Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, June 1, 2013

Entertainment: Family Style


Family games - mischief made legal

On the ranch in the evenings, particularly the long, winter evenings, opportunities for entertainment were few.
If there wasn't anything on the one TV channel, you pretty much had to come up with your own.
Entertainment, I mean.
This meant music (the make-your-own variety), which we practiced with more or less success. Mostly less.
Reading. My own personal favourite.
Having a drink with the hired men in the bunkhouse. Probably the least recommended for us kids.
Or games and/or puzzles.
Usually we went with games and/or puzzles. One didn't get a lecture from one's parents when one played games and/or puzzles . . .
We had several favourites.
Scrabble. A word game which aimed for word construction creativity.
But only good for four of us six players.
Probe. Another word game. This one, disclosure being the goal.
Boggle. (Or if we were feeling daring, Big Boggle.) Another word game . . .
Huh. I just realized that we played a lot of word games. And three of us ended up being writers.
Go figure . . .
Bridge. A card game played by four players. Unless you're from Southern Alberta where it is played by forty tables of four players.
But that is another story . . .
Rook. A card game resembling bridge and also played extensively in Southern Alberta. (Also known as 'Apostate Rook' if you played 'One High' . . . according to my husband.)
Rummoli. Poker and sequence, all rolled into one happy package.
And finally, the apex of games, Monopoly.
The ultimate in Stringam family fun.
And won, inevitably, by Jerry.
Not that he tried. Or even appeared to try.
He hummed, sang, bounced his knee rhythmically, talked, told jokes and CLEANED OUR CLOCKS.
Almost every time.
Why did we keep on playing? Good question.
Inevitably, I would end Monopoly with a tiny little hoard of cash, very tiny, clutched in one hand as I stared with dismay at my little shoe, parked firmly on Park Place or Boardwalk.
Each with their large, expensive hotel. And each with Jerry's smiling face behind them.
I would hand over my little pile, along with the last of my properties, and quietly fade into the sunset.
Sigh.
Moving on . . .
Puzzles posed a bit less competition.
A more relaxing way to spend time together. Visiting was permitted. Even encouraged. But minutes could go by with soft music playing in the background and not one word said.
Yep.
Relaxing.
Our family's evenings now consist of visiting or playing cards.
Or watching movies.
Not too different from those I experienced growing up.
Family time.
It's a good thing.
*  *  *
On a different note:
Delores of The Feathered Nest gave me an award!
The Semper Fidelis award. (It means Always Faithful or Always Loyal.)
I am humbled and thrilled!
Now it's my turn to pass this magnificent award to five other bloggers whom I find especially entertaining or inspirational.
There are of course, rules to follow in accepting this award.
1.  Add the Semper Fidelis Award logo to your blog.
2.  Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.
3.  Nominate five bloggers whose loyalty and friendship you value and who you consider being part of your 'wolf pack'.
4.  Post something special for each one of your nominees and dedicate it to them such as a quote, picture, poem, saying etc....something you think pertains to that person.
5.  Let your nominees know that they are nominated.

So here goes . . .
1. Middle-Aged Mormon Man. Or MMM for short. Enormously entertaining, insightful AND inspirational, all rolled into one fun package. Does it get any better?

2. One Sister's Rant. Bella takes the everyday and makes it extraordinary! With the added bonus of photographic imagery, it's a peaceful, wonderful, restful place.

3. Home on DeRanged. I've only recently discovered this little gem! Melissa takes the everyday of family raising and makes it fun, funny and entertaining. I seldom leave her blog without a smile.

4. Undiagnosed But Okay. Another recent discovery! Kerri takes us on a journey through daily life with two sweet little girls, one of whom has special struggles. Totally inspirational!

5. Coffee Row. My older brother's blog. More stories of growing up on a ranch in Southern Alberta in the 50s and 60s. I just had to mention this because he remembers things WAY better than I do. And makes them so much funnier . . .



Friday, May 31, 2013

The Swearing Art

A repost for a busy day . . .
She of the foul mouth . . .

There are creative ways of making one's anger and frustration known.
Even when one is . . . little.
My friend's two eldest children were having 'one of those days'. When arguments erupted at regular intervals. And no one was happy.
Periodically, one of them would go to their mother and say, “Sister said the 'S' word!”
Now their mother was an adult.
I probably don't need to point that out.
She knew what the 'S' word was. But had no idea how her children had learned it.
Appropriate punishment was carried out.
A few minutes later, the other child was at her side. “Brother said the 'S' word!”
This went on for some time.
Finally, totally exasperated, their mother pulled both of them aside and asked them where they had learned the 'S' word.
“Well you and Dad say it!”
Now my friend lived in a non-cursing home. Expletives were kept strictly within certain bounds. She knew she had never, in her entire life, said the 'S' word.
She shook her head. “When did I say it?”
“Mom, you say it all of the time!”
“Really?”
“All the time!”
Finally, she realized that there was one question she had not asked.
“Kids, what is the 'S' word?”
Together they chorused, “Stupid!”
Ah. Okay. Not a desirable word, but not quite what she was thinking, either . . .

