Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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 . . .

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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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