Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

All of My Friends

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

That Summer: Part Three

Yep. We were living in the feed lot.
In the summer of 1968, my parents sold our home ranch out on the south fork of the Milk River, and bought another place nearer to town.
There were myriad challenges.
But the most important was that it was bare land.
Absolutely everything needed to be built.
Construction was immediately started on a new home, and at the same time, on several barns, corrals and outbuildings.
The ranch buildings arose much more quickly than the house.
And that left us in a further dilemma.
Where to live.
The people who had purchased the ranch were justifiably anxious to take possession and our new house was far from completion.
My parents decided to move us into the newly-completed, steel-ribbed quonset.
It was an adventure.
And it's told here by my mother, Enes, from her journals.
(If you missed part one, you can find it here. And part two here.)

The Long First Night

It was long past our bedtime before we managed to get everyone settled.
The shed had become very chilly with the setting of the sun and we found that we had to dig out many extra blankets.
It was really quite snug in our beds.
There is really something quite special about your own bed. If you could take it with you wherever you went, any place would feel like home.
As we lay there quietly listening to the last sleepy little giggle, though no words were spoken, I know we shared the same thoughts. Surely this was the most unique experience of our lives and certainly a satisfying solution for now.
And we were soon asleep.
I woke with a start!
Something had awakened me.
Something weird.
The shed was very dark and all I could see was the sky-light.
For a moment I couldn't seem to collect my facilities.
Where was I?
And what had startled me?
It was very still - a deafening kind of stillness.
Then, suddenly, a scream pierced the silence.
It was half wail, half screech and it was very close.
My hand clamped on my husband's arm and he stirred.
Then we were mesmerized by another wail - much longer than the first.
"What is it?" I whispered.
"I don't know!" he replied, "but it sounds like an animal of some kind."
Again the night stillness was shattered by this weird weeping sound.
It was right outside the shed wall.
We must surely have invaded the private territory of some wild beast. His voice was fraught with angry indignation.
I imagined a huge cat-like monster, his teeth and eyes glistening.
"What are we going to do?" I gasped.
"I'm going out to shoot him!" said my practical husband as he proceeded to dress in the dark. "I have a gun in the pick-up."
I lay back, shivering and pulled the bed clothes up around my chin. "But he might . . ." I couldn't manage to form the words.
"I'll be careful," was his parting shot and I watched helplessly as his dim form vanished into the thick darkness towards the door.
The door slid open and shut.
The screaming had stopped.
The stillness was awesome.
Every nerve and muscle tense, I huddled under the covers.
Suddenly, the moon shone through the cloud cover and the sky light brightened. I could see the monster shapes of furniture in the dim light.
One of the children stirred and laughed weirdly in his sleep.
The shed was suddenly like a huge, black cave and I felt unknown things lurking in its murky depths. At any moment, bats would descend in a cloud, their sharp teeth and claws poised.
Another scream echoed through the night. This time, its creator seemed to have moved away toward the river.
Where was my husband?
The clock on the head board of our bed said 1:30 A.M.
For an eon, I lay there waiting for the sound of the snarling monster attacking.
I could just picture my helpless mate walking into a trap.
One apprehensive hour later, Mark returned and as he undressed and slid his cold feet into bed, I learned through a whispered exchange that he had spent the whole eternal hour observing safely from the cab of the truck!
He had seen nothing.
The children slept through it all. The events of the day had tired them more than we thought.
Some time in the wee hours of the morning, I slept.
But with the coming of daylight, the young bulls to the south of the shed began to test their voices in preparation for the 'bull chorus'.
Further sleep was obviously out of the question.
First we had the deep bass. Then the baritone. Then the alto.
Then the tenor broke away in careless abandon. He sounded like the braying of an ass.
Morning also set off another reaction.
As the early sun's rays hit the quonset, we became the unwilling audience to the pop-pop-popping conversation of hundreds of bolts in its ribs.
The temperature change had obviously set off a chain of protests from our little bolt friends.
Day had come.

