Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Saturday, August 3, 2013

More Toddler Travels

Mark was outside, riding his tricycle.
His favourite pastime.
He would navigate over the rough terrain surrounding our farmhouse with ease, little legs pumping happily.
I frequently went to the window to check on him.
But he was a safe driver.
He never went near the road, and would happily drive back and forth between the house and the root cellar/pumphouse.
Doing laps.
Totally safe.
Okay, so adventurous, he wasn't.
Or so I thought.
One afternoon, his grandfather drove in.
With the family travel trailer hitched to his truck.
I watched him wave at Mark.
Mark waved enthusiastically back.
Not only did Mark love his grandfather, but he loved that trailer.
It had the one door in the world he could open.
Whenever he was at Grandma's, it was his playground.
His grandfather parked beside the pumphouse and got out to do something.
I watched my son ride his tricycle towards the pumphouse.
And really didn't consider the trailer.
I went back to my laundry.
A short time later, the truck and trailer pulled out and disappeared towards town.
I went to the window to look for my boy.
And couldn't see him.
A feathering of alarm.
I quickly dashed out of the house.
He wasn't on his normal tricycle route.
I ran towards the pumphouse.
And found his trusty tricycle, laying on its side.
But no Mark.
I looked towards the settling cloud of dust that indicated the path of Grandpa's truck and trailer.
I knew where Mark had gone.
He had gotten into the trailer.
Would he stay there?
Or would he get scared and try to get out when the trailer was moving?
Okay, full blown panic.
Praying frantically, I ran for the phone.
“Mom! Has Dad come in with the trailer yet?”
“Not yet, Diane. Oh, wait, yes, here he is.”
“Could you please see if Mark is in the trailer?”
“What?!”
“Could you just look please?” I was crying by this time.
My little boy.
My little boy.
In a moment, she was back on the phone.
“Diane? He's safe! He's here! He was hiding under the table!”
Some prayers are well and truly answered.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Music Magic

Our Engineer - far right.

Our son, an army engineer, was on his Combat Leadership course.It was gruelling.Months of training.An adrenaline rush of enacting scenarios.Strategizing.Analyzing situations.Digging in and getting dirty.Yep. Gruelling pretty much describes it.And added to the daily duty roster, morning inspections.Not only must they learn how to survive, even thrive in battle situations, they had to look good while they did it.Each evening was spent in cleaning oneself and one's gear in preparation for inspection directly after breakfast the next morning.For the most part, the soldiers enjoyed this relaxing time after dinner.It was a chance to unwind.Kibitz around a bit.Laugh and joke.And keep their adrenalin up with pounding, exhilarating music.
Loud. Fast. Heavy.Followed immediately by bed.Needless to say, it took some time to wind down.Except for our son.Whose choice of music was a little more . . . conservative.He would drift away almost immediately to the soft, soothing strains of Loreena McKennitt.Or Enya.One evening some time after lights out, the men were restless.Knowing that their morning would come fast, not to mention early, they were anxious to get some needed sleep.And it was proving elusive.Again, except for our son, who had his stereo by his ear and had already drifted away.To Enya.One of the soldiers noticed.It gave him an idea.The next evening, the group completed their usual day-end tasks.To their usual music.Then crawled into their bunks.Lights were doused.Then, out of the darkness, a voice.“Hey, Tolley. Play us some of your music.”Our son turned up the song he was currently listening to.Only Time.Enya.Within seconds the sounds of snoring filled the dorm.After that, immediately following lights-out, the strains of choice were something soft.Soothing.And sleepy.
Nighty-night.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Shopping Conundrum

Dear Delores delivers daring, darling, demonic diadems to direct and dumbfound.

That's all the 'D' words I can think of right now . . .
And she does this every Wednesday.
Visit her at The Feathered Nest to see what her other victims participants have created!
This week's words? Contrived, basic, needles, downtown, spinning, seething
                                                          *  *  *

In Edmonton, there is a place
That used to be a field.
Where once stood crops, now people race
And stores have been revealed.

It saves us from the ‘Downtown’ crowd;
            The spinning, seething mob.
The commute long, the sirens loud,
            Where people weave and bob.

‘South Edmonton Common’ is its name,
            And it can cure your ills,
‘S for buying things of every fame,
            From basic through to ‘frills’.

