Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bear-ing the Memories

It was Christmas.
The time of magic.
And gift-giving.
For a single mom with two little girls, an income sufficient for the necessities and little else, it was a time to get creative.
And Pinterest hadn't been invented yet.
She desperately wanted to give something to the family who cared for her two girls, but what could she afford?
She saw some little clay ornaments in a magazine.
She and her girls would make a set of those.
They spent several evenings mixing.
And detailing.
Six little Christmas bears emerged.
Perfect and beautiful.
They were wrapped and presented.
And very, very much appreciated.
Move forward a few years . . .
Those same Christmas bears were the Tolley family favourite.
A reminder of the precious years when we welcomed two little girls and their lonely single mother into our family.
They were the first things out of the box when we decorated our Christmas tree.
And always handled with care.
Until that Christmas.
Let me tell you about it . . .
Our family had welcomed in two little special needs foster children.
A brother and sister.
Both had come from . . . difficult circumstances. Christmas was something that had been observed only from a distance.
They were enthralled with everything.
The gifts.
The lights.
The baking.
The tree.
Especially the tree.
Three-year-old Little Girl spent hours looking at that tree. And when looking wasn't sufficient, she would pull the decorations off.
Systematically tasting each one.
Most were inedible.
But the little salt-clay Christmas bears, that so closely resembled cookies, could, with just a little effort, be eaten.
She did so.
I caught her at it.
“No! Those aren't for eating!”
I took them away and tried to instruct and advise.
Then moved them up, out of reach.
But when I was downstairs doing laundry, she got into them again.
By climbing the tree.
And knocking it over.
A few minutes later, I sadly rescued what was rescue-able.
It wasn't much. Only scattered, semi-chewed pieces remained.
One precious bear remained intact enough to still hang on the tree.
It hangs there today.
Still 'bear-ing' the scars of its trauma.
But it isn't just a bear.
It's memories . . .

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Not Getting There

I have no excuse.

But I'll let you judge . . .
A woman in our church group, whom I had never met, had just given birth to a tiny, sweet preemie girl.
She had two other children.
And a husband.
I offered to surprise them with dinner.
An easy and painless way to help out.
I made a pot of soup.
Fresh rolls.
And a salad.
Packing everything into a box, I got into the truck and headed out.
Now, I should mention here that I live in a small town.
I've lived in this same small town for nearly a quarter of a century.
Yes, it has grown.
A lot.
But it is still my home town.
And it takes three minutes to drive from one end to the other.
On a busy day.
Twenty minutes later, I was still driving around, looking for this woman's address.
Finally, almost tearful with frustration, I broke down and called her, begging for directions.
“I'm right across the street from Beau Meadow School,” she said. “You can't miss the house. It's brightly lit and there is a 'For Sale' sign in the front yard.”
Now, in our town, that particular school is on what we call the 'ring road'.
It makes a circuit of the entire town.
Meandering through all four quadrants.
It is the quickest way to anywhere.
This woman was on it.
I live just off it.
Our houses were, quite literally, one minute apart.
I finally pulled up to the described house, shut off my truck and carried my now-tepid-meal to the front door.
And realized something.
Not only was this house almost within spitting distance of mine.
But it was a house my son and his family had recently outgrown and sold.
After having lived there for over three years.
I had been in and out of it for that entire time.
I knew it almost as well as I knew my own.
I knew where it was.
And how to get there.
And where to park.
I could have told anyone how to find it.
Only one thing was missing.
I had never noted the address.
No excuse.

