Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, April 16, 2016

Almost Royal

Go on. Give it a pull!
Life on a ranch is glorious.
Open, endless vistas.
Fresh air.
Time with your family.
And endless hours with your 'other' co-worker. Your steady, actually-does-most-of-the-work partner.
Your horse.
Did you know that horses are fun?
And smart?
With distinct personalities?
Some are lazy.
Some crafty.
Some love people.
All love to play.
A favourite game when I was growing up was 'tongues'. You would tickle a horse's lips until he stuck out his tongue, whereupon (good word) you would give it a little pull.
The tongue, I mean.
The horse would whip it back into his mouth.
Then promptly stick it out again.
Pull.
Retract.
Stick out.
Pull.
They loved this game.
They would play it for hours.
Or until you got tired of it.
You can probably guess which scenario usually happened first.
Enough background . . .
My Husby and I were touring the Buckingham Palace Mews, conducted by the head hostler to the Queen, Edward.
A very proper and pleasant British man who also loved horses.
We were instantly connected.
Moving on . . .
My Husby and I were having a great time.
We had dutifully and happily walked through the storage buildings.
Gotten up close and personal with the royal family's famous Gold Coach.
And had finally headed into the stables.
Ahhh! Heaven!
Horses are intensely curious.
If something is happening, they want to be front and center.
Gawking.
Getting in the way.
Pretending to be startled and fleeing spiritedly.
Coming back to see if there was anything they missed.
For the resident horses, our tour of the stables was out of the ordinary.
Everyone wanted a look.
Heads popped out of stalls the whole length of the building.
One horse, a handsome grey gelding, quartered by himself, was especially interested.
I should point out here that horses, when they meet another horse, sniff each other's noses.
A much more civilized practice in my opinion than what one would typically see when dogs greet each other.
Ummm . . . back to my story.
The big grey sniffed me.
I sniffed him back, then started to move on.
He moved with me.
I think someone was bored.
I touched his lips.
He licked them.
I pulled his tongue.
His head shot up, startled.
He stared at me for a couple of moments.
Then he stuck out his tongue again.
I pulled it.
He drew it back in.
Then he did it again.
This went on for some time.
Grant and Edward had been standing a little ways off, talking.
The horse and I were enjoying our game.
Then I realized that the stable had fallen silent.
The men were watching us.
Thinking they had finished their conversation, I patted my new friend and started toward them.
The big grey leaned out as far as he could, nickered at me and stuck out his tongue. “Hey! I'm not finished with this game!”
I laughed and patted him again.
Then joined the two men.
Edward was still staring. Finally he shook his head and in his perfectly modulated English accent, said, “I've never seen a horse do that before!”
He looked at me with renewed interest and said,” Any time you want to come back here, you are welcome. Anytime.”
A horse lover knows another horse lover.
And all horses are the same. No matter what circles they move in.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

It's Cold Inside

Because it's poetry month . . . 

From this spell of cold and damp,
The germs in close formation, tramp,
On my resistance, blithely stamp,
And place my head inside a clamp.

These foes, I did incarcerate,
And I shiver as I, here, relate:
While hoping to ameliorate,
Oh, woe, I did deteriorate.

Companions, mucus and some phlegm,
From deep within my system, stem,
Their presence here, I do condemn,
I want no close rapport with them.

I reach for some meds and groan,
My horrid fate I do bemoan,
And for all my sins atone,
And pray that soon I’ll be alone.

Then I think a sharpened knife,
Will quickly end my woeful life,
And my existence, hereto rife
With pain and suffering and strife.

Then, all at once, my life is blessed,
The germs are gone, the rheum expressed,
And all discomfort’s been suppressed,
It’s peaceful, now, within my breast.

Cheerily, from my bed, I climb
And wash away the sweat and grime.
My life is good, my soul sublime,
At least until the *sigh* next time.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Speaking Dad

Buddies. Eh?
I knew what he was saying.
He knew what he was saying.
Too bad they weren’t the same thing . . .
When I was little, I hung around with my dad.
A lot.
Well, at least as often as time – and his busy schedule – would allow.
He was a rancher, veterinarian, Hereford Club director, 4-H Club director, Church leader, husband and father.
In no particular order.
Yep. When time would allow.
I made the most of every moment I had with him.
I chattered.
Constantly.
And every sentence ended with, “Eh, Dad?”
Okay, yes, I’m Canadian. It goes with the territory.
Moving on . . .
It must have been a bit annoying.
But he never showed it.
Patiently he answered me.
Every ‘eh, Dad’ was responded to with “B, Diane.”
I was happy. I thought ‘B’ meant ‘Yes’.
Our conversations must have been interesting . . .
“Horses! We love horses, eh, Dad?”
“B, Diane.”
“Look at those birds! They’re pretty, eh, Dad?”
“B, Diane.”
“Ooh! Look at the little calvies! They’re playing, eh, Dad?”
“B, Diane.”
“Mmmm! Dinner! We love dinner, eh, Dad?”
“B, Diane.”
You get the idea.
It was years before I realized that he was merely putting a non-committal ‘B’ with my ‘A’.
Just to keep the conversation flowing with a chattering little girl.
It worked.
And that’s what it’s all about, eh?
B.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Hiding Place

