Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Friday, July 8, 2011

Sinbad+Gorilla=Nightmare. Go Figure

Ahh, Sinbad. Nightmare inducer extraordinaire.
Movies are the greatest creation since . . . well . . . forever.
Needless to say, I’m hooked on them.
And have been since . . . forever.
In Milk River, we got movies twice a week.
First run movies.
Which was a real scoop for a town of 499.
My Dad told me it was because there were a limited number of prints and that the theatre owner in Milk River had been around longer than the bigwig in Lethbridge, so had seniority.
Yes. I’m sure ‘seniority’ is the word he used.
I only knew that we got all the cool movies first.
For example, when ‘Lassie Come Home’ was released, everyone in Southern Alberta came to Milk River to see it. I remember the theatre owner setting up rows of folding chairs all down the aisles and across the front.
Fire regulations were obviously in the conceptual stage in the early 60’s.
But the theatre was crammed full and everyone cried together when Lassie finally came home.
Lassie came to Lethbridge several days later.
Na-Na-Na-Na-Na.
But I digress . . .
Every Bonanza Day (Milk River’s fair day) the theatre owner would offer a free movie to everyone in the town.
Usually, it was the hit flick, ‘Santa Clause Meets the Martians’, but sometimes, he would get creative and offer, ‘The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad’.
I don’t have to tell you which I enjoyed the most.
Or which one inevitably gave me nightmares.
I think it was the scene when Sinbad, my hero, had escaped from the giant Cyclops and had pressed himself back into a tiny crevasse in a stone wall.
The Cyclops, a little piqued that his lunch would have had the temerity to run, was hunting him.
Over and over, the giant hand would reach into the shallow cave, trying to grab Sinbad, who would press himself a bit tighter back against the wall.
This time, the creature would get him!
No. This time!
I was into it.
And it didn’t seem to matter how many times I saw the picture, I still gasped and grabbed my Mom’s arm every time the huge hand reached.
At the end, with Sinbad safe once more and kissing the pretty girl, I would shiver with delight.
And that night, I’d have another nightmare.
Now my nightmares never, ever starred a gorgeous, rippling muscled Sinbad.
That would have been . . . definitely not scary.
No, my dreams inevitably starred a huge gorilla.
And he was going to eat me.
Okay, yes, I know that they don’t eat little girls, but I was four.
And they had teeth.
Enough said.
My gorilla would chase me through our house and finally, corner me underneath the dining room table.
I would shrink back to the far side as that hairy, dark hand reached for me.
And missed.
Barely.
He would move around the table and bend over, looking at me. Then he would stretch out his arm again.
I would slide to the other side of the table and stay just out of reach.
This would go on until I finally awoke, dripping with sweat and whimpering.
And still, I was the first in line when the theatre showed ‘The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad’.
I think the term ‘Glutton for Punishment’ was coined by someone who knew me.
Maybe the Gorilla.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sing We Now While Driving . . .

Dad. He of the wondrous voice.

My Dad loves to sing.
Fortunately, for the rest of us, he has a very nice voice.
And great rhythm.
It's just his timing that needs work.
Let me explain . . .
When one lived as far from civilization as we did, 'going somewhere' inevitably involved . . . well . . . travelling.
For extended periods of time.
I'd like to point out here, that wonderful inventions like DS's, cell phones , IPads and the all-important DVD players existed only in science fiction. Our entertainment consisted of visiting, looking out the window, and books.
Or, in my case, just visiting or looking out the window. Reading in a car, though perhaps my favorite diversion, unavoidably made me carsick.
How did I get over here . . .? Oh, right. Dad . . . and singing.
Whenever we travelled, there was always that stretch of road (I know you've been there), usually somewhere in the middle, where we ran out of conversation and the scenery got boring.
And everyone in the car, driver included, got sleepy.
That's when Dad would start to sing.
At full volume.
He really only had one.
See what I mean about timing . . .?
His family was treated to such classics as, "Who Put the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder". Or, "My Diane" (my personal favorite), "Two Little Boys" (which always made me cry), "Daisy", or the ever popular, "The Doors Swing In and the Doors Swing Out".
Usually, Mom would also join in.
Suffice it to say that, before us kids could carry on a lucid conversation, we could sing. We didn't always know what we were singing, and our school teachers sometimes questioned the suitability of a song that took place almost entirely within a saloon ("The Doors Swing In . . ." - see above.)
But that's beside the point . . .
We were in tune and definitely had the words right.
Or at least as right as Dad did.
It wasn't until some years later that I realized my Dad used . . . poetic license. One day, I was singing "Two Little Boys" while I cleaned out a pen in the barn. Unbeknownst (real word!) to me, Dad was leaning on the fence in the far corner, listening.
I got to one line and just did what he had always done. "Da Da Da Da Da Da Dum Dee."
He burst out laughing.
When I glared at him accusingly, he told me that he'd been waiting for me to get to that line so he could finally hear what the real words were. He had never been able to remember and had just put in 'placer' lyrics.
I had memorized them accordingly.
Scary, isn't it that we pick up what we are taught . . . mistakes and all?
I've wandered from the point.
Again.
Now, whenever I drive along a road that Dad took us down, or even a road that resembles a road that . . .
I remember. Feeling happily sleepy. And that beautiful baritone voice, suddenly belting out the lyrics to some song that probably only Dad remembered.
Or possibly that Dad made up.
But so soothing to us denizens of the back seat.

