Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Friday, June 23, 2017

Home Wreckers, Inc.

I really wanted to take Shop class.
Working with power tools. Smelling the aroma of freshly-sawn wood as you constructed your first-ever end table.
Making pottery and jewelry.
A handi-girl's dream.
But in 1970 (yes that's really when I started high school) at Erle Rivers High in Milk River, Alberta girls weren't allowed to take Shop class.
I know. Because I asked.
Moving on . . .
I, and the rest of the girls, took Home Economics. Home Ec., for short.
Or Home Wreck, as it was not-so-affectionately titled.
So we were 'Home-Wreckers'.
The place where we 'learned' to sew.
Cook.
Clean.
And generally find our way around running a home.
Once I got past not being able to take Shop, I really had fun.
I sewed a potholder. An apron.
And a little purple linen dress with the sleeves in backwards.
Sigh.
I baked cookies. Made Chicken-a-la-King served in little toast cups.
And Gourmet Hot Dogs.
I learned the proper way to scour pots (and the sink).
Scrub a floor.
And generally make my house squeaky clean.
Sew straight. Cook carefully. And scrub hard.
I did pass. With unremarkable marks.
And, surprisingly, I actually used some of the things I learned.
And still do today.
There is a codicil:
Now my brother . . .
Yes, they allowed boys to take Home Ec. 
For one glorious week sometime during the year.
And yes, I know it wasn't fair . . .
My brother remembers Home Wreck differently.
He remembers cooking.
Something he excels at today.
And hunting for mice with frying pans and spatulas.
Boys make everything more fun.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dining Car

I probably don’t have to tell you that Canada is a large country.
In bygone years, the men who manned the trains crisscrossing it spent a long time aboard those trains.
A long time.
In those days, they spent much of the trip and all of their downtime in the little caboose as it clicked faithfully along the rails at the tail end of the train. It became their little ‘home away from home’. There, they did their visiting, sleeping, reading, game-playing, cooking and eating.
Let’s discuss these last two for a moment . . .
One group, in an effort to be fair, took it in turns to cook and wash up.
They had one rule: If anyone criticized the cooking in any way, their turn was accelerated instantly through the queue and they found themselves with spatula (or spoon) in hand for the next meal.
Yeah. Probably best to keep your mouth shut unless you had a hankering to take over as cook.
So the men silently choked down whatever they were given. No matter how unpalatable.
They still had to take their turn when it came, but at least they weren’t handed the apron at a moment’s notice.
One man in the group seemed singularly unable to create anything remotely appetizing. Or even edible.
Yeah. We’re definitely not talking gastronomic ecstasy here.
His friends were enduring his most recent effort, silently forking down breakfast.
Or what passed for breakfast.
One man poked disconsolately (real word!) at the blackened bit of char that had started life as an egg.
The cook narrowed his eyes, his hand tightening spasmodically on the spatula.
This is my story. I’ll imagine it how I want . . .
The man looked up and forced a smile at the cook. “Hank,” he said. “You burned the eggs.”
Hank smiled slowly and moved toward him, already extending his cooking utensil of choice.
“Which is truly remarkable,” his friend added, “Because it’s just how I like ‘em!”
Creative criticism.
It’s an art.
P.S. The trains that span our great country no longer pull a caboose behind them. With faster trains and shorter hauls between stops—and with improvements in technology—they simply aren’t needed.
I miss them.

