Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Toy Box

Last night was opening night.
It's the end of March and for those of you who know me, that means our annual Children's Theatre musical production.
This year?
The Toy Box. Music and lyrics by Yours Truly.
Directed by my good friend and first time director, Jodi Cuevas. (Who did an awesome job, I have to tell you!)
And acted by the most amazing cast of children with a sprinkling of equally amazing adults. (Because who else is going to keep those littles in line on stage?!)
The story revolves around four different groups of toys in The Toy Box, a toy store. Three of the groups, the soldiers, the Barbies and the clowns are pretty much centered on themselves. The fourth group, the Stuffies just want to hug everyone.
And giggle.
When one of the Stuffies is badly mauled by an opossum that has gotten into the store, the rest of the toys realize they have to work together as a family to convince the creature to move out.
How they do it is both simple . . . and ingenious.
Such a fun, fun production.
And so grateful I get to do this!
Pictures by Kristi Pfeiffer Photography
Me. Eyelining. This is the before.
The after is me on a stool in a corner. Sans eyeliner pencil and actor.
Because the others realized I'm just a danger with any sort of makeup...

One of the uber-cute clowns.

A Stuffie. Not quite in costume...

Barbies. Some doing what they do.
Others getting ready to help little shredded stuffies.
Please, powers-that-be, let this go on forever!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Just a Glimpse

Grandma Stringam. Then.

During her growing up years, Grandma Stringam was ‘happy and active and busy’. She was taught to darn, knit and embroider and also how to do all the household tasks.
Most amusement was found out-of-doors, playing such games as Fox and Geese, Run Sheep Run, Hide and Seek, baseball and horseback riding.
Once a week, they went to the school for what they called ‘Physical Culture’ when they exercised and worked with ‘Indian Clubs’.
She attended a one-room schoolhouse which was heated with a large, wood-burning pot-bellied stove in the center of the room.
This building was also used for church on Sunday and for ‘dances and other forms of amusement’.
For the first years, she did all her writing on slates and all she needed was said slate, a slate pencil and damp sponge or rag to erase (usually attached to the frame of the slate with a string). The families all purchased their own school supplies: slates in the first two grades and then notebooks and textbooks thereafter. They had no libraries.
The first teacher Grandma remembered (around 1890 or 91) was Ephrium (Ephie) Blackburn and what she recalled most was getting ready for the twice-a-year concerts at Christmas and just before the end of term. His wife played the organ and he taught the schoolchildren to sing.
Their school term was shorter than the present day. About six months, from the first of October to the last of March or early April.
Every Monday, after she turned twelve, she had to stay home to help her mother with the washing.
Grandma asked her mother why her older sister, Jane, couldn’t take over alternate Mondays so Grandma wouldn’t have to miss so much school. Her mother told her Jane didn’t get things clean enough in the first round so when they came to her mother for the second round, she had to work too hard to get them clean.
Grandma didn’t complain much after that, knowing that she was making things a little easier for her mother.
She attended school until she finished the eighth grade, which was quite an achievement in those times and in that particular community.
After she finished, she worked for one school year in her Uncle Charlie’s store so his daughter, who was a year younger, could take her grade eight.

I am fascinated by these glimpses into another era. And more grateful than I can say that I have access to these writings…

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Women Before Me

Jane Smith Coleman

I know I’ve talked a lot about my Dad’s mother, Grandma Stringam.
She died in 1981 at the age of 95. I was privileged, not only to know her, but to actually be able to live with her and my Aunt Emily for several months.
Reading her journals has brought her even closer.
But through them, I’m realizing another benefit. Glimpses of the women who were so influential in her life.
Her grandmother (My Great-Great Grandmother), Jane Smith Coleman—who was born in Dundee, Forfarshire, Scotland in 1838 and passed away in Teasdale, Utah in 1924 at the age of 86.
This is what Grandma Stringam has to say about her grandmother . . .
“My Grandmother Coleman was a very busy person. She had a small greenhouse, raised chickens with a wood-burning incubator, kept a small general store, was postmistress and ran the only boarding house in the little town. She was the president of the Stake Relief Society (a large women’s charitable organization) and taught Sunday School classes for years.
There was always something that needed to be done there.
Along with all the other things that went on in that household, there was also bee-keeping.
About every two weeks during the summer they extracted honey and that meant that she needed our help.
Grandma would take the slats from the hives and give them to us girls and we would carry them to my mother, who was at the extractor. Mother would use a sharp knife to cut the wax that capped the honey, then she would put the slats in the extractor four at a time. When she turned the crank, the honey would fall out into the tank.
We usually got about fifteen gallons every time we extracted.
It was surprising how soon word of what we were doing would get around, and the children of the town would be there to eat the honey from the cappings.
Another busy time at Granma’s was my Grandfather’s birthday.
Every year, as long as he was Bishop (leader of the local church) she prepared and served a dinner to the whole town.
For days before, we helped her get ready and for several days after, we helped her get things cleared away and tidy.”
Huh. I think I just figured out where I get my love of feeding people!
Grandma Stringam’s journals are a treasure trove of past lives and experiences.
Through them, I’m getting to know and appreciate her and the women in my family line.
Another benefit is my newfound appreciation for indoor plumbing and electric everything.
But that is another story.
There’s obviously a reason I was born now.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

