Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Aunt Emily

Teacher of all things important.
Care-taker extraordinaire.
Sometimes you think you know someone.
But you really don't . . .
My Dad is the youngest of eleven children.
Nine boys.
And two girls.
The youngest girl, my Aunt Mary, was a short, round, happy lady with numerous children and even more numerous grandchildren.
More about her in another post . . .
His other sister, Emily, was an entirely different person.
Emily was the eldest child in the family.
She was a tall, spare, maiden lady.
Erect and correct.
And I was terrified of her.
Emily had served a mission for her church in her early twenties.
Briefly - and tragically - entertained the thought of marriage.
And lived the rest of her life teaching home economics and helping her mother care for the family home.
She was the professed cleaner to my Grandmother's cooking.
The maker of everything tidy.
The bestow-er of a set of sewing scissors to every niece who reached grade nine.
And the dragon in the den at the top of the stairs.
A note . . .
Aunt Emily's office was the first room to the left as one went up the stairs of the family home.
It was a lovely place. Neat and organized.
With a little window/door that opened out onto the roof/sundeck of the garage.
Us kids loved to sneak into that room and let ourselves out onto that deck.
But only when Aunt Emily wasn't about.
Back to my story . . .
Throughout my childhood, I loved visiting Grandma Stringam's home with my parents.
But walked softly around Aunt Emily.
When I was eighteen, all of that changed.
I had moved to the city to attend college.
Journalism.
Go figure.
For four months, I stayed with my Grandma and Aunt Emily.
At first, though I'm sure they tried to make me feel welcome, I spent very little time in their home.
Choosing, instead to study at the college or at a friend's and returning only at bedtime.
Then I got sick.
Really, really sick.
Strep throat.
Ugh.
One evening, after we had put the paper to bed (a newspaper term for sending everything to the press and washing our hands of all responsibility), I collapsed.
My friends carried me, quite literally, to my grandmother's home and to my little bed on the second floor.
I remember very little of it.
There, safely ensconced, I lost all consciousness for several days.
Someone took care of me.
Gave me liquids.
Fed me.
Cleaned up after me.
Helped me to the bathroom.
Hauled me to the hospital for a shot in the backside.
I do remember that . . .
And generally took excellent care of me.
As I slowly became more cognisant, I realized that the person who had been so patiently and lovingly nursing me was my scary Aunt Emily.
One afternoon, I opened my eyes and felt . . . almost human.
Aunt Emily appeared beside my bed.
“Feeling better?”
I nodded uncertainly.
“Oh, I'm so glad! I'm going to the store to get you something special. What would you like?”
And it was then that I realized that eighteen years had gone by without me knowing my special aunt at all.
Eighteen years of misunderstanding and unwarranted fear.
Wasted years.
I wasted no more.
In the following weeks and months, we became friends.
Aunt Emily died at the age of 85 from complications following surgery.
We were given twenty five years of friendship.
I will always be grateful.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Walk With Me

In housework, she is most devout,
Tidies, takes the garbage out.
Dusts and scrubs like a machine,
Till everything is shining, clean.

This automatic cleaning bent,
Alleviates her discontent.
‘Cause she’s alone and lonely, too.
But cannot figure what to do.

Her married friends come to her aid,
“There’s no such thing as an ‘Old Maid’”!
Utopian, your life is now.”
“To no one do you e’er kowtow.”

“Yes, you’re alone, but you should note,
You’ve sole control of the remote.”
“You needn’t ask another’s view
When making changes old to new.”

“You needn’t sleep with someone’s snore,
Who leaves socks and neckties on the floor.”
“Then walks around in underwear,
Trailing crumbs from here to there.”

 “Whate’re you want to do, you do.
And no one picks or barks at you.”
“Your perfect life, your good friends see,
Of plagiarism, guilty be.”

 She smiled and said, “My Spinster state,
Appears to you, my friends, as great.
There’s no one that I must consult.
None who would demean, insult.”

“But still sometimes, it would be nice,
To be noticed – once or twice.”
“And have someone with whom to talk,
Commit to me and walk the walk.”

“Yes, your life’s messy; yes, it’s tough.
At times it may get downright rough.”
“But still, you are together, see?
I’d love somebody there for me.”

“I’ll carry on. I’m happy, true!
Because I have such friends as you!”
But here’s what my good friends can do,
It’d help if you were watching, too!

Again, Delores challenges with her six little words.
Again, her minions scramble to answer.
This week?
 Utopian, plagiarismnecktieautomaticspinsterdevout
It's an introspective day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

X-Citement

Would you put these two together?
Yeah. Me neither.









