Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Saturday, September 28, 2013

My 1984

Us. In 1984. Without the parkas.
Why do I remember the winter of 1984 so vividly?
It was, in a word, COLD.
But that isn’t the only reason.
It was also the one time in my life I was able to do something simple (but extraordinary) for someone else.
Let me explain . . .
Winter hit with a vengeance on the 12 of September.
You heard me right. The 12 of September.
Thermometers everywhere hit the bottom of the glass.
And stayed there.
When everyone should have been waffling between long pants for the cool mornings and evenings, and shorts and T’s for the hot midday, we were frantically scrambling through the storage to find heavy coats, toques, boots and mittens.
Turning up the thermostat.
And piling on more quilts.
I sent my little eskimos off to school each morning, muffled to the eyebrows.
If one happened to be standing on the sidewalk outside the school at the appropriate time, one could witness the advance of hundreds of little, round, heavily-padded, slow-moving creatures, intent on one destination.
It was like a scene out of a futuristic, post-apocalyptic movie.
When Halloween time rolled around, we had already endured six weeks of the cold snap.
I use the word ‘snap’ judiciously.
Because we were ready to . . .
Then, Halloween day.
Intent on getting to school for the exciting afternoon party, one little boy ran out from between two parked cars.
And was hit by a passing motorist.
His leg was badly broken.
After we had seen him safely carted off in the ambulance, we parents milled about uncertainly.
And hugged our own children a little tighter.
Trick-or-treating that evening was a little more subdued.
A tragedy had been narrowly averted.
And the shadow of it still hung over all of us.
Hitting the streets with the old treat bag was also sadly curtailed because of the weather.
It was just so blessed cold!
My Husby took our kids around the townhouse complex where we lived.
And stopped at that.
It was as much as our little trick-or-treaters could handle.
But we had remembered to do one thing.
And this is where the extraordinary part comes in . . .
In a highly unusual move for our family, we remembered to take an extra bag around for our little friend.
People, thinking of the sad little guy, were happy to pile in the treats.
The next day, we went to the hospital for a visit.
Toting along that extra bag.
I’ll never forget the scene.
Little man in a hospital bed, his leg in a cast and suspended above him.
His mother and little brother seated on chairs beside him.
Sleepless night written in all three faces.
And how those same three faces lit up when we presented the bag of treats.
The cold continued until Boxing Day.
And when it finally broke, it stayed that way through until spring.
That little spot of warmth the day after Halloween kept us going.
The winter of ’84.

Memorable in so many ways.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Muffy, Too


