Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Life. Lived.

No electricity.
No running water.
No comforts of home.
No home.
So why do we drag ourselves off to the great Canadian woods for weeks every summer?
Why do we leave behind our creature comforts for the rustic ‘pleasures’ of the grand outdoors?
Plenty of fresh, pine-stuffed air.
Call of the birds through the trees.
Scamper of the squirrels, ditto.
Children playing ‘Kick the Can’ or Capture the Flag’.
Or laughing as they run along the sandy beach of the land-locked and pristine lake.
Warm, crackling, comfortable fire.
Talk and laughter.
Smoky meals.
More talk as the light fades and the stars come out.
Snap of cards by the light of the Coleman lantern.
No appointments.
No pressures.
No hurry.
Just life.
Grandson's picture of a butterfly. Yeah, I can't see it either. But I'm quite sure it's there...
View from my bedroom window.
Cozy little campsite, all wrapped up and ready for anything.
Great Man of the Mountain. Relaxing by the first fire.

Games with Grandpa.

Friday, July 22, 2016



The Stringam ranch sprawled out over many, many miles.
And took many hands to cover.
My Dad was twelve and had happily, and of necessity, joined the ranks of the ranch-employed aboard the first horse he could truly call his own.
The recently-broke and still fairly green, Queenie.
His pride and joy.
His first assignment was to keep an eye on the bulls.
I should point out, here, that the bulls were kept in the South pasture.
A vast, open field which went on forever.
With an outer fence that also went on forever.
Back to my story . . .
This fence had to be constantly patrolled.
On the other side of it were the Community Pastures.
Filled with . . . community cattle.
All female.
And none pregnant.
A state which their owners wished to preserve.
So someone had to explain to the bulls that any form of interaction was distinctly discouraged.
This was Dad's job. Make sure that the fence was doing its job.
Keeping the heifers on the one side . . .
And the bulls on the other.
But bulls are, after all, bulls.
And when the siren song goes off in their vicinity, they must answer.
With voice and/or action.
Usually action.
What's a paltry five lines of tightly-stretched barbed wire when love is calling to you from the other side?
They would ignore it as if it wasn't there.
And that's where Dad came in.
At a gallop.
Chase the bulls back.
Fix the fence.
He got pretty good at his job.
One day, he was riding along the fence.
Everything was unusually calm.
Then, something moved.
A brown head poked up out of the great sea of grass.
A brown head with darker brown stripes.
Dad had never seen a badger close up.
He turned Queenie towards it.
It turned away from them and started off across the prairie.
They followed.
It ran faster.
They pursued faster.
After a few minutes of this, the badger had had enough . . . umm . . . badgering.
He turned and attacked.
Well. Hissed.
At this point, Queenie decided she was finished with this adventure.
Dad could go it alone.
She piled him, forceably, into the prairie dust.
And left him there.
Dad screamed and jumped to his feet, certain that his beloved horse had landed him on the badger.
Or near enough that the badger would soon be on him.
He pictured teeth and claws.
And ravening. He wasn't sure what that was, but it sounded nasty.
He looked frantically around.
The badger had disappeared completely.
He took a deep breath of relief, then recovered his horse and continued with his job.
Dad decided, then and there, that the only four-footed animals he and Queenie would chase would be the big ones with hooves.
And horns.
They were safer.

