of a player piano.
The story doesn’t end there.
Buying the great hunk of furniture and actually laying claim to it proved to be two separate stories. For example: The sellers had finished their basement after they had installed the piano. There was no way that sucker was ever coming out of there whole.
It took a piano expert to completely dismember our acquisition to get it up the stairs.
And that was merely the first hurdle.
From there, we had to figure out where to put the thing. We lived in a 14 X 24 house at the time. (I am not making this up.) We barely had room for us and our four children.
No great problem for Husby. He happily found a place to store it until we moved someplace bigger.
Perhaps that piano is the reason he found someplace bigger. I never thought of that.
Moving on . . .
Our sweet little townhouse in Edmonton, Alberta, soon had a proud focal point.
Our beautiful, oak, mahogany-jacketed, Heintzman, 1916, real-ivory-keyed, lead-piped, foot-pumping marvel of music-producing ingenuity.
And, for the first time - ever - I could play the piano.
More stories to come . . .

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