Muffy the First. With our eldest son, Mark
For over thirty years, our family raised Old English Sheepdogs.
We love them.
They come as little, furry puppies.
And turn into big, furry dogs.
Gentle. Affectionate. Protective.
Have I mentioned that we love them?
Several of our dogs stand out in my memory.
One is Muffy the Second.
Not to be confused with Muffy the First.
Okay, so imaginative, we weren't.
Muffy lived to eat.
And receive affection.
But mostly to eat.
Our youngest son, Tristan had an ice cream cone.
And an audience.
Muffy was sitting nearby, keeping what she hoped was anunobtrusive eye on his actions.
I should point out that in our house, the dogs weren't allowed anywhere near the dining room.
Tristan was in the living room.
The rules were a bit more blurry there . . .
He had taken a couple of licks.
With the third lick, his little scoop of ice cream vacated the cone and headed for the floor.
It never landed.
In a blur of motion, Muffy was across the room. She had that ice cream downed before Tristan had even realized he had lost it.
Tears ensued.
Tristan, not Muffy.
Another scoop, and all was well.
After Muffy had also been banned from the living room.
Sigh. People, make up your minds . . .
Another time, rawhide bones had been issued to all three dogs currently residing in the house.
They retreated to favourite corners to chew.
Or so it seemed.
Muffy was again keeping an unobtrusive (she was getting good at it) eye on the other two.
Biding her time.
When one of them got distracted, she would sneak in and snatch their bone.
Whereupon (good word) the offended party would look around in confusion, sigh and close their eyes for a nap.
Have I mentioned that they weren't always the brightest bulb in the chandelier?
Finally, Muffy had cornered all of the bones. Happily, she cradled them between her front legs and proceeded to chew, first one, then another.
But that is where her bliss ended.
Oh, not because the other two figured it out.
That would be stretching things.
No. Because the kids came home from school.
Now it was the usual scenario in the Tolley household, that the kids be met at the door by All. Three. Dogs.
They would jump around and make general nuisances of themselves in their excitement and enthusiasm.
The dogs, that is.
Ahem . . .
We heard the bus.
Panda and Chief headed for the door, wiggling happily.
I should also mention that an Old English Sheepdog has no tail. Thus, when excited, they wag their entire rear end.
Just FYI . . .
There was much wiggling and snuffling and vying for attention as eight kids came through the door.
And Muffy was missing it.
She whined and cried and fidgeted as she stood over her ill gotten gains, not wanting to leave them for fear of losing them, but sad to be missing all of the excitement.
Finally, it was too much for her.
In a flurry of movement, she joined the others.
Whereupon (that word again) the other two left the melee and dashed over to the bones, each snatching one and heading to their respective corners to resume their interrupted afternoon chew.
Maybe that was their plot all along.
Muffy finished greeting the kids and ran back to her spot.
To find just one bone.
She sighed and laid down.
But kept one eye on the other two.
And their bones.
Down, but definitely not defeated.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Weather Prophets


Ha! I KNEW it was going to snow!

“Look to the cows,” said Dad, the wise,
“And you will come to realize,
That by their actions, you can tell,
The weather patterns, fair or fell.”

And so I watched, and so I saw
That he was right, my smart ol' Pa.
And he knew what he talked about,
If you're predicting rain. Or drought.

The cows, they crowd together tight
And you know cold will be the night.
They seek the shed and shelter warm
If rain or snow will be the norm.

Then turn their tail and duck their head,
When wind is shrieking round the shed.
But stand out grazing peacefully,
If sun and warmth are meant to be.

But just today, I got a scare,
From cows around me everywhere,
For when I stepped outside my door
And glanced towards the purple moor . . .

(Oops, Alberta's where I live, you see,
And so I meant the wide prairie.)
My cows weren't where they're s'posed to be,
They sat on branches. In the trees.

So now I have to figure out,
Just what they're telling me about.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Our First Indictable Offence

The Victim
The question was innocent enough. “Daddy? How old were you when you started driving?”
The answer was anything but.
Innocent, that is.
Let’s leave Dad there for a moment while I explain something . . .
Okay, I know that, for most people, learning to drive begins at the ripe old age of 14.
In the farming and ranching community, however, it’s a tad different.
Farm and ranch kids start driving as soon as they can see over the dashboard.
Oh, never on real roads.
But in the fields, especially during seeding and harvest, they are needed.
Back to my question . . .
“Daddy?”
“I was ten,” he told me. “I learned how to drive when I was ten. And then I stole a car.”
Now there’s something you don’t hear every day. I stared at him. “Ummm . . . okay . . . details, please?”
He sighed and smiled. “My buddies, Bernard and DeVere, and I were walking home from school. Grade five.”
“I’m with you so far.” He had my total attention.
“And we were walking past DeVere’s house. And there, parked in the driveway, was DeVere’s dad’s car. A Model A Ford."
"With the keys inside.”
I should explain that people did that back in the thirties. Crime hadn’t been invented yet. Moving on . . .
“Bernard said, ‘Let’s take your dad’s car for a ride!’” Dad said. “At first, there was a bit of discussion.” He smiled. “DeVere didn’t think it was such a good idea.”
“Understandable.” I shook my head.
“But we talked him into it with: ‘we’ll only be a few minutes’ and ‘just around the block’. Things like that. Then we all piled in and I started the engine.”
“So you were the actual thief.”
“That’s what I said.” Dad grinned at me.
“Okay.”
“ ‘Let’s take turns!’ Bernard said. When he took over, DeVere suddenly sat up and said he’d forgotten something. We looked at him. Bernard said, ‘What did you forget?’ And DeVere said, ‘I forgot to stay home!’”
“We drove past my house and into the country and things went well for a few minutes. Then suddenly, DeVere pointed at a car coming toward us and shouted, ‘THAT’S UNCLE ALVIN!’ Sure enough, it was. His uncle stared at us as we drove past. ‘STOP!’ he bellowed. I guess this family always talks in exclamations. ‘WE HAVE TO GET HOME!’ DeVere hollered. “WE HAVE TO GET THERE BEFORE HE DOES!’ We did a quick turn and headed back to town, certain that Uncle Alvin was hot on our heels. But he wasn’t. We pulled into the drive, parked and got out. And never saw any sign of Uncle Alvin. Then or later.”
I stared at my Dad. “That’s it? That’s the whole story?”
He nodded.
“Oh.” I hate to say I was disappointed, but I was. Somehow, I was picturing sirens and heart-stopping chase-scenes and dust flying as cars made nearly impossible turns on sketchy country roads.
Then I thought of those three ten-year-old boys.
I guess this is better.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Soaking in the Spirituality


