Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Sneaky-ness Detected

Our eldest son isn't someone who could be considered 'sneaky'.

In fact, I think he swings quite the other way.
Oh, he tries.
In fact, when he was little, he used to fancy himself a ninja.
The master of subtlety and sneak-iness.
But when it came to actually . . . shifting the blame, or obfuscation of facts?
He was lost.
And oddly enough, it was usually because he couldn’t bear to leave things in a disorderly manner.
Let's face it. Sneaking into other people's possessions, and tidying them before you leave?
Better than they were before?
Not the most subtle of practices.
When ES was 12, his scout group was fund-raising.
He dutifully received his case of chocolate-covered almonds.
I should point out that he was supposed to sell them.
He didn't.
The case rested - for safety's sake and because I knew my almond-loving son - on the floor in my bedroom.
Daily, I lifted one of the boxes on top and rattled it.
Just to make sure it hadn't been tampered with.
In hindsight, I should have dug deeper.
Moving on . . .
The evening came when we had been planning to go door-to-door.
I lifted the case.
It was surprisingly light.
Much too light.
I discovered that the only boxes that actually contained almonds were the four on the top.
ES had been systematically eating the rest.
Then tidily sealing the empties and putting them back into the box.
He also had a thing for ice cream.
The sneaking of which was a family Olympic sport.
But where the other kids would grab a spoon and sneak a bite, then dispose of said spoon into the sink where it would instantly achieve anonymity, ES would get out a bowl.
And spoon.
Sneak his ice cream.
Then rinse the bowl and spoon.
And set them in the freezer.
With the ice cream.
Remember what I said about subtlety?
Yep. Not happening.
Years have passed.
I can't comment about his almond/ice cream snitching ways or their effectiveness today.
His wife and his kids have to worry about that.
It's a perfect world.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The View

A better view. From our porch.
The history.
The culture.
The food.
The heat.
The warm beach.
The tourists . . .
Husby and I had finally achieved a lifetime dream and were sitting beneath a shady umbrella on a patch of the wide, white sand near Cancun.
 Around us was every classic romantic novel encapsulated.
Creamy surf laving the beach.
Sun-worshiping bodies lying in various positions of relaxation and abandon.
A soft breeze caressing white skin (safely hidden from the February sun), flirting with the fringe of the stripped umbrella, teasing the brim of an intricately woven hat and breathing gently across the ice floating in a crimson drink.
With a sigh of pure contentment, Husby leaned back and took a long drink, ice clicking quietly in his tall glass.
Then he gasped.
I looked at him. His eyes had widened as he stared at something down the beach. I turned to follow his gaze.
And felt my breath catch in my throat.
A large man . . . I emphasize large . . . was coming toward us.
And he was naked.
No. Wait. Beneath a ponderous, hanging belly, did I catch a glimpse of something . . . blue?
The man turned slightly.
I did! Something blue!
I felt the blood drain out of my face. Okay. Something small and blue.
The man had enveloped his cargo in a speedo.
Then, not really concerned with anything as trivial as modesty, had . . . rolled it down.
The result was not a mere infraction of the whole beach-wardrobe code, it was a felonious crime of . . . massive proportions.
I reached for Husby’s drink and gulped.
Lying on a beach in Mexico had been heralded as the ultimate in relaxation and pure, sensual comfort. With limitless views of both ocean and sky.
No one had mentioned the views that one could encounter a little closer to one’s beach chair.
Umm . . . Yikes.

Oh, Delores. My Delores. What challenge will you give us next . . .?
Each week, Delores of Under the Porch Light fame hands out - with grave impartiality - six little words. Then we, her devoted followers, try to make sense of them.
Or at least a story . . .
This week's words?
envelopedshadyclassicspeedoinfraction and cargo
What could that possibly suggest but a glimpse of Husby's and my trip to Mexico . . .

