Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


 . . . or something similar.

You've heard the stories from the past where kids had to walk to school through eight feet of snow.
Both ways.
Well, those didn't apply to me.
I rode the school bus.
Which was an adventure in itself.
Stay with me . . .
School buses in the early sixties were very similar to those driven today.
I'm almost sure there was an engine under the oversized and bulbous hood.
They had a driver.
And lots and lots of kids.
But busses in the sixties had a few 'extra' features.
Forms of entertainment that simply don't exist today.
Too bad.
Busses today have powered windshield wipers that are sturdy, dependable and have several settings.
They keep on working through rain, snow, sleet, hail.
In fact, anything that may be thrown at the all-important front windshield.
The busses that carted me to and from school had wipers, too.
Just not the kind you see today.
They had what is know as 'vacuum' wipers.
I'm not sure what made them work.
But I know what didn't.
Revving the engine.
If it was raining hard and the road was on an even grade with no challenges, all was well.
But if the bus was required to do something untoward . . .
Like move faster.
Or go up a hill.
The engine would rev.
And the wipers would quit.
The driver would have to roll down the side window and stick his (or her) head outside so they could see.
If the driver took his foot off the accelerator, the wipers would start again.
Push the pedal down? They stopped.
It was enormously entertaining.
But not nearly as much fun as when the bus was required to go up Angel's hill.
Yes. We really had an Angel's hill.
Oh, it's not what you're thinking.
It was simply the hill that led to the Angyal family's ranch.
But I digress . . .
Our rather aged vehicle had a hard time going up that hill.
Sometimes, if we had a larger than normal load (perhaps all of us kids had eaten breakfast, for example), the bus wouldn't be able to make it.
We'd have to get off and trail along behind till it reached the top.
Well, we younger kids would trail.
The older kids would push.
Whereupon (good word) we would all clamber back aboard and happily find our seats once more.
Huh. I just realized that we did have to walk uphill to get to school.
Pushing the bus.
Beat that!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Chicken Wars

My 1600th post!
I was worried. I guess I needn't have been.Warning: Graphic chicken action
Mmmm. Dinner!
Some ranch kids end up with a skewed view of life.
Let me explain . . .
Husby was butchering a chicken.
This involves such things as a head and foot-ectomy, removal of several important inner organs, and complete de-feathering.
Our kids had never witnessed this.
Though they had been raised on a ranch, all animals had been sent off site for 'processing'.
This was their first exposure to one of the more graphic of ranch experiences.
I had been a little concerned for their sensibilities.
I needn't have worried.
They were front and center.
And jostling for position.
Grant placed the chosen/unfortunate chicken on the stump and, with one blow, removed the head.
Then he allowed the chicken to go through its death throes.
Then the all-important soaking in hot water to loosen the feathers.
And the gutting and dismembering.
Finally, we had, sitting on a plate, what would eventually be our dinner.
The rest of the chicken--the head, viscera and feathers, were gathered together to place in a sack for disposal.
Then Husby picked up one of the feet. "Watch this, kids!" he said.
He pulled on a tendon and the foot flexed. Claws closed. 
Uh-oh, I thought.
"It's gonna get you!" Everyone scattered, screaming, as he enacted his own version of Day of the Living . . . Chicken.
Okay, so it'll probably never be a hit.
Back to my story . . .
"Wow, Dad, that is the coolest thing ever!"
"Let me try! Let me try!"
They took turns pulling on the exposed tendon. Squeamish? I think not.
Our youngest daughter grabbed one of the feet.
"I'm gonna get you!" she hollered at her sister.
And the chase was on.
The two of them spent some time pursuing each other.
Finally, breathless and happy, they relinquished their chicken feet to their impatiently waiting brothers.
Who proceeded to enact act two . . .
And I had been worried.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Cow Sniff

