Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bread For Chocolate

My daughter and son-in-law were sitting at the breakfast table.
Over delicious French toast, they were discussing their grocery list.
The subject of bread came up.
And the best places to get the least-expensive.
“We never buy our bread at the regular grocery,” my daughter told me. “That’s far too expensive!”
“Yes,” my son-in-law agreed. “We always get ours in packages of three loaves for $6.00. It’s much, much cheaper.”
I stared at him.
Okay. I admit it. It has been some time since I actually ‘purchased’ bread.
We’re a homemade kind of family.
So it was quite a shock to hear someone describe a two-dollar loaf of bread as inexpensive.
Yes. I’m deplorably, woefully behind the times.
Perhaps because I spend so much of my day in the past.
Moving on . . .
As the discussion went on, I suddenly remembered the first time I saw my Mom purchase bread.
(She was a homemade kind of person, too.)
We were in the Red and White grocery store in Milk River.
Mom had a cart and was getting important things done.
I was perusing the candy display.
Also important.
Mom passed me on her way to the dairy case.
“Diane, could you please run over to the bakery aisle and see what the price of bread is?”
I tore my eyes away from the tempting display of chocolate bars and made some quick mental calculations.
Hmm. Was there time to run to the bakery and get back before Mom again walked past the candy on her way to the checkout?
 I should mention, here, that the Red and White, though one of Milk River’s two modern grocery stores, could hardly be described as ‘large’.
There were, maybe, six aisles.
With the bakery being two aisles away.
I could do it if I scurried.
“Okay!” I shouted.
Then scurried.
There was a large sign tacked up at the end of the row.
‘Bread – 8 Loaves for a Dollar’.
I sprinted back, just in time to see Mom grab a couple of cartons of milk.
“It says eight for a dollar!” I hollered.
Mom looked at me. “Okay,” she said. “Grab eight, then.”
Sigh.
I made the twelve-foot dash once more and, with a bit of finesse, managed to grab the ends of eight plastic bags.
Then I manoