Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Rock That Planning

Yorkshire Pudding.
A solid piece of our history.
My Husby is a Planner.
It is a legitimate occupation.
He plans . . . stuff. Has built his career doing it.
Mostly, he plans things like: Museums. Displays. Art galleries. Special facilities for storing special collections.
It has been a varied and unusual career.
And he is very good at what he does.
Except when he tells his wife that whatever she is doing would work better if she used a different system.
That never turns out well.
Moving on . . .
Several years ago, he was leading a team of designers in Fort McMurray.
They were re-designing the displays at the Oil Sands Interpretive Centre.
A fun and exacting job.
It required spending many months in the rapidly expanding oil city of Fort McMurray, Alberta.
At the end of one particularly long day, the team was seated at what had become their favourite restaurant.
Doing what had become their favourite pastime.
One of the team members had order a roast beef supper.
With all of the trimmings.
One ‘trimming’ was a large Yorkshire Pudding.
With gravy.
Now I’ve had Yorkshire pudding.
In all its glory.
I love it.
But this particular pudding had been baked too long.
Or left uncovered.
Or simply neglected.
It was, to use a rather over-worked phrase, ‘Hard as a proverbial rock’.
Its owner poked at it morosely.
“This thing is inedible,” he said, sadly. “It looks like one of the rocks in the display case back at the Centre.”
Husby suddenly looked at him, his face breaking into a broad smile. All eyes were on him as he explained his idea for yet another display. Then everyone got up and, pocketing the pudding, headed back to the Centre.
A short time later, they had the cover off the resident large display of rocks (and other things solid and impenetrable).
They rearranged, creating a perfect little space for this, the newest addition.
One of the designers studied the other placards in the case, figured out the font used, and quickly created an official-looking label.
When they left the building later that night, the display of rocks was richer by one, ‘Jurassic Pudding Stone’.
Nothing more was said.
In due course, they completed their assignment and separated, each going back to their normal lives.
Several weeks later, my Husby received a phone call from the director of the newly-refurbished Interpretive Centre.
“Ummm . . . Grant? Did your team touch our rock display case?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, there seems to be an addition of which I’ve only very recently become aware.”
“Yes. Something called a Jurassic Pudding Stone. Now I looked through every one of my books and couldn’t find it anywhere. Finally, I removed the cover and examined the ‘stone’.
“Well, it looks to me like a very old, very tired Yorkshire Pudding.”
“Well, that is odd.”
There was silence at the other end. “So you don’t know anything about this?”
“I don’t understand why you are asking me.”
“Well, it seemed . . .  odd. And I thought that you and your team . . .”
“It does sound very interesting and I’d love to see it when I’m up there again.”
Notice the clever prevarication? (Ooo. Good word!)
Back to my story . . .
“Oh. Well, I just thought of you guys and . . . well . . . okay.”
Need something planned?
A building? A display?
A prank?
I know someone you can call.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Iron Lady

Mom. All pressed and ready to go.
My mom was an iron-er.
A Demon iron-er.
She ironed everything.
Shirts. Pants. Dresses. Shorts. T-shirts. Socks. Pillowcases. Handkerchiefs. Sheets. Pajamas.
I kid you not.
And when I say ‘she’, I mean her girls.
From the age of eight, I had my own little ironing pile.
Admittedly, it was the more easily ironed items. Pillow cases, handkerchiefs, and  . . . flat stuff.
But it was all mine.
No other hands could – or would - touch it.
In fact, it would still be there waiting for me, even if I’d been hiding in the barn all day.
Ahem . . .
Mom was very particular about her ironing. Everything had to be done just so.
I was fortunate in that my items left very little scope for mistakes.
My sister wasn’t nearly so lucky.
I can still see my mom preparing things to iron.
She would sprinkle everything with water, via a spritzer attachment atop a seven-up bottle.
Incidentally, we thought that said spritzer would be great fun in a water fight.
It wasn’t.
Moving on . . .
Then she would carefully roll the sprinkled items into a tight bundle and put them into a plastic bag.
Then put the plastic bag into the fridge.
I know.
I thought it was weird, too.
She said something about ‘keeping things moist’.
Who listened.
One by one, the items were pulled from the bag and ironed.
Then hung.
Then put away.
There was a definite process.
And one didn’t dare skip any of the steps.
Because Mom always knew.
Even if one folded up the handkerchiefs into tiny, tiny little squares.
Those gimlet eyes saw through everything.
Though most everything these days is permanent press, I still iron.
Okay, I admit it, the bottom of my ironing basket has never actually been seen.
There is a dress down there that's a women's size three!
It’s like an archeological dig.
I miss my Mom.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Little Religious Education

