Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Little Bull

Today: A guest post by Little Brother, Blair.

You get the idea . . .
Spring.
Calving season on the ranch.
Every spring the cows in the herd would drop their bundles of red and white on the prairie grass or snow or mud depending on the weather.
And every year there was usually one or two cows that were a little late.
One spring dad brought these cows in to a small field near the ranch house.
It was late enough in the season that the herd bull was running withthe expectant cows so that they might calve a little earlier next year.
Umm . . . don’t ask me to explain . . .  
When a new born calf entered the world at dad’s ranch we had two tasks. 
  1. Tag the calf with a number that tied him to his mama.
  2. Give the calf an oral vaccine that protected it against . . . whatever. (It has been a long time so I don’t remember what the vaccine was for. The good news was that the vaccine was oral.  Which usually made the calf a little more cooperative.)
Ok, back to the late cows and bull.
The herd bulls that dad ran on the ranch were purebred Polled Hereford. Usually very docile.
Sometimes you would wonder if they were awake.
The bull that dad had with the late cows was no exception to the comatose or docile or gentle rule. On many occasions I had climbed up and sat on his back, then scratched said back very hard.
The bull loved this.
He would snuff his nose with enjoyment.
Because that’s what bulls do when you scratch their backs really hard.
Just FYI.
One day I had to go tag and vaccinate the newest baby on the ranch.
It happened that this calf was a drama queen.
At first, it was not going to just let me catch it. 
The field that the calf was in had a little open pen. I chased it into the pen and then grabbed it before it realized it was cornered. But when I grabbed it, it bawled like I was trying to cut some essential member of its body off.
I didn’t pay much attention because calves sometimes behave this way. They often quiet down as they get older.
So I was in this tiny pen just off the side of the small pasture where the bull and cows were grazing. 
There was a high fence around the pen, providing sometimes shelter for the cows, but obscuring the view into the pasture.  I had caught the calf and pinned it on its side to vaccinate and tag.
The calf was saying, “Mom, this guy is being a big meany!” In calf language.  
At this point, the bull, which weighs just over 2000 pounds (and who I thought was my friend) came running around the corner.
He stopped about a foot away from me and bellered.
Very loudly.
And blew his nose on me. Because that is what happens when a bull is bellering madly.
When you have a 2000 pound bull inches away I’m sure it makes them sound even louder.
At this point I was not worried about nasal discharge.
As I was looking at this bull up very close, I had the thought running through my mind.  “I don’t care if the bull and I are friends, he has blown a mental fuse and he is about to do the big heavy dance on my body and I am a dead person. Or will be soon”.
Then a funny thing happened.
The bull paused for a moment and looked at me very intensely. Then he quickly walked away and made no more sounds.
What’s Bull for “YOU’RE HURTING ONE OF MY BABIES AND I’M GOING TO . . . Oh. It’s you!”
I swear that he had an embarrassed expression on his face.

Friday, October 28, 2016

(Not Quite) Past Mistakes

Something like this.
Dad had a new toy.
A small musical instrument called a ‘musette’.
The fact that he was in his first year of university didn’t stop him from playing it.
He and a group of friends were riding the streetcar home from Sunday Services.
They were a happy bunch.
Talking.
Laughing.
Dad was tinkering about on his new toy.
Much to the discomfort of the other passengers.
I should mention, here, that Dad has a beautiful singing voice.
I’ve never heard him play the musette.
Possibly because of what follows . . .
The streetcar conductor called back to the group of boys, “You! On the harmonica! Please stop playing!”
Dad stopped.
For a moment.
Then, thinking that the conductor could no longer hear him over the noise of the rest of the passengers, he started again.
“You! Stop playing or I’ll have to kick you off the bus!”
Dad sighed and dropped the musette into his lap.
He looked down at it.
Just one more . . .
“Okay. That’s it!
The bus slid to a sudden stop.
“You! With the harmonica! Off!”
Dad got to his feet.
“And the rest of you with him! Off!”
His friends looked at each other.
Then, disgusted, they too got to their feet and followed the author of their misfortunes off the bus.
And began the long walk back to the University.
Moving ahead seventy years . . .
My Husby and I had moved our family to Edmonton.
Six hours north of where I was raised.
I met an elderly couple at church.
We started to visit.
They discovered that my maiden name was Stringam.
“Well, who do you belong to?” the man asked.
“Mark is my dad,” I said proudly.
“Mark,” he said. Then, “Mark! He got me kicked off the streetcar!”
The good things we do are quickly forgotten.
The mistakes?
They go on forever.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Do It Yourself

Let's run through this again . . .