Though in his 87th year, my Dad still drives.
And sings.
Wait, he's started, "Cause Some Dirty Dog Put Glue on the Saddle".
I have to go . . .

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My First Lesson

Front to back: George, Me, Chris, Jerry, Dad and Blair.
Look closely. Can you pick out the intrepid swimmer?

I had never taken swimming lessons.
We simply lived too far from the city for it to be a priority. Or even possible.
But I loved to swim.
And, with the river is such close proximity, did it a lot.
In the summer.
In winter, for obvious reasons, we were pretty much shut out.
Then, someone of great intelligence came up with a fantastic idea.
Why not hire a schoolbus and cart a load of kids to Lethbridge once a week?
It was genius!
Why hadn't anyone though of it before?
Now I could take lessons and my parents would only be responsible for getting me to and from Milk River.
Okay, it still meant a twenty-mile hike into town to drop me off and another twenty miles to pick me up, but why haggle over details?
I was going!
The bus ride was a treat. For one thing, I was suddenly riding with a different group of kids than I ever saw from the fourth seat back.
And for another, Kathy had a portable record-player, which she kept going the entire 50 miles.
I can't tell you how many times we heard 'Wipe-Out', but it was . . . umm . . . a few.
The bus deposited us safely in front of the Civic Center.
I should mention here that I've often wondered about bus drivers. What they do in their off hours, when they aren't closely closeted with a rowdy group of young people.
It's a wonder that more of them don't drink.
Can't you just picture a group of them around a table with shaking heads and “Let me tell you . . .!” stories?
But I digress . . .
We scrambled madly for the door and the change rooms, then poured out into the main pool room.
We were ready.
The teachers began to sort us into groups, using a highly accurate scheme.
How old are you? Are you afraid of the water? Have you ever taken swimming lessons before? What colour is your swimsuit.
Do you like boys?
Finally, they had us, more or less, categorized.
I had never taken swimming lessons, so I was inserted into the beginners class.
That was a treat.
“Okay, see if you can put your face into the water.”
Compliance.
“Okay. You! Little girl in the blue swimsuit!” Sigh. “Would someone please fish her out?”
Have I mentioned that I like water?
“Are you sure you've never had lessons?”
Head shake.
“Well, I'm moving you up to the next level.”
Okay.
And so it went.
By the time we were finished our one-hour lesson, I had been . . . promoted . . . seven times.
It must have been some sort of record, to go from the beginner level to the 'Junior Lifeguard' level.
In one lesson.
Who could have known that all my flailing and thrashing around like a demented fish had actually been getting me somewhere.
Or that, in the still water of a pool, with no current to fight, I could actually make headway.
Really fast headway.
Jerry (the only member of my family who could actually fight the river's current and win), eat your heart out.
Because miracles do happen.
I was suddenly the soggy and triumphant queen of my little, watery world.
It didn't happen often.
But it was a very good feeling.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Me and . . . Open Water

Somewhere out there are whales . . . and nausea. In no particular order.

