Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Outruded

Our family loves taking holidays.
And for a simple country family from Southern Alberta, we have managed to cover a good portion of the globe.
We have had wonderful experiences.
Sunsets over the Mediterranean.
Fresh bratwurst in an open-air mall in Frankfurt.
Moving church services in an old cathedral in Cork.
A wild bus ride through the streets of London.
The smell of the dust in the air on a hot afternoon in Turkey.
The bustle on the streets in Paris.
But, sometimes, like everyone who travels, we have . . . 'adventures'.
Let me explain . . .
We were touring one of the great cities in Europe.
And enjoying seeing things that for us, had existed only in pictures.
We wandered into a very popular tourist site.
And were instantly accosted by a small, but determined group of 'entrepreneurs'.
These people had made little bracelets and were anxious to make a sale.
At first, it seemed as though they wanted to present you with a little gift.
They would smilingly knot one around your wrist.
And I do mean 'knot'.
Pretty.
Then stand back and loudly demand money.
Great scam.
We had seen it happen to people walking just ahead of us.
“Keep your hands tucked in!” Grant whispered urgently to the rest of us.
“Don't let them grab you!”
I should point out here that we had no intention of letting them grab us.
And, through our travels, we had learned the great art of 'obtuse and avoidance'.
The tourist's best friend.
If you don't make eye contact and pretend you don't hear, you avoid a lot of unwanted purchases.
This didn't work here.
If you looked away, a pair of enthusiastic salesmen would move alongside.
One would grab your hand and the other would tie the bracelet firmly.
There was no way of getting rid of it, short of cutting it off.
You would be forced to pay.
We managed better than most.
You learn to be agile, working on a ranch.
But two of them had converged on our youngest daughter.
An outspoken girl of 21.
She had tucked both of her hands against her body and said, “No, thank you.” And, “I'm not interested.” And, “I don't want a bracelet.” several times.
Firmly.
Then she tried to break, as politely as she could, through the closed ranks around her.
Politeness and patience were wearing thin.
And not working in the slightest.
The salesmen had resorted to trying to physically take her hands, chattering enthusiastically in their native tongue.
She shifted back and forth, eluding them.
We started towards her, intent on rescue.
We weren't needed.
Before we could reach her, she suddenly shouted loudly at the two men, “Get the hell away from me!”
Did I mention outspoken?
All heads in the square turned.
Smiles broke out on many tourist faces.
The two would-be salesmen fell back and stared at her.
Finally, one of them drew himself up and sniffed, “There is no need to be rude!”
They disappeared, taking their little bracelets with them.
There was laughter and a small smattering of applause.
Okay, it came from us, but why haggle over details?
I was proud of my daughter.
She had tried to be polite.
She had tried to be firm.
But, faced with a situation in which neither of these tactics proved effective, she became fierce.
And won the day.
This was an isolated incident.
Fortunately, one of very few negative experiences we've had in our travels.
But it proved to us that when patience and good manners don't work . . .
Good old 'country spunk' will.
Travelling?
Take a farm girl.
"I have a baguette and I know how to use it!"