I'm a people-pleaser.

Or try to be.
Call it a weakness.
But I've always had this compulsion to make everyone around me as comfortable as possible.
Most of the time, it's fun.
Occasionally, not.
Let me tell you about it . . .
When I was first married, my greatest wish was to see my new Husby happy, comfortable and well-fed.
I worked hard at it.
Fortunately, he is a kind and considerate man, so all was well.
I had meals ready at meal times.
Kept the laundry done.
Cleaned the house.
Ran errands.
This went on for some time.
Then, I began to realize that some of the 'errands' were jobs he could have done equally well himself.
And probably should.
Case in point:
Whenever he would use a tissue ( Kleenex), he would then hand me said used tissue and I would hunt for a garbage to throw it in.
True story.
Can everyone say “gullible”?
This went on for nearly three years.
Then, one day, we were at a reception.
My Husby used a tissue and turned and held it out to me.
Now, the normal people-pleasing Diane would have taken it and found a place to dispose of it.
The new Diane looked at the tissue, then at my Husby and said, “Throw it out yourself.”
Whereupon (good word) he laughed and stuck it into his pocket. “Finally caught on, did you?” he said.
And that's when I hit him.
Oh, not hard.
Just enough for him to know that I was . . . displeased.
And that he could run his own stupid errands from now on.
Ha!
There.
I said it.
Kleenex, anyone?
P.S. On occasion, he still tests the waters. The waters still refuse to throw out his used tissues.
Forty years and counting...

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

In a Small Town...

It was my first exposure to 'small town politics'.
Not a pleasant experience.
And I'll never forget it . . .
When I was in grade five, a new family moved to our town.
Parents, children.
The father had been offered the top position in one of the numerous churches in Milk River.
I first learned of the family when I met their daughter - I'm going to call her Sally - on the first day of school in September.
She was a sweet, quiet little girl. Funny.
With shoulder-length, soft brown hair.
And freckles.
We started visiting.
And discovered we had many interests (ie. boys) in common.
We started to 'hang out'.
I invited Sally to my house.
And she reciprocated.
I remember my first visit to her home.
Her parents were very glad to see me.
Almost tearful in their welcome.
It seemed a bit odd that parents would be so interested in one of their children's friends.
But I shrugged it off.
Because they were kind.
And there was a safe, peaceful feeling in their home.
Almost like being in my own.
They asked me about myself and our family.
Seemed very fascinated by every aspect of my life.
Served Sally and I a piece of cake.
I should mention, here, that this was the first time I had ever seen someone serve chocolate layer cake with a dollop of raspberry jam between the layers.
Jam wasn't my favourite thing at any time.
Though the cake was delicious.
Moving on . . .
As I was preparing to leave, Sally's mom gave me a hug and thanked me for being her daughter's friend.
I smiled.
I liked her daughter.
I liked the whole family.
After that, Sally and I were together a lot.
Hanging out at school.
Hanging out at each other's homes.
One day, we were sitting out on her front lawn.
Visiting.
A group of my friends showed up and gathered around us.
For a few minutes, I was happy to have all of my favourite people together.
Then the rest of them got up to go, asking me if I wanted to come with them.
“No. I'm staying here with Sally,” I told them.
“Why do you hang out with her?” one of my friends demanded. “The whole town hates them!”
I stared at him.
The town hated my friend?
I had never heard of such a thing.
My friends left.
But I sat there and turned that statement over in my ten-year-old mind.
The town hated my friend and her family.
Hated.
Weird.
I looked at Sally.
I looked at her kind, caring family.
Now some of what they had said and done began to make sense.
Their almost tearful excitement over Sally having a friend.
Their interest in me.
I talked to my parents about it.
They looked at each other.
“I don't know why,” my dad said. “But for some reason, the reverend has gotten off on the wrong foot with other members of the congregation.”
“But I was told the whole town hated them.”
“Well, not the whole town,” Mom said. “And we certainly don't.”
I shrugged it off.
And kept on being Sally's friend.
I helped them scrub egg off the front of their house.
Wondering, at the time, how on earth they had managed to spill eggs clear up there.
I kept Sally with me when other kids at school teased her.
I didn't understand any of it.
These were wonderfully kind, sweet people.
Caring.
Considerate.
How could everyone not see that?
One day, Sally wasn't at school.
I walked over to her house.
It was empty.
She and her family had moved.
Gone back to where they came from.
For weeks, I was sad.
She had been my friend.
I had loved playing with her.
And now she was gone.
A new family moved into Sally's house.
A new leader for her church.
Someone who didn't 'get off on the wrong foot'.
They stayed.
But I never forgot Sally.
My friend with the soft brown hair and freckles.
Or my first experience with small town prejudice.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Pox on . . .

