Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, April 21, 2012

Are You Really Going to Drink That?


Del Bonita.
Home of the Jones family.

The Stringam Ranch was situated on the Alberta/Montana border, midway between the town-opolis of Milk River and the village-opolis of Del Bonita.
My father elected to send us to school in Milk River.
Because it was minutely larger.
West of us, and somewhat closer to Del Bonita were the Jones Family Ranches.
Whereon (oooh! good word) my best friend, Debbie Jones, lived.
Her father had elected to send her and her siblings to Del Bonita to school.
Because.
I envied her.
Not only did she get to attend a country school, but, after grade 9, she got to bus to the heretofore (another good word) unknown wilds of Magrath, Alberta.
Where there were lots and lots of boys.
Amazingly attractive boys.
Well, according to Debbie, there were lots and lots of amazingly attractive boys.
The number one draw for a high school.
Listed just before such frivolities as: teachers. Classes. Facilities.
All that stuff.
Moving on . . .
For my final semester of my final year, my parents gave their permission for me to attend school with Debbie.
Ostensibly (I’m just full of good words today!), to further my Language Arts.
In reality, to check out the . . . umm . . . neighbourhood.
For this, I was sent to live with the Jones family.
Probably the most fun family – ever.
They welcomed me as one of their own.
Put me to work as one of their own.
Teased me as one of their own.
Nursed me.
Fed me.
Comforted me.
Generally made me feel like I was one of the family.
With all of its privileges/duties.
One of said duties was helping with the evening meal.
Cooking.
Stirring.
Tasting.
I needn’t tell you which I excelled at . . .
Debbie’s most fun job was supplying the evening beverage.
Usually Kool-Aid.
I know, I know, that sounds rather . . . unexciting.
Except the way Debbie made it.
Oh, she’d add the important ingredients.
Water.
Sugar.
Kool-Aid.
And then she would get creative.
Out would come the food colour.
I soon learned that the appearance of the beverage in one’s glass could be radically different from the taste of said beverage.
Case in point:
Debbie had mixed . . . I think it was lime . . . Kool-Aid.
Then added a drop of this and a spritz of that.
What she ended up with looked nothing like lime.
Or anything drink-able, for that matter.
Her father lifted his glass, letting the setting sun shine through it.
Then he set it back down with the words, “I don’t know if I can drink that. I think I stepped over a puddle of it when I was in the barnyard a couple of minutes ago.”
I felt his pain.
Even though I had seen her mix it and knew what it contained.
Thinking back, Martha Stewart could have learned a lot from my friend Debbie.
Perhaps a good thing they never met.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Bringing Families Closer - One Dance At a Time

Husby and our Middle Son, Duffy.
Spinning music.

