Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Toddler Volume Knob

Cute AND quiet.
I’m getting older.
And, let’s face it, my hearing is not what it was.
Okay, yes, it was never perfect.
But it was better . . .
We have a little three-year-old granddaughter.
A tow-headed, blue-eyed little pixie of a thing.
And she keeps us entertained.
When we can understand her.
Don’t get me wrong.
She speaks in complete sentences.
I think.
Her problem is volume.
Now, I should explain that our family is known for its volume.
One can’t reach the back of the hall from the stage if one doesn’t have sufficient lung power.
And our ‘raised on the stage’ kids have learned that lesson too well.
There isn’t any among them who cannot raise the roof when called upon.
With voice only.
And this includes the grandchildren.
Our family get-togethers aren’t so much visits as they are efforts to be distinguished from the hubbub.
And that is what makes our little pixie-girl such an anomaly.
She will say, in a high, squeaky little voice, “Gramma! Habee-debee-debee-debee-debee.”
At which point, I will lean closer. “What sweetheart?”
“Gramma! Habee-debee-debee-debee-debee.”
“You’ll have to speak up, sweetie. Gramma can’t hear you!”
“Gramma! Habee-debee-debee-debee-debee.”
“Sweetie. A little louder, please!”
“------------------------------------------------.”
You know she’s imparting much-needed, important knowledge. YOU JUST CAN’T HEAR IT!!!
My question to you is this.
Is there such a thing as a Toddler Volume Knob?
One that both raises and lowers?
Please send me the link.
I’ll be forever grateful.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Look Up

It’s winter here in our corner of Canada.
 This means cold.
 And snow.
 Fortunately, I like snow.
 Though cold and I regard each other with suspicion bordering on outright dislike.
 And now, I’m thinking about summer.
 Because that’s how I roll . . .
 When I was growing up in the Deep South . . . of Alberta, the kids of our neighbourhood played together.
There were running games.
 Hiding games.
 Games of skill.
 Games of brute force.
 Games of pretend and make-belief.
 And not one of them electronic.
 In fact, the only thing that interrupted our play was the setting sun.
 Or our parents calling us in to supper.
 One of our neighbourhood favourites was a game we affectionately called, ‘Anti-I-Over’.
 Okay, I don’t know where that name came from.
 And maybe you played a similar game but by a different name.
 But we loved it.
 I will describe . . .
 The game consisted of at least two players. 
And a ball. Preferably a softball or something softball-sized.
 Each player took up a position on either side of the house.
 You heard right.
We were standing on either side of the house.
 Where visibility was . . . limited.
 Then the person with the ball would shout, “Anti-I –Over!” and throw the ball.
 In an arc.
 OVER the house.
 The person on the other side would brace themselves, waiting for their first glimpse of the incoming ball.
Then run and try to catch it.
 It took speed.
 And lightning reflexes.
 And a good arm.
 Because it took a bit of oomph to get said ball over the house.
 Oddly enough, no windows were ever broken in the playing of this game.
 Although no few balls ended up in the rain gutter and had to be fished out by someone with authority.
 And ladder skills.
 This summer, I introduced my grandkids to this game.
 We started simply.
 One on either side of the pirate ship. (The one in our back yard. And yes, we have a pirate ship in our back yard. Don’t ask…)
 One would yell, “Anti-I-Over!” and the other would brace for the retrieval.
 They loved it instantly.
 And played it for hours.
 Happy sigh. My work here is done.
 Nearly.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gramma! See!

Delores has challenged us again. 
This week's words: Indecent, vertical, deserted, spectacles, moon, fleeting
How convenient that her words just happen to fit in with my life!
Okay. Yes, I added the spectacles...

The moon was playing ‘peek-a-boo’,
It’s presence somewhat fleeting,
When Little Bug and I stepped out
To give it proper greeting.

A brittle cold had settled in
I labelled it, ‘indecent’,
For, though we live in Canada,
Our winter was still recent.

But Little Bug must see her friend,
So, bundled past our eyebrows,
Crept onto the deserted street,
And gazed up through the tree boughs.

“Oh, Gramma, see!” said Little Bug,
As she pointed to the sky,
And sure, enough, there hung the moon,
For Little Bug and I.

Our necks stretched nearly vertical,
We regarded it with awe,
All fat and golden, shining, still,
Perfection’s what we saw.

