Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, December 14, 2013

Cheap But Expensive


Skier Extraordinaire!
We have snow here in Edmonton, Alberta.
A significant amount.
The skiers are ecstatic.
And that reminds me of a story . . .
My siblings and I loved to ski.
Our Dad had introduced us to it the winter I turned eight and it had become a . . . habit.
Well, actually more of a fixation, but we'll go with habit.
We went every chance we could get.
And scoured the catalogs for new and wonderful accessories for our grand passion.
I had just made my first official 'ski' purchase.
New ski pants.
They were expensive.
But gorgeous.
Dark brown.
Perfect fit.
I was going to wow everyone on that hill!
I couldn't do it with my skiing.
This was the next best thing.
I should explain, here, that ski pants in the 60s weren't the stretchable remarkable cloth that we have now.
In fact, they were distinctly . . . un-stretchable.
Something which will figure largely in my story later.
But they had little side zippers at the ankles.
And they had little elastics that slid under your foot.
They were nifty (real word).
Happily, I donned them and my brother and I were off.
Now, I should explain, here, that Big Mountain in Whitefish Montana was a wonderful place to ski.
There were numerous slopes.
Each with its own particular brand of ski tow.
I always chose the expert slope.
Not that I could actually ski the expert slope.
For two other reasons.
  1. It had a ski trail that wound around behind and through the wonderful forest, and
  2. The trail came out at the top of the Intermediate slope, allowing the skier to then ski to the bottom.
  3. Comparatively unharmed.
It was the best of all worlds.
I made my first run to the top of the expert slope.
Disembarked.
Well, slid off the chairlift into a heap.
But to one side, away from the traffic.
An important point.
I got my limbs more-or-less together and headed for the mouth of the trail.
It was stunningly beautiful.
The sun was shining.
There had just been a fresh fall of snow.
Over a foot of sparkling, fluffy whiteness blanketed the landscape.
I took a deep, satisfying breath of the spicy air and slid onto the trail.
For the next 20 minutes, I was in heaven.
Finally, the trail ended.
I slid quickly out onto the slope.
Only to discover that it hadn't yet been touched by . . . anything.
It was still in it's pristine, just-been-snowed-on condition.
It took me a few moments to discover that this could present a problem.
The trail I had been on had been fairly packed.
My skis were still on that level.
They hadn't yet adjusted to the extra foot of fluffy snow.
I was sliding along with everything below my knees hidden in the fresh stuff.
For a second, it was fun.
Then I hit something.
I never discovered what it was.
A rock.
A lump of ice.
Whatever.
It stopped me.
Instantly.
I wasn't prepared.
My body, already bent forward in my best 'snowplow' position, bent further.
In fact, I whacked my forehead on my knees.
Something I wish I could do today.
But I digress . . .
My glasses popped off into the deep snow.
Oh, rats.
I rubbed my head and scrabbled around in the snow, finally, triumphantly extracting my glasses.
Then I straightened.
And felt a draft.
Oh-oh.
Remember what I had said about my ski pants being - not stretchy?
This would be where that fact comes into play.
When my body had done its 'fold-in-half' trick, it proved to be something my new pants had been completely unprepared for.
They split from waistband to waistband, right along the crotch.
I was now effectively wearing two pant legs.
Held up with a narrow strip of cloth at the top.
I definitely needed a longer coat.
Or a loincloth.
And this was the first run of the day.
Sigh.
I made the run down the slope as carefully and unobtrusively as possible, then sneaked to the car and my suitcase.
The change from my new, albeit flimsy, ski pants to my usual jeans was accomplished in a minimum of time and a maximum of scrambling. In the wide rear seat.
I mean the wide rear seat.
Not the wide rear seat.
Never mind . . .
And I was back on the slope.
For the first few runs, I carefully peered at people to see if anyone recognized me as the almost-pantless girl who had been on the slope a short time earlier.
But, as no one seemed to be paying much attention to me, I finally relaxed.
I learned something that day.
Expensive can sometimes mean cheap.
It just costs more.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Walking With Daddy


My Hero
December. My four-year-old mind was a haze
I’d been locked in the house as it snowed for three days.
Then quite suddenly, magically, sunlight appeared,
And my Daddy was pulling on snow boots. And gear.

I just couldn’t stand the house one minute more.
I had to get out. I’d help Dad with the chores!
So I zippered and buttoned and pulled on and tied,
Then stood by my Daddy with little-girl pride.

“I’m ready,” I shouted. “Let’s go milk the cows!”
I was set for adventure, quite done with the house.
He smiled and then, turning, stepped into the snow.
And I walked alongside. It seemed quite apropos.

At first the bright sparkles and crisp winter air
Made our walking, adventure, and senses aware.
But then I discovered as most children do,
That snow, though quite pretty, was hard to get through.

I struggled and grunted, broke into a sweat,
Then looked for the barn that we hadn’t reached yet.
My Daddy smiled down at my efforts inept,
“It’d be easier if you tried to step where I step.”

