Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Un-natural Nature

Follow us! We know the way!
Our family was hiking.
The Fenlands Walk in beautiful Banff, Alberta.
A gorgeous two kilometres of shady trails, small bridges, and old forest next to the Bow River.
An easy walk for a group whose members ranged from six weeks to 69 years.
We discovered woodpeckers, squirrels, chipmunks, several ravens, and at least one bull elk.
Dozens of nests.
And, at last count, nine burrows.
Two members had fallen over tree roots and skinned their knees.
One had walked into a branch and gotten moss and/or bugs in her hair.
Three had been chased back onto the trail by Gramma.
One had run into a tree while looking . . . elsewhere.
Two slipped and soaked at least one shoe.
And one had to be nursed.
It was a fun, family type of outing.
Our favourite sort.
Beside the trail were the remains of a large, rotted tree.
A tree that had lived its life.
Perhaps a hundred years or so.
Been struck by lightening.
And then finished off by millions of carpenter ants.
A graceful, natural end to a monarch of the woods.
Our second son was explaining all of this to a rapt audience of five and six-year-olds.
He grabbed the top of the ancient trunk.
“And you see? This is what happened after the tree was killed,” he said, pulling it aside slightly to illustrate.
The entire trunk separated down the middle with a soggy crack.
Our son stared at the remains.
A bit stunned by what had just happened.
The kids were delighted.
They hadn't expected such a grand show on our little walk.
“Wow!” one of the cousins said to his son. “Your Dad just ripped that tree in half with his bare hands!”
His son grinned. “Yup,” he said, matter-of-factly. “My Dad is amazing.”
You can discover a lot of things when you walk through the woods with your family.
Not all of them are about nature.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Just Yesterday

We vacation in Banff, Alberta.
To our family, the most beautiful little corner of the world.
Smelling the sun-baked pines as we hike.
Tasting the pure, clear water.
Renewing our up-close-and-personal relationship with the mountains and all things forest.
This was our 24th year at the Rocky Mountain Resort.
Our family was raised here.
Our kids learned to swim in that pool.
Lob tennis balls across the net in that court.
Work out in that gym.
Follow those trails.
Paddle down that river.
Wonderful, sunny, happy times anticipated throughout the year.
Enjoyed fully and completely, then given a fond farewell until the next time.
This year was a bit different.
Many of our kids were here.
With their kids.
Our little two-bedroom apartment has, of necessity, grown to three similar-sized units.
With a different family filling each one.
There was much scurrying down the porch or across the bridge to the other apartments.
Much giggling and laughter as the cousins played together.
Movie night took up one entire living room/dining room/kitchen.
Just to accommodate the excited little watchers.
And we filled the pool.
One of our granddaughters, aged five, was just learning to swim.
For the first time, she announced that she no longer wanted to wear a life vest.
I was standing at one side of the pool as she swam to me from her mother on the opposite side.
“Kick your legs!” I called to her.
She swam furiously, finally touching my hands and standing up.
Glowing with accomplishment.
And quite suddenly, I was remembering saying and doing the exact same thing with her mother and aunts and uncles.
In the exact same spot.
I'm sure it was just yesterday.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Little Girl

Me. And my Daddy.
My first experience with the radio . . .