The cover for my book, Daughter of Ishmael is once more in the news!
Having won the contest last week, it is now in the running for a larger prize.
Could you go to: http://indtale.com/polls/creme-de-la-cover-contest
And give it your vote!
You know I'll love you forever!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

All You Need

Finished at last.
Note: Large silver quonset (Center)
House, far left.
For one summer, the Stringams lived in a quonset.
Between moving from one ranch to another.
And waiting for our house to be finished.
You can read about it hereherehereherehereherehere, or here.
(It was a long summer . . .)
We had electricity, but no indoor plumbing or heat.
It could easily have been an ordeal.
My ultra-organized mother made it an adventure.
But even SuperMom couldn't control the weather.
And summers must end.
Especially in Canada.
It had been getting colder.
Noticeably colder.
We could lay in our beds and see our breath.
A fact that made us reluctant to leave said beds.
And we were setting new records for getting dressed.
Mom was starting to gaze longingly at her nearly-finished house across the field.
The one that didn't yet have any indoor plumbing or heat.
Rather like the place she was living in.
But it did have one attractive attribute.
One modern convenience.
It had a fireplace.
Okay, well, maybe not such a modern convenience.
Moving on . . .
Mom had been nervously studying the weather forecast every day.
And eyeing the house.
Which crept all-too-slowly towards completion.
Which would come first?
Winter?
Or her beautiful new home?
And then, the day arrived when all discussion became moot.
Because no one tells winter when to arrive.
Which it did.
With a fury.
A not-so-rare September blizzard.
We had a little lead time.
Schools were quickly closed to give students time to bus home.
Anyone who's ever been caught out on the shelter-less prairies in a blizzard knows that that is something to be avoided at all costs.
When we arrived at the quonset, it was to see Mom and Dad frantically packing.
For the next couple of hours, we carted carloads of necessities from the quonset to the house.
By late afternoon, though, the time was definitely up.
One could no longer see to drive.
Even in the barnyard.
We would have to make do with what had already been hauled.
Mom started organizing.
A few hours later, everyone was quite comfortably settled in the one room of the new house that was inhabitable.
The downstairs family room.
Mom had bedrolls laid out.
An electric stove set up.
And ropes strung to hang things on.
The kids were soon fed and in bed.
The dishes washed and stacked.
Mom still didn't have indoor plumbing.
In fact, nothing in the house worked.
And there was a monster storm was raging outside.
But Mom was doing something she had been dreaming about since she first set foot in the quonset, months before.
Sitting in front of a fire.
With every part of her warm at the same time.
Life was good.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Printed Love

Grade Twelve English 30.
My favourite class of all time.
What could possibly be better than reading books and stories and then talking about them?
Or of writing your own?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Our teacher was a veteran of many, many years. She had taught each of my three elder siblings and survived.
And now it was my turn.
Most of the time, I was fairly quiet in her class - choosing mostly to listen as the conversations went on around me. Keeping my opinions to myself, except when they could be submitted in a written format.
My grades were good.
We were working our way through a thick volume of short stories. Some exciting. Some bizarre. Some sweet and romantic.
It was during this last that I came to grief.
Let me explain . . .
We were reading a story about a man who saw a beautiful hand-made doll in the window of a local shop. The doll affected him greatly. It seemed to 'speak' to him.
He purchased it and tried to find out more about it and the person who had made it.
He discovered that the doll and others like it were made locally and that a woman usually brought them in to the shop a few at a time.
He tracked down the woman.
She was not the artist.
Instead, she kept the real doll-maker a virtual prisoner, and forced her to keep making dolls, which were then sold.
The imprisoned doll-maker was justifiably sad and put all of the love she would have given her unborn children into her dolls. Which was why they were so beautiful.
The man fell in love with the captive doll-maker, stole her away and married her.
And they lived happily ever after.
Okay, I admit it, when I read this story, I discovered that I'm a romantic.
I loved it.
Loved the 'happily ever after' ending.
I was excited for the discussion to start . . .
“How many of you liked this story?” the teacher asked.
My hand shot up.
Then slowly lowered as I realized that I was the only person in the class who had raised one.
“This story was drivel!” the teacher said. “Absolute tripe!” She stomped around the front of the class. “Stupid romantic nonsense! Waste of good print! Waste of time!”
She added several more derisive comments, then stopped and stared at me.
My hand was back on my desk.
“Well, I thought it was romantic!” One of the other girls tried to come to my aid.
The teacher snorted. “Hmph! Don't know why it was included in this book! Maybe as an example of lousy writing!”
The class was silent.
“Asinine garbage! Should be torn out of the book!” She glared around. “Any other thoughts?”
Let me put it this way . . . the discussion following this story didn't take up much time.
The story was given a brief technical reckoning, then dismissed.
And the class moved on to the next story.
I moved with them, reading and responding to my assignments.
Suspense.
Mystery.
Humour.
But I never forgot my first romantic story.
I read and re-read it.
Loving it more each time.
Mmmm.
Romance.
I still think I was right.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Back of His Head