Dinnertime is family time.
And sometimes, you learn a lot.
Let me tell you about it . . .
We had been steadily working our way through husby’s homemade beef stew.
With yummy thick slices of bread.
The conversation – revolved.
Three-year-old Granddaughter #6 (hereinafter known as G6) had finished and was waiting, somewhat patiently, for the rest to follow.
So she could be excused.
Suddenly, she remembered something exciting.
She had just received a new set of scriptures.
And in them, right there in the front, was a picture of Jesus.
This was news that simply couldn’t wait.
She had to show us.
She scrambled down from her chair and ran to fetch her book.
Opening it to the correct page, she proudly displayed the picture for everyone.
The conversation went something like this . . .
G6: “Look! It’s Jesus! Jesus. Everyone! Jesus!”
Daddy: “What’s Jesus’ last name?”
G6: Blank look.
Grandma: “What’s Jesus’ last name, Sweetie?”
G6: Blinking and blank look.
Grandma (speaking slowly in her best this-is-a-hint voice): “Jesus C-h-r-i-s-t . . .”
G6 (light dawns): “Oh!” Big smile. “Amen!”
So just in case you’re wondering about that elusive last name . . .
Now you know.
The picture.

Monday, November 24, 2014


Yep. Back then, the brain . . . worked.
The summer I was ten, my oldest sister, Chris, volunteered to run a summer day camp for the kids in Milk River.
We had a marvelous time.
Games. Treats. Crafts. Treats. Contests. Treats. Activities. More treats.
I was ten.
Anything to do with food took priority.
Hmm. Still does in fact.
Moving on . . .
Chris put heart and soul into the program.
There were no parameters laid out, so she had to come up with the guidelines and curriculum herself.
She did a wonderful job.
Part way through the summer, she decided that it would be fun if she got all of the kids involved in performing a play.
And not just any play.
The Wizard of Oz.
A fairly ambitious undertaking for a seventeen year old girl and her group of pre-teens.
First, she had to come up with a script.
That was all right, because our family had the story on an LP.
Go ahead. Google it. We'll wait . . .
And that's where I came in.
I had one talent as a child.
I could memorize.
If I listened to it once, I could pretty much give a detailed description.
If I listened to it a lot?
I could recite it.
With voice inflections and sound effects.
And that was what I did.
For three days, I recited and Chris wrote.
The entire hour-and-a-half of 'The Wizard of Oz'.
As it had been recorded.
We had our script . . .
I should mention here that we never got to perform our play.
We simply ran out of time.
But we learned something important.
If you wanted anything remembered, let Diane listen to it ad infinitum for a couple of days and it was there forever.
Word perfect.
This skill stayed with me for a while.
In fact, I played the lead some years later in 'The Rented Christmas', and memorized the entire play.
To the point that I served as the prompter.
On stage.
My point in telling you all of this is simply to reminisce.
And to lament.
I've been trying to figure out what I watched last night on TV.
I know it was a good movie. And that I enjoyed it immensely.
I can't - for the life of me – remember.
Oh, for just a portion of that bygone talent!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Served With Love