Growing up in the great outdoors gave me an appreciation for all things . . . outdoors-y.
IE: horses.
But sadly, instilled in me a complete ignorance of the finer points of creating a beautiful home.
IE: embroidery.
My Mom ran a very efficient home.
She cooked, cleaned and organized.
Gardened.
And even, on occasion, helped in the barnyard when the need arose.
With all of that, somehow, she also found time for the pretty things in life.
She embroidered pillowcases and tablecloths.
Runners and handkerchiefs.
Even tea towels.
And did them beautifully.
Unfortunately, the urge to 'pretty' things up had been left out of my makeup.
Or so I thought.
It was merely dormant.
After the birth of my first baby, I was suddenly bitten by the sewing bug.
I had to sew.
A lot.
I started out simply: overalls, pants and shirts for my boy.
Then moved on to more complex: dresses for me.
And blue jeans.
But that is not what this story is about . . .
From sewing practical, functional garments, my next logical progression was to the finer stitching.
My Mom would be so proud.
I got hooked, quite literally, on counted cross stitch.
Pictures.
Wall hangings.
I loved it.
Whenever there was a break in the day's routine . . . and even when there wasn't . . . I was back on the couch.
Stitching.
I should point out, here, that I had always been a 'night owl'.
Preferring the hours after my kids were in bed, to indulge in whatever pursuit was currently consuming me.
Usually reading.
Occasionally watching TV.
Now, my staying-up-in-the-evening time was taken up with those fine little needles and yards and yards of cotton floss.
I made dozens of beautiful pictures and hangings.
Working far into the night to complete some intricate piece.
It was a peaceful moment in time.
Until one evening.
Allow me to describe . . .
It was quiet there in the night.
Everyone in the household was asleep.
All the lights - save the one that snared me and my comfy armchair in a noose of gold - were off.
I worked silently away.
Consulted my pattern.
Switched colours.
Continued on.
Then I started to feel . . . creepy. Like someone was watching me.
I lifted my head. Peered intently into the shadows of the kitchen and hallway.
No one.
Weird.
I went back to my stitching.
Again, that feeling came over me.
Eyes.
Again, I looked.
Nothing.
I was really starting to get spooked.
I tried to concentrate on my work.
I had only put in one stitch when I was nearly overwhelmed by the feeling that someone, somewhere, was silently watching.
I dropped my sewing into my lap and peered toward the kitchen.
Then I turned and looked the other way, into the living room.
And nearly died.
Two eyes were indeed staring at me.
From about two inches away.
I screamed and pressed one hand to my suddenly hammering heart.
It was then I realized that the two large, staring eyes belonged to my son's Bopo the Clown which was standing directly behind my chair.
The eyes didn't blink or move.
They didn't have to.
Just the sight of them staring at me out of the dim light was enough to totally shatter my night.
I did what any normal person would have done.
I 'bopped' Bopo in his large bulbous, red nose.
“Honk.”
I hit him again.
“Honk.”
Sigh. I felt marginally better.
But it was definitely time for bed . . .
The next evening found me back in my chair.
Needle firmly in hand.
And with Bopo turned forcefully to the wall.
Beauty definitely doesn't need a beast.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Calling in Sick

Creative jobs require creative excuses
Everyone, at some point, calls in sick to work.
Everyone.
Even those toughest of the tough. The weather-hardened cowboys.
Their excuses are just a bit more . . . creative.
In my grandfather's day, his hired men were all experienced, life-hardened individuals.
And I do mean individual.
One morning, one of his cowboys failed to report with the others.
Grampa handed out the day's assignments, then went in search.
He found the man seated snugly in the bunkhouse, both feet comfortably propped up on a chair.
Grampa stopped in the doorway.
“Are you coming out to work?” he asked.
“Can't. Toik,” the man said.
Grampa stared at him. “Excuse me?”
“Can't. Toik,” the man repeated.
“Oh.” Grampa thought about that for a moment. Then, “What?” he asked again.
The hired man looked at him. “Toik,” he said carefully.
Grampa nodded. “That's what I thought you said.”
He turned and headed back to the barnyard.
For some time, he puzzled over the man's answer.
What on earth was a toik?
Finally, he found himself working alongside one of the other men.
“Smith not coming?” the man asked.
Grampa shook his head. “No. He said something about a toik.”
The hired man grinned. “And you had no idea what he was talking about?”
Again, Grampa shook his head. “None whatsoever,” he said.
The man laughed. “You can't guess what a toik is?”
“Nope.”
“Maybe I should translate.”
Grampa looked at him. “Please,” he said.
“Toe ache,” the man said.
“Ahhh!” Grampa said.
Things suddenly made . . . sense. Sort of. “Toe ache.”
“Yep.”
“Ah.”
Now I'm sure you've heard the excuse of 'a cold coming on'.
The flu.
Sore throat.
Sinus infection.
Broken bones.
Even the occasional bout of 'explosive diarrhoea'.
But I'd venture to guess that you've never before heard of a toik.
Well, now you have.
Feel free to use it . . .

