Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

Daughter of Ishmael

by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Ode To Delores

Once more, Delores, of The Feathered Nest as issued her challenge.
Once more, I harness the old brain and shove it into overdrive . . .
This weeks Wednesday's Words?
Gregarious, munchkin, tipple, faint, carousing, bed pan
What am I gonna do with that . . .?
What else . . . a poem!

Delores, evil genius, you,
“Write,” you say. And write we do.
And from the words that you present,
We must weave something opulent.
But tell me how, with words I paint,
I’ll match gregarious with faint?
And Munchkin, I don't have a clue . . .
Do Munchkins tipple? Tell me. Do.
I’ve left carousing to the end,
For what to do with that, my friend?
I don’t carouse, and never will,
But nothing else will fit the bill.
I’m giving up, my brain is numb,
And feeling just a little dumb.
There is no way, it’s just too queer,
To fit a bed pan somewhere here.
And so I’ll stop, I’ve ‘uncle’ said.
My brain has gone from numb . . . to dead.

P.S. I love this! Keep them coming, my friend!
P.P.S. Drop over to Delores' blog and check out what the others came up with!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Tarp Wars

It’s raining on us.
And we’re sitting in the middle of the northern Alberta woods.
Not a good combination.
Usually.
But many, many years ago, my Husby and his good friend, Gord, instituted a tradition which has saved more than one camping trip.
Tarp wars.
The rules are simple.
Whoever can put up the tightest, smoothest, most rain-defying/re-directing tarp, wins.
And garners the most support. (ie: huddlers.)
Let’s face it. When the elements have decided to make life miserable, the place you want to be is under the tightest, smoothest, most rain-defying . . .  you get the picture.
The two men started out small. Eight feet by ten feet.
But that wasn’t big enough; didn’t accommodate the mass of humanity that required shelter.
So they went bigger.
Ten by twelve.
Then fifteen by twenty.
Twenty by twenty.
And finally, twenty by thirty.
And that’s where they stopped.
Because finding a space between trees in the Canadian North Woods that is larger than thirty feet, is very nearly impossible.
This year’s winner?
My Husby.
Mainly because our friends haven’t shown up yet.
But we declaring it a victory.

It’s not raining at this exact moment, but it will and when it does, we will all thank him.

P.S. I have pictures, but my current circumstances (ie. a slow trickle of wireless power here in the middle of nowhere) prevent me using them. Sigh.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Happy Campers

We love to camp.
We do it every year, rain or shine.
Usually rain.
Sigh.
We have used the same little tent trailer forever.
It was built in 1974.
We bought it in 1981.
It has kept the rain off of us.
Our six children.
Numerous foster children.
And now a new generation of grandchildren.
It has been almost completely re-built in that time.
We had a mouse infestation due to a forgotten bag of oatmeal, left through the winter.
We once lost the entire undercarriage out on Vancouver Island.
Had a bear come in through the back door in Slave Lake, Alberta.
Without knocking, I might add.
Replaced numerous tires. (Due, mainly to the fact that the tires they kept selling us were made out of that forgotten bag of oatmeal…)
And we lent it to our eldest son. (Who did more damage than everything else, combined.)
Still it keeps on going.
Okay, sure, it really doesn’t look like much anymore.
The canvas has faded somewhat from its glory days.
It leans a little in whichever direction the wind is blowing.
And the cushions are fast getting to the point of no return.
But it has never leaked.
And that’s something to be said in the places where we camp.
We love our old trailer.
Like us, it has aged.
More or less gracefully.
And it is comfortable.
But the other evening, a sleek new fifth-wheel trailer, pulled by an equally new and pristine pickup truck, pulled into the site next to ours.
Parents and teenagers piled out and started to set up camp.
It took seconds.
Then they gathered at the front of their site and glanced over the neighbourhood.
We smiled.
Until one of the teenagers was overheard saying, “Oh great. We’re right next to the hillbillies.”
Hillbillies? Us?
I looked at our venerable old trailer. At our open-air camp kitchen. Our perfectly-strung (though rather ratty) tarp and our ‘can-we-get-one-more-camp-out-of-them’ camping chairs. Our bird’s nest lamp that kept shedding its duct-tape shade until I finally gave up and tossed said shade into the garbage at the end of last year’s camp.
And then I realized that we are hillbillies.
But, despite what they see, comfortable.

