Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Saturday, December 31, 2016

It's the Ver-Very Last Day of the Year

With apologies to Andy Williams.
Sung to the tune of It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

It's the ver-very last day of the year.
Candidates were compelling and everyone yelling,
T’was hard to find cheer!
It's the ver-very last day of the year.

It's the think-thinkingest season of all.
It’s a time to remember how we reached December,
With wars to appall!
It's the think-thinkingest season of all.

There were issues for joining,
And deeds disappointing,
And stars disappearing like snow.
There were scary world stories
In all categories!
We wished we were long, long ago.
 

(Now)It's the time for us to plan for the next year.
We will need to get going, good deeds overflowing,
And a clear atmosphere!
It's the time for us to plan for the next year!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Puffed Up

How do you spell 'delicious'?
There was a bright spot to every school day.
And no, it wasn’t that magical moment each morning when we first stepped into the hallowed halls of learning and knowledge.
Ick.
No, it was that moment, when the whole thing was safely in the past.
The long bus ride to school.
The sweat and toil.
The long bus ride home.
Ta-da!
That moment.
When Mom would usher us into the house and the smell of warm deliciousness would sweep over us like a welcome blanket.
Snack time.
The wonderful reward for having made it through yet another school day.
And mom made it special. Homemade snacks like pudding, cake or pie.
Hot chocolate.
Sometimes the extra-special spudnuts.
Fresh, warm bread with melty butter.
It made all of the pain and drudgery worth every drop of effort.
Then, as we grew older, Mom stepped back a bit and let us create our own snacks.
In the process, something was lost. But something else was definitely gained.
Our snacking of preference grew and changed as our skills did.
At first, my brother, George, would simply spread cheese on crackers and create a giant stack.
Which was then happily consumed, layer by layer.
I would toast bread – just barely – and spread it with peanut butter.
Peanut butter is better all soft and melted.
Just FYI.
Then Mom got a new invention, a Teflon frying pan and I discovered the magical world of omelets.
With lots of melty cheese.
Hmm . . . I’m beginning to see a pattern there.
Mmmmmmelty things.
Moving on . . .
Then George was introduced to tapioca pudding.
Made from scratch and eaten while still warm.
And sometimes shared with his sister.
Until she was shown the amazing chocolate wonderfulness of puffed-wheat squares.
I should explain here that the puffed-wheat is simply a medium to get the chocolate syrup to your mouth.
And it does it well.
Did you know that a hungry teenager can eat an entire pan of puffed wheat squares and still have room for supper?
It’s true. And I proved it on many an occasion.
Moving forward many, many years.
Yesterday, I dug out my tattered old recipe for puffed-wheat squares.
It was stained.
And worn.
But still readable.
I mixed and cooked.
Added, pressed down and cooled.
Then, with my daughter and granddaughter, sliced and consumed.
And, just for an instant, relived the best part of growing up.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Starting at Eight

