Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Where the Toys are


The grandkids are over for the weekend.
This is what Connie Francis would be singing in this situation . . .
(To the tune of "Where the Boys Are')

Where the toys are, grandpa waits for me
A smilin' face, a warm embrace, two arms to hold me tenderly
Where the toys are, Grandpa’s love will be
He's sittin’ in his re-clin-er and I know he's waitin' there for me

In the world of billions of people I think he looks just fine
Then I'll eat his treats and play his games and tell the world he's mine

Till we get there I wait impatiently
Where the toys are, where the toys are
Where the toys are, Grandpa waits for me

Till we get there I wait impatiently
Where the toys are, where the toys are
Where the toys are, Grandpa waits for me 

Friday, January 25, 2013

My Climbing Frame

My Daddy and me

My Dad and I had a trick.
Something that only Daddy and I could do.
It was my favourite thing in the world.
Let me tell you about it . . .
My Dad was strong.
And tall.
Certainly stronger and taller than me.
He could take my hands and hold me steady while I walked up his body.
I know this sounds like something out of Cirque Du Soleil, but it’s true.
I would lift my feet and plant them on his legs, then walk up till I reached his chest.
Then - and this is the exciting part - I would flip over and start again.
It was immensely fun.
For a four-year-old, hugely entertaining.
And didn’t happen nearly enough.
Dad would come in the door and be greeted by, “Daddy! Daddy! Pick me up!”
Obligingly, he would take my hands and let me use him as an acrobatic frame for my . . . acrobatics.
Again and again.
Then smile and set me down and go on with his duties.
I would happily return to mine.
This went on for years.
Years.
Then one day, I think I must have been about nine, Dad uttered the fateful words, “Sorry, honey, you’re just too heavy for me!”
I stared at him, aghast.
How could this be?
He was still taller than me.
Stronger than me.
Broader than . . . you get the picture.
How could I possibly be too heavy for him?
But, sadly, it was true.
And, just like that, my daddy’s frame climbing days were over.
Sigh.
Last night, I was watching one of our youngest granddaughters climb up her daddy.
Giggling happily as she did so.
And suddenly, I was remembering.
Being four-years-old again.
Holding my Daddy’s hands.
Using his help and his frame to do my acrobatics.
A sweet, sweet memory.



Thursday, January 24, 2013

Identification

Okay. They may look a little funny.
But we're still glad they're back!

Our youngest daughter and her family recently moved back to Edmonton from the west coast.
They had been away for far too long.
It was cause for celebration.
So everyone came over to . . . celebrate.
I should probably explain here that when all of our kids and their families gather, we number twenty-five people.
Twelve of whom are under the age of ten.
Organized confusion.
Generally, the parents and very youngest members gather in the front room upstairs to chat.
The oldest of the grandkids flee to the basement.
Where the toys are.
Now these kids are used to being together.
And treat each other like siblings.
Getting along fabulously for the most part.
With occasional bouts of tears and irritation.
It was a fairly normal evening.
Adults – visiting.
Kids downstairs – playing.
Someone started to cry.
Our six-year old came running up the stairs.
“Someone’s crying!” he announced.
Needlessly, I might point out.
I looked at him. “Who is crying?”
Now, my daughter’s family hadn't been around for some time. While the rest of his cousins were decidedly well known to this young man, her daughter was not.
He handled the confusion well.
“That baby, who I have no idea who she is!”
Ah. Identification complete.
Maybe we should put that on her birth certificate.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Planting . . . Panties