So I did. And my progress was much better then,
Soon we two reached the barn, and the cozy cow pens.
I sat perched on a stool and watched Daddy do chores,
Then followed him home, just like I’d done before.

I learned something that day, as we walked through the yard,
If I stayed in his footsteps, then things weren’t as hard.
His skill and experience, and his guidance, too,
Would make everything easier my whole life through.

Now, to my own kids, when there’s woe to be had
I give bits of advice that I learned from my Dad.
When Life dishes out dollops of good or of ill,
I find that I’m walking in Dad’s footsteps still.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Night Before Christmas - Female Version

On the night before Christmas, long hours ahead
The toddler still up, I’d just got her to bed.
The stockings were hung in a haphazard row,
While Mama assembled new toys just below.

The kids were asleep, well, except for the last,
Just waiting for morning to get downstairs fast.
I toiled on alone, ‘cause there wasn’t a dad.
I had broken a nail and my language was bad.

Then out on the lawn rose a terrible noise,
A talent that only my oldest employs.
I flew to the window, and thought as I ran,
‘What can he be up to, my nine-year-old man?’

It was bright (as can only the moon on snow be),
And I narrowed my eyes to be able to see.
And what did I glimpse, coming over the way?
But some deer, all in harness, and a stout little sleigh.

With someone in a coat that looked comfy and soft,
And clearly some magic to keep them aloft.
They flew like a Michael Schumacher on course,
While the driver attempted some will to enforce.

"Now Sprinter! Now, Jazz! Now, Frolic and Jolly!
On, Cherub! On, Angel! On, Kitten and Wally!
I need you to get to the rooftop this time!
And a fine, gentle landing would be so sublime!"

To say that they flew like some leaves past the attic,
Would be perfectly true, it was quite that erratic.
I was holding my breath as they shot toward the sky,
And prayed that my windows and roof would survive.

Then finally, thankfully, up on the top
I heard stomping and - oh, dear - at least one small ‘plop’!
Then some noise in the chimney I’d not heard before,
And then someone emerged, on their knees, on the floor.

The figure was dressed in a warm, sooty coat,
With some Uggs on their feet and scarf round their throat.
With toys, books and clothes in a gi-normous sack,
Which they dropped to the floor with the words, “Oh, my back!”.

And then sparkling eyes were directed at me!
From under a hat that was worn with esprit.
I surprisingly saw, not a man, but a miss,
With no  beard (though a tweezer would not go amiss).

In white teeth, she had clutched a short pencil end,
And a notebook, she held in one mittened hand.
Her round, wrinkled face shone with laughter and fun,
And I don’t think her happy laugh could be outdone!

She was joyful and glad, and just a bit plump,
Her smile made me smile, and her laugh made me jump!
She gave me a grin and then winked an eye,
All my fears passed away and I waved them goodbye.

She didn’t say much, simply nodded my way,
And I watched as she worked – like a pudgy ballet.
She finished her job, made a note in her book,
Then nodded and smiled and her exit she took!

I heard her footsteps as she ran to her sleigh,
Heard her call to her team as they all flew away.
Then my new Goddess shouted, as she flew o’er the town,
"Happy Christmas to all, don’t let life get you down!"

Delores of Under the Porch Light has done it again. 
This week's challenge: Sparkling, pudgy, goddess, surprising, wrinkledtalent
What else could it be but another poem?!
Thank you, dear friend! This is so much fun!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pocket Shopping

I was five.
Going Christmas shopping with my Mom in the great city of Lethbridge.
And it was the most exciting time ever.
Almost . . .
First, there was the anticipation.
Heightened by each of the long seventy miles from the ranch.
And by older brothers and sister who were talking about all of the exciting stores we would visit and the amazing/stupendous/astounding things they would buy.
Then, there was the first spotting of the crèche, a sure sign Lethbridge was just around the corner.
And, finally, the Christmas lights.
I think the car window was permanently marked by my nose pressed against the glass.
True story.
Mom carefully navigated the crowded streets and found a parking space.
And everyone piled happily from the car.
All right so far.
My older siblings immediately separated and disappeared into the seething masses that churned up the snow on the sidewalks.
I stood, frozen beside my Mom, and stared.
In the anticipation of ‘Christmas Shopping’, I hadn't anticipated this part.
The sheer number of people.
Let’s face it. I lived on a ranch waaay out in the country.
Population less-than-twenty.
For a big-eyed five-year-old, this was like being on the set of a Cecil B. DeMille movie.
With no Cecil B. DeMille.
Mom picked up my baby brother, then turned back to me.
“Okay, Diane,” she said. “Now you hang onto my pocket.”
I immediately (and gratefully) reached for the large pocket of her thick, wool car coat.
And did what I was told.
In point of fact, I don’t think anything could have loosened my grip from that warm, comforting strip of fabric.
There may be crowds around. Big, scary, unknown people intent on their own errands, but I had hold of my Mom’s pocket. And by transference, my Mom.
Nothing could harm me.
Moving ahead several years . . .
I was Christmas shopping with my kids. The older three had disappeared on their own missions.
The younger three were with me.
I was holding my four-year-old’s hand and walking down the crowded mall.
Suddenly, I felt a tug on my coat.
My six-year old had grabbed my pocket.
I smiled as the memories flooded in.
I know she felt instantly safer.
And so did I.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Getting Benched

