Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Difference Between Men and Women -or- My Most Embarrassing Moment

I know it's hard to tell, but there are differences . . .

My husby and I were just finishing supper.
The doorbell rang.
He went to answer it.
It was a good friend from our Drama Society, who needed to discuss . . . drama.
We sat down in the living room.
And discussed.
Then, as usually happened, the discussing turned to visiting.
But something about the visit was odd. He wouldn't look at me.
I should point out that this was a man that both my husby and I had been good friends with for over fifteen years.
We had spent many, many hours together, rehearsing plays. Performing plays. Directing plays.
We all liked plays.
And much of that time had been spent in visiting.
This was the first time he wouldn't look at me while doing so.
Weird.
An hour and a half later, he left.
I shook off my uneasy feelings and went to get ready for bed.
I opened my mouth to floss my teeth.
And discovered that a leaf of lettuce was neatly covering one of my upper front teeth.
Not wedged between.
Not faintly visible.
Covered.
Like it had been painted.
Green.
Ick.
I stared.
Suddenly things were becoming clear.
Suddenly I knew why our friend hadn't been able to look at me during our visit.
I turned to my husby.
“Honey, I have a lettuce leaf covering my tooth!”
“Yes.”
Okay, a man of many words, my husby isn't.
I swallowed. Hard.
“Was it there the whole time we were visiting?”
“Yes.”
“Why didn't you tell me???!!!”
“I didn't want to embarrass you.”
“What?! You don't think I'm more embarrassed now?!”
He shrugged.
I took a deep breath.
“Honey, I want you to promise me something.”
“Okay,” he said, rather warily.
“Promise me that if you see anything, anything that I would be embarrassed about, you will tell me.”
“Umm. Okay.”
And there we see a fundamental difference between men and women.
Women will go out of their way to tell a total stranger that the tag is sticking out of the back of their blouse.
Or that they have something stuck in their hair.
Or that they have some gravy on their sleeve.
And then offer aid.
Men don't.
Tell, that is.
Or aid.
If they observe it at all, they keep it to themselves.
Even with other men.
I've seen a man standing in a group of men with his fly down.
And his shirttail sticking out of said zipper.
And no one told him.
I asked my husby afterwards if he had observed it.
“Yes.”
“Why didn't anyone say anything.”
“Didn't want to embarrass him.”
Doesn't it occur to these people that it's infinitely more embarrassing to discover these things for oneself hours later?
Yep. One more reason I'm glad I'm a woman.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Muffy the Second

Muffy. With our eldest son, Mark

For over thirty years, our family raised Old English Sheepdogs.
We love them.
They come as little, furry puppies.
And turn into big, furry dogs.
Gentle. Affectionate. Protective.
Have I mentioned that we love them?
Several of our dogs stand out in my memory.
One is Muffy the Second.
Not to be confused with Muffy the First.
Okay, so imaginative, we weren't.
Muffy lived to eat.
And receive affection.
But mostly to eat.
Moving on . . .
Our youngest son, Tristan had an ice cream cone.
And an audience.
Muffy was sitting nearby, keeping what she hoped was an unobtrusive eye on his actions.
I should point out that in our house, the dogs weren't allowed anywhere near the dining room.
Tristan was in the living room.
The rules were a bit more blurry there.
He had taken a couple of licks.
With the third lick, his little scoop of ice cream vacated the cone and headed for the floor.
It never landed.
In a blur of motion, Muffy was across the room. She had that ice cream downed before Tristan had even realized he had lost it.
Tears ensued.
Tristan, not Muffy.
Another scoop, and all was well.
After Muffy had also been banned from the living room.
Sigh.
People, make up your minds . . .
Another time, rawhide bones had been issued to all three dogs currently residing in the house.
They retreated to favourite corners to chew.
Or so it seemed.
Muffy was again keeping an unobtrusive (she was getting good at it) eye the other two.
Biding her time.
When one of them got distracted, she would sneak in and snatch their bone.
Whereupon (good word) the offended party would look around in confusion, sigh and close their eyes for a nap.
Have I mentioned that they weren't always the brightest bulb in the chandelier?
Finally, Muffy had cornered all of the bones. Happily, she cradled them between her front legs and proceeded to chew, first one, then another.
But that is where her bliss ended.
Oh, not because the other two figured it out.
That would be stretching things.
No. Because the kids came home from school.
Now it was the usual scenario in the Tolley household, that the kids be met at the door by three (not one or two. Three.) dogs.
They would jump around and make general nuisances of themselves in their excitement and enthusiasm.
The dogs, that is.
Ahem . . .
We heard the bus.
Panda and Chief headed for the door, wiggling happily.
I should also mention that an Old English Sheepdog has no tail. Thus, when excited, they wag their entire rear end.
Just FYI . . .
There was much wiggling and snuffling and vying for attention as eight kids came through the door.
And Muffy was missing it.
She whined and cried and fidgeted as she stood over her ill gotten gains, not wanting to leave them for fear of losing them, but sad to be missing all of the excitement.
Finally, it was too much for her.
In a flurry of movement, she joined the others.
Whereupon (that word again) the other two left the melee and dashed over to the bones, each snatching one and heading to their respective corners to resume their interrupted afternoon chew.
Maybe that was their plot all along.
Maybe they were just biding their time.
Muffy finished greeting the kids and ran back to her spot.
To find just one bone.
She sighed and laid down.
Keeping one eye on the other two.
And their bones.
Down, but not defeated.
The stomach rules!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Phobias: Spiders - or - It's a Good Thing I Live in Canada.

