Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

Daughter of Ishmael

by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Art of Blurting

Word master. 

I know you’ve done it.

I know I have.
Blurted out something that sounded a whole lot different in your head.
It’s true.
Your brain coughs up a thought.
And hits ‘send’.
Then, somehow, during transition, it gets . . . mixed up.
Maybe exposure to the air changes it.
And it ends up sounding like . . . nothing you intended.
My mom was a master at this.
Example one:
Picture Christmas Eve.
Every available surface in the kitchen groaning beneath seven layers of freshly-baked Christmas delicious-ness.
No supper in sight.
A starving son-in-law, passing the piles of goodies.
Hunger overcomes discretion.
He pops a butter tart into his mouth.
Mom, emerging from the point of action in front of the oven, red-faced and carrying yet another pan of treats, “Don’t eat that! It’s for Christmas!”
Example two:
Mom brings home the good peanut better.
Not the cheap stuff which comes in a tin, allowing all of the oil to rise to the top so that the upper layers are too creamy and the bottom layers need to be chiseled from the container with a hammer then passed through the meat grinder to make them of a consistency to spread.
Which tin, I should mention, is still on the shelf gathering dust.
Sooo . . . the good peanut butter.
Which is immediately set upon by the ‘finickily-starved’ (I just made that up) peanut butter fiends that inhabit the house.
“I’m going to stop buying that peanut butter. You kids just eat it!”
Mom taught her daughters well.
I, too have had my share of ‘things-said-that-didn’t-come-out-just-right’.
We were discussing a young man of our acquaintance who had been born with weak joints in his hips.
My mother-in-law was cautioning my kids not to jump off the retaining wall in her back garden, citing this young man as an example of ‘damage that could follow’.
I knew that his condition was genetic.
Or congenital.
Which mean the same thing.
What came out was, “Oh, but I thought his condition was genital!”
Wait. Everybody un-hear that!
Just let me suck those words back into my mouth!
Admit it.
It’s happened to you . . .

Friday, June 20, 2014

Lunchtime!

When one lives in the country, and rides the bus to school, one learns to take lunch.
I did.
Live in the country, take the bus and pack a lunch, I mean.
Lunch time was the high point of my school day.
The bell would ring.
The scramble for our various lunch boxes would be completed.
The inevitable question, "Whatd'ja get?" would be asked.
And serious eating would begin.
My Mom took extra pains to make our lunches varied and delicious.
With mixed results.
There was always the sandwich.
Which was the mainstay of ninety pecent of our lunches.
Thick slices of homemade bread containing one of the following:
Tinned tuna salad. Yum.
Chicken Salad. Yum.
Ground Beef and pickle. Yum.
Peanut butter and honey. Double yum, as long as peanut butter had been liberally smeared on both slices of bread before the honey was added, because otherwise, the honey seeped into the bread and made a sort of . . . crust.
Not yum.
Peanut butter and jam. Easily exchanged for my neighbour's cold hamburger patty and mayo stuffed into a homemade bun. Yum.
Tinned salmon salad. Not in my lifetime. And not easily traded, either.
Sigh.
Hot dogs. The best. The very best.
I should mention, here, that microwaves existed only on Star Trek and pre-packaged meals, like Lunchables, hadn't even been thought of.
Mom's hot dogs were an amazing feat.
She would cook the hot dogs while we were eating breakfast, then put two of them into our thermoses with a small quantity of the hot water.
Then seal it up.
Add a couple of hot dog buns wrapped in waxed paper, and a packet or two of ketsup and mustard and lunchtime couldn't come fast enough.
She always included some extras as well.
There was the inevitable sadly-bruised banana.
Which had looked perfectly good when it was put in.
Or the un-eat-able apple.
I've decided that the idea of gifting a teacher with an apple came from a student who simply didn't want to eat theirs. And had been taught that wasting food was unacceptable.
But I digress . . .
Mom also included a treat.
Usually something homemade and yummy.
Like squares.
Or her famous butterhorns.
Mmmm . . .
Occasionally, she would change things up a little.
When my thermos wasn't filled with hot dog deliciousness, she would usually put in chocolate milk or hot chocolate.
Either of which just nicely rounded out a lovely lunch.
Once, she put in something different.
But didn't tell me.
I saw the sandwiches, so I knew that hot dogs were out of the question.
So I did what I always did. Grabbed my thermos and shook up what was supposed to be milk and chocolate in some form.
Then I unscrewed the lid.
Pop!
It hit the ceiling hard enough to bounce clear over to the door.
And brought students from every room down the hall to see who was opening champaign in the grade nine classroom.
I looked up from my fizzing-over thermos and grinned.
Sheepishly.
Umm . . . Mom had filled it with Seven-Up.
The first and only time.
Another attempt at variety.
A good one, but wasted on me.
Alas.
Later, when I started making my own lunches, they included fresh tomato sandwiches.
Made from tomatoes that I sliced at school so the bread wouldn't get soggy.
And packages of celephane-wrapped goodies.
The sandwiches were good.
Though they were made with store-bought bread.
But the treats never quite measured up.
To this day, when I hear someone mention lunch, I think of my Mom's homemade bread sandwiches, home-baked goodies, hot chocolate and my one experience with Seven-Up.
I miss those days.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Way Past Speeding