Mom must have heard the sobs.
She came out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a towel. “Diane?”
More sobs.
“Diane, where are you?”
She followed the heartbroken sounds to the couch.
To behind the couch.
To the little four-year-old who had crawled between the piece of furniture and the large picture window just behind.
I looked up at her.
Can’t you just see the little tear-stained face?
Mom smiled at me and reached out to pull me into her arms. “Diane, what’s wrong?”
The two of us sat down on the couch.
Mom dabbed at my face with her towel. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
“He left her, Mom!” I managed at last.
Mom stared at me. “Who? Left who?”
“He left her. His little girl. Why did he leave her?”
Mom’s face was a veritable cornucopia of expressions.
With a large dollop of confusion.
“Honey, what are you talking about?”
“The man!” I looked at her intently through drenched eyes. Surely she knew him. She had been listening to him. I reached out and grasped her arm, giving it a shake. “The man you were listening to!” I looked away. “He was so sad ‘cause he had to leave his little girl in gings-tin-down.” I looked back at her. “Why did he leave her?”
Mom’s face suddenly lit up. “Oh. The radio!” she said.
It was my turn to stare at her. “The radio?”
She cuddled me closer. “Honey, you were listening to a man singing on the radio!”
“But he left his little girl! He said!” I scrubbed at my nose with a slightly grubby hand. “And he was sad.”
Mom smiled. “It was just a song,” she said.
“But his little girl!” I couldn't get past the thought that, somewhere, there was a little girl who was missing her daddy.
“He’s not actually talking about a little girl . . .” Mom began.
“But he said!” I broke in. “I heard him! He said his little girl!”
“In this case he’s talking about his wife or sweetheart.” She tightened her arms around me. “Sometimes men call their wives or sweethearts, ‘little girl’.
I felt my face twisting into my favourite - and most effective - confused expression. “What?”
She nodded. “It’s just their way of saying, I love you.”
“Oh.” I thought about that for a minute.
Just then the front door opened.
Tears and forlorn little girls forgotten, I leaped down from Mom’s lap and headed for the front hall. “Daddy! It’s Daddy!”
Tall and strong, he was there to scoop me up. “How’s my little girl?” he said.

True story.
And here's the exact song, by the incomparable Harry Belafonte. Enjoy!
I have Kleenex . . .

Friday, September 26, 2014

Elixir of Life

Cool, clear water.
The Stringam ranch had plenty of it.
There was only one thing distinctive about it.
And I do mean 'stinc'.
Let me illustrate with a little aside . . .
My Husby's Gramma used to give her kids a dose of 'spring tonic' every year.
It consisted of sulphur mixed in lard.
Eaten from a spoon.
But she maintained that it kept them healthy . . .
Well, on the Stringam ranch, we never had to be dosed with this old wives remedy.
Because we got it merely by living there.
Yes, our water was right full of sulphur.
I am not making this up.
Our water was plentiful and healthful.
But reeked like rotten eggs.
The smell of it permeated everything and everyone.
And, oddly enough, we loved it.
We drank it.
Bathed in it.
Cleaned with it.
Offered it, chilled, to anyone who happened to drop by.
And snickered silently when they would hold their noses to drink it.
Poor, unenlightened visitors.
Our animals happily drank it, too.
In fact, when we took our cattle to show, we always had to take time to get them accustomed to the water in the new place.
Most places added chlorine.
Now THAT really stank.
And tasted worse.
I miss our good old sulphur water.
That elixir that kept us healthy and strong.
There is an addendum . . .
The people who bought the old ranch from us hauled their drinking water.
And finally drilled a new well.
I can only shake my head.
Strange, weird people.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pony 101

My sister on Nipper. He of the quick feet. And sharp teeth.

Horses are smart.

A little too smart.
At times, they are almost human in their need to be entertained.
Their ability to problem solve.
And their dislike of anything work-related.
Especially ponies. The height-challenged members of the horse family.
One such pony, Shay, a little grey Welsh/Arab, was uncannily adept at removing riders.
She would run herself along the fence wall, scrubbing off any hapless humans who may have been astride.
Or, barring that, would duck her head and drop her rider . . . any rider . . . onto the ground.
Fortunately, it was a short drop.
In fact, she was so clever at removal, that the only way she could be controlled was to blindfold her.
That made for an interesting ride.
Nipper, a small, black Shetland cross was known for two things.
His little . . . nippy . . . teeth. Thus the name.
And his own way of avoiding work.
Once his rider was aboard, he would immediately scurry – and I do mean scurry – under the clotheslines.
I should probably mention that there wasn't a lot of clearance.
Many a rider was quickly and neatly - with almost surgical precision – removed.
His patented technique was foiled however, when his rider, my sister, learned to duck.
Surprise turned to chagrin when he looked back after a clothesline pass and realized that his rider was still aboard.
Back to the drawing board.
Pinto, our cleverly named black and white Shetland pony, had the unique ability to ignore all attempts at enforcing a forward direction.
Or any form of speed.
Shouting and screaming in frustration.
He was happily oblivious.
His downfall came when his rider – me – learned to lead him far, far from home.
Then mount up and turn his head back towards the barn.
Man, those little legs could go.
Star, another Shetland with a – go figure – star on his forehead, was actually quite well-mannered.
Until there were other horses around.
He was definitely one who was influenced by the company he kept. Then his innate talent would show itself.
He could ignore any and all attempts at enforcement-by-rein and follow the crowd.
Carrying his little, red-faced-with-anger passenger to the nearest far-away place.
When these ponies weren't being called upon to perform menial service, they could be found, at any and all hours, with their heads in the feed trough.
The only thing that surpassed their ability to avoid work was their ability to eat.
Why did we keep them around?
They were short and easy to get on.
They were gentle.
And if we could make them do what we wanted, we could handle any problem.
Education by pony.
It should be a course in college.
And Shammy. Pony Perfection. She without faults . . .