Every weekend for over twenty years, Mikey’s Music Machine entertained groups of families.
It was a DJ company.
Catering particularly to school, church, community or reunion groups.
My Husby spun the music and the kids and I danced.
Teaching as we went.
Everything from the old time Virginia Reel, Butterfly and Schottische to the modern line dances.
What our family did, other families followed.
It was . . . marvelous.
Through the years, we had many, many wonderful experiences.
But one stands out.
Let me tell you about it . . .
We had been booked by a school in Canmore, Alberta.
Near Banff.
We were setting up.
A matter of twenty minutes or so.
During that time, a man stood watching us.
Finally, he approached.
“This’ll be a fun evening,” he said sarcastically. “Why on earth did the school invite the kids?” His mouth twisted. “How can the adults have any fun if there are kids running around?”
I stared at him.
Mikey’s was all about adults and kids.
Having fun - together.
How could I answer that?
“Ummm . . . we encourage the parents and children to dance together,” I said.
He snorted. “Oh, that’ll be fun!”
He walked away.
I turned and continued to run wires.
A few minutes later, a young girl (about 10 or so) came up.
“Well this dance is going to be a total loss,” she said.
I looked at her. “Really?”
What else could I say?
“Well, we’re not going to be able to have any fun with all of the parents here!”
Her lip curled daintily over the word, ‘parents’.
“Oh, well, we’ve found that, actually you can have lots of fun,” I said, trying to be hopeful.
She rolled her eyes and turned away.
I finished what I was doing.
And walked over to my Husby.
“This is going to be a tough crowd,” I whispered into his ear.
“Really?”
“Yeah. I’ve already had two complaints and we haven’t even started yet.”
He grinned. “Let’s change attitudes, shall we?”
He flipped the switch.
My kids and I walked to the middle of the gym and started dancing.
Usually, we had the dance floor to ourselves for that first song, our Mikey’s Music signature song.
Grant spoke over the music, explaining, briefly, how the evening would go.
Then he moved into the Twist.
The first of many contests for the evening.
“Okay” he said, his voice loud over the speakers, “Now this is a dance that everyone knows. The Twist! It’s also a contest song. We will give a prize to the family (he emphasized the word) who can do the very best twist!”
I should point out that we usually gave away suckers and other wrapped candies.
People would dance themselves silly for one.
Moving on . . .
The floor was immediately crowded.
Families forming small groups, all twisting madly to earn a prize.
The song ended.
The prizes awarded.
And Grant moved into our second contest of the evening.
It began by teaching everyone the Old Time Waltz.
“Okay grab a partner for this one. Once we learn this dance, we’ll have another contest. All you have to do is count: one, two three; one, two three!”
My kids and I were already demonstrating.
People watched for a moment.
Then joined in.
The song ended and they were ready for the contest, which began with each couple receiving a sheet of newspaper and spreading it out on the floor.
“Now all we want you to do is dance the Old Time Waltz on the newspaper,” Grant would say cheerfully. “Carefully! There are no prizes for torn papers!”
Okay. That’s easy.
They began.
The music floated around for a few moments. A Strauss Waltz.
Happily, the couples, mostly a parent and a child, danced carefully on their piece of newspaper.
Grant stopped the music and everyone looked at him.
“I forgot to tell you one last thing,” he said. “When I stop the music, you have to jump quickly off your paper . . .”
People did so.
“. . . and fold it in half.”
A groan from the crowd, then laughter as they complied.
“Now hop back on and we’ll dance some more!”
Everyone continued to dance on a rapidly shrinking ‘dance floor’.
“There are no rules,” Grant added, “other than both of you have to be on that piece of paper. No heels or toes can touch the floor!”
People got more and more creative. Usually resorting to one carrying the other, or employing other supporters to . . . support.
Slowly, couples dropped out as they succumbed to gravity.
The awards were given.
And Grant drifted into another old time dance, the Heel-Toe Polka.
And that’s when we got our touching surprise.
Remember the man who had approached us as we were setting up?
And the girl?
The two of them danced past me at this point.
Together.
Working out the steps to the polka and laughing.
I watched them go by, then glanced at my Husby and raised my eyebrows.
He looked at them and grinned.
That father and that daughter spent the rest of the evening on the dance floor.
Together.
I will never forget the look on their faces as they, perhaps for the first time, became friends.
Mikey’s Music Machine.
We had so much fun and created so many memories.
For so many reasons.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

You Can Dress Them Up, But . . .

Everybody repeat after me: Mmmmmmm!