Monday, July 24, 2017

There in the Trees

For Poetry Monday, a poem about past vacations . . .

Each summer, since the dawn of time,
We’d pack our kids and dogs and gear
With plans to spend a week, sublime
And frolic with the bears and deer.

For camping was our family ‘thing’,
Anticipated through the year,
And, oh, what praises they would sing
When finally, the time was here.

We parents’d sit beside the fire
And eat and laugh and shoot the breeze,
While younger legs who’d never tire
Would charge together through the trees.

With shouts and laughter as they ran,
Or giggles, hopefully suppressed.
‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘Kick the Can’
And ‘Find the Flag’ and all the rest.

When daylight waned, called back to camp
To spend a moment round the flames.
And crown the glowing, happy champs,
Then plan for the Tomorrow's games.

What fun to hear those voices shout,
And watch their progress through the trees.
To see them scurrying about
On fleetest feet; or hands and knees.
Time’s gone by. It’s what it does.
And still we’re camping in the trees.
But something’s missing now, because
There’s silence floating on the breeze.

We parent’s camp, as we have done,
With tales to tell and wood to hew,
But in the trees, there is no one,
No voices yelling, “I’ve found you!”

We tell ourselves it’s peaceful, true,
As restful as someone could wish,
We do the things we want to do,
Like eat and nap and swim and fish.

At night, we stare into the flames
And talk about the times long past.
When woods would ring with noisy games
And summer days forever last.

But now our kids are raising theirs.
And time’s a thing that’s hard to find,
And spending days with deer and bear’s
A priority that’s far behind.

Oh, what I’d give for one more day,
When simple fun brought endless joy,
When games would pass the time away,
And woods would echo with the noise.

Mondays are for poetry!
Head on over to Delores' or Jenny's and see what their Monday is like!
And come back next Monday and hear all about Kindness!
And come back tomorrow for more glimpses into Mom's journals!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

That Summer: Part Two

In the summer of 1968, my parents sold our home ranch out on the south fork of the Milk River, and bought another place nearer to town.
There were myriad challenges.
But the most important was that it was bare land.
Absolutely everything needed to be built.
Construction was immediately started on a new home, and at the same time, on several barns, corrals and outbuildings.
The ranch buildings arose much more quickly than the house.
And that left us in a further dilemma.
Where to live.
The people who had purchased the ranch were justifiably anxious to take possession and our new house was far from completion.
My parents decided to move us into the newly-completed, steel-ribbed quonset.
It was an adventure.
And it's told here by my mother, Enes, from her journals.
(If you missed part one, you can find it here.)

I drove right into the quonset and parked close to the living room area.
My thoughtful husband had already arranged the living room furniture in an orderly manner - complete with end tables on each side of the sectional couch.
It looked . . . inviting.
I wanted to drop my weary bones into the nearest chair!
However, there was no time.
Everything else there was chaos. Packing crates, boxes, and furniture everywhere.
Doc was busy setting up beds and improving bedrooms with dressers and wardrobe cases for partitions.
The electrician had been busy and two deep freezers were already humming their normal tune whilst preserving the family food.
My stove was being set up in the kitchen area east of the living room space, and it was comforting to know that I would be able to use most of the electrical conveniences I enjoyed.
Two tables were set up in the kitchen - one to be used as a work table and the other for eating our meals.
A set of steel shelves had been erected beside the tables for storing dishes, bowls, kettles and all my baking and cooking materials.
We had found an old cutlery drawer and it came in very handy when it came time to sort all the various kitchen tools.
I covered most of the articles on these shelves with tea towels. We discovered, with some annoyance, that the cement dust settled everywhere.
No amount of sweeping seemed to solve this problem.
In fact, I think it aggravated it!
We covered most of our furniture with grey flannelette sheets and old bed spreads. They stood like great, hooded monsters in the fading light.
It was nearly time to have our evening meal and the thought of food was farthest from my mind.
Our children were dancing about the crates and boxes in gleeful abandon and I hated to intrude upon this carefree joy with restrictions.
Luckily, I didn't have to.
A dear, sympathetic neighbour brought in a hot, steaming casserole of peppered steak and a crisp green salad. (I shall always have a soft spot for hot, peppered steak and a thoughtful friend.)
We suddenly discovered that we were not only hungry, but ravenous.
Just to smell this delicious food set our taste buds to dancing. We set the table quickly and all sat down together to share a moment of thankfulness and enjoy this wonderful food.
It had been a long day, this 23 of June. A warm, sunny day after the refreshing rain of the night before.
It was a day full of sound and activity, of confusion and frustration.
A day ending one segment of our lives and beginning a new one in a long chain of segments - each one an event that would shatter, frustrate or console us as we met new challenges.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

