Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Gazebo Geezer

And yes, he built one of his own.
My Husby loves the movie, “The Sound of Music”.
In fact, if favourites were discussed, that title would probably be the first to come up.
Most particularly, he loves the gazebo scene.
And its accompanying song, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”.
Really loves it.
To the point that, if ever a gazebo is sighted, he has to run inside and sing.
Really badly.
Badly on purpose.
Just to embarrass his kids.
He's very, very good at it.
Inevitably, after he has run joyfully to the gazebo and danced around inside for a few minutes, singing at the top of his lungs, his children have disappeared.
You thought children could disappear quickly in a shopping mall?
That doesn't even come close to how quickly they can vanish when their father-figure is embarrassing them.
Suddenly they have, quite literally, ceased to exist.
And they only reappear some time later.
When anyone – anyone – who might have witnessed their father's performance has defected and/or suffered an aneurysm.
As my Husby has aged, the suitability of the words of the famous song have . . . lessened.
With his usual creativity, he has managed to 'age' the words to suit.
Both parts.
Because you never know when some old lady will want to sing along . . .

You wait, old girl, on an empty stage
For fate to turn the light off
Your life, old girl, is a filled up page
About which you should not scoff.

Should not scoff.

You are sixty, going on seventy
Baby it's time to think
Better beware, be canny and careful
It's hard to be old, I think.

You are sixty, going on seventy
Old goats will get in line;
Eager old dads and nimble old cads
Will be wanting all of your time.

Totally unprepared are you
To face the world of time.
Timid and shy and scared are you
Of geritol and lime.

You need someone older and wiser
Telling you what to do!
I am seventy going on eighty -
I'll take care of you.

I am sixty going on seventy
I know that I'm naive
Old goats I meet may tell me I'm sweet
And willingly I believe.

I am sixty going on seventy
Beautiful as a rose
Widower dandies, wheelchair bandies
What do I want with those?

Totally unprepared am I
To take a man again.
Timid and shy and scared am I
Of geezers who call themselves men!

I need someone older and wiser
Telling me what to do.
You are seventy going on eighty,
I'll depend on you!

*  *  *

A word?
If you're walking with us out in public and a gazebo appears in the distance?
Distance yourself.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

An Evening's X-Citement

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

Growing up in the great outdoors gave me an appreciation for all things . . . outdoors-y.

IE: horses.
But sadly, instilled in me a complete ignorance of the finer points of creating a beautiful home.
IE: embroidery.
My Mom ran a very efficient home.
She cooked, cleaned and organized.
And even, on occasion, helped in the barnyard when the need arose.
With all of that, somehow, she also found time for the pretty things in life.
She embroidered pillowcases and tablecloths.
Runners and handkerchiefs.
Even tea towels.
And did them beautifully.
Unfortunately, the urge to 'pretty' things up had been left out of my makeup.
Or so I thought.
It was merely dormant.
After the birth of my first baby, I was suddenly bitten by the sewing bug.
I had to sew.
A lot.
I started out simply: overalls, pants and shirts for my boy.
Then moved on to more complex: dresses for me.
And blue jeans.
But that is not what this story is about . . .
From sewing practical, functional garments, my next logical progression was to the finer stitching.
My Mom would be so proud.
I got hooked, quite literally, on counted cross stitch.
Wall hangings.
I loved it.
Whenever there was a break in the day's routine . . . and even when there wasn't . . . I was back on the couch.
I should point out, here, that I had always been a 'night owl'.
Preferring the hours after my kids were in bed, to indulge in whatever pursuit was currently consuming me.
Usually reading.
Occasionally watching TV.
Now, my staying-up-in-the-evening time was taken up with those fine little needles and yards and yards of cotton floss.
I made dozens of beautiful pictures and hangings.
Working far into the night to complete some intricate piece.
It was a peaceful moment in time.
Until one evening.
Allow me to describe . . .
It was quiet there in the night.
Everyone in the household was asleep.
All the lights - save the one that snared me and my comfy armchair in a noose of gold - were off.
I worked silently away.
Consulted my pattern.
Switched colours.
Continued on.
Then I started to feel . . . creepy. Like someone was watching me.
I lifted my head. Peered intently into the shadows of the kitchen and hallway.
No one.
I went back to my stitching.
Again, that feeling came over me.
Again, I looked.
I was really starting to get spooked.
I tried to concentrate on my work.
I had only put in one stitch when I was nearly overwhelmed by the feeling that someone, somewhere, was silently watching.
I dropped my sewing into my lap and peered toward the kitchen.
Then I turned and looked the other way, into the living room.
And nearly died.
Two eyes were indeed staring at me.
From about two inches away.
I screamed and pressed one hand to my suddenly hammering heart.
It was then I realized that the two large, staring eyes belonged to my son's Bopo the Clown which was standing directly behind my chair.
The eyes didn't blink or move.
They didn't have to.
Just the sight of them staring at me out of the dim light was enough to totally shatter my night.
I did what any normal person would have done.
I 'bopped' Bopo in his large bulbous, red nose.
I hit him again.
Sigh. I felt marginally better.
But it was definitely time for bed . . .
The next evening found me back in my chair.
Needle firmly in hand.
And with Bopo turned forcefully to the wall.
Beauty definitely doesn't need a beast.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Butt for Baseball...

