Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Thursday, December 8, 2011

Things That Go Bump in the Night

You see misfortune. We saw 'scary'!

There was a haunted house in Milk River.
Haunted.
Really.
Demons lived there.
Witches.
Hags.
You name it. If it was slimy and scary, it had a residence in that house.
We children in the town skipped past on the far side of the street.
Even in broad daylight.
With our ears plugged and talking volubly, so as to drown out any and all noises that might escape that house.
Even so, I'm sure that, on two occasions, I heard screams coming from it.
And no, they didn't come from me.
Sheesh.
At one time, Milk River's haunted house had been just another normal, ordinary, rather elderly little home.
Situated about half-way down the block.
A family had lived there.
Mother. Father. Children.
But that was where the 'normal' part ended.
At least that is what my friends had informed me.
Often.
One night, the mother had asked her little boy to go down into the cellar to look for the family cat.
It was dark in the cellar.
He had lighted a match to see more clearly.
And dropped it into a vat of kerosene.
I didn't know what that was, but it sounded dangerous.
And why a vat of it would be sitting in someone's basement, I wouldn't know either.
Suffice it to say that my facts really didn't hold well under scrutiny.
But I was four.
Who was scrutinizing?
I was too busy shivering in delight.
Moving on . . .
So the little boy dropped his match into the vat of kerosene.
It lit up like a huge torch.
The kerosene, that is.
He and his family barely got out alive.
No one knows what happened to the cat.
The family then disappeared.
Never to be heard from again.
Ooooooooo!
Actually, none of us really knew what happened to start the fire.
It was just one of those terribly unfortunate things.
The family moved away, maybe to a family member's house to regroup.
But reality wasn't as interesting to us kids as the stories we made up.
Once, a group of us actually sneaked into the house and got as far as the kitchen.
Standing in the center of the room was a partially-charred table, still covered with an equally burned cloth and decorated with a bowl of blackened fake fruit.
We were horrified.
And ran from the house screaming.
I know, I know, intrepid explorers we weren't.
The house was eventually demolished.
Mainly to keep us from scrambling through it like some sort of ride in a carnival.
But even after another house had been erected and another family moved in, it remained the 'haunted house'.
Where the family lived.
Before the fire.
And maybe they're there still.
Making noises and screaming at odd hours.
The four-year-olds in the neighbourhood would know.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Food 'Allergies'

The Bean Man . . . and family.

My Dad always claimed to be allergic to onions.
Whenever he ordered any burger, he always asked them to 'hold the onions'.
We just assumed that he really was allergic to onions.
Later in life, we discovered that his reticence was due, not to allergies, but to aversions.
There's a difference.
But what a scheme!
My kids tried to use it, too.
Our eldest, Mark, became quite expert.
His particular nemesis?
Beans.
Harmless, deep-browned, baked beans.
My personal favourite.
And one of the major ingredients in my award-winning chili.
Something that appeared with amazing regularity on the family dinner table.
Mmmmm.
From his very earliest years, Mark exhibited an unparallelled reluctance to put those nasty, evil beans anywhere near his mouth.
Regardless of how many times they might appear on his table.
Once, when he was just learning to say the blessing on the food, his father tried to trick him into 'bean acceptance'.
“Father in Heaven.” Grant.
“Father in Heaven.” Mark. (But imagine it in a little 20 month-old voice.)
“We thank thee for this food.” Grant.
“We thank thee for this food.” Mark.
“Because it's so yum.” Grant.
“Because it's so not yum.” Mark.
Laughter (Grant).
More laughter (Mom).
Grin (Mark).
And so it went.
For 19 years.
At the age of 19, Mark received a mission call for our church to Boston, Massachusetts.
He excitedly prepared to go.
I took him aside. “Mark, you know what they call Boston, don't you?”
“What?”
“Bean Town.”
His face whitened a little. “Bean Town?”
“Yep. Where do you think the term 'Boston Baked Beans' comes from?”
He had to sit down for that one. “Boston Baked Beans,” he said, faintly.
“Yep. So you'd better get used to eating them, because you will probably be getting them morning, noon and night.”
“Oh.”
He went anyways, brave boy that he was.
And returned two years later.
We met him at the airport.
We had sent our little boy.
We brought back an adult.
The first thing I asked him was how he felt about beans now that he had spent two years in the midst of the world's best bean eaters.
His response?
“I just got served beans for the first time yesterday.”
Even the 'Bean Towners' catered to my son . . .
Mark eats beans today.
Mostly to show his children it can be done.
But he doesn't wage much of a battle.
His oldest daughter, Megan's favourite food is Grandma's chili.
Okay, maybe the acorn skipped a generation, but it still landed near the tree.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Apologies . . .

The Culprit
I am so sorry that I haven't been able to post regularly these past few days.
I'm really missing it, too.
And visiting all of your blogs . . .
But this book-signing tour has kept me so busy that I just haven't had any time.
Plus I've been spending all of my days smiling and being nice to people.
Tough work!
I use up all of my 'nice' before I get back to the apartment . . . :)
But, the end is in sight.
I am going to be on TV tomorrow morning. ABC4, Good Things Utah, sometime between nine and ten AM.
Then I have a signing.
Then another signing on Wednesday.
Then I'm done.
For now.
Wish me luck!!!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Part Two: They Call the Wind . . .

I know how it feels.
Wind is hell awful.
In Southern Alberta, farmers and ranchers plant three rows of trees.
The first row, furthest outside, is a row of caragana bushes.
They grow the fastest and protect the other, slower-growing trees.
Next come the poplars.
Not quite as fast-growing, but faster than the pines, which form the third row.
The three rows together form an effective, natural wind break.
But they take a while to mature.
Sigh.
My brother, Jerry had a dream.
He wanted to raise hydroponic tomatoes.
He had done his research.
Tested the water.
Literally.
I guess hydroponics have certain water requirements.
Besides 'wet'.
He was ready.
He built two large buildings. Frames really, which, when covered with heavy-gauge plastic, became hydroponic barns.
Perfect for growing wonderful, delicious tomatoes.
He set up his equipment.
Rows and rows of it.
And planted.
And tended.
And watched as his crop grew, flowered and produced little tomatoes.
Which continued to grow.
And were nearly ready to pick.
Remember at the beginning of the story, when I mentioned wind?
This is where that comes in.
Jerry's barns were at the top of a small hill.
His windbreak was in its infancy.
So a plank wall had been built.
Surely that would protect his precious crop.
The wind began to build.
The heavy plastic was billowing in and out.
A great gust went over, kicked up into the air over the barns by the impermeable wooden wall.
It sucked the plastic up with it.
Jerry was standing in his barn when it happened.
In a split second, he saw the walls of plastic lift six inches from the ground.
He had only a moment to consider what he could do to save his barns and his precious crop.
Nothing.
The next gust took the great plastic covers with it.
His crop was destroyed in seconds.
What was it I said about wind?
The Southern Alberta winds yearly cause a lot of damage.
I have lived away from them for over three decades.
I still can't sleep when the wind blows.


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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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