That Summer: Part One

Everything Under Construction

In the summer of 1968, my parents sold our home ranch out on the south fork of the Milk River, and bought another place nearer to town.
There were myriad challenges.
But the most important was that it was bare land.
Absolutely everything needed to be built.
Construction was immediately started on a new home, and at the same time, on several barns, corrals and outbuildings.
The ranch buildings arose much more quickly than the house.
And that left us in a further dilemma.
Where to live.
The people who had purchased the ranch were justifiably anxious to take possession and our new house was far from completion.
My parents decided to move us into the newly-completed, steel-ribbed quonset.
It was an adventure.
And it's told here by my mother, Enes, from her journals:

The red letter day was here.
There could be no more stalling - no more postponing - no more compromising.
We had sold our house three months before and we just must move!
All the planning and indecision washed over me like a cold shower.
Nothing had been resolved, though all angles had been considered.
While our new home was being built, should we move into a motel? To a trailer? Rent a house?
All of them were ticked off for various reasons - too expensive, too many children (six when our eldest was home), and homes to rent were not available.
There was one alternative, however.
My rancher/veterinarian husband had built a quonset.
A huge quonset (100 feet by 40 feet).
And it had a cement floor, smooth in the center and rough at one end where he eventually planned to build a barn with stalls for convalescing animals. (The rough floor would keep the animals from slipping.)
It had a cold water outlet and a sewer outlet at the rough end.
I don't know how the great light dawned, but we suddenly came up with this fantastic idea.
Why not move into the quonset for the summer?
We could assemble our living area in the center near the water outlet and carry all our waste water to the sewer outlet in the future barn space.
It would work.
We still had many misgivings about living in 'the shed' and they seemed to multiply as the day for the move drew nearer.
So, it was with many the doubts still swimming through my head that I set myself to the task of packing.
The confusion grew as the moving van arrived and it progressed steadily through the length of the day until by late afternoon my mind and limbs were numb.
Finally, though, I was looking about the nearly-empty home I loved.
It was as if I were viewing a funeral procession of a dear friend.
The car was packed to the roof. There was room only for me as the driver, and my littlest child, Anita, on a heap of articles beside me.
Thank goodness the others were all in school and didn't have to witness this agonizing transformation. (Although I had reason to suspect that they were entranced by the whole idea - anything so unusual would be a great adventure!)
They could not possibly perceive all the 'mechanics' of the operation. And definitely would not experience the re-organization and planning that would have to be done before our family would resume a smooth day-to-day living.
No one could help me with this.
I felt as if I had been prepared for slaughter and my unwilling body was being swept toward the surgeon with scalpel poised and grinning teeth mocking me.
Life's necessities and comforts had gone.
I had to accept that.
So, with a firm grip on the steering wheel and quivering lip clamped firmly in my teeth, I shifted the family car into reverse and drove resolutely toward my 'summer home'.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Acorn Testing

