Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Saturday, May 27, 2017

When It's Raining Mice


Okay, he only looks cute . . .
We lived in the country.
Far out in the country.
We had many people living in our house.
But we weren't the only residents.
Maybe I should describe our other (for lack of a better term) tenants.
They were warm.
Breathing.
And regularly produced offspring.
They routinely got into our food storage.
And created their own comfortable little hideaways. 
Mostly in our walls and dressers.
And they never, ever paid rent.
Oh, and two important points:
1. They were covered with hair.
2. They had tails.
You're right.
We had mice.
Did you know that mice like to nest in clean baby clothes, rendering them un-wearable?
That they climb anywhere?
And can squeeze through really, really tiny holes that it is nearly impossible to bar them from your home?
And they like everything we like.
Especially things that come in a cloth or cardboard package.
And some plastic.
Their standards are not high.In fact, they have even been known to burrow into boxes of Kraft dinner or bags of Ramen noodles, which we all know have no nutritional value whatsoever.
We learned to deal with them.
Trap them when we could.
Even poison some when we were truly desperate.
But still they kept coming.
We found 'mice tracks' in our clean bedding. On the shelves. On top of the TV. Even on the kitchen counters.
It was a nightmare.
One I think could easily be turned into a horror movie. Hmmm. Attack of the Mice? Or: The Teeth That Could Chew Through Anything? How about: The Really Annoying Things in the Walls?
Okay, I'm out. What are your suggestions?
Moving on . . .
My Husby and I were in bed, drifting at the edges of sleep.
Well, I was, he was reading a magazine.
Suddenly, he spotted movement.
I should explain here, that our temporary bedroom was in the basement and our bed was shoved into the corner formed by the meeting of two cinder-block walls.
Important note: Mice can climb cinder block walls.
And I was the person sleeping next to the wall.
Enough exposition.
My husband turned his head sharply and the mouse climbing up the corner, inches from my head, immediately dove for cover.
My husband narrowed his eyes, rolled the magazine he had been reading, and waited.
Okay I will admit that I'm only imagining the narrowed eyes.
But this is my story. I'll tell it how I want . . .
Soon, his patience was rewarded.
Our intrepid little explorer (See how refined I am? I could have called him *&^%$#@!!!) started, once more, upwards.
This time, Grant waited until the mouse was high enough on the wall that it couldn't possibly get back. Then he attacked.
SWAT! 
With the rolled-up magazine.
He got it!
The stunned mouse fell.
Right onto my chest.
The edges of sleep vanished as I gasped and sat up. Whereupon (good word) it fell with a plop into my lap.
Grant scooped it up, quickly dispatched it, and then turned the most apologetic face to me that I have ever seen.
And all I could do was laugh.
What else can you do when it starts raining mice?
Indoors.
P.S. We did solve our mouse problem. We moved.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Phunctional Phone Phun

My 'Creative Parenting 101' Professor
When Dad spoke. We listened.
Most of the time.
One ignored my father at one's own risk.
Let me tell you about it . . .
I had a boyfriend.
It was a new and exciting experience for me.
We would say good-bye at the school bus stop, get on our respective buses and head for home.
Fifty minutes later, we would be on the phone.
Talking.
For hours.
Literally.
I should point out here that, in the 1960s, we had one phone line to the ranch.
And, because we were ultra-modern and progressive, two phones on that line.
One in the kitchen.
And one in my parents bedroom.
The epitome of modern convenience.
Back to my story . . .
I don't know what we found to talk about. But talk, we did. Until one or both of us was tagged for chores.
Or supper was announced.
Or our parents got annoyed.
My Mom was usually quite predictable, saying such things as, “Diane! Get off the phone! You've been on there for an hour!”
To which I would comply.
Eventually.
And under protest.
My Dad was a little more creative.
He would walk in the door, see me there on the phone, note the time, and leave the room.
That was my cue.
And my only warning.
I had seconds to say my good-byes. 
Because Dad wanted me off the phone. And I wasn't going to like his methods.
They were . . . effective.
He would simply walk into his bedroom and turn on the radio.
Loudly.
Then take the phone receiver and lay it down beside said radio.
If I hadn't already ended my conversation, I did so then.
With a shouted good-bye and hastily cradled phone.
Mission accomplished.
Simply and elegantly, without a word being spoken.
Genius.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Battle(less)ship