Friday, July 15, 2016


There was a lot of grass on the Utopian Stringam homestead.
A lot.
And I mean the kind that doesn’t go up in smoke.
Or shouldn’t.
Anyways . . .
It needed to be mowed. Regularly.
Something I watched my older sister and brothers do millions of times.
Okay, it seemed like millions.
Have you gotten the idea I envied them?
Well, I did. 
Even though our mower wasn’t one of those swanky ride-on types that would have been . . . you know . . . fun, but was, instead the good old push type. Electric.
With a fifty-foot cord.
When I was nine, dad handed me the . . . umm . . . plugin, and told me to get to work.
My day had come!
His only advice: Avoid anything sharp and cutty, generally anything under the mower.
Oh, and start near the plug and work out from there.
I was a bit nervous, but for the first two passes, I did well.
Really well.
Then I forgot rule two.
Which led to forgetting rule one.
I decided I needed to backtrack.
An interesting thing about electric cords: They aren’t intuitive.
And never leap out of the way.
And when things sharp and cutty pass over them, they . . . erm . . . cut.
With varied and interesting results.
First, the mower quits.
And no amount of flipping the switch is going to turn that sucker back on.
Second, the two ends of the cord, one of which is spitting sparks, lie in the grass.
Another interesting note: If you take the two ends and try to force them together without first unplugging the live one, all sorts of pyrotechnics erupt. And the two ends don’t magically re-attach. Just FYI.
I survived. (I know you were concerned.) I then went to my father in tears and he accompanied me back to the scene of the crime and effected necessary repairs.
Tears forgotten, I was soon ‘back in the saddle again’.
Lessons learned.

Use Your Words is a writing challenge. 
Participating bloggers pick 4 - 6 words or short phrases for someone else to craft into a post. 
That's the challenge. Here's a fun twist: no one who's participating knows who got their words and in what directions the writer will take them until the day and time that we all simultaneously publish our work.
This month, my words came from: My Brain on Kids.                         
Work, Nervous, Nine, Utopian, Swanky

Fun? There's more...
Here are the other participants:

Baking In A Tornado
Southern Belle Charm                                 
Not That Sarah Michelle                          
Spatulas on Parade                       
Dinosaur Superhero Mommy     
My Brain on Kids                 
The Bergham Chronicles        
Never Ever Give Up Hope      
Confessions of a part time working mom   
The Diary of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver 
Molly Ritterbeck                       
Juicebox Confession               
When I Grow Up                       
Sparkly Poetic Weirdo                  

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Daddy's Blackleg

Oh sure, they look healthy now . . . Little beggers.
It gets very cold in Southern Alberta.
Calves need to be vaccinated.
And ranching can be a dangerous business.
These statements actually go together.
To create one of the scariest experiences of my young life.
Let me explain . . .
Dad was at a neighbouring ranch, on a -40 spring day, vaccinating the new spring calf crop against Blackleg.
I should probably tell you that Blackleg is a particularly vicious and deadly disease, caused by a spore in the ground.
This tiny spore, inadvertently ingested by calves between six and twenty-four months of age can cause death within 12 to 48 hours.
And impossible to treat, once an animal has been infected.
But, happily, almost completely controlled by early vaccination.
As in 'before-it-gets-warm-in-Alberta'.
So, sometime before July.
That explains Dad, the calves and the cold.
Moving on . . .
The calves were being shuffled down a chute, one by one, to receive their vitally necessary little jab.
All was going well.
One group finished.
Another was being sorted into the catch pen for further shuffling.
Meanwhile, Dad had placed his favourite pistol syringe under his coat to keep it, and the vaccine it contained, from freezing.
Remember? Minus 40?
One of the animals in the pen bumped into him.
The syringe pricked the skin of his belly.
Those needles are sharp for a reason . . .
He could only have taken in a very minute amount of the Blackleg vaccine.
But it was enough.
By the time he finished with the herd, he knew he was in trouble.
He drove himself to the hospital.
And stayed there.
For three weeks.
He was a very, very sick man.
But his strong constitution and normally healthy lifestyle finally tipped the balance and he began to respond to treatment.
At the end of the third week, a thinner, whiter version of my father returned home.
My brave mother hadn't explained, at least to the younger half of the family, exactly what was wrong with Daddy.
We knew he was in hospital, but had no idea why.
Or how serious it was.
It was only years later that I found out the whole story.
Okay. Much too late to panic now.
But I did learn several things from this experience:
  1. Vaccine for calves should really only be given to calves.
  2. People don't respond well to it.
  3. Never hold one's syringe under one's coat.
  4. Don't vaccinate in the cold. And...
  5. If there's ever a blackleg outbreak, Daddy's had his shots

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Sizzle Fizzled

 “Our life needs more ‘sizzle’,”
Said Husby. To me.
And I wondered just what in the world could he mean?

