Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Sunday, February 7, 2016

We're Off!

Ready for anything . . .
My Husby loves to travel,
It’s just the way he is,
North or South; East or West,
The world is truly his.

He loves to take me with him,
(It’s good I love to go)
Foreign or domestic,
Above or Down Below.

But there’s one thing problematic,
One teeny, little blight - 
To see most things he wants to see,
We have to take a flight.

To get us two from here to there
We hurtle through the air,
While all around me talk and eat,
I curl up in despair.

He says we’re safe, quotes stats galore,
The balanced dance of gear.
I see a tube with flimsy wings,
That gives me naught but fear.

This time, our target’s tropical,
We'll cruise and eat and swim,
But though I will be happy there,
The problem's flying in.

I love to go to a'travelling,
And be sunstroke aware.
I’ll treasure each small moment,
The pain is getting there!

Tomorrow morning, Husby and I head out for three wonderful weeks of sea and sun. We'll talk when I get home . . . 
I'll miss you! 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Adventure Calling

Sometime, I’d like to take a trip,
To parts mysterious and deep,
‘Cross vast and strange new lands, I’d skip,
Go tooling in my trusty jeep.

Taking everything in stride,
No mayhem, monsters, storms or signs
Would startle me or turn the tide,
From exploration I’d designed.

I’d walk on lands both near and far,
And check out strains indigenous,
No qualms, no fears of things bizarre.
No misgivings to discuss.

I’d leave my sterile world behind,
And print my own exciting map,
Feeling free and unconfined,
Adventures falling in my lap.

I’d learn the jargon: trudge, poop deck,
Adventure, survey, navigate,
Tramp, spelunk and cruise and trek,
Ramble, hike, triangulate.

I’d do all this, and without fear,
Though one thing dims my zeal somewhat,
To see those worlds both far and near,
I’d have to get up off my butt.

Just a note: Two more days and I will be getting up off my butt . . .

Friday, February 5, 2016

On Cow Watch

Don’t ask me how he got it,
(I don’t know anyway!)
But Ol’ Jones owned a golden watch,
‘Twas with him every day.

Then, one sad day, he lost it,
Out, somewhere in the plain.
Mid grazing cows and antelope,
And miles of golden grain.

For hours his household searched there,
(It was that dear, you see),
But none could catch one glint of gold,
Though days were spent on knees.

The watch was not recovered,
And years would pass away,
At times, Ol’ Jones still pondered hard
‘Bout where it went that day.

Then, one day, took to market,
A grand old ‘herbivore’,
It was her time, the poor old dear,
To serve the carnivores.

The butcher soon discovered,
(With meat before him spread),
A glint of gold in the old girl’s gut,
(She’d clearly been well fed.)

The watch had been discovered,
And this I must admit,
Restored to the old farmer there,
When it’d be cleaned a bit.

Now the part that’s hard to ‘swallow’,
Is this part coming now . . .
For the golden watch was running true!
After years inside the cow.

Now how could this one object,
So miraculously found,
Survived the years down deep inside,
While keeping itself wound?

The experts speculated,
With their investigations done.
That the churning of the stomach there,
Had made the gold watch run.

Well now you’ve heard the story,
As my dad told it to me,
Of farmer, cow and running watch,
Do you, like me, believe?

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Four-Footed Saviour

Us. And Mike as a puppy.

We had a dog. 

Big dog. 
Saint Bernard. 
Very protective. 
He thought nothing of risking his very life defending us from such dangerous things as – the cat. Tumbleweeds. 
The occasional cardboard box, blowing in the wind. 
In the history of the world, no one was safer. 
My parents could relax, knowing that Mike was on duty . . .
It was summer.
Summer meant swimming on the ranch.

How convenient that the south fork of the Milk River curved  around the ranch buildings like loving arms.
Baking in the hot sun while lying on the sandy shore.
Looking up through the cloudy water to see the particles of grit suspended in the light.
The very best of times.
Back to Mike.
Such bliss needed to be shared with our very best friend.
Well it seemed like a good idea at the time . . .
We didn’t realize that Mike was a mountain dog. Swimming hadn’t been programmed into his non-rewritable brain. 
He knew only two things. 
And saving people. 
At first everything went well. 
We swam. 
Mike ran up and down the bank, barking frantically. 
Then, the problems started.
If anyone ventured near enough to grab, he did so by whatever protruded. 
And drag them further up onto the beach.
To his horror, the ‘saved’ person would inevitably extricate themselves and, without even a thank you, nullify all his best efforts by charging back into the milky waters.
It was more than the 'saving people' part of him could stand.
He started venturing further and further into the uber-dangerous, monster filled water, seeking someone to save. 
He'd find a limb. 
Or a backside. 
Then grab it, and whoever it was attached to, and drag them out of the water kicking and screaming. 
How happy they must be that he was on hand to save them! 
Listen to the sound of their relief! 
He would bark happily and charge in for the next heroic act . . .
He never managed to drown anyone that day. 
A true miracle. 
And we learned from the experience.
After that, when we went swimming, our hero guarded the garage. 