No Small Start: 1878

Teasdale, Utah today.

Grandma’s parents, Sylvester and Mary Coleman Williams were married in 1878 and lived in Escalante, Utah until after their first three children, Florence, Gustavus and Jane were born.
Then, hearing that there was good land to be had, they moved to Teasdale, Utah about 1882 so they could take up homestead.
Many of their extended family followed: both sets of grandparents as well as Great-Grandma’s Uncle and Aunt. These family members settled in or near Teasdale. Great-Grandpa’s homestead was about a mile and a half from the townsite.
There, five more children were born (Grandma Stringam was number five of the eight).
The first few years, the family lived the entire year in the log house they constructed on the farm, but later on Great-Grandpa Williams built a house in town and they lived there during the school months. Definitely more convenient to getting children to school.
Ten years after they moved there, Great-Grandpa died of Dropsy (Edema) of the heart.
Leaving Great-Grandma with eight children between the ages of 14 and one, a homestead that still had to be ‘proved up’ (Each homesteader had to live on the land, build a home, make improvements and farm for 5 years before they were eligible to "prove up") and medical bills of over $200.00 to be paid.
In Grandma Stringam’s words:
“My mother was a very quiet woman but she was a hard worker and a good manager. When Father died, he hadn’t proved up on the homestead.
But she took over with a will. Within ten years, she had proved up on the homestead, built a barn and granary and paid Father’s bills.
The granary which was built is still standing and usable today (1974 when this journal was written).
Mother firmly believed that an idle mind was the devil’s workshop and kept us busy, even if she had to send us to the neighbours to do so.”
The neighbours she sent them to most often were her mother (my Grandma Stringam’s Grandma Coleman) or Aunt Sarah May. Aunt Sarah May had a large family of young children, so my Grandma Stringam often helped her with the washing or with the house-cleaning or putting up fruit in the summer and early fall.
Back to Grandma Stringam:
“Mother told us never to take money for this because my aunt had a large family and not too much to do with.”
I think this world needs more women like Great-Grandma Williams.
Great-Grandma  Mary Coleman Williams

Monday, March 19, 2018

Last Cigarette

My parents weren’t the smoking sort,
They told my sibs and me,
That in a world of healthy choice,
Not smoking was a key.

They two went on a buying trip,
And left me at my friend’s.
(And incidentally, this is where,
My smoking story ends.)

For just one week, they’d be away,
I found myself, aged ten,
The happy week-long dweller
With the best of my best friends.

For several days, all went as planned,
Just her and me and fun,
But then her cousin came, to whom
We small-town girls were dumb.

She took control. My friend and me,
We simply watched in awe.
We learned the gentle art of theft,
 And life outside the law.

My best friend’s cousin stole some change,
And bought a pack of smokes,
I weakly tried to protest,
Yep. Was thinking of my folks.

“Let’s go somewhere we won’t get caught,”
The Cousin said to us,
“We don’t want parents hanging round,
To make a silly fuss!”

She looked at me, “Your folks are gone!
And your house sits there bare.
I sighed. I wanted so to please.
Like a deer in headlights. Snared.

My parent’s townhouse, empty sat,
‘Twas summer—time to farm,
But I knew where the keys were hid
And what would be the harm?

So silent and obedient,
We trailed her to my place,
Crept inside the silent loo,
Put on our bravest face.

She showed us how to ‘light them up’,
 And how to make them glow,
I must admit, I thought ‘twas neat,
I felt mature and old.