I'm quite sure this flashed past.
And I do mean flashed.
We teenagers in Milk River lived an hour from the bright lights of Lethbridge.
Let me start again.
Everybody in Milk River lived an hour from Lethbridge.
The teenagers . . . a little less.
Maybe I should explain . . .
It was Friday night.
The only theatre in Milk River was showing something that none of my group was interested in seeing.
It happened occasionally.
Now that we were old enough to legally drive, we were becoming less and less enamoured with what our small town offered and more and more interested in what we could find in the big city.
Twice as many choices for movie-watching, for example.
The only problem on this particular evening was our timing.
We had decided, en masse, that the movie we were all assembled to see was far less interesting than one of the choices currently running in Lethbridge.
And we had decided this while we were standing on the sidewalk, waiting to get in.
Half an hour before either movie was set to start.
Could we make it?
Our driver of the evening gave a nonchalant shrug of shoulder and a flippant toss of head. “Of course!”
That was all we needed.
We, ten of us, piled – and I do mean piled – into his car. Four in front. Six in back.
Seatbelts hadn’t been invented yet.
And we were off.
We cleared the town limits, then our driver ‘buried the needle’.
And that’s when the reality of the situation hit me.
What we were doing went beyond speeding.
I’m quite sure we were flying.
At one point, I think we passed Mercury.
I should probably point out, here, that I don’t like travelling at high speeds. In fact, horse and cart is my usual form of transportation. And let’s face it, Old Bessy really wouldn’t make much of a showing on the Indianapolis circuit.
Back to my story . . .
I was so terrified that I spent the entire trip flat on my stomach on the shadowed back floor under everyone’s feet. It was the safest place I could think of.
Once I poked my head above the seat and stared in awe at the needle.
Which was flat against the little pike at the bottom of the speedometer.
How do you say ‘yikes’?
Oh, right.
Yikes.
We made it safely.
In twenty-four minutes.
The only casualty was my equilibrium.
I don’t even remember what the movie was.
Can anyone say ‘irony’? We took our lives in our hands for a movie that none of us can even remember. The very essence of being a teenager.
But if any of my kids try this . . .