But though it has a lot of stores
            In its quarter-section size,
It’s also known for something more -
            Its streets. I will apprise:

Straight streets? A few, I will admit,
            But mostly curved, you’ll find.
The unfamiliar driver sits,
            Or drives like one is blind.

With curves and twists to stupefy,
            And blocks and blocks contrived,
You’ll wish you were a bird, that flies,
            So you can sight. Then dive.

Though there’s beauty - bright, serene,
            With tons of treasures hid,
What truly needles me is this:
What’s wrong with a grid?!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Travelling Man


Mark the Independent

Mark was angry.
And no one could get angry like our little two-year-old.
Anyplace would be better than this one.
Grandma's was infinitely superior.
She never made him clean up his toys or eat his meals.
He was leaving.
He had his pajamas and Kermit the Frog.
He was packed.
And out of here.
I sat, nursing the baby, and watched him walk down the hallway, one leg of his sleeper hanging out through the improperly closed zipper of his backpack.
My little independent man.
“I'm going, Mom!” he said loudly, without looking back.
His 'declaration of independence' continued as he moved along the hall . . .
“I'm going!”
“Here I go!”
“Yup. I'm going!”
“Going to Gramma's”
“You won't see me!”
Yup. Living with Gramma now!”
“Bye!”
By this point he had made it the entire length of the hall and was out of my sight.
There was a short pause and I could hear the sounds of movement and a tiny grunt.
Then, “Mom! Can you open the door?”
Yup. My independent little man.
Walking to his Grandmother's ten miles away.
If he could make it out of the house.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Truth About Onions

Eat your onions!
I know that this statement seems to have nothing to do with what follows, but bear with me . . .

The 1918 flu pandemic (the Spanish Flu) was an influenza pandemic that spread widely across the world. Most victims were healthy young adults, in contrast to most influenza outbreaks which predominantly affect juvenile, elderly, or weakened patients. The pandemic lasted from March 1918 to June 1920, spreading even to the Arctic and remote Pacific islands. Between 50 and 100 million died, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. An estimated 50 million people, about 3% of the world's population (1.6 billion at the time), died of the disease. 500 million, or 1/3 were infected.
-                                                                                                                                   - World History Project

My Husby’s grandparents, Artie J. and Ovedia Seely, weren’t affected by the disease.
One of few people that managed to avoid it . . .
Even though every other family in the sleepy town of Stirling, Alberta, like the rest of the world, had one or more (or all) members sick with the deadly disease.
For months during the worst of the outbreak in their small community, Artie and one other unaffected man tended the farms and fed the animals for all of the other farmers.
Before daybreak every day, the two men were feeding animals, milking cows, cleaning, tending . . . performing all of the myriad tasks that constituted farming.
At every farm.
Every day.
It took the whole day.
Artie would return to his home and gulp down a hasty lunch, then head out once more.
Grandma Ovedia Fawns Seely
Onion cooker extraordinaire!
Returning only after sunset to snatch a few hours of sleep before he headed out once more.
And still, with all of the work and worry, he and his wife remained unaffected.
The reason?
Earlier that year, the two of them, Artie and Ovedia, had harvested a bumper crop of onions.
Every meal featured some incarnation of the remarkable vegetable.
Both of them believe that that fact alone kept them from succumbing.
I will give them the benefit of any doubt.
They . . . lived . . . through it.

P.S. My Husby has spoken with two other ‘old-timers’ who also lived through the great and terrible influenza pandemic. They, too, maintain that their families survived due largely to the fact that they ate onions with every meal.
You heard it here first.
Oh, and see that onion on your plate? Eat it.




Monday, July 29, 2013

Stealing Potatoes

I received my first set when I was four.
And it entertained me and my siblings for many, many years.
But one ingredient for fun was missing.
And had to be supplied by the owner.
Stay with me . . .
It was a yellow box.
With writing that I couldn’t read yet.
The picture on the front showed round-faced, rather lumpy people.
Intriguing.
I wasted no time in opening it. Hmmm. Body parts.
I looked at my Dad. What on earth . . .?
“You make people with it!” he said, helpfully.
Okay, I hadn’t heard of ‘Frankenstein’ yet, so I didn’t suddenly picture laughing, exultant, mad scientists.
But still I looked at my Dad doubtfully.
Make people?
I tipped the box and poured out eyes, noses, mouths, ears, hands, feet and even ‘hair’.

