Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, April 15, 2017

Mary's Story

(A short story of fiction) - Part One

It was a small cabin, hewn from the very stone upon which it stood. It stood some ways back from the main highway, perched precariously on a small cliff, where the road cut through part of the mountain.
We had blown past it many, many times. It had always appeared deserted.
Admittedly, we had allowed ourselves only the briefest of glances, hurrying to or from family obligations.
But one could take note of the empty windows. The vacant chimney.
Now, quite obviously, its unoccupied state had changed.
The cabin had come to life and was showing a brave, cheerful face to the world.
The wide front porch, with its single rocking chair and stone tubs of red blooms looked open and inviting.
Windows gleamed.
The square central chimney blew merry puffs of smoke into the clear air.
My husband slowed down, peering upwards. "Hey, Mare, looks like our little cabin is occupied."
I smiled at him. Our little cabin? I, too, looked up. "It does."
"I've always wondered how one reached that cabin," he said.
I nodded. "Me, too."
He glanced over his shoulder. Here, near the cabin, the road twisted through the narrow cutting, disappearing almost immediately behind us. Oncoming traffic was invisible until it was only a couple of car lengths away.
It was a dangerous spot to stop.
My husband pulled over to the right as far as he could and slowed to a crawl.
I could feel the rough stones of the shoulder beneath the tires. "What are you doing?" 
"Exploring."
"Here? Someone's going to come around the corner . . ."
"We'll be fine."
I rolled my eyes and clutched the little potted plant I held, but said nothing.
He was studying the steep cliff beside us. Suddenly, he pointed. "There!"
A small opening had appeared in the wall of stone. Barely wide enough for a car.
No wonder we had missed it.
He turned into it.
I looked at him. "What are you doing now?" 
He grinned. "Going to see our cabin."
"But, honey, we don't know who lives there!"
He glanced at me. "You've always wanted to see it, right?"
"Well . . . yes."
"All right, then."
We were silent as the car labored up the short, steep drive.
It opened up suddenly and we were on a wide ledge of stone.
The cabin stood directly in front of us.
My husband pulled next to an ancient car parked there and shut the engine off, then opened his door. "Coming?"
I stared at him, shrugged, set my plant on the seat and reached for the door handle. "I guess so."
I slid out and stood for a moment, looking at the cabin.
From this angle, it looked solid. Square. As though it could meet any challenge.
Withstand any threat.
I started to close the door, then spied my plant on the front seat. For some reason, I reached out and picked it up, cradling it in my arm as I closed the door.
My husband frowned. "What's that for?"
"I'm not sure."
He shrugged and the two of us walked around to the porch, then up a small set of stone steps.
Just as we reached the wide front door, it swung inwards.
Just a crack.
"Are you lost?" a sweet little voice asked from the darkness on the other side of the door.
"No," my husband said. "We drive past here weekly, on our way to my mother's home--"
I glanced down at the plant I was still clutching, originally intended for said mother-in-law.
My husband was still speaking, "--and we couldn't help but notice that someone was living here. We thought we'd drop in and say hello."
"Oh." There was a pause, then, "Well, that's nice. Please, come in." The door swung wide and a tiny, stooped old woman appeared in the opening. "I don't get many visitors," she said.
My husband stepped back and let me go through first.
I sank into a thick, hand-knotted rag rug covering most of the wide, polished floorboards in the entry/living/family room which took up the entire front of the house.
Windows ran on three sides of the room, offering glimpses of the wide porch, the road below and the purple mountains fading into the distance.
A fire crackled cheerfully in the stone fireplace across from the entrance. A large, grey cat was asleep on the hearth in front of it. A long, horsehair sofa, brightly covered in a beautiful, hand-stitched quilt, was pushed under the windows to our right with a low, highly polished wooden table in front of it. A single, winged chair with a matching footstool held the place of honor in the center of the room, within toasting distance of the warm flames.
