Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sisters in the Gospel

Sisters
Also a Sister







In our church, everyone is addressed either as 'Brother' or 'Sister'.
It gives a fun, family feel to the congregation.
And to the whole 'attending church' scenario.
It was something I was raised with.
Women my Mom's age were Sisters.
Men were Brothers.
Life was simple.
Moving forward twenty years.
Still attending church.
Still addressing each other as either Brother or Sister.
But now, there was a new generation, calling me Sister.
I should point out, here, that when you work in the children's organization, or Primary, you instantly gain rock-star status if your class members meet you outside of church.
Hence, you can be wandering in the mall and a young voice will scream out, "Mom, look! It's Sister Tolley!"
And I do mean shout.
One day, I was shopping with my children, plus a few.
Because who wants to go shopping with just your parents and siblings?
A cry suddenly rattled the rafters of the local Safeway.
"Sister Tolley! I didn't know you shopped here, too! Look! Look! It's Sister Tolley!"
And then a chorus of "Hi, Sister Tolley!" "Sister Tolley, look what I'm wearing!" And the all-important, "Sister Tolley, look what I can do!"
It was adorable.
I oohed and aahed over their clothes and accomplishments and our two groups separated, intent once more on whatever it was that had originally brought us into the store.
One of the boys who had come along for the amazing experience of shopping with two parents and ten children turned to my son and whispered, loudly, "Wow! I didn't know your Mom was a nun!"
Okay. Not something you hear every day.
Or ever.

Friday, February 10, 2012

My Very Short Life as an Entrepreneur

You think these beds look nice . . .
You should see what's underneath!

The world was a magical place!
I was rich beyond my wildest dreams!
And the treasure trove I had just discovered had been right under my bed the whole time.
Who knew?!
Maybe I should back up a bit . . .
My Mom and Dad had taken us kids to The Fair.
Mostly so we could see the cattle competitions, I admit, but eventually, to take in the sights and sounds and tastes of the midway.
First, came the sounds.
And once I got used to the fact that all of the shouting and screams I could hear were actually people having fun, I was able to relax a little.
And take in the sights.
That was a lot for my four-year-old eyes to take in.
There were rides.
Merry-go-rounds, roller coasters, Ferris wheels and tilt-a-whirls.
Adventures.
The haunted house. The pirate's den.
And sideshows.
The alligator man and the girl who turned into an ape.
And then there was food.
I had been too frightened to be coaxed onto any of the rides.
Apart from the merry-go-round.
A quirk that exists to this very day.
But I didn't have to be convinced to try the food.
A foot-long hot dog, heavy with ketchup and mustard. A cob of corn, dripping butter. Several donuts. An ice cream cone.
I was certain that I had never had so much fun in my life.
Or eaten as well.
But the best was yet to come.
Something that I never could have imagined.
A treat that was fluffy and melty and oh, so good.
Cotton candy!
The Fair had just become the most amazing experience of my entire four years.
A memory that I treasured long, long into the future.
Or at least three weeks into the future.
I was looking for one of my toys.
It wasn't in sight.
I decided to look in places that weren't in sight.
Under the bed.
There, I made the most remarkable discovery.
Cotton candy.
Just laying there!
I picked it up.
It was definitely cotton candy.
I set it on the bed and bent over, looking for more.
I don't want to suggest here, that my Mom didn't keep a clean house.
She did.
It's just that a husband, six kids, a couple of dogs, a two-acre garden and several hired men can make it difficult for one to get to the hidden surfaces in one's home.
Enough said.
I scrabbled around under all of the beds in the house and managed to come up with a small mound of the magical substance.
Wow! I could sell this to the kids in the neighbourhood.
The ones to whom, like me, The Fair was a sweet and delightful, though distant, memory.
I began counting pennies in my head.
I carried my treasure out to my Mom.
"Look what I found!" I said.
"Oh!" Mom said. She was as pleased as I was, obviously. "Where did you find that?"
"Under my bed. And Jerry's bed. And George's bed. And . . ."
"Never mind," Mom said. "Here. Let me take care of it." She reached for it.
I snatched it away. Was she crazy? Did she really think that I would just hand her my treasure?
She looked at me.
"Diane, what are you going to do with that?"
"I'm taking it outside to sell to the other kids."
"You're going to sell it."
She was crazy. Couldn't she see the windfall that I held in my two little hands?
"Diane, what do you think that is?"
"Candy floss," I told her. I frowned. What did she think it was?
"Maybe you should taste it," she said.
No problem. I selected a choice bit and pushed it into my mouth.
Okay, first off, this didn't melt like the 'fair' type.
And second . . . ick!
I spit it out.
Mom laughed. "Diane, those are dust bunnies."
I stared at her. Then at my treasure.
No way those were bunnies.
"That's what they're called," she explained. "They're just dirt that has blown into a clump under the bed."
Well, whose idea was that?
Disgusted, I handed her my treasure to dispose of.
I learned some things that day:
  1. Things found under the bed are usually there for a reason.
  2. And not a good one.
  3. If your going to make money, salesmanship scores over taste.
  4. In fact, forget taste all together.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Nutella Protocol