Now, I knew that both my folks,
Weren’t due till sometime ‘hence’.
Turns out that phrase means just the same,
S’the one for ‘Present tense’.

My best friend’s sister, posted there,
On bright-eyed watch, was she,
Came running in, “You’re folks are here!”
Not one of us believed.

And then behind her came my mom,
We both were quite surprised.
And I put down my cigarette,
Then paused to be chastised.

“I’m disappointed, dear,” said she,
“I thought we taught you well,
Now you go out and join your dad,
While I dispense this smell.”

With lagging feet, I dragged myself,
To the car, where Daddy sat,
He took one look at my set face,
Was silenced, just like that.

Mom told my dad what I had done,
While they two were away,
And then he spoke. I’ll not forget
The words he used that day.

“I’m disappointed, Hon,” said he,
“I thought you, better, knew,
“We trusted you to live your life,
The way that we would do.”

And with each word, I knew for sure,
I’d smoked my last, because,
I discovered that I wished to be
All my daddy was.

And incidentally, it’s not nice,
When Daddy’s blue eyes turned to ice.

Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we three besought,
To try to make the week begin,
With gentle thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So Jenny and Delores, we,
Now post our poems for you to see.

And when you’ve read what we have brought,
Did we help? Or did we not . . .

Next week, we'll share ('Tis just for you),
Our favourite thing to see. Or do!

Sunday, March 18, 2018


1893. The year of the Typhus outbreak in Teasdale, Utah that proved so devastating to my Grandma Stringam’s family.
Back to my Grandma’s journals . . .
“One and a half years after Father died (of dropsy—edema, according to Wikipedia), our whole family came down with typhoid fever.”
A stark statement that packs such a wallop.
Except for Jane (third eldest child) and Sylvester (youngest), everyone, Great-Grandmother Williams and six other children, were stricken. There had been a lot of flooding in their area in September, 1893 and the family dipped their water out of ditches. It was through this water they all got the disease.
The two unaffected children were sent to Grandma’s house to be looked after and the rest tried to nurse each other. Living so far out, help was hard to find.
And no one else wanted to expose themselves to the disease.
One man, Joseph Stickney, a handyman and a ‘sort-of’ nursing orderly came by after Great-Grandma was stricken. As did a woman, Mrs. Rust, a practical nurse, who stayed until after Christmas.
A third helper, cousin Gustavus Noyes, who lived 40 miles away, came to help. But he “took it and died”.
The eldest sister, Florence was the first to go. She was fifteen. Florence was a very good scribe and had been told some years earlier in a prayer that she would assist her father in his work. Her father had died a year and a half before, so the family always accepted that she had been called home to do that work.
Two brothers, Gus (second-eldest) and George (fourth) were gravely ill. Shortly after Florence died, Gus quit breathing. The family thought he had gone, but after a few minutes, he came around and eventually recovered.
But George did not. As Gus began to breathe once more, George slipped quietly away.
In all, three people died, Florence and George and cousin Gustavus. The disease clung to the household from September till March. All who recovered were left deaf in one ear, a side-effect (they were told) of the quinine they used to treat the disease.
Another side-effect was their hair loss. To cover their bald heads, the family, particularly the girls, wore caps to church and school.
“The boys [there] teased us unmercifully and were continually jerking the caps off just to see our bald heads. But we lived through it . . .”
And there, in that one statement, is Grandma Stringam’s stout philosophy of life.
Times were very, very hard indeed: Losing their father, and in short order, two of the children.
But they lived through it.
Something I can definitely learn from.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Another Glimpse

Grandma and Grandpa Stringam (circa 1930)

Grandma Stringam was born in Teasdale, Utah July 31, 1885. She passed away in Lethbridge, Alberta May 13, 1981 at the age of 95.
 The things she witnessed during her life’s span are amazing.
She is my hero.
Following are a couple of recollections from Grandma’s journals:
The first explains her life-long dread of snakes. Though, like the rest of us (*cough* me!) she probably didn’t need much encouragement . . .
Two-year old Grandma and her older brothers and sisters were on their way to their Grandma and Grandpa William’s house. Something that involved, in their rural area, a hike across the fields.
Ahead of them, something slithered in the grass.
A Snake!
Her siblings grabbed her by the arms and helped her jump over it.
But she got a good glimpse. Her first of such a creature.
Yeah. That did it. Something so long, cold and slithery must be treated with care.
Or downright suspicion. She decided then and there that, whenever she came into contact with such a creature, she would remain aloof.
And very far away.
The second recollection was of her father, my Great-Grandpa Williams.
And her sister, Maude.
Grandma remembered her father very well, though he died when she was seven of ‘dropsy of the heart’. She remembered his height, brown eyes and dark hair. His long face and Roman nose. She recalled how strict he was, but kind. And that when he told his children to do something, they were to do it.
Or else.
At this time, Grandma—just a bit older than her first recollection (see above)—had slapped her sister Maude in the mouth for swearing.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I’d like to slap a few people, too.
Ahem . . .
Grandma receive a spanking (hiding, tanning, blistering, etc.) for her actions.
Meted out by her disapproving father.
Yeah. There’s another memory that would stay with you for a very long time.
Even after the sting had disappeared . . .