So I went to the lexicon,
Searched the word there.
I admit that the things that I found made me stare.

It said ‘sizzle’s a hissing sound,
Water—hot steel.
Which happens whenever I’m making a meal.

It also suggested
To burn up or sear.
Sounds to me like a branding iron on a calf’s rear.

Or the hissing sound made
When burning or frying.
That happened last night. He thought something was dying.

And lastly, to seethe
With deep anger: resent.
Now I’m really unsure just what my Husby meant.

So to my dear friends,
Use a whisper. (Don’t shout.)
Can you tell me what life with more ‘sizzle’s’ about?

Once a month, Karen of Baking in a Tornado issues a poetry challenge:
"Here's a topic. Write!"
July's challenge?
What did you think of my attempt?

To see what her other challengers did with the topic, go to:
Baking in a Tornado:
Measurements of Merriment:
The Bergham Chronicles:
Spatulas On Parade:
Cluttered Genius:'ll be glad you did!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Date With Dad

Daddy and me.
Okay, picture us a few years older.
But just as cute . . .
I was on a date with my Dad.
I had been working at my 'first-official-job-wherein-Dad-was-not-my-boss' in Calgary, Alberta, and having the time of my life.
Have you noticed that saying 'having the time of your life' doesn't necessarily denote 'good' or 'bad'?
I mean, it could mean the worst time of one's life.
Or the best.
Just saying . . .
Dad had to come up to the big city on business and had stopped in to my work to ask the boss (whom he was good friends with and NO, that's not the reason I got the job. I think . . .) if he could take his best girl out on a date.
My boss smilingly agreed and I was free for the day.
There are perks to your father being good friends with your boss.
Dad took me to a football game.
It was a perfect day.
Crisp, cold air, but not too chilly.
Blue, blue sky.
Okay, I'm remembering it how I want.
Dad and I had been sitting through the game.
Cheering on all of the guys in red, white and black.
I used to be a football cheerleader, so I had a vague idea of what the game entailed.
Get the ball across the opposing team's goal line by whatever means necessary.
Then hug the players if they won.
And especially if they lost.
But partway through the game, I had a blinding revelation. “Dad, all of those players have spent all of this time fighting for control of the ball!”
Dad looked at me. “Yes,” he said, doubtfully.
“Well, I just had an idea!”
His eyes narrowed. Dad was used to my brilliant ideas. “Go on."
“Well, if they're just going to fight over the ball,” I said, “why don't they just use two balls?”
Okay, we thought it was hilarious.
The guy in front of us? Not so much. “Could you please shut up?” he demanded. “Some of us are trying to enjoy the game!”
We decided it was a good time for Dad to take me to dinner.
We went to my favourite restaurant. The one I went to only when Dad was buying.
Old Spaghetti Factory.
We were seated in the old trolley car that is central to every OSF restaurant.
Things were getting busy.
Soft music was playing. Quiet talk and laughter around us. Gentle chime of silverware on china. Subdued, romantic lighting.
The server brought us our menus and fresh, warm bread with selections of butter, then withdrew while we sliced, buttered, ate and perused.
Dad was studying his menu. “Can you read this?” he asked, finally.
I glanced down. “Ye-es,” I said, slowly.
“Well, I can't!”
Did I mention the 'subdued' lighting?
He pulled out a matchbook and proceeded to light a match. Then used its light to read his menu.
The server sprinted towards our table.
“Problems, sir?” he asked.
Dad looked at him, lit match still in hand. “Nope.” Then turned back to his menu. “But I think my daughter and I are ready to order.”
There is nothing . . . nothing like a date with your dad.
Truly the time of my life. In the best of ways.