“Yeah,” he said, picking up an eye. “Mother! We need a potato!”
Obligingly, Mom brought us one and Dad proceeded to poke eyes, nose, mouth, etc. into it.
And I got my first glimpse of Mr. Potato Head.
Oh.
Neat!
“Let me try!” I grabbed the potato and jammed it full of everything on the table.
Okay, so my first attempt looked like something out of a heretofore (ooo, good word) unknown horror movie, and my technique and strategy were nothing more than simply finding a space to put things (FYI: Potatoes aren’t very big).
But it was fun.
I played with that little set for hours, creating people. People who were easily dismantled and re-formed.
Hmm. Maybe we’re onto something here. Dismantling and re-forming. I wonder if that can be done with hips.
But I digress . . .
That set was around for many, many years. And grew. And expanded.
Little bits that had to be painstakingly picked up after each session. (Because Heaven help the person who left it out if Dad stepped on something during a barefoot foray through the house.)
And many, many potatoes, carrots, turnips and at least one pickle were snitched and sacrificed in the quest for fun.
Moving ahead . . .
My daughter recently gave her daughter a Mr. Potato Head.
A slick, complete set.
Including a head with pre-punched holes.
It is bigger.
Safer.
Gramma still isn’t sure if it’s better.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rural Sports


Seated: Grandma and Grandpa Berg and 'She Who Holds the Horses'
Surrounding them: The Instigators

Halloween.
Ghosts and goblins.
Witches, black cats and scary pumpkins.
Pirates, vampires and mummies.
An evening of treats, tricks and mischief.
For many, many years.
My Mom often talked of mischief perpetrated by her and her eight (yes, eight) brothers.
They were in a rural community, with all of the families around them involved in some sort of agriculture, so the opportunities for tricks were almost as endless as the imaginations that enacted them.
Pigs in the hen house.
Harnesses on the cows.
Wagons hauled to the roofs of the barns.
Tires and assorted junk piled in the roadways.
But the favourite, the real king of the pranks was outhouse tipping.
Though indoor plumbing was quite common in the cities and larger communities in the mid-1930s, on the farms and ranches surrounding Millicent, Alberta, most families still made use of the outdoor privy.
Cold in the winter, hot in the summer, but necessary the whole year through, the outhouse was an accepted and integral part of family life.
And very few of them were fastened down.
All it took was a concerted effort by two or more strong lads and . . . over it would go.
Followed by much laughter and hilarity as the perpetrators fled.
To the next farm.
Where their adventure would start all over.
Mom held the horses. Or so she contends.
But I digress . . .
One Halloween, she and her eight brothers were making the rounds.
One farm, in particular was their destination.
The husband and wife who ran it were 'feisty'.
And protective.
And fun to pit wits with.
The Berg kids crept along in the darkness, trying desperately to be silent.
Finally, they left my Mom holding the horse's reins and crept closer.
All was quiet.
Light was pouring from the farm house.
The couple was likely eating dinner.
The boys picked their target out of the gloom.
It stood in lonely glory (can one use the word 'glory' in describing an outhouse?) to one side of the yard.
Closer.
Finally, they reached the little structure.
Ahh. Now just a little push to set things going . . .
Now, unbeknownst (good word) to them, the farmer had decided, this year, to outwit his antagonists.
By hiding inside the outhouse.
At the climactic moment, he would burst from the building and give his shotgun a blast into the air.
That would scare those little scamps into next week!
His plan was brilliant.
Genius.
Right up to the point where the boys tipped the outhouse over . . . on its door.
Trapping their would-be assailant inside.
Hampered but unbowed, he stuck his head through one of the holes and shouted, "Ye blimey little rats! I'll get ye!"
Then followed with the planned shotgun blast at the sky.
Admittedly, completed as it was through the hole of an outhouse, the action lost some of its 'punch'.
And the boys, by this time were already over the hill, laughing at their cleverness.
But the farmer's actions did achieve one thing.
Made doubly sure that his farm was on the 'trick' list for a long as the boys lived at home.
Or until he got indoor plumbing.
Whichever came first.

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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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