Friday, June 30, 2017

An Uplifting Experience

It's officially summer time in Edmonton. 
Today we were driving past one of the many ski hills that abound in the area.
The snow is finally gone. The slopes green-grassed and empty.
Only the lifts, looking forlorn and forgotten, are there to remind one of the usual bustle on those slopes.
Lifts.
It reminded me of something . . .
Years ago, our family used to ski Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana.
Every winter.
It was the highlight of our year.
Well, mine, anyway.
Dad forked over a whopping $3.00 ($4.00 CAN) per ticket for us to ride all the lifts all day.
Watched as we attached said ticket to our ski jackets.
Then waved us off cheerily.
I don't know what he and Mom did all day while we kids were having the time of our lives.
But as long as he showed up at the end of the day and immediately took us to be fed, we were happy.
But back to the ski slope . . .
At that time, Big Mountain had four main slopes.
There was the bunny hill. Which we learned on. Then immediately spurned.
Two intermediate slopes.
Where I and my siblings spent the most time.
And, finally, the advanced slope. Which, for me, merely served as the entrance to the back trails. (See here.)
Oh, I skied it.
Once.
And ended up taking off my skis and walking down.
Don't ask.
Moving on . . .
The first thing we learned about skiing was the fact that you had to get to the top of the hill before you could come down.
Skiing 101.
And that required the use of the tows/lifts.
Sure. It looks fun here . . .
The bunny slope had a rope tow.
A very sneaky rope tow.
Consisting of a rope running continuously.
I assume it was pulled by some sort of . . . pulley.
The rope had to be approached cautiously.
One would place one's mittened hands on the rope.
Then slowly tighten said hands around the heavy, quickly-moving hemp until finally, one's grip was tight enough to actually start one sliding up the hill.
It wasn't as easy as it sounds.
If one gripped too hard, the rope would jerk one off one's feet.
Which, I must admit was hilarious.
Unless it was you.
And, even funnier was the sight of a pulled-off/escaped mitten riding up the rope.
All by itself.
Do not attempt this without supervision.
Ouch.
The tow on one of the intermediate hills was a little more . . . touchy.
It was the 'poma' lift.
Pomas consisted of a long pole attached to the high tow wire by a spring.
With a little disc welded onto the bottom.
Which disc, when inserted between the skiers legs, would, theoretically pull one up the hill.
It took practice.
A lot of practice.
There were the inevitable mishaps and false starts.
People who lost their grip on the poma and watched it spring up into the air.
While the hapless skier slid to a halt down below.
Or, better yet, the people who lost their balance and were dragged several feet before they realized that any hope of completing their ride to the top was gone and that their best tactic at that point was to . . . let go.
The poma lift always attracted a non-skiing group of observers whose sole purpose was to watch.
And laugh.
Jerks.
I should mention, too, that getting off was . . . tricky.
Enough said.
Effective. And cosy.
The other intermediate slope tow was a 'T' bar.
A bar in the shape of a T.
That pulled two riders up the slope.
Or one rider if the other one fell over.
Which happened a lot.
If you were a bit more of a skiing expert, you got to ride the chair lift. The most fun of all. And the easiest to ride.
How often does that happen?
The problem was that it took one to the very highest slope.
And the steepest (see above).
My siblings and I became experts on each of these lifts.
The Ultimate.
Oh, not all at once.
It took time.
And we had our learning curve.
Which was infinitely more 'curve' than 'learning'.
But still, we had fun.
And were finally able to stop providing entertainment for the jerks.
HA!
Masters of the ski lifts.
Life just didn't get any better.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Irreverence

No explanation needed.
We are a church-attending family.
Always have been.
We love it.
The quiet, peaceful feeling that comes from stepping into the Lord's house.
There is only one problem.
One is expected to keep that quiet, peaceful feeling by being . . . quiet.
And peaceful.
Maybe you haven't noticed, but our family isn't very often quiet.
Well, seldom.
Okay. Never.
Sigh.
So, going from loud and noisy to . . . less loud and noisy takes effort.
And resourcefulness.
Something my Mom had 'in spades'. (A gambling term for 'a lot of'.)
Not that I've ever gambled.
Ahem . . .
She would tote a huge bag of books and things quiet to church every week in a bid to effect reverent behaviour.
It worked.
For a time.
Then we outgrew her books and toys and games.
I know. I know.
That's about the time we should have been able to sit and listen without visual aids.
We couldn't.
Instead, our teen-aged selves resorted to more grown-up ways of entertaining ourselves.
And remember – electronic diversion existed only in the mind of Gene Roddenberry at this time.
We had pens. We had paper.
We drew pictures.
But not just any pictures.
No.
Pictures designed specifically to make whichever sibling was sitting next to us, laugh. 
And get glared at and shushed by Mom.
It was a fun game. My next older brother, George, was the best at it. He could quickly sketch the weirdest people or animals or machines.
Then supply them with the best captions.
His was a rare form of genius.
I will call it spiritualavoidance supersonicus.
Or SAS for short.
He could have taught classes.