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Would you argue with that face?
What is it about some people?
They can walk into a room and you know, instantly, that they are a force to be reaconed with.
Growing up, my Dad was like that.
He had a terrific sense of humour.
But if he ever cleared his throat and gave you that blue-eyed stare.
You ran for cover.
And it wasn't even as though there was a threat of violence.
Although his knuckle, properly applied to the top of one's head, could roll your eyes around a bit.
He just had 'it'.
Dad was the family disciplinarian.
Oh, Mom tried.
She did a lot of talking.
Actually got quite animated.
But it was Dad who was instantly obeyed.
And it carried forward into the next generation.
Allow me to illustrate . . .
My Husby and I had gone out for the evening.
Our (then) three boys were being cared for by my parents.
It had been a fun time for them.
Games with Gramma and Grampa.
And then, bedtime.
Gramma bathed them.
Dressed them in clean pyjamas.
And tucked them into bed.
The youngest in a crib.
The two oldest in the double bed in the spare room.
All were told, firmly, to go to sleep.
Only the baby obeyed.
The older two laughed and giggled.
Bounced and played.
Several times, Gramma marched in.
Demanding quiet and slumber.
She was given neither.
Finally, she brought in the big guns.
She sent Grampa.
My Dad opened the bedroom door.
Two little boys turned to look at him.
“That's enough!” he said. “Sleep!”
Then he closed the door.
Silence descended.
A while later, Mom went to check on the boys.
Both were sound asleep.
But how they were asleep . . !
She gently closed the door and returned to the front room.
“Mark, what were the boys doing when you went to the bedroom door?”
Dad looked up and frowned thoughtfully. “I don't know,” he said.
Mom said, “Come with me.”
The two of them went back to the bedroom.
Mom opened the door once more and motioned for Dad to look.
Mark, Jr. was sitting up, leaning against the headboard.
Erik was laying on his side, propped up on one elbow.
Both were sound asleep.
Dad looked at them. “Yeah,” he said. “Like that.”
They had passed out almost the instant Dad had ordered it.
Now that's authority.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Larger Than Life