Monday, December 15, 2014

My Automobile Heritage

My Dad, aged three.
And yes, that is a gun. Don't ask.
Okay, I admit it, I have had a few . . . misunderstandings . . . with the family car.
One where I hit the ditch. (Only my pride and my Dad’s $400.00 deductible suffered.)
One where I backed into the tractor. (Who needs a fender?)
Another when I filled the gas engine with diesel. (Oops.)
And one where I ran into the carport. (Repeatedly.)
The hardest thing about each of these was the actual ‘Telling-of-the-Dad’.
Actually, with that last one, I didn’t have to tell him because he appeared. In his jammies.
Now that’s a sight I’ll never forget.
Moving on . . .
Last night I was visiting with my Dad.
And discovered, to my everlasting joy, that he had also had his share of automobile . . . mishaps.
The first when he was just a little gaffer (his words).
Gleefully, I tell you about it . . .
He and his mother were on their way to Cardston.
A town approximately 34 km (21 miles) from their home in Glenwood.
His mother drove.
Little Mark divided his time between playing about on the floor and looking out of the window.
It was 1928. Seatbelts hadn’t been invented yet.
They crossed the river and little Mark was interested to see a couple of young men sharing a picnic lunch beside the gently-flowing water near the road.
Their car passed the young men and started to climb the hill.
And that’s where it stopped.
The car, I mean.
His mother slammed on the brakes to keep the vehicle from rolling backwards and sent her young son back to the two young men to elicit aid.
Putting his own spin on things, little Mark, sure that his mother was in dire circumstance and picturing all sorts of disasters if the car rolled backward on the road, fairly flew to get help.
Almost incoherent in his appeal, he finally managed to convey the gravity of the situation and said aid was immediately procured. (Ooh! What big words I’m using today!)
The young men hurried to the rescue.
Within seconds of their arrival, they ascertained that the engine was being starved of fuel.
Now, a little background. The elderly car which little Mark and his mother were driving had its gas tank up front, under the windshield. Perfectly situated to gravity feed fuel to the engine, but not really the best position for safety.
Or, as it turns out, for a little boy’s inquisitive fingers.
The gas line snaked down to the floor and from there to the engine. And, somewhere on that line, was a little pet valve.
That turned easily.
Back to my story . . .
One of the young men followed the line with his eyes. “Hey! The valve’s been shut off!” He immediately effected ‘repairs’. “I wonder how that could have happened?”
Mark's mother’s eyes went to her small son, who had suddenly become very, very quiet.
The young men started the car and the trips to and from were accomplished without further incident.
My point is this: All right, nothing was actually ‘damaged’ in this story. And repairs were minimal and complete. But you have to admit it’s proof that my dad and cars have a history. And that he has done things that caused some automobile – and driver – grief.
It’s a leap, but it’s all I have.
I’m taking it.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Making Beds

Okay, that's not me, it's my little brother, Blair.
But that is one of the beds.
Picture me in it . . .

I have just realized that Mom was infinitely more patient than I am.

It's a bit of a painful discovery.
A moment of silence, please.

Now I will explain . . .
When I was four, I used to follow Mom around as she went through her morning routine.
This was before she really expected me to be of much help.
Though I did try.
I should mention, here, that about the time I became a valuable helper, I no longer wanted to follow Mom around.
Oh, the irony.
Back to my story . . .
I watched Mom clean the kitchen.
Pick up clothes and discarded items.
Vacuum and/or sweep.
And scrub bathrooms.
But my most favourite activity . . .
The one I waited patiently for . . .
Was 'the making of the beds'.
Because Mom never just made the beds.
That would be boring.
No, what Mom would do was 'make me in the beds'.
I would snuggle in and she would pull the covers up and proceed to make the bed.
With me in it.
I would lay quietly until she said, “Okay that's done. Time for the next bed.”
That was my cue to squeal and sit up abruptly, totally negating her efforts.
She would pretend to be flabbergasted. (Oooh. Real word!)
And I would laugh uproariously.
Then she would order me from the bed and make it again.
This time without any stowaways.
And we would move on to the next bedroom.
And the next bed.
Where the routine would be repeated.
I don't ever remember Mom making a bed just once.
That's something other mothers did.
Moving ahead fifty or so years . . .
Several of my grandchildren were staying over.
Everyone had finally crawled out of bed.
And were awaiting breakfast, which Grampa was cooking.
I took advantage of the interim to make the beds.
I decided to teach them the game I used to play with my mom.
“Hide in the bed,” I told them. “And don't move.”
They crawled in.
And managed not to move.
But giggling was definitely optional.
I made the bed, then said, loudly, “Well that's done. Time to move on to the next bed!”
Three kids suddenly sat up. “Gramma! We fooled you!”
I pretended to be shocked and ordered them out.
Then I made the bed a second time and we moved on to the next bedroom.
“Can we hide in this bed?” they asked.
I looked at it.
Then thought about having to make it twice.
“No. Once is enough,” I told them.
“Awwww . . .”
“Next time we'll do it again,” I promised.
They were happy.
And I had made two conclusions.
My first was that being the made-ee was infinitely more fun than being the made-er.
My second conclusion?
My Mom used to play that game at every bed.
Every bed.
She was much, much more patient than I am.
I'm sure you agree.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

