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

Daughter of Ishmael

by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Hey-Ho Away We go...

Horses came in all shapes and sizes on our ranch.

All shapes.
And sizes.
Oh, and materials.
Maybe I should explain . . .
On a working ranch, the horse is the best, most used tool. I’m talking about the warm, four-footed, rather hairy type here.
Or, as my machine-loving brother titled them, the hay-burners.
Paired with a rider, horses work the cattle.
Check fences.
Provide transportation.
Ditto, entertainment.
And make pushing, pulling, dragging or carrying just that much easier.
No self-respecting ranch could be run without its four-footed hay-burners.
On the Stringam ranch, the people could be divided into two horse camps.
Those who loved them.
And my brother, George.
Oh, we got him up there.
But only when there was work to be done.
Moving on . . .
I was the leader of the opposite camp.
I lived, ate and breathed horses. Had been known to hang out with them at any and all hours of the day or night. Been observed taking the occasional nap in close proximity.
And pretended and improvised when the weather was bad and there simply was no horse to be had.
Did you know that the wide arm of an overstuffed chair or couch makes an excellent substitute?
Well, it does.
I spent a lot of hours in that particular ‘saddle’. Had some amazing adventures. And had even been known to get pitched off on occasion.
My next younger brother, Blair, age two, was following in the paths I had created.
Riding the same mounts.
Then, one Christmas, he was given another option.
He got our family’s first spring horse. King Prancer as it was nobly named.
And our world was never the same.
Now, when we wanted to kite off to the imaginary prairie, doing imaginary deeds of wonder and saving the lives of countless imaginary people, we could climb aboard the King.
Okay, yes. He was technically Blair’s.
But I was bigger.
Ahem . . .
That sturdy little spring horse provided us with hours (and hours) of entertainment.
Until Mom told us we had out-grown (what on earth did that mean?) it and that it was time to be handed down to the next generation. ie. little sister, Anita.
Suddenly, I was back on the old stand-by. Riding the range with my trusty, slightly dusty steed.
Sigh.
Why am I telling you all of this?
My granddaughter, age two was in the living room, playing.
I went in to check on her.
She had straddled the arm of our overstuffed couch and was riding, hell-bent-for-leather, across the ‘prairie’. Whooping and hollering impressively.
It was no King Prancer.
But it sure made Gramma smile.

George and me.
Before the chair became a steed.
Blair. And the real thing.

The next generation: The King. Anita.
And a friend.
Okay, close to the real thing. George and me again.
The King. And Blair.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Over the Mountain and Through the Woods...

A repost. By request...
Gramma and Grampa Stringam
In 1912, ‘going to visit the family’ took on a whole new meaning.
Let me tell you about it . . .
My Gramma and Grampa Stringam, with their (then) three children, moved to southern Alberta in 1910, leaving their extended family behind them in Utah.
They settled in Glenwood and started to farm.
Outwardly, all was well.
Inwardly, one of them missed her mother.
Finally, after two years of pining and tears, the decision was made for an extended visit.
Gramma and her (by then) four children packed up and, kissing Grampa goodbye, boarded the train for Salt Lake.
The trip there was fairly uneventful, the highlight - seeing the sprinkler system in the Salt Lake depot.
But what came afterward . . . wasn’t.
Uneventful, that is.
Gramma and the kids climbed aboard another train for Salina and then the mail stagecoach from there over the mountain to Thurber and Teasdale.
A short hop by today’s automobile.
But a considerable prospect for the white-top mail buggy of the early 1900’s.
In the rain.
On one particularly steep pass, soaked through and tired, the team of horses gave out. Despite considerable encouragement, they refused to move one more step up the mountain, choosing, in typical balky-horse fashion, to back up instead.
They succeeded in backing the coach until they, quite literally, ran out of mountain. When the driver finally got them stopped, the vehicle was dangling right out over the edge of the canyon with the wagon tree tipped up and the horses' hind feet barely on the ground.
Gramma and the kids were frantically extricated, followed by their baggage and the mail bags. They gratefully took shelter under a large spruce, where they turned, as they had been taught, to prayer.
While they were thus engaged, the driver tried--unsuccessfully--to remedy the situation. The wagon remained hanging over the edge of the cliff.
Can anyone say,"precarious?"
Meanwhile the little family under the tree had finished praying. And it was as that exact moment that a second white-topped buggy came up over the hill.
A buggy that was empty, save for the driver, a local real estate agent. Who, to the little family huddled under the tree, suddenly took on the aspect of a saviour.
The man stopped and surveyed the situation, then climbed down and, using a knife, cut the traces holding the horses to the buggy (allowing the wagon to drop into the canyon several hundreds of feet below) and led the animals to safety.
The mail man thanked him, threw his mail bags over one horse and mounted the other, and rode on over the mountain, abandoning his little group of paying passengers without a backward look.
On the side of a mountain. In the rain.
Don’t you hate days like that?
Fortunately, the real estate man was very kind and loaded Gramma and her kids into his buggy and delivered them safely to the nearest village.
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful.
Let’s face it. After this experience, most events would pale by comparison.
Gramma and her brood got their visit.
And, for generations to come, a story to tell.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Scary Smoking