Take me out . . .
I love baseball.
In fact, if I was to think about it, baseball is probably my favourite sport.
My mom was a helluva  heckofa player.
I don't know if I ever equalled her ability.
Though I sure enjoyed trying.
But did you know that baseball and self-image go together?
Well, they do.
In my grade twelve year, I boarded for a few months with my best friend Debbie's family while attending school in Magrath, Alberta.
I should mention that her family were . . . characters.
Moving on . . .
During that time I played, along with Debbie, for the Del Bonita team.
It was a blast.
And we made a respectable showing in the league.
One afternoon, we were back at Debbie's house.
Celebrating a win.
I was euphoric (Oooh! Good word!) because I had hit a three-bagger and brought in two runs.
The team hero.
Well, in my eyes, at least.
Debbie's parents had watched the game and were enjoying re-hashing it with us.
Her dad sat back and took a deep, satisfied breath. “Yep. That was a good game,” he said. He looked at me. “It's a good thing you joined the team.”
I smiled, feeling quite happy with myself.
He looked at his daughter and grinned. “Yep. Until you came, Debbie had the biggest . . .”
He paused.
I waited. Was he going to say hit? Arm? Throw?
Hero ability?
“ . . . butt on the team.” He looked back at me. The grin widened. 
“Hey!” I said, my euphoric bubble bursting abruptly.
He laughed. “What makes you think I was talking about you?”
“But it was a good game,” he said.
I stared at him, narrow-eyed. Did he really mean it? Did I have a big butt?
I looked down at my 28 inch waist men's jeans. Did they hide a monstrous backside?
He laughed again, got up and left the room. “Yep. Good game.”
“You don't, Diane,” Debbie said.
“What?” I looked at her.
“You can stop checking. You don't have a big butt. In fact, you don't have a butt.”
“Oh. Ummm . . . okay.”
“And you played a good game. That's just Dad's way of telling you.”
Did I mention that her family was quirky?
To this day, when I see a well-played baseball game, I think of . . . good plays.
You thought I was going to say big butts, didn't you?
Nope. That I save for when I'm playing.

Monday, May 21, 2018

My Best Friend

I have a friend. I call her best.
For she stands out from all the rest,
She’s fiercely loyal, caring, kind,
Encouraging and quite refined.
She believes in me, is fun and smart,
But I almost missed this friendship’s start.

Wounded, aching, recovering slow,
Husby and me, we’d had a blow,
That rocked our family to the core,
Our hearts were broken, tattered, torn.
T’was when this single mom asked me,
To watch her girls. She’d pay a fee.

But I was hurting, my heart sore,
I really couldn’t handle more,
And so I let her down that day,
Turned her little girls away,
But she was patient. Just one year,
Had passed. And she again appeared.

Once more she asked, and I agreed,
 Her girls joined mine in thought and deed,
But it’s not there the story ends,
Their mom became my lifelong friend.
Through good and bad, we two stayed close,
And helped with things that matter most.

Years of friendship we have had,
She supported me through good and bad,
Through marriages and births and more,
And grandkids, whom we both adore.
And coasting toward that Old Age ‘Hill’,
I find that we are best friends still. 

I think about it quite a bit,
And her request to babysit.
When I was feeling sorry for
Myself. And what had gone before.
And somehow, I just can’t dismiss
You know, I might have missed all this.

Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we three besought,
To try to make the week begin,
With gentle thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So Jenny and Delores, we,
Now post our poems for you to see.
And when you’ve read what we have brought,
Did we help? Or did we not . . .

Come back next week. Our monograph, 
Will talk about what makes us laugh!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Ancestor Sunday

Grandma Sarah and Grandpa Prime

You know how much I love writing the stories of family members gone before?
Well, I’ve decided to make it official and institute Ancestor Sundays!
Here we go . . .
For today’s story, first a little background . . .
My Grandma Stringam’s Paternal Great-Grandmother was Sarah Thornton. Sarah was born in Little Paxton, Huntingshire, England on June 11, 1806.
So my great, great, great grandmother, if I’m doing this right.
Am I doing this right?
Moving on . . .
Sarah died in Utah, USA on March 1, 1892 at the age of 85.
What a treasury of stories her life would be!
I only have a tiny portion, from family journals:
At the age of 10, Sarah was left motherless.
Her grieving father sent her and her older sister Jane to boarding school. A common enough practice.
But this was no ordinary school.
This was a school that emphasized ‘discipline’.
Oh, they were quite progressive in a lot of ways: no beating or whippings were allowed.
But to make up for that ‘lack’ the powers-that-be got a bit creative.
They weren’t allowed capital punishments, so they resorted to other cruel and unusual reprimands.
Going without food was a biggie.
Or being forced to undress and go to bed in the day time.
Separation from playmates was another first response.
But the cruelest punishment was saved for any child found sleeping with their knees up.
Each child was expected to sleep perfectly straight. If anyone was discovered curled up in a comfortable position, their legs were roughly jerked straight. Abruptly waking the child.
They couldn’t even escape these people in their dreams!
Sarah survived at this school for ten years.
Finally, at the age of 20, she married Prime Coleman.
Prime’s father was against their union. He told his son that he was making a colossal mistake. In his own words, “Son, a girl who has spent most of her life in a boarding school could not hope to be a helpmate to a cattleman and farmer.”
But the two persisted and married.
Years later, Prime Coleman’s dad had to admit he had been wrong. Sarah had turned out to be a wonderful wife and mother.
Strong Sarah obviously left her rough ‘boarding school’ years in her past.
At least those horrifying punishments never made it the five or six generations forward to my childhood . . .
I don’t know if I’d have survived . . .

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Poop Deck

I’m almost sure it couldn’t have been a group effort.
Maybe I should explain . . .
For over thirty years, our family loved, trained and raised Old English Sheepdogs. Emphasis on loved.
The OES is a breed known for its protective nature. Its intelligence, loyalty, gentleness, energy, fun and for just being downright cute. From puppyhood right into old age.
Okay, yes, in full coat, it can be rather blind.
Let’s see how well you do with your hair hanging in your eyes!
And said coat takes hours to keep up.
Unless you do what we did (a lot of the time) and simply shave them in the spring with the other sheep!
Another drawback/perk is that this breed is large and requires an equally large amount of exercise. Which, in turn, necessitates someone actually making an effort to give them that exercise.
Enough. On with my story. Which may or may not have anything to do with what I’ve already said . . .
One bright summer morning, after the first of their three daily walks, and because they were bothering me with their insistence on taking their second walk (which was still hours away); I put all three of our adult OES’s on the deck.
It was a lovely, large deck and they roamed around the enclosed area, sniffing the air and generally acting like dogs.
Then flopped out in the center in the warm sunshine.
A short time later, I went to call them back inside.
No dogs were evident at my first glance through the window.
Alarmed, I ran to the door and threw it open.
To see, residing in lonely glory in the very center of the deck, a pile of . . . leavings? excrement? dung? muck? feces? poop?
You get the picture.
Now I probably don’t have to tell you that this sort of thing was very fiercely frowned upon.
I mean, that is one of the major reasons the cretins had three walks a day!
And our dogs were extremely well trained. And knew such a mistake was one of the few times when the boom was going to definitely be lowered.
With force.
Right. Remember when I said I couldn’t see any of the dogs when I looked out the window?
Well, that is because all three had wedged themselves under the built-in benches that ringed the edges of the deck.
As in—so tightly stuffed that nothing protruded past the 12-inch bench seats.
And I probably don’t have to remind you that these were large dogs.
I stepped out onto the deck.
Silence. One would never know they were even out there.
I moved over to the scene of the crime. “Who did this?!” I demanded.
The silence remained unbroken.
Oh, they were good.
“Come out here!”
Three large dog bodies slowly crept out from under the benches.
Again, I demanded, “Who did this?!”
I don’t know what I was expecting. Someone to throw their furry self on my mercy?
Two loud voices denouncing their fellow?
That’s what my kids would have done.
If . . . one of them had had an accident on the deck.
I mean . . .
Never mind. This doesn’t apply at all.
I probably don’t have to tell you that I never did discover the culprit. Although, if I try I can almost picture it: One dog doing the dirty. And two others running about, screaming, "Oh, my word!!! Look what Aldo did!!! Everybody flee for your lives!!!"
All three received the standard punishment, the swat on their furry backside and ‘don’t do it again!’ that had proven so effective in the past.
But still I wonder . . . I mean, it couldn’t have been a group effort.
Could it?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