We, too had our forbidden family curse words.
Mom and Dad had a problem with children abusing each other verbally.
Stupid was a no-no.
But we were raised on a ranch.
With hired men.
Whose language was, how shall I say it? . . . colourful. And it was inevitable that we should pick some of it up.
I remember the first time we heard our little sister curse. It shocked my younger brother and I to our toes.
That's a lot of shock.
We stared at our tiny sister in disbelief. Had we heard what we had just heard?
Mom was gonna have something to say about this!
We ran to tell her.
Let's face it, getting each other into trouble was the thing we liked doing the most.
Because.
“Mom! Mom! Anita said something bad!”
Mom stopped what she was doing and followed us to where the guilty party stood.
Feet planted.
Chin out.
Bristling with anger and defiance.
Mom knelt next to her.
“Anita, what did you say?”
“Nothing.”
“Anita, Diane and Blair told me you said a bad word. What was it?”
“I didn't say anything!”
“Anita!”
Finally she sighed. "Stupid Poop,” she said.
Her three-year-old ears had heard what the hired men had spouted and processed it to this?
There was hope for the world after all.
'Stupid poop' remained our most formidable curse for many, many years.
Until it was replaced by something more worldly, as recounted here.
Ah, the price of living in the world . . .

Wednesday's Words

My good friend, Delores, from The Feathered Nest, gives a six-word challenge every Wednesday.
Use these words in . . . something creative.
It's definitely a challenge.
But so much fun!
This week's words are: blank, trembling, flashlight, shadows, four leaf clover and dashing.
Here is my effort.
P.S. Pop by The Feathered Nest, or Susan at The Contemplative Cat to see what they created!

“Stay in the light,” he said to me.
“When dashing through life’s mystery.
When all’s a blank and lonely sea,
You'll find there's possibility.”
I shine a flashlight from the lee,
The darkness flies, the shadows flee.
And in its lonely beam, I see
The promise of eternity.
For trembling solitarily,
A four-leaf-clover waits for me!
                  * * *
Life's full of possibilities.
You just have to look for them!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Bread Wars


Worth fighting for . . .
In the Stringam household of eighty years ago, all food was prepared from scratch.
Processed or instant foods simply didn't exist.
Nothing came packaged from the store.
Bread was something that emerged, nearly every day, from the oven of the large wood stove.
No other option was possible.
No other option was needed.
Grandma's crusty, fresh bread, hot from the oven, was the favourite food of my Dad's family of nine brothers and sisters and their home was nearly always awash in the wonderful smell.
Mmmmmm.
But each large, beautiful loaf only had two ends.
Because bad manners hadn't been invented yet, it never occurred to Dad and his siblings that they could do anything about that.
Side note: My husband and his brothers, the creators of bad manners, would cut off every available surface – sides, top, bottom – after the ends had been claimed.
But I digress . . .
So, as the time drew nearer for the family to assemble for the evening meal, Grandma Stringam would slice one entire loaf of fresh, warm bread.
And place it neatly on a platter to go to the table.
That was about the time that every child in the house would suddenly appear.
And wrestle each other for the privilege of 'helping'.
The only time in the history of the world that that would happen.
Moving on . . .
Carefully, the winner would carry the precious platter of warm deliciousness to the table and park it in the center.
Then he would quickly snatch one of the two crusty ends and set it on his own plate.
At first, this 'claim' was all that was needed.
But not for long.
Finally, the sacred placing of the bread on an individual's plate wasn't sufficient as a deterrent because as soon as the bread was placed and the claimer gone, someone else would creep in and slide said crusty slice of yumminess to their own plate.
Then the next person would do the same.
And the next.
This would go on until everyone assembled for the actual meal.
Whoever possessed it at that time . . . won.
Sort of like a game of 'hot potato', but better.
As time went by, more and more sneakiness was required.
The bread was placed under the plate.
Under the napkin.
Stabbed with the owner's fork.
The owner's knife.
Finally, in full view of whoever happened to be waiting in the wings for their turn, the possessor would stick out his (or her) tongue and lick the back of the hotly contested piece of bread.
Okay, remember what I said about manners?
Forget it.
Then place the now-thoroughly-claimed prize on their plate.
The entire contest came to a screeching halt.
But only for a while . . .
Gramma and Grampa Stringam.
Oh, the bread she could bake . . .