A heaped workbasket stood beside it.
The opposite side of the room was taken up by a large quilt frame. An intricate, half-finished quilt was fastened to it.
The walls, stone and wood, were bare, except for the lone picture of two smiling, apple-cheeked children over the fireplace.
It was a warm room.
A cozy room.
And I felt instantly at home. I turned back to the woman, who had just finished closing the door, and got my first good look at her.
She looked--soft.
Cuddly soft.
Her figure was plump and gently rounded. Her face unlined and pleasant. Snow-white hair was drawn gently back into a loose bun at the back of her head. She had a straight, small nose and a tiny bow of a mouth which seemed to smile readily. Faded blue eyes regarded us with a merry twinkle.
Her whole being seemed to shine with good will and happiness.
I held out my hand. "I'm Mary. And this is my husband, Frank."
The tiny woman grasped my hand firmly. "Mary is my name, too!" She smiled and her blue eyes twinkled. "I won't have any trouble remembering that!"
She pressed my hand between both of hers, then turned towards Frank. "And Frank. So nice to meet you!"
He shook her hand as well, then cleared his throat uncomfortably. Now that he had gotten us inside, he seemed to be at a loss.
I shook my head. My big, strong explorer. Obviously, it was up to me. I held out the plant. "This is for you," I said.
"Oh!" she clasped her hands together. "Oh, this is lovely!" She reached for the small pot with trembling hands, then held it tightly and smiled at me. "Thank you, my dear!"
I smiled back. "You're very welcome." I scratched my forehead, feeling suddenly awkward. "Ummm--Mary, we're sorry to barge in like this, but we have always admired your home here and wanted to just come and take a peek. We really didn't mean to disturb you."
Mary smiled. "It's no bother. I watch the cars go past on the road and often wish someone would stop to say hello." She waved a hand towards the front room. "Please. Take a look around."
I stepped towards the sofa and glanced out the window. "You have a lovely view."
"Oh, yes. That is what I love most about this place. My husband, God rest him, couldn't stand it here. Said it made him feel--hemmed in."
"Oh, I'm sorry." I turned back to her. "Has he been gone long?"
"A few weeks now. But don't feel bad. We had a long and happy life together." She looked around. "This was my parent's home. I was born here."
"Oh, how nice!"
"Yes, but when I married, my husband's work took us to the city and we lived there until--" she paused.
"Until he--"
"Yes." 
I patted her arm.
She took a deep breath. "Come. See the rest." She showed us proudly through the little house. The old-fashioned kitchen with its hand pump beside the sink and its wood stove. The two tiny bedrooms, one on either side of the kitchen, with their equally tiny beds covered several layers deep in more of the hand-made quilts.
It was like stepping back in time.
I had to keep glancing at the electrical wires, obviously a later addition and tacked neatly to the stone and wood walls, to remind myself that we were still in the present.
Mary led us back to the main room. "Please sit." She indicated the sofa. "And I'll make tea."
"Oh, I don't think--" I got no further.
"Sit."
Obediently, we sank down.
"Could I at least help with something?"
Smilingly, Mary shook her head. "You are my guest. I'll bring in the tea." She disappeared into the kitchen.
"Now see what comes of being nosey," I whispered to Frank.
He gave me a lop-sided grin.
In a very short time, Mary was back, with a laden tray. She set it down on the low table, then picked up an old camera, in a worn, leather case. She held it out. "I hope you don't mind, but I get so few visitors that I'd like to record it."
Frank shook his head. "We don't mind."
The two of us put our heads together and smiled obligingly.
The camera clicked.
Mary set it back on the tray and proceeded to serve us tea.
An hour later, we were once more back in our car, waving at the little, old woman as she smiled at us from her porch.
"Well, that was an adventure," my husband said, as he negotiated the narrow drive.
"I thought it was lovely." I smiled to myself. It had been lovely.
Was there more to come?