I was visiting my folks, we had had a nice day,
I’d been married three weeks, had been living ‘away’.
“There’s just one thing I hate about marriage,” I said.
“When he goes out the door. It’s the back of his head.”

“I wish he could stay at home always. With me.”
Dad smiled, “You’ll be glad when he goes, Hon, you’ll see.”
“With your work and your chores, he’ll just be in the way,
You’ll be glad for the back of his head every day.”

Now I have to admit often Dad had it right,
With his bits of advice and his splendid insight.
But, frankly, in this, well Dad’s counsel was flawed,
(I still marvel at this ‘cause that really was odd!)

And for forty-one years now, my Husby’s left home,
Dressed in his best, with his hair freshly combed.
His tie in its place and his briefcase in hand,
With footsteps so sure, his position, he’s manned.

And each day as I stood there, to bid him good-bye,
I have to admit, there were tears in my eyes.
But happiness bloomed when, once more, he’d return,
Worn out from his day, as our living, he’d earned.

But something quite different has happened today,
‘Cause this was the last time I’ll send him away.
Today, he retires. Yes his work life is done,
And from here on I’ll spend my days with ‘HoneyBun’!

So, Daddy, I know that you’re watching from ‘there’.
I know, your advice you dispensed ’cause you cared.
But in this you were wrong, Dad. You have to agree,
I’m happy ‘cause Husby’ll be home now, with me!

Mondays are for Poetry!
My good friends Jenny and Delores agree with me!
Head on over and see how their week is starting!
You'll be glad you did!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Choke This Down

Chokecherry syrup.
Delicious in so many ways.
The digging out of the 'berry pails' wasn't always a reason for celebration.
When Mom headed towards the saskatoon bushes, yes.
But when the car turned to the chokecherry patch.
Not so much.
Don't get me wrong, we loved the end product of both enterprises.
But the picking of saskatoons also involved interim rewards. ie. the eating of said berries.
Chokecherries?
Again, not so much.
Fresh from the bush, they were . . . how shall I say this genteel-ly . . .?
Icky.
In fact, before any of the bright red berries passed our lips, they had to be cooked and treated.
And added upon.
And poured into jars.
As jam.
Or even better, syrup.
You have to know that there was nothing quite like homemade chokecherry syrup on Mom's fluffy pancakes.
Mmmmm.
Where was I?
Oh, yes.
Syrup.
It was a great family favourite.
My Husby's mother made fabulous chokecherry syrup as well.
Every year.
She then dispensed bottles of it to eagerly awaiting offspring.
It went fast.
As soon as one bottle emptied, another took its place.
And therein (good word) lies a tale . . .
We had been using one bottle of syrup.
Then, as often happens in a household where ten people are sharing the fridge, our little bottle got pushed to the back and hidden behind a bottle of pickles.
I should explain, here, that we always purchased everything edible in gi-normous (made-up word denoting humongous-ness) sizes.
Because mealtime for our bunch strongly resembled the feeding of a threshing crew.
So the idea of a quart-sized bottle being hidden behind a monstrous jar shouldn't be too much of a surprise.
Moving on . . .
There our little jar remained.
While I opened another.
Which was subsequently used.
And replaced.
Some months later, when I finally reached the back of our fridge, I discovered our forgotten, woefully neglected little bottle of chokecherry syrup.
Dismayed at the thought of lost deliciousness, I opened the lid.
And sniffed.
Huh.
Weird.
Probably, I should mention that neither of us drink alcohol.
What follows makes more sense if I do . . .
“Grant, what's wrong with this chokecherry syrup?” I asked. “It smells . . . funny.”
“Funny, how?”
“Well, funny.”
I handed him the jar.
He sniffed. “I think you've created chokecherry wine, honey.” he said, grinning at me.
“What? How did I do that?”
“Fruit. Sugar. Neglect.”
Huh. So that's how it's done . . . “So what do I do with it now?”
“Well I know someone who would probably enjoy it!”
We took it to our friend, who looked at it.
Swirled it around in the jar.
Sniffed it.
Then finally tasted it.
He looked at us. “Best chokecherry wine I've ever had,” he said, grinning.
Trust the two teetotallers to do it up right.
From the chokecherry patch, through Mom's kitchen (and fridge), to a tavern near you.
Bottom's up!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Losing the Thumb (War)