Watch out! She'll get you!
The morning milking happened . . . early.
Before any of the younger kids were stirring.
It was a peaceful time.
Just the milkmaid (ie. me) and the cows.
The afternoon milking, though, was quite different.
While the milker was with the cows, the bustle of afternoon chores was going on all around.
Talk and laughter as the kids fed chickens and pigs.
Held buckets for the calves.
Hauled feed.
Opened and closed gates.
Chased kittens.
It was a busy, happy time.
And the baby generally was left with little to do.
Tristan, said baby, was five.
He had helped feed.
And now was looking for Mom.
I should mention, here, that our little milk barn had two rooms.
One for the business part of the operation.
And a waiting room with a little pen.
I was milking Kitty.
One of our two, gentle little Jersey milk cows.
Bunny was in the outer room, already milked and patiently awaiting her freedom.
Tristan came into the barn.
"Mom?" (Real conversation.)
"I'm here, sweetheart."
"You done?"
I could hear sounds of someone small climbing the gate of the pen.
"Can I wait here?"
"Sure, sweetie. I'll just be a minute."
A heavy sigh. "Okay."
"Did you help feed?"
"Yeah. Are you coming?"
"Pretty soon."
"Okay." Suddenly, "Mom! Mom!"
"What's the matter?"
"Mom! This cow is coming over!"
Cows are intensely curious. If something comes into their sphere, it needs to be investigated.
And smelled.
And tasted.
"She won't hurt you."
"Mom! She's getting closer!"
"She won't hurt you, sweetie!"
Then, indignantly, "Mom, she's getting . . . sniff on me!"
Cow sniff.
In a world full of troubles, if that's the worst that happens . . .

Sunday, May 22, 2016

DUI. Of Children.