This may sound like bragging.
Okay, it is . . .
Our second son was in grade three.
He loved it.
He was a good student and the teacher, Mr. Knall, seemed to like and appreciate him.
The time for our first parent-teacher interview of the year approached.
Usually a time of apprehension for me.
But there were smiles on both sides as we introduced ourselves and shook hands.
We discussed Erik’s behavior and accomplishments.
Then the teacher brought out a little stack of papers. “Now,” he began, “You are allowed to look through these, but I’m letting you know now that I'm keeping them.”
I stared at him. “Ummm . . . okay.”
He then laid out Erik’s spelling tests to date. Like his father, Erik was a good speller. He had even been known to correct spelling for others. (ie. my brother, completing his degree in Engineering.)
Erik’s only difficulty lay in the fact that he usually finished writing the word almost as soon as the teacher had said it. Leaving—seconds—before the next word. Time that lay heavily on his hands. That needed to be filled with something.
And he filled it.
With illustrations.
In the margin beside his words, he would draw tiny, exquisite figures illuminating whatever it was he had just written. Thus, beside the word: Space, was drawn a tiny astronaut floating in space on an umbilical. A couple of words later: Fire, had an equally tiny cannon, firing at the spaceman.
And thus it went. The entire margin was littered with these pictures.
I could see the teacher’s reasons for wanting to keep them.
This was a truly unique spelling test.
I should probably let you know I allowed him have the tests.
Because I kept the boy.
Moving forward several years . . .
A few days ago, Erik’s second son, just out of grade three, was completing some math worksheets for his mother.
A “keeping up the skills” exercise for the summertime.
He excels at it. Math, that is.
And, like his father before him, finds himself with time on his hands.
And, without even realizing it, has completed the circle.
And ensured that another acorn has dropped immediately beside another great oak.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Crow Holidays

We are vacationing on uber-beautiful Vancouver Island. We are fortunate in that our middle son lives here, so it is a destination. And also a reunion.
We are camping. But camping deluxe, with a four-star bathroom. Granite counters, framed mirrors, slate floors. The works.
My own bathroom isn’t this nice. (We’re seniors, so the bathrooms are important to us. Both in proximity and in cleanliness.)
Moving on . . .
But still, we are camping, with all of the pitfalls and challenges that entails.
Such as the weather.
Today, I am sitting in our tent, listening to a much-needed rain hitting the canvas over my head.
Needed, that is, by everyone on the Island.
Except the tourists.
But some things are going on as normal.
And so we get to the point of this story . . .
We are surrounded by years-old trees here.
Many years old.
They are tall. And plentiful. And lush. And the personal home/gathering spot for the area’s crows.
Crows, as you probably know, are noisy.
Especially early in the morning.
Today, we were blessed that their morning meeting was on the far side of the campground, only faintly discernible to us near the bathrooms. (Seniors. Bathrooms. Important. See above.)
I feel for those people.
It was our turn yesterday and now they can take theirs. Ha!
As I was lying in my cozy -50 sleeping bag, listening to the morning chorus, I began to wonder exactly what the conversation entailed.
Here is my take:
Alphonse: “Okay, is everyone here? Reggie! Where is Reggie?”
Beatrice: “He’s feeding the babies, Alphonse. They woke him and Myrtle up and she’s got a headache and their sitter cancelled so he’s doing double duty today.”
Alphonse: “Okay, well, we’ll excuse him. Is everyone else here?”
Jerrold: “Greta said she’d be a bit late. Some errand she had to run.”
Alphonse: Sighing. “People! Need I remind you how important our job is? If we don’t have everyone here, we can’t work properly and things get missed!”
A chorus of: “We know.” “Yes, boss” “Sorry!”
Alphonse: “All right. Let’s get to work.” Looks everyone over. “Peter and Elaine. You take the north east quadrant.”
Peter: “But we were there yesterday! Some kids threw things at us!”
Alphonse (unmoved): “Part of the job, Peter. You knew that when you signed on.”
Peter (mumbling): “I hate this job!”
Alphonse: “What?”
Peter: “Nothing.”
Alphonse: “Becky and Beatrice? Northwest. And good work yesterday, by the way!”
Beatrice: “Becky just had a great idea and we went with it.”
Alphonse: “Well, it was effective. Do it again.”
Beatrice: “Gladly!”
Alphonse: “Jerrold? Mikey? Sue? Debbie? I want the four of you to cover both the southeast and southwest. Mix it up. Keep them guessing.”
Jerrold: “I think I can speak for all of us, Boss. Happy to.”
Alphonse: “The rest of you, I’m sending you to the center of the campground. It seems to be especially effective when you gather on the climbing frame in the middle of the playground. Something about some movie the humans had a few years ago.”
Mary: “They seem especially affected when we sit there silently and just watch them.”
Alphonse: “Okay, well, I guess that’s all right. Not our usual, but we’re adaptable. Just don’t completely neglect our signature loud-and-noisy.” Raises voice. “Okay, people! You know your job! And if we can manage to chase another group of humans off, it’s all to the good. Think like Becky and Beatrice. A little poop in a few strategic locations in addition to the squawking seems to work miracles. Have a great day!”