Mmmm . . . love.
We were invited out to dinner last night.
Our hostess served us Turkey a la King.
And fresh, warm muffins.
With a crisp spinach salad.
Everything was absolutely delicious.
Which is usually the case when someone else cooks.
But as I was eating my salad, I suddenly remembered the spinach of my youth . . .
My Mom was a terrific cook.
Really terrific.
I can't remember anything that she made that I didn't like.
From her breakfasts of pancakes or waffles or bacon and eggs, through to her suppers of roast beef or shepherd's pie or veggies with cheese sauce, and everything in between.
But Mom had been raised by her Mom to believe that everything . . . everything . . . needed to be well done.
Even veggies.
All had to be baked or fried or boiled to 'within and inch of their lives'.
Or at least until they had lost whatever colour they originally had.
It wasn't until I was married that I discovered the joy of 'medium rare' and 'tender crisp'.
And sometimes . . . raw.
I remember the first time someone served a mound of fresh, crisp cauliflower.
With dipping sauce.
I stared at it.
Cauliflower was suppose to be served steaming hot.
With cheese sauce.
I didn't even try it that time. Merely having seen it was sufficient for me.
Shortly afterwards, I did.
Try it, I mean.
I found it delicious.
And it opened a whole new world for me.
A world of colour and taste and texture that I never knew existed.
Back to the spinach.
Do you know how my Mom always served it?
Not steamed. Boiled.
I kid you not.
Then serve it as a glop on our plates.
With vinegar.
And you know something else?
We loved it.
Slurped it down like it was our last food on earth.
My point here is that I love food the way I prepare it now.
But I loved it equally as well when Mom fixed it.
I guess it all just comes down to how much love is served with it.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

You're a Winner!

My first official household job when I became a newly minted teenager was the vacuuming.
Mom would drag out her antiquated upright vacuum, wheel it over to where I was sitting watching Saturday morning cartoons, and say, cheerfully, “Diane! You've just won a trip!”
There, she would pause significantly, smiling widely at me.
I knew what was coming.
Which made it distinctly un-funny.
Finally, she would add, “Around the house with the vacuum!”
I hated vacuuming.
And her vacuum, whatever it's glowing attributes in its younger days, was distinctly past its prime.
In fact, it hardly had any suction at all.
Vacuuming with a machine that hardly sucks really sucks.
So to speak.
Dutifully, and after a significant number of follow-up 'encouragements', I would drag myself out of my comfy chair, grasp the handle of my nemesis, and start in.
Stupid vacuum.
Look at that! It won't even pick up that piece of lint.
Have I mentioned that I hate vacuuming?
And so it went.
Every Saturday, there was a half hour or so of my life that I'd never get back.
I learned a few things:
1.  Running an upright vacuum with a spinning brush over an area rug usually resulted in the disastrous ingestion of said rug.
2. Kind of funny to watch, but not so good for either the rug or the vacuum.
3. If you stood with a foot at either edge of said rug you could hold it down.
4. Genius.
Hmm. I think on that last point, I will elucidate:
One day, the wretched vacuum quit sucking altogether.
For several minutes, I ran it back and forth over the same piece of lint.
Without shutting it off, I tipped it up to see if the problem was something obvious.
It was! Right . . . there.
Now, just because a vacuum had quit sucking, doesn't necessarily mean that it has stopped working.
I poked one finger towards the problem.
Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!
I dropped the vacuum and did the dance of pain, clutching my injured right pointer finger in my left hand.
Finally, I spread my hand, palm up and gazed at it.
Looked okay from here.
I turned it over.
My fingernail was black.
I kid you not.
The spinning vacuum brush had ripped it free of my finger in one quick, easy movement. Leaving it attached only by the outer edges.
And it had filled instantly with blood.
And it hurt.
Sometime later, an incessant noise intruded upon my pain and I realized, belatedly, that the vacuum was still running.
Not that it was doing any good.
I switched it off and ran to find my mom.
My black fingernail was with me for a long time.
A long time.
A reminder that vacuuming was not to be taken lightly.
Or at least that vacuums were to be treated with respect.
After that, whenever I needed to see the inner workings, not only was the beast switched off.
But it was also unplugged.
A lesson harshly taught.
But a lesson nonetheless.