Oh, sure. It looks harmless enough now . . .
Washing and scrubbing and blow-drying and trimming.
And brushing and brushing and brushing.
And clipping.
And trimming again.
And no, this isn't the local hairdressing salon on Prom day.
It's the local barn, as the local ranchers get their local cattle ready for show.
Oh, there are a few differences. The cattle have hair in more places, for one thing. They are a fair amount larger. They seldom cooperate.
And said grooming is sometimes dangerous.
Not things the average hairdresser worries about.
Moving on . . .
The first thing that must be accomplished before grooming can begin, is restraint.
Not us. Them.
Oddly enough, most cattle don't like the idea of getting wet.
And soapy.
And they like, even less, the sound of electrical gadgets in their vicinity.
They tend to head for the nearest far-away place.
With enthusiasm.
On the Stringam Ranch, restraint was accomplished by running them into a 'head-gate'.
A contraption designed to snap shut just behind the head and hold the animal, in an upright position, ready for grooming.
Picture a hairdresser, when she has tilted her patient back over the sink to wash . . .
Okay. Know what? Don't think of a hairdresser at all.
Because none of that applies here.
Back to my story . . .
With the animal thus confined, grooming can begin.
Simple.
But the fact is that when one gets up close and personal with something that outweighs one by 15 times, things can sometimes get . . . interesting.
Case in point:
We were grooming the two-year-old bulls.
For those who might not know, they are the male cattle.
Don't be mislead but their age.
Toddlers, they aren't.
Most of them weigh anywhere from 1500 to 2000 pounds.
Most of that muscle.
And bone.
With just a touch of aggression.
And a bit of stupidity.
I should explain, here, that a head gate works because the animal coming towards it can see daylight through it.
They lunge for what they see as freedom.
Now I'd like you to imagine the force 2000 pounds of solid muscle and bone can create when it is properly motivated.
Force which is brought to a crushing, bruising halt by the solid head gate as it snaps shut.
I know what you're thinking.
Probably best to keep one's hands and feet and appendages out of the way.
I didn't.
Remember the 'dangerous' part?
It comes in here.
Unthinkingly, I had rested my right hand on one of the uprights of the head gate.
And was watching as the next victim customer approached.
With alacrity. (Oooh. Good word!)
The bull hit the gate.
Then, realizing that he couldn't get out that way, immediately pulled back.
It was the pulling back that saved my hand.
Which had been caught between the upright and the metal plate that it snapped against.
Absorbing the entire force from 2000 pounds of mass.
On the run.
If the bull hadn't reacted as he had, my thumb would have been neatly and completely removed.
With surgical precision.
By the sharp, metal plate.
As he reared back, I gasped and jerked my hand away.
Then slumped against the fence as blackness threatened.
Dad looked at me curiously.
Everything had happened so fast that he hadn't seen it.
Wordlessly, I held out my hand.
The imprint of the plate could be plainly seen in the heavy, leather glove that I wore.
Which glove was also instrumental in saving my thumb.
Gently, Dad removed the glove.
As I gasped and swore breathed heavily.
The skin hadn't been broken, though there was a lively line of red where the plate had hit.
I was rushed to emergency, but subsequent x-rays showed that the bones hadn't even been broken.
A miracle.
When the pain and swelling subsided several weeks later, I was left with a numb thumb (something that continued for the next two years), and though the skin hadn't broken, a scar, which I carry to this day.
I learned some valuable things.
  1. When a piece of equipment carries the warning: Please keeps hands clear, there's a reason for the warning.
  2. Inattention begets injury.
and
  1. Two-year-old bulls look just fine the way they are.
  2. Fussing not required.
  3. Or appreciated
Mom always told me, and I quote, “You have to suffer to be beautiful.”
She never pointed out that I would suffer.
And something else would be beautiful.
I probably should have paid attention.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Barbeque With Spirits