Hours of fun. Or aggravation . . .
Mom always appreciated a good joke. Usually, she stood back and . . . appreciated. Occasionally, she was the instigator.
Let me explain . . .
Our family had just been introduced to a new game. Battleship. Actually, an old game, originally played with paper and pencil, now in a new format.
Plastic peg boards of Mediterranean sea blue. With cute little plastic ships.
We spent many hours playing this game, trying to outwit each other with our clever placements.
Very occasionally, we were able to convince one or the other of our parents to play.
Dad was deadly. He systematically shot at your ships.
Every third hole.
You could see his juggernaut (good word) sweeping down on your hapless little fleet and were powerless to stop him.
The game always left you feeling like a butterfly on a pin.
But Mom was a little more. . . gentle. She would destroy your ships using woman's intuition.
You were just as dead, but you felt better about it.
One day, she was playing with one of my younger siblings, Blair. The game had been going on for some time.
Mom: "B-8."
Blair: "Hit." .
Blair: "G-3."
Mom: "Miss."
Mom: "B-7."
Blair: "Hit."
Blair: "G-1."
Mom: "Miss."
And so it went.
Finally, Mom had cornered Blair's last ship and was closing in for the kill.
And that's when Blair got tired of the constant discouragement. "Where are your darn ships anyways?!" he demanded.
Mom gazed down at her board. "Ships?" she said.
Then she grinned.
She hadn't put them on the board.
Game. Set. Match.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Preserved

And yes, that is a jester costume . . .
When we were teenagers, my husby and I got involved in theatre.
And stayed involved.
This year marks 48 years for me.
And slightly more for him.
I know, I know. Do the math.
That makes us both . . . old.
But we love it.
We raised our children on the stage.
All six of them.
A recent production, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers closed recently.
To a standing ovation.
Our youngest son, Tristan was singing the role of Adam.
And as I watched him, I couldn't help but remember his first time on stage, at the age of 5.
We weren't sure if he would remember lines, so we made him a mute.
Big mistake.
He hasn't stopped talking since.
Then I thought about all of the roles he has had in his short lifetime.
And other experiences he has had on the stage.
Let me tell you about one.
We were setting up the stage for a production of “I Hate Hamlet”.
Look it up. It's funny.
We were trying different configurations with our set pieces.
One piece, a double glass door in it's own frame, was built by a home builder.
He hadn't understood that set pieces were supposed to drag around easily.
And be . . . light.
He had built it according to building code requirements.
So . . . definitely not light.
We had stood it up and were discussing where it should go in the grand scheme of things.
My son, Tristan was sitting innocently in a chair on stage, waiting for his parents to finish moving furniture around.
We stepped away from the door, intent on another piece of scenery.
And that's when it tipped.
The door, I mean.
Forward.
Towards my son.
It was one of those things that you could see happening.
But were powerless to stop.
For a moment, time slowed to a crawl.
The door dropped.
Down.
Down.
And smacked the back of our son's chair off.
Really.
A large, heavy, wooden chair.
Broke the back right off.
Our son turned and looked.
The door had missed him, quite literally, by a whisker.
I watched him singing that night.
And saw him with his little family later.
I thought about that wall falling towards him so many years ago.
Obviously preserved for greater things.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Wire Art

Art isn't always found on display.
And real artists don't necessarily work in a studio.