For Christmas this year, I received Lego.
Yep. Lego.
As I have done every year for over 50 years.
It sparked a memory . . .
Maybe he should have wrapped up some teeth . . .
In the Stringam family, birthdays were always exciting.
Family. Good food. Cake.
And presents.
My fourth had been truly memorable, with a little barn fire thrown in for . . . umm . . . excitement.
But my eighth was memorable for two other reasons.
Let me explain . . .
It began ordinarily enough, with Mom's wonderful breakfast and good wishes all around.
Dad had gone into the city, on ranch business, and wasn't expected back until later--when us kids got home from school.
But that was okay, because I knew that my real birthday, complete with birthday food and cake and the all important presents wouldn't happen until supper time.
I went through the day with high anticipation.
I'm sure my teachers tried mightily to teach me something that day, but who can compete with birthday supper and cake?
And presents.
By supper time, I had worked myself into a rare mood.
Mom made my favourite.
Spaghetti.
With meat balls.
Mmmm.
Then the cake. Again my favorite - Angel food. With fluffy seven-minute frosting.
I should point out that the name of the frosting had to do with how long it took to make it.
Because it certainly didn't describe how long it took to eat it.
But I digress . . .
And then that moment.
The time I had been anticipating for an entire year.
When the wrapped boxes came out and were given the place of honour.
Right in front of me.
The first one was rather . . . book sized.
I tore into the colourful paper eagerly.
I should explain, here, that I had fallen in love with reading in the first grade, at the age of six.
Dr. Seuss had introduced me to world of books and I hadn't looked back.
By the time I was eight, I had graduated to the next step.
Chapter books.
And here, on my birthday, I was suddenly holding the greatest treasure I had ever seen.
Nancy Drew. The Secret in the Old Attic.
A chapter book.
All my own.
My world had just gotten bigger.
Then there was more.
A large, rectangular package.
Intriguing.
Reluctantly and reverently, I set down my precious new book.
And ripped into my other present.
The wrapping came off easily.
Revealing . . . Lego.
Lego?
What on earth was that?
I stared at the package.
Everyone stared at the package.
My father was well known for finding the new and the wondrous.
He didn't fail here.
I opened the box and poured out a stream of little red, white and blue blocks.
Of varying sizes and shapes.
I unfolded the brightly-coloured instruction sheet.
And my world got bigger, still.
I needn't tell you that my Nancy Drew collection expanded to include every volume ever written.
Or that Lego became a large part of the Stringam world that day.
And that a major part of playtime, for three generations now, consists of amazing feats of construction with myriad colourful blocks.
Or reading.
I only need to tell you that everything began on my eighth birthday.
A day truly worth celebrating.
This year's.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Gas

Another of Daddy's favourite stories...
It’s important you know that Emerson Ells loved beans most of all when he dined.
But it’s also a fact that his good wife Elaine, was not one to be so inclined.
It wasn’t the taste or the texture abhorred, but the methane that followed hereafter.
I’m sure you appreciate all her displeasure when gas filled her home to the rafters.
So Emerson, he of the bean adoration, betook himself oft times to lunch,
And happily chose from the menu extensive, a large plate of baked beans to munch.
On this day it was doubly important to him, for his birthday, again, had appeared.
He decided a good plate of beans would endorse his making it through one more year.
He happily slurped up—not one, but two—plates of his favourite food.
Then laughed when he thought of his unwary wife and her wishes that he could elude.
When Emerson got to his home after work, his wife met him as he came in.
“I have a surprise!” she said as they kissed. Then blindfolded him with a grin.
She led him, unwary, along the main hall, the dining room clearly her goal,
When someone knocked loudly upon the front door. She sighed and disrupted their stroll.
And parking her husband in a dining chair, she hurried herself off to see,
Who could possibly be interrupting her plans and to knock with such temerity.
Now, remember those beans so happily consumed and their unlucky penchant to’ard gas?
Well, through the drive home, old Em’s  innards roiled and now he had something to pass.
He listened. Elaine was still neatly engaged. He could hear as she spoke from somewhere.
So Emerson leaned to one side (sneakily) and let loose a blast of hot air.
He felt better at the ensuing release, but his bowels soon started to strain,
And knowing his wife was still there by the door, he tipped himself over. Again.
A third time inflated, a third time released and a third time his needs were addressed,
Then hearing his wife as she closed the front door, decided he’d just keep the rest.
Soon his dear wifey was there at his side. As she murmured her apologies,
Old Em, he just smiled in a secretive way and thought of his release. Times three.
“And now your surprise!” his sweet wifey exclaimed as she pulled off his blindfold with care.
 Its removal revealed some guests at the board. Twelve of them were seated there.
So to you who like beans, and I’m one, I confess, please beware of the spouse-ly surprise,
Cause the likelihood’s there that you may just end up: the sole cynosure of all eyes.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Santa's Report Card: 2016