I have to admit that I really never know what my sister is going to do next.
There are probably those of you who would label her ‘Cuckoo’.
And I’m not disagreeing.
But I prefer the term: interesting. And since I moved in with her a couple of years ago, life has never been dull . . .
Reggie and I were sitting, enjoying the first sunshine in four days as it poured like warm honey through the picture window and across the hardwood. For once in what seemed like forever, my feet were warm.
I was absorbed in my latest mystery thriller and Reggie? well he was just absorbed, slowly swaying back and forth as he stared at the wall.
You never know with Reggie . . .
Norma bustled into the room.
I glanced up at her, then dropped my book and stared.
She was wearing a helmet. Old fashioned. Leather. Hockey, I think. Or football. It was obviously too large and had slid down until it almost covered her eyes.
Oh, and did I mention she was clutching a jar of relish? I probably should have.
I felt my eyebrows go up. Likely the most exercise I get in this household.
She was talking to herself. “Now if I just dispense it properly—” Her voice dwindled to a mutter.
Okay, those of you who know Norma are thinking this really isn’t unusual behavior. You’re probably right. But I simply couldn’t leave it alone. “Norma.”
“Hmmm?” She shoved her helmet up and looked at me.
“Ummm—what are you doing?”
“We’re having a barbeque!”
“We are.” Okay, yes, it probably should have sounded like a question, because this was the first I had heard of it, but with Norma, everything ends up a statement of fact.
“Oh, yes! She’s coming and I’ve told her to invite her friends!”
“A barbeque.”
“Yes!”
I wasn't even going  to ask about the guests. “Okay, the relish is explained. But why the helmet?”
She pushed up on her headgear. “Well, you know we need to be cautious when dealing with open flames and a helmet will certainly decrease—” Her voice faded again.
I propped my head on one hand and stared at her. “You’re—planning on sticking your head in the barbeque?”
“Pfff! That would just be silly!” She waved one hand and started forward once more. Then she stopped. “What do you suppose ghosts like on their hot dogs?”
And she was worried about looking silly? Yeah, this was a conversation I never saw me having.
She held up the jar. “I was thinking ketchup and relish.”
“Ummm—”
She propped the backs of her hands on her hips. “A little mindfulness will make any party a success!”
I smiled. I had wondered if the word ‘mind’ would come into this conversation. As in ‘someone’s lost theirs’.
She lifted the jar and stared at it, shoving her helmet up once more. “Perhaps if I—”
Again her voice faded away.
Suddenly something flew out of the open kitchen door. Something distinctly jar-like and yellow.
It hit the floor just in front of Norma, shattering and spattering my sister’s legs as it spread its contents over a four-foot radius.
Both of us stared down at it.
I looked at Norma. “Well, I guess we can rule out mustard.” 


Use Your Words
Each month Karen of Baking in a Tornado give her groupies an exercise. A collection of words from their co-groupies. Everyone submits words. And Karen re-submits. 
My words this month were: dispense ~ decrease ~ mindfulness ~ helmet ~ relish
And were submitted by my friend Rena at: http://theblogging911.com

 Admit it. This is fun.