The Behemoth
Things move.
Big things.
They move.
I have proof.
On the ranch, we had a large power/light pole.
Full sized.
Firmly planted.
It had been there since the beginning of time.
So . . . for quite a while.
It stood in the very center of the turn-about.
People driving in would go around it, conduct their business and complete the turn as they drove out.
Unless you lived there.
Then you would have to drive in and park.
Preferably somewhere out of the way so the next person would have a place to drive in and turn.
At times it got a little . . . tricky.
I lived there.
I had parked.
I needed to leave.
This entailed backing the van up, manoeuvring into the lane, then completing the turn to head out.
I should probably point out here that our van could quite easily have been described as a behemoth (good word!). It held 12 passengers.
Or two parents and six children, neatly spaced to avoid argument-age.
Well to try to avoid argument-age.
Well . . . never mind.
I loaded in the kids.
I sorted out the first argument.
I started the van.
I sorted out the second argument.
Good so far.
The third argument started.
I began to unknot that disagreement just as I stepped on the gas.
The van reversed, as it should.
Straight back.
All of us inside were concentrating on the ongoing conversation.
None of us (ie. me) noticed the pole directly behind the van.
Well, not until we (ie. me) smacked into it.
I pulled ahead and got out to survey the damage.
The bumper had a lovely crease in it, bending it towards the van and forming a point that made it impossible to open the back door.
Double oops.
Later, when I showed my husband, he laughed, shook his head and simply sawed the top point off the dent. Just enough so the door would clear it.
But leaving the dent for all to see.
The conversation went like this . . .
Husby: "Honey, didn't you see the pole? The large one that has been standing in the center of the yard since forever?"
Me: "Ummm . . . I don't know how to answer that question."
Husby: "You did know about the pole, didn't you?"
Me: "Ummm . . . yes?"
Husby: "You did see it?"
Me: "Well, it was like this . . . I was backing out carefully . . ."
Husby: "Yes?"
Me: "And then . . . that nasty old pole just jumped behind me!"
Husby (with just the right amount of scepticism): "Jumped."
Me: "Yes."
Husby: "Right out of the ground."
Me (getting into my story): "Yes. It was the weirdest thing!"
Husby: "I'm going to go lie down."
True story.
P.S. I also have an experience with Cuba, also been known to move. But that is another story.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Husby and me. Don't look closely . . .
I told him not to laugh.
But he did.
I married him anyway . . .
It was a bright and sunny Tuesday.
But not just any Tuesday.
This was Tuesday, the 27th of April, 1976.
You may wonder why that particular date is etched so clearly in my mind . . .?
You have a right to know.
It was exactly four days before my wedding.
Four frenzied days of scheduled frenetic activity with plans of falling into bed exhausted each night, happy in what had been accomplished.
Four days that I needed to be--healthwise--at my very, very best.
The day started out well.
I climbed out of bed.
I felt a bit more tired than usual, but, with all I had been doing, wasn’t surprised.
I plopped heavily into my seat and stared at my plate as Mom bustled around, setting platters of steaming deliciousness on the table.
Grace was said.
And oblivious-ness set in as people dove for whatever was nearest.
Soon we were all chewing happily.
Mom passed someone a bowl of potatoes and looked at me. “So what have you got planned . . .?” she stopped, mid-sentence, and stared at me. “Diane? Are you all right?”
I looked at her.
She got up and moved around the table to me. “You look . . . flushed.”
I shrugged.
She placed a cool hand on my forehead. “You feel a bit warm.”
“I’m tired, but I feel all right,” I said, feeling a slight feathering of alarm.
She tipped my head back and looked at my throat.
“Oh, my word!” she said. “Mark, look at this!”
“What?” I said. “What’s wrong?”
Dad leaned over the table and peered at my neck. “Oh, my!” he said.
Okay, I was thoroughly alarmed by this point. “What?” I said. Did I grow an extra appendage in the night? Did I suddenly get a whisker? Or worse . . . a zit???!!!
Mom sat back on her chair and sighed.
“Diane, I’m pretty sure you have the measles.”
Whaaa . . .? I jumped up and ran to the closest mirror.
Sure enough, my neck and the lower half of my face were a mottled mass of tiny, red pinpricks. So many of them that, at first, they resembled a rosy flush on my skin. Only on closer inspection did they morph into what they actually were.
I. Had. The. Measles.
Four days before I was going to be married.
My life was over.
Mom bundled me up and hauled me into the doctor’s office. Where our local medical professional confirmed our suspicions.
German measles.
I dragged myself home. How could this be happening to me? Weren’t the measles a childhood disease?
And wasn’t childhood  . . . sort of . . . behind me?
I placed a call to my Husby-To-Be at his work.
Our conversation went something like this:
“Hi, Honey! How’s work?” *soft sob*
“Great! How are you doing?”
“Well . . . I have something to tell you . . .”
Slightly alarmed Husby-To-Be voice. “What is it? What’s the matter?!”
“Well . . . promise you won’t tell anyone. And that you won’t laugh . . .”
“Umm . . . okay . . .”
“I . . . have the  . . . German measles.”
A short pause, while he took in my news. Then, “Bwahahahahahaha!” Sound of phone being dropped. And Husby-To-Be moving through the office, telling every one of his co-workers.
Okay, which part of ‘don’t tell anyone’ and ‘don’t laugh’ did he not get?
We did get married.
I was totally fine. Except that in some of our photos, particularly the close-ups, you can see the barest hint of a red flush.
People simply dismiss it as evidence of excitement.
Now you know.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Piggy Riding