Guest Post by Santa Claus (aka: Kris Kringle)
Kris and Rebecca Kringle
Photo by: Kimberley Laaksa Photography.
As has become our tradition, Mrs. Santa and I would like to share with you the joys and delights we receive from visiting the world when it is at its cheeriest and most positive. There truly is a wonderful Spirit which accompanies the Christmas season.
My Beloved and I have been recreating Santa and Mrs. Rebecca Claus (there – you heard her first name here first!) for some years now, and each year it is a special treat. We sincerely hope it also is for the people with whom we have the pleasure of visiting.
This year, for about the last five or six weeks, we have visited some 25 organized events and several spontaneous ones (disorganized events?), and they have each and every one been special to us.  We have sat over 1000 little ones on our collective knees this year, over 200 not-so-little ones, and we have had the great pleasure of visiting with some 450 seniors, some of whom were not able to sit on our knees, so we bent ours to them.  As it should be.  And our knees are still working!  That in itself is a great Christmas blessing!
We were privileged to visit a Seniors Lodge to which we have been invited for several years.  My failing memory notwithstanding (as my Beloved would say, ‘ooh, good word!) many faces are familiar – though I still struggle to put a name to most faces. I enjoy the smiles elicited when I flatter the ladies with the thought that they have seen what, now? 29 or 30 Christmases?? And the men always seem to enjoy my un-pretended envy of their beautiful white hair (mine still takes a little dye and paint to remove the last of the colour).  After visiting with these dear folks for a moment or two, we ask them not what they would like for Christmas but rather “what is your Christmas wish – for you, for your loved ones, or for the world?”
Many—having endured the ravages of war themselves—many wish for the proverbial Peace on Earth; the Christmas-time phrase that many of us toss off without really thinking about its meaning. These folks are sincere.  In their age and disability and declining health caused by a lifetime of caring and struggle, they truly are burdened with the weight of war and strife in the world. 
We assure them we will do what we can to end the strife. We assure them that the secret to doing so is in working with the children of our little corner of the world. Chidlren who will need to know joy in their life, that they may be armed to stand up to the evils they will inevitably encounter.
Amongst the senior crowd this year was a dear little old woman, 93 years old, assisted by a wheelchair due to an aged, bent body that could no longer keep up with her sharp mind.  I knelt down to greet her, took her hand in mine and asked, “What would you wish for this Christmas, Estelle? (We love the beautiful ‘old-fashioned’ names that we encounter!). Estelle looked up at me as best she could, caught my eye and said: “A kiss from Santa Claus”.
I know that I hesitated, noticeably, with this request, as the possible implications of fulfilling her request ran through my mind. I must add here that I am most grateful to have Mrs. Santa at my side, who does a magnificent job of monitoring ‘players’ of all ages, even the 93-year-old ones. (A tangent to follow, if you will indulge me for a moment: I have, over the years, received some, shall we say, ‘interesting requests’ to intervene in the love-lives of teens and twenty-somethings. The most interesting and strident one this year was a request from Jackie, who asked me to stop off at Dave’s house in San Diego to let him know that Jackie was expecting him to bring back a ring – ‘a big one’ -- this Christmas.  “Have you taken this up with Dave yet, or will this be a surprise when I tell him?” “Oh, Santa,” said Jackie, “He knows who he is! And he knows alllllll about the rock I want!” I assured Jackie that I would deliver a reminder to Dave. ‘Nuff said. Merry Christmas to Jackie and best wishes to Dave!)
Estelle was still waiting for her kiss from Santa, and while my mind was still on pause with the request I asked her “Why would you want a kiss from this whiskered old face?” Estelle paused a moment also, and with a tear forming in the corner of her eye she breathed quietly, “I have not had a kiss from anyone for over 25 years . . . . “.   Estelle’s grip on my gloved hand tightened, but this was not the cause of a tear welling in my own eye.  As I returned the firmness of the hand grip, Santa and Mrs. Santa both granted a Christmas wish that, in the grand scheme of things, was easily granted and that cost nothing but a bit of the ‘milk of human kindness’, as Dickens so succinctly summarized it in the words of Jacob Marley. While delighted to grant so simple and meaningful a request, we were saddened by the tale of neglect that had sparked Estelle’s Christmas wish.
I will end this 2016 Report Card with the story of Isabella, a gangly and quiet-spoken 10-year-old who had been on Santa’s knee, in turn with some 30 other children at a lively community-league Christmas event. Once all of the children had had their turn and had gone off to unwrap their gifts, two young ladies hovered nearby. One was a delightful 5-year-old who, with the full approval of her mother, had suspended a dozen or so candy canes in the neck of her crimson Christmas dress, delivering them to various and sundry at will.  Mrs. Santa and I were the grateful recipients of, I think, more than half of her deliveries.  Isabella hovered nearby until the candy deliveries were mostly completed, and until I noticed her there, again.  I waved my hand for her to ‘come over’, which she did, slowly.  “Would you like to sit on my knee again, Isabella?” (I actually remembered her name this time!).  She nodded, and I hoisted her up onto my lap, feeling that maybe she had forgotten to tell me something during her first visit. I tried to strike up a conversation with her.
“What grade are you in at school, Isabella?”
“Five.”
“Do you like school?”
“Yeah.”
“What’s your favourite subject?”
A shrug of the shoulders.
“Do you like sports?”
“No.”
“Do you like to draw, make art?”
“Yeah.”
With each question, Isabella had snuggled closer and more closely into Santa’s warm furry suit.  After several more attempts at eliciting some information, I finally figured out that Isabella was sending me the only message that she needed to hear back from me.
“Would you like Santa to be quiet now?”
She snuggled right in close and leaned her head on my shoulder. “Yeah.”
I wrapped my arms around her and granted two wishes, one of which was unspoken. I realized that Santa’s blathering on, trying to learn something about this lovely little lady, was masking the unspoken request she was making, which was simply to be loved.
Isabella spent some twenty minutes on my lap that night, encircled by my arms.  A priceless moment in time we shall never forget and shall always cherish.
My Christmas wish for 2017?  That each and every one of you will experience the milk of human kindness in the coming weeks and months and years.  God bless, and Merry Christmas to all!
With our love to you at Christmas 2016,
Santa and Rebecca Claus




