Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Chris

Sweet, sweet Chris
From my earliest memories, Chris was there. The ideal big sister. Patient, kind, and endlessly watching over us younger brothers and sisters. Another mother. Something that was . . . mostly good!

Music played a large part in her life. We always had a radio going wherever we were working. I remember sitting together shelling peas – with some rock and roll blaring in the background. Once, when the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan, all of the girls were screaming in the audience, and Chris got so carried away, she let out a little . . . squeak? We stared at her. We all thought she was as crazy as those girls, though I must admit, she was a little more in control.

Once, when Mom and Dad were out for the evening, leaving Chris in charge, we thought we heard a noise upstairs. The upper floor was in darkness, and it didn’t occur to any of us to turn on the lights. (You remember the horror shows when the heroine never turns on a light, allowing the nasty guy to lurk in the shadows? Reality!) Chris grabbed a long knife and a flashlight and we were off on our little exploration trip to find . . . the noise.

We never did find it. Probably a good thing . . . for it and us. But it was a real workout for our imaginations. Who says that there is no educational value in Horror Shows? I can picture it now. The little group all glued to one central figure clutching a long knife. Moving as one. If anything had popped out of the shadows, trust me, there would have been serious injury. Just not to it.



Chris had red hair. But most of the time, it was merely her hair colour. The famed ‘red-haired temper’ seldom applied to her. Oddly enough, it is those times when the lid slipped that I remember most clearly . . . and fondly.

She and I were washing her 4-H calf in the milking stanchions in the barn. All was well. The water was running freely down the gutter and out the door, slowly filling the barnyard.

One hired man, Ken, kept coming around and offering all sorts of . . . negative comments. At first, it was just a word on his way past. Then two. Then whole paragraphs. Finally, tired and disgusted, we decided we’d had enough of his ‘advise’ and closed up shop. We put the calf in his pen and tidied up the area. The puddle, we couldn’t do anything about. But the always-thirsty Southern Alberta soil would make short work of that, so we left it and headed for the house.

Then Ken made the fatal mistake. He tried a parting shot out the front door of the barn when Chris was still within striking distance. And then, that red hair! She sprinted back to the barn, deadly purpose in every stride. I lost sight of her as she reached the doorway. All I heard was a thump, then she was kiting off towards the house. And Ken was . . . umm . . . swearing mad. Literally.

I really didn’t know what had happened until later that I got to the house. Chris was in the bathtub. A good place to be after an emotional upheaval. She had been, and was still, crying. I asked her what happened. She gave little self-satisfied smile through her tears, and said, and I quote, “I kicked him.”

I smiled with her. We all knew Ken. It was a fitting ‘end’ to the story.



She was working with yet another 4-H calf, trying to get it to lead. A . . . decidedly ornery 4-H calf. Imagine trying to put a rope on the business end of a steam roller and pulling it around the barn yard. You’re not even close. In fact, if we’d had a steam roller, it would have been entertaining to hook calf and machine together and see which came out . . . umm . . . in front. We would have taken bets. But I digress . . .

Chris had been fighting a losing battle for several hours. The calf show was growing closer and she was getting a bit desperate. Suddenly a bright idea blossomed. She had seen Kung Fu. She knew what to do. She put her hand into the proper, scientifically proven form (as seen on TV), and studied the hide-covered head of her opponent. Exactly where could she inflict the most damage? She chose a likely looking spot and swung. Hard. And heard the satisfying crunch of bones.

After a millisecond or two that she realized that something was wrong. If her technique was correct - and she had watched a lot of Kung Fu - then why was the calf still standing? Chewing his cud? Something had been damaged. She had heard the unmistakable sound. Then she looked down at her hand . . .

Needless to say, the calf was eventually ‘broke’ to lead in the usual ways. And Chris discovered that a hand really can inflict damage – when it is completely covered with a hard plaster cast.



Chris and I were riding. The end of a long day. Having successfully penned the last of a large herd, we were closing the gate, the anticipation of a quick ride back and a warm meal uppermost in our minds. Chris was doing the honours. As she put one foot in Gypsy’s stirrup, I turned my horse and headed out. Chris wasn’t quite on.

And didn’t manage to get on.

Gypsy, seeing her pen mate heading for home and supper, gave a wild leap, spilling her would-be rider to the hard ground. From there, she proceeded to drag and then trample my sister. I stopped and waited for Chris to get up. She didn’t. Then something penetrated my pea-sized intellect. Maybe she’s hurt?! Maybe I’d better go for help.

We did manage to get Chris back to the ranch buildings. Mostly in one piece. And again, she spent months in a cast. This one to support a badly-broken knee. But in true ‘Chris’ style, she never pinned the blame where it belonged. Never offered one word of reproach. Merely suffered silently. But that is my sister.

Have I mentioned that I love her?



P.S. The nail polish spilled on her carpet . . . ummm . . . not me!

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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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