Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Blair's Prayer

 . . . or crying works, too
It was an uncharacteristically quiet day in the Stringam household.
The older kids were at school.
Dad and the hired men were out doing . . . ranch stuff.
Mom and the two youngest children were in the house.
Anita asleep in babyland.
Blair, known for playing quietly . . . umm . . . playing quietly.
In the basement.
I should point out, here, that two-year-old Blair was being toilet-trained.
The lessons were ongoing.
With mixed results.
Mom was busy in the kitchen.
Her 'mom alarm' went off.
Time to check on Blair's progress.
Or lack thereof.
She stood at the top of the stairs and called down.
“Blair! Time to go potty!”
Okay, so subtle, we weren't.
Her little tow-headed boy appeared at the bottom of the stairs.
Definitely not making eye-contact with his mother.
“Blair! Did you wet your pants?”
The answer was quite obvious.
Mom sighed. “Blair you come up here this moment!”
Obediently, the small boy started up the long flight of stairs.
On little hands and knees.
About midway, he paused.
Looked up at his mother standing like a nemesis at the top of the stairs.
Then put his little hands together.
Bowed his head.
And squeezed his little blue eyes tightly shut.
“Heavenly Father. Please bless Mommy, Daddy, Brothers and Sisters. And Blair.”
He looked up.
His prayer had been answered.
By this point Mom was sitting on the top step.
Laughing too hard to even consider another lesson in toilet training.
Who says prayer doesn't work?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cause Blonde is Better

See? Blonde.
My Father-in-Law (hereinafter known as FIL) did not like blondes.
And my Mother-in-Law hated beards.
These two statements go together.
Just give me a moment . . .
So . . . back to my FIL.
No one knew why he did not like blondes.
And they did ask.
“Dad! Were you dumped by a blonde?”
“Dad! Did some blonde do something horrible?”
“Dad! Could I borrow twenty bucks?” Oh, wait, that has nothing to do with this.
Back to my story . . .
He passed away without ever sharing the reasons for his aversion.
But his family knew it well.
Whenever one of his five sons asked to borrow the car for a date, the first question was, invariably, “She’s not a blonde, is she?”
To which the invariable answer was, “Oh, no, Dad! She’s not a blonde! Definitely not a blonde!”
Even if she was.
The keys would be produced.
The date embarked upon.
All was well.
Yep. FIL’s aversion was well known.
Sometimes a little too well known.
His wife had an aversion as well.
To facial hair.
Here it comes . . .
If her husband ever suggested that he was considering growing a beard, she had the perfect answer.
“I’ll dye my hair blonde!”
Even the remote possibility of beard growing disappeared instantly.
In his later years, he did make allowances.
I mean, he personally picked me for his son, and I had the white-blonde hair only found in people of Swedish heritage (like me) or points north.
And, in fact, two of his sons married blondes.
Call it parental opposition.
But the mystery remains.
The only other statement we ever heard from him concerning blondes was, “You know why blondes have more fun, don’t you? Because they get dirty quicker!”
Hmm . . . was that a hint?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Server and Servee.
I'm a people-pleaser.
Or try to be.
Call it a weakness.
But I've always had this compulsion to make everyone around me as comfortable as possible.
Most of the time, it's fun.
Occasionally, not.
Let me tell you about it.
When I was first married, my greatest wish was to see my new Husby happy, comfortable and well-fed.
I worked hard at it.
Fortunately, he is a kind and considerate man, so all was well.
I had meals ready at meal times.
Kept the laundry done.
Cleaned the house.
Ran errands for him.
This went on for some time.
Then, I began to realize that some of the 'errands' were jobs he could have done equally well himself.
And probably should.
Case in point:
Whenever he would use a tissue ( Kleenex), he would then hand me said used tissue and I would hunt for a garbage to throw it in.
True story.
Can everyone say “gullible”? Everyone?
This went on for nearly three years.
Then, one day, we were at a reception.
My Husby used a tissue and turned and held it out to me.
Now, the normal people-pleasing Diane would have taken it and found a place to dispose of it.
The new Diane looked at the tissue, then at my Husby and said, “Throw it out yourself.”
Whereupon (good word) he laughed and stuck it into his pocket. “Finally caught on, did you?” he said.
And that's when I hit him.
Oh, not hard.
Just enough for him to know that I was . . . displeased.
And that he could run his own stupid errands from now on.
I said it. See how much I've learned?
Erm . . . can I take that for you?