Admit it. This is scary...

Okay. Maybe I overreacted.

Maybe.
We were on holiday in a foreign land. France, to be exact.
And having a glorious time.
Our family had just finished an underground rafting trip.
Did I mention that we were under the ground?
I guess I did when I said underground.
Ahem . . .
It was fantastic!
Feeling slightly euphoric, we had driven to our hotel and were unpacking in the parking lot.
Suitcases.
Food.
Other stuff that wasn't suitcases or food.
Our rooms were on the second floor. One door opening from the long communal balcony into two separate units.
I dragged myself and my load up to the second floor.
Then looked back into the parking lot where the rest of the family was still in the process of unloading/loading.
There, standing in the very center of the lot was a young man, dressed completely in black.
Black hoodie pulled up over his head so that only his nose showed.
He was just standing there quietly.
Looking up at me.
It was . . . startling.
I stared back at him for a moment, then turning, shoved my key in the door and escaped into my room.
Throwing my load onto the closest bed, I took a quick look around.
Nice, quiet little room.
Two double beds.
Comfortable.
Then I walked over to the window.
And threw open the curtains.
The man in black was standing directly outside the window, now looking into my room.
I screamed.
I admit it.
He had been mysterious, standing down there in the parking lot.
Standing right outside my window, he was downright frightening.
And really, really creepy.
He made some sort of gesture, but I didn't notice.
I was too busy pulling the curtains shut and crawling under the bed.
Okay, so heroine material, I'm not.
My husby toted his burden of suitcases, etc. into the room a couple of seconds later.
And stared at me as I crawled out from under the bed.
“Ummm . . . looking for anything in particular?”
“No. That guy just frightened me,” I said, as calmly as possible.
“What guy?”
“The one dressed in black. Out there on the balcony.”
“There was a guy out on the balcony?”
“How could you miss him!” I demanded. “He was right there!”
My Husby walked across the room and whipped the curtains back.
I caught my breath.
Isn't this sounding mysterious?
There was no one there.
“But he was right outside! Looking into the room!” I stomped over to the window and peered out.
The man had disappeared.
“Huh. Weird.”
My husband was staring at me. “I think you were down in that cave too long."
I snorted.
I want to point out that it was a ladylike snort. Because I am a . . . oh, never mind.
When my kids arrived a few seconds later, I challenged them. “Did you guys see the scary guy in black?”
They too, stared at me. “Scary guy in black?”
“Yeah. He was down there.” I pointed.
“Oh, you mean the one down in the parking lot who was trying to bum cigarettes?”
Cigarettes? Erm. "Yes. That would be the one.”
“Yeah. We just told him we didn't smoke and he left.”
“Oh.”
So much for my scary encounter.
I had been hiding under the bed to escape a . . . broke smoker.
Holidaying can be such an entertaining experience.
For so many reasons.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Brush with Fame

I am in awe of people who can draw.
Okay, yes, I just can't help but rhyme.
I do it all the time.
Argh!
I have a nephew.
His name is Shane Lewis.
An artist in a class somewhere in the stratosphere.
Talent like his leaves me speechless.
Speechless.
And I know you know that is no mean feat.
Shane has spent the past decade working as a head illustrator for Disney.
I just wanted to share some of his art with you today.
You'll see what I mean . . .
First, some jug bands. Because he loves jug bands.




Then, a barbershop quartet like you've never seen before:


And a scene from Planet of the Apes, my personal favourite.


And doesn't this just make you cringe?