And happy.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

And Hair We Are

Mom had short hair.
In fact, most of the women I knew had short hair.
I was four. I didn’t know that many women.
But those I did . . .
Even Gramma Berg had short hair. Short, white hair.
But that just shows you what I knew . . .
We were staying with Gramma for a few days.
It was magic.
The great staircase to climb.
Table to scurry under.
Heater grate in the floor to sit on.
Stuffed moose head to run from.
Feather ticks to cuddle under.
Hidden, secret places to . . . hide in.
Exciting attics to get barred from. (Stupid brothers.)
And a whole world of farm and gardens to explore.
And, best of all, Gramma.
She of the marvelous old-world cooking. The loving cuddly arms.
And the Swedish pronunciation of ‘Di-ane’.
It was like a week in Heaven.
I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with short hair.
That part’s coming now . . .
I was playing with my cousins.
Some game involving daring each other to go all the way to the bottom of the scary basement stairs.
I lost.
I wandered into the kitchen.
Because.
And there was my Gramma, sitting on a chair, with my Mom standing behind her.
And mom was . . . brushing Gramma’s hair.
Hair that streamed in a silver wave over Gramma’s shoulders and down Gramma’s back.
I stared at it.
Wait a minute. Where did that come from?
It wasn't there before.
My four-year-old brain was working frantically.
Is this a trick?!
I walked over and touched it. Huh. It seemed pretty real to me.
I stroked my hand down. Mmm. Smooth and pretty.
Where had she gotten it? And even more important, where had she been keeping it?
I watched as my Mom began to braid it.
A long braid.
Which she then wrapped around the crown of Gramma’s head.
Oh. How had I missed that?
You know what?
Adults are tricky.
You gotta watch them at every step.
Today, the hair.

Tomorrow, the world.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hillbilly Camping

We’re camping again.
With our friends.
This is our 25th year together.
I think we could be considered family by this time.
Our kids were raised together.
We’ve celebrated birthdays, weddings, births and job promotions together.
We’ve cried together over each-other’s tragedies.
And for one week each and every year, we sit in the woods and talk and laugh and relax.
And remember all of the other times.
Particularly ‘that’ time.
The week it poured.
And I mean poured.
For five days straight.
We had twelve kids with us, ranging in age from three to fifteen.
All of their usual activities had been rained out.
And the all-important ‘swimming in the lake’ was not even an option.
Electronic entertainment was in its infancy.
What could we do?
There were board games. Several of the kids got really, really good at Rack-o and Chess.
And Old Maid.
But even those got old after a couple of days.
Remember when I said that electronic entertainment was in its infancy? Well, young as it was, it came to our rescue.
My husby had installed, by means of a couple of bungee cords, a small VCR/TV combination in our large van.
With eight kids to haul on long trips, it had been invaluable.
On the morning of third day of deluge, he emerged from the van with a huge grin.
And a whole box of VCR tapes. The entire Beverly Hillbillies series.
We grabbed it as if it were a life line.
Which it probably was.
“Kids!”  I said, “Wanna watch some TV?”
Amidst loud cheers, all of them piled into the van and The Beverly Hillbillies filled the small screen.
For the next three days, after a quick scan of the still-spongy sky, they dove into the van and, with rain drumming on the roof, they happily stayed glued to the antics of Jed, Jethro, Ellie-May and Granny.
Episode after episode.
First in black and white, then in colour.
We parents would watch, in indulgent and relieved amusement, as the van bobbed up and down when the theme song came on.
‘Come and listen to my story ‘bout a man named, Jed.’
Ahhhh . . . memories.
Now, when we camp, it is usually just the four of us.
With a bonus grandchild or two.
Oh, occasionally, one or more of the next generation will stop in with their kids.
But mainly, it’s just us.
And, as we talk and laugh, we remember.
When the whole tribe was there.
The rain drumming down.
And The Beverly Hillbillies staving off cabin fever.


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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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