Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, January 11, 2014

Putting Out the Fireman

See? Easy.
Our third son, Duff, works with Special Needs adults.
An exhausting, trying, patience-testing, infinitely rewarding sort of job.
Which entails certain daily routines in and around the home and community.
As well as occasional forays into uncharted waters . . .
As part of their ongoing safety training, Duff and his clients were at a local fire station, receiving instruction in the dousing of a fire.
The obliging firemen had a controlled, but fair-sized fire going.
And each of the observers were given the . . . opportunity . . . to take one of a selection of fire extinguishers and actually use it to put out the fire.
All had gone well.
Even Duff’s clients had taken a hand at pointing and shooting.
And dousing.
It was finally Duff’s turn. The very last of the spectators.
He listened to the instructor’s careful instructions, nodded, gripped the handle of the extinguisher, and squeezed.
There was a slight ‘snap’ as the triggering mechanism broke, turning the stream of fire-retardant powder on full.
They were standing in the rain, it being Vancouver Island, and the nozzle was rain-slick.
The unexpected pressure caused it to slip from Duff’s hand.
The hose flipped around like something gone mad, spraying, first him, then his instructor with thick, white powder.
Duff got off easy. He was white from his mouth down.
But his instructor took the blast full in the face.
Full. In. The. Face.
It was like a scene out of a Laurel and Hardy film. (Google it . . .)
His coworkers, while trying to suppress their snickers, asked if he was all right.
“Yeah,” he said. “I managed to close my eyes.” He turned slowly and, blindly, made his way to the eye-washing station.
Duff, meanwhile, managed to recapture the errant hose and gradually force the valve shut.
The stream of white powder slowed. Then stopped.
Everyone surveyed the mess.
The entire area was heavily coated in white powder.
And the fire was still burning.
I don’t want you to think that anyone Duff works with is in any danger.
He can certainly handle any emergency that arises.
He also supplies the entertainment.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Fatherhood

I think he did just fine!
Many men take a very active role in child-rearing in this modern day.
There are baby-change-stations in public mens’ rooms.
And I’ve even seen a ‘Father’s Room’, complete with rocking chairs, for feeding and caring for babies and children.
It’s a good thing.
When I was growing up, it was not so.
Men were not only not encouraged to take part in the care of children.
At times, they were actually discouraged.
My dad started child-raising in the 40s. I don’t think he changed a diaper in his whole life.
Husby started fatherhood in the late 70s. He changed plenty.
And my sons rearing children in the present day? Even more.
But it’s not really the diaper-changing that I’m talking about. It’s what it represents.
A chance to take a more active role, and be closer to, their children.
My dad has observed this shift in the parenting paradigm.
With regret.
Let me tell you about it . . .
In the earlier days of our marriage, Husby and I lived in a small home that he had built. A very small home. 306 square feet.
Cozy.
In that tiny space, we still managed all of the amenities. I had my washer and drier. And even my dishwasher.
There was a miniscule front room, carpeted with tacked-down rug samples from our local carpet store.
Luxury.
One day, my dad stopped by for a chat.
I happily sat down with him in the front room.
There, between us on an otherwise tidy floor, lay a broom.
Two things stand out in the aforementioned (Oooh, good word!) statement. One, that the room was tidy. Weird. And two, that there was a broom in the middle of the carpeted floor.
But I digress . . .
Dad noticed the broom. “Um, Diane,” he said. “Why do you have a broom in the middle of your carpeted front room floor?”
I looked at it. “Oh.” Then, “Erik!”
My two-year-old bounced into the room.
“Your steed!” I said.
Erik grinned and, picking up the broom, he straddled it and ‘rode’ it out of the room.
Then I turned back to Dad.
He was shaking his head and had tears in his eyes.
“Dad! What’s wrong?”
“I never enjoyed you kids when you were little,” he said. “Never spent enough time with you. I should have.”
Dad was a product of his time. A time when men weren’t expected to take that more proactive role.
It’s a great pity.
P.S. Dad has made up for his perceived lack of involvement with his own kids by being very proactive in his grandkids’. 
It’s a beautiful thing.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Adventure . . . umm . . . Calling?


Sometime, I’d like to take a trip,
To parts mysterious and deep,
‘Cross vast and strange new lands, I’d skip,
While tooling in my trusty jeep.

Taking everything in stride,
No mayhem, monsters, storms or signs
Would startle me or turn the tide,
From exploration I’d designed.

I’d walk on lands both near and far,
And check out strains indigenous,
No fears or qualms of things bizarre.
No misgivings to discuss.