Water and I have a thing.
We love each other.
Okay, so I love water. I really don't know how it feels about me.
Moving on . . .
We were going whale watching off the west coast of California.
I was . . . ummm . . . excited. I loved water. And things in the water. And boats.
I should maybe point out here that the sum total of my water experience consisted of my river and Chin lake. Not necessarily in that order.
We put on our life jackets.
Oooo! Stylin'!
Climbed aboard.
So far so good.
The engine started.
My heart rate increased.
We pulled smoothly away from the dock.
Still fine.
We skimmed lightly across the bay.
Okay, so, it was a fat, clumsy boat, loaded to the gunwales with tourists . . . and people. But I chose the word 'skimmed' and I'm sticking with it.
My more daring family members were already hanging out over the rails, looking down into the amazingly blue water as it slipped past.
I managed to find a seat inside the little 'house' part.
So, yes, I was a little trepidatious (real word - really!).
We cleared the bay and moved out into open water.
And then the boat started . . . for want of a better term . . . bucking.
Now, I should point out here that I'm used to bucking. In fact, bucking has been a daily ritual in the horse corral since forever.
Just not this kind of bucking.
The deck under my feet rose up. Then, just as I bent over to see if my stomach had actually fallen out and been deposited somewhere under my bench, the deck fell.
And I mean fell.
Worse than an elevator. (And elevators and I do have a history . . .)
Worse than when I fell off the barn roof.
In fact, most of my inner parts were rapidly in danger of becoming . . . outer.
And, just like that, I was sick.
Really sick.
I had been told to stare at the horizon.
I tried.
But the horizon was going up and down along with the boat, the tourists and me.
Maybe it shouldn't be called 'seasick'. Maybe it should be 'seesick'. Because there sure is a lot to see.
Okay, so horizon staring wasn't going to work.
I began to count the steps. Four to the doorway. Four more across the deck.
Could I make it?
I mean, before something . . . icky . . . happened.
Another heave of the deck.
Okay, so the choice was taken from me.
It was sprint or die.
I sprinted.
I needn't go into the details of what happened next. I suppose you can furnish your own particulars. Suffice it to say that I lost everything I had ever eaten.
Or even thought of eating.
Funny thing about being sick on a tourist boat.
Everyone suddenly has something else to look at.
On the opposite side from you.
I was abruptly, gratefully, alone.
Okay, yes, the boat was tilting alarmingly to one side as people scrambled to be somewhere else.
But at least, my humiliation and I could happily enjoy our time together without danger of being interrupted.
I don't remember much about the rest of the trip. We saw some whales. I was hauled out of my bench in the cabin in time to see a whole herd (erm . . . pod) of them.
They were neat.
And wet.
And . . . splashy.
And never in my whole life was I so relieved to stand, later, on real, solid ground.
I didn't kiss it. I didn't dare shift that much.
But I knew that it, and I, were very happy to see one another.

There is a codicil.
My husband took me whale-watching off the coast of Maine.
I stayed outside and kept my face into the wind.
And my lunch stayed where it had been instructed.
We came upon a cow/calf pair of  whales. (I'm ashamed to admit that I can't remember what kind of whale. They were neat. And wet. And splashy.)
The mother left her baby and dove. The calf stayed where it was, lolling in the waves and the sun. Occasionally batting at the water with a flipper.
Every few minutes, our guide would say something informative.
Finally, she said, "I bet none of you can say that you've sat beside a sleeping whale!"
My husband glanced at me.
Okay, I admit that, when hugely pregnant, I have described myself thusly (another real word).
I hit him anyways.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Grant vs THE BLOB


Grant, age 3.  Jelly Fish rescuer.  And cutie.
 It looked like a blob.
It was a blob.
A blob of jelly-like substance, trailing long streamers and lying inert on the dark, sandy shore.
We stared at it. Walked around it. One of my brothers touched it with a tentative toe.
Yep. Blob.
The rest of my family soon lost interest and walked away. I squatted down and continued to study the strange . . . thing.
We were children of the prairies and knew, intimately, the frogs, snakes, minnows and other creatures that inhabited our little river. But here, facing the great and awesome expanse labeled 'ocean', we were . . . out of our depth (pun intended) . . . so to speak.
And this? This was something new. Something unheard of. Something mysterious.
I think it was a jelly fish, but, somehow, admitting that takes away the magic.
I continued to study it.
It didn't move. Probably a good thing, considering that it was roughly the size of a chicken. And we all know my apprehensions concerning the members of that 'feathery' set.
I narrowed my eyes. Something about the creature was wrong.
Oh, I might be from the prairies, but, believe me, I know when something is out of place. And that jelly fish was definitely out of place.
Somehow, in my mind, I could picture it . . . floating happily.
That's it! Floating!
I was a genius!
All I needed to do was to somehow get this creature back into the water where it belonged.
I walked around it again. Maybe I could pick it up . . .
I reached out. Then stopped and looked at my hands. Then back at it.
No. That didn't seem right.
Another circuit.
I had it!
I would find something to lift it as unobtrusively (and yes, that is a word) as possible and send it home.
I ran up and down the beach, and finally spotted a worthy tool for the job at hand. A long plank, weathered and beaten by the waves.
I drug it across the sand and carefully maneuvered one end of it underneath my . . . erm . . . blob.
Gently, I slid it further and further, careful not to jar or disturb my stranded friend.
Finally, I had pushed it completely underneath.
I was ready.
Carefully, I lifted the plank.
With . . . most . . . of the jelly fish aboard.
In horror, I watched the strange creature disintegrate.
I mean, I've heard of going to pieces, but this thing . . . really did.
Imagine trying to lift a blob of jello with a board.
Soft jello, like my Mom makes. Not the concrete kind that they serve in restaurants.
You get the picture.
This was worse.
It left it's legs and arms and a good portion of the rest of it on the sand.
Umm . . . Ick.
Panicked, I swung my board and threw the portion I had managed to collect into the water.
The rest, I abandoned.
What would be the point?
I'm pretty sure both halves were dead.
Or at least very, very ill.
Who is it that says that no good deed goes unpunished?
They were right.

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