A true work of art . . .
On a ranch, fences are rather important.
They mean the difference between control and chaos. 
With a good fence, one can dictate which animals live where.
And which of the bulls certain cows are exposed to.
It probably isn't obvious, but with purebred animals, control means the difference between a progressive herd.
And one that is headed only for the meat market.
It is an exacting science of reading pedigrees and understanding genetics.
I rode the horses and put cows where Dad told me.
You can see where I was on the 'ranching is science' scale.
So back to the control thing . . .
A good fence means that things are ordered.
Predictable.
Profitable.
Poor fences spell trouble.
And diminishing returns.
Thus, the most important task on the Stringam Ranch outside of actually . . . associating with the cattle, was building fences.
Something Dad did rather well.
Let me tell you about it.
Building a four-wire barbed wire fence takes many stages.
First, the building of the corners, a sturdy framework of posts and neatly twisted wire, capable of sustaining enormous pull.
Then stringing the wire between the corners. This is a tricky part. As my brother, George can attest.
Then, planting posts in a straight line along the wires.
Note: Hold post from the side 
Accomplished with a 'post pounder' mounted on a tractor. A useful, but potentially dangerous gizmo. (Side note: hold post from the side.)
Then tacking said wires to said posts.
This was my job.
All it took was a steady hand.
Or if you lacked that, stamina.
Which was what I had.
If the first whack or two didn't get the staple into the post, the next 14 whacks would.
Moving on . . .
This was at that point most of the fence-builders would pack up their tools and call the job finished.
And where the true artists shone.
Remember, we were talking about my Dad.
Once the fence was actually assembled, Dad would stand back and look at it.
I should point out here that the fields in Southern Alberta are seldom flat. They may not change much, but they do change.
And a fence has to run smoothly along them.
I emphasize the word 'smoothly'.
If a fence goes down into a dip, then up again, the tightly stretched wires can actually, over time, pull the lower posts up out of the ground.
True story.
And that is where Dad came in.
He would walk along the fence, find the places where the line would dip, and weight it.
Really.
He would find a large rock (not uncommon on the prairies), tote it over to the dip, fasten a wire around it firmly, then attach the rock to the fence, pulling the wires down so they followed the ground perfectly.
I had watched him do this so often that, to me, that's just how it was done.
I was wrong.
Once, an elderly rancher from west of us came looking for the county veterinarian.
Who happened to be out building fence.
The man drove up in his rusted old pick-up and stopped near where my Dad and brothers were working.
Climbing out of his truck, he greeted everyone, then stood and watched their activities.
Finally, Dad finished with his current wire and rock creation, and turned to speak to the old man.
Only to find him in tears.
Thinking the man had a real emergency, Dad quickly walked over.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Oh nothing," the old man said, blowing his nose. "It's just that I haven't seen that kind of fence-building in fifty years!"
True artists appreciate true art.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Pew

Old Cowboy Joe was telling tales in Main Street yesterday,
Describing his adventures in the city far away,
But Joe, he didn’t know the terms or language he should use,
So Charlie helped him so his hearers wouldn’t be confused.

Now Joe said, “I arrived at church, t’was Sunday, ‘fore sunrise.
They had me park Ol’ Blue, my truck in their corral, sidewise.”
“It’s not ‘corral’, Old Joe,” said Charlie, in a quiet voice,
“It’s ‘parking lot’, please get it right. Just make the proper choice.”

Ol’ Joe just shrugged and nodded and continued with his tale,
“I left Ol’ Blue and moseyed to the door along the trail.”
Charlie rolled his eyes and leaned on in toward his friend,
“It’s called a ‘sidewalk’, Joe,” he said. “You’ll get it, in the end.”

Joe looked at him and made a face, then started in once more,
“I met this dude there in the church, he was just inside the door.”
“That ‘dude’ would be the ‘usher’, Joe,” said Charlie, with a grin.
“He’s the guy who meets you there, the instant you walk in.”

“He led me down the chute,” Joe said. “I followed where he led.”
“An ‘aisle’ not a ‘chute’,” Chuck said. “Come on, Joe, use your head!”
Joe rubbed his nose. “With Chuck’s consent, I’d like to end my tale.”
Then Charlie smiled, “It’d go so well if you, my friend, spoke ‘braille’!”

