Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Smoke/Dust Gets in Your . . . Eyes


Okay.
Which is more hazardous to your health?
This?
Two little ten-year-old girls had been given an assignment.
Then left alone to do it.
Mischief happens . . .
My family was raised on a large cattle ranch.
Dealing with cows, and the myriad tasks that followed them, was our daily life.And when our annual sale/production day approached, work increased as not only the cattle, but the entire ranch must be presented in their best light.
My little sister, hereinafter called ‘Anita’, and her friend, Jo-Ellen, had been given the assignment to sweep out the sale barn - a large building built for the sole purpose of exhibiting cattle, one-by-one, to scores of people seated in the bleachers.
Or this?
Said people were then expected to ‘bid’ on said animals.
On sale day, that building was the hub of all activity.
And, incidentally, sale day was the most exciting day of our entire year.
Moving on . . .
These two little girls had already had a busy morning. You have to know that we were a family of firm non-smokers. The only cigarettes and/or other smoking paraphernalia that ever came onto the ranch, came in visitor’s vehicles. These two little girls had spotted a packet of cigars in a prospective buyer’s car.  They had stolen borrowed liberated two cigars from it.
I know. What were they thinking?
And now, in sole possession of the sale barn, they neglected their duties to take turns pretending to be either ‘auctioneer’ or ‘buyer’. The one would take a seat at the high auctioneer’s booth while the other would light her cigar, sit on the bleachers, and ‘bid’.
Anita was the first ‘buyer’. She puffed at her cigar in her best ‘I’ve-watched-them-and-I-know-how-it’s-done’ manner, and nodded at the auctioneer at salient times. Then they switched places and Jo-Ellen assumed the buyer’s duties, cigar and all.
After a while, the two of them decided they had better get to work. Sweeping.
They pushed a load of straw and dirt out into the barnyard.
And that’s when Anita lost what little remained of her breakfast.
Oh, man she was sick.
And then the same thing happened to Jo-Ellen.
The two of them crawled up into the bleachers and sat down. For several minutes, they sat there, wondering what on earth had happened that both of them became so sick so suddenly.
They never did figure it out, though they concluded that it must have something to do with sweeping.
And/or buying/selling.
Either activity was obviously hazardous to one’s health.
Just FYI.
The ring-leader . . .

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Edible Snakes

It'll get you!
I like snakes.
And it's because of my Mom's cooking.
Hmmm. Maybe I'd better explain . . .
I loved to watch my Mom when she was in the kitchen.
I would sit on the cupboard, more or less out of the way.
And follow her movements closely.
She peeled potatoes so fast that I thought every potato had two skins.
I had watched.
Two skins.
Because there was always a skin where she had just peeled.
At other times, she could take her large ceramic bowl and dump in this and that and come out with something delicious.
Every time.
I once told her she was a 'dump cook'.
"I'm a good cook!" she protested.
I tried to explain that that was what I meant, but I don't know if I got through.
But I digress . . .
Sometimes, she would start her trusty Sunbeam mixer.
A sure Diane magnet.
Within seconds, I was standing beside her.
"Mom! Can I have a taste?"
"Honey, it's just butter and sugar."
"But it looks so good!"
"Well, if you want . . ."
Did you know that butter and sugar can actually taste really good?
Well, if dispensed by Mom on a large cake spoon.
But the best of all was when Mom would bake buns.
Or rolls, for anyone who doesn't feel comfortable calling them 'buns'.
She would dump in (see above) bits of this and that and make a large, sticky mass.
Then she would start punching with her hands, adding little bits of flour.
I should point out, here, that if you see a great tub of something powdery and white in Mom's kitchen, icing sugar tastes infinitely better on the end of a wet finger than flour.
Just saying . . .
She would punch and punch until she had her dough to just the right consistency.
And yes, I did know what consistency meant.
For a four-year-old, I was a brainiac.
Mom would pinch off a portion of the larger mass and work it into a long roll, ready to cut into smaller pieces.
Then would come the exciting part.
She would chase me around the kitchen, wiggling this long roll of dough, and saying, "Sssssss!"
That was my cue to run around and shriek loudly.
I was good at it.
The dough snake was going to get me!
The dough snake was going to get me!
Finally, when Mom had had enough, she would set the 'snake' back on the counter and proceed to chop it into bits.
One of which she gave to me.
Snake really tastes delicious.
Remember the part when I said 'brainiac'?
I lied.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Jolted to Attention