Care to see what the others have done?
Head on over!
Baking In A Tornado
Spatulas on Parade
Part-time Working Hockey Mom
The Blogging 911                   
The Bergham Chronicles                  
Simply Shannon                            
Southern Belle Charm                       
The Global Dig                                  
Climaxed                                              

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Breakfast Carbon

Daddy at 5.
Background: his brother, Bryce.
Ignore the gun . . .
Dad was the youngest in a family of 11 children.
He had never been anywhere.
When Dad was five, his father decided he was old enough, finally, to go along when he took supplies to one of the family cow camps - about 35 miles away over roads that were mostly trails across the prairie.
The two of them started out.
Though the day had started out beautiful, the weather quickly turned sour.
As often happens in Southern Alberta.
And before they could start for home, a blizzard had blown in.
Travel quickly went from difficult to impossible.
Granddad decided that he and his youngest son would have to bunk with the rotund keeper (who also served as cook, bottle washer, chore boy, range rider and chief spinner of horrendous tales) of the camp.
Dad was beyond excited.
It was his very first time sleeping away from home.
The next morning dawned bright and clear.
Something else that often happens in Southern Alberta . . .
And Granddad decided that travel home would be attempt-able.
Before the two of them left, however, they were offered breakfast by the keeper.
He made bacon and eggs and, because the old, wood-burning, camp stove was rather unpredictable, biscuits that were burned black.
At first, Dad turned up his nose at the sight of the large, black lumps, but, after seeing his father eat a couple, he decided to try.
They weren't too bad.
He even got through a second.
Safely back at home a few hours later, as they were sitting down to lunch, his mother asked how he had liked it at the camp.
Dad was quite excited about the whole experience and talked about it enthusiastically.
He wished he could have stayed.
His Mom asked what he had eaten for breakfast.
It had been great, he enthused.
And he had eaten all of it!
"What did you have?" his mother asked.
"Bacon 'n eggs 'n coal!" Dad said proudly.
No wonder people were hardier back then.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Putting the 'Father' in Fatherhood

It starts out with a snuffle--a voice he's never heard before,
And suddenly, he's a Father with a whole new world in store.
The time goes by, he's changed a thousand diapers, maybe more,
His hair's grown grey along the sides, his back is bent and sore,
He knows feeding, changing--s'expert on most everything that's sold,
Imagine how much more he'll know when his child is two days old . . .

The years fly past, his baby's reached the great old age of three,
That wondrous time when head and hands reach *ouch* above the knee,
The scars have healed from babe's first tooth, the child can even talk,
The tiny hard hat's put away--his little one can walk.
The child is toilet-trained, survived each illness, scratch and sore,
Dad knows it all. Good thing because his wife just had two more.

His babes grow tall--or he grows small--there's quite a shift in size,
He's not as smart as he once was, through his adolescent's eyes.
He's older now and he can see both sides of any fight,
But it matters not 'cause like his child, he knows that he is right.
And as he watches, painfully, the sometimes good and bad,
There's one thing that will never change--the fact that he's their dad.

And so it goes, he does his best, survives on little rest,
He goes to work each day, comes home and simply does his best.
There is little recognition for the work he does each day,
A baby hug, a chocolate kiss may be his only pay.
But he strangles his impatience as he watches tiny hands,
And he gently speaks when teenage heads just do not understand.

His prods and pushes--anger, too, he tempers, 'cause he cares,
His one reward, his children's love, he treasures through the years.

Each month, Karen of Baking in a Tornado gathers the poets in her circle and gives us a challenge.
The theme for this month is Fatherhood.
Zip over to the others and see what they've created!
Karen of Baking In A Tornado: Fatherhood
Dawn of Spatulas On Parade: My Boys Are Dads
Lydia of Cluttered Genius: “Daddy Wins”

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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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