P.S. I still hate vacuuming.
Just FYI.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Mission Possible

“Ummm . . . hello?” I moved out of the hallway cautiously. The reception area looked deserted, but I knew from past experience . . .
“Good morning, Jim!” The slow, distinct, whispered words were coming from someplace ahead. And below.
“Umm . . . my name’s not . . .”
“You will find a document on the desk. Read it.”
I moved slowly toward said desk, still glancing carefully all about. In the very center of the spotlessly clean surface was a large, brown envelope. I hesitated, then reached for it. It was light. Thin. Obviously not filled with copious notes smuggled out in an ongoing industrial espionage heist. I slid out a single sheet of paper. A photograph.
And stared at it.
The whisper continued. “The person caught on camera here is a fairly normal, mundane woman from a rather boring branch of the civil service.”
Normal? I had my doubts.
“Not usually prone to riveting drama or hijinks; or galvanized to action by spectacular messages sent from unseen forces.”
“Your assignment should you choose to accept it is to contact her. Set up an assignation. A meeting. Get to know her. I’m thinking maybe dinner.”
I wondered if I looked as surprised as I felt.
“And see where it takes you.”
Ummm . . .
“As always, should you or any member of your FedEx team be frightened off, or if the answer is no, the receptionist will disavow any knowledge of this transaction. Good luck, Jim.”

“Oh, and leave any packages you may be carrying on the desk. She’ll sign for them later.”

Each week, Our favourite blogger, Delores of Under the Porch Light, extends greetings.
And a list of words.
She only does this to friends.
I shudder to think of what she does to enemies . . .
Moving on . . .
This week's list? 
industrial, copiousgalvanizedbranchrivetingcamera
Take that, Delores!
We love you!

Thursday, November 20, 2014


This'll be my sweetie and me in another 20 years...

Now you have a Love that is loyal and true,

And perfect in every way.
But knowing all that, now I put it to you . . .
What in the world would you say?

From the time that we met as she walked down the street,
Just a’singing her favourite song,
Every moment together was perfect and sweet,
Put it mildly, we two got along.

Daily we’d treasure our moments together
And the years have gone past in a blur,
But lately, I’ve found that there’s one sort of weather,
I’m finding it hard to endure.

Now I’m not nasty or mean and I try to be kind,
I’ve given her arms that are strong.
It’s been fifty-five years, I’m mos’ deaf and near blind,
And I’m needing a different song!

I admit that I liked it when our Love was first new,
But more and more often, I find,
That ‘Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do’,
Is driving me out of my mind!
And to make the ear worm complete: Manfred Mann.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

All-Day Hookey

So nice! Sigh.

I played hooky.
For those of you who don't know, 'hooky' is a term coined to describe being absent without leave.
In my case, I was absent from school.
And I didn't do it alone.
Maybe I should explain . . .
We were in grade twelve. For the last semester of my grade twelve year, I lived with Debbie's family, the Joneses, and attended school in the town of Magrath.
Our school bus arrived promptly every morning at 7:30.
After an hour and a half commute, we would arrive, sleepy and slightly dishevelled at the Magrath High School to begin a day of instruction.
One morning, one of us really wasn't in the mood.
Oh, she got up all right.
Got ready.
Endured the bus ride.
But, standing there in front of those venerable halls of learning, she balked.
“I don't wanna go,” Debbie said.
I stared at her. “What?”
“I don't wanna go,” she said again.
“Oh.” What did one say to that?
“Let's play hooky!”
“Debbie, we can't play hooky!”
“Yes we can! We've never done it and the semester, the year, the school experience is nearly over!”
She had a point. Both of us had been exemplary students.
Precisely what our fathers expected.
“Deb, my dad would kill me!”
“C'mon, Diane, it's only one day!”
I looked at her. Have I mentioned that Debbie was the only reason I ever got into trouble? Well she was . . .
At that point, our friend Leonard, he of the pick-up truck, appeared.
“Leonard! Take us to Lethbridge!” Leonard looked at Debbie. Then he looked at me. I shrugged.
“Okay,” he said.
. . . and she got other people into trouble, too.
The three of us trailed out of the school and into Leonard's pick-up.
There was plenty of room on the wide seat.
We settled in for the 12-minute ride to Lethbridge, a city of about 75,000 just to the north of Magrath.
For a guy, Leonard had a surprisingly clean truck. No trash rolling around. In fact, the only thing on the dashboard was his brand shiny new 'Western Horseman' magazine.
“Oooh!” I said, picking it up. “Is this the new issue?”
“Yep. Just picked it up this morning!”
“Do you mind if I read it?”
“Nope. Just don't damage it.”
Leonard took good care of his things. Obviously magazines were no exception.
“I'll be careful.” I sat back happily while the two of them chattered all the way to the city.
Lethbridge is not a huge place, but one with several malls and lots of shopping.
We spent the day going from one to another.
And having fun.
At one of our early stops, Debbie and I bought large lollipops.
On long sticks.
We spent the rest of the time . . . ummm . . . licking.
Before we knew it, it was time to head back to catch our bus. No sense in proclaiming that we had just spent the day somewhere other than where we should have been.
Leonard stopped his truck.
“This has been fun!” I told him. “C'mon Debbie, we'd better hurry!” I slid out.
At that point, a friend of Leonard's walked up to his window. “Hey, Leonard, where were you today?”
Distracted, Leonard turned to answer his friend.
Debbie started to follow me.
“Oh, my sucker,” she said, turning back.
Now Debbie had gotten tired of holding the heavy sucker and had laid it down. Not certain of the surface of the dash of Leonard's remarkably tidy truck, she had chosen to lay it down on his copy of the Western Horseman.
That same brand new copy he had been so protective of earlier.
She grabbed the long stick, only to realize that the magazine came with it. 
Not only had the sucker stuck to the cover of the magazine, but it had also stuck the pages together.
“Ummm . . .” Debbie glanced at Leonard, still engrossed in his conversation. “We'll just leave that,” she said, and slid out after me. “See ya, Leonard!” She slammed the door.
Leonard, still talking, waved cheerfully and the two of us headed for our bus.
Leonard never mentioned his sucker-stuck magazine.
The one he obviously never got to read.
After he had toted two girls all over Lethbridge.
Some fellow hookey-players are just plain nice.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Playgirl(s). Not.