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ranch Naps

By Request: A Re-post
The Stringam Wagon Train
I love horses.
All horses.
So much that I ate, breathed and slept horses.
Literally.
Let me paint you a picture . . .
On the ranch, everything ran like clockwork. Cows were milked. Cattle, horses, chickens and pigs fed, eggs gathered, meals served. One never had to look at a clock to know what time it was. You could tell merely by observing the natural rhythm of the operations that were an integral part of ranch life.
I loved the horses.
And I was a natural with them. I could climb on the back of the most dastardly villain the corral had to offer and handle him with ease.
I spent most of my waking hours with the horses.
And some of my sleeping ones, as I already mentioned.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
During the day, my four-year-old self was fairly useless. I wandered here and there, usually sticking close to the barn, but occasionally breaking with tradition and getting into trouble in some other area.
(Chickens and I also have a history, but that is another story.)
On this particular day, mealtime was fast approaching.
Now one thing on the ranch that could be counted on was my appearance at meals.
The huge ranch bell would ring and inform all and sundry – including total strangers living in Timbuktu – that it was time for everyone on the Stringam Ranch to head to the house because something truly wonderful was waiting there.
Mom was a terrific cook.
The bell rang.
People assembled.
No Diane.
How could this be? She was always underfoot. Particularly at mealtimes.
They began to eat. She’ll be here soon, they reasoned.
Dessert approached. Still no Diane.
Dad was beginning to worry. He began to question the men.
Had anyone seen her?
Bud had shooed her away from the cow he was milking by singing ‘Danny Boy’. A guaranteed ‘Diane repellent’.
Al thought he had seen her going into the shed behind the barn, where the horses were.
Dad got to his feet. This was serious.
He headed for the barn.
The horses could come and go at will on the Stringam ranch. Mostly they preferred go. But occasionally, when it was too hot or too cold, and because they were basically wussies - and lazy - they would hang around under the shed beside the barn and eat the hay that they didn't have to stalk and kill themselves.
It was to this intrepid group that Dad went.
He could see tails swishing as he approached. 
He approached quietly, careful not to spook them.
A spooked horse is a stupid horse . . . well, actually most horses are st . . . oh, never mind.
He slipped carefully in under the shade. He patted one horse and slid between two others, and stood for a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the gloom.
Then he saw it. Back in the corner.
Something peculiar.
A horse with . . . something on its back.
He patted another rump and moved a little closer.
The horses started to shift a bit.
They were beginning to sense something.
Mealtime? Pshaw, that’s all the time.
Maybe a slight breeze was coming up and it was time for everyone to spook and run around like idiots? Naw. That would take effort.
An intruder? Hmm . . . this needed considering . . .
Dad had finally moved far enough through the herd that he could see into the corner.
See the smallest pony, drooping in front of the manger, with a little girl turned backwards on his back, her head on the wide, soft rump.
The rest of her in dreamland.
He had found me, but now for the tricky part. How to wake me without spooking the herd, and my own personal bed. If he spoke, the horses would surely work out the fact that it was a man standing among them and use that excuse to start running.
Or dancing.
Or playing chess.
You never know with horses.
He would have to take the chance. “Diane,” he whispered.
“Mmm?”
“Diane,” he said again, a little louder.
My eyes opened.
“Diane.” A third time.
I sat up and frowned at him. “What.”
“Time for dinner.”
Who knew a four-year-old could move that fast?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Thanks for the Music

A repost of my most popular story.