Each Wednesday, Delores of Under the Porch Light fame issues a six-word challenge.
"Use these, my minions! Bwahahahaha!"
Okay, it's not quite like that. She much more refined than I am . . .
I have been playing catch-up.
Yesterday's post was last week's words.
Here are this week's.
mercuryessenceflippantspeedingnonchalant and shadowed
We love you, Delores!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pure Fiction

Clara studied her only daughter’s face.
Emma was lit up from the inside, delicate features a dynamic play of barely-contained emotion. It was like watching a still pool of pure, clear water breaking into soft ripples of movement. Unconstrained and uncontainable. Like the only thing keeping her together was her rose-tinted skin.
Her girl was in love.
Clara’s eyes turned to the young man seated at her daughter’s right. This stiff and stalwart-looking individual with his mortician’s hands and his thin, aesthetic face. Could her daughter – hers and Reggie’s – possibly have made this colossal a . . . mistake?
She turned toward the stage, where Reggie and his troupe were just finishing up their 9:00 set. What would her husband’s reaction be? Would he treat this proposed addition to their little family with courtesy? Or, more probably, would he rear back at the unintentioned insult and explode in artistically unsuppressed emotion. Then drag what could have been their future son-in-law out to the blacktop and toss him into the first available taxi bound for Timbuktu?
She sighed again as her daughter chattered endlessly, ceaselessly, enthusiastically on. Should she say something? Try to turn this particular ship before it hit the great reef looming before them? Should she interfere?
She tuned in to what Emma was saying. “. . . and I was so excited when I met Alphonse.” She linked hands with the sober young man beside her. “He loves jazz! Why he listens to it every day in the mortuary! He is exactly what Daddy told me to look for in a husband!”
Clara put out a hand and touched her daughter’s shoulder gently. “Oh, honey,” she said. She glanced down at the musicians on the stage. Heard the smooth, perfect notes of ‘Take Five’ pouring from Reggie’s Sax and sighed. Then she turned back to her daughter. “Honey, what your father told you to bring home was a Jazz MUSICIAN!”

Every week, Delores of Under the Porch Light doles out a challenge.
Six words. Use them. 
These are last week's words because I'm just that far behind.
insultedblacktopmortician, jazzdynamicinterfere      
Drop by and see what the others of her faithful band of misfits have come up with . . .                                            

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Banana Politics

I've been reading about the politics being played out in some organizations in the modern world.
Even churches have their internal power struggles and vying for position.
It reminds me of our church suppers.
Maybe I should explain . . .
In the sixties, we had Church Socials.
Big pot luck dinners.
For any and all occasions.
Christmas.
Easter.
New Years.
Fall.
Thursday.
They were fun.
Everyone would show up with their large families and a huge dish – or dishes - of something delicious to share.
The food would be arranged on a long series of tables. Everyone would load a plate. And the visiting would begin.
Good food.
Good friends.
It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon or evening.
Invariably, there would be someone’s Grandma’s recipe for home-fried chicken.
And many, many incarnations of potato/meat casseroles.
Salads by the creative and colourful dozens.
Home-made rolls just begging for a large dollop of freshly churned butter.
And desserts of enough variety and inevitable tastiness, to make decision-making difficult to impossible.
But there was one draw back.
As with all pot lucks, the first in line got the most choices.
Made quickly to avoid ‘pot luck crush’. 
What is ‘Pot Luck Crush’? Imagine a river, dammed by a small obstruction. Pressure builds. Finally, the obstruction is yelled at by some starving individual and threatened with oblivion.
Pot Luck Crush.
My cousin, Reed was usually the first in line.
He had made an art of choosing – and heaping - quickly.
His favourites were the salads.
I should mention here, that two of the most popular salad dishes were the green jello salad.
With shredded carrots.
And the yellow jello salad.
With sliced bananas.
The carrots in the carrot salad tended to be suspended throughout.
The bananas, however, inevitably rose to the top.
And that’s where Reed came in. He could deftly and expertly – and quickly - scrape the entire layer of bananas from the salad.
Then move happily on to the rest of the offered dishes.
His actions weren’t popular. Usually, from further back in the line, there would be a howl of protest.
Reed would just grin. The you-should-have-tried-harder-to-be-first-in-line grin.
The rest of the assembly would be stuck with banana-less salad.
Or what amounted to plain lemon jello.
But the sheer volume of other dishes soon silenced any further protest.
And before long, everyone was happily munching.
Until the next time.
When Reed would again slip deftly and expertly to the front of the line.
Yes. Even in the sixties, we had church politics.
The difference was that they were fought over bananas.
Hmm . . . 
Maybe not so different after all.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Virtual Blog Tour