(S)now Day

I was raised on a ranch twenty miles from the nearest town.
It was a wonderful place in which to grow up.
I lived and worked and spent my days with family and farm animals.
A peaceful, beautiful sunlit life.
Except when it snowed.
And then it was something else entirely.
It became perfect.
Maybe I should explain . . .
To get to school each day, my siblings and I rode the school bus.
There were flaws in the system.
The bus driver of the day refused to make the entire trip to the ranch.
And instead, would meet us at Nine-Mile Corner.
Situated nine miles from the ranch.
Okay, so, creative name-ers, we weren't.
Moving on . . .
Every day, Mom, and occasionally Dad, would drive us to meet the bus.
So we would be driving a vehicle to the middle of nowhere to meet another vehicle.
We didn't always connect.
At which time, Mom, and occasionally Dad, would have to take us the remaining eleven miles into town.
And all of this was when the weather cooperated.
When it didn't, things were a tad different.
During the winter, when it stormed, driving to the school bus was very nearly impossible.
But our parents would gamely try unless told to do otherwise by someone in authority.
The announcer on the radio was just such an authority. 
When we awoke to howling winds and/or thickly falling snow, we would wait breathlessly to hear the magic words.
Which schools were being closed.
Inevitably, Milk River was on the list.
At which time, we would rejoice, loudly, and proceed to plan out a day of skating and/or sledding and/or playing in the snow. With fresh doughnuts and hot chocolate to follow.
The very best of days.
Because a Snow Day is a gift and isn't to be wasted.
Moving ahead . . .
When my own kids were growing up, schools were never closed due to snow.
But buses were often cancelled.
When that happened, even when our family was living in town, I kept my kids home.
Because a Snow Day is a gift and isn't to be wasted on going to school.
Moving ahead again . . .
A few days ago, a blizzard blew into Edmonton and area.
A large blizzard.
Preceded by freezing rain.
Which made the roads almost impassible.
The commute to work quickly became a snarled mess of broken automobiles and frustrated drivers.
I kept my Husby home.
Because a Snow Day is a gift and simply isn't to be wasted on going to work.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Paltry Sum

A few days ago, Husby and I went to a movie. 

We enjoyed it.
And we got in for the price of $25.00 for the two of us.
And that included two drinks, and a bag of popcorn to share.
And as he was swiping his debit card, I was remembering another theatre experience.
In another time.
For the paltry sum of fifty cents . . .

Fifty cents used to be a lot of money.