Sometimes, miracles are tasty!

My Husby has been ill.
Scary ill.
We first noticed it in September.
He was . . . tired.
Through October and November, he just couldn't seem to get enough rest.
We attributed it to the fact that he was busy producing yet another play for our drama society.
A stressful job.
To say the least . . .
The play closed on November 21st and we were on the road for a book tour on the 24th.
No time for rest.
By the time we returned home two weeks later, he was very ill.
But he concluded that he was simply overtired and determined to get some real rest.
Which stretched into sleeping twenty hours a day.
And giving up food.
A rather important part of every day, in my mind.
In a two week period, he lost fifteen pounds.
I finally decided to ignore his protestations and made an appointment with our physician.
Who immediately ordered him into emergency.
Where they began pumping blood into him.
The next few days were touch and go as they tried to treat him/determine just what the problem was.
They finally decided that his body was systematically attacking and destroying his blood.
Not good.
Throughout this time, he still wasn't eating.
Nothing appealed.
They finally sent him home from the hospital, but with strict instructions to come back every day for more testing/treatments.
And to start eating.
Sigh.
Still nothing appealed.
Finally, as he was rummaging through the cupboard, he discovered a jar of Nutella, mostly full.
I should mention, here, that Grant lived in France for two years before we were married. Nutella was a habit he brought back with him.
Huh. Holding the familiar jar, it suddenly looked . . . good.
He spread it on a piece of homemade bread and took a bite.
It was good.
Over the next couple of days, he went through that jar of Nutella.
Sometimes spread on a bit of bread.
Sometimes on a banana.
Sometimes with a spoon.
Then he bought more.
And ate those.
He was finally eating.
I don't know what they put in Nutella.
Hazelnuts and chocolate and yumminess.
And, let's face it, if you spread Nutella on a hubcap, I'd eat it.
But there must be some other secret goodness in there, because it brought him back from the brink.
And I do mean brink.
He calls it the Nutella Protocol.
I call it a miracle in a bottle.
It kept his motor running.
Gentlemen, raise your spoons!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

80s Spell-Checker

Ummm . . . less speller extraordinary

Speller extraordinaire



















Our second son is, in many ways, like his father.
It's a good thing.
One of the most notable is his ability to spell.
Anything.
Any time.
It's a gift.
I should mention, here, that I don't have this gift.
Enough said . . .
It was the early 80's.
My brother, Blair, was working on his Bachelor's degree in Engineering.
We had a computer.
He visited.
Often.
Our computer was in our eight-year-old second son, Erik's room.
Blair would work there by the light of a single lamp.
We would hear the clicking of the keys late into the night.
Erik was supposed to be sleeping.
He wasn't.
Occasionally, the keyboard sounds would stop.
Then I would hear the brief sound of voices.
Then the clicking would resume.
Finally, Erik came out of the room, needing a drink of water.
I was tidying the kitchen.
He moved close to me.
"Mom," he whispered. "Uncle Blair can't spell."
Ah. The occasional sound of voices was explained.
Blair was consulting with his spell-checker.
It must have worked.
He went on to achieve a doctorate in Engineering.
Okay, I admit that today's sophisticated spell-checker programs are probably more efficient.
And more easily accessible.
And don't need their sleep.
But none of those programs have personality.
And certainly aren't as cute.
Progress isn't always  . . . ummm . . . progress.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sunday: Family/Bonanza Night

Tell me you remember . . . sigh!