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bad Cards: A Tutorial

Mabel and Percy (Casey) Jones. 1924
My parents' good friends
Mom and Dad, newlyweds, were out for the evening with friends.
At the Jones’ ranch . . . fifteen miles away.
Our nearest neighbours.
And yes it was a bit far to pop by to borrow a cup of sugar, but they were still our ‘close’ neighbours to the west.
Moving on . . .
In a time when the closest thing anyone had to electronic diversion was a radio or phonograph, the two couples and one of the Jones’ eldest sons were engaged in the next best thing.
Parlour games.
Inevitably . . . cards.
They had been playing for most of the evening, amidst much conversation and hilarity.
Casey Jones (yes, that was what he was called) had been fighting a steady battle to stay at the bottom.
Sigh.
Another hand was dealt.
And Mr. Jones voiced his displeasure. “What rotten cards!” he said loudly, to no one in particular. “This whole evening, I’ve gotten nothing but bad cards!”
He sighed heavily and played the hand.
Badly.
As it finished, his wife, Mabel got to her feet. “Well, I think it’s time for some refreshments,” she said, and bustled (yes, I meant to use that word) into the kitchen.
Mom got up to follow her and the two women happily visited as they sliced cake and set out cups and saucers.
Meanwhile, the men stayed in the parlour, discussing the game and Casey’s apparent inability to win.
At all.
“It’s the lousy cards!” he said. “I’ve gotten nothing but bad hands all evening!” He got to his feet. “Something has to be done!”
He gathered up the deck and arranged them neatly. Then he disappeared into the kitchen with them.
“Casey, what are you . . .?” his wife’s voice.
The sound of grating metal as someone opened the stove, then clanged it shut.
Mabel appeared in the doorway, tray in hands. “Umm, I guess our card game is finished,” she said, laughing.
Casey loomed behind her. “I’ve taken care of the problem,” he said, resuming his seat at the table.
“Yeah. By throwing the deck into the stove!” Mabel said.
Ah . . . entertainment in the forties.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Not Me!


Caitlin Age 3
Ten o'clock pm.
Six happy, grubby little bodies scrubbed clean and clothed in freshly-laundered pajamas.
Six sets of shiny, white teeth brushed.
Six heads of hair neatly brushed.
Six stories read.
Six songs sung.
Six sweet, heartfelt prayers.
Six (times six) hugs and kisses.
And six children finally tucked up between fresh, clean sheets.
All are asleep.
Whew!
And now, their parents can relax, knowing that their happy, healthy and very active children have been properly prepared for a much-needed night's rest.
They can put their feet up and rejoice in a few stolen minutes of peace and calm. To visit together and catch up on the day's events.
All is well.
Then . . .
Little footsteps. Crossing the bedroom. Coming up the hall. Going into the kitchen.
The squeak of a refrigerator door.
Talk in the front room ceases. Two semi-alert parents are listening to the clandestine sounds.
Finally, the suspense is too much.
"Who's in the kitchen?"
Silence. A three-year-old intellect is working frantically.
"Who's there?"
"Ummm . . . not me!"

Monday, May 27, 2013

Someone's Uncle


That head was learning things. Who could have guessed?!

I learned a few things as I was growing up.
Okay, I know that comes as a surprise to many, but it's true.
Some lessons were fairly severe, but a few, and even some of the most life-changing were quite (for want of a better term) painless.
I was staying with my best friend and nearest neighbour at her parent's ranch, fifteen miles from my own.
We had had a glorious week, riding, playing, getting into her father's hair.
Oh, yes, a glorious week.
It was time to go home. Her Dad needed the break.
It was a fairly easy trip when one was merely negotiating the fifteen miles of dirt roads between our ranches.
But my parents had moved, for the winter, to our town home in Milk River a further twenty miles away.
A trip of approximately an hour, if the road conditions were favourable. Which they often weren't.
Originally, my Dad had planned to pick me up when he came out to do a vet call.
His plans had changed.
And now, so had mine.
Sigh.
I would be riding with my best friend's uncle.
The scary one.
For an hour.
Just the two of us.
I suddenly didn't care if I ever saw my parents again. I wanted to stay with my friend.
Or die.
Neither choice was given to me, however.
Amidst much hugging and goodbye-ing, I was pushed out the door and parked in the uncle's truck.
Doomed.
I curled into a little ball in my corner and tried to pretend I didn't exist.
We started out, the silence thick about us.
After a while, the uncle reached out and turned on the radio. A short time later, he turned it up.
Now, at least, we had music to fill the emptiness.
But I found myself getting more and more uncomfortable. My parents always claimed that visiting made the time go by faster. I definitely wanted that to happen.
Finally, I thought of a question about his ranching. I asked it.
He answered. Quite politely, I might add.
I asked another.
Again, he answered. With even more detail than the last.
This went on for some time. He turned the radio down. Then down again.
Then finally shut it off completely.
And it was then I realized that we were . . . visiting. And that he was funny. And not nearly as scary as when we got into the truck.
Huh. Who knew?
The trip turned out to be infinitely shorter than I had anticipated. In fact, we got so animated in our conversation that we were parked in my family's driveway before I even realized that we had reached the town.
And I learned that all you need to do to get a conversation going is to ask a question about whoever you're with. If you are genuinely interested, they like to talk about themselves.
I also learned that, when you are visiting, no one is as scary as they first appear.
Even someone else's uncle.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Summer on the Lake