First of many.
Husby likes to build things.
And he’s good at it.
Tables, birdcages, pirate ships, houses.
He’s done them all.
And more.
I didn't realize, when I married him, that I was getting this added bonus.
But I’m very grateful for it.
Let me tell you about his first project . . .
He had bought me a vacuum.
A nice, new vacuum.
Which, because I’m a neat freak, I kept in its cardboard box.
Don’t ask.
Said box soon became . . . tattered.
Husby decided he would do something about it.
And take care of that year’s Christmas present at the same time.
He’s efficient like that.
Moving on . . .
We were spending the holiday with my parents.
Husby squirreled himself away in my father’s shop for several evenings working on my ‘top secret’ gift.
I knew only that a couple of sheets of ¾ inch mahogany plywood had gone into the shop with him.
And a  paper bag or two of stuff.
There was much sawing and pounding and assorted other creative sounds.
Then . . . Christmas morning.
The living room of my parent’s home had been transformed.
I took our (then) two sons into the room, sat down, put the baby on the floor and exclaimed with my two-year-old about the amazing sight of tree, lights and presents.
Gifts began to be distributed.
I helped both boys with the glorious task of unwrapping.
We were bent over, admiring the tractor Oldest Son had just received.
When I realized that I was sitting on something I had never seen before.
A beautiful, leather-topped bench. Carefully crafted and meticulously decorated.
“Oh,” I said. Okay, clever/original/observant, I’m not. I got to my feet and looked down at the piece of furniture I had been perched happily on for the past fifteen minutes. “Oh!” I said again.
I looked over at Husby, who was grinning widely. “Umm, Merry Christmas!” he said.
“Oh!” I said a third time.
Yeah. I’m pretty much hopeless.
But in my defense . . . okay, I have no defense.
It was/is a beautiful gift.
The first of many.
This is its 35th Christmas.
It’s battered and well-used.
Has gone from storing my vacuum to storing assorted children's toys.
Presently, it is the repository for all foam pirate swords.
Ahem . . .
And is still very much appreciated.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas on the Stage


I’m sure it was a normal, every-year, run-of-the-mill Christmas.
Everywhere but at the Tolley home.
Maybe I should explain . . .
My Husby and I have six children.
Six.
Originally, we were going for a baseball team, but we ran out of steam somewhere around short stop.
Sooo . . . six kids. Ages five to seventeen.
It was Christmas time and we had to do something with them.
What if we put them all on the stage? Had our own theatre company?
Well, it made sense to us.
Moving on . . .
For that one magical Christmas, we had just that.
The Tolley Troubadours. Specializing in Dinner Theatre Who-done-its.
Our most famous play? The Demise of Santa Claus?
Okay, Broadway, we weren’t. But we sure had fun.
The players:
The Grinch. Our Seventeen-year-old. Self-proclaimed hater of Santa Claus and everything he stood for. And possessor of many and varied instruments of death and destruction whose sole purpose was the final end of the aforementioned and hapless Claus.
Scrooge. Our sixteen-year-old. Hater of everyone equally. And not above threatening anyone who interfered with him (i.e. tried to engage him in conversation. Or smiled/looked at him.)
Alfie the Elf. Our thirteen-year-old. Mobile-mouthed purveyor of all things ‘cookie’. Not averse to a little bribery when the mood took him.
Mrs. Claus. Our eleven-year-old. Heavily made up, padded and hunched over model of sweetness and light. Until someone questioned her honesty. Then watch the rolling pin come out.
Angel Sweetface. Our eight-year-old. Wealthy, angelic example of life lived well. A little too well. Heaven forbid that anything should interfere with her rather skewed view of the world.
Elfie the Elf. Our five-year-old. Son of Alfie. And mute. Until moments of stress/surprise/revelation when he became remarkably conversant and effusive. Strange.
Inspector Clueso. My Husby. Bumbling, inept investigator of all things mysterious. Namely every person on the playbill.
Bambi. Me. Feather-brained mistress of ceremonies. Woefully type-cast.
And there it is. The line up.
Before, during and after a good dinner, based on the clues gleaned from presented scenes, the guests had to figure out who ‘done it’.
Most guessed a Tolley.
Surprisingly, they were right.
Just not right enough.
It was hard to figure out who had the most fun.
The guests.
Or the players.
Yep. The best of Christmases.

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Not too particular about quality and/or expertise?
I have someone I can recommend . . .

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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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