Monday, December 26, 2016

Pajama Game 2016

We have a tradition in our home.


Well, several, actually.
But I'm only going to talk about this one . . .
Pajamas. On Christmas eve.
And spaghetti, but that is another story.
So . . . pajamas.
Every year, Mom hunts up the most distinctive pattern she can find and everyone is forced excited to wear it.
So, in honour of this very special time, here are a few examples from the past.
Enjoy!
 Christmas, 2002.  And no, that isn't a cow print couch . . .
Christmas 2003. And yes, we do look like escaped prisoners.

2007.  Little jump, here.

2008 and our numbers are increasing.
You can't see the striped socks, but they're there!
2009. Things are changing radically . . .
2010. What a mob!
2011. Well, a small, but important sample.
2012. The year of the polka dot.

2013 The year of the Googly

2014 - also glowed in the dark.
2015. What can I say? Gingham.
And now for 2016.
Gramma and Grampa and a choice selection of Grands.
And PJ's. What do you think?

And look what my DIL made for me . . .

Isn't it gorgeous?! Fifteen, count 'em, fifteen years of Tolley Christmas Jammies. Every one since this sweet DIL joined our family. Perfect!
How was your Christmas?
Warm?
Colourful and bright?
I do hope it was MERRY!
Merry Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Single Mom's Christmas

By request, My Women's Night Before Christmas. 
With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore . . .


On the night before Christmas, long hours ahead
The toddler awake, I’d just got her to bed.
The stockings were hung in a haphazard row,
While Mama assembled new toys just below.

The kids were asleep. Well, except for the last,
Just waiting for morning to get downstairs fast.
I toiled on alone, ‘cause there wasn’t a dad.
I had broken a nail and my language was bad.

Then out on the lawn rose a terrible noise,
A talent that only my oldest employs.
I flew to the window, and thought as I ran,
‘What's he doing out there, my nine-year-old man?!’

It was bright (as can only the moon on snow be),
And I narrowed my eyes to be able to see.
And what did I glimpse, coming over the way?
But some deer, all in harness, and a stout little sleigh.

With someone in a coat that looked comfy and soft,
And clearly some magic to keep them aloft.
They flew like a Michael Schumacher on course,
While the driver attempted some will to enforce.