I’m fairly certain this is how it goes. Every. Single. Morning.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Not Forgettable

I had been living in the big city of Calgary for three whole days.
My roommate got home from work just after I did.
“Hey,” she said. “How as your day?”
“It was good,” I told her . “I . . .”
“We've been invited to a party,” she said, sorting through the day's mail.
I stared at her. “But I don't know anyone.”
“Oh, it was our Landlord,” she said. “He's always throwing parties. And we're invited.” She looked at me. “He's quite a guy,” she added. “You'll never forget him!”
“Oh. Umm . . . okay.”
“Soo . . . let's go.”
“What? Now?!”
I discovered that our Landlord lived in the apartment just below us.
And that the party was already well under way when we got there.
Food. Drinks. Laughter.
And lots and lots of people.
We edged our way in.
“How did you get invited to this?” I shouted into her ear.
“He was out on the balcony having a smoke when I got home,” she said.
“Come on. He wants to meet you.”
We worked our way through the crowded room.
As she edged me past yet another knot of happily engaged people, I happened to glance up at the wall closest to us.
Covering most of it, was the RCMP crest.
“Huh. Look at that!” I shouted. “The RCMP crest!”
My roommate nodded. “Yeah!” she shouted back. “Our Landlord used to be in the RCMP!”
“Cool!” I studied it as we made our slow way past. It must have been about four feet square.
Bright and shining in the dim room.
“Wow!” I shouted “If every officer wore one of those, it'd be like wearing a bullet-proof shield!”
And it was at that precise moment that the entire room happened to be drawing its collective breath in its collective conversations.
And the current song ended.
My comment rang out over the quiet room as though it had been shouted.
Which it had.
It was also at that exact time that my roommate stopped in front of a man in a wheelchair.
Obviously a quadriplegic.
“Umm . . . this is our Landlord,” she said. She leaned toward him. “This is my new roommate!”
The man was drinking a beer through a straw.
He nodded and smiled at his newest permanently-crimson-faced tenant. “Wish I'd had one of those 'bullet-proof shields',” he said.
“Ummm . . . yeah,” I managed.
“Would have come in quite handy.”
“Yeah,” I said again.
My roommate and I moved on.
“Wow! Look at the time!” I said. “We should be probably be getting back to the apartment!”
We had been there for a grand total of about five minutes.
And it was 4:00 in the afternoon.
But definitely time to head home.
After that initial awkward meeting, we were in his home many times.
Along with most of the people in the apartment building.
Always, he was cheerful and smiling.
And welcoming.
With never a word over the injury, sustained while on duty, that changed his life forever.
My roommate was right.
I never forgot him.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ode To the Purple

I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one.
But I can tell you anyhow,
I'd rather see, than be one.