Mom, Chris and Jerry, 1951 PD (Pre-Diane)
Mom was a gardener. 
One of those . . . mmmajor gardeners. 
I’m almost certain that her garden produced enough to feed the entire country of England . . . or Russia . . . or the entire southern hemisphere . . . or . . . someone stop me! 
And because Mom was a gardener, her kids were gardeners, albeit reluctant ones. 
On any given day, you could find one bonneted head, several blonde towheads and at least one redhead bent over the various plants, being more or less productive. 
We all had our assignments.
I was four. My job was to watch.
Oh, and eat peas.
Our family produce patch covered about 2 acres, give or take. 
The rows were probably about 40 feet long, but to a four-year-old, they stretched to Argentina. (I didn't exactly know where that was, but it had a sort of far away-ish sound to it.) 
The patch was surrounded by pine trees. Tall, lush, they had been planted by my father in his youth – that is a story – and now provided perfect shade for a small body who wanted to be out with the others.
But suffered from a short attention span.
So there I sat, whiling away the hours. 
Mostly, I lay on the cool grass and made life miserable for the ants and other small, harmless creatures. 
But deep beneath the overhanging branches of the towering pines were patches of dirt. And I discovered that it was fun to dig in that dirt and – don’t tell my mother – plant stuff.
I know you're wondering what a four-year-old would have to plant. 
And that is the point of this story . . .
All pea seeds had gone into the mouth. 
Hmmm. The pods were there. That was a no-brainer. But that only took a short while. 
What else? 
Shoes? 
Those had been kicked off when I had first hit the garden and were now lying abandoned in one of the rows, waiting to be discovered by the roto-tiller. 
Taking stock, I discovered that my feet were at least partially covered by socks formerly known as white. They slipped off easily. A little furrow in the dirt and voila! A perfect place for a future ‘sock tree’. 
What else?
The gardening bug had hit. I just had to plant! I just had to plant!
My mother had tried to instill in me the need for modestly, so removing anything obvious, like blouse or skirt was not even considered. 
What else did I have that I really didn't need? 
I had it! 
Panties. And cute, blue ones, with little darker blue flowers. 
They would produce something lovely, I was sure! 
Off they came, and into the little trench dug specifically for them. 
I patted the dirt into place. Perfect. 
Job completed, I crawled out from under the tree. 
Mom was down the row of beans just in front of me, sitting back on her heels and waving her bonnet in front of a flushed face. She turned and smiled at me, obviously noticing nothing.
Feeling giddy with a sense of accomplishment, I joined her, offering to help pick the beans. She nodded gratefully and I squatted in my abbreviated skirts to begin.
I don’t remember what was said. Only a gasp and then strong hands propelling me unceremoniously back to my ‘garden’.
Once there, I was ordered to dig up every article. 
I stared up at her, aghast. 
The whole garden? 
We're talking days worth of 'gardening'! Mentally, I tallied it up. Hats, tools, shoes, George’s new toy, my new toy, several spoons.
With a decidedly aggrieved air, I began to half-heartedly push at the dirt, only to uncover . . . nothing. 
No clothes, no toys, not even one spoon. 
I dug deeper. 
Still nothing. 
Where could they be? 
I crawled out from under the tree and stared up at it. Was I in the right place? 
I looked at the tree next to it. 
Surely. How could I be mistaken? 
Back into my ‘hidden garden’ which, incidentally, was becoming more hidden by the minute. 
We never did recover the things I had buried, though my mother turned up the dirt beneath every tree surrounding the garden. 
Where could they have gone? 
We’ll never know, now, but if being a successful gardener means planting things, I am an expert. 
If it also means that something is supposed to grow, I’m not.
Hmmm. Burying things so they’ll never . . . NEVER be found. It sounds as though my mother was really training me for . . . piracy. 
Or mob work. 
Who knew?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Oh, Sleep, Where Art Thou?


I just woke up from a fair night’s sleep.
For me ‘fair’ is as good as it gets.
And I know because, once, I had a fantastic sleep.
The best sleep of my life.
It happened when I was eight.
Let me tell you about it . . .
Dad had taken my brothers . . . somewhere.
Exactly where they went is blurry.
The important point is that they were away. And that their wonderful bunkbed in the bedroom next to mine stood empty.
I should mention here that I had long coveted their beds. They were made of beautiful, solid maple and were soooo comfortable.
But I digress . . .
My older sister, Chris, and I saw an opportunity for some fun and adventure.
We’d stay the night in our brothers’ beds!
Wow!
Okay, I admit it. We didn’t have a very exciting life.
Moving on . . .
Chris took the upper bunk and I snuggled into the lower.
We talked and laughed.
Mom made a couple of visits to the doorway to threaten to separate us and finally to *shudder* make us go back to our own beds.
It was this second warning that made me finally give up and close my eyes.
My shoulder started to ache so I decided I should turn over and get more comfortable.
I opened my eyes.
Sunlight was streaming into the room.
At first, I didn’t recognize it for what it was. I had never seen the world go from black to light quite so dramatically.
I thought someone had turned on the lamp.
I turned to look at the window.
Nope. I was right. It was sunlight.
Somehow, morning had instantly followed bedtime.
Instantly.
It took some time for me to realize that I had just had a night of deep, dreamless sleep.
I know it happens to other people, but it had never happened before.
Or since.
To me.
But I have that one night.
And, believe me, in the sleepless hours between midnight and four A.M., I often think of it.
Sigh.
Where’s a stolen bunkbed when you need it?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Let Them Eat . . . Bread