"Now Baby! Now, Jazzi! Now, Frolic and Jolly!
On, Cherub! On, Angel! On, Kitten and Folly!
I need you to get to the rooftop this time!
And a fine, gentle landing would be so sublime!"

To say that they flew like some leaves past the attic,
Would be perfectly true, it was quite that erratic.
I was holding my breath as they shot toward the sky,
And prayed that my windows and roof would survive.

Then finally, thankfully, up on the top
I heard stomping and - oh, dear - at least one small ‘plop’!
Then some noise in the chimney I’d not heard before,
And someone emerged, on their knees, on the floor.

The figure was dressed in a warm, sooty coat,
With some Uggs on their feet and scarf round their throat.
With toys, books and clothes in a gi-normous sack,
Which they dropped to the floor with the words, “Oh, my back!”.

And then sparkling eyes were directed at me!
From under a hat that was worn with esprit.
I surprisingly saw, not a man, but a miss,
With no  beard (though a tweezer would not go amiss).

In white teeth, she had clutched a short pencil end,
And a notebook, she held in one mittened hand.
Her round, wrinkled face shone with laughter and fun,
And I don’t think her happy laugh could be outdone!

She was joyful and glad, and just a bit plump,
Her smile made me smile, and her laugh made me jump!
She gave me a grin and then winked an eye,
All my fears passed away and I waved them goodbye.

She didn’t say much, simply nodded my way,
And I watched as she worked – like a pudgy ballet.
She finished her job, made a note in her book,
Then nodded and smiled and her exit she took!

I heard her footsteps as she ran to her sleigh,
Heard her call to her team as they all flew away.
Then this sweet woman shouted, as she flew o’er the town,
"Happy Christmas to all, don’t let life get you down!"


Merry Christmas, my friends! And a very Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Tears

Christmas came a little early to my house this year.
First, a little background:
My DIL, Jess, is a fantastic artist.
A world class artist.
In my opinion, she could earn a living as an illustrator.
She, however, prefers small jobs and drawing for personal satisfaction.
In this instance, I am totally in agreement.
Because last night, she gave me my Christmas present.
And blew me away.
I had asked her to do a picture of Husby and me some time ago and she just smiled her little smile and said nothing.
This is why . . .
Look carefully. It's Husby, me and all the grandkids. By families. Perfect.
Just looking at it brings tears of joy.
And that is what Christmas is all about.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Questioning Christmas

                                          Photo Credit: Kimberley Laakso Photography

I have some questions . . .

Does Claustrophobic label those afraid of Santa Claus?
Is it low elf esteem in Santa’s elf? Depressed by what he was?

Is Christmas like your job? You work. The fat guy gets the credit.
And do you call an Elf who sings a wrapper? There, I said it.

Did Rudeolph get his famous name because he was obnoxious?
Are they really saying deck the Halls? A law suit makes me cautious.

Is the Christmas script unlike the rest because it has noel?
A disbelieving kid a Rebel Without a Claus? Do tell.

Why is Santa’s Christmas wrap exactly like my Mom’s?
Is Santa Claus North Polish? Please, this question’s irked me some.

Is subordinate claus what Santa calls his clever little minions?
This Christmas time, because I’m broke, can I gift you my opinion?

These are things that scorn me when awake at half-past two.
Those trivial things that I can’t answer. Tell me, now, can you?

When the Gingerbread man makes up his bed, does he use a cookie sheet?
Does Santa have three gardens for his, “Hoe. Hoe. Hoe.”? Please Tweet.

And when you do, remember, that it’s not the gifts and tree,
But who is there beside you as you’re sipping on Chablis.