I’d leave my plastic world behind,
And print my own exciting map,
Feeling free and unconfined,
Adventures falling in my lap.

I’d learn the jargon: trudge, poop deck,
Adventure, survey, navigate,
Tramp, spelunk and cruise and trek,
Ramble, hike, triangulate.

I’d do all this, and without fear,
Though something dims my zeal somewhat,
To see those worlds both far and near,
I’d have to get up off my butt.

P.S. This poem is courtesy of Delores' Wednesday Word challenge.
Oh, Delores! My Delores! What fun you give to everyone!
This week's words: 
printmayhemindigenousplasticjeeptriangle.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Putting Them Off

See the guy in the background? That's Dad. Entertaining the troops.
Foreground, the troops. 
My Father-In-Law (hereinafter known as ‘Dad’) was a farmer.
A good farmer. In over fifty years of dry land farming, he only failed to bring in a crop once.
And that was during a great drought year, when no one brought in anything.
He was careful and meticulous.
Smart and efficient.
And had a great sense of humour.
One that wasn’t always appreciated by the next generation . . .
The drive from Fort Macleod to the largest nearby city, Lethbridge, was a distance of about thirty miles.
Not a great distance, but an uneventful, rather boring, ride.
At least it was for the boys who had tagged along.
Halfway between the two destinations was the small hamlet of Monarch.
And there, at the side of the road in Monarch, was a gas station.
With a pop machine.
On really good days . . . really, really good days . . . Dad would pull in to the station and purchase – at the great price of seven cents – a bottle of pop for each of the boys.
Would it be a great surprise if I mentioned that said boys wanted every trip to Lethbridge to be a really good day? And end with a stop for pop?
Probably not.
On the days when the gas station appeared . . . and then disappeared just as quickly, a small head would bob up from the back seat. “Da-ad! I wanted a pop!”
To which Dad would reply, “The well at home is brimming with pop!”
At first, this stumped the boys. Their well had pop? How had they missed that?!
Then they realized that he was simply ‘putting them off’.
“Da-ad! The well’s full of water!!!”
Sigh.
Dad was also known for his store of treats. Something saved for a rainy day.
And called, interestingly enough, ‘Rainy Days’ (told here.).
Usually when his kids clamoured for a treat, he could slip into his bedroom and come out with a bag of candies. Or chocolates. Or, on a good day, licorice.
But sometimes, he would be caught somewhere other than home, without a treat in the landscape.
On those occasions, he improvised.
Picking up a small rock, he would hand it to whichever kid was making the most noise and say, “Here, suck on this. The flavour will come.”
My Husby hasn’t told me how many times Dad did this.
Dozens.
And the kids actually tried.
At least once.
Each.
Putting off kids.
Some Dads just have it.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Bubble Solution

I spent part of my Sunday helping in the Nursery at our church.
It was an experience.
Twenty little kids, ages 1 ½ to 3 years.
What do you call a group of toddlers?
A tantrum of toddlers?
A teeter?
Tumble?
It would be worth exploring.
I know what you call a group of parents/grandparents who have spent the ensuing two hours with the little cretins. A tired.
But I digress . . .
This little group of boys and girls had been playing happily.
Reading books. (I use this term lightly.)
Running.
Playing with puzzles. (Again used lightly.)
Running.
Throwing balls and other toys at each other.
Running.
‘Cooking’ such gourmet specialties as . . . trucks. Shoes. At least one book. And two of the puzzle pieces we had been hunting for for over twenty minutes.
Playing with dollies.
Fighting/tug-o-warring with said dollies.
Crying when dollies were put away in a safe place and other toys introduced.
Running.
Falling off the slide.
Devouring snacks.
Devouring their neighbour’s snacks.
Running.
Before you think any of them were in any real danger, let me disabuse you.
No one was in any real danger.
There were few tears (mostly at losing their tug-o-war prop) and no injuries.
But I discovered something.
See?
When a group of toddlers is running madly and the room is started to resemble the streets of Edmonton after the Stanley Cup, all one has to do is turn on the bubble machine.
It’s true. I watched it happen.
The bubbles instantly attracted (and held) the entire group of toddlers.
They (the bubbles, I mean) floated gently into the air and every child in the room stopped what they were doing and exclaimed, as one, “Oooooh!” Then they ran to the blanket/blotter beside the machine and jumped and hopped, trying to catch the little, dripping, glistening balls of wonder and amazement.
It was incredible. Magical.
Quiet.
I’m getting a machine like that!