It's finally starting to feel like summer.
So, a repost of summer memories.
Enjoy . . .

Our family loved staying at our friends' cabin in Waterton Lakes Park.
So much so that my Dad finally felt we should have our own.
Cabin, I mean.
And the rest of us, picturing days happily spent on the lake, were very easily convinced.
Perfect!
He scouted around for a nice piece of property.
And finally found one on St. Mary Lake, just outside of Glacier National Park, Montana – across the border from the ranch.
It was truly beautiful. Clear, icy-cold, blue water.
And I do mean icy. Brrr.
Pure air. Lots of trees.
We fell in love.
The only thing missing was the . . . cabin.
No problem. Dad would build it.
He chose a design and ordered materials which were duly delivered.
And immediately stolen.
Our cabin plans were almost abandoned before they even got off the ground.
But, finally, Dad took a deep breath and ordered some more.
They came. And this time, they stayed.
He moved in a small travel trailer and we took up residence. Then began to prepare the land.
Work commences.
It was hot, hard work - cutting down a few of the trees and tearing out brush.
Sweat ran freely.
I know. Because I was watching carefully, can of black cherry pop in one hand and hot dog in the other.
But before you begin to think I was entirely useless, I must point out that I helped carry some of the rocks over to the lake to help construct our boat dock.
Okay. So...not entirely useless.
That's me in front. Hefting.
Small rocks.
Really small rocks.
Okay, I was useless.
Before too long, Dad and my brothers had cleared a spot large enough for our cabin.
I don't remember much of the building apart from the sounds of hammering and sawing and the wonderful smell of fresh-cut lumber.
Ha! My baby sister didn't help at all.
Mom kept me near her.
Across the road from the action.
My reputation for getting in the way was obviously well known.
Moving on . . .
The cabin went up magically.
In no time, we had a master bedroom where my oldest sister could sit and tell us scary stories.
Two smaller bedrooms with built-in bunk beds for the smaller kids to fall out of.
Which they did.
And a wonderful kitchen/dining/living room where Mom could make the food magic happen.
Mmm. Food.
Oh, and there was also a big, open fireplace . . . thing. I think that, technically, it was a wood stove. But it was screened on all sides. Wonderful for gathering around on a cool summer evening.
For visiting.
Something my family excelled at.
The cabin had huge windows facing the lake. And a large deck.
Another favourite place where we could sit and watch the water.
And dream.
Something else I excelled at.
We spent a few summers at the lake.
I remember evenings on the deck, looking out over the water and just breathing in the glorious air.
Boating.
Splashing around in the frigid water.
Icy cold cans of pop out of the lake.
Games played beside a snapping fire.
Wiener/marshmallow roasts.
Hide and seek in the trees.
Ghost stories.
Visit with the neighbours. (Once, a for-real professional sheepherder drove his flock right past the cabin and we got to see the inside of his wagon.)
It was wonderful.
But it ended.
Several times, when we weren't in residence, the cabin was broken into and vandalized.
The last time, someone smashed the large picture window, leaving blood everywhere.
Dad replaced the window and promptly sold the cabin.
Too bad.
Because it was wonderful way to spend the summer.

There is a codicil.
A year or so after my Dad sold the cabin, a good friend of his stopped him on the street, shook a finger in his face and told him what a bad boy he was.
Bewildered, my Dad frowned at his friend. “What are you talking about?”
The man grinned. “We were boating on the [St. Mary] lake and decided to drop in and visit with you and Enes. Once we got there, we realized that you weren't home, but I remembered where you hid the key, so I opened the door and we went in to see if you had left any pop in the fridge.” The man shook his head. “I can't tell you how surprised I was to find it full of beer!”
My parents were well known for their tee-totalling habits.
Dad laughed. “I guess you didn't hear that I sold that cabin.”
The man's mouth dropped open.
“Yeah. A year or so ago.”
“So . . . it's not your cabin?”
“Right.”
“So . . . breaking and entering.”
“Right.”
Even when it no longer belonged to us, the cabin continued to entertain.
I miss it.
Squirrels on the deck of the Stringam cabin.

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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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