Monday, June 27, 2016

The (Fire) Circle of Life

That's Entertainment!
On the ranch, in the 50s, we burned our garbage.
It was the only option.
Each week, the trash cans were collected from every room in the house
Carried out to the burning barrel.
Emptied into said barrel.
And set alight.
It was an exciting job.
Okay, well, it looked exciting to me.
Probably because the task came with an 'age appropriate' rating.
And I hadn't reached that age.
I would scurry through the house, collecting bins for whoever was assigned.
Then help them lug everything to the trash barrel.
Then stand back and watch as they . . .
Most of the time, it only took one.
I was more than fascinated.
The lit match would be lowered into the barrel.
A curl of smoke would issue forth.
Then the first of the flames.
There was nothing . . . I repeat nothing . . . more exciting.
And I had been to movies.
And watched Bonanza on TV.
Okay, well, maybe I'd better exclude Bonanza which, incidentally, started with its own fire.
For years, I watched, enviously as, first my parents, then my older siblings got to light the match.
Slowly, the day approached when I would be trusted with the all-important job.
And then, it was here.
"Diane, would you please burn the garbage?"
I carefully collected every bin.
Toted them all down to the barrel.
Chose one at random and dumped its contents.
Chose another.
And another.
And finally, surrounded by empty trash cans, the magic moment.
I lit the match.
And dropped it carefully into the accumulated trash.
It winked out.
I tried again.
Same thing.
This was harder than it looked.
Most of a book of matches later, I discovered that I needed to choose a piece of paper as my first victim.
Light that, then let it light the rest.
Finally, I had a blaze.
I stepped back and watched proudly.
My first trash fire.
Okay, I admit it, you have to look for opportunities to shine in this life.
Within a few weeks, I was an old hand at 'burning the trash'.
I could collect, empty and light with the best of them.
And use one match to do it.
And then the gloss wore off.
Dad: "Diane. Time to take out the trash."
Me: "Can't someone else do it? I'm watching Woody Woodpecker!"
Blair: "I'll do it!"
Dad: "Blair's too little. He can help, but Diane has to light the match."
Me: [Huge sigh.] "Okay. Fine."
Blair: "Yipee!"
The fire circle of life.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hockey. Live.

Or something similar.

It was my first ‘live’ hockey game.

Okay, I know that all of them are live.
And live-ly.
Let me re-word . . .
It was the first game I attended where I was actually sitting in the bleachers.
It’s a lot more exciting when one is surrounded by fans.
And can feel the cold air on one’s cheeks.
Just FYI.
My friend Colleen RHF (rabid hockey fan), whose boyfriend was minding the net for our team, was explaining things to me.
I glanced at her occasionally as she spouted such foreign terms as ‘face-off’ and ‘icing’ and ‘high-sticking’ and ‘penalty’. But mostly, I just sat and happily watched the game not knowing--or caring--who was winning.
Colleen was not as . . . indifferent as me.
She wasn’t very tall, but she could sure make her presence felt, bobbing periodically to her feet to launch criticisms at whichever aggravating party was . . . aggravating. As in: “What’d’ya call that, Ref?! Are you blind?!!!”
But as loud as she was, her behaviour had nothing on the woman sitting in front of us, next to the boards.
I should probably mentions, here, that this was in the pre-safety days when nothing stood between you and the flying puck.
Back to my story . . .
Now that woman was vocal.
She used words I’d never even heard of, expertly launching them at the ref with practiced ease.
I tried mentally editing out the more profane. But if I’d been successful, the woman would have been sitting there with her mouth open and nothing emerging.
Halfway through the game, she became a little more pro-active.
And that’s when things really got interesting.
After flinging a particularly incendiary little ball of nastiness at the long-suffering ref, she leaned on the boards and waited for the man to skate past.
She didn’t have to wait for long.
If you know hockey, you know that this game goes back and forth. A lot.
The ref skated by, intent on the next play, whistle in his mouth and hands and feet working frantically.
The woman leaned over and swung her purse at him, knocking him clear into tomorrow. I say that because it was ‘tomorrow’ before he woke up.
He was carried from the ice with reverence and care.
The woman was escorted to the hoosegow with neither of the above.
When officers opened her purse, they discovered a bottle of whisky.
The ref made a complete recovery, living to ref again.
Never saw that woman again, though. At least not at any hockey games.
But the lesson was learned.
Alcohol can kill you.
In the right