We were listening!

Hands on Spiritual training.
Really.
On Sundays our family regularly attended church.
For three hours.
It was divided into three sections.
Sacrament meeting, the most sacred.
Sunday School. The 'classroom' portion. 
And Relief Society.  The Women class.
The men also had their class, but who paid attention?
Moving on . . .
The class portions of our meetings were usually quite lively.
Sleep was impossible.
But the Sacrament portion, the most sacred meeting, featured speakers taken from the congregation.
Some were fantastic.
Some . . . weren't.
On those occasions, sleep was not only possible, but inevitable.
Distraction was needed.
Oh , nothing that would detract from the sacred spirit or nature of the meeting. Just something that would keep the hands busy, while freeing the mind to concentrate on the speaker.
At least that was the theory.
Some kids looked at picture books featuring the Saviour.
Some had picture books featuring other things, like animals.
Some had dry cereal fed to them. One cheerio at a time.
Some played quietly with toys.
The operative word there, was 'quietly'.
My brother and I drew.
Pictures.
We took turns.
I would draw something silly.
He would reciprocate.
We kept our giggles to a minimum. Mom had been known to snatch and stash our drawing equipment without warning.
But as long as we were quiet, she was satisfied that we were soaking in what needed to be soaked.
So to speak.
It got us through many a dry meeting.
And I think we still learned a few things . . .
Forward several years.
To my own children.
Who entertained themselves hugely with pencil and paper.
In Sacrament meeting.
They were a bit more creative than my brother and I had been . . .
Caitlin drew fantasy pictures of dragons and unicorns.
Tiana drew episodes of Intiana Jones, a tiny stick figure with a hat and whip.
And Erik reciprocated with installments of Superik.
Supposedly called sup-ERIK, but which his sister-in-law titled SUPER-ik.
I will admit, here, that the stories they created were not as spiritually uplifting as what was being said at the pulpit.
But often more entertaining.
What did they get from those meetings?
Well . . . they still attend.
With pad and pencil in one hand and their childrens' hand in the other.
But they are attending.
Spiritual training and umm . . . tradition, all in one package.
It's a good thing.

