Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bull Stones

I have spent the past week with my Dad.
At 89 years of age, this former rancher and veterinarian has decided to move to the nearby Senior’s Lodge.
He and I and his good friend, Shirley, have spent the time packing.
Boxing away the memories of a lifetime.
The bronze horse that was a gift from his wife on their wedding day. The painting purchased for that same wife a few years later.
Instruments of torture Veterinarian tools and equipment. His leather surgical kit. A box of assorted needles from the days before disposable syringes. His ‘vet’ bag.
Games and dishes and jewelry and bedding and pots and pans and knick-knacks and pictures and clothing and coins and stamps and furniture.
A lifetime.
Some of them were of interest only to Dad . . . 
Shirley and I were collecting the assorted treasures off the top of Dad’s dresser.
There was a valet tray with an assortment of cuff links, tie clasps, buttons and Hereford-themed pins.
Grooming supplies.
And a tiny container, glass-topped, full of little . . . beads.
Shirley shook it. “What is this?”
She handed it to me. I peered at it closely. Multi-coloured little rocks. “Looks like little bits of gravel. From a holiday somewhere?” I handed it to Dad.
He looked at it and smiled. “Oh. These are stones I removed from bulls’ penises during surgery.”
“Oh.” Shirley and I said together.
I’m quite sure my expression mirrored her own.
How do you say ‘ewwww’?
Oh, right. EWWWWWW!
Dad sat back, looking at the little container, still with that smile. Obviously remembering, fondly, his days as a veterinarian.
Yeah. Some memories are a little too . . . memorable . . . for the rest of us.
Care to go through some boxes with me?
Some of the numerous awards his cattle have won over the years.

The keyboard that figured so prominently a day or two ago . . .

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Buses to Adventure

Oh, the places we went . . .
Mom was washing the floor.
Something she did often.
Because.
I should mention also that, when Mom washed the floor, she WASHED the floor.
Everything portable was carried into the next room.
She got down on her knees with a pail of hot, soapy water and scrubbed.
Then she applied wax.
Then she ran the polisher. Which looked like a big, green bug on a long stick.
Just FYI.
The floor shone like a mirror. Perfect for sliding on with stocking feet.
But this story isn't about that.
This story starts where she carted the portable stuff into the next room . . .
As soon as the chairs appeared in the living room, George and I would materialize from what ever places we had disappeared into when Mom announced that she needed helpers to wash the floors.
Ahem . . .
We would line the chairs up, one behind the other.
Voila! Bus.
George would be the bus driver and I would be the lady with the 400 children riding in the back.
Okay, you're right. I didn't have 400 children.
But I did have 400 stuffed animals.
Sheesh. You're such a stickler for details.
Moving on . . .
Happily, we played until Mom finished with the floors and came out to dismantle our playground.
Actually, it was the one time in the week that George and I did play happily together.
A thing of note.
Oh, the places we went.
The children we dropped out of the windows and off benches.
Good times.
An aside: the couch worked well for a bus, too, but there was just something about articles of furniture sitting where they usually . . . didn't . . . that inspired – play.
Moving ahead many, many years.
Yesterday, some of our grandchildren were over for a visit.
Two of the kids had lined up several of grandma's stools.
I was holding granddaughter number five.
So I was instructed that I could be the mommy in the back with the baby.
Number three grandson, announced that he would drive.
It was then that I realized - they were playing bus.
I sat in the back as I had been told and I had to smile.
Suddenly, I was four years old again.
It was a good feeling.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Something New

Play it, Sam. Er . . . Mark . . .
My Dad is 89 years old.
Still alert, mentally, but weakened, physically, by a series of mini strokes.
He has made the decision to move to the Seniors’ Lodge in his immediate neighbourhood.
A few steps away geographically, but light years away in living accommodation.
He’ll have daily meals.
Lots (and lots) of company.
And care if and when he needs it.
His room will be comfortable.
But small.
For the past several days, he, his good friend Shirley (who has graciously come over to offer her time), and I have been ‘thinning’.
The by-product of which has been many saunters along memory lane.
I’ve heard stories about Grandpa Stringam (see here), Grandma Stringam and various relatives which will undoubtedly be the topic of future blog posts.
It has been a wonderful – and tender – time.
But, just this morning, I realized something.
This man has been around for all of my 58-plus years.
For 20 of those years, we lived in the same house.
Ate the same meals.
Shared chores, work, games, vacations, disasters, triumphs.
Laundry.
And love.
But still he can surprise me.
This morning, I heard the sound of a calliope.
Seriously.
Coming from Dad’s bedroom.
I dismissed it at first. He was listening to a recording from his endless collection.
Then, the music stuttered.
Started again.
Wait. That sounded more like something . . . live.
I peeked in the open door.
Dad had a musical keyboard on the bed and was leaning over it.
Playing.
I stared.
In the 58-plus years I’ve known him, I have never – even once – seen my dad play the piano.
NOT ONCE!
I’ve seen him ‘encouraging’ the rest of us to practice. (Play! I’ve spent my blood-stained money on you! Play!)
I’ve seen him smile in enjoyment at a piano performance.
But I’ve never seen him actually put fingers to keys.
Huh.
Even at 89 years young, he can still surprise me.
And that’s a good thing.

P.S. The opus he's playing, he proudly told me is "Sitting in the Garden Eating Worms".
video

Thursday, July 24, 2014

When Nature Calls

You see a fence post. We see . . . 
Okay, I’m apologizing up front for this story.
It’s . . . gritty. So to speak.
Ahem . . .
I’ve always wondered about toilet paper ads.
Softer. Stronger. More effective.
I mean, why advertise this stuff?
Are there people who are actually not buying it?
Actually . . . yes.
Think of the people who live in places where dropping over to the local grocery store is really not a possibility. Like those in the deepest, darkest part of the jungle.
And their banana leaves.
Okay, I understand. Soft. Strong. Effective.
Now think of the cowboys on the wide, wide prairie.
Where there are no trees at all and leaves simply aren’t an option.
What are they going to do when nature . . . hollers?
Case in point . . .
Dad was out with his dad doing . . . cowboy stuff. Fencing and exploring the joys of barbed wire.
They were far from the ranch house and even farther from the miracle of indoor plumbing.
And its accoutrements.
Grandpa had to go.
You know what I mean.
He turned to Dad. “I’ll be right back,” he said.
Dad nodded and continued with what he was doing.
Grandpa set down his fencing pliers and pulled out his pocket knife.
Dad stared at him, confused. Didn’t he just say . . .?
Grandpa walked over to one of the cedar fence posts and, using said knife, shaved off several pieces of wood.
Then he smiled at Dad and disappeared over the nearest hill.
Can anyone say ‘ouch’?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Yummies in the Tummy

Mom was right about the cake . . .
My Baby Sister, aged two, had crawled up on my Mom’s lap.
It was cuddling time.
I should probably mention that this didn’t happen often.
Cuddling, I mean.
Oh, not because Mom didn’t wish it.
No.
It was because we couldn’t get Baby Sister to slow down long enough to stay in one place.
She was one of those children who are always as bit blurry around the edges.
Because they are moving so fast.
Where was I?
Oh, yes.
Cuddling time.
Mom held her close.
Then counted her tiny, pink toes.
And all of her fingers.
And finally poked her round little tummy.
“What’s in there?” she asked.
Baby Sister looked at her and shrugged.
“Are there yummy things in there?”
Baby Sister looked at her tummy, lifting her little dress to see better. Then she looked back at Mom.
Mom went on. “Maybe there’s some cake and ice cream.”
Baby Sister’s eyes got wide.
“And some cookies. Maybe some pie and candy and pudding.”
With each new treat mentioned, Baby Sister’s blue eyes got wider and wider.
“And chocolate.”
Baby Sister could stand it no longer.
She pulled her dress up as far as she could. “Open it!” she said, pointing to her tummy. “Open it, Mommy!”
Enough talk. Let's get to the good stuff . . .