And gave you the ability to do amazing things.
Let me explain . . .
That wonderful day of the week when one didn't have to dive frantically from their beds, feverishly dash through a morning routine, and drive frantically to catch the school bus.
On Saturday, one could leisurely climb out of bed.
Enjoy a healthy breakfast.
And spend the morning . . . diverting.
Okay, well I don't know about the rest of the family (ie. Mom . . . and everyone else), but could.
And the best part of Saturday?
Talking Dad into taking me and my siblings into town for the movies.
Remember, we lived twenty miles away.
On sketchy 'gravelled' roads.
Sometimes, it took a great deal of talking.
On the days we were successful, he would pull up to the theatre, hand each of us fifty cents, and wave as we scrambled for the door.
The smell of freshly popped and popping corn would wash over me the instant I stepped inside. Clutching my money, I made a dash for the admissions counter and handed over half of my precious coins.
Then I took up a post in front of the all-important concession and eyed the limitless possibilities.
After several moments of tempting myself with mouth-watering indecision, I made my choice.
Inevitably, Grape Crush and a bag of popcorn.
With a nickle for a package of red licorice.
Then, clutching my booty and my ticket, I would approach that magical doorway to infinite worlds and possibilities.
The door-keeper would tear my precious ticket in half with a grin and an, “Enjoy the show!” and I was inside.
The curtains, deep green velvet, would be tightly closed, hiding the magic behind them.
Reverently, eyes glued to them, I would slowly make my way down the sloping, creaking wooden floor to my chosen seat.
Somewhere near the front.
Preferably in the first two rows.
Then, one hand stuffing popcorn into my mouth, and the other clutching my precious bottle of pop, I would settle back.
Waiting for the magic.
Waiting to be transported to another place and time.
Suddenly, the house lights would dim and a bright beam would shoot through the air and snare the green curtains in a noose of light.
They would slowly begin to part.
I should mention here that, for years, I thought that the thick, heavy curtains actually became opaque.
And that the beam of light was shining through them from the back.
Yeah. So, Einstein, I wasn't.
Moving on . . .
For the next two hours, I was somewhere else.
Watching the lives and/or exploits of someone else.
It was magic.
Occasionally, reality would intrude for precious seconds.
Especially if the projectionist was a bit slow in starting the second and/or third reels.
But mostly, my immersion was happy and complete.
Another world.
Another time.
Another life.
Complete with yummy snacks.
All opened to me for the paltry sum of fifty cents.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Scuba for Seniors

Yes. That's me.
Just before I turned fifty, Husby took me and our two youngest children on a holiday.
To Italy. And, even more exciting, on a tall ship cruise through the blue Mediterranean waters surrounding Italy.
We met our second son there. He was stationed in Bosnia and was quite happy to make the short hop to meet us when he was on leave.
There are lots of stories.
The one I’m going to tell you about could easily be titled “Scuba Diving for the Direction-ally Challenged”.
Ahem . . .
Whilst Husby was topside, exploring such wonders as . . . Malta. Sicily. Corsica. The rest of his party was under the water - air canisters strapped to our backs and flippers and wet suits correctly and prudently donned – exploring the wonders of undersea ship wrecks. Fish schools. Sea life.
We still argue about who had the most fun.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
First we had to get in the water . . .
It was a perfect day.
Perfect as only a bright, sunny day in the Mediterranean can get. The tender, filled to the gunwales with happy, excited tourists all attractively clothed in black wetsuits, made its way out to the center of the bay immediately adjacent to the Island of Malta.
We had been given extensive instruction.
Do this.
Never, ever even attempt to do that.
We were ready.
Our first duty was to attach any and all tubes necessary to continued breathing and/or life, and fall backward into the warm, welcoming depths of the blue, blue water.
I emphasize the word ‘fall’.
It was a simple procedure.
All you had to do was fall.
And this is precisely where I came to grief.
I flipped over backwards, twisted around a bit.
And came up under the boat.
Under the boat.
It was about then that I got totally confused.
And forgot which way was up.
I was equally muddled about which way was down.
While I was thrashing around, trying to sort things out, my knowledgeable (and very attractive, but that is a different story) instructor, who fortunately had up and down . . . erm . . . down, reached in and extracted me.
We had an amazing time. We swam through great clouds of yellow fish. Past entire undersea gardens. And flew out over a cliff.
The best of all was the WW2 battleship wreck which we covered from stem to stern.
An entire new hemisphere opened to our eyes.
And me? The instructor kept me right by his side the entire time.
His reasoning was simple.
If I could get lost falling out of the boat, just imagine what I could do with a whole ocean.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

With Family Like This...

Don't blink! Blink and you're dead
Way, way too scary . . .
We had been visiting with our daughter.
Had a wonderful time.
Making puzzles.
Playing games.
And she had introduced us to the TV show, Dr. Who.
Yes I know that most of you will have seen this program.
I know I had certainly heard of it.
But I had never actually sat down and watched it.
Our daughter chose, for our first experience, an episode called, “Blink”.
A story of statues that come to life when you aren't looking at them.
And do terrible things to you.
It was, in a word, scary.
Truly frightening.
Chilling enough that I watched the entire thing snuggled close to my Husby.
And holding his hand.
Okay, so . . . brave, I'm not.
Through the last half of the episode, I had to visit the 'little girl's room', but was watching the screen so attentively that I . . . didn't.
Once the show had finished, I shivered, then turned on every light as I made my hasty way down the hall.
A few seconds later, much refreshed, I opened the door.
And this is what was sitting on the floor directly in my path.
I screamed.
And heard loud answering laughter from the family room.
I hate my family.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Santa's Secret