Superik to the rescue!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Dumb and Dumbest


I get nervous whenever I have to deal with anything official.
Or legal.
Like taxes.
Or crossing the border.
Call it a weakness.
Yesterday, my youngest daughter and I decided to go on a Mother/Daughter weekend.
Across the border into the United States.
It was the first time we had ever done anything like it.
We were . . . quite excited.
The weather was good. The roads excellent.
Everything was perfect.
Except that I was acting as navigator.
Ahem . . .
My daughter and I had been driving for a couple of hours.
It had been a pleasant trip so far. Talking. Laughing.
We approached the border crossing slowly.
I should explain, here, that the Canada/US border crossing is massive, with buildings and outbuildings and offices. The business portion  consists of several little booths, each with its own line, and a one border guard capacity.
How many of the little booths are manned depends on the volume of traffic.
We were crossing in the middle of the day.
On a Sunday.
There were only two booths open.
One for cars and smaller vehicles.
One for large trucks.
This fact will become pertinent in a moment . . .
I saw two green arrows.
One had a lineup of cars.
One was empty.
I’m all about getting through the border crossing quickly so I directed my daughter toward the empty line.
It was only after we stopped and looked way, way up at the border guard that I realized that I had guided us into the truck lane.
Oops.
The crossing guard was shaking her head in an 'I can't believe this is happening' sort of way.
She sighed. “Everyone out of the vehicle, passports in hand!” she said.
We quickly complied.
The two of us stood there, looking up at the guard as she started typing.
And typing.
Finally, she looked down at us. “Where are you from?” she asked.
“Edmonton,” my daughter said.
“Are you carrying any fresh fruit?”
“No.”
“Any guns or tobacco?”
“No.”
“Are you carrying anything that you will be leaving in the States?”
“No.”
“Where are you going?”
“Great Falls.”
And this is where she leaned down and fixed both of us with a steely gaze. “Do you think you can find it?” she asked.
Point taken.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Caught in the Act


Delores has done it again! From the far reaches of her vast intellect, she has presented us with this week's challenge.
And, surprisingly enough, one of the words IS a form of 'challenge'.
Apt.
Here we go:

challenges Honesty, carriage, flagrant, specific, mustard, grain

“This is a flagrant miscarriage of justice and I, for one, am not going to submit to it!” Reginald was flying high.
“And just what are you going to do about it, Marshmallow Boy?” the officer demanded. “I’m the one with the gun!” He narrowed his eyes threateningly. “And the badge.”
“You know nothing, my man. Nothing!”
The officer sucked in a deep breath and turned slightly pink.
Perhaps taking umbrage at being so titled? Oooo, I sound so smart.
“I’ll have you know that I know plenty, Tubby!” The officer stubbed a finger into the first button of Reginald’s vest.
“I know that you know,” Reginald said, drawing himself up as much as his girth, and soaking wet three-piece suit would allow. “And I just want you to know that I know that you know. You know.”
Okay, he was beginning to stammer.
The officer stared at him. “And just what do you know that I know?”
And the officer wasn’t much better.
“Oh you know. You know.”
And now Reginald had completely stopped making any sense.
“Ummmm . . . you have anything specific that you’re wanting to tell me?” The officer was obviously as perplexed as the rest of us. And starting to lose his patience.
Probably not a good thing when guns are involved.
“Sir!” Reginald glared down at the man, haughtily, said glare slightly denatured by the water trickling from his eyebrows. “If you had intelligence even the size of a grain of mustard, you wouldn’t be asking me that question!”
The officer looked even more confused. He blinked and scratched his ear with the barrel of his gun.
“I assure you that I am the soul of honesty,” Reginald stated firmly. “And that anything that happened here tonight was c-completely above b-board!”
Reginald was beginning to shiver. Not surprising considering the temperature was only a couple of degrees above freezing.
“Above board but slightly under the water?”
Okay, I had to admit that was a good one.
Reginald tossed the man a heated glare. Probably the only warmth he could muster.
“Look, Tubby,” the officer said. “Either you tell me why you’re swimming here in the lake, fully clothed, in freezing temperatures, disturbing these nice people and their party, or I’m hauling you in on suspicion.”
“S-s-suspicion of w-w-what?” Reginald managed through chattering teeth.
“Idiocy!” the officer barked.
Yup. The patience had worn through.

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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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