Daddy, my brother and me.
No spiders were harmed in the taking of this picture.
But the area was scrutinized closely . . .
Spiders and I have always gotten along.
Provided they are on the opposite side of the room and in plain view so escape-age is entirely possible.
Or better yet, in an entirely different country.
Or planet.
Okay. Spiders and I don't get along.
It all started when I became conscious (ie. born) and lasted until . . . well . . . now.
As I grew, my persnickety-ness became more and more pronounced.
And pro-active.
I would carefully shake out each shoe before I put it on. (I had heard that people in scorpion-infested parts of the world do this regularly. I thought it a good idea.)
Check clothes and coat pockets with a flashlight.
All the usual things one could do while getting dressed.
Because you never knew just where those little beggers would be hiding.
Once, when I was sitting, minding my own business in seventh grade English, I saw a spider climbing down the wall next to me.
I kept a wary eye on it.
You never know – with spiders.
They're tricky.
It climbed slowly down.
Down.
And then scurried across the floor towards the person seated in front of me.
All senses were immediately put on alert.
A few minutes later, when something touched my leg, I leaped nearly seven feet into the air.
Truly.
It's a school record.
You can look it up.
And so it continues to this day.
I do put on a brave face for my children and grand children.
Unfortunately, it looks like the one I wear all of the time, just a little more . . . tense.
Teeth firmly clamped around bottom lip.
Knitted brows.
Sheen of sweat. Glowing slightly.
That sort of thing.
Evil world-destruction plotting spider is approached cautiously and swatted firmly with a fly swatter.
Then beaten unrecognizable with whatever is at hand.
Shoe.
Baseball bat.
I admit it.
Humane disposal and me and spiders don't fit into the same sentence.
Oh. Wait . . .
It's probably a good thing I live where I do, spiders here are teensy.
In Greece, they have been know to carry off pets and small animals and the occasional tourist.
True story. 
Remind me to tell you about it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Phobias: Baths -or- The Reason I Shower

Daddy and Me.
My parents should have produced
fatter children.
Then all of this could have been
avoided . . .