Daddy and me.
Do any of the rest of you see the irony here?
Okay I wasn’t supposed to do it.
And I knew I wasn’t supposed to do it.
But that just made it all the more fun.
Maybe I should explain . . .
On the Stringam ranch, behind the chicken *shudder*coop was the pigpen.
It was rather off the beaten track, tucked in as it was.
A destination in itself.
A perfect location for hijinks when the horses were out and everything else possible had been explored/done.
And boredom was threatening to set in.
Or one was feeling adventurous.
One could climb the fence. Slide into the shadow of the shelter. Pause there.
And pick out a victim co-conspirator.
I should point out here that pigs are very sociable and curious creatures.
When something – or someone – is introduced into their world, they immediately converge to give it a sniff.
And a taste.
And they love to be scratched.
Back to my story . . .
All I had to do was sit there until all of the pigs swarmed me.
Scratch a couple.
And (this is the forbidden part) climb aboard one.
The pig would snort and scamper (yes, scamper) across the pen to the far side.
And, if one were lucky enough to still be aboard, back again.
Okay, yes, the fun was decidedly fleeting.
One’s raging father could – and often did – appear.
How did he do that?
But there he would be, with hands on hips and the heated glare that only an angry father can summon, as his newly-repentant child silently slid off the pig and exited the pigpen.
Our subsequent conversations usually went something like this:
Dad: Diane! I’ve told you and told you not to ride the pigs! You could injure them. And they get all excited and don’t gain weight.
Me: Look Dad! I fell in the poop!
Yeah. Let’s just cross rocket scientist off that future occupations list.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

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Monday, May 16, 2016


This many kids. One adult.
My good friend was in hospital for a couple of days for some minor surgery.
Her four kids (three girls and one boy) were staying with us.
And our (then) four kids. (Three boys and one girl)
The kids were perfectly matched.
Boy-girl, boy-girl, boy-girl and boy-girl.
And got along very well.
My house was quieter with eight (ranging in ages from 1 to 7) kids in it, than it was with just my own four.
They were all playing happily.
Then I suddenly realized that I needed to go to the store.
The status quo was about to change.
I buckled in what amounted to essentially four sets of twins and started off.
All went well.
We arrived and I immediately hunted up a cart.
No way I was going to try to herd this bunch without some modern conveniences.
The two babies were buckled into the baby compartment on the cart.
The two toddlers went into the basket.
The two kindergarteners hung onto the outside.
And the two seven year olds were allowed free range.
But with strict instructions to stay close.
We were off!
My errands were run in record time.
And, quite suddenly, it was snack time.
I looked into my wallet.
I should point out, here, that my husband had just graduated from post secondary and was working in his first real job.
We were poor.
Well, rich in children.
But poor in things that can actually . . . purchase things.
Moving on.
My wallet held the grand total of two dollars.
Which in itself was a miracle.
I was standing in the middle of the food court, contemplating my options.
They were . . . limited.
Finally, I approached a kiosk called, The Loaf, which specialized in sandwiches made from thick slices of 'freshly-baked-on-the-premises' bread.
"What would you charge for just a slice of fresh bread and butter?" I asked the girl behind the counter.
She scrunched up her face in thought.
Then she said, "Twenty-five cents."
The magic words.
I ordered eight slices of fresh bread and butter and handed her my two dollars.
Then I passed out slices of thick, warm, fresh bread to each of my little hoard.
Who happily chowed down.
A cowboy term for tucking in.
Which is another cowboy term for . . . oh, never mind.
You get the picture.
They ate.
And enjoyed.
A couple walked past while my kids were busy . . . umm . . . enjoying.
"What a good idea for a snack!" the woman exclaimed. "I think you are the best mother I have ever seen!"
I smiled, rather self-consciously.
'Best mother' is obviously code for 'too-broke-to-buy-anything-else'.
We finished our snack and headed back to the Sears store for one last item.
My friend's eldest daughter, who had been following closely asked if she could dart over and peek at the girl's blouses.
I told her that it was fine. I would just walk slowly so she could catch up.
And continued down the aisle.
I passed one of the entrances to the store.
Two women had just come in.
They, a mother and her mother, were struggling to control a small boy of about two.
Who was red-faced and screaming.
Actually, now that I think of it, all of them were red-faced and . . .
Back to my story.
The grandmother looked up and noticed me walk past with my cart full to overflowing with children and said," Here the two of us can't control one child and that woman," she pointed, "has . . . five, six, seven!"
Just then, my friend's oldest daughter rejoined our group.
I smiled at the women and said, "Eight."
And walked on.
Okay, I know it wasn't strictly truthful.
But it was so much fun to say it!!!
And, just for a moment, I felt like one of those uber-organized, amazing women one sees who are always neat, tidy and . . . well . . . together.
Controlling hoards of children and still managing to look serene.
Yep. For a moment, I was SUPERMOM.
But only for the moment.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

What's in a Name?