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Party Pooped

Jerry. With Mom.
Oh . . . and me.
Jerry is my big brother.
He’s cool
He’s neat.
And he never could be considered a ‘party animal’.
An explanation is in order . . .
One of the best times to host a party is on New Year’s Eve.
Everyone is excited.
Everyone is happy.
And , more importantly, everyone wants to party.
Jerry decided to host his first, ever, New Year’s Eve celebration.
Invitations were extended.
Preparations were made.
And Mom cleaned the house for two days straight.
They were ready . . .
The party started out well.
Forty or so kids, all intent of having a great time.
There was a group in the ping-pong room.
Cheering or competing.
Another group around the pool table.
There were kids dancing in the front room.
Kids playing games wherever there was a space.
Kids circling the snacks table.
And kids visiting with my Mom in the kitchen.
The house was full and the party was, for lack of a better term, ‘hitting on all cylinders’.
The time came for the big build-up to the New Year.
Noisemakers were handed out. Because forty-plus people couldn’t make enough noise on their own.
The countdown.
The cheer.
Or rather, din.
And the New Year was official.
Everybody completed the ritual hugging and kissing.
And went back to what they had been doing.
Well, almost everyone.
Several young ladies were looking for someone specific to ‘congratulate’.
My brother, Jerry.
They searched throughout the house. Staked out the bathrooms until the current occupant emerged. And finally enlisted the help of my Mom.
She did a circuit of the obvious places. Then decided to see if Jerry was, for some reason, in his room.
She knocked.
No answer.
She cracked the door and peeked into the darkened room. Reached in and flipped the light switch.
A sleepy head lifted from the pillow.
He had visited and played games.
He had congratulated and cheered.
He had gotten tired.
He had gone to bed.
Never mind that he was leaving his guests to wind down and find their own way to the door.
Bed was the place for him.
My brother, Jerry.
Party host extraordinaire.
“Hope you had a good time! Don’t forget to put out the lights when you leave!”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Who You Gonna Call?

Now tell me a dark shirt and light tie wouldn't have looked spiffy!

My future Husby and I were preparing for our wedding.

It had been a painless process to this point.
We were standing in the Men's Wear shop.
The best one in Lethbridge.
Husby-to-be was dressed in a new suit.
Light blue.
Spiffy. (real word)
He looked fantastic.
It was the 70s.
Enough said.
I loved this new, light-blue suit.
I thought it would look fantastic with a dark blue shirt and a light tie.
Now, I should explain here that Husby-to-be had spent his whole life - and particularly the last two years - in a dark suit, white shirt and dark tie.
He never noticed how the rich and famous and photographed were dressed.
Never caught a glimpse of the 'fashion' ads.
Dark suit, white shirt and dark tie were what a young man wore.
Every young man.
His wife-to-be was just a touch more daring.
I had seen the fashion ads.
Had glanced through the Movie Star magazines.
I knew Husby-to-be would look amazing in a light suit, dark shirt and light tie.
Like the men in the Godfather.
In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have mentioned that.
I had gotten him into the suit.
But there, all progress had stopped.
He stared suspiciously at the dark shirt I was holding up.
And the light tie.
Finally, he uttered the words that every husby-to-be learns, sooner or later, NOT to say.
Those fateful words that draw a neat line between pre and post-marriage days. 
“I'll ask my mom what she thinks.”
I sucked in a breath. I'm sure the look on my face spoke volumes.
Because he immediately recognized he had said something wrong.
He wasn't sure what, but . . . definitely wrong.
He did wear the light suit.
With a white shirt and light-ish tie.
All totally without any input from his mom.
Compromise at its best.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Using Protection

Big Sister modelling the new chaps.
And yes, something (footwear?) is missing. 
Dad. Ditto.

In the calving field at the Stringam Ranch was a large patch of bullberry bushes.