I loved baths.
Loved them.
In fact, once Mom got me into the tub, it was a major chore to get me out.
I would swim and play like a little fish, till the water cooled to the point that it was tepid.
And I was shivering.
I know. I know.
Makes no sense to me, either.
But I was four.
Little that one does, makes sense when you're four.
Moving on . . .
One day, Mom discovered a technique that shot me out of the tub quicker than a wet, slippery little bar of soap.
She pulled the plug.
While I was still in the tub.
Eeeeek!
What were we saying about making sense?
The water started down the drain.
Gurgle.
Gurgle.
Gurgle.
And suddenly, I knew that I was going to go down with it.
Oops. There goes Diane.
I knew what my parents would say . . .
“Darn! Lost another one! Guess we'll have to get us another little girl!”
Okay, so even at four I had a lot of imagination.
After that, all Mom had to do was reach for the plug.
It was like she put a current of electricity through the water.
Zip!
I would be standing, shivering on the bathmat.
Clean.
But whole.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bow City Spectacle . . . er . . . Parade (A Short Story)

Conclusion.

For the next several weeks, the town was abuzz with talk from both Jenna Grace's camp and from F. Roddy's.
Floats were being assembled in nearly every available garage.
Both town bands, the high school marching and the veteran's brass were rehearsing nightly.
Not one, but two Town Sweetheart contests were held. (The town's one hair dresser worked straight out for two days solid, finally collapsing into her own wash chair after completing Mrs. Jasper's elaborate upsweep.)
And, strangely, two Santa's had been engaged. Sleighs, reindeer and all.
Colorful posters from F. Roddy's group began to appear, proclaiming the date and route of the much-anticipated parade.
But before anyone could read them, they were quietly replaced by posters from Jenna Grace's camp.
Which were subsequently torn down and replaced themselves.
This went on until the very day of the parade.
But, as the date and time were consistent in both, the general populace didn't really take much notice of the details, other than that the route would, at some time or other, follow main street.
Thus it was with great anticipation, that the entire town, or at least those few who were not actually in the parade, lined the single main street on the chosen date.
The day was perfect.
Snow had fallen, but only enough to provide a white backdrop to the festivities.
The air was crisp, not too cold, but just enough to put a snap into the air and tint cheeks and noses pink.
The hot chocolate vendor in front of the city hall was doing a brisk business, as was the hot cider man across the street in front of the pool hall.
The smell of freshly-roasted nuts and popcorn filled the air and made smiling mouths water.
There was much talk and laughter and jostling for position.
Finally, the sound of drums.
Everyone stilled and necks craned as people tried to catch the first glimpse of the marching bands which would lead the way.
"They're coming from that way!" Mayor Mayor shouted, pointing to the north.
"No, I think I can hear them coming from this way," Kevin Rhymes said, pointing in the opposite direction.
People strained first one direction, then the other.
Surely the music was coming from both directions?
Sudden movement.
Ah. There, led by F. Roddy Digby enthusiastically swinging a long, gold Marshal's pole, were the town veterans, their brass instruments gleaming in the noon sun, as they blared out their own version of 'Jingle Bells'.
Behind them, colorful floats and decorated bicycles.
Wait. There was more music.
Different music.
Peoples' heads spun back as the High School marching band came into sight.
From the opposite direction.
Led by a smiling Jenna Grace Chappell, waving her own shining symbol of authority, and stepping smartly to the strains of 'Here Comes Santa Claus', they quickly closed the gap that separated the two bands.
Two bands?
Two parades!
The people clapped and cheered.
This was the best parade ever!
For a moment, anyway.
When the two groups were no more than twenty feet apart, Jenna Grace and F. Roddy suddenly came to a stop.
Facing each other.
In the very center of main street.
Each parade came to a halt behind them, stepping smartly in place as the bands continued their respective musical selections.
Narrow-eyed, Jenna Grace and F. Roddy glared at each other, still continuing to beat to the music with their Marshall's poles.
Then F. Roddy raised his eyebrows. "What are you going to do now, Chappell?" he shouted, grinning.
Jenna Grace's eyes flared and, without warning, she swung her Marshal's pole like a baseball bat.
F. Roddy let his pole slide through his fingers and turned to meet the blow.
A hollow 'clang' rang out over the combined music of both orchestras.
It acted like a signal.
Still marching in place, the bands immediately increased their volume.
Attempting to drown out their opposition.
The two Marshals in the center were doing a lively dance, swinging and ducking as they alternately tried to hit their opponent and avoid the other's pole.
The cacophony of sound increased.
Brasses versus brasses, drums against drums, and over it all, the hollow 'crash' and 'clang' of the two Marshal's poles.
The respective songs ended.
One of the tuba players collapsed against his fellows as he blasted out one final note.
There was a moment of comparative silence as each group drew breath to begin again.
Only the rat-tat-tat of the snare drums continued, along with the occasional sound of Marshal's pole meeting Marshal's pole and the grunt of the two protagonists.
Suddenly, Jenna Grace's pole found its way through F. Roddy's defense and hit him squarely in the solar plexus.
F. Roddy went down like a sack of potatoes.
But as he went, he lost his grip on his pole and it fell with evil precision, hitting the top of Jenna Grace's head, who summarily joined him on the pavement.
At that moment, a lone trumpeter began to play 'Let There be Peace on Earth'.
The rest of his orchestra took up the tune.
Then the players from the opposite group joined in.
For the first time, real music drifted from the assembled musicians.
Then the trumpets in the front row of the Veteran's band glanced towards the side street open before all of them and looked back at their fellows in the other orchestra.
The front row trumpets of the High School band nodded and both groups turned, as one, and started down this new path.
Soon the rest of the two parades were following (adroitly avoiding their two erstwhile leaders now sitting up dazedly on the hard pavement), and weaving together to form one giant procession.
The assembled townspeople followed, clapping and laughing and also pointedly stepping around the two on the ground.
Finally, Jenna Grace Chappell and F. Rodney Digby were alone in an empty street.
They stared at each other.
Finally, F. Roddy reached for his much abused Marshall's pole. He stared at it for a moment, then sighed softly and struggled to his feet. "May I assist you?" he said.
"Yes. Please," Jenna Grace replied, reaching for her own battered pole.
F. Roddy reached out a hand and helped her up.
The two of them walked shakily over to the curb and sat down.
For several seconds they remianed there, listening to the fading music.
"So, where did we go wrong?" F. Roddy said.
"I don't know," Jenna Grace replied. "But we did go wrong. Somewhere."
Again, they were silent.
"Care for a cup of hot chocolate?" F. Roddy asked.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bow City Spectacle . . . er . . . Parade (A Short Story)