In the Blizzard

Winter is finally over.
So let's talk about it . . .
On the prairies, winter storms can blow up very fast.
Obliterating the countryside and bringing visibility to zero.
One can lose one’s way walking between the house and the barn.
The best thing to do is to get inside where it’s warm and stay put.
If one has warning, one can get to the nearest safe place.
If one doesn’t . . .
A storm was coming. The local school had been emptied of children, sent home with strict instructions to get there as quickly as possible.
Most of them made it.
One little girl did not.
As the storm closed over the area, frantic searchers were sent out, fanning the countryside for one tiny figure in the vast, freezing blizzard.
A hopeless search.
It was many hours before my Uncle Owen found her, nearly frozen solid.
He hefted her on his back and began to make his way toward the Stringam home. Partway there, he met his father and the two of them managed to carry the poor, frozen figure the rest of the way.
My Dad remembers the scene well as they carried the still and silent girl into the house. As he told us, her feet ‘clopped together like two wooden blocks’.
She was handed over to my Grandma Stringam, who was largely accepted as the ‘doctor’ in the area.
Grandma took the little frozen body and laid her on the bed. Then, throughout the night, she tended her, rubbing her extremities with coal oil.
By the next morning, the girl was awake and improving.
She survived - her only damage the loss of the nail from one little finger - largely due to the knowledge and care of my grandma.
Pictures of the prairies show a soft, gently-folded landscape. Largely treeless, but covered in waving grass and sagebrush. The occasional stream or river flows through and the sky is clear and endless.
A perfect world.
But, in winter, it is a place to be respected.
Anything can happen.
And when it does, thank goodness for people like my Grandma.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Church Panties

Okay, yes, I’m on a ‘panty’ kick.
As this is my second post on the theme in a week . . .
Emily. With a booboo. And a friend.

For four years, I had the assignment to lead the music in the children’s organization in our church.
My dream job.
Every Sunday, I got up in front of a group of children, age three to eleven and sang with them.
Have you ever heard a group of three-year-olds singing “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam”?
If you can do it without tears, you are super . . . person.
There is nothing cuter in the world.
And I got to do this every Sunday!
For four years!
Inevitably, there were extra perks.
Because what dream job doesn't come with unexpected bonuses?
Each week, we invited the child or children who was/were celebrating a birthday, to come to the front so the rest of the group could wish them well.
Everyone enjoyed it.
The singers.
And the sing-ee.
Afterwards, I always asked the birthday child what their favourite song was.
And then all of us would sing it.
Normally, this was fairly routine.
They would pick a current favourite.
The pianist would launch in.
The children would follow.
Occasionally, we would encounter a hitch.
Perhaps a song that was a current favourite.
But somewhere other than the church . . .
Let’s face it, launching into ‘Stairway to Heaven’, though it sounds appropriate, would be anything but.
Ahem . . .
Sometimes, they merely got the name wrong.
Case in point:
We invited little Emily to the front of the room.
Everyone wished her a happy fourth birthday.
At the top of their voices.
She was smiling broadly by the end.
I leaned down. “Emily, what is your favourite song?”
She looked up at me. “Little Purple Panties!” she said excitedly.
“Oh, I said. “Umm . . . yes.” I looked at the pianist, who was staring back, wide-eyed.
“I think what she means is “Little Purple Pansies,” I said.
The woman’s face cleared. “Ah!” She nodded in relief.
We made it through.
Though I must confess that the temptation to sing the wrong words was very strong indeed.
And who knows, maybe a song, ‘Little Purple Panties’ is just what is needed when things get a bit . . . boring . . . in church.
Thank you, Emily!