Then Little Bug, with happy eyes,
Noticed something nice,
I’d not detected it before,
And I’d looked. Once or twice.

“Oh, Gramma, see!” she said to me,
“When all the clouds are gone,
And you can clearly see his face,
His spectacles are on!”

‘Twas then I realized that when
Observing’s your objective.
We all see something different, its
 A matter of perspective.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Age-Related . . .

Pfff . . . kids!
Men really don’t pay much attention to age.
At least the men in my life.
Not like women do.
Cases in point:
I had just turned twelve.
An important milestone in my world.
I could now go to 4-H.
And youth activities in our church.
Of course, there were drawbacks.
The price of admission to any of our local movies doubled.
From twenty-five cents.
To fifty.
Yikes.
But I was twelve.
It had taken me twelve long years to get here.
And I wanted the whole world to know it.
Dad was taking us kids to the movies.
And was in the process of buying tickets.
“One adult, three youth and three children, please,” he said.
“Da-ad!” I said. Loudly.
All eyes in the theatre foyer turned to us.
“I’m twelve now!”
“Oh. Are you?” I’m sure he was embarrassed, but he covered it well. “When did that happen?”
“Da-ad!”
Kids aren’t tactful.
Even when they’re twelve.
Moving ahead several years . . .
My Husby and I were at the home of some friends.
Dinner was over.
The visiting had begun.
The conversation had turned to the inevitable - and painful - progression of old age.
My Husby and I were speaking from the advanced ages of twenty-nine and twenty-eight, respectively.
But our friends had both rounded the corner and were into their thirties.
Elderly indeed.
My Husby was teasing the wife. “Well, speaking from the advanced age of thirty-six, you would . . .”
I don’t remember the rest of his statement.
But I do recall that the wife turning an instant and remarkable shade of red. “Thirty-six!!” she said. “Thirty-six?!” She got up and looked in the mirror. “I just turned thirty-four!”
Oops.
Later I asked him what on earth he was thinking.
“Well,” he said. “I thought I was really exaggerating. You know? Over-estimating?”
Oh. Note to Husby. When over-estimating, REALLY over-estimate.
Decades.
Centuries.
Missing by a couple of years is . . . dangerous.
Because - as it turns out - age, to women, is important.
See?



Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Froze Clothes

Canadian Entertainment
Winter has come to our corner of Canada.
Winter with a vengeance.
We’ve received a foot of snow in the past two days.
A curtain of the stuff is forming off the side of the garage.
Perfect!
And, oddly enough, it makes me think of laundry.
Laundry?!
Maybe I should explain . . .
During Mom’s very early years, growing up on a farm in Central Alberta, she and her mother did the laundry on a scrub board.
And dried it on the line.
Finally, they graduated to laundry cleaned in a miraculous new wringer washer.
But still dried on the line.
This made for some . . . entertaining times when cold weather hit.
On laundry day, Mom and Grandma would dutifully lug the heavy baskets of wet laundry out to the line to hang.  
In the parched winter air, they dried completely.
But froze solid during the process.
This is where the fun part came in.
Mom and Grandma would haul in the frozen sheets and overalls and underwear and stand them up against the walls in the kitchen and front room.
As the clothes thawed, they . . . crumpled.
Finally, when they were lying on the floor, they were ready to fold and put away.
Who needs modern electronics?
With only a wringer washer, a clothes line and a cold snap, you can have clean clothes and entertainment all in one process.