P.S. I wonder if this would work on the mobs that form after sporting events or political rallies? It's worth thinking about . . . 
Who's with me?!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Thanks, Mom

Today, January 6, would be my Mom’s 90th birthday.
Wow. 90.
Missing her today . . .
Mom

It’s odd, but when I think of my mom, what comes to mind the most are stories of her and food.
Mom was a terrific cook.
Maybe not so odd after all . . .
Anecdote One:
We were eating pot roast, one of Mom’s specialties.
I should probably point out, here, that when roast beef was served on the beef-raising Stringam ranch, the only condiments permitted were the drippings it was cooked with, gravy made from said drippings, or the Lea and Perrins or Worchestershire Sauces.
Ketchup was . . . frowned upon.
Thus, on the table flanking the platter of sliced meat always sat a gravy boat and two bottles.
If one wanted anything else, one had to get it oneself.
And then endure Dad’s disgusted stare while one used it.
Ahem.
Moving on . . .
Mom had filled her plate and was preparing to dig in.
She looked up. “Would someone please pass me the Pea and Larens?”
Okay, I’m sure you’ve mixed up letters before.
I know I have.
But to six small-minded little kids, asking for something that began with ‘Pee’ was beyond funny.
We laughed about it for the rest of the meal.
And still refer to Lea and Perrins as Pea and Larens. Yes. We’re just disgusting that way.
Anecdote Two:
Mom loved to cook with onions.
Dad hated onions.
He was tactful about it though. He simply said they ‘didn’t agree with him’.
His attitude wafted through the family.
My younger brother, in particular developed an aversion to them.
But Mom insisted that they were needed for flavour.
She chopped them as small as she could, trying to get them under the radar.
With mixed results.
We were eating bowls of Mom’s rich stew.
Chunks of tender meat.
Potatoes, carrots, peas and other vegetables in a tasty gravy.
Mmmm.
My brother lifted a spoonful. “Hey!” he said. “There’s an onion here!”
Mom, without batting an eye said, “That’s not an onion! That’s a celery!”
“Oh,” my brother said. He frowned suspiciously for a moment.
Then ate it.
Score one for my Mom.
Now, years after she’s gone, whenever I ask for something disgusting to put on my roast beef, or when I chop 'celery' to add to something simmering on the stove, I think of her.
Thanks, Mom.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cleaning Up Our Language

Probe, (n): a parlor game introduced in the 1960s by Parker Brothers. It is reminiscent of the simple two-person game Hangman, whose object is to guess a word chosen by another player by revealing specific letters. Probe extends the number of players to a maximum of four and introduces additional game elements that increase the levels of both skill and chance. Like Hangman, each player has a secret chosen word. But unlike Hangman, the game ends when the last word, not the first word, is revealed. All players remain in the game until the end.

Enough background . . .
My Father-In-Law, Ray (hereinafter known as Dad), loved games. But one of his favourites was the game of Probe. He loved the challenge of guessing his fellow players’ words.
And he really loved the challenge of coming up with nasty, horrible, very, very difficult words.
Particularly words containing letter such as ‘Z’ or ‘X’ or ‘Q’ or ‘K’.
Or multiples of the same.
Sneaky devil . . .
Dad loved this part of the game so much that he kept a list of words he encountered.
I am not making this up.
In his breast pocket, he kept a list of words he had read or heard that would surely stump his opponents in future games of Probe.
Such words as: acquire (a ‘c’ and a ‘q’? Come on!!!). Galax (wha . . .?). Abuzz (took us a while with that one!). Katharometer (okay, now you’re just making stuff up . . .).
Ugh.
So while I was composing such stumpers as rhododendron, he was crafting masterpieces like: xenophobia. Now how do you compete with that?
It got so that, when any of us sat down to play the game with him, we’d see that list come out, and hear the distant drums that signalled our impending doom.
Sigh.
But my Mother-In-Law beat him.
Okay, I don’t mean actually ‘beat’ him, although there were times (Particularly when he dipped into that pocket and emerged with that list) . . .
No. I mean that she fixed him and his little list of stinkers for good.
And she wasn’t even playing the game.
How? You ask as you prepare to play your own game and are looking for an edge . . .
Simple. She waited for laundry day and washed his list.
When he complained long and loud about her actions, she snickered and said, “Well, they were dirty words. I just had to clean them up!”
Of course she claimed forevermore that it really was an accident. And that she’d never actually meant to do it.
But we knew.
She was simply getting payback for trying to guess such posers as: zomotherapy. And: quadriform.
Yep. We knew.
Genius.

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