Monday, July 11, 2016

In the Dirt

Dad on Shaker.
This really has nothing to do with the story. I just like the picture!

Ranching is always an adventure.

Sometimes a tad . . .  uncomfortable.
But always entertaining.
Orphaned calves are cared for in one of several ways on a ranch.
Bottle feeding is always an option.
But the best solution usually involves adopting the little baby onto another mother.
Okay, it sounds good.
But convincing the mother to take on another cow’s calf is tricky.
She is seldom . . . okay, never . . . willing to cooperate.
If she has lost her calf (and I know this sounds icky) the rancher can skin the dead calf and tie the hide onto the living one. The cow smells her calf and the adoption is complete.
But when she still has a calf living, the process is a bit more difficult.
The solution usually involves buckling the two calves together at the neck and turning them in with the cow.
The cow quickly discovers that she can’t kick the strange calf off without also losing her own.
A bovine conundrum.
Eventually solved by allowing both calves to suck.
The only concern thereafter is making sure one periodically loosens the collars as the calves grow.
And that’s where my story starts.
Finally . . .
Several of the cow hands on the Stringam ranch were checking the herd.
They noticed that a pair of coupled calves’ collars were getting a bit snug.
Someone needed to chase the intrepid pair down and perform the necessary loosening procedure.
One volunteered.
By spurring his horse.
Now, this was a man who was accustomed to working with cattle.
He had chased down calves before.
But he didn’t realize in this case that the yoked calves couldn’t/wouldn’t/didn’t-want-to run together.
Instead, they began to run in at least two different directions.
Forward progression was . . . limited.
The cowboy, used to gauging his movements by normal calf movements launched himself off of his running horse.
Flew straight over the heads of the struggling calves.
And chewed up about 10 feet of dirt.
His friends stared at him.
Then, sympathetic to the end, burst out laughing.
The would-be wrangler spit out a mouthful of dirt and, face scraped, bleeding and dirty, joined in the general laugh at himself.
The calves were duly caught. Their collars loosened. And everyone headed home.
But happy.
Yep. Ranching. An adventure.
You get the picture . . .

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Breakfast and a Show

Ever helpful and concerned.
Kids can make eating out such an . . . adventure.
It was the early fifties.
Mom and Dad were vacationing in Montana with their three small children.
As they drove past the Deer Lodge prison, Dad tried to explain to four-year old Chris and two-year-old Jerry just what it was. He told them that when people were bad, the police would lock them up in the big building for punishment.
The original ‘time-out’.
He wasn’t sure just how much of his explanation his two oldest children took in.
The next morning, he had his answer.
The family had stopped nearby for breakfast. While they were eating, a deputy sheriff came in for coffee, then proceeded to tell the waiter about his exciting evening: 
One very intoxicated individual had been disruptive at a local dance and the deputy took the man to the local jail to sober up. There were no charges to be laid, so all that remained was to get the fellow up and send him home.
Throughout this story, Chris and Jerry were busily eating, not seeming to pay attention to the tale.
Finally, the man stood up and said, “Well, I guess I’d better go down and get my boy out of jail!”
Chris looked at her parents wide-eyed and very concerned. “That man’s little boy is down there in that big jail!” she said loudly.
To the amusement of the entire restaurant.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Babe Diane