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mine Forever


Isn't it a beauty?
I had saved forever!
It was mine!
It's not fair!
Maybe I should explain . . .
In the early sixties, exciting things came in the mail.
Okay, yes, they still do.
But somehow, getting stuff in the mail is just a bit more exciting when you are eight.
At least it was for me.
Probably because it didn't happen often.
Getting stuff, I mean.
Dad would stop at the post office and come out with the usual bushel basket of ranch mail.
Whereupon (good word) I would pounce.
“Dad! Is there anything for me?”
He would look at me, smile and say,” What's your name?”
“Diane!”
“Sorry. Nope.”
“Darn.”
I got smarter. Or at least more efficient.
“Dad! Is there anything for me? My name's Diane.”
But the answer seldom changed.
“Sorry. Nope.”
“Darn.”
But when I was eight, I discovered that you could 'order' stuff.
Free stuff.
Really.
Lots and lots of it.
The back pages of literally every magazine had rows and rows of ads from companies who were just aching to mail it to you.
It was a whole new world.
I scoured every magazine, gleaning offers of free stuff.
I sent out dozens of requests.
And started receiving packages in the mail.
Pictures.
Books.
Games and puzzles.
It was like Christmas every time Dad went for the mail.
Now he no longer asked what my name was.
He simply handed me packages.
Ahhhh.
Valhalla.
Then I discovered something else.
I should mention here that Dad always kept a stock of ice cream and ice cream treats in the freezer.
For special times.
Birthdays.
Anniversaries.
Desserts.
Tuesday.
We weren't allowed to eat them without permission, though.
Bummer.
But that was all right.
We received permission a lot.
I'm sure you're wondering what this has to do with ordering stuff.
That part comes now . . .
The ice cream treats had wrappers.
Normally, we would simply throw them away when they had fulfilled their purpose.
Then I discovered that there were offers printed on them.
From 'Popsicle Pete'. Whoever that was.
Offers for 'free' stuff.
Okay, I realize that they weren't strictly free, being as you had to buy the ice cream.
But I digress . . .
If you collected 'X' number of wrappers, you could order 'Y'.
I studied the selection.
I made my choice.
I hoarded my wrappers.
Did you know that counting and re-counting doesn't magically create more wrappers?
Just FYI.
Eons later, I finally had enough.
I could order that super amazing, extra special . . . knife.
Knife?
Knife.
Just what every eight-year-old needs, right?
Oh it wasn't just any knife.
There was a picture of a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman on it.
And it cost me every one of my 14 wrappers.
It was to become the heart of my collection.
Of stuff.
I sent out my wrappers.
And waited.
And waited.
Finally, Dad handed me that extra special package.
I tore into the paper.
And triumphantly held up my knife.
Whereupon (Oooh. Twice in one post) Mom grabbed it.
“Diane! What are you doing with this?”
I stared at her. “It's mine. I ordered it.”
“You can't play with a knife!”
“I wasn't going to play with it!”
“What were you going to do with it?”
“Ummm . . . cut stuff?”
“Right. Your fingers, probably.” Mom carried my special treasure to the cupboard.
The one above the fridge.
The only one in the whole house that I couldn't get to.
“Mom! I bought that!”
“I know, dear,” she said. “And I will give it back to you. After you turn ten.”
I stared at her in disbelief. “Ten?!”
“Yes. By that time, you will be old enough to own a knife.”
Ten?
Ten?!
That was forever!
I stared up at the cupboard.
Then at my Mom.
She couldn't possibly mean it.
“But . . . I bought it,” I said again.
Maybe it would have more impact this time.
“I know, dear,” Mom said.
“But . . .” I could think of nothing else to say.
That's when the tears started.
Even those failed to move her.
Sigh.
For years, my knife had its home in that cupboard.
Not to be discovered until we moved.
“Huh,” she said. “Look, Diane. Here's your knife.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot,” I said.
I took it from her and looked at it.
“Cute.”
“Diane! Can I have the knife?” It was my little brother, Blair.
Age? Ten.
“Sure.”
I handed it to him.
One should never have to wait for their fun.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Do Not Attempt This At Home