Or at least that's what we called them.
I don't know what their 'official' name is.
It doesn't matter.
Whatever their name, they're deadly.
Spikes – I am not exaggerating – up to two inches long.
Against a tender and unprotected human hide, they could do some real damage.
The cows in the field had learned to use them.
When a *gasp* human appeared, they would charge into the bushes.
And chuckle with their friends.
I know.
I heard them.
Moving on . . .
The first time or two, my horse decided to charge in after them.
I should explain that a horse's hide is equally as tough as a cow's.
A human's? See above.
Inevitably I would emerge from such incidents rather the 'worse for the wear'.
As my mother was so fond of saying.
The second time I showed up at home with bloodstains on my shredded jeans, my mother drug out Dad's moose-hide chaps.
Now, I should mention here that chaps look really good on a tall slim cowboy.
Really, really good.
And certainly they have their uses.
The chaps, not the cowboys.
Okay yes. A cowboy, too, has his uses.
But that is a completely different sort of post . . .
Back to my story . . .
Chaps provide protection from the ravages of ranch work.
They have saved many a pair of jeans from wear during haying.
And many a cowboy from damage when things get up close and personal.
But they are perversely hard to ride in when one is doing so bareback.
I know.
I tried.
Bareback riding requires balance.
And a good grip with the knees.
Chaps, especially heavy ones, prevent the all-important knee grip.
And actually make balance a bit more difficult.
What to do?
Protection won out.
I wore the chaps.
And they sported the scars to prove it.
Picture leather nearly a quarter of an inch thick.
With cuts that went almost all the way through.
That could have been me.
Years later, I showed them to my children.
Who expressed proper and well-deserved awe and amazement.
Yesterday, my Husby and I were wandering through a store in cattlemen country.
Hanging from the rafters just inside the front door were a pair of chaps.
But not just any chaps.
These were made of leather, dyed green and purple and gold and pink.
With silver fringe.
I stared at them.
Chaps had obviously changed.
Not just for protection any more.
Now they could be worn to scare cows out of the bush.
Or so that their rider could be seen by satellite.
Ranching has come a long way.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Beyond the Statute

Or something similar...
I can only write this story because the Statute of Limitations has expired.
Growing up on the ranch provided many opportunities to drive the tractor around the field. And around and around and around and around and . . .
You get the picture.
This can be very boring.
However, if one is on the right tractor . . .
One hot day, I was given the opportunity to drive our big Case.
At the time I was about 16 years old and I liked driving it because it made a very big vroom sound.
I don't remember the horse power. Let’s just say it had lots of ponies in its motor.
I also liked it because it had a comfortable seat that moved up and down as you drove across the bumpy field, air conditioning, and a radio.
Things not found on other tractors on the ranch.
On a nice hot day, the air conditioning was greatly appreciated and I always liked having a radio. It helped relieve the monotony/boredom.
Now here is where the statute of limitations comes in.
I was instructed by Mom to keep the air conditioning at a reasonable level. She told me that if I had the air conditioning at its maximum level, it was unhealthy. I would say “Sure, Mom” then wait for her to leave and turn the air conditioning as cold as I could get it.
The second thing I was told to do was keep the radio at a moderate level. Then I could hear mechanical noises in a timely manner and shut down and repair equipment. If one didn’t detect these things early there was the potential of having a catastrophic failure.  In other words fix/replace a small part or fix/replace lots of parts. Again my reply was “Sure, Dad” then wait for Dad to leave the field and turn up the radio. 
I was operating the big Case tractor on a beautiful hot summer day.
The birds were singing.
Well I guess they were singing.
Who can hear birds over the roar of the tractor and the ‘moderate’ radio.
The air was fresh and clear.
I think.
It was definitely cold in the cab of the tractor.
I was pulling a big cultivator around the field.
Then it happened.
The cultivator snagged a rock that was just under the soil surface.
In a few short seconds I was staring in horror at an expensive cultivator rolled into a ball around a rock the size of a cow.
I should mention here that I was not concerned about the cultivator. But about the explanation that I was going to give Dad.
My mind immediately started putting my account of the situation together.
Phrases like:
“I was regularly looking at the gages of the tractor and all was fine.”
“I was constantly surveying the soil surface for rocks and other nasty potentially machine-breaking items.” 
“Oh, no! The radio was not blasting loudly, I don’t think I could hardly hear it.”
Then a miracle happened.
The big ball of metal, rock, and soil disentangled themselves and the cultivator popped back into its original shape.
The entire episode lasted a few short seconds.
I breathed a sigh of relief and stopped the tractor. I felt that I had better look the cultivator over and make sure everything was in place before I continued my trek around the field.
It was then I learned why Mom told me to keep the air conditioning at a moderate level. 
I threw open the tractor cab door and was immediately hit with a blast of hot outside air.
I felt a little dizzy but continued down the ladder to the ground.
As I was moving down, a massive amount of hot air from the very powerful motor hit me. My ears started to ring and my head started to spin. My legs turned to spaghetti and I stumbled to the ground.
Luckily, this moved me away from the hot air spewing from the motor.
My head cleared and I was able to move/stumble away from the tractor. 
I looked at the cultivator and determined that it was all right.
I breathed another sigh of relief.
The engineer that designed said cultivator had foreseen my encounter and put in the trip mechanisms to protect it.
I was suddenly grateful for engineers.
Once I had finished with the cultivator, I carefully avoided the blast of hot air as I climbed back on the tractor.
Then I turned down the radio and air conditioning.
And vowed to listen more to Mom and Dad.

