Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

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by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tenting for Dummies

George and Me, before our architect days
Tenting was my favorite thing in the world.

I could happily sit for hours in my soft, quiet shelter. Immersed in my own little world. Miles away from the business and bustle of life.
Or at least inches away.
On the other side of my blanket.
And my chair.
Oh, and the all-important pillow.
Okay, so tent-making wasn't an art with me. In fact, you could probably say that it was . . . fairly inexpert, invariably consisting, as it did, of a blanket tossed over a chair and held in place by a pillow.
Frank Lloyd Wright, I wasn't.
But I still loved it. Hiding in a shelter erected solely by my own two little hands.
For a short while, I was the queen of my world.
Then, one day, I was introduced to a whole new world. My brother, George, deigned to join me.
Something, I might point out, that rarely happened . . .
And instructed me in the creation of a complex, blanket draped wonder.
George set up chairs and draped them with covers, connecting them to each other and holding each in place by different items, drawing heavily from the various 'objets d'art' that Mom had strewn about the room.
The blankets were pulled over to the couches, secured, and then drawn to the tables. There, they were again weighted into place.
Slowly, our little 'club house' grew until it covered the entire front room.
The two of us stood back and surveyed it proudly.
It had an entrance. And a back door. It had twisting tunnels and little rooms.
It was perfect.
I was quivering with excitement. I couldn't wait any longer. I dove in.
"Careful, Diane!" George said.
But he was too late.
My rash action pulled on one of the blankets.
In fact, the blanket that was being held in place by a large, ornate, plaster lamp.
Both slid from the table.
The blanket survived.
The lamp didn't.
George and I stared, aghast, at the mass of wreckage.
And then, like a figure of doom, Mom appeared in the doorway.
"What are you two . . . my lamp!"
There was no hiding it.
There was our intricate web of blankets, furniture and bric-a-brac.
To one side, a limply hanging corner.
And, beside it, the broken lamp.
Even a fool could have figured out what had happened. And Mom certainly wasn't a fool.
"Did you kids use my lamp for your fort?"
How did one answer that? I mean, couldn't she see it?
George was braver than me.
"It was Diane's idea."
I stared at him. "It was not!" I said, hotly.
"Was too."
"Was not!"
Okay, so our arguments could never have been classified as intelligent.
"Okay, enough!" Mom had worked her way gingerly across the sea of blankets, plucking up breakables as she went.
Finally, she reached the lamp. That lamp which, with it's matching big brother, had been a gift from Dad.
She set down the other objects she was carrying and stared down at it.
Then she looked at us.
"Ummm. Sorry, Mom," I said. Not entirely original, but it was all I could think of.
Mom picked up the lamp. Then the pieces.
She looked . . . sad.
Mom never really had to discipline me. I could do it all by myself. I burst into tears. "Sssooorrry!"
She turned and looked at us once more. "I don't ever want you two playing with my things again."
"Oookaaay!" More tears.
I should have been on the stage.
Mom carried the pieces of her lamp out of the room without looking at us again.
And just like that, our fort was no long the wonder it had been. George and I folded the blankets and put things back.

Mom kept the lamp.
The back was smashed beyond repair, but the front was still fine. As long as she kept the broken part to the wall, it looked perfect.
To our 'waste not, want not' Mom, it was totally in character.
It haunted us for years.

I still like to tent.
But fortunately, my husband introduced me to such marvels as . . . tent poles. Pegs. Guy lines.
What it lacks in ingenuity, it certainly makes up for in convenience.
And unbreakable-ness.

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