Okay, yes, this is me. Ignore the glasses et al.
But that is a genuine 4-H calf behind me.
See that head? Solid bone.
Have I ever mentioned that cows have a head comprised mostly of bone?
Seriously.
Their head is 99 % bone. With a tiny little space for a walnut-sized brain.
Okay, well, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.
Their head can go through most anything.
Fences.
Doors.
Walls.
People.
You get them running and I swear they could go through solid concrete.
And laugh about it with their friends later.
That head is a force to contend with.
You get upwards of 2000 pounds of hair and hoofs going.
With a battering ram for a head and anything is possible.
And we puny little humans have to deal with these animals.
On a daily basis.
You want to talk about bravery?
True statistic: Dairy bulls kill more people annually than the grizzly bear.
Mind you, Dairy bulls usually have sharp, pointy things on that solid-bone head.
How can we make the situation just a bit more dangerous?
Put sharp, pointy things on it.
Where was I?
Oh yes.
Cow heads.
And puny humans.
On to my story . . .
Every fall, the eldest siblings in the Stringam household would happily show up for the organizational meeting of the Milk River 4-H Beef Club.
It was a highlight of the year.
They would then go out to the corral with Dad and choose a suitable calf to register in said club.
Then the work started.
I should mention here, that I never really got involved in the whole ‘work’ part of the scenario.
That’s what brothers are for.
Moving on . . .
My oldest sister, Chris was a lot more ‘hands-on’ than her younger sibling.
So to speak.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
She would go out and wash her calf.
Talk to it.
Put a halter on it and attempt to drag it around.
It was while attempting this last that she came to grief.
And pain.
Chris had been trying to train her calf to lead. An important skill when you plan to have the animal in a show ring.
The calf wasn’t cooperating.
Chris pulled and pushed.
The calf also pulled and pushed.
In the opposite direction.
Chris became frustrated. In an attempt to get the animal’s attention, she shaped her hand into the patented, TV-approved karate hold and . . . chopped.
Remember what I said about solid bone?
That would apply here.
Chris heard the satisfying *crunch* of pro-activity.
For a brief (very brief) moment, she thought, ‘Ha! Got you!’
Then the pain started.
Chris spent the next weeks in a cast to her elbow. Cursing the thick-headedness of cattle in general.
And her 4-H calf in particular.
We thought it was funny.
We never let her know, though.
Because ironically, though that hand, cast-less, couldn’t make much of a dent in a solid bone calf head, that same hand, cast-ed, was a weapon of world class destruction.
Just FYI.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Drinking Problem

Soooo simple. Soooo satisfying.
Horses are very much like people.
They have personalities.
There are friends.
And enemies.
They like to play.
Hate to work.
Live to eat.
They even have quirks.
Some have learned to take in a deep breath just as you tighten the saddle cinch.
Then let it out . . . later. Sneaky beggars.
Loose cinches cause accidents.
Just FYI.
I could go on and on about the tricks they play.
And how crafty they can be.
But that is another post.
This story is about Harry.
Harry the Horse.
And drinking.
Now, I should explain that horses, when they drink, don't lap like dogs and other animals.
They dip their lips into the water.
And suck.
Careful to keep their noses out in the air.
So to speak.
But a tired horse, coming back from a long day in the pastures, will try to drink with the bit from the bridle still in its mouth.
This results in . . . leakage. An imperfect seal at each side of the mouth.
Leakage.
Most horses simply ignore it and happily slurp up the water.
Except for Harry.
If Harry had been human, he probably would have been an efficiency expert.
He hated leakage. It was messy. And, for want of a better term, inefficient.
So Harry had come up with his own solution. If one just dipped a little more of one's mouth into the water, one could avoid the whole 'leakage problem'.
Genius.
He would lower his mouth into the trough to a level just above the bit.
Problem solved.
Of course, this meant that one's nose became, at times, perilously near, and even in, the water.
No worries. Just lift your head, take a breath, and lower it again.
Child's play.
Soon Harry discovered that he liked dipping his head into the trough.
If he was really tired, he would dunk it right up to his eyes.
Sometimes further.
And all you would see were a pair of ears, sticking out above the water.
Unusual to be sure.
But immensely entertaining.
It gave a whole new meaning to the terms, 'Here you go. Dig in!'.
'Wow. He's in it to the eyebrows!'.
'He's in over his head'!
Or, best of all, 'Go soak your head!'.
Yep.
Harry.
The perfect entertainment at end of a long, dusty day.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Tell-TALE Heart