College years are for making all sorts of mistakes.

Well, that's what I tell myself.
But this is one I didn't make.
My roommate, Debbie did.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Maybe I should explain . . .
Debbie and I were browsing through the convenience store.
Both of us were suffering from chocolate withdrawal.
We needed a fix.
There was a magazine rack near the checkout line.
Debbie was glancing over the offerings.
“Hey!” she said. “There's a magazine here called 'Playgirl'!
I looked at her. “I thought it was called 'Playboy'.
“Well, there's that one, too.”
“Huh. Weird.”
“What do you suppose 'Playgirl' is?”
The guy behind the counter spoke up. “It's pictures of naked men instead of naked women,” he said.
We stared at him.
Surely not.
I should explain here that both of us were children of the country. The words, 'sheltered', 'naive' and just plain 'dumb' come to mind.
“I've never seen a naked man,” Debbie said.
“Me neither,” I said. Something I was blissfully happy to continue for a good long time.
I should mention, here that when Debbie said, 'Hmm' in just that way, anything was possible.
“I'm buying it,” she said, reaching for the cellophane-wrapped magazine.
“Ick!” I said. I was ignored.
She shoved it into her bag with her chocolate bars and we headed home.
At this time, we were sharing a two-bedroom basement apartment with two other girls, both as unworldly as we were. And neither of which was at home.
Debbie set her shopping bag on the apartment's only desk, which stood in our roommates' room and pulled out the magazine.
Then she stripped off the cellophane.
“Okay,” she said. “Ready?”
I shook my head. Again, I was ignored.
She flipped back the cover.
The magazine fell open to the centrefold.
I caught a brief glimpse of a handsome young man leaning casually against the doorway of what looked like an abandoned house.
Fortunately, I got no further.
Roommate slapped the book shut.
“Well, that's that,” she said, her face bright pink.
She shoved the magazine under the pillow of the nearest bed.
Episode over, we forgot about it.
Until a couple of days later when our roommate returned from her weekend home and crawled into bed.
We heard a shriek.
Then silence.
“Uh-oh,” Debbie said.
There was a knock at our door.
Debbie answered.
“What is this doing in my bed?” The magazine, held distastefully by finger and thumb, was extended.
“Oh,” Debbie said. “Umm. What makes you think we had anything to do with that?”
Our roommate gave her a 'Nice try, Debbie' look, dropped the magazine at our feet and disappeared.
Debbie picked it up and threw it into the trash.
Episode truly over.
But to this day, I wonder what was happening during the moment of silence after the roommate discovered the magazine . . .
You learn a lot of things during your college years.
One way or another.

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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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