From the inside.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

More Than a Bargain

Most of the ranching families of my acquaintance were hard-working, honest folk; generous and helpful and willing to pitch in if ever a colleague or neighbour—or even a stranger—needed it.
Maybe it had something to do with the isolation their chosen profession necessitates. Miles between neighbours. Vast tracts of land stretching forever, inhabited only by cows, antelope and the occasional tumbleweed.
My grandfather, George Lewis Stringam (a member of this noble and notable group), was a man of scrupulous honesty and a wonderfully overdeveloped sense of fairness.
Qualities he passed on to his sons . . .
Uncle Owen, eldest of Grandpa Stringam’s nine sons was a rancher like his father. For some years, he ranched near the hamlet of Blindloss in southern Alberta.
While there, he made the acquaintance of a young, newly-minted and recently-married rancher, Bradley. The two men helped each other out on several occasions and became good friends.
When Owen sold his ranch and bought another near Duchess, Alberta, the two families kept up their friendship.
A couple of years later, Bradley came to Owen for advice. He had a chance, he said, to sell his ranch and go farming. The offer had been made for his land and he had one day to consider it and give an answer.
Owen counselled him to wait. At that point in time, 1948, there was an embargo on cattle sales in their area. An embargo that everyone expected to be lifted at any moment.
Once it was off, cattle prices would soar.
But young Bradley didn’t want to wait for some future event that could possibly be far in the future.
Giving in, Uncle Owen sat with him and figured a price for his land, buildings, cattle, horses and machinery. Then suggested a compromise.
If Bradley refused the present offer, Owen would come down and look over the land. And, if it was as good as he remembered, he would pay $5000.00 more than what they had just estimated.
Happily, Bradley agreed and the deal was struck.
Owen duly came, looked over the land, and, after once more cautioning Bradley to wait for the embargo to be lifted, agreed to the greater price.
Papers were drawn up by the bank. A down payment changed hands.
And Bradley and his wife headed for the last time toward the home they had just sold.
But the story doesn’t end there.
As they drove, an announcement came over the radio that the embargo had just been lifted. Cattle were selling for twice what they had brought only four hours before.
The couple turned around and hurried back to Owen, asking that he tear up the papers and forget the deal.
Owen refused, saying that he had repeatedly warned Bradley and that they had made a more-than-fair agreement.
Disappointed, the couple left once more.
But for the next two months, Bradley kept calling, asking Owen to reconsider.
Owen and his brother, Bryce, took a portion of their newly-acquired herd to market.
And made enough to pay for the entire ranch.
Plus $6000.00.
The two brothers decided to do something unusual.
They would offer the remainder of the herd—some 240-plus head—back to Bradley.
Then throw in the ranch and machinery.
As a gift.
Nope. Owen definitely wasn’t about to cancel a bargain.
But he didn’t have a problem making a new . . . and infinitely better . . . one.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Swinging Away

Photo Credit
Dances are fun.
Even for the unenlightened (ie. non-dancer).
In my Dad’s younger days, dancing was one of few forms of entertainment.
Alongside books (Google it) and games.
Let’s face it. It was the 1930s. Electricity was just out of the gate. Radio was the sought-after-but-not-yet-universally-available ‘new’ home amusement and only Jules Verne or H.G. Wells had any conception of electronic devices.
Soooo . . . dances.
Dad went to a lot of them. Some at his school, but most in the basement of the local church.
Taught basic steps by his Sunday School teacher, he tried to wow the ladies in his adolescent circle. In those days, it wasn’t really a necessity. Everyone danced with everyone, regardless of dance ability or social prowess.
One evening, his future brother-in-law, Ken, was one of the dancers.
A Virginia Reel was introduced.
I should probably mention, if you are not already aware, that the Virginia Reel is a fun, old-time dance that involves a lot of swinging. And/or whooping.
Usually at the same time.
But occasionally for different reasons . . .
Ken’s partner was a woman of . . . well, let’s just say she was large and leave it at that.
Ken was a stick of a man. Tall and slender.
The two had been doing well to this point in the dance. Then came the swing.
Hooking elbows in the tried and true technique, they started in.
Now, normally, there is no cause for alarm during this manoeuvre.
The partners simply swing around and return to their usual positions.
Except when there is . . . enthusiasm.
And a difference in weights.
As they swung, Ken felt himself being lifted right off his feet.
In a blind panic, he let go.
The woman went down on her . . . erm . . . posterior, and slid ten feet across the dusty, waxed floor; sweeping a nice, clean path two feet wide.
The dancers froze.
Then the whole room erupted into laughter.
The whole room.
Dancers and sliders.
Say what you will about dancing.
Even for the non-participant, it has entertainment potential.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Meeting Movements