Beauty? Or the Beast?
The world is full of divine music.
Violin music.
And it has my Husby to thank for it.
Maybe I should explain . . .
When Husby was eight, his parents, like many parents have, decided that he should do something . . . musical.
Piano?
Trumpet?
Tuba?
No.
They opted for the violin.
And he agreed.
A small violin was purchased at no small sacrifice for a less-than-wealthy family.
Dutifully, Husby carried it to the home of his chosen violin teacher, Mrs. Baines.
A woman of nearly two hundred years of age.
Okay, probably not quite two hundred.
But to a small boy of eight, a woman in her seventies was truly ancient.
Back to my story . . .
Once a week, throughout the fall and the winter, she taught.
And he learned.
She took him on a slow and careful tour of the violin world.
Demonstrating proper technique.
Bow handling.
Correct finger positions.
Tried to pour into his young mind, her love of all things violin.
He was, admittedly, a slow learner.
She taught.
He struggled.
In the spring, his parents received a phone call.
There would be no more lessons from Mrs. Baines. The poor woman had suffered a fatal heart attack.
Shocked, Husby wondered if he was somehow to blame.
He put his violin away for a while. He needed to think this through.
Thinking lasted throughout the summer.
Finally, in the fall, he consented to try again.
His parents found another teacher.
One who was only one hundred and fifty years old.
Again, they started in.
She taught.
He struggled.
A few months went past.
Another fateful phone call.
Another heart attack.
Not fatal this time, thank goodness. But strong enough that his second teacher was hanging up her baton for good.
Sigh.
This time, when Husby put his violin back into its case, nothing could induce him to remove it.
Nothing.
He was convinced that his playing – or lack thereof – was the reason that both of his violin teachers suffered heart attacks.
That conviction remains to this day.
He takes the argument further.
By hanging up his bow, so to speak, he saved violin teachers everywhere.
Enabling them to continue to teach the bright, talented young people who have grown into the world's foremost violin players.
Thus preserving and ensuring beautiful violin music everywhere.
So when you hear an exquisite piece?
Thank my Husby.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Devil of a Delivery

My son works for Fed-Ex.
This is for him . . .

“Ma’am, would you be so kind as to . . .” I got no further.
The large woman seated behind the desk surged to her feet and pointed a plump, shaking finger at me. “Insubordination!” she shrieked.
I felt my eyes widen. I took a step back. “Ex-excuse me?”
“You miserable excuse for a man!” Her voice became even shriller. “What do you mean by coming here at this hour?!” She shot a telling glance at the nearby clock.
“I . . . what?”
Her eyes narrowed. “I see retribution for you! I see despair and a plethora of demons just waiting to grasp you in their claws and pull you down to where you will be properly inducted into those halls from which the wicked forever burn and never escape!”
I blinked and looked around, then indicated myself questioningly.
The finger came out again. “Yes, you! Demon-spawn!” She waved her hand, indicating the spotless corridors that lead off in every direction. “Watch and beware. The demons are preparing as we speak. Your time is at hand!”
I glanced rather nervously to the right and left. “Demons? C-claws? But I only . . .”
“Speak not! You will only seal your fate!”
“Seal my . . . but I came to . . .”
“Silence!” the voice had become a shrieking siren of sound. The small, watery, piercing eyes glanced down at my hands. “Hold! What do you carry there?”
I lifted an almost-forgotten package. “I . . . um . . .”
“Is it a potion? A talisman? Something from your master?”
“I . . . master? Well, actually, yes.”
“Give it to me little man! Before I set the denizens of hell upon you!”
“Ummm . . . here.”
She pounced, holding the seized package up and peering at it closely.
I lifted the clipboard in my other hand. “Erm . . . you’ll have to sign here. And here.”
“Ooh! It’s my samples from the museum!” The woman poked out a thick tongue and licked rubbery lips which had curved into the semblance of a smile. Then she grabbed a pen and scribbled next to my finger. “There! Thanks, Bruce! Next time, don’t be late!”
“See you tomorrow, Clara.” 

Every week, without fanfare or glory, Delores of Under the Porch Light quietly posts six little words.
Words meant to stump and/or amaze.
Or just really, really aggravate.
Then, those of us who follow her without question dip pens in ink and attempt to obey.
This week's offering?
insubordinationinducteddespairplethoramuseum and retribution.
I thought a shot of flash fiction would be fun.
How did I do?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Phone Phraseology for Phools