“I stood there, just inside the church and looked around a bit,
“The dude then led me to a stall and showed me where to sit.”
Chuck looked at him. “A ‘stall’?” he said. Then spat the word out, “Pew!”
Joe said, “That dame I sat beside? Well, that’s what she said, too!”

Monday's for POETRY!
Come on, it needs all the  help it can get!
Delores and Jenny agree with me.
Mosey on over and see what they've done...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Gates to...

Approach carefully. It's tricky
On a ranch, there are gates.
Many gates.
In the corrals, big gates made of long, wooden boards.
That are fun to swing on.
As long as your Dad doesn't catch you.
Ahem . . .
Along the hundreds of miles of barbed-wire fences in the pastures, the gates are made of . . . barbed wire.
Go figure.
Barbed wire gates are fashioned by four or five long pieces of wire stretched between two end posts. Then three or four lighter 'dancers' (smaller poles) are nailed to these wires to keep them from tangling when the gate is being opened or closed.
Barbed wire gates are a bit tricky, but easily used, once you get the knack. With practice (and a cooperative horse) one can even open and close these gates without ever having to get out of the saddle.
If one has an skittish (ie. stupid) horse, the mere thought of dragging a fence post and wires a few feet leads to Entertainment!
Notice the capital 'E'.
Okay, one doesn't have to look for excitement on a ranch.
Soooo . . . gates.
And using them.
My Mom, raised on a ranch and married to a rancher, never quite got the knack of the barbed wire gates.
I should point out here that, when we were riding, we took turns opening and closing. When we were driving, the person riding 'shotgun' was the designated gateman. Because Mom was so entertaining, she was always stuck in that seat. So the rest of us could watch.
Oh, Mom could open the gates, a trick in itself. And close them.
An even better trick.
But that is where her difficulty started.
Because somehow, she always closed them with herself on the wrong side. Whereupon (good word) she would have to either perform the entire operation again, or crawl through.
She always chose the latter.
And the rest of us had a good chuckle while she did so.
Okay, you're right, we did have to look for our entertainment.
But at least we didn't have to look far . . .

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Blink

In happier times...

My Dad was in the blacksmith shop.
And wherever Dad went, we kids trailed after.
Because.
Why is it that everything Dad does is interesting?
For the first couple of minutes.
After that, one's short attention span rather gets in the way.
But I'm getting ahead of myself . . .
Two-year-old Blair had followed Dad to the shop. Mom was in hospital with newborn sister, Anita, and Gramma was babysitting.
But Dad did such interesting things . . .
For a short time, Blair had been fascinated with simply watching as Dad puttered.
Then, other interesting sights caught his attention.
Tools.
Horseshoes.
Old paint cans filled with stuff.
He began to explore.
Dad kept an eye on him as he toddled about.
Then, Dad turned on the air compressor.
Its roar filled the old, log-built room and drew every kid in the vicinity.
Blair.
He watched, fascinated as the wheel spun.
"Now you stay back, son," Dad told him firmly.
And he did. For a very, very long time. He was two. Thirty seconds is a very, very long time when you're two.
Dad turned his back for a moment.
Blair saw his chance. He moved forward and reached out to touch the spinning wheel. For a moment, he couldn't figure out what had happened.
Then the pain started.
He screamed.
Dad spun around to see Blair shaking his hand and spraying blood everywhere.
He grabbed him, pulled out his every-ready handkerchief to wrap around the wounded hand and headed for the house.
Dad made the trip to the hospital in record time.
And that is something when you are traveling on uncertain dirt roads.
Soon, Blair was home again, with a neat glove bandage around his pointer finger.
Which now was missing part of the first joint.
Dad figures that the spinning belt caught it and nipped it off against the flywheel.
A terrible wound.
Leaving a scar. And a story to impress girls with twenty years later.
Ahem . . .
But a fixable wound.
And a solemn reminder that turning your back for a second is all it takes.
Ranches can be dangerous.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wings of Death

Does this scare you?

