Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

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by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Monday, February 6, 2012

They Burn Garbage, Don't They?

That's Entertainment!

On the ranch, in the 50s, we burned our garbage.
It was the only option.
Each week, the trash cans were collected from every room in the house
Carried out to the burning barrel.
Emptied into said barrel.
And set alight.
It was an exciting job.
Okay, well, it looked exciting to me.
Probably because the task came with an 'age appropriate' rating.
And I hadn't reached that age.
I would scurry through the house, collecting bins for whoever was assigned.
Then help them lug everything to the trash barrel.
Then stand back and watch as they . . .
Most of the time, it only took one.
Match, that is.
I was more than fascinated.
The lit match would be lowered into the barrel.
A curl of smoke would issue forth.
Then the first of the flames.
There was nothing . . . I repeat nothing . . . more exciting.
And I had been to movies.
And watched Bonanza on TV.
Okay, well, maybe I'd better exclude Bonanza.
I mean, who could possibly compete with Pa Cartwright?
And his buckskin gelding.
I've wandered from the point . . .
Where was I?
Oh, yes. Garbage.
And burning it.
For years, I watched, enviously as, first my parents, then my older siblings got to light the match.
Slowly, the day approached when I would be trusted with the all-important job.
And then, it was here.
"Diane, would you please burn the garbage?"
I carefully collected every bin.
Toted them all down to the barrel.
Chose one at random and dumped its contents.
Chose another.
And another.
And finally, surrounded by empty trash cans, the magic moment.
I lit the match.
And dropped it carefully into the accumulated trash.
It winked out.
I tried again.
Same thing.
This was harder than it looked.
Most of a book of matches later, I discovered that I needed to choose a piece of paper as my first victim.
Light that, then let it light the rest.
Finally, I had a blaze.
I stepped back and watched proudly.
My first trash fire.
Okay, I admit it, you have to look for opportunities to shine in this life.
Within a few weeks, I was an old hand at 'burning the trash'.
I could collect, empty and light with the best of them.
And use one match.
And then the gloss wore off.
Dad: "Diane. Time to take out the trash."
Me: "Can't someone else do it? I'm watching Woody Woodpecker!"
Blair: "I'll do it!"
Dad: "Blair can help, but Diane has to light the match."
Me: [Huge sigh.] "Okay. Fine."
Blair: "Yipee!"
The fire circle of life.


  1. Ah, the old trash barrel. It always was my brothers' job.

    1. Somehow, when brothers do it, it's more exciting somehow . . .

  2. You know, I still got a kick out of burning the trash for Dad the last few years of his life...pyromaniac at heart I guess.

  3. lol
    I always burn the trash in the country .We get to enjoy the fire too

    1. What is it about a fire? Even a trash fire. You've just got to watch it!

  4. Ah yes, the burning of the trash. And don't forget the melting of the plastic. Which evolved into the suspended soda cans of gasoline shot at with the pellet gun! Oh, how did I ever survive?

    1. How did I miss the soda cans of gasoline? I want a do-over!

  5. the job always seems more fun when others are doing it, and then the moment comes when you have to do it and you realize it isn't as much fun anymore. Great life lesson.:) Thanks for sharing on the NOBH

  6. lol... I remember the burning of the trash wand being passed to me very well! We never heard of a truck actually coming to. your. house! to pick up your garbage! That was such a strange concept. :) We always begged to be able to go with Dad to the dump when the barrels needed to be emptied.

    We had plenty of grass fires as well... I remember that very well. That was ALWAYS exciting when that happened... my mom would panic every single time. It was funny to watch her and then watch to see how much grass would burn.

    I still have a couple of burn barrels at my house even now. We finally broke down and started having the trash truck come about 5 years ago. But I still like to burn my personal mail things, big boxes, and feed bags that won't fit in our dumpster. Thankfully I still have one kid that likes to be the one to burn the trash! haha Thanks for the trip down memory lane!


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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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