See? C.U.T.E.
How had I never noticed this before?
And how long had this been going on?
Maybe I should explain . . .
I was at the movies.
Something the kids in my family did at least once a week.
The highlight of said week.
This particular picture was a western.
My favourite.
But something was different this time.
Oh, there were the usual items of interest.
Lots and lots of horses.
And I think there were cattle also.
But for the first time, I noticed that there were also . . . cowboys.
Cute. Cowboys.
When did they get there?
One cowboy, in particular, caught my attention.
Black-haired and lithe.
Slim and well-muscled.
And oh-so-delicious in jeans and boots.
No wonder people liked westerns so much.
And I had thought they came, like me, to see the horses.
I was glued to the screen every time he appeared.
Which proved to be frequent.
Being as he was the star of the picture.
I was so enraptured that I didn't follow much of the story.
Oh, there were a couple of noteworthy parts.
One, in particular, featured one of the secondary cowboys being captured by bad guys and then creatively tortured with cactus needles within earshot of his buddies.
The next morning, his badly abused body was dropped in the middle of their camp.
I will admit it. It made me sick.
For two days.
But even that horrifying scene couldn't dim the splendour of my new hero as he saved the day.
I watched eagerly for his name to be mentioned in the end credits.
Audie Murphy.
I said the name over and over.
Committing it to memory.
Then I headed home.
“Mom, did you know that there are really cute guys in movies?”
My Mom stared at me. “Umm . . . yes,” she said, rather cautiously.
This was a new topic of conversation for me and I'm sure she was wondering where I was going with it.
“Well, the movie I just saw starred the cutest guy ever!” I said enthusiastically.
“Oh, yes,” I said. “His name was Audie Murphy! Oh, Mom he was soooo cute!”
“Audie Murphy? THE Audie Murphy?”
“Oh.” I frowned. “Have you seen the picture?”
Mom laughed. “No,” she said. “But I used to drool over Audie Murphy when I was your age!”
Now it was my turn to stare. “Really?”
“Oh, I was so in love with him!”
“Huh,” I said and headed for my room.
My mom had been – had been – in love with my hero when she was my age?
He was . . . old?
I never saw my new/old hero again.
I think the movie I had seen was his last.
Newer, younger heroes took his place in my world.
Heroes that my Mom had never dreamed about.
But, oddly enough, at this end of my life, it's Audie Murphy that I think of when someone mentions their screen heartthrobs.
I guess it's true.
First love is always the sweetest.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Good Prank

Tools for tagging and/or causing trouble
As the only veterinarian for 100 square miles, Dad was called upon for many different animal situations.
Some dire.
And some not so much.
It was also his job to carry out the government programs of the time.
Brucellosis testing, for one.
And vaccinating for whatever was currently deemed important.
I should probably explain that, when a government vaccine program was initiated, the bottles of vaccine were sent along with little, metal tags.
After an animal had been properly vaccinated, a tag was clamped at the edge of one ear.
Proof of the deed.
Both duties involved long hours standing beside a chute - vaccine gun in one hand and tagging pliers in the other - while cattle were shuffled and sorted.
One herd was taking a particularly long time.
Unseasoned help?
Uncooperative animals?
Whatever the reason, Dad found himself standing for long periods of time with literally nothing to do.
Not a good situation for someone like him.
Mischief happens.
The owner had turned away, trying to see over the fence at what was going on in the next pen.
Dad glanced over.
The coat and coveralls the rancher was wearing were . . . right there.
He reached out with his tagging pliers.
And tagged.
Deftly (Ooh, I like that word!) and effectively pinning the man's coat and coveralls together.
The work continued.
Cattle were pressed forward down the chute.
Vaccinated and tagged.
And released.
Finally, the long job drew to a close.
As Dad was packing away his instruments, the rancher invited him inside for a chat and a hot drink.
I should mention here that the people who live in the wide stretches of ranching country are among the most welcoming and friendly in the world.
Any excuse is a good excuse for an invitation to visit.
I love it.
Back to my story . . .
Dad accepted the invite - albeit reluctantly. He knew what was coming . . .
The two of them walked to the farm house.
And into the back porch.
Dad removed his boots.
The rancher did the same.
Dad removed his coat.
The rancher . . . didn't.
Oh, there was an attempt.
Some grunting and a couple of gruff words.
But, for some reason, the man and his coat simply couldn't . . . part company.
So to speak.
Finally, the man stripped off his coat and coveralls together.
And discovered the little, metal clip that held both of them firmly together.
He turned an accusing glare on Dad.
Who, with a wide grin on his face, found somewhere else to look.
The tag was easily pried off.
And coat and coveralls hung neatly – and separately – in the closet.
But the prank was never forgotten.
For years afterwards, whenever vaccinating, my Dad, veterinarians in general, the Government, ranching, chores, or ranch life were mentioned, that rancher would recall the time that Dad stapled him into his clothes.
The days come and go on a ranch.
But a good prank goes on forever.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