Debbie's family lived on a ranch not far from ours. Her father had worked for my parents as a young man, before he had married.
They had remained good friends.
As had Debbie and I, once we had made our respective appearances (ie. born).
In our senior year, I stayed with them for a semester. They were kind, wonderful people. Very clever and full of fun.
Debbie and I had a room in the basement. Lovely twin beds and assorted other furniture.
With the lamp hanging over her bed.
This is an important point.
She was also terrified of moths.
Another important point.
And I liked to read at night after climbing into bed.
These all tie together.
Let me explain . . .
It was late. Debbie had long been trying to sleep.
I was reading.
It never occurred to me that I was being inconsiderate, though I knew full well the room's only light hung directly over her.
She tossed and turned and finally huffed and, throwing back the covers, got out of bed.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“Bathroom,” she mumbled.
Just then, a moth that had been fluttering around in the light for the past half-hour, made the mistake of appearing where Debbie could see him. “Screech!” In a blur, she headed towards the door.
For some inexplicable reason, the moth followed her out into the dark hall.
You never can tell with moths.
There was another horrendous screech and Debbie darted back into the room, jumped into her bed and pulled the covers over her head.
The moth fluttered in happily behind her and was soon once more dancing in the light.
“STUPID MOTH! SHUT OFF THAT STUPID LIGHT!” Debbie shouted, through the covers.
I stared at the quivering lump that was my friend. “How on earth did you know the moth followed you into the hall?”
“HE TOUCHED MY FACE! SHUT OFF THE LIGHT!”
I complied.
Imagine. Frightened of a silly moth.
Now if it had been something truly scary. Like a spider . . .

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Baby Words

Husby and I spent the last weekend in Provo, Utah.
He, walking, relaxing and catching-up-on-sleep in the Marriott.
Me, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Ally Condie, Brandon Sanderson, James Dashner and Jennifer Nielsen at the Storymakers Conference.
Yep. Just me (and over 700 other writers) were all sharing with and learning from the best and brightest, including several New York Times bestselling authors.
What a weekend!
But, as with any good thing, it ended. And now I have the long months to wait until Storymakers 2018.
But, after we had packed up and checked out, something happened that made the joyous weekend of books and words last just a teensy bit longer . . .
Husby and I decided to attend Church a short distance from the hotel. We walked in as the congregation was singing a hymn. (Yes, we were late.)
We took a seat near the back, where many of the families with small children had taken up residence. (And yes, I was missing my grandchildren, so this was the perfect place for us.)
A tiny girl—just shy of actually walking—was in the pew just across the aisle from us. For the first few seconds, she stared steadily at Husby’s bearded face.
Yeah, he gets that a lot.
Then another couple walked in (We weren’t the latest arrivals. Whew!) with a tinier baby in a carrier. They took a seat a few rows back from us and set the carrier down on the floor in the aisle right next to their bench.
The little girl’s attention was immediately diverted. “OOOH!” she said, pointing to the baby. Getting down on her hands and knees, she quickly closed the distance between her and her soon-to-be-best-friend.
Her parents watched her go.
Did they jump up and retrieve their wandering daughter?
Nope.
Instead, her father quietly took out a board book and propped it up on the floor in the aisle beside their family’s pew where it would be in plain sight of their little explorer.
The tiny girl sat down beside the baby carrier, then spied the book.
“OOOH!” she said again. She started crawling back toward her family. And her book.
Halfway back, she again sat down, her head swiveling between the baby and the book. Hmmm . . . which to pursue?
Finally, decision made, she closed the distance between her and her reading material. Happily, she grabbed the book. Her dad grabbed her and the two of them proceeded to make their way through something brightly-coloured and catchy.
The baby in the carrier slept on, unaware that her friend had abandoned her for an adventure of the printed kind.
And I realized how important it is that we are readers. That we are raising future readers.
And the thought struck: If more children chose reading over hanging with friends, what kind of world would we live in?
Just wondering . . .


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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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