See? 4-H. Totally important.
 I was raised on a ranch near the small town of Milk River, Alberta.
On the Alberta/Montana border.
Farming and ranching country.
We were, quite literally, children of the prairies.
Big brother, George. And calf.
And the highlight of our young lives - the very pinnacle we could aspire to – was 4-H Calf Club.
Our world was small, I admit it.
Yep. When we turned the age of twelve, we could – at last! – join the calf club.
We learned many things there.
Of course, the main (and most obvious) were the care and feeding of your calf.
In my case, handled almost exclusively by my big brother, George.
Because he’s amazing. (Are you reading this, George?)
Big brother, Jerry, ditto.
But there was also the record keeping. (Which George completely refused to do for me. Sigh.)
And the monthly meetings.
Wherein (Oooh! Good word!) we were supposed to learn the proper, accepted, efficient way to run a gathering of that type.
I emphasize the words ‘supposed to’.
Because we didn’t.
In fact, at some point during many of our meetings, our current club president would throw up his hands and exclaim, in loud and carrying tones, “I don’t know why I do this! I’m getting outta here!”
Something he never did.
Returning to the idea of running a proper meeting . . .
Me. With glasses. And calf.
We had been taught that, if we had something to offer, we should do it in the form of a ‘motion’. As in: ‘I would like to make a motion.’ And then followed by ‘I move . . .’
We were getting it. We were.
One evening, the meeting had been going well.
Everyone had been unusually attentive.
And our leader hadn’t, even once, cried out in despair.
Then one shy young man stuck up his hand.
He was recognized by the ‘Chair’.
And he proceeded. “I-I-I w-would like to m-make a movement!”
There was silence. Then some sniggers.
Umm . . . first door down the hall? Says ‘boys’ on the door?
One of the leaders whispered into his ear, “Motion.”
“Motion!” he corrected himself, turning bright red. “I-I w-would like to make a motion!”
Things carried on.
But the mood had definitely been lightened.
Who says meetings have to be boring?
4-H. Don't you wish you were here?
The grand finale.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Size Matters

My youngest daughter and I were grocery shopping yesterday.
That in itself may seem unremarkable.
But, in the course of the conversation as we were wandering up and down aisles, she reminded me of something.
Allow me to share . . .
Our family is large. In a couple of ways.
Six kids, most of whom are over six feet in height.
When they were all still home, these large people ate large meals.
Back then, our supplies were, justifiably, bought in bulk.
It was a necessity if one didn’t want to shop for groceries every. Single. Day.
Which I didn’t.
Sooo . . . bulk.
To us, it was a normal way to live. Peanut butter, miracle whip, honey, pickles, salad dressings, oil, margarine and other foods by the pail. Ketchup in a bag. Soups in gallon containers. Large quantities were deposited in the cold storage according to directions. Then small containers were filled from larger containers and kept in the kitchen for easy access.
By the time the younger kids were helping with meal preparation, this had been the ongoing practice for as long as they’d been alive. Even the older kids had forgotten their ‘long-ago’ when food was purchased in normal sized containers.
We walked past a tub of margarine. I looked at it. “Huh. Remember when we bought margarine in that size?”
My daughter laughed. “I remember when we bought it in the five-gallon pail and I had to take a smaller container and fill it from the big one!” She went on. “One of my first discoveries when I moved away from home was that food comes in smaller containers. I thought they were so cute and tiny. Little jars of peanut butter and miracle whip. I even had to bring one home to show you.”
“I remember.”
“My roommates thought I was crazy.”
“That goes without saying.” For that comment, I got ‘the look’.
“A person learns so many things when you leave home.”
It’s true.
Life comes in all shapes and sizes.
Small, medium, large. Extra large.
The trick is finding which you need.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Barn(yard) Dance

