Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Of Tables, Wind and Making an Ash of Oneself

Grant build our family a picnic table.
It was the scene of many, many family meals and celebrations.
And occasionally the scene of . . . adventures.
Let me explain.
First, a little background.
Grant built a little home for us.
Okay. Originally, it was built as a dog kennel.
Then converted to a chicken coop.
Then we cleaned it up, insulated and panelled the interior.
Put down new flooring.
And we moved in.
Snug and cozy.
It was heated with a wood stove.
That is an important point.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
When I was expecting our fourth child, we decided that we needed more than 300 square feet to live in.
Grant built a basement and we moved our little house onto it.
Wow! Double the space!
We could now have such luxuries as . . . bedrooms!
A bathroom!
Luxury indeed.
But still heated with a wood stove.
Now comes the part where the picnic table and the wood stove come together.
It was winter.
Not much call for meals outdoors on our picnic table.
It had been shoved close to the house.
One day, just as we were preparing to head into town, Grant decided to clean out the little stove.
He carefully collected the ashes into a paper sack and carried them outside to put in the ash can.
Yes, we really had an ash can.
Don't ask.
Moving on . . .
One of the kids had a minor emergency just as my husby reached the front door.
He set his bag of 'mostly dead' ashes on the picnic table and scrambled to take care of the problem.
Then we packed up and left.
The bag of ashes sat, forgotten, in the centre of the picnic table.
I should explain, here, that the wind always blows in Southern Alberta.
This is important.
We were gone for some hours.
The wind blew on the little paper sack full of ashes.
And finally, ignited some of them.
They consumed the bag.
Then started on the nearest combustible object.
You guessed it.
Our picnic table.
Pushed up tight against the house.
When we returned from town, my husby stopped the car and turned it off,
Then hollered something unintelligible and ran for the house.
I was busy unbuckling children and pulling the baby out of her car seat.
I turned around just as Grant appeared with a bucket of water.
Which he threw on the picnic table.
It was then that I noticed the plume of smoke.
And heard the hissing of unhappy flames meeting . . . something extinguishing.
I moved closer.
Grant stood, surveying our picnic table.
Or, through the smoke, what was left of our picnic table.
An expression of relief and chagrin on his face.
“What on earth happened?” Me.
“I think I must have left the bag of ashes on the table.” He.
“Huh.” Me.
I herded the kids into the house while Grant poured more water on the picnic table.
Later, we took stock.
The table, miraculously, was mostly intact.
The bag of ashes had burned a large (12”) hole in the very centre.
The rest of it was still usable.
The miraculous part was the fact that the fire had confined itself to the centre of the table.
With the brisk wind, it could easily have burned the entire thing.
Not to mention our house.
Miracles, indeed.

There is a codicil.
My brother, Jerry, and his family were over to our little house for dinner.
As they were leaving, Jerry spotted the hole in the middle of our picnic table.
He laughed, sat down and said, “This porridge is too hot! said Papa Bear.”
Miracles aside, it was pretty funny.


  1. My girls and I used to say, "We'll laugh about this some day." And, it's a great laugh when the day comes.

  2. Just imagine if you had been held up getting home. Yikes.

  3. That was so interesting. I believe houses hsould be built this way.
    My Dad did this with our country house. First we had a shack to camp in then he used the wood to build the floor on the foundation we made. Then we put up the wood walls and made a small house Then he added a huge family room It was a dollar down a dollar a day type of building and this is how people should build instead of getting into bank mortgages and be played with.
    To live with a clear mind is the best way to live.

  4. Hahaha! I wondered how this was all going to end when I read your tentative 'the scene of ... adventures'!!!

  5. Yes, a miracle indeed! How blessed you were! Your poor table, but your lucky house!

    The wind always blows here too... I can relate. I can't tell you how many times I've caught the grass around trash barrels and ash barrels on fire. I think someone even called the fire department once or twice when I still lived at home as a child. My mom was even worse at catching the grass on fire than I have been. We have always had a wood stove. I love it... except when it's time to take out the ashes. :)


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