Oh, it's not as innocent as it appears . . .

Maybe it wouldn’t have been quite so bad if I hadn’t just finished reading Edgar Allen Poe’s “Telltale Heart”.

Maybe . . .
It had been a busy day.
Busy.
Our children, and our children’s children, had just left. With six originals, plus spouses and offspring, that comes to . . . quite a number.
I had collapsed into the couch for some well-deserved R & R.
After the noise from so many bodies, the silence was almost thick around me.
I laid my head back. “Ahhhhh!” I relaxed there for a few moments.
Hmmm.
Funny.
I could hear the sound of my heart beating.
I smiled.
Then frowned.
Wait. I put one hand to my chest. That couldn’t be my heart. It was a different rhythm.
I sat up and looked around. The sound was gone.
Weird.
I got up and listened. Made a circuit of the room.
Nothing.
I must have imagined it. I relaxed back on the couch again. Laid my head back.
There it was!
The steady ca- thump, ca-thump of a heart.
Coming from . . . inside the couch.
My couch was haunted!
I leaped to my feet and went in search of my Husby. He would be able to tell me that I was just imagining things. And that my furniture hadn’t really taken on a life of its own.
“Sit down, honey,” I directed. “No. Right here.”
He sat down, eyeing me doubtfully.
“Now lean your head back.”
He did so, still keeping his eyes on me. Then, those eyes widened. He sat up and looked at the couch.
“You hear it, too?” I asked.
He nodded, still staring at the couch. He leaned over again, putting one ear against the fabric. “Huh,” he said. “I hear a heartbeat.”
“Is it a sign or something?” I asked.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. What on earth would a couch with a heartbeat be a sign of?
Humour me . . .
He shook his head. “There must be some explanation.”
“Well, you have to admit that it’s not every day you have furniture that develops . . . bodily functions,” I told him.
We took turns sitting on the couch and pressing our ears against the back. Each time, we heard the steady thumping of a heart.
Stranger and stranger.
Our front door opened and we both jumped. It was our second son, returning to pick up something his family had forgotten.
“Erik! Come in here!” We directed him to the couch. “Sit here!” We pushed him down. “Now put your head against the back.”
He did so, thinking all the while that both of his parents had suddenly taken the last bend in the road before reaching the loonie bin. Then he frowned. “It that . . .?” He turned his head and pressed his ear against the couch then looked up at us. “It’s a heartbeat.”
“I know!” we said together. “Our couch has a heartbeat!”
He frowned and put his head down once more. “Yup. Definitely a heartbeat.”
He got up and started probing the cushions.
“Erik, what are you doing?” I suddenly had visions of him coming up with a bloody, beating heart grasped in one hand.
“Ah!” he said, pulling his hand out. He was clutching a soft, furry little lamb. With cute little ears and a tiny little stub of a tail.
“I think this is your problem,” he said.
He put the lamb against my ear.
Ca-thump! Ca-thump!
“Oh!” I said. I took the lamb from him. “Ummm . . . why does it have a heartbeat?” I asked stupidly.
I’m sure the rest of you have heard of these things, but I swear I had not . . .
“It’s supposed to be soothing to a new baby,” Erik said.
“Oh.”
“Yeah. You put it in the cradle. The baby’s used to the sound of a heartbeat. It soothes them.”
“Huh.”
He took it back and flipped a switch. The beating sound stopped.
He laughed at the two of us staring down at the little lamb. Then he left.
Case of the Possessed Couch solved.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Dadisms That I Didn't Want to Learn