My daughter and son-in-law were sitting at the breakfast table.
Over delicious French toast, they were discussing their grocery list.
The subject of bread came up.
And the best places to get the least-expensive.
“Oh, we never buy our bread at the regular grocery,” my daughter said. “That’s far too expensive!”
“Yes,” my son-in-law agreed. “We always get ours in packages of three loaves for $6.00. It’s much, much cheaper.”
I stared at him.
Okay. I admit it.
It has been some time since I actually ‘purchased’ bread.
We’re a homemade kind of family.
So it was quite a shock to hear someone describe a two-dollar loaf of bread as inexpensive.
Yes. I’m deplorably, woefully behind the times.
Perhaps because I spend so much of my day in the past.
Moving on . . .
As the discussion went on, I suddenly remembered the first time I saw my Mom purchase bread.
(She was a homemade kind of person, too.)
We were in the Red and White grocery store in Milk River.
Mom had a cart and was getting important things done.
I was perusing the candy aisle.
Also important.
Mom passed me on her way to the dairy case.
“Diane, could you please run over to the bakery aisle and see what the price of bread is?”
I tore my eyes away from the tempting display of chocolate bars and made some quick mental calculations.
Hmm. Was there time to run to the bakery and get back before Mom again walked past the candy on her way to the checkout?
 I should mention, here, that the Red and White, though one of Milk River’s two modern grocery stores, could hardly be described as ‘large’.
There were, maybe, six aisles.
With the bakery being two aisles away.
I could do it if I scurried.
“Okay!” 
I scurried.
There was a large sign tacked up at the end of the row.
‘Bread – 8 Loaves for a Dollar’.
I sprinted back, just in time to see Mom grab a couple of cartons of milk.
“It says eight for a dollar!” I hollered.
Mom looked at me. “Okay,” she said. “Grab eight, then.”
Sigh.
I made the twelve-foot dash once more and, with a bit of finesse, managed to grab the ends of eight plastic bags.
Then I manoeuvered them into Mom’s cart.
Whew.
Mom started toward the front of the store.
It was now or never.
“Mom? Can I have a chocolate bar?”
Chocolate bars were ten cents.
Surely she could spend ten cents on a chocolate bar if she could spend a dollar on . . .
“Sorry, dear, we can’t afford it today.”
Stupid bread.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

My 'Almost' Pet. And My Dad


Daddy and Me. And George. I'm the one with the curlers in her hair . . .
I like dogs.
If I had to state a preference, I would have to admit that I favour big, hairy ones.
Even if they slobber.
But, truth to tell, I like all kinds.
Pointy. Fuzzy. Smooth. Dreadlocked. Naked. Huge. Tiny. Rat-sized. Medium. Purebred. Heinz 57.
If it resembles a dog in any way, I’m well on the way to being smitten.
And I’ve always been this way.
Dad can tell you.
In the past, if any member of the ‘doggy’ fraternity crossed my path, I was ready to welcome it with open arms.
Literally.
And therein lies a tale . . .
I was playing with my friends on the school playground.
I’m not sure what we were playing, probably something noisy.
And dangerous.
But I digress . . .
A dog wandered into our sphere.
A black and tan dog.
Thin and wasted, with the worst case of ‘post nasal drip’ I had ever seen.
But with long, silky hair and beautiful, but sad, teary brown eyes.
I loved him.
He would be mine.
And, my dad was a vet.
He could fix my new best friend!
I clutched a handful of hair, just behind the dog’s head, and led him to my house, two blocks away.
The rest of the kids followed.
Because.
We were an ‘in the moment’ crowd. What can I say . . .?
It took a long time, with frequent stops for my new friend to rest, but finally, we arrived. My Dad met my dog and me as we came up the drive, followed by the rest of the neighbourhood.
“Umm, Diane? What’s going on?”
Dad was used to me. If I detected a trace of hesitancy, that’s probably because he had learned to view anything I did with . . . hesitancy.
Smart man.
I looked up at him expectantly. “Daddy! This nice doggy is sick!”
“Umm, yes, I can see that . . .”
“Fix him!”
Dad glanced at the dog. Then he looked at me.
I put on my most endearing face.
At least, that’s what I was going for.
He knelt down.
Yes!
He looked the dog over. “I’m afraid he’s really sick, Honey,” he said.
“I know. Fix him!”
He sighed and stood up. “Wait here a moment.”
I turned and grinned at the other kids. See? My Dad could do anything.
Dad came back with a syringe filled with something . . . fixy.
He injected the dog and patted it on its droopy head. “There. That’s the best I can do.”
I looked at the dog. It wagged its tail slightly. See? It was better already.
“Can it come and play with us?”
“I think the best thing would be for it to rest here in the garage.”
“Umm. Okay.”
He helped me lay out a blanket and settle my doggie on it comfortably. Then he closed the garage door and told us to let him rest.
We did.
I peeked in through the garage window a couple of times.
It was easy enough if I dangled from the clothesline just outside.
But my little friend just lay there on the blanket.
Getting better.
The next morning, I leaped out of bed and charged down the hallway, on my way to see my new friend.
My Dad met me at the door.
“Oh, Diane, your doggy is gone.”
“Gone? Where?”
“His family came and got him.”
“Oh.”
I was sad, but I knew that Dad had injected him with just the magic elixir (yes, we used that in the 50’s) that would heal him entirely. And thoughts of my doggy running and playing with his family cheered me.
All was well.

There is an addendum . . .
I was visiting with my Dad last night and he recalled the story of my little short-term friend.
I smiled in memory. “Oh, yes. The one with distemper. The one you saved.”
Dad looked at me and shook his head. “Actually, I didn’t save him,” he said. “The shot I gave him was to lessen his pain. He died that night.”
I hadn’t thought about that little dog for over fifty years, but suddenly, I could picture the soft, brown eyes. The long, silky hair and funny, tan ‘eyebrows’. The skinny body.
I felt unaccountably sad for the little fellow.
But, just as suddenly, I was grateful to my Dad.
For his skill. For his compassion.
He did manage to fix him after all. 

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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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