I'll warn you, I'm battling a nasty flu bug. What follows may not make sense.
But that's never stopped me before . . .
Karen and Wendy of After the Kids Leave have nominated me as one of their favourite blogs!
Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
And have asked me to participate in a blog tour of . . . blogs.
This includes telling you a bit about myself and my writing and then directing you toward some blogs that I really, really enjoy.
This can only be fun . . .

1. What are you working on?
Besides my daily blog of memories and reminiscences, which I ADORE, I'm just putting the finishing edits on the third novel I've written since January. My first murder mystery. So far, one of my beta readers (actually, the only one who has reported back) loved it. To me, that translates as 100% approval. Right?

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?
There aren't many in the blogosphere who grew up on a ranch. In the fifties. And lived to tell the tale. Enough said.

3. Why do you write/create what you do?
I loved my life growing up. And I have to tell these stories and get them out of my head. Or said head will explode. And that's just icky. From any angle.

4. How does your writing/creating process work?
I will hear something that triggers a memory. A story. A phrase. A song. A smell. And I have to write. I have to! Think of it as everything boiling up at once and spilling out onto the paper. Like the cream soup I was making for dinner last night. (Ooh . . . and now I have a topic for my next blog . . .) Happily, words in print are a little easier to clean up. 

And now some of my favourite bloggers - and you have to know that it was tough limiting this list:

Pearl has the most refreshing look on life I have ever seen. Did you know that daily commutes/cubicle jobs can be hilarious. And fascinating? That cats have this whole secret life we humans can only guess at? (But as long as the car is returned with a full tank of gas, and the police and/or official visits are kept to a minimum, we don't ask too many questions about.) That pants . . . Never mind. I'll leave you to find your way there. You'll love the visit!

Rena McDaniel of Diary of an Alzheimer's Caregiver
For so many reasons, I love Rena! Her insight, patience, generosity and just simple good humour are inspiring as she deals with health issues of her own as well as caring for her mother through the difficult mine field that is Alzheimers. Let Rena inspire your day like she does mine!

Carol Cassara of Carol Cassara
Carol is the person I want to be. Intelligent, insightful, and just downright interesting. From book reviews to her explorations of life and life hereafter,  her journeys are always well-written and deeply thought-provoking. When I grow up, I want to be her!

Karen at Karen Baking in a Tornado
Who doesn't love a good story? And when it's accompanied by fantastic food . . . How do you spell PARADISE?! To quote Karen, herself, she is a self-proclaimed semi-sane Mom; a baking, blogging, beach, ballet, Boston and booze fan, who bakes to relieve stress, takes pictures as proof, and blogs to vent. Hop over to Karen's place and share her glimpses of teens/college-ites and LIFE. 

Visit them all. You'll be glad you did!

Memories of Me

I have just be introduced to the most amazing book!
Those who have been following my blog know that I live to share my stories.
Stories of childhood. Mine, my parents' my grandparents' and the newer generations as well.
I have written over 1000 of them. . . . so far.
Who knew there were that many to tell?!
I treasure those stories.
And the comments that faithful readers give! My favourites usually run along the lines of: "Wow! Did you ever bring back a memory for me!" or "Your story reminded me of . . ."
Precious memories.
Have you been wanting to record them?
Have stories of your childhood (or your Nana's or your Great-Aunt Rebecca's) been itching to get out?
But you don't know where to start?
Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life is a new book by Laura Hedgecock that leads you along the path of remembering - and more importantly - recording those stories.
Her fun, insightful instructions and actual, physical workpages will motivate, guide and inspire even the neophytes among us.
These stories . . . your stories . . . are important. They need to be told. Once we go, who will be there to remember that time when we were four years old and had to be rescued by our Olympian mother from the top of the windmill?
Or the time the severed chicken head scared the daylights out of us, prompting a multi-generational fear of chickens?!
Your stories are priceless.
Start recording them.
Now.
Let Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life guide you!
It's important!