Old Ranch. The barnyard is out there.
Near the  . . . ummm . . . barn.
My very first ranch memory occurred when I was two. 
I had my new little red cowboy boots on. I was ready for anything. 
Dad was out in the blacksmith shop and I knew he would be happy to see me. Certainly, I would be happy to see him and though there was a fence and a large barnyard between us, I decided to make the journey. 
I'm afraid I rather discounted the importance of . . . the Cow.
Oh, I knew she was there. I just didn't think it was important.
It was the custom in those days to take the calf away from the milk cow and only put the two of them together morning and evening, after the cow had been milked. That way, the cow’s production stayed very high, we were assured a constant supply of milk, and the calf received enough to ensure its proper growth.
A good system all around.
Except that one usually ended up with a rather irate, over-protective full-grown mama cow wandering at will in the barnyard. 
No problem. If you were an adult, or very fast.
I probably don't have to tell you - I was neither . . .
I approached the gate.
I don't know what it is about little children. But cows seem to think they are something dangerous. A dog, perhaps. Or a coyote or wolf.
I do know that this particular cow spotted me the moment I came into view.
And went into instant I-must-watch-this-creature-because-I-have-a-baby-and-who-knows-what-said-creature-may-do mode.
I stood just inside the gate and watched her. 
She looked . . . nervous. Twitchy.
Perhaps what she needed was some conversation!
Having been raised to nearly three on a ranch, I was fully confident of my ability to speak cow. I walked over to the fence, put my face against the bars of the gate and proceeded to bellow impressively. I don’t know what I said, but it must have been interesting because the cow began to make noises of her own. 
And then she started running feints at the gate. 
Being two, I thought she was merely trying to amaze me. I continued to ‘talk’. She continued to react.
We were communicating.
Finally, in a positive froth, she pounded over to the barn to make sure that her baby was still in his pen, unharmed. 
The way was clear for me to climb the fence and cross the no-man’s (or children's) land that was the barn yard. I proceeded to do so. 
I probably made it a few yards before she hit me. I don’t remember much about that part.
My mother takes over the story from there.
She had been working in the kitchen and keeping an eye on me through the window. She had seen me standing beside the gate. Suddenly, as with any toddler, I disappeared. She didn't waste time in searching. She knew instinctively where I had gone. She started out on the run, spotting me just as I dropped down from the fence in triumph.
On the cow side.
Mom’s sight was obscured for a few moments as she ran. 
Trees. Sweat. Whatever. 
By the time she again had me in her sights, I was down and the cow was turning for a second engagement.
Mom leapt the fence at a single bound (maybe she opened the gate and ran through, but this sounds better) reaching me just ahead of the black and white frenzy. 
She scooped me up and screamed for my Dad, while the cow tried to knock me out of her arms. For a few seconds, Mom avoided the angry, gesticulating cow by spinning, pirouetting gracefully.
There was some real ‘bull-fighter’ potential in my mother.
But soon, the cow tired of the performance and changed tactics. 
She decided that the best way to the child was through the mother. Fortunately this new ‘barn(yard) dance’ with me at the centre was cut short by the arrival of my enraged father.
When anyone, or anything, was threatening one of his children, my dad would . . . well let me put it this way. 
Mount Vesuvius. 
In work boots. 
Needless to say, in short order, the cow forgot all about her ongoing problems with me and  headed for the nearest far-away place with her tail tucked – figuratively speaking – between her legs, while a tear-stained toddler was being closely examined by two anxious parents. 
My only injuries were a couple of bruises and a red cowboy boot crushed flat. 
My sense of adventure remained unscathed.
My poor parents.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

'Modern' Archealogy

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In 1979, Husby and I moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, so he could complete his Master’s degree in history.
It was an interesting, eye-opening experience for a girl who had never been off the ranch for more than a few days.
We were there for eight months.
It was as long as I could be away from my beloved Alberta prairies.
But moving back to Alberta necessitated some commuting back and forth as he completed his thesis.
These trips, a necessity for him, were pure holidays for me.
One, in particular, stands out . . .
We had packed up another couple, parked our kids with our respective mothers, and headed out.
It was a joyous, happy group that talked and laughed our way across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
One evening, the four of us camped at Buffalo Pound Provincial Park, an historic buffalo hunting site just outside of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. (Yes, there really is a place called Moose Jaw.)  Years ago, native hunters used to drive herds of buffalo into the bogs in the area, dispatching them easily as they struggled in the mud.
Umm . . . ick.
Remember where I said that Husby’s thesis was in history?
Well, that would become important here . . .
 Because such sites are good places to find artifacts. Husby’s favourite pastime.
And what else would one want to do when holidaying?
Immediately after setting up camp, the two husbys set out, most notably looking for arrow heads.
We wives stayed at the campsite, visiting, preparing the evening meal and generally enjoying the outdoors and the fact that we weren’t sitting in a car.
About half-an-hour after they set out, our Husbys returned.
With broad grins denoting success.
“We found an arrowhead!” they announced.
“Really?” Okay, we wives were a little bit surprised. Pleased for them. But surprised.
“It really wasn’t that hard! We just looked around and there it was, laying right out in the open!”
“Well, let us see it! Let us see it!”
A hand was extended and there, in the palm, was indeed an arrowhead.
A real arrowhead.
Rubber. With a suction cup on one end.
Carbon dating is ongoing . . .

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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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