Shop class was for learning.
Woodcrafting, metal work, welding, automotive.
These were the things that should occupy the young men’s minds.
Was food mentioned in there anywhere?
No. Because as in the library, in the Fort Macleod high school shop class, food was forbidden.
Did that stop them from trying to sneak food in?
Pfff. These were young men.
The mere fact that they weren’t supposed to, simply made it a challenge.
Some of them were good at it.
Some weren’t.
Monty was in the latter group . . .
The boys had just come in from their ten-minute break between classes.
Monty had bought himself a fudgecicle during said break.
And he wasn’t finished with it yet.
Deftly, sneakily, he ducked down behind one of the workbenches to continue enjoying.
The teacher came in and looked around. “Where’s Monty?” he mouthed silently to the assembled lads.
No one answered, but enough eyes turned toward the boy’s hiding spot that the teacher spotted him easily. He leaned down.
The bench Monty was hiding behind stood up on legs that held it several inches off the floor.
Teacher smiled a slow smile.
Now, I should mention here that this teacher moonlighted in the evenings and on weekends as a rancher.
He drove a pickup truck.
Equipped with the modern conveniences of ranching.
And that truck was parked directly outside the shop-room door.
Silently, he went out, quickly returning with what we ranchers affectionately call a ‘stock prod’.
It is a long, metal stick, filled with batteries, and equipped with two metal prongs on one end. The whole contraption is specifically designed to give a jolt to notoriously thick-skinned cows when working with them in tight spaces.
The boys watched, a little uncertainly, as their teacher carried it in.
A stock prod gives a harmless zap to heavy-hided cattle.
Thin-skinned humans don’t fare as well.
But Teacher didn’t, as they feared, simply jab their chum in the rear.
Nope.
He slid the prod under the bench next to his student and waved it slowly back and forth.
Monty looked down.
Huh. What was that? The rod moved away. Then closer.
And Monty, ever vigilant, grabbed it.
With a yelp, he sprang to his feet, fudgecicle forgotten.
“Monty,” teacher said.
The boy looked at him.
“No eating during shop class.”
Lesson learned.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Orange You Glad to See Her?

Contraband!
Mervin stared at the tell-tale pile of orange peels.
Then, at the  large, strictly-forbidden, freshly-peeled, plump and juicy orange in his hand.
He and his friends could all hear the sound of the approaching librarian.
Their nemesis was only two book stacks away.
Death was certain.
What to do?
What to do . . .?
In Fort Macleod in the early seventies, the new library of the equally-new local high school was under the watchful gaze of Mrs. (Eagle Eyes) Mason.
A crack-a-jack librarian who could, quite literally, spot evil-doing across the room and through twenty stacks of books.
Watching her in action was a thing of beauty . . . erm . . . if one wasn’t the culprit.
Something would trigger her radar.
The glasses would be whipped from her face.
And she would peer, narrow-eyed, around the room – inevitably zeroing in on the virtually invisible culprit.
Call it a gift.
Her cardinal rule?
Never, ever bring food into the library.
Food attracts silver fish. (Google it – I had to . . .)
And silver fish eat books.
And soon, every book would be destroyed.
And children would then grow-up in complete and utter ignorance.
Yes, her rules were simple.
Her logic? Unerring.
Her reach? Vast.
And still, the students tried to, in her words, ‘get away with it’.
Case in point . . . Mervin.
And the telltale orange.
Though he and his friends were literally at the very furthest point from the librarian that the library afforded, the instant he had cracked the outside of his handful of citrus deliciousness, the fragrance had wafted straight to those sensitive nostrils.
The glasses had come off. “Who’s eating an orange in the library?!”
And the footsteps of doom had started.
And drawn ever closer.
Mervin’s friends stared at him.
Mervin stared at the evidence.
Finally, desperately, he shoved the peels in his pocket.
Then, opening his mouth, shoved in the large, juicy orange.
Whole.
I am not making this up.
Not only did he get that entire fruit inside.
He then  . . . closed his mouth.
Just as Mrs. Mason rounded the corner.
“Who here is eating an orange?” she demanded.
His friends had been staring at Mervin in amazement. They turned to the librarian.
There was a chorus of ‘Not me’s!’ From everyone except, of course, Mervin.
Mrs. Mason peered at them suspiciously, then turning, continued her hunt.
The boys looked back at their friend.
Who had spit his orange into his hand and was calmly starting to eat it.
Looking for somewhere to hide things?
A place you know will be safe and secure?
Undetectable?
If you really don’t care of its inevitably moist condition.
Call your big-mouthed friend.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Little Balls of Death

