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

Daughter of Ishmael

by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Thank you, Miss Wornoski

Miss Wornoski and her 31 little readers
I love to read.
It started very early.
Grade one.
Miss Wornoski taught me.
I don't remember the mechanics of learning.
Only the sudden explosion of knowledge that came with recognizing series of letters strung together.
Miss Wornoski had a list of words on a large flip chart.
And each of us in the class was taken, publicly, through it.
I remember her pointing to each word with a long, slender stick and the victim participant having to then read it out.
A word about the stick. It was about three feet long, with a soft, squishy, plastic, cone-shaped tip.
Tons of fun to play with when the teacher wasn't in the room.
Ahem . . .
Day by day, she worked her way around the room.
Closer and closer to me.
Who would have guessed that panic was one of the subjects taught in the first grade?
Well, it was.
Very well.
If I would have studied the chart, I would have realized that I could read every word on it.
But I didn't.
Thus started a pattern in my life that has served me far too well.
But I digress . . .
Finally, it was my turn.
Miss Wornoski looked at me. “Diane.”
Everything I had ever known simply . . . fled.
Taking my blood and body temperature with it.
A now-frozen lump, I turned slowly and stared at her.
“Its your turn, dear,” she said softly.
Her words might as well have been: Ready! Aim! Fire!
I was about to die.
I swallowed.
And nodded.
The pointer was raised.
I watched as it moved.
Sooo slowly.
Tapped on the first word.
“And,” I said, shakily.
Next word.
Next. Ooh, a toughie.
And so it went.
Pointer . . . pointed.
I said the word.
Pointer moved on.
I was doing it!
The panic started to ebb.
With only one slight hesitation, on the unbelievably difficult word, 'house', I was done.
Faster than anyone.
Miss Wornoski smiled. “Very well done, Diane,” she said.
I had done it!
Celebrations were in order.
“Diane, sit down.”
She handed me my first. Real. Book. “Here, dear, read this,” she said.
And she moved on to the next student.
I stared at the book she had given me.
The Little White House.
There was a picture of a boy riding a horse on the cover.
We were instant friends.
I opened it and, for the first time began to read a story to myself.
Riveting tales of Tom, Betty and Susan as they:
  1. Helped their parents
  2. Got presents
  3. Rode Pony
  4. Played with Flip
The magic had begun.

There is a codicil . . .
My Husby and I were on a book-signing tour through the US.
We stopped at a tiny little restaurant in tiny-er Dell, Montana, called the Calf-A.
Exceptional food, especially the roast beef.
And pie to die for.
Sorry. Moving on . . .
The restaurant was housed in what had been the little country school.
The blackboards and even some of the pictures and furniture were still there.
On a shelf was a stack of old text books.
While waiting for my order, I wandered over and looked at them.
And there, right in the middle was my book.
My first book.
Just as I remembered it.
I dragged it out and hurried back to our table.
“Look!” I shoved it under my Husby's nose. “Look! It's my first book!
I sat down and opened the cover.
Instantly, I was transported back to my sunny classroom at Milk River Elementary.
To my seat beside the windows.
Right in front of the teacher's desk.
I could smell the chalk dust.
And see Miss Wornoski taking yet another student through her chart of words.
I had nearly read The Little White House through by the time our meal arrived.
Not a statement on how long it took to be served.
But rather on how quickly I could now read.
Thank you, Miss Wornoski.
You changed my life.


  1. Words....on paper.....pure magic. I remember grade one in a one room school house. Everyone in the grade called up to the front, standing in a circle, passing the book around. Teacher said, oh no dear, not you. Your mother says you already know how to read. I do???? I did!!!! And I didn't even know it.

    1. What a marvellous story! And I agree, words on paper IS pure magic!

  2. Miss Wornoski taught me to read, print, even draw. But she wasn't entirely successful at teaching me how to behave. Ergo, the strap. And it was only a love tap on each hand.

    1. Oh, Georgie. She never introduced ME to the strap. Hmmm . . . about that . . .

  3. What a thrill to find that old reader, intact. Our readers featured Dick and Jane, Down the River Road.

    1. I saw those! My brothers and sisters all read about Dick and Jane and Spot. Tom, Betty and Susan were new when I started reading.

  4. Now that's a memory that was almost lost: Dick and Jane, we started out with 'Run Spot Run; see Spot run,' then all of our readers got confiscated and replaced with Tom, Betty and Susan. I preferred Dick and Jane.

    1. I never got to actually study Dick and Jane. Only saw the books in your hands. Didn't think I had missed anything until right now . . .

  5. Wow! You sure have a sharp memory, Diane! Cute story and a reminder of how life changing reading can be!

    1. Thank you, Beth. I wish I could remember yesterday as well as I can remember 55 years ago!

  6. Diane it amazes me the memory you have and the detail with which you recall stories! I remember things more in theory than in great detail from when I was a child! Thanks for sharing so much of you with all of us at NOBH!

    1. Thanks so much Heidi! I do remember my early years! Of course I don't remember what I had for breakfast, so it balances out . . .

  7. I ate at that Calf-A 2 decades ago and the food was great. I couldn't for the life of me remember where it was, other than Montana. Thanks for the memory of a great place to eat.

    1. It is the best food! I'll go back there again as soon as I can! Dell, Montana. See you there!

  8. Awesome Diane, I remember my first book that I read, I was age 6 and I truly fell in love with reading that day:)

  9. Diane, in the few days since I discovered your blog, I've loved every minute here! I'm nominating you for the Super Sweet Blogging award for your super sweet blog and spirit. You can read about it here:

  10. Diane, I've loved reading your blog since I discovered it! I'm nominating you for the Super Sweet Blogging Award for your super sweet blog and spirit! You can read about it here:

  11. I also grew up reading about the adventures of Tom, Betty, Susan, and Flip. Still have fond memories of my first grade teacher. I even have a copy of "The Little White House" with Tom riding Pony.

    1. Ah, Ruby! That is the one I read! I loved that book. Sigh. :)


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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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