The family and those friends with whom you live throughout the year.
And without whom life would be sad here in this biosphere.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Gifts in the Attic

Diane. AKA: Snoopy.
In yesterday’s post, I described missing a couple of important steps in the whole chocolate-making-deliciousness process. (See here.)
I have to tell you now that missing things at Christmastime wasn’t my forte.
Nope.
Ol’ Diane was unusually keen at this time of year. I could spot presents coming into the house no matter how they were disguised.
Even in my sleep.
Well, okay, maybe that is an exaggeration.
But during any and all waking hours.
And if I somehow missed them coming in through the front door, my snooping would uncover them in their varied—and sometimes genius—hiding places.
My Mom knew to wrap everything immediately and get it under the tree.
Diane could then squeeze and shake, but, ironically, would not open.
Something about the whole don’t-get-caught scenario.
I know. Weird.
Dad, on the other hand, usually did his shopping on Christmas Eve. Less chance of snoopage/findage when the gifts don’t even come into the house until after Diane is in la-la land. But if he, for some strange reason, brought something into the house before the fateful night, he had never developed Mom’s adeptness at  hidage/coverage.
Heh. Heh. Heh.
Trustingly, he would slip said ‘something’ under the neatly-folded clothes in the top of his closet, secure in the knowledge that his middle daughter would never—ever—stoop to snoopage/findage. (See above.)
Dads. Pfff . . .
He had barely left the room before Diane had scaled the hanging clothes, scampered along the shelves and disclosed the undisclosable.
Ooooh!
Then, careful to cover my tracks, I would arrange things as I had found them, but with the little, golden nugget of knowledge tucked away into my avaricetic (Is that a word?) brain.
Usually, my snooping went undiscovered.
Until that Christmas.
When all was revealed. Because something wasn’t revealed.
Ahem . . .
The frenzy of unwrapping, exclaiming and gloating had finished.
And, as the euphoria evaporated, I realized one thing had not appeared.
That package neatly hidden among Dad’s shirts in the bowels of Dad’s closet.
Cleverly and stealthily, I tried to extract the information from my father. “Dad! What about that package in the top of your closet? Who was that for?”
Yeah. I’m up for a clever prevarication award. I think I have a good shot.
He looked at me. “Oh. I completely forgot!” The package was produced and bestowed.
Oddly, I can’t even remember if it came to me.
But I do remember that from that time forward, Daddy became much clever-er in the whole shopping/hiding-from-his-snoopy-daughter situation.
Rats.
Have you heard the term ‘Me and my big mouth’?
Yeah. That would apply here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Chocolate Conundrum

Okay, I admit it; I missed the prologue and all the chapters.
Coming in only at the yummy epilogue.
That doesn't seem to be sufficient.
Maybe I should explain . . .
Every year, at Christmastime, Mom made chocolates.
Chocolates.
They were just as yummy as they sound.
Sweet little balls of deliciousness dipped in more deliciousness.
Could life get any better?
Mom would heat melting chocolate on the stove. Assemble long strips of waxed paper on all sides of the table. Seat several willing children at said table and beside described paper.
Arm those children with a toothpick a piece.
Bring out the great sheets of frozen little balls of fondant.
And let the adventure begin.
But here is where I admit I must have missed a few steps.
How did those little balls of sweet amazingness end up on the cookie sheets in the freezer?
I mean, I know Mom was magic, but did that apply here?
What did she do between the shopping (which I was often somewhat present for)?
And the dipping (which I never missed)?
There must have been some sort of assemblage which looked enough like work that Diane had disappeared.
The dipping I had down. Five dipped, one eaten. Or was it four dipped, one eaten? Three? Two?
Let’s just say: I was especially good/efficient at this step.
But the whole construction process?
Yep. I’ve got nothing.
The reason I am telling you this?
I’ve got my gallon of melted chocolate.
A cart load of waxed paper.
And a tree’s worth of toothpicks.
But, as hard as I look, sheets of little, round balls of fondant simply aren’t appearing in my freezer.
I’ve looked.
Several times.
Yep.
Definitely missing something here.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Grandma's House Christmas

My Grandma and Grandpa Berg
Who loved me.