Friday, March 16, 2018


I spun around.
“Your door was open and I called and I called. I even used my ‘foghorn’ voice. But you didn’t answer.”
I let out my breath and brushed self-consciously at my cheeks. “Hi, Edith,” I said. “You startled me.”
She eyed me for a moment--my reddened eyes. The obvious tear tracks down my cheeks. “You did invite me. Didn’t you?”
I nodded.
“I could hear you talking to someone, so I knew you were here.” She looked around, puzzled. “You were talking to someone, weren’t you?”
I sighed. Okay, I know that Cousin Edith is my closest relative apart from she-who-is-everywhere-but-cannot-be-seen. But let’s face it. Hers wasn’t the face I was hoping to see.
“Oh, this is for you.” She held out a basket. “I’m assuming, anyways. It was on your front step.”
I peered at it suspiciously. “On my front step?”
“Yeah. I figured someone must have left it there. It was in a pretty obvious ‘trip-over-me’ location.” She looked around. “Where do you want me to put it?”
I blinked. “What’s in it?”
She set the basket on the table and we pawed through it together.
“Huh. Pre-cooked turkey. Pre-cooked potatoes and vegetables. Pre-cooked everything!” I held up a small, stone crock. “Even pre-cooked . . .” my voice caught, “. . . Swedish meatballs.” I felt a bright stab of . . . something that approached both pain and happiness. “Whoever sent this definitely knows me. This is my idea of Christmas dinner!”
Cousin Edith finished sorting through the packages. “Look! Some nice, rum-filled chocolates to end with.”
“Or start with.” I reached for the box, deftly slit the cellophane wrapping and flipped the lid to the table. Yes. I have to admit, I’ve done this before. “Want some?”
Cousin Edith balled up plump fists and waved them excitedly. “Ooooh! Maybe just one.”
You have to know that, for women like us, ‘just one’ could mean many things. Just one chocolate. Or, more likely, just one row or, better yet, one layer.
Half an hour later, I foiled the last chocolate's escape attempt, catching it before it could roll to the floor. Cradling it in my hand, I sat back and muzzily surveyed the room. My cousin nearly comatose in the chair opposite, the empty chocolate box upside-down on the floor between us, and Reggie looking at both of us in patented bird-disgust.
He ruffled his feathers, clicked his beak and croaked out, “Smelly old broad!”
I threw the chocolate at him and he squawked and said something rude.
I turned away and slumped down comfortably in my chair, certain I was supposed to be doing something. But not caring one whit if it ever got done.
“Ohhhh, my head!” Edith said.
“My stomach!” I said in much the same tone.
Party animals, we’re not.
“I’ll get the Tums.” I got to my feet, then gripped the arm of the chair I had been sitting in as the room assumed a parabolic swing.
“And maybe a cool cloth for my head?” Edith said, hopefully.
I nodded carefully, then with equal care, started toward the kitchen. Halfway across the room, I stopped. Listened. I looked at Cousin Edith. “Did you hear that?”
She looked up at me a bit blearily. “Hear what?”
“Never mind.” I continued across the room and flipped the door back.
Norma straightened from in front of the oven and glared at me. “When I sent this food, I didn’t mean to see it left here on the table to decompose!”
I stopped breathing and just stood there, staring, the effects of my recent close encounter with rum draining away.
She lifted the chocolate box lid and looked around for the chocolates. “I see the most important things got taken care of.”
“Norma?” My words had a hard time getting past my tight throat. “Norma?”
She smiled and spread her arms wide. “Surprise!”
My legs felt rubbery as I gingerly crossed the kitchen. I reached out and touched her shoulder. “Norma?”
“Merry Christmas, Sis!”
I wrapped my arms around her plump form and squeezed. “Norma!”
She hugged me, patting my back as I took a sobbing breath. Then I gripped her by the shoulders and held her away so I could look at her. “Are you all right? Do you need to bathe? Are you . . . hungry?” Okay, yes, I guess you could say my mind was justifiably firing in many different directions.
She laughed. “I’m fine, to answer your first question. Yes, I could use a bath. They don’t have them over there, but they don’t really seem to be needed. And I’m planning on sharing this . . .” she glanced over the pre-prepared dinner sitting on the table, “. . . erm . . . feast with you and Cousin Edith.”
We both turned. Cousin Edith was standing in the doorway. The expression on her face must have been a mirror image of mine.
“Hi, Cousin Edith!” Norma said, brightly. “Merry Christmas!”
Edith isn’t made of the same stern stuff as me.
Edith fainted . . .
Christmas dinner happened. Probably not as fancy as feasts in other homes.
Or as plentiful.
But, though at least one member of the party was rather peaked-looking, I don’t think there was another celebration that was as happy.
Funny how you don’t really appreciate something—or someone—until they are taken from you.
Fortunately for me, Norma was returned.
Much the same as she had always been.
“Mama’s home, Baby!” she said brightly as she reached into the cage for her looney handful of beak and feathers.
Reggie danced up her arm to her shoulder, sat there a moment, blinking and bobbing, then reached out and bit her on the ear, drawing a bright drop of blood.
“I love you, too, sweetie,” Norma crooned.
Yep. Much as she had always been.
Weird old bird.
Use Your Words is the brainchild of Karen at Baking in a Tornado.