Tell me you agree with me!
Isn't he amazing?
If you need an illustrator/game designer/storyboard artist/writer . . .
I have a nephew. 
His name is Shane Lewis.
An artist in a class somewhere in the . . . you get the picture!



If you need any or all of the above, tell me.
Or, better yet, got to Shane's website
It's worth the visit, even if you aren't needing an artist extraordinaire!


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Branded

I had long, skinny children.
Who always outgrew their clothes in length, far before said clothes fit them in width.
As they grew, fitting them got to be a greater and greater problem. 
Did you know that few companies, back when my babies were growing, created clothing for children who look like they have been shaped in a taffy-puller?
Or on the torturer’s rack.
Well, it’s true.
And, by the way, shaping children in either of those methods is illegal.
Just thought I’d point that out.
So . . . long, skinny children . . .
Ever try to find pants to fit a 28 inch waist and a 38 inch inseam? 
I did what any desperate and decidedly broke mom would do. I started making my children’s clothes.
All of their clothes.
Shirts, pants, shorts, dresses, skirts, blouses.
PJ’s.
I even took a short course in making 5-pocket blue jeans and made them.
Rivets and all.
I made so many and got so proficient that I stopped even needing instructions and could whip up a pair – from cutting to trying on the finished article – in less than two hours.
I had even been known to make them in my sleep.
Of course they didn’t look quite the same.
But I digress . . .
One thing I discovered with blue jeans was the fact that you are fairly limited in things you can do to make them . . . remark-able.
Oh, you can sew trim into the outer seams.
And use different colours of thread.
But probably the most noticeable of TYCD (things you can do) is to mess with the back pockets.
And yes, I went there.
I embroidered many things on my kids’ back pockets.
Pictures.
Slogans.
Designs.
Then I got the wild idea of using their initials.
Genius.
Only they didn’t always agree.
For example, Erik refused to wear his jeans embossed with the giant letters ‘E’ and ‘T’ on his back side.
I don’t know what his problem was. I thought it would be cute to be called ‘ET’.
Finally, in an attempt at mollification, I added a ‘B’, for his middle name of ‘Blair’.
It passed.
I then used the same idea for his next younger brother’s jeans. Robin Duff Tolley. What could be better than ‘RDT’?
He thought it was great.
Until his father asked what the ‘RDT’ stood for. “Rabbit, duck, turtle?”
“Nooo! Robin Duff Tolley!”
“Oh. Rabbitduckturtle?”
“Nooo!”
Yeah. Those pockets had to come right off.
I replaced them with something a little less controversial.
Like squiggles.
But the name remained. From then on, our Duff was known as Rabbitduckturtle.
Have you ever heard of the consequences of labelling a child?
Well, the stories are true.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Generational Unhelpfulness

Dad, Jerry and Chris
About 3 BD (Before Diane)
But 5 minutes AC (After Coats)
Our kids and grandkids were over for the weekend.
Fortunately for us, spring has finally arrived in Edmonton, Alberta, and they were able to spend much of the day outside.
One grandson, anxious to rejoin his cousins on the pirate ship in the backyard (yes, we have a pirate ship in the backyard) was frantically looking for his coat--discarded when he had come inside.
Moments before.
“Can’t find it!” he lamented loudly.
“Well, Sweetie,” I said. “I don’t know . . .” That was as far as I got.
Because, suddenly, I was remembering my Mom.
And something she said to us every time we were bewailing the loss of some article of clothing.
Which happened often.
Ahem . . .
There would the usual scurry to find said article of clothing.
Coat.
Hat.
Boots.
Shoes.
Pants.
And then the inevitable words, “I CAN’T FIND IT!!!”
Followed, if one were really good, by tears. (I was really good. Just FYI.)
Back to my story . . .
Mom would immediately bring the problem into ‘Mom’ focus with the words: “Well, I don’t know where I put it when I wore it last!”
We would frown because adult-sized Mom would never, ever have fit into it.
And this was NOT helpful!
Then she would laugh.
Whereupon (good word!) we would sigh and slump and renew our search.
So, back to my grandson. The three-year-old standing indignantly in the middle of the kitchen.
I smiled. “Well, Sweetie, I don’t know where I put it when I wore it last!”
He frowned at me.
I heard laughter from the periphery. And “I remember Mom saying that to me!”
Good family sayings traverse generations.

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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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