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Ceremony of the Tucking In

Routines are important.
Especially when one has many small bodies that one is trying to shuffle into bed.
The bedtime ritual in the Tolley household was probably one of the most adhered-to in the entire day.
Little, wiggling bodies were scrubbed clean.
Teeth brushed.
Hair combed.
Jammies donned.
Stories read.
Family prayer said.
And lastly, the all-important Ceremony of the Tucking In.
The grand and glorious final scene in the whole bedtime scenario.
I won't mention here that the tucking in was usually immediately followed by the "I can't sleep" or "I wanna drink of water" or the all important "I have to go pee".
Okay, maybe I will.
Moving on . . .
One of our children, particularly, looked forward to being tucked in each night.
Our daughter, Tiana.
She would emerge happily from the bathroom, sparkling clean and dressed for bed and announce to her Dad, "I'm ready!"
Whereupon (good word) he would drop the evening paper and follow her to the bedroom she shared with her sister.
Then would follow the boosting into bed.
The careful molding of the blankets around the warm little body.
And the ever important good-night kiss.
Then lights were doused, doors closed and Mom and Dad could relax.
At least until the post-tucking parade began.
One evening, Tiana announced to her father that she was ready to be tucked in.
Then realized that she had forgotten something and disappeared.
But notice had been given.
Dad was already on the move.
He went to her room, performed his usual ceremony.
Then resumed his chair and his reading.
Tiana re-appeared.
"I'm ready now," she said.
Her father looked at her. "I already tucked you in," he said.
"What? I'm right here! You didn't tuck me in!"
"Well, I tucked somebody in."
Tiana ran to her room.
"You tucked in my teddy bear!" she said loudly.
Her father grinned into his newspaper. "Well, he was there!" he said.
After that, it was a race to see who could get to Tiana's room first.
She, grinning as her father was forced to perform the usual ceremony.
Or her father, who would then tuck in whatever was close at hand.
I repeat. Routines are important.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The O'Connor Boy

He’s not a  mean or nasty lout,

In fact, were you to ask about
Our Paddy Craig O’Connor boy,
You’d find that he’s just hoi polloi.

He’ll shoulder in, with work to do
He loves his wife, and kiddies too,
He’s loyal, almost to a fault,
A fisherman--a seasoned salt.

But after a long day at sea
He’ll meet the boys occasionally,
And, of the good stuff, have a dram,
Then get himself into a jam.

‘Cause Paddy, when he’s had a few,
Well, there’s nothing he won’t do,
Though he draws the line at lawless stuff,
It's hard for him to say, "Enough!"

He’s mixed the pigs in with the sheep,
And upset everybody’s sleep,
Howled with the dogs, sang with the cats,
Joined Ladies Aid with a box of bats.

Dropped a pig in the local pub,
Took chickens to the senior’s club.
Yes, Paddy really has a knack.
For strolling down the 'mischief' track.

Until that time e’en Paddy knew
He’d knocked the Universe askew.
He had to make a major change.
Frivolities, he’d rearrange . . .

It’d started harmlessly enough,
With Paddy swimming ‘in the buff’.
Just floating out there in the bay
Till the Archbishop came his way.

I must admit: How could he know
An august visitor would show?
But there he was upon the sand,
With formal robes and raise-ed hands.

Well, Paddy rose out of the waves
Wearing just what God had ‘gave’,
Advanced to ask him “What's the craic?”
And give His Grace’s hand a shake.

And right there on the sea levee,
In frank and simple way, did he
Beseech His Excellence to leave.
A blessing for one who believed.

The blunt request no sooner said,
His Grace’s face turned slightly red,
T’was only then Pad realized
They were the cynosure of eyes.

The village, all, was there to see.
Pad sobered up immediately,
And in the mayhem that ensued,
Vowed he would be more subdued.

So if you’re staying there to sleep,
Hear pigs and chickens and some sheep,
Know, with those feats of fun and brawn,
That Paddy’s clothes are staying on.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Horse Trading for Dummies

Me and Zee.
Now that's a little more like it!
At sixteen, I made my first foray into the wide, exciting world of horse trading.
Let's just say it was a learning experience . . .
I had been saving my money for months to purchase my first horse.
Okay, yes, we had dozens of horses on the ranch, but none of them had been purchased by me.
See the difference?
Okay, my Dad didn't, either.
Moving on . . .
Some friends of ours knew of a rancher near Waterton Park who had some horses to sell.
Beautiful scenery and a chance to buy my own horse.
It was a perfect world.
We drove into the mountains and left the main road, winding down the mountainside and into the prettiest little ranch I had ever seen.
I was filled with anticipation.
Only the best in horseflesh could come from such a place.
I was wrong.
The owner introduced us to several horses, but one little bay mare immediately caught my eye.
The rancher noticed.
Perhaps my glassy-eyed stare and drool was a give-away.
He went into his spiel.
Yes. Ranchers have a spiel.
He told me I would love her. Her gait, conformation and performance were perfection.
Here. Let's saddle up and you can take her for a spin.
He did.
I did.
Everything he had said was true.
Money exchanged hands.
We loaded the sedate little mare into our handy-dandy trailer and headed home.
Before we had gotten back to the main road, I had a name for my new best friend.
It suited.
Back at home, my Dad got his first look. He examined her carefully, then shrugged. I don't know, he said. She looks pretty enough, but I don't know.
Horse sense. Some of them have it . . .
Some of us don't . . .
The next morning, I went out to saddle up my new little beauty.
And got a distinct shock.
During the night, someone had come and switched my sweet tempered little Fancy with a roaring, man-killing beast.
And I do mean man-killing.
The drugs had obviously worn off.
Remember when I called her 'sedate? I obviously should have said 'sedated'.
No sooner had I bridled her, then she reared up and struck out at me with her front hooves.
I should point out, here, that hooves are hard and can easily be used to cause 'blunt force trauma'.
I watch C.S.I. so I know about B.F.T.
Her first unexpected attack caught me, fortunately on the very top of my head where my skull is the thickest.
She knocked me to my knees, but did no permanent damage.
I struggled quickly to my feet and moved to the nearest far-away place.
Where I watched in wonder as she began her second attack.
Yep. The first had been no accident.
But I was ready and she posed no danger at that point.
My decision was made, however.
This horse had to go.
I talked to my friend, the one who had taken me to buy my little whirlwind of terror.
He was very interested.
He should be, he had gotten me into this mess . . .
He dealt with difficult horses and offered, on the spot, to trade me for a horse of my choosing.
This time, I took my Dad with me.
I may be dumb, but I do learn quickly.
We agreed on a nice, black gelding.
Tall. Lively.
But without one aspect.
He wasn't out for my blood.
An important aspect as it turns out.
'Zee' and I became instant friends.
Something Fancy and I could never be.
Sorry, Fancy. But it is your fault.
P.S. They say, 'Never buy a horse with the blanket on'. Turns out you need a blood test as well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Getting It Right