We have a tradition in our family.
I know what you’re going to say . . .
Another tradition?!
Hear me out . . .
When we were expecting our babies, and fighting arguingconsidering possible names, my ever-helpful Husby gave me a list from which to choose.
My Husby’s an historian. Did I mention that?
It’s significant.
Moving on . . .
The list was seven pages long.
And included such classics as: Trophimus. Trogillium. Vafthrusdinal. Gundohar and Gundobad (If we should ever be blessed with twins.)
I see your face.
Mine sported a similar expression.
And named our babies. Mark. Erik. Duff. Caitlin. Tiana. Tristan.
Now, I'm sure you’re wondering about the aforementioned tradition.
That comes here . . .
Because I was rude ignorant smart enough to ignore his helpful advice, my uber-determined Husby started in on the next generation.
With one significant change.
Our children weren’t given a choice.
Nope. They were given a name.
One name per grandchild.
Oh, they chose their own names, too. The names that would appear on birth certificates and numerous and sundry other legal places throughout the child’s life.
But each of them have a Grandpa Name (hereinafter known as GN) as well.
Unofficial, but just as important.
Let me enlighten you. These are the names as they now stand:
Megan Sarah. GN: Cruchenperk
Kyra Danielle. GN: Ataxerxes
Odin Erik. GN: Dashley
Thorin James. GN: Ragnowinthe
Erini Tiana. GN: Salmanezer
Jarom Elliott. GN: Abindaraz
Bronwyn Bell. GN: Pintiquinestra
Linnea Viktoria. GN: Adrevalde
Hazel Jane. GN: Bardowick
Willow Victoria. GN: Cantabrie
Leah Brooke Rachelle. GN: Ettelwulf
Aksel Grant. GN: Burthred
William Duff. GN: Hieronymus
With each one, there’s been the usual angst. And the ‘Why don’t they use my good names?’ question.
Maybe you can answer that . . .

Friday, May 13, 2016

Song of the Heart

Mom's favourite picture.
There is a line from a Joe Diffie (yes, I’m a country music fan) song that goes:
Home was a back porch swing where I would sit, 
And mom would sing Amazing Grace, while she hung out the clothes.
That line reminds me of my own Mom.
Mom was always singing. The first thing she did when she entered the kitchen in the morning was switch on the radio.
And hum along with the current favourites while she stirred up breakfast.
Later, radio off; I can picture her with her hands in hot, soapy water, belting out ‘Darling Clementine’.
Or hoeing in the garden to ‘Till We Meet Again’.
It’s amazing how ‘Amazing Grace’ or any number of other songs go along with milking the cows. The rhythm just works.
Folding clothes? That will always remind me of ‘You Are My Sunshine’. When she could convince one of us to join her, sung in two-part harmony.
‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart’ was waltzed with the broom across the kitchen floor.
And what would pea-shelling and bean-snapping be without ‘My Easter Bonnet’?
And early morning without ‘Good Morning, Mary Sunshine’?
Or bedtime without ‘Irish Lullaby’?
Riding out to the cows inevitably brought a rendition of ‘The Old Grey Mare’.
And evenings with the family - at least one chorus of ‘Whispering Hope’, again in harmony.
There are dozens more. I can’t picture Mom without a song in her heart and on her lips.
And her kids all do it, too.
Sing, I mean. While working.
More than once, I got smacked on the back of the head for bursting into song at inappropriate times during school.
It’s been too many years since I heard my Mom sing.
But in my memory, she’s singing still.
The last lines from that same Diffie song are totally appropriate for me: My footsteps carry me away. But in my mind, I’m always going home.

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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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