A writing challenge with a twist. Each participant contributes a set of words.
And then Karen re-issues those words to someone else in the group.
It’s fun.
And challenging!

My words this month decompose ~ foghorn ~ location ~ pursue
came to me from:
Thank you, my friend!

Now hurry over and see what the other challengers have done!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Pi Day 2018

And it ends for another year.
Can't believe it's come and gone so soon.
But we have the memories.
And the crumbs . . .
Getting started . . .

75 pies this year. 75. Yow.

And afterward . . .
Yes, it's a lot of work. My eldest daughter and I figure it took about 8 hours to roll and bake all those pies. Which gave us a chance to visit. And visit.
And roll pies.
And visit.
(Just FYI, her pie crust has officially surpassed mine.)
But it's so worth it!
A chance to get together with people we love.
And eat pie.
It's a perfect world.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mad March

With gusty winds and snow that doesn’t quit.
The segue month that most love (not one bit).
That gusty month of March, we call it ‘mad’.
But mad or not, it’s the best month that we’ve had.
‘Cause in March a lot of great things found a patent,
All neatly filed in English, French or Latin . . .
In 1790 we got our first shoelaces,
And '94’s cotton gin improved workplaces,
Dry cleaned clothes? Yes, 1821,
And ‘41’s cornstarch made cooking fun.
In ’45 our honored rubber band,
In ’76 the phone was very grand,
The earmuff came along in ’77,
An ‘83 shoes-last thing? Cobbling heaven.
In 1895 some strange machines,
Moved entertainment fun from stage to screen.
An electric player piano—’99,
With the needed aspirin following close behind.
1902, they mass-produced our glass,
The Kewpie Doll in ’10 was such a gas.
A diver’s suit for ‘Harry’ in ’21,
And ‘Who’s on First in ’44? Number one.
The first fax sent? The year was ’55,
In ’59 the ‘maser’ came alive.
‘Twas followed by the laser, one year hence,
In ’63, the hula hoop was immense.
There are a whole lot more that I have missed,
I simply hadn’t room upon this list.
‘Mad’ scientists invented one and all,
The patents came in March. The best of all!

Karen asks, "Write for me, please?"
We write because she's our Big Cheese,
And we love her, you know that is true,

So this is what we writers do . . .

We craft a poem based on a theme,
With pencils, sharp, and eyes agleam,
Or at a 'puter screen, we stare,
Whilst sitting in our underwear,
(Okay, you're right, that is just me,
But, tell me, does it sound carefree?)
Each month we write and have such fun
We can't wait for another one,
Now this month, how well did I do?
Please go and see the others, too.

Karen of Baking In A Tornado: March Madness
Dawn of Cognitive Script: Mad As A Hatter: March Madness
Jules of The Bergham Chronicles: Mad, Mad World

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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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