Summer = baseball.
I love baseball.
Let me rephrase that.
I LOVE baseball.
I don’t know why.
Maybe it’s because you get to beat an inanimate something with a thick, wooden stick.
In the summer sunshine.
Or maybe there's just something 'magical' about the game.
But I am getting ahead of myself . . .
I played a bit.
Grade school.
High school.
But I didn’t play regularly until long after I had married and had a family.
It was then that I spent three glorious summers in a mixed league.
And it was fun.
Oh, I wasn’t one of their best players.
In fact, I spent most of my time out in right field.
Praying that the other team would hit the ball anywhere but to me.
In fact, the only place where I was competent was in the batter’s box.
And even there, only competent--good for a base or two.
Until that night.
Let me tell you about it . . .
It was a clear summer evening.
The mosquitoes weren’t too bad.
The sun was setting, but the field was situated such that it wasn’t in anyone’s eyes.
The shadows were lengthening.
The sky was trying to decide if it wanted to be cerulean blue or glorious orange.
My team was at bat.
Well . . . I was at bat.
The other team eyed me curiously.
I hadn’t done too badly in the field, but really hadn’t distinguished myself.
A couple of the guys moved in a bit.
The pitcher glanced around at the two players we had on base, then looked at me.
He went into his wind-up, which, in slow pitch, isn’t.
And flipped the ball at me.
I swung.
And felt the sharp crack and the burst of exhilaration as bat met ball.
And that’s when the first surprise of the evening dropped every jaw on my team.
Including mine.
That ball sailed out over the heads of the outfielders.
Way out.
Way, way out.
A triple.
It would have been a home run, except I’m old.
I brought in both of our runners and settled myself firmly on third base.
Then grinned as my team cheered wildly.
The next hitter brought me in and I was met by many slapping hands.
The good kind.
An inning or so later, I was again facing the pitcher. I grinned as the fielders moved back slightly in a she-did-it-once-but-is-this-going-to-be-a-habit sort of way.
They didn’t move back far enough.
Another triple.
Sometime later, I again stood in the hot spot.
This time, the entire outfield moved back.
Way back.
It didn’t matter.
This time, it was a home run.
That ball went far enough that even my aged legs could toddle around all the bases.
We won the game.
But that didn’t matter.
Because for the first – and only – time in my life, I felt like a real ball player.
I had watched as the opposing team moved back to the far reaches of the field and knew they were doing it because, and I quote, ‘This girl can hit!’
I don’t know what happened that night.
Maybe there was some charmed quality in the clear air.
Maybe the spirit of Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays or Babe Ruth had wandered in for a visit.
Maybe I was channelling my Mom.
Maybe I just had a pitcher I could hit off of.
All I know is that it was magical.
It was my night.
My only night.
And I’ll never forget it.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Being Neighbourly

Off to visit the neighbours.
Theirs wasn’t the most sought-after homestead in the community.
Their home was humble. Built in 1917, they raised eight children and lived to 1948 without electricity or running water.
They weren’t the best housekeepers. Their home with its worn floorboards and non-existent screens (allowing the entrance of many bugs and even the odd chicken) was often known as ‘Fly Spec Inn’.
But the love and kindness shone out of every crack and every chink in the siding.
Their children loved to return there.
And, if a guest should drop by . . .
Mom and Dad had been married a few months. Dad had introduced his new bride to every family in the district, save one. Their nearest neighbours eight miles to the west.
He decided the time was right, so the two of them climbed into the car and made the trip.
They were welcomed with open arms.
Quite literally.
Invited to stop and yarn a while.
Then pressed to stay for supper.
The youngest daughter set the table. Then, at the urging of her mother, re-set with the ‘company cups’. Which, as it turned out, were the cups without the black lip stains from constant use and less-than-stellar cleaning.
The food was hot and plentiful.
Bread came fresh from the oven in a massive, round loaf.
If one asked for a slice, one got a SLICE. Mama would grab the loaf, hold it against her round belly and cut away with a large knife. Then, using the same knife, she would flip the wedge across the table to whoever had asked.
Her precision was unerring. And her grin when successful exposed toothless gums all the way back to the spaces left by absent molars.
It was a memorable meal. Memorable for all the right reasons. Not for the ‘fly specs’ or the missing screens or the worn floorboards, or even for the lacking electricity and running water. No, it was memorable for the kindness. The cheer. The love.
A few months later, that home was improved and enlarged to accommodate its becoming the community Post Office.
Though Mom and Dad invited the family over many times, they never went back.
It simply wouldn’t have been the same.

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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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