The real words:
Little purple pansies touched with yellow gold,
Growing on one corner of the garden old.
We are very tiny, but must try, try, try,
Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Growing Toddlers

It seemed a good idea, I thought
                Some hours in the yard.
The winter months had been so long
                And I felt the need of working hard.

So armed with gloves and rakes and things,
                I started out the door.
Trailed by two toddlers
                Who loved to help with Gramma’s chores.

Things went well for a tic or two,
                As Gramma started in,
The girls spun circles in the yard
                Till Linney fell and bumped her chin.

A kiss and cuddle, tears were gone
                It really wasn’t hard.
I set her down and looked to see
                That Hazel’d wandered from the yard.

She’d not gone far, I scooped her up
                And carried her back home.
Then penned them both behind the gate,
                And told them sternly ‘not to roam’.

While toddlers watched, I grabbed my rake,
                But got no further then,
‘Cause Hazel shrieked; I had to run
                She’d fallen in the mud . . . again.

I fished her out and cleaned her off,
                A kiss, a tale to tell,
Then turned just as another shriek,
                Told me Lin was stuck as well.

I’m sure by now you’ve realized
                I didn’t manage much.
With Lin caught in the tramp’line springs
                And Hazel eating chalk and such.

Four bathroom breaks, ‘Pee, potty now!’
                And squabbles over things,
And pouring sand in someone’s hair,
                And all the angst that action brings.

Searching the yard from stem to stern
For Linney’s missing shoe,
Then doing the whole thing o'er again
                Cause Hazel’s hat was ‘somewhere’, too.

With helping up and helping down
                And watching in between.
It’s no wonder that my work just sat,
                With little progress to be seen.

Last night when all were sound asleep
                And peace had been restored,
I looked out the window there,
                And sang my praises to the Lord.

For though my tools were strewn about
With no sign of success,
My time was quite well spent, because
                I'm growing Toddlers in the mess.

Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we three besought,
To try to make the week begin,
With gentle thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So Jenny and Delores, we,
Now post our poems for you to see.
And when you’ve read what we have brought,
Did we help? Or did we not . . .

Come back next week when we three 'tweens' (between 50 and 100), 
Will talk about what friendship means!

Sunday, May 13, 2018


I Miss You, Mom

Daughter. Wife. Mother. Friend. Parent. Confident.
I have lots of stories about my Mom.
Favourite stories.
And in my mind, the woman at the center of each of them is still vibrantly alive and busy.
If I walk into the next room, I will hear her tell me, "I'm going to stop buying that peanut butter. You kids just eat it!"
Or if I open the fridge, "What's wrong with that milk?! There's nothing wrong with that milk! It tastes just fine!"
Or better yet, "Don't eat that! It's for Christmas!"
When I look out the window, she'll be out there in the garden, hoeing or harvesting. Hauling around her paint sprayer to put on just 'one more coat'. Sprinting to the top of a corral fence because some bull objected to her presence there.
Hauling feed to cattle, pigs, chickens and dogs.
Turning around, I'll see her seated at the kitchen table, writing a short story or poem. Or occasionally snatching a few minutes to read an article in the Reader's Digest.
Or studying the scriptures and preparing Sunday School lessons.
I can see her cooking and baking endlessly in her scrupulously clean kitchen as she prepares feasts for an endless stream of children and hired men.
Or straining the socially acceptable language barriers as she copes with a recalcitrant sewing machine while making yet another article of clothing for one of her six children.
'Accidentally' ringing the ranch bell.
Hitting a home run to the delight of some and the dismay of others.
I can see her skating across the ice, spinning and dipping and coming to a breathless halt.
Kissing countless booboos and rescuing heedless children from hair-raising escapades.
Taking smiles and meals to someone who needs exactly those things. In that order.
Knitting and crocheting for everyone except herself.
In fact, spending every moment of every day in service to others.
And happy to do it.
All I have to do is turn around - or pick up the phone - and she'll be there.
Then reality pays a short visit.

She's there.
In my mind.
Busy. Happy. Healthy.
Someday, I'll see her again. Someday.
I miss you, Mom.
To all the mothers in my life, those who mothered me, and now those who are mothering the next generation, I love you!
Happy Mother's Day!

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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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