I come from a long line of non-smokers.
Generations of puff-nots.
But my best friend had a cousin staying over for the summer.
A cousin from the big city who had seen it all.
And done most of it.
I was about to get an education . . .
My family lived on a ranch twenty miles from Milk River, in southern Alberta.
Life out there was bliss.
And, because of a lack of outside influences, completely under the control of my parents.
I had seen people smoking.
Certainly I had.
But I had never considered the possibility of being one of them.
Not even for an instant.
Moving on . . .
My parents owned a house in town.
When Mom got tired of driving the twenty miles to take us kids to school and activities, we would move into town.
Until Dad got tired of driving out to the ranch every day to do ranching stuff.
We would move back.
It was a fun and exciting way to live.
The benefits of town living.
The joys of the ranch.
But one or the other of our houses often sat empty in the interim.
That summer, we were firmly ensconced on the ranch.
So the town house was sitting vacant.
A perfect place for 10-year-old girls to get an education from the 11-year-old-far-more-experienced-world-weary-cousin-from-the-big-city.
My parents had dropped me off at my best friend's house for a--gasp--Once and only.three day sleep over while they went out of town.
We: my BFF, her younger sister and the Cousin (notice the capital letter) had been knocking around town for most of two days.
It had been an education.
It was about to become more so.
The Cousin bought a packet of cigarettes.
She was going to show us country hicks how to smoke.
Okay, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Our biggest problem lay in finding a secret place in which to do our teaching/learning. I mean, there were twelve kids in my BFF's family. Plus the Cousin. Plus me. Her house was out . . .
My family's empty town house.
I found the key and let us in.
The place echoed emptily.
We went into the main bathroom and dug out the cigarettes.
Cousin proceeded to light up.
Oooh! She looked so cool!
The rest of us were excited to try.
In no time, we each had a cigarette.
She helped us light them.
Soon, my BFF and her sister were blowing smoke in the most approved manner.
It took me a bit longer.
But I got it, once Cousin pointed out that one needed to suck.
Not blow.
I should point out, here that my parents weren't due to pick me up from my BFF's until the following day.
And, even then, they had no reason to come to this house.
Our smoking education could continue apace.
Without threat of interruption.
But parents never do what they say they are going to.
My BFF's little sister went out to the front room.
And immediately returned, wide-eyed.
"Your parents are here!"
"Sure, sure," I said, taking another puff. "Nice try!"
We all laughed.
A sound that broke off instantly when my Mom appeared at the door.
"Oh," I said. "Ummm . . . hi, Mom."
She looked at me. Looked at the cigarette I held in my hand.
Then turned and left.
Without saying a word.
We quickly cleaned up our mess and headed for the front door.
My parents were waiting in the car.
I said some quick good-byes and climbed in.
For several minutes, my parents said nothing.
Finally, Mom turned to Dad and sighed.
Then Dad turned to me and said, "I'm very disappointed, Diane."
I was completely crushed.
He didn't know it, but those four words had just killed my cigarette habit.
Parenting done right.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Dog Water

Mark. In cleaner times.
Family reunions.
The renewing of ties.
An opportunity to get re-acquainted.
Catch up on family accomplishments.
Nestle once more in the warm embrace of kin.
Our eldest son Mark's first reunion occurred when he was eighteen months old.
He was getting around under his own steam very well.
And this outdoor wiener roast/party was a perfect time for him to practice his skills.
For several hours, he wandered around the site.
Getting filthy.
All the things that make a little boy so very happy.
He played with the host family's spaniel, Frodo.
Gorged on hot dogs.
Sampled all of the pot luck dishes.
Spit out the baked beans (another story).
Slurped up watermelon.
And laid sole claim to the marshmallows.
He was a happy, filthy little boy.
He toddled over to me, all smiles and dirt.
I dusted him off for the hundredth time and set him on my knee.
Only to discover that his fingers were stuck together.
I think it was the marshmallows.
Might have been helped along by the watermelon.
I'm sure there was at least one form of chocolate.
But those little, busy fingers were all fused together.
And Mark was happily making his rounds using paddles.
Or flippers.
I will admit they were still effective.
He was managing to accomplish a fair bit of eating and playing.
But I thought that, as a concerned mom, I should probably do something.
I went for a wipe.
But I hadn't counted on his ingenuity.
While I was digging through the diaper bag, he went for the nearest water source.
Frodo's bowl.
I wish I could say that this was shortly after the bowl had been filled.
And was still pristine and untouched by anything 'canine'.
I can't.
By the time I had the antiseptically clean towelette, he had already taken care of business.
In the decidedly unhygienic dog bowl.
And was back on his rounds, little fingers freed for business.
He was happy.
And Frodo loved the watermelon/marshmallow/chocolate/hot dog flavoured water. So he was happy.
In fact, everyone was happy.
Except me.

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