Dad: In fine form . . .
Still thinking of Dad at this important new time of his life.
A story by baby brother Blair:

There are many things that I learned from dad growing up. I am very grateful for them, though I was not happy to learn many of them at the time . . . 
Growing up on the ranch was an educational and fascinating experience.
As a young child, I was very enthusiastic about getting up and going outside to explore.
But an interesting thing happened when I was suddenly given the responsibility of feeding and caring for the animals. When morning came, I was exhausted and somehow robbed of 1 or 2 hours of sleep throughout the night.
I began to dread mornings.
Dad would call down to my room and tell me to get up. If he didn’t hear any reply from me, I’d hear, “Are you getting up?”
I would reply in the affirmative, then promptly fall back to sleep.
About 15 minutes later, dad would come downstairs. I’m sure he knew that I was still trying to squeeze in my last few minutes of slumber.
Somehow I could hear dad coming down the stairs to my room and I would fly out of bed.
Big Brother, George on the other hand dealt with mornings with outstanding ‘get-out-of-bed’ powers. His clock radio would go off and he would reach over, shut it off and sit up on the side of his bed staring at the wall for about 5 minutes. Then he’d get up for the day.
I couldn’t understand how he was able to do this.
Either he was superhuman or he was . . . superhuman.
I thought about this for a long time and finally decided that it had to be his clock radio. It must have some special ability to wake him up and get his day started.
It had to be the reason that he could get up so easily.
I approached dad and tried to share my newly acquired knowledge.
The conversation went something like this:
“Dad I am having trouble getting out of bed in the morning.” I thought that it was good to start by acknowledging the problem and thus side with dad. That way he would move to my side and see my way of thinking. “If I had a clock radio, I could set it to turn on a few minutes before it was time to get up. Then it would slowly wake me and I would be able to get up in the morning.”
Then dad made one of those profound statements that, if I had known, I would have plugged my ears and said “Bla bla bla, I can’t hear you!” However, it was said and, before I realized that it, the statement was resonating with great force inside of me.
“If you can’t do it now you won’t be able to do it later.”
Those words echoed in my ears over and over. At the time, I tried to rationalize that dad was wrong and he didn’t understand me.
But the little voice inside was saying that dad was right.
I decided that I was going to prove him - and that little voice - wrong. I would save my money and buy a clock radio and get out of bed at the right time in the morning.
And dad would know that my thinking was not flawed.
I looked and looked for the clock radio that would do the job, finally finding a Lloyd’s clock radio in the Eaton’s (Google it) catalog. It was really cool looking and would undoubtedly wake me easily. I would welcome the day refreshed and effortlessly slide out of bed.
I ordered the radio and excitedly waited for its arrival.
When it finally came I took it out and marveled at its beauty.
I plugged it in and listened to the radio and thought, ‘This is great! Now I will be able to wake up to the latest top 40 songs!’
That evening I placed the radio on my night stand and set it to turn on 15 minutes before I had to get up.
When morning came, the radio obediently turned on as programmed. I lay in bed wishing that it would shut off, but it played on. Somehow the top 40 hits did not sound as good in the morning.
I reached over and hit the snooze button.
A short time later dad was calling down to my room.
I told him I was getting up and promptly fell asleep.
Then I heard dad coming downstairs and jumped out of bed.
After following the same routine for a few days, I realized, sadly, that dad was right.
If I can’t do it now, I won’t be able to do it later.
Don't you hate that?
Mr. Morning vs Mr. Sleep-Till-Noon

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