King of creative calling
Answering the phone is an art form.
Ranging from cheerful.
My personal favourite.
To surly.
Not so popular. 
Then there’s: Clever.
Quirky.
Crass.
Even disgusting.
How you answer the phone says a lot about you.
Maybe not in actual words, but the meaning’s pretty clear . . .
Hello!! L (What d’ya want!? I’m having the worst, terrible, awful, no-good day. And you just made it worse!)
Or: Hello!! JJ (I’ve been running through soft fields of primroses and I’m so happy, I just want to share, share, share!)
See what I mean?
In the Stringam household, telephone answering was very often . . . creative.
My brother, George, being the king.
Case in point:
The phone rang.
I should probably explain, here, that these were the days of the rotary phone (Google it). There were no such things as call display, call waiting, or even answering machines (Except, maybe in the CIA or FBI or CSIS . . . or on Star Trek).
So there was absolutely no way for us normal folks to know who was calling.
Also, an actual electrical cord attached the single home phone to the wall and yet another cord attached the receiver to the phone.
It was entirely possible to get completely wrapped up in you call.
So to speak.
Just FYI.
Sooo . . . back to the ringing phone . . .
My brother, George, he of the creative answering technique, was closest.
He picked it up.
“This is the devil! Who in hell do you want?”
Whereupon (good word) my mother smacked George.
Figuratively speaking.
Now, normally, when my brother answered the phone, the person on the other end of the line would laugh and say something equally inappropriate and the conversation would continue.
On this particular occasion, all George heard was a mighty ‘click’ as the phone at the other end of the line was forcibly returned to its cradle.
He shrugged and hung up.
The phone rang again.
Again, George picked it up.
“This is the devil! Who in . . .” you get the rest.
There was a short, breathless pause, then, “It that you, George?!!!LLL
I put in the little frowny faces to convey . . . displeasure.
Because the caller was my paternal Grandmother.
And she didn’t think my brother was funny.
At all.
Oops.
Sheepishly, George admitted it. “Yes,” he said.
“Let me talk to your father! LLL
Notice the continuing frowny faces.
Ahem . . .
George handed the phone to Dad and headed for the nearest far-away place.
Dad received a lecture from his eighty-five-year-old mother, which he dutifully passed on to the culprit.
I’d like to tell you that the creative answering ended there.
That from then on, all calls were answered with respect and decorum.
I’d be lying.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

At the Park

Our good friend, Shirley, is out of town.
Visiting with her son and his family.
She has been enjoying her time down south in the warmth and sun as her/our part of the world grows steadily cooler.
Yesterday was a warm, fall day. Perfect for an outing to the park with two of her granddaughters.
All went well.
The hike there.
Visiting.
Laughing.
Playing on the equipment.
The girls were especially enjoying the long slide.
Grandma was performing her grandmother duties.
Watching.
Laughing.
Encouraging.
Appreciating.
It was then the girls proposed something a little more pro-active for their beloved grandparent.
Upping the ante. So to speak.
And with much coaxing, they succeeded.
 Soon, Shirley was perched atop the slide, ready to slide ride hurtle to the bottom.
She took a deep breath . . .
Just then, Youngest Granddaughter turned to her older sister and asked, “If Grandma dies, do you know the way home?”
Playing at the park.
Not for everyone.
Watch for flying grandmothers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Moose-tly Terrifying

See? Scary!

Gramma Berg's house had a sunroom.

A wonderful spot.
All windows.
And one permanent tenant.
The sunroom was wonderful.
The tenant wasn't. At least to a very small girl.
It was large.
Dark brown.
With great, glassy eyes, a huge nose, a wooly beard.
And large ears.
Oh, yes, and an enormous pair of antlers.
Yes, I admit it - it wasn't your normal tenant.
It was a moose.
The quite obvious fact that it wasn't alive made no difference to its terror factor.
I was certain that, if I went into that room, the great creature would blink its eyes and 'get me'.
Okay, obviously I didn't think that through. The creature possessed no visible limbs, and for all of my life, had resided in the same place on the wall.
Just exactly how it was supposed to 'get' me, we'll never know.
But the truth remains, it terrified me.
And knowing this, my cousins made great sport of daring me to go into the sunroom.
Something which inevitably sent me screaming to some moose-less part of the house.
I loved Grammas house.
The moose and I tolerated each other.
So long as he kept his place, and I could see that place from a distance, we got along fine.
Kinda like a large spider.
But that is another story.
After Gramma passed, the moose was donated and hung where it could scare scores of other people.
Moving forward fifty years . . .
Several members of my family were holidaying in Banff, Alberta, this summer.
We spent a week scrambling about the mountains and wandering through the townsite.
We took the kids to see the 'stuffed animal place'.
Or Banff Museum, as it is officially named.
It houses hundreds of perfectly preserved birds and animals native to the Banff area.
Many of which were present when the museum opened.
In 1903.
On the second floor, it is quite possible to get up close and almost personal with the head of Sir Donald.
A bison.
Several of us were standing, looking at the great animal.
My six-year-old granddaughter peeked out from behind me.
“He scares me,” she whispered, shivering.
“But he's dead,” I said. “He can't hurt you.”
“He's scary,” she maintained.
Quite suddenly, I remembered Gramma's moose. And trembling in fear as my cousins dared me to go into his sunroom.
Yeah. It pretty much looks as though neither Sir Donald (nor I) had a leg to stand on . . .

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