Find this amazing book here:

Author BioAuthor Laura Hedgecock

LAURA HEDGECOCK is passionate about telling stories and connecting with others. She comes by that passion honestly; her grandmother, Hazel Crymes, wrote throughout her life. However, her grandmother wrote in secret; Laura believes in sharing.
When she’s not writing, Mrs. Hedgecock enjoys spending time with her husband and two teenage sons (and her Springer spaniel), playing soccer, nature photography, and finding her roots.

About Memories of Me

Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life taps into the passion of connecting with loved ones through memory narratives. It empowers hobbyists to create a legacy of family stories and memory episodes through prompts, in-depth brainstorming exercises, writing samples, and just enough writing tips for writers to take pride in their projects.  Releases May 13, 2014, Cedar Fort Publishing, Clear Sight  Imprint.  Read more...

Speaker Topics

Memories matter! Author Laura Hedgecock welcomes the opportunity to speak at your function. Her topics range from the value of preserving and sharing memories, how  personal and family narratives connect loved ones with their family and ancestry to workshops on how to get started.

In the Media

Explore media coverage of Laura Hedgecock and Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life in the media, as well as published clips and press releases.

Social Media Links

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Life With Daddy

Happy Father's Day!
Husband, father, rancher, veterinarian, brother, friend, uncle, cousin.
Jokester.
My Dad is the youngest of eleven children.
At 89 years old, he is the last surviving sibling of a great progeny.
And he has made his mark in the world. (Oddly enough, his name is Mark. Apropos . . .)
He has served in numerous leadership roles in Church and community.
Been a voice for change in Provincial/Federal politics.
Lovingly supported his wife all her life and through her final illness.
Raised six kids, numerous grandkids and even more great-grandkids.
Built heritage clocks and other woodworking marvels.
Developed and refined his own award-winning genetic line of Hereford cattle.
Taught. Led. Supported. Pushed. Pulled. Guided. Built.
Worked.
But what do his progeny mostly remember this great man for?
His pranks.
Yep. Pranks.
This was the man who shaved his head into a ‘mohawk’ do, long before it was acceptable. And with red, curly hair, such a style was . . . noticeable.
Proof! Daddy's on the right...
Painted a large ‘48’ on the water tower at his Alma Mater in Guelph, Ontario.
Disassembled and re-assembled the headmaster’s car on the porch of the administration building.
Played the ‘wedding waltz’ when his youngest brother-in-law showed up with a girlfriend. And rigged a smoke bomb on the engine of said bother-in-law’s car at the end of that particular visit.
Served drinks in ‘dribble’ glasses.
Lit the bottom corner of a newspaper on fire when the reader was concentrating on reading the upper corner.
Used a syringe to squirt water through a nail hole, thus winning, once-and-for-all, the title of ‘water fighter extraordinaire’.
Also used a syringe to squirt skunk ‘essence’ through the keyholes of rival students at Veterinarian College. Can anyone say ‘stink’?
Floated a plastic ice cube with encased fly in guests’ drinks. 
Hid an unwrapped prophylactic in the headmaster's handkerchief, tucked into the man's tuxedo, to be revealed with notable results.
And other monkeyshines too numerous to mention here. But which will be the subjects of future posts . . .
The once-mighty rancher is frail now.
Still clear mentally, but moving slowly and with care.
And seldom venturing far from his comfortable chair and book shelf.
It would be painful to watch, if one were not buoyed by Dad’s own words. “I’ve had fun!”
Words followed by the familiar twinkle as he recounts past pranks.
And still looks forward to future ones.
During my last visit, a dear guest looked at her glass and said, “This isn’t one of those ‘dribble’ ones, is it?”
Daddy? Never change!
Shoe horn.


Daughter of Ishmael

Daughter of Ishmael
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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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