Yesterday's blog was about fire.
And Bonanza.
And my youngest brother, Blair, reminded me of something that filled us with glee.
When we were kids.
Every Sunday evening.
I should point out, here, that Sundays were family/TV nights.
Our one TV channel outdid itself on that particular evening.
And if we were good . . .
Okay, I admit it, even if we weren't good . . .
We got to watch.
First Disney's Wonderful World of colour.
In black and white and shades of grey.
Then Ed Sullivan.
Eeeee!
Then Bonanza.
The best of them all.
The cherry on top of the Sunday . . . well . . . sundae.
Not a sound would be heard.
We barely breathed.
Pa and Adam and Hoss and Little Joe filled the air around us.
There was room for nothing else.
If you wanted to do something noisy . . .
Like blink.
Or swallow.
Do it during the commercials from the Kraft Kitchens.
Wimp!
But the best part . . .
The best part, was the opening: du-duddle-uh-duddle-uh-duddle-uh, Bonanza!
Du-duddle-uh-duddle-uh-duddle-uh, Bonanza is it's name!
We'd 'sing' along happily and wait.
Remember the aforementioned (good word) no breathing.
That would be here, too.
Warning: Hot!
Because the fire was coming.
From the map that burned.
Right there on the screen.
All of us kids would run up and touch the B&W&SOG (see above) flames and then run howling and screaming about the room.
Pretending we had been mortally burned.
Our patient parents would nod and smile and shake their heads and wait for the music to finish.
Because that would be our cue for absolute quiet.
Without either of them having to say a word.
Sunday evening.
With family.
And Bonanza.
It just didn't get any better than that.

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.
Sigh.
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 . . .
 . . . LIT THE MATCH.
Oooooo!
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.
Ahhh.
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?"
Eeeeeeee!
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.
Huh.
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.
Ahhh!
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.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Horses Are Alike All Over

Go on. Give it a pull!

Horses are fun.
And smart.
They have distinct personalities.
Some are lazy.
Some crafty.
Some love people.
All like to play.
A favourite game when I was growing up was 'tongues'.
You would tickle a horse's lips until he stuck out his tongue, whereupon (good word) you would give it a little pull.
The tongue, I mean.
The horse would whip it back into his mouth.
Then promptly stick it out again.
Pull.
Retract.
Stick out.
Pull.
They loved this game.
They would play it for hours.
Or until you got tired of it.
You can probably guess which scenario usually happened first.
My Husby and I were touring the Buckingham Palace Mews, conducted by the head hostler to the Queen, Edward.
A very proper and pleasant British man.
Who also loved horses.
We were instantly connected.
Moving on . . .
My Husby and I were having a great time.
We had dutifully and happily walked through the coach storage buildings.
And had headed into the stables.
Ahhh! Heaven!
Horses are intensely curious.
If something is happening, they want to be front and center.
Gawking.
Getting in the way.
Pretending to be startled and fleeing spiritedly.
Coming back to see if there was anything they missed.
For the resident horses, our tour of the stables was out of the ordinary.
Everyone wanted a look.
Heads popped out of stalls the whole length of the building.
One horse, a handsome grey gelding was especially interested.
I should point out here that horses, when they meet another horse, sniff each other's noses.
A much more civilized practice in my opinion than what one would typically see when dogs greet each other.
Ummm . . . back to my story.
The big grey sniffed me.
I sniffed him back, then started to move on.
He moved with me.
I think someone was bored.
I touched his lips.
He licked them.
I pulled his tongue.
His head shot up, startled.
He stared at me for a couple of moments.
Then he stuck out his tongue again.
I pulled it.
He drew it back in.
Then he did it again.
This went on for some time.
Grant and Edward had been standing a little ways off, talking.
The horse and I were enjoying our game.
Then I realized that the stable had fallen silent.
The men were watching us.
Thinking they had finished their conversation, I patted my new friend and started toward them.
The big grey leaned out as far as he could, nickered at me and stuck out his tongue. “Hey! I'm not finished with this game!”
I laughed and patted him again.
Then joined the two men.
Edward was still staring. Finally he shook his head and in his perfectly modulated English accent, said, “I've never seen a horse do that before!”
He looked at me with renewed interest and said,” Any time you want to come back here, you are welcome. Anytime.”
A horse lover knows another horse lover.
And all horses are the same.
No matter what circles they move in.

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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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