The proper wearing of the dress. As seen here . . .
Our (then) five children had a problem.
All of them.
Chicken pox.
Every little body was covered.
Even the baby.
Sigh.
For a week, I spent my time applying the current ‘itch-free’ salves.
Filling the tub with baking soda and water.
Satisfying odd food cravings.
Did you know that warm brownies and/or chocolate chip cookies make chicken pox itch less?
Well, they do.
Moving on . . .
For our eldest daughter Caitlin, aged three, the chicken pox were an adventure.
An adventure that took a little turn.
Up.
Let me explain . . .
Caitlin would lift her little dress and look at her tummy and exclaim, “Look, Mommy! Chickie Spots!”
“Yes, sweetheart. Put your dress down.”
She was so interested in these spots that she spent most of her time with her dress up around her ears, looking at them.
I would hear her in various rooms of the house, speaking obviously to one or more members of the family. “Look! Chickie Spots!”
Followed by, “Caitlin! Put your dress down!”
Finally, not receiving the excited reaction she wanted, she would return to me.
“Look, Mommy! Chickie Spots!”
“Yes, Sweetheart. Put your dress down. Have a cookie.”
I should have known that she would require a bigger audience.
I should have realized that, to her, anyone coming into the house must be interested in her current fabulous condition.
I didn’t.
My good friend, Tammy came to the door.
I greeted her as she stepped bravely into the ‘plague house’.
We chatted a bit.
Then Caitlin appeared.
I didn’t move fast enough.
Up came the dress.
“Look, Sis ‘Sin! Chickie Spots!”
She laughed and nodded appreciatively. “Yes. You certainly do have the chicken pox.”
At the same time as I was saying, “Caitlin! Put your dress down!”
Sadly, this was only the beginning.
Long after the Chicken Pox had disappeared, Caitlin was still hiking up her little skirts and exclaiming, "Look! Chickie Spots!"
Two things came from this experience.
1. I always put shorts on under Caitlin’s dresses after that. Little girl panties are cutest when they are hidden.
2. The phrase, “Caitlin, put your dress down!” became immortalized in the annals of Tolley history.
Caitlin is grown and married now, with her own little girls.
She has long since learned to keep herself properly covered.
But her youngest insists on pulling her dresses up around her ears.
No spots, yet, but we’re hopeful.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Circle of Like

The source of all that was delicious.
Mom was in the kitchen.
Baking.
My favourite thing.
I was in my usual spot. On the cupboard beside her Sunbeam mixer.
That maker of all things delicious.
She added something to the mixture already in the bowl and turned on the beaters.
Mmmmm. Could anything look better?
I leaned closer.
“Mom? Can I have a taste?”
“Honey, it’s just sugar and butter.”
“But it looks so good!”
“Okay.”
She stuck the tip of the spatula into the batter and held it up for me.
I leaned in and licked.
It was delicious!
Mom just shook her head, rinsed the spatula and continued adding ingredients.
“Mom? Can I have another taste?”
“In a moment, dear. It’s almost ready.”
I sighed and fidgeted impatiently.
Finally, she added one last ingredient.
Vanilla.
I should mention here that vanilla smells much better than it tastes.
Just FYI.
Then she got a spoon and gave me a dollop of batter.
Mmmmm. Even better than the last taste.
“What is it?” I asked as I licked the spoon.
“White cake.”
“I like white cake.”
“I know.” Mom scraped the batter into a cake pan and shoved the pan into the oven.
I looked around.
Usually, by this time, the sound of the mixer had attracted all the youngsters in the vicinity.
And some of the adults as well.
But there was no one.
The world was mine!
“Mom? Can I lick the bowl?”
Licking the bowl.
That ultimate in rewards.
That oft hoped-for and seldom granted treat of treats.
I should point out that it didn’t actually involve ‘licking’ the bowl.
Mostly it consisted of running a spatula around the inner surfaces, catching every minute spec of deliciousness.
Okay and there was some licking involved.
Mom set me on the floor and handed me the bowl and spatula.
I sat where I landed and started in.
Could life possibly offer anything better?
Moving ahead . . .
I was making banana bread this morning.
My fourth granddaughter was seated on the cupboard beside me, mouth sticky from ‘tastes’.
I spooned the batter into pans and put them into the oven.
“Grandma? Can I lick the bowl?”
The circle is complete.

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