A purple cow'd take you aback,
She'd certainly be seen,
Among the whites and browns and blacks,
And everything between.

And what to feed them? I don't know,
A normal cow eats grasses.
Who knows what's going on below,
With purple's gastric gasses.

And are they hot? Or are they cold?
You'd need to touch to see.
I'd have to know before I'm sold,
I'm sure you would agree.

Another thing: what do you give,
A purple cow to drink?
Do they need water just to live,
Like us? What do you think?

And now the final question:
With their milk, what is it's hue?
If purple's their digestion
Is it green or red or blue?

You know, I need to think again,
It might not be so bad,
Being noticed for my purple stain,
And giving milk that's plaid.

So . . .
I never saw a purple cow,
But I should like to see one.
And I can tell you anyhow,
It might be fun to be one.

This post is part of a special challenge by Karen at Baking in a Tornado.
Cow appreciation.
And who doesn't appreciate cows?
Here are the other participants:
Lydia: Thanks, Cows

Monday, July 17, 2017


Today, for Poetry Monday, I'm doing a little self-imposed exercise.

Fill In The Blanks

This is a little ditty quoted by my sainted mother throughout my growing up years. And a little bit after that:

There's so much good in the worst of us
And so much bad in the best of us.
That it doesn't behoove any of us
To talk about the rest of us.

Great poem, right?
So this is my challenge to me.
Take the formula and--see what I can do with it.

Hmm . . .

There's so much life in the oldest of us,
And so much fatigue in the youngest of us,
That we can't possibly, any of us
Try to outwork the rest of us.

This is harder than I thought.

Umm . . .

There's so much fun in the angriest,
And so much mad in the happiest,
That no one can (at any behest)
Say just who is the crappiest.


One more try . . .

There’s so much work in the laziest,
And so much laze in the workiest,
That none of the chores, by mother’s request
Will ever get done, though the house is messed.


How about . . .

There's so much forgotten by the oldest of us,
And so much to learn in the youngest of us,
The amount that is known by any of us
Is probably the same as the rest of us.

I give up.
Mom’s really is the best!

Today’s theme for PoetryMonday is Nonsense.
Now go and see what my good friends/poetry mavens, Delores and Jenny have for you!
And stay tuned for Next Monday and the topic of  VACATIONS!

Sunday, July 16, 2017


The room of learning.
One of my favourite classes in high school was Biology.
We did exciting things in Biology.
Dissected worms.
Hid the teachers notes.
Dissected deer eyes.
Checked each other's blood pressure.
Dissected frogs.
Typed each other's blood.
Gassed a bat and then drowned it, mistakenly thinking it was already dead. (One of the more traumatic days in Biology.)
Watched our teacher try to blow up the lab.
Slept through informative movies.
Watched our newly-engaged teacher try to remember what he was supposed to be teaching.
Dissected rats.
Grew weird things in petrie dishes.
We had fun.
And we were a good class.
Didn't cause too much trouble.
I will admit that we had a 'lost and found' board in our Biology lab.
But I'm sure that everyone has at least one of those.
Where else would you tack the frog tongues, frog legs, rat tails, and other things guaranteed to gross out the more squeamish members of the classroom?
But there is one thing that I remember vividly from all of my years in biology.
And only because of the unfortunate way in which my teacher chose to say it.
Maybe I should explain . . .
We were studying something very pithy: friction.
Did you know that friction is responsible for a lots of things?
Traction, for one.
In fact if it weren't for friction, we would simply slip and slide around everywhere.
I know that sounds like fun, but it's really not.
Our teacher explained it very well.
And yes, this was the teacher who was newly-engaged and only visited our planet for very short periods of time.
He told us, and I quote, “Friction is caused by two bodies rubbing together.”
Did you know that?
We didn't.
But you can be sure that we, and especially the boys in the classroom, never, ever, forgot it.
After that, not a day went past without someone making the selfless offer to help someone else study friction.
True story.
Biology class.
What would school life be like without it?

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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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