My Kitty
We had two Jersey milk cows.
Jerseys are small, light brown, gentle cattle.
With enormous, soft brown eyes.
They are a joy to work with.
Easy to milk.
Patient and quiet.
Our two cows came to our family ready named.
Okay, the names weren't all that creative, I will admit.
Or suitable.
Still, they stuck.
The taller cow was Bunny. The one a trifle shorter? Kitty.
The two of them gave us enough milk to supply our needs.
As well as the dairy needs of half the countryside.
We drank the milk.
Separated out the rich cream.
Churned butter.
For three years, we lived in Jersey Heaven.
Enough background . . .
I had a friend who travelled about the area cutting hair.
Her skills were required at our farm every six weeks.
Obligingly, she showed up.
Scissors in hand.
To cut an endless parade of shaggy heads.
On one occasion, I was busily churning a batch of butter.
My friend was working in one end of the kitchen.
Me and my butter were positioned in the other.
As she worked, she kept one eye on what I was doing.
Finally, she had to ask. “So, where do you get your milk?”
I smiled. “From my Bunny,” I said.
Her eyes got big. “From your . . .?”
My daughter interrupted. “No, Mom. This milk came from Kitty!”
“Oh, yes.” I looked at my friend.”From my Kitty,” I amended.
Her eyes got bigger as she stared at the enormous amount in the butter churn. “You actually . . . milk . . . a kitty?” she gasped out.
For a moment, we stared at each other.
“Yes . . . I . . .” I stopped, suddenly understanding her confusion. I laughed. Not a real kitty,” I said. “A cow, named Kitty.”
“Oh,” she said, relieved. “For a minute, I wondered.”
I had a sudden mental picture of trying to milk a cat.
It wasn't pretty.
Then I glanced at the two gallons of milk in the churn.
Yep. I understood my friend's look of astonishment.
That would have had to be some cat.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Someone's History

The building beckoned, as they do,
With thoughts of finding something new.
I dropped the gate and rode on o’er.
Excited just to go explore.

What I thought was an abandoned barn
A stout refuge from storm, or harm,
Was definitely something more,
A house, a home. From years before.

Now windowless, shingle-less, too,
The door hung on one hinge, askew.
Old rubble did the floors pollute,
And glass was crunching ‘neath my boots.

A stove, a one-time work of art.
Inclusive of the nickel part,
Now lay supine and punctured, split.
Some degenerate had blasted it.

I wondered, “Could I haul it back?
And save it from its sad attack?
Then fix, repair or retrofit
And somehow make the best of it?”

But realized, as I sometimes do
There was no way I could renew.
And sadly turned away; To find,
Another treasure left behind.

In one old bedroom near the stair,
There was a box of letters there.
I sat down on the dusty floor
Soon deep in lives lived long before.

I tucked away the words of love,
And climbed up to the floor above.
To find some boxes neatly stored
With clothes and magazines galore.

But, though the find was truly grand,
I daren’t try to touch - with hand.
For broken panes allowed, unchecked,
With pigeon poop was all bedecked.

Then, at the rafters did I stare,
Some ancient denim dangled there,
So long forgotten by someone,
Tossed and left when work was done.

Moved over to the window then,
Looked out upon the fields again.
I thought about this home, bereft.
Why they came. And why they left.

It once had shone with tender care
As proved by what was left in there.
But abandoned by those that had made,
And from the landscape did they fade.

Was death a reason? Poverty?
Had fortune kicked them to their knees?
Old age? Illness? Friends with flaws?
I sighed. There must have been a cause.

As I rode home, my thoughts were few,
Considering a life askew.
But grateful to have chanced to see,
The glimpse of Someone’s History.

Each week, Delores of Under the Porch Light issues a six-word challenge.
And 'challenge' it is. Six un-related, very random words.
Her instructions? "Use them, me hearties!!! Mwahahahaha!"
True story.
This week's challenge?
Inclusive, retrofit, supine, dangled, denim, degenerate
I don't know about you, but they suggested poetry to me . . .
Many of you have heard this story - I've written about it before.
It just sounds different in rhyme.

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