Foreground: Mom's flowers.
Background: The garage. My hiding place was down and left.
On the Stringam ranch, we had an old garage.
Really old.
Grampa Stringam old.
It was long and single storied with white, stucco siding and very small windows.
At the north end, there was the big garage door.
Opening into a large, dark room that smelled of old oil and farm cats.
Cut into the thick planks of the floor of that room, was the heavy trap door to the root cellar, described here.
But the root cellar only took up half of the 'basement'.
The other half was a strange stable.
Really strange.
The entire room was deeply covered with straw. And had solid wooden dividers, forming tie stalls, though there was no where in the stone walls to actually tie anything.
And there were no mangers if one did manage to . . . tie . . . anything.
The weirdest thing about this stable was access.
The only entrance/exit was a small window high up in the south wall of the garage.
I often wondered how one could get any animals down there.
Someone didn't plan that very well . . .
No wonder the straw was clean, even though it wasn't fresh.
The small window, however, made an eminently suitable entrance/exit for children.
Like me.
And their toys.
Like mine.
It was my secret place.
My hiding place.
Where no one could find me.
All right, I admit that it was only about forty feet from the front door of the house. Well within hollering distance.
And that when my Mom wanted me, all she had to do was shout.
But I felt secret.
Hidden.
The single window had no covering, so, during the day, the room was brightly lit. And there was no danger that one could be shut into darkness by a heavy door.
One could slide in through the window, toys and all, drop into the thick straw, and spend hours in one's own little sunlit, straw-filled world.
Perfection.
It became the place where I parked anything I didn't want the other kids to get into.
And where I hid the stuff wasn't supposed to get into. (I once lugged in an entire boxful of old pamphlets and envelopes and stationary that Dad had tossed out. I know. Kids . . .)
I played happily for months in my secret stable.
Finally, I asked Dad what had happened to the door.
He stared at me, puzzled.
I explained that I had to crawl into the little stable through the window. What happened to the door?
He laughed. “That's no stable, Diane. That's the old ice house.”
Ah. Everything was explained.
Not.
“Um. What's an ice house?
Dad tried to explain to me that every winter, the men would go down to the river which just happened to flow right past the garage, and cut great chunks of ice.
Then the ice would be hauled up to the ice house and passed through the little window to someone waiting inside.
The straw was to keep it cold.
Weird.
I suspected that he was pulling my leg because I had played down there for months and I hadn't seen one bit of ice.
“Why would they do that?”
“Well, they needed the ice to keep food cold.”
“Why didn't they use the freezer?”
“They didn't have freezers.”
I stared at him. How could anyone survive without a freezer?
“They didn't even have a fridge.”
Okay, now I knew he was just making stuff up.
Everyone had a fridge.
Some people, like us, had two.
I shook my head. “Dad. Dad. Dad. That's just silly.”
And I went back to my playing.
But you know something?
He was right.
Sometimes dads are.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Barn Dance


From the ashes . . .
. . . rise the new and improved.







Ranch families know how to have fun and it usually involves dancing.
Let me explain . . .
Our barn had burned to the ground.
On my birthday. (see here)
It was a tragedy.
We lost some livestock and all of our tack and equipment.
But out of the ashes arose a newer, better, bigger barn with modern conveniences and plenty of room.
And lots and lots of places to play.
That's important when you're four.
Which I was.
Moving on . . .
The new barn was nearing completion and needed to be properly initiated.
A barn dance was called for.
I should mention here, that, in my world, barn dances nearly always occurred immediately after the barns were built before the smells from the denizens living below stairs began to permeate the hay loft upstairs.
Enough said.
People began to gather.
The Stringam Ranch is located twenty miles from the nearest town (Milk River) and is surrounded by other ranches with ranch families.
You have to look for your entertainment when you are that far from the bright lights.
A barn dance was eagerly anticipated and reason for a lot of excitement and everyone, from the elderly to the newly arrived, showed up.
Everyone.
Early. While my Mom was busy in the kitchen, happily baking and cooking.
There was much talk and laughter, old friends greeting each other for the first time since last summer's brandings and the anticipation began to build.
Finally, the piano player arrived.
And then the festivities hit a snag.
She had counted on the Stringams providing the piano but our barn didn't come equipped with one.
Go figure.
And this was the 50s. Electronic anything hadn't been invented yet.
We needed to find a real piano.
ASAP.
A quick phone call to Lethbridge secured one but it was an hour and a half away.
With a fast truck.
A willing group was dispatched and the rest of the party began to . . . party.
There was good food to eat and lots of news to catch up on.
The time passed quickly.
Finally, a truck pulled into the yard, horn blaring.
The piano had arrived.
Many hands pulled it from the back of the pickup and pushed it into the barn.
There was a brief discussion as to the best way to transport it from the ground floor to the hay loft.
Finally, it was centered beneath a large hay chute door. Ropes were passed beneath it and willing hands pulled it up to the dance floor.
I'm quite sure it must have weighed several hundred pounds.
You couldn't tell. It was a mere blur of movement as it made the trip.
Within seconds, and I do mean seconds, music was blaring forth and the dance floor was crowded.
The Stringam Barn Dance was officially underway.
I should mention, here, that this is where I learned to dance.
Standing on my Dad's feet.
Like many, many of the other kids in the room.
That's just how it was done.
The party continued throughout the night.
We danced the Butterfly, Schottische, Two-steps, various Reels, Old-time waltzes, Polkas and many others.
What the group missed in the first three hours, they made up for in the last.
Everyone started heading for home about the time the sun came up.
Just in time to do morning chores . . .

There is a codicil.
Remembering the fun we had as children, and seeing a marked decline in the great old Barn Dance, my family decided to re-introduce it to the world.
We started doing 'Family Dances' in 1990.
They were very popular.
Though we played in very few barns, and had all electronic equipment, the feeling was the same.
Families dancing together.
For nearly twenty years, we provided music and 'on the hoof' instruction to large family groups.
It was . . . fun.
And memorable.
A small slice of ranch life prolonged.

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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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