The truth behind the beard...
Husby and I come from a long line of designated drivers.
Generations of teetotalers.
It works for us . . .
Husby also spends the month leading up to Christmas dressed in red and sounding jolly.
These two facts go together.
Perhaps I should explain . . .
Santa lives at the North Pole.
Where it’s cold.
His wearing of red velvet and fur is out of necessity.
Here in Edmonton, Alberta, though it gets bone-snappingly cold outside, Santa’s helpers – like my husby - inevitably end up sitting in a warm room. Surrounded by hundreds of overheated people. And in very close contact with those people’s kiddies.
Let’s put it this way: The red suit absorbs more than ambiance.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Simply throw it into the nearest washing machine!
And that would be a great idea.
Except for the fur.
Fur and/or water and/or detergent don’t do well together. Just FYI.
And sometimes there is a long drought between dry-cleanings.
Now the need for some sort of odor-eater is most apparent just after Santa finishes a ‘gig’, when Santa and Mrs. are stuck in a warm car together for the entire ride home.
Sometimes it is a long ride.
On one such ride, our daughter (also closely closeted with us) mentioned a solution that the theatre costume authorities here in Edmonton use. They call it ‘French Dry-Cleaning’.
1 part Vodka and 1 part Water. Mix the two and spray all nasty odours away. "And it works!" she said, holding her nose. "It de-scents the unwashable!"
There was only one problem.
Our household did not have any vodka. (See above.)
Being people of the moment, we stopped in to the nearest liquor store and Santa girded up his suspenders and headed inside.
A quick question to the proprietor and he was walking down an aisle and procuring the cheapest bottle of vodka in the store.
Happily, he joined the queue at the checkout.
Let me describe: Man in an overcoat, paying for two bottles of whiskey.
Another, younger man, buying a couple of cases of beer.
A woman purchasing wine.
And Santa, clutching his bottle of vodka.
He looked up.
And realized that all eyes were on him.
Smiling, rather self-consciously, he said, “I know how this looks . . .”
The man at the front of the queue promptly responded, “No. Looks pretty natural to me!”
Ha! Ever wondered how Santa makes it through the holidays?
You heard it here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Santa and Mrs.

Husby and me. In our alter egos.
Picture by Bonnie-Jean McAllister at Ealanta Photography
It's the single best job anywhere. Ever.
And all it takes is a bit of red cloth. Some fur.
A beard.
And a big smile.
Seriously. Who wouldn't do this?
For several years, Husby and I have been appearing at parties and malls as Santa and Mrs.
There's nothing quite like the cheer that goes up when we step into a hall.
The rewards are immediate and long-lasting.
From the sweet:
"Santa, I love you!" from the little girl who just dropped her coat on the floor and dove into Santa's arms.
To the practical:
"Santa, I've been waiting all year for you!" from the little boy with the long list.
And the funny:
"Santa, that's my sister. She doesn't deserve anything because she always fights with me." from the little boy with the freckles and the cowlick.
To the touching:
"Santa, I need your help. My Dad's sick." from the little boy with the eyes that are too sad for this normally joyous time of year.
Husby takes a few moments for each of them. Gently and tenderly giving them their little bit of uninterrupted, precious and personal 'Santa Time'.
Acting as Santa to the kids is wonderful.
But the reaction from people when we are en-route is just as much fun.
Yesterday, kitted out in our red finery, we were stopped at a stop light.
In the time it took for the light to change, we heard that the man in the truck next to us had been a good boy.
That the woman on the other side really needed help with her mortgage payments.
And that the woman in front of us wanted a boyfriend. And also, where was our sleigh?
I can't think of a single other character who is as instantly recognizable and universally loved.
It's like being a rock star.
In fur and velvet.
Yep. Best. Job. Ever.

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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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