There is a codicil:
My Husby always had his pockets full of strange and wondrous treasures specifically designed to keep our youngsters quiet during our hour-long Church service.
I often marvelled at his ingenuity.
And resourcefulness.
His little figures and toys kept all six of them entertained right up until the time that they moved out and into their own lives.
But shortly after the youngest left, I realized that Grant's toys weren't specifically to entertain his kids.
Remember SAS? And having somethings 'in spades'?
That would apply here as well.
Grant still had his pockets full of animals.
I wondered why.
I didn't wonder for long.
I lead the music.
Several times during the service, I had to make the short trip to the front of the chapel.
While he remained sitting on our bench.
Second back, directly in front of me.
That's when his little friends came out to play.
Solely for my benefit.
Picture it.
I'm at the front, waving my arm and trying to act dignified and serious.
He's on our bench, making his little friends dance and sing to the music.
I should mention, here, that his favourites were the little animal heads on a stick, whose mouths open and close by working a trigger system.
And those little suckers could sing!
His goal?
To make me smile.
It worked.
Where's my Mom when I need her?
P.S. Sometime I'll tell you about the wrong words he sings to the hymns.
Sigh.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Cone-y

My Husby had as secret longing.
Oh, it wasn't a bad thing--unless you were the one purchasing the replacements. And, as I frequently pointed out, someone had to.
Maybe I should explain . . .
My Husby had a secret yearning to run over traffic cones.
You heard me right.
He had always wanted to run them over.
I don't know why.
Because they're there?
Because they silently direct his life?
Because they forbid entrance?
All of the above?
But the fact remained that he would dearly have loved to run one over.
And probably would, if he weren't married to me, the person who happily kept him on the straight and narrow.
“Honey, you're getting a bit close.”
“Honey, you'd better move back into the middle of the lane.”
“AAAHHH! HONEY, YOU'RE GOING TO HIT ONE OF THOSE CONES!!!
Driving with us was an interesting experience.
Moving on . . .
He finally gave in to his urge.
But not in the way you may think.
No.
He went out and bought himself a cone of his very own. For two days, it sat on my kitchen table where he could admire it. Then it found its permanent home in the center of our driveway, close to the garage entrance.
I stared at it.
Then at him. What on earth was he thinking?
I soon found out.
Every night when he came home from work, he drove over it, flattening it completely.
Then, when he backed out in the morning, it sprang back upright ready and waiting to welcome him home once more.
He was a happy man.
And who knew those things were so tough?
If I had found out sooner, I might have let him hit a couple.
Not.
Now, with that taken care of, all that's left is deciding what to do about my secret urge.
To drive through one of those little wooden barriers that they put across restricted roads.
I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Blue Plate Special


When this . . .
Becomes this . . .







Dinner time on the Stringam ranch was the best part of the day.
Plenty of good food.
Lots of company.
Stimulating conversation.
The quiet melding of day's work and evening's relaxation.
But, as usually happens, the good times must end.
And be followed by the un-stimulating. The mundane.
The dishes.
A subtle reminder that there was payment required for the privilege of eating at one of the world's best tables.
Sigh.
Everyone had their assignments.
Up until this point, mine had been to collect the silverware.
And things un-breakable.
Oh, and stay out from under foot of those whose job it was to deal with the more fragile of the table's settings.
But I had recently turned eight.
My duties had suddenly become more onerous.
Remember what I said about things breakable?
That would definitely come in here . . .
My job now included the ceremonial carrying of the plates to the sink.
The beautiful plates that featured a hand-drawn etching of either a horse or a bull.
For the first few weeks, I carried them one at a time.
It took a while, but no plate was damaged.
Then I got . . . efficient.
And creative.
If I scraped everything onto one plate, I could stack the plates at the table and, theoretically, carry them several at a time to the sink.
A much more efficient system.
And a great saving of my valuable time.
I did it.
First with a couple of plates.
Then three.
Four.
Finally, through a system of trial and error, I discovered that I could carry a total of eight plates at a time.
The time savings were astronomical.
I staggered under the weight of so many heavy dishes, but I got my job done in a fraction of the time.
Genius.
One evening, Dad had watched me at my job.
Eyeing the heavy stack of plates uncertainly.
“Are you sure you can carry all of those, Diane?”
“Oh, I do it all of the time, Daddy!” I chirped happily, pulling the stack towards me.
“Well they look a bit heavy for you.”
“On, no! Look. I can do it!”
No sooner were the words out of my mouth then the entire stack of beautifully illustrated plates slipped from my hands and fell to the floor.
It was a crash of Biblical proportions.
I don't know what that means, but it sounds mighty.
Which it was.
The crash, I mean.
For a moment, I stared in horror at the mass of broken crockery at my feet.
The sound had drawn people from the far reaches of the house.
And even in from the yard, where the cowboys were enjoying an evening smoke.
Everyone was present to witness my utter failure.
There was only one thing to do.
Cry.
And I made it good.
Angry words were swallowed as everyone rushed to comfort me.
Not.
“Diane, what did I just say?”
Gulp. “The stack was too heavy.”
“And . . .?”
“It wa-a-a-a-s!”
“Okay, no use crying over it,” Mom said, coming to my rescue. “Help me clean it up.”
I should mention here that Jerry, he whose job it was to wash that night, should have thanked me for relieving him of a large part of his chore.
He didn't. He owes me one.
Moving on . . .
One plate survived. One of the horses.
And it remained, a gentle, subtle reminder that one should never take on too much at once.
Or tragedy can follow.
Good lessons. Expensively taught.
Sigh.
The lone survivor.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Nine