Friday, April 14, 2017

More Travels.

This post is a combination:
Travels with Diane-Continued
and
Use Your Words. (A monthly word challenge from my good friend, Karen Blessing of Baking in a Tornado.)
My words this month are:
green ~ slimy ~ frogs ~ bugs ~ firecracker ~ bb gun   
Were a gift from Dawn 
And have been included with the following:

And now, on to the
REST of THE STORY:
I left you all in Avignon.
I hope you had a good rest.
Let's continue...

Gordes.
Okay, I hadn't heard of it, either, but you can bet I won't forget it soon. 
Medieval town.
And . . . WOW!



Yeah, our pharmacy doesn't look like that . . .
From there, a quick hop across and down the road a couple of miles to Rousillon, the RED stone town.




Then on to Antibes. Which sounds like something ancient and Greek. 
But wasn't.
It was our first 'no-frills' hotel. We had to pay extra for parking. Bedding. Towels. Gasp. But the beds were comfy and the view spectacular.
See?

Touring Nice.
Just outside of the Old Town . . . Ummm . . .

Old Town Nice. Amazing.
Down the road to Monaco.
I have one thing to say: Man, do they ever monitor their parking! Fortnately, we escaped unscathed, but they have a whole team of people who spend their entire day towing vehicles. Yow!
The beach wasn't spectacular.
And the city crowded and under construction.
And there are no bathrooms.
None.
Zip. 
Nada.
Zilch.
But the drive! Wow!



Looking down on the medieval town of Eze.

Yeah, it's a restaurant.
I hope they sell really sticky, light food . . .
Eze. And a tree. Because.

Husby being photogenic.

The world famous beaches of Monaco.
Skipped across the corner of Italy and into Switzerland. Have you ever dreamed about a place all your life and then, when you finally got to visit it was ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING YOU EVER DREAMED?!
Well, that was Switzerland. It was just turning green in the spring sunshine.
A little side note: When visiting Switzerland, bring money. Lots and lots of money.


See the little heart-shaped cloud.
Switzerland was happy to see me!

Even the strictly practical had to be picturesque here.
This is the structure wherein they hide the controls for the flood gates.








We explored the country side and then took the 'Bond' ride from Stechelberg to Schilthorn. And for a few hours, stood on top of the world!
Watched the skiers. The day was super warm, but the snow wasn't too slimy. Yet.


Whimsical BB gun sighting. 




Where they filmed: On His Majesty's Secret Service. Bond film #1000
Okay, I don't really know the number, but this seems close . . .

Bond and his leading lady: Oldie vonMouldie.

It just stops my heart. Every time.
How do you follow that?
With chocolate and cheese, of course.
So we were off to tour the Cailler Chocolate plant and Gruyeres cheese plant, both in the village of Gruyeres. The best part?
SAMPLES!!!


The next stop  was Lausanne and the most unique hotel room I've ever seen:
Isn't this the cutest ever?

Yogurt-eating Husband not included.
Then a visit to the Mormon temple in Bern followed by a quiet rest-of-the-day in our rooms.
Yes!



On to Divonnes-les-Bains.
And yes, we were right across the parking lot from the baths.
And no, we didn't get a chance to go in.
Sigh.



But we did get to see CERN, the super-collider/atom-smasher.
Fascinating.
And waaay beyond my understanding . . .
Where are the men from Big Bang Theory when you need them?
CERN visitor's centre.


Covered with equations and names of amazing men and women.

A friendly face in the business part of things . . .

Geneva!
It was closed.
Ghandi. On the United Nations grounds. Just before we lost our parking . . .

Not your usual used car dealership.

Doesn't it just speak to you?!

Over 140 meters. Straight up.

What can I say: Swan butt.
Maybe fishing for frogs?

Husby getting cold feet. Seriously.

Lake Geneva
Super interesting statue. Sisi. Empress of Austria.


Last night: Malesherbe
Delightful hotel.
Stopped off for some pictures of the Chateau Fontainbleau, then to the airport.
Parking garage.

An ancient cottage on the property.
Inside looking out.
Mind the bugs.

The road to . . .

View from my window.

Last dinner in France. What else? French Onion soup!

Fontainbleau. Before the gates open.

And, just like that, it was over.
We were home, celebrating our trip by blowing off a few firecrackers.
The best parts? All of the above.
And patisseries.
The worst? Road tolls in France.
And things closed between noon and two. Or one and three.
Or Thursday.
And the prices of everything in Switzerland.

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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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