Christmas excitement at the Stringam house was always two-fold.
There was the anticipation and joy over the gift-giving.
And getting.
And then there was the Christmas trip to Grandma and Grandpa Berg's house (hereinafter known as 'Grandma's House').
My Mom's parents.
I'm still not sure which was more exciting.
After the frenzy of unwrapping had dwindled and the euphoria and excitement of yet another Christmas morning had waned, it was time to pack the car for Grandma's house.
Yes!
We were allowed one suitcase.
So I had to carefully choose what gifts to bring along.
Much wrinkle-browed thought was put into what would accompany me.
One had to keep in mind that it would be many days before one could play with all of the other new toys, so the decision could not be made lightly.
What clothing and necessities went into the suitcase, however, were hap-hazard at best.
And most of the time . . . no less than sketchy.
It wasn't unusual to find that I had forgotten such necessities as . . . underwear. Pajamas. Shirts. Pants. Socks. Toothbrush.
In fact, as my Mom pointed out on at least one occasion, "Diane, what did you pack? Because there certainly aren't any clothes in here!"
I would look up at her.
Oops.
She would sigh and go to ask Aunt Eva or Aunt Louise if their kids had any clothes I could borrow.
It didn't matter. I was happily playing with my numerous cousins.
None of whom cared what I was wearing.
Or not wearing . . .
And that was just the start of the fun at Grandma's.
My older sister and I got to sleep in my Mom's old room at the top of the grand stairway.
In a bed with a delicious feather tick.
Perfect for a little, warm sleeping nest.
There was also a little, hidden cupboard. Deeply secret.
No one knew it was there, except Chris and I.
And of course whoever hung the old clothes and other stuff stored inside, but why quibble over details?
Just outside our room, against one wall in the hall, was a ladder.
Leading to the incredible, top secret attic.
My brothers spent hours up there, reading old comics and stuff left by my mother's brothers.
I was never allowed to go.
'Cause I was a girl.
And they were keeping me safe from the spook who lived up there.
At least that's what they said.
The large bedroom across the hall from mine was where my brothers slept. It was full of treasures. Books and games from my Mom's childhood.
Or at least from her brothers'.
I imagine they happened about the same time . . .
At the bottom of the staircase in the warmly shiny, plank floor was a square vent.
Just wide enough for Sharon, Julie, Susan and I to sit on.
Or lay on.
Or play . . . you get the picture.
All during Christmas, it blew warm air.
Just for us.
Hour after hour, we cousins and siblings would crouch together on the slatted steel. Warm and toasty.
Paradise.
There was plenty to eat at Grandma's house. Food that left her large, sunny kitchen in great, delicious quantities.
And just as quickly disappeared.
And the all-important cookie tins.
Grandma always baked many, many different kinds of cookies.
All delicious.
Then put a selection into several tins and placed them throughout the house.
It was like a treasure hunt.
Except that, invariably, the Smaarbucklesa (spelled phonetically because it's Swedish and none of us kids knew what she was saying . . .) disappeared immediately.
From every, single tin.
Rats!
Even the furniture at Grandma's house was an adventure just waiting to happen.
When Grampa Berg wasn't sitting on it, there was always his chair, sitting innocently beside the great living room window.
The chair that vibrated, if one turned the dials.
Like the rest of Grandma's house, it was magic.
And there was always the carved, wooden feet under the dining table to sit on.
And hide.
Although, looking back, I really don't know how effective my hiding was.
Especially when someone would ask for Diane and someone else would say, "Probably under the table."
Sigh. 
Secret agent material, I wasn't.
But the most exciting part about being at Grandma's house was the little sun room on the side of the house.
A sunny little place.
That had a tenant.
Hanging silently on one wall.
Just waiting for the most daring cousin to dart in and . . . touch it.
And run away screaming.
Okay, okay, so I was always the one who was scared to go in and screamed on the way out.
Sheesh.
But you have to admit that a stuffed moose head is really scary.
Okay, you don't.
But it was.
When I was four.
At Grandma Berg's house.
The best place on earth.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Christmas Fragrances