Genius.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Snack Time

How do you spell 'delicious'?
There was a bright spot to every school day.
And no, it wasn’t that magical moment each morning when we first stepped into the hallowed halls of learning and knowledge.
Sheesh.
It was that moment, when the whole thing was safely in the past.
The long bus ride to school.
The sweat and toil.
The long bus ride home.
Ta-da!
That moment.
When Mom would usher us into the house and the smell of warm deliciousness would sweep over us like a welcome blanket.
Snack time.
The wonderful reward for having made it through yet another school day.
And mom made it special.
Homemade snacks like pudding, cake or pie.
Hot chocolate.
Sometimes the extra-special spudnuts.
Fresh, warm bread with melty butter.
It made all of the pain and drudgery worth every drop of effort.
Mmmmmmmmmmmm.
Then, as we grew older, Mom stepped back a bit and let us create our own snacks.
In the process, something was lost. But something else was definitely gained.
Our snacking of preference grew and changed as our skills did.
At first, my brother, George, would simply spread cheese on crackers and create a giant stack.
Which was then happily consumed, layer by layer.
I would toast bread – just barely – and spread it with peanut butter.
Peanut butter is better all soft and melted.
Just FYI.
Then Mom got a new invention, a Teflon frying pan.
And I discovered the magical world of omelets.
With lots of melty cheese.
Hmm . . . I’m beginning to see a pattern there.
Mmmmmmelty things.
Moving on . . .
Then George was introduced to tapioca pudding.
Made from scratch and eaten while still warm.
And sometimes shared with his sister.
Until she was shown the amazing chocolate wonderfulness of puffed-wheat squares.
I should explain here that the puffed-wheat is simply a medium to get the chocolate syrup to your mouth.
And it does it well.
Did you know that a hungry teenager can eat an entire pan of puffed wheat squares and still have room for supper?
It’s true. And I proved it on many an occasion.
Moving forward many, many years.
Yesterday, I dug out my tattered old recipe for puffed-wheat squares.
It was stained.
And worn.
But still readable.
I mixed and cooked.
Added, pressed down and cooled.
Then, with my daughter and granddaughter, sliced and consumed.
And, just for an instant, relived the best part of growing up.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Country Art

Art isn't always found on display.

And real artists don't necessarily work in a studio.

A true work of art . . .
On a ranch, fences are rather important.
They mean the difference between control and chaos. 
With a good fence, one can dictate which animals live where.
And which of the bulls certain cows are exposed to.
It probably isn't obvious, but with purebred animals, control means the difference between a progressive herd.
And one that is headed only for the meat market.
It is an exacting science of reading pedigrees and understanding genetics.
I rode the horses and put cows where Dad told me.
You can see where I was on the 'ranching is science' scale.
So back to the control thing . . .
A good fence means that things are ordered.
Predictable.
Profitable.
Poor fences spell trouble.
And diminishing returns.
Thus, the most important task on the Stringam Ranch outside of actually . . . associating with the cattle, was building fences.
Something Dad did rather well.
Let me tell you about it.
Building a four-wire barbed wire fence takes many stages.
First, the building of the corners, a sturdy framework of posts and neatly twisted wire, capable of sustaining enormous pull.
Then stringing the wire between the corners. This is a tricky part. As my brother, George can attest.
Then, planting posts in a straight line along the wires.
Note: Hold post from the side 
Accomplished with a 'post pounder' mounted on a tractor. A useful, but potentially dangerous gizmo.
Then tacking said wires to said posts.
This was my job.
All it took was a steady hand.
Or if you lacked that, stamina.
Which was what I had.
If the first whack or two didn't get the staple into the post, the next 14 whacks would.
Moving on . . .
This was at that point most of the fence-builders would pack up their tools and call the job finished.
And where the true artists shone.
Remember, we were talking about my Dad.
Once the fence was actually assembled, Dad would stand back and look at it.
I should point out here that the fields in Southern Alberta are seldom flat. They may not change much, but they do change.
And a fence has to run smoothly along them.
I emphasize the word 'smoothly'.
If a fence goes down into a dip, then up again, the tightly stretched wires can actually, over time, pull the lower posts up out of the ground.
True story.
And that is where Dad came in.
He would walk along the fence, find the places where the line would dip, and weight it.
Really.
He would find a large rock (not uncommon on the prairies), tote it over to the dip, fasten a wire around it firmly, then attach the rock to the fence, pulling the wires down so they followed the ground perfectly.
I had watched him do this so often that, to me, that's just how it was done.
I was wrong.
Once, an elderly rancher from west of us came looking for the county veterinarian.
Who happened to be out building fence.
The man drove up in his rusted old pick-up and stopped near where my Dad and brothers were working.
Climbing out of his truck, he greeted everyone, then stood and watched their activities.
Finally, Dad finished with his current wire and rock creation, and turned to speak to the old man.
Only to find him in tears.
Thinking the man had a real emergency, Dad quickly walked over.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Oh nothing," the old man said, blowing his nose. "It's just that I haven't seen that kind of fence-building in fifty years!"
True artists appreciate true art.

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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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