Every Sunday, I am featuring stories from little brother Blair, now an Engineering Professor in New Mexico. Who also lived on the ranch with me.
And whose memories are almost as good . . .

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Brother Fishing

Our intrepid camping ally, Ancient of Days.

It's Summer.

Camping time again.
Something our family has done for the past 1000 years. Okay, so I only remember the last fifty or so, so I'm guessing.
We have had a lot of adventures in that time.
Today, I'm remembering one that happened because of our little blue tent trailer.
Our little trailer was purchased in Calgary, Alberta in January 1978. It was so cold that day that I thought the flooring was a sheet of tin.
In my defense, linoleum can resemble tin when it is frozen solid.
When the planet heated up a bit, we opened our new purchase and discovered a tidy, little world in itself. Three neat beds and a square central floor.
Perfect for a family of eight.
It has taken our family everywhere.
For many years, we camped yearly in a beautiful campground in Saskatchewan.
Kimball Lake.
And that's where this story takes place.
Our two youngest were napping.
I use this word lightly.
Because there was no 'napping' happening.
Youngest Daughter (YD) was on the bed she shared with her older sister.
And Youngest Son (YS) was in the playpen on the floor.
Something he had learned to crawl out of.
Normally, this wouldn't have been a problem.
Let me describe our trailer to you.
It has three wings that fold out to form the beds.
The canvas wraps around each of these wings and hooks securely underneath with elastic cords.
It is possible to slide through those spaces.
If your small enough.
And YS, at thirteen months was definitely small enough.
He crawled up onto the bed.
Rolled against the side.
And slid through.
Now it wasn't a long drop to the ground underneath, but it would have given the little fellow quite a jolt.
YD, three, had been watching.
She saw him slip through.
And, with uncharacteristic three-year-old speed and fortitude, leaped across and grabbed him.
My good friend, Tammy and I were seated just outside, visiting.
Suddenly, we saw a pair of little legs kicking and wiggling out of the side of the trailer and heard my daughter call out.
I ran into the trailer.
YD and the top half of YS were visible.
She had both of his hands and was leaning back, trying to keep him from sliding further.
He was giggling happily and trying to wiggle out of her grip.
“Mo-om!” she shouted again.
I grabbed my son and pulled him to safety.
Then put him back in his bed with stern instructions to stay there.
That tiny son is now a husband and father.
But every year, when my Husby and I put up our little trailer, I think of the small boy and his almost escape.
I picture those little legs protruding from the side of the trailer, kicking merrily.
And his sister, recognizing his danger and holding on frantically with all of her three-year-old strength..
It's a good memory.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sunset Dating

Just the two of us.
My Husby believes in date night.
A least once a week.
He and me.
In our earlier, more penurious days we got creative.
In nice weather, long walks.
Around town. Along the river bottom.
Sometimes, we'd wander through the mall, just looking.
Occasionally buying a hot chocolate or ice cream cone to share.
Going grocery shopping.
Having an evening picnic.
Wonderful times.
As we near retirement, dating consists of movies, dinners, theatre and concerts.
Still fun.
As long as we're together.
A couple of evenings ago, Husby's truck broke down.
He pulled into the nearest parking lot, called first for a tow-truck, and then me to come and bring him home.
I arrived long before said tow-truck.
Looooong before.
Together, we waited.
Nearby were several formal restaurants.
And an A&W.
Not wanting to leave the truck until help deigned to arrive, Husby suggested that one of us run across the street to the fast food outlet and grab a couple of burgers.
I volunteered.
Between you and I, I'd rather do that then instruct a tow-truck driver if and when he decided to show up.
Ahem . . .
I returned.
We ate.
Have I mentioned that the world looks better on a full tummy?
Well, it does.
We talked and laughed.
Sitting on the tailgate of the truck in the warm sun.
And the cool summer breeze.
Oh, we both had places we needed to be.
Things that needed doing.
But, for that moment, all that was important were a couple of burgers.
The tailgate of our truck.
The warm summer evening.
And the two of us.
Re-discovering the perfect date.
In our sunset years.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

One. Last. Time.