From my favourite Christmas Stories:
Yeah. Don't let him fool you.
He only looks like a college student. Studying.
Dad was a veterinarian student in Guelph, Ontario.
That fact, alone shouldn't strike terror into anyone's heart . . .
Christmas 1946 was a special time.
The veterinarian students (hereinafter known as the Vets) had pooled their resources and bought some decorations and a small tree.
These, they had used to decorate their balcony.
It looked quite festive and they were rather pleased with themselves.
Something that happened often.
But I digress . . .
Other students also noticed their efforts.
Students who were either too broke or too lazy to decorate their own area.
Not a good situation.
The Vets came back from class a couple of days before Christmas to discover that their tree was . . . missing.
Investigation was indicated.
After a short, very short search, they discovered that the thief or thieves had left a trail of decorations down the hall.
Obviously the work of amateurs.
The Vets followed the telltale trail into their neighbour's corridor and, further, into one of the dorm rooms there. (Oh, if only NCIS could have it this easy!)
They knocked.
Politely.
Actually, they probably hammered violently, but my way sounds better.
Several young men answered the door, then vehemently (good word) protested their innocence.
And as strongly denied that they had access to the closet to which the trail subsequently led.
Undaunted, the Vets demanded that they open the door or it would be pulled from its hinges.
Gently. 
At that point a key was quickly produced, the door opened, and the disclosed tree retrieved.
The Vets wasted no time in restoring it to its rightful place of honour on their balcony.
All was well.
Or almost well.
Remember. These were young men.
In college.
Payback was indicated.
Two of these young men had recently uncovered a den of skunks.
As part of their training, and because they were bored, they de-scented those skunks.
But saved the glands.
Weird.
One of them suddenly came up with a brilliant plan.
They would chop up the glands, add a little water, then carefully fill a syringe with the resulting goo.
No sooner imagined than accomplished.
Now, I should point out here that, in the late 40s, each door in the dorms at Guelph, and indeed, everywhere, opened with a large, old-fashioned key.
The keyhole was big enough to peek through.
And certainly large enough to accommodate a syringe needle.
While everyone else was at class, the two vet students took their syringe and squirted a little of their prized 'essence' through the keyhole of every door in that corridor.
The smell was immediate . . . and indescribable.
Hmm. Maybe they had been a little precipitate? (another good word!)
But the damage was done.
For the last day before vacation, everyone who had anything to do with that building, did it in as brief a time as possible.
Sleeping was out of the question.
Most of the young men simply left town as soon as their last class was over.
Perhaps distance would lessen the smell.
Dad didn't give the prank much thought during his Christmas vacation back in Alberta.
Some things are best forgotten.
And, astonishingly enough, by the time they got back to the campus, the smell was all but gone.
Good thing carpets hadn't been invented yet.
But everyone learned something from the experience.
            1. Leave skunks alone.
            2. Never, ever play tricks on veterinarian students.
Guelph - 24 years later - the smell is almost gone . . .

Saturday, December 17, 2016

All I Got For Christmas...

My first 'real' Christmas. Age 14 months.
That's me. With Mom.

I've been trying to remember gifts I have received for Christmas.
I know I received some.
Many, in fact.
Stuffed toys. And the snuggling that ensued.
Lego. Always popular.
Books. Nancy Drew in particular.
Puzzles. Nearly always completed with my Dad.
There was the one year that my parents gave me a small musical instrument. I think they called it a musette.
It had a tiny black membrane that fit into one end and made the whole thing work.
A delicate membrane.
One could put a finger right through it.
Don't ask me how I know this . . .
I clearly remember the year we all got skis.
And the adventures that followed.
And the time my brother gave me a camshaft.
A real camshaft.
As it turned out, though, it wasn't my real present.
He had wrapped it up to confuse me just in case I had caught a glimpse of what he had actually purchased for me.
Moving on . . .
There were things I needed.
Clothes.
Quilts.
And things I didn't.
Tinned Vienna sausage.
And a mounted and stuffed Jack-a-lope head (Google it).
Things I really, really wanted.
A Palm Pilot. (You can Google that, too.)
Video Camera.
And a PT Cruiser. (I got three – all three inches long.)
And things that were just . . . sweet.
Several pairs of slippers.
And at least one bath robe.
I've truly loved them all.
Truly.
They were given with love.
And accepted with the same.
But I have been around for sixty-one Christmases, including this one.
Sixty-one.
Why can't I remember sixty-one gifts?
I know there was at least one per year.
Many times, more.
I guess it's because the memory of family and being together stands out more clearly.
You know, I think that's how it should be.

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