Part Three.

Over tiny chicken sandwiches, the Ladies Aid discussed the certain disaster that was to befall their tiny town on December 3.
Mrs. Jasper got so animated that she spilled her tea.
Right into Mrs. Wayan's lap.
A portent of things to come.

The first meeting of the Christmas parade committee was held on October 13.
Chairs had been set up in a non-committal and unbiased circle in the center of the high school gym.
Jenna Grace and R. Roddy were among the first to arrive.
Pointedly ignoring each other, they took seats at polar opposite sides of the circle.
Then they spent the remaining few minutes alternately ignoring or glaring at the other.
Reba wheeled in a coffee/tea cart and parked it beside a waiting table. She pulled out several pans of bars and divided her time between slicing and setting out and hovered anxiously over a fat tea kettle.
The room began to fill with chatting, happy people.
They drifted over to the refreshments and filled plates and cups. Then they found seats in the circle.
The two already seated said nothing.
Slowly, the chatter died out and people uncomfortably concentrated on eating and drinking.
Jenna Grace cleared her throat. "Well, now that we have finished with the 'party' part of the meeting, maybe we can get down to business."
"Exactly what I was going to say," F. Roddy said. "If you hadn't ignored decorum and jumped in."
"Decorum?" Jenna Grace's eyebrows went up. "I just thought someone with a brain should take charge."
"And you just assumed that could be you?" F. Roddy looked at his fingernails.
Jenna Grace puffed up like a toad. "What are you saying, Froddy?" she said. "That you should be in charge?"
"Well you got something right," F. Roddy said, ignoring her mocking use of his name.
The crowd had gone completely silent by this time and were watching the two carefully, their heads swiveling back and forth from one to the other.
Jenna Grace calmed herself with obvious effort. "I think we should put the person in charge who has already proved their leadership skills," she said, smoothing one hand over her immaculate hair.
Jenna Grace always wore her grey-streaked hair scraped tightly into a bun at the back of her head. The thought of even one lock escaping was unthinkable.
"And just what have you organized?" F. Roddy demanded. "I know they were looking for someone to run the cock-fighting out at Cowells. Is it your fine hand we see in that?"
Jenna Grace puffed up again. "How dare you!" she hissed.
"Oh. Sorry. Was there something else?"
"You know dam - darn well, Froddy, that I've organized and directed the Ice Cream Festival for the past eight years!" she shouted.
"Maybe one day there'll be actual ice cream there," F. Roddy said.
Jenna Grace surged to her feet. "I refuse to sit here and be insulted!" she said, and turning smartly, marched towards the door.
"Good. Now you can go somewhere else to be insulted," F. Roddy said.
A sharp "Harrumph" was his only response.
The door banged shut.
"Well, now maybe we can get down to business," F. Roddy said.
An uncomfortable silence met him.
"People?"
"I'm sorry, F. Roddy," Dennis said, getting to his feet. "I agreed to work with Jenna Grace and I'd better honor that."
F. Roddy nodded. "Anyone else?"
Several other people stood up and followed Dennis out the door.
"Well, that's that," F. Roddy said. "Now shall we get down to work?"
Surprisingly, they managed to plan the basic framework for the entire celebration.
"See what you can accomplish when you have the right people?" F. Roddy asked.