Don't let the innocent expression fool you!

Our eldest son had a world class talent.
World class.
If it had been an event in the Olympics, he'd have taken home the gold.
But there wasn't.
And he didn't.
Maybe I should explain . . .
Mark was born with the ability to throw a tremendous, colossal, stupendous, prodigious, enormous, fantastic, howling, mind-blowing tantrum.
I know that many children do.
Even some adults.
But no one has ever done it quite at the same level.
And he saved his best performances for when we were in public.
Usually in the toy section of the local department store.
When he was three, he gave his most memorable performance.
Well, I certainly can't forget it . . .
He wanted a toy.
I can't remember which one, but he wasn't getting it.
The family budget was already suffering chills and fever.
Any unnecessary purchases would have surely sent it into a coma.
We started to move away from said toy.
Mark realized that his begging and pleading had come to naught.
He dropped to the ground.
And began to flop around like a landed fish.
Then the screams started.
Ear-shattering. Air raid worthy.
Now, my Husby and I had learned that that proper way to handle a tantrum was to just keep walking.
Which we did.
To this point, it had never worked.
We discovered that Mark could flop and scream AND keep up with his moving parents.
Skill and talent.
But this day was a little different.
This day, we had unexpected . . . help.
As we ducked around the corner, and before Mark could start after us, an elderly gentleman walked up to our writhing boy and stood there, looking down at him.
Mark finally realized that someone was standing beside him.
He opened his eyes.
To see a perfect stranger.
“I guess you'd better come with me,” the man said.
Tantrum instantly forgotten, Mark scrambled to his feet.
His father poked his head around the corner.
Mark ran to him and grabbed him about the knees in a grip fuelled by three parts fear and one part . . . okay, four parts fear.
My Husby silently looked at the man.
Both of them smiled.
And just like that, Mark's public tantrums were finished.
Oh, he still treated us to private performances, but never again were we humiliated in public.
We often think of that man.
A father?
Whoever he was, his wisdom . . .
. . . and timing . . .
Were one of the greatest blessings of our parenting years.
I wish we could tell him.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Rise and Shine

Go ahead! Sing!
How do you 'rise and shine'?
Throughout my life, I have been summoned from sleep in various ways.
Some gentle.
Some strident.
All annoying.
My mom, a member of the 'never wake a sleeping child' sorority, let me sleep in till I woke up on my own.
Well, until I went to school, that is.
Then, her usual wake up call consisted of, “Diane! Get up! The bus will be here in ten minutes!”
Okay, I will admit that she usually called me much earlier than that.
I just wasn't listening.
Dad's form of summoning consisted of one word. “Spring!” And it was always obeyed instantly.
Mom, you could coax and cajole, but dad?
You moved.
Often, I found myself standing beside my bed with no idea of how I got there.
My Husby took a more creative, albeit (Oooh! Good word!) equally annoying route.
He would sing.
And loudly.
In our house, 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!', the usually bright, happy, uplifting anthem from Oklahoma, sounded more like . . . honking.
Or a chorus of frogs.
Or ball-bearings rolling around in a hubcap. (Don't ask me how I know what that sounds like.)
His 'singing' brought instant . . . let me put it this way: No one slept through it.
“Dad! Aarrgghh!”
Moving ahead . . .
Our oldest son had recently become engaged.
To a beautiful girl.
Our entire family had traveled to Fort Macleod to a reunion.
Our future daughter-in-law was bunking with our other daughters.
It was morning.
There was far too much sleeping going on.
My Husby decided he needed to do something proactive.
He went to the door of the girls' room.
Cleared his throat.
And started singing.
You really haven't heard 'Oh What a Beautiful Morning' sung quite like he sings it.
Our future daughter-in-law looked at her future sister-in-law. “Does he always do this?”
FSIL's answer was muffled by the pillow over her head. “Yes.”
“Oh. Maybe I'll have to rethink my joining this family.”
She did join. She comes from hardy stock.
I thought I'd tell you that in case you were worried.
Back to my story . . .
This morning, my alarm woke me.
“Bla-Bla-Bla-Bla-Bla-Bla . . .”
Suddenly I missed my Mom's repeated time updates, my Dad's single word warnings and my Husby's singing.
It's all a matter of perspective.

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