Warning: Use with caution...
“Gramma! Can we make some popcorn?”
Words so innocently uttered.
So casually agreed to . . .
Some of our grandchildren were over for the evening.
A movie was indicated. And what’s a movie without popcorn?
We are a popcorn family. We have a large, ‘theatre’ popper.
Fully capable of keeping up with the masses.
Gramma enjoys making it.
The kids enjoy watching.
Everyone enjoys eating.
It’s a perfect world.
But, sometimes, even perfection has its drawbacks . . .
The machine was in full pop. Kernels sizzling and swelling in the ‘cooker’.
Spilling out in a fluffy, white, delicious tide over the side and into the ‘hopper’.
Then . . . a tiny problem.
The twin lids over the cooker are merely metal flaps. Designed to hold in the hot, rocketing little explosive devices that are popcorn kernels. And to flip up as needed to let the deliciousness out.
One of these flaps got jammed open.
Little molten balls of death were spewing everywhere.
I had quickly ushered the assembled grandkids away.
And was approaching the machine, set on repairing the problem.
And that’s when it got me.
A sneaky little smoking-hot kernel.
And the term, ‘smoking hot’ is, in this case . . . not good.
It hit me above the collarbone, then proceeded to roll into my collar and from there, down under my shirt and into my bra.
Where it stayed as I tried, madly, to reach it.
The dance I performed is classic.
The blisters I have are noteworthy.
After things had calmed down, and noting my woebegone (Ooh! Good word!) expression, Husby decided to cheer me up with a story.
Of someone who had it far worse than me . . .
It was in high school shop class.
Husby and his fellow classmates were being taken, carefully, through the basics of welding.
“Remember, boys,” the teacher said in. “Never, ever, weld over your head!”
Now the consequences of such an action should have been obvious. 
Right
And they were obvious. Except to Monty.
A few days later, he was happily welding.
Directly over his head.
Now I probably don’t have to explain that the temperatures of metal and binding substances used during welding reach temperatures of 1200 (F) degrees. 648.889 (C)
Ummm . . . hot. Really, really hot.
A piece of slag dripped from his project and down the open collar of his shirt.
Where it formed a small ball of death and proceeded to roll - consuming skin, hair and anything else it encountered - down the boy’s body.
Lodging somewhere way too near his groin.
Wrong
Screaming, dancing and frantically shedding clothes, Monty finally retrieved the little purveyor-of-death and spilled it out onto the floor.
While his classmates, teen-aged boys all, laughed at his discomfort.
He and his appendages survived.
Though they sported some rather impressive scars.
Husby was right.
Suddenly my little popcorn kernel took on a whole diminished perspective.
I have seven little blisters.
I’m glad I wasn’t around to count Monty’s.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Something Fishy

Oh, fish, you wet and slip’ry folk,
The butt of every smelly joke,
Of small or monolithic size,
You look so good . . . next to my fries.

And now, the jokes I spoke about,
Through all my grandkids, I did scout.
Some downright finny, some, so-so,
If you find better, let minnow.

A seahorse moves from cave to cave?
He scallops through the billowing wave! 
The Tsar’s favorite fish to eat at court?
Tsardines! They’d serve them by the quart!

A fish of large and ancient mein,
With threat’ning gestures at your spleen,
Makes you an offer you can’t snub?
The Codfather. Oh, that’s the rub!

Where’s the sad and smelly lout,
The octopus that’s down and out?
Well, he’s (Oh, you must be aware),
On Squid Row in a burrow there! 

What’s a fish that has no eyes?
A fsh! That comes as no surprise.
What’s nutella sauce on salmon get?
Why salmonella. Don’t forget!

One more, and then I’ll let you be . . .
There’s two fish swimming in the sea,
Into a wall, they headfirst ram,
One says unto the other, “Dam!”

Each week Delores gives us words,
From thought-provoking to absurd.
There’s lots of us who join the fun,
Now go. And see what they have done!

This week's words: billowing, ancientmonolithicfish, burrow and court

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