This poem was originally written when our eldest turned nine.
Since that day, we've had many family members pass that great milestone.
Our fifth grandchild just attained it.
This is for him . . .
Eldest son, Mark, Nine Years Old
Number Five. With grandparents . . .
Well, now I'm nine and you can see
The changes time has wrought in me.
I've grown three feet since I was born,
As tall and slim as a stalk of corn.

I've learned about so many things,
I know of bikes and kites and strings.
I can cook and clean and comb my hair,
And help my brothers with evening prayer.

I can haul in wood, or hammer nails,
Or water trees with heavy pails.
I can hold the baby, shine my shoes,
Or sit with you and discuss the news.

I can play piano perfectly,
And beat you at Monopoly.
I can take out garbage, weed and hoe,
Then eat the carrots, row by row.

In fact I've grown so big and tall,
With doing chores and playing ball,
That maybe you can't really see
How young and weak I still can be.

How I take Raccoon to bed at night,
And ask you to leave on the light.
How I still like my whole face kissed
And like to make a 'Christmas List'.

And even though I numb your knee,
I like to be held tenderly.
I like to know that you are proud
And have you tell me right out loud.

Please understand, with all my size,
With knowing looks in big brown eyes,
That I am not as big, you see
As my outside appears to be.

Ignore my size and adult airs,
Forget that I've climbed lots of stairs.
Just hug and kiss and try to see
That little child inside of me.

Mondays would be just another day without poetry!
My friends Delores and Jenny agree.
Visit them and see how they've started their week!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Making His 'Mark'

The scene of the crime
University of Guelph
Notice the tower in the back.
That's all. Just notice it . . .
It's the end of June and the high school graduations have been ongoing for weeks.
They remind me of another grad that I only heard about, but that will stay with me forever . . .
I don’t want you to get the idea that my Dad, Mark Stringam, was a trouble- maker.
Okay, maybe I do.
Dad was a trouble-maker. I think it had something to do with being born on April 1.
If the theory that ‘the day makes the child’ means anything.
Okay, yes, I just made that theory up.
Moving on . . .
So Dad was born on April 1 and thought it was as good an excuse as any to be . . . mischievous.
His pranks at home and in grade school are many.
And varied.
And will be dealt with in future blogs.
This story is about a prank from his college years. One where foresight would have been helpful.
Another of his smellier pranks is illustrated here.
Back to my story.
Dad went to Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph.
Named for the beautiful province of Ontario, where it resided.
Okay, so creative naming wasn’t their strong suit.
It was an excellent college.
It managed to take a young goof-ball.
And turn him into a learned, young goof-ball.
He graduated in 1948.
It was a date worth celebrating.
So his classmates did.
With bottles and glasses of things alcoholic.
But Dad didn’t drink.
He had to get creative and endanger himself in a whole different way.
Something he accomplished by hanging (with a couple of friends) from the water tower and painting a large ‘Grad 48’ on the side.
Dad’s 'celebrating' could be seen for miles.
He was very proud.
Not everyone saw the beauty and creativity in Dad’s accomplishment, however.
There were words.
Loudly and irately spoken.
By people in authority.
Which Dad ignored.
And then a team of steeplejacks was brought in from Toronto to paint out his sign.
And obliterate what the management considered his lack of creative and artistic talent.
Pfff. What does management know?
Dad watched the men clamber around on the tower.
Taking hours to do what had only taken him minutes.
But he learned something:
1. Jobs requiring you to dangle 100 feet off the ground should be undertaken with safety apparatus.
2. Any job worth doing is worth doing well.
3. Steeplejacks make more money than veterinarians.
Oh, I’m not saying he internalized what he learned.
He just had fun learning it.

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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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