I was kicked out of a restaurant.
Once.
Oh, not literally.
It was more a politely-worded, “Would you please leave.”
But it amounted to the same thing.
Only with less violence.
But it was the irony of the situation that’s most memorable.
Maybe I should explain . . .
My Husby and I were out with a group of family/friends.
All parents.
I thought I should point that out.
Moving on . . .
We had just finished a lively dinner and were working our way through an equally lively dessert.
I probably should also explain that we were dining at that greatest of all restaurants, the A & W.
And that we were the only grown-ups in the whole building.
Just FYI.
Someone said something that was laudable (good word).
I can’t remember what it was, but it was definitely toast-worthy.
We all lifted our glass mugs of frosty-cold root beer in the traditional manner.
As seen on TV.
“To­­­_______!”
Like I say, I can’t remember what it was.
The pertinent point comes now.
With the gentle clicking together of said glasses/mugs.
Something none of us had ever done before.
Did you know that, to the uninitiated, the touching of glasses in a toast is tricky?
Well, it is.
The person across from me swung her drink back and . . .
Really? You have to swing?
 . . . jammed it into mine.
Two hefty (guaranteed unbreakable) glasses . . . broke.
Amidst applause, laughter, and liberal dousing.
And then the ironic part.
Suddenly, standing beside our table was a young woman.
A very young woman.
We’re talking . . . thirteen? Fourteen?
Silence settled across the table as each of us turned to stare.
“I’m sorry, but you are disturbing the other customers,” she said, firmly. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
I looked around the room.
Every teen-ager in the place was looking at us.
Disgust uppermost in every expression.
Ahem.
We left.
Quietly.
What else could we do when popular opinion, under-aged though it was, stood so squarely (and justifiably) against us?
Sometimes even parents need correcting.
Embarrassment ensues.
But lessons learned.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Spare! - or - When the Supervision gets Lax, the Creative get . . . Creative

What did you do during Spare?

Spare.
The best part of the school day.
The period when one catches  up on things.
Gossip.
Flirting.
Sleep.
Okay, I admit it, one could even catch up on school work.
If one was so inclined.
I, however . . . never mind.
In Junior high, Spare was always supervised.
Nominally.
For the supervising teacher, it was also a time to catch up on things.
Reading.
Marking papers.
Sleep.
The class would steadily grow noisier and more unruly.
Until things reached a certain pitch.
The teacher would look up. “Okay class. Settle down!”
And the whole process would start over.
One time, the teacher had just lifted her head.
But before she could utter the fateful, silencing words, another teacher (obviously misled by the noise level), appeared in the doorway.
“Who’s babysitting you guys!” she demanded.
Loudly.
Then realized that her friend and fellow teacher was properly seated at the ‘supervisory’ post.
Oops.
As we got older, supervision became more and more . . . Slapdash? Haphazard? Cursory? Superficial?
I’m going to go with Non-existent.
We were required to police ourselves.
It wasn’t too bad.
By this point, there were several of my classmates who actually wanted to finish their homework.
Weird.
They would shush us if we got too noisy.
Kill-joys.
But we had nothing on my Dad’s class.
Oh, they weren’t noisy.
Or unruly.
Just . . . creative.
Case in point:
A girl in Spare was reading the newspaper.
For those of you in the virtual world who are unfamiliar with the word ’newspaper’, it was a collection of news and advertising, published daily, and printed on very large sheets of paper.
The girl was engrossed in an article in the top right-hand corner.
Her absorption left the entire bottom half of the paper unguarded.
Normally, not cause for concern.
But, remember – Dad was in the room.
As she read, he approached quietly.
And, squatting down beside her, lit the bottom left corner of her paper on fire.
Yes.
On fire.
So . . . creative, he definitely was.
Cautious?
Not so much.
The girl soon realized that something was amiss.
She glanced down.
Her paper was rapidly being consumed.
She blew on the flames a couple of times.
Then dropped the paper and stomped them out.
Spare.
The best part of the school day.
For so many reasons.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