Meanwhile, Jenna Grace had circled her wagons on the far side of town.
"Well," she said, tapping several sheets of paper together. "I think that's enough for our first evening. You have all been remarkably efficient and cooperative. Our basic plan is complete. Now all that's left is to flesh it out."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bow City Spectacle . . . er . . . Parade (A Short Story)

Part Two.

During the weekly town council meeting on October 11, Councilor Makepeace proposed that a Parade Marshal be appointed for the fast approaching Christmas Parade, a highlight of the town's year.
Several names were put forward.
But two people seated impatiently in the crowd immediately surged to their feet.
"I would like to propose my own name," Jenna Grace said loudly.
"And I would like to propose mine," F. Roddy was a breath behind her.
They turned and glared at each other, then, facing the council once more, reiterated their proposals.
With a bit more volume.
"I would like to volunteer!" they said together.
Another glare.
"Me! Me!"
Mayor Mayor stood up and waved two pudgy hands. "We'd like to thank our two volunteers," he said, soothingly. "We appreciate your willingness to give of yourselves and your time," He chuckled. "The council will consider your proposals and get back to you tomorrow."
Mumbling to themselves, Jenna Grace and F. Roddy resumed their seats.
Each shot one last heated glare in the other's direction, then finally subsided.
The meeting concluded and the room emptied, leaving only the council members.
"Well, what do you think we should do?" Karen asked Mayor Mayor.
"I don't have the foggiest idea," he said, smiling at her.
"I have an idea," another councilor, Kevin Rhymes, said.
"Please, Kevin. We welcome any and all suggestions," the mayor said.
"Well, why don't we have the two of them work together?"
"Co-Marshalls?"
"Well, let's face it," Kevin said. "The two of them are trying to drum up votes for the by-election in January, right?"
"I'm sure that's what's behind this sudden surge of community spirit," Karen said.
"Well, let's let them," Kevin said. "See how well they work with each other."
"How well the children play together in the sandbox?" Mayor Mayor said.
The councilors laughed.
"What do you think?" Kevin glanced around at the group.
"Well," the mayor said slowly, "it certainly might prove interesting."
"To say the least," Karen said quietly.
"I think we should let them," another councilor spoke up.
"I agree," said another.
"Shall we hold a little ad hoc vote?" the mayor asked.
"I'm in favor," Kevin said.
"You're the one who proposed it," Karen made a face at him.
He grinned. "So that's one vote."
"What about the rest of you?" the mayor asked.
"I think it's a great idea!"
"I'm in favor."
Finally he turned to Karen. "Things seem to be unanimous, Karen," he said. "Except for you."
Karen shrugged. "Who am I to stand in the way of progress," she said. "I agree."
"Okay, who wants to let them know?"

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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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