More of Mark's Marks

Dad was attending school in Glenwood Alberta.
Sixth grade.
The school building had been constructed when there were far less students.
Every available space was pressed into service.
Every available space.
Dad and his classmates were meeting in what had originally been the foyer.
The big front doors had been fastened shut and covered with several layers of ‘train car paper’.
I’m not sure what that is, but it sounds tough.
And durable.
An eminently suitable to serve as a wall in a school.
Not.
Dad and his friend were seated at the back of the classroom.
Against what was once the front of the school.
They had finished their work.
And they were boys.
Mischief was indicated.
But Dad was still smarting from his last escapade.
He decided to keep said mischief to a manageable level.
He and his friend commenced playing Tic-Tac-Toe.
On the wall.
Okay, it seemed reasonable to them.
Moving on . . .
After several games, the teacher looked up.
“Boys, what on earth are you doing?”
Dad looked at the wall.
Then back at the teacher.
Wasn’t it obvious?
“I want the two of you to stay after school and erase every one of those marks!”
Dad and his friend sighed.
But obeyed.
The classroom emptied.
Dad worked diligently with his eraser.
This was going to take forever!
Why does something that takes such a short time to do, take such a long time to undo?
He wore a spot in the paper.
And realized there was clean paper underneath.
Hmmm.
Dad glanced around.
The teacher had left with the rest of the students.
Dad pulled at the little hole.
The paper came away easily.
Leaving a clean, unmarked surface.
He and his friend worked quickly.
Stripping away every inch of the soiled paper.
And disposing of it in the stove.
The wall stretched before them.
Pristine.
A clean-sounding word.
And clean was what he wanted.
He dusted his hands as the teacher came back into the room.
“All done, teacher,” he sang out.
She looked surprised.
Then walked to the back of the class and inspected the wall closely.
She shook her head and then smiled at them. “Well done, boys!” she said. “You may leave.”
Dad and his friend wasted no time.
Their crime was never discovered.
But they were careful not to mark the wall again.
Life provides just so many ‘do-overs’.
Better not to push your luck.
Thirty years later.
And still full of mischief . . .

Monday, April 16, 2012

Baby Named? Just a Starting Point . . .

'The Beanster'.
And a friend.

We had a good friend, Peter.
Whose parents, when he was small, called him Petey-Pie.
He thought that was his name.
Petey-Pie.
On his first day of school, there was some heated discussion about what name he should respond to.
The teacher won.
And Peter, he became.
I thought Petey-Pie was a cute name.
I used it.
Often.
To the point where he regretted telling my husby and me the story.
Moving ahead . . .
We had given our first daughter a very nice name when she was born.
Caitlin Diane.
Very nice.
It suited her.
Until she started getting around.
Unlike most toddlers, who . . . toddle . . .
 . . . she hopped.
Everywhere she went.
My Husby began to call her ’Tigger-Pie’.
It suited her.
Thus, she became Caitlin ‘Tigger-Pie’ Tolley.
Until it was time to prepare her for her first day of school.
Remember Petey-Pie?
Those lessons would apply here.
We had been careful to make sure our little daughter knew her first name was ‘Caitlin’.
But we hadn’t realized that she now thought her middle name was ‘Tigger-Pie’.
Sigh.
For weeks, I tried to explain to her, “Caitlin Diane Tolley.”
To which she would respond.
Loudly.
“Not Diane! Tigger-Pie!”
Drat.
She finally figured it out.
Slowly.
Recently, I saw her little daughter, Erini (also know as ‘Rini-Bean’, or ‘Beanster’ for short) hopping across the room.
“Wow.” I said. “Beanster, you remind me of your mother!”
She laughed.
And then I realized what I had said.
Sigh.
Here we go again . . .

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Second Novel!

Read the first Chapter!
My second 'traditional' novel has been announced!

Kris Kringle's Magic, from Cedar Fort Publishing, will hit store shelves in October.
It is the story of the boy who became the man . . .
. . . and then the legend.
Have you ever wondered how Santa Claus ended up at the north pole?
With Elves?
Magic tells the whole story.
Through the eyes of his wife, Rebecca, it describes the fatherless boy who spent his life righting wrongs.
Helping the helpless.
Feeding the hungry.
Fighting injustice and prejudice.
Caring for those in need.
And in a final bid for freedom and peace, following those he loves to the vast, untouched wilderness that is the north pole.
It is a story of love.
Of friendship.
Of family.
A perfect Christmas story.
Watch for it in October!

At finer bookstores.
Or on Amazon and B&N.

All of My Friends

The Long-Awaited Sequel to Daughter of Ishmael

The Long-Awaited Sequel to Daughter of Ishmael
A House Divided is now available at all fine bookstores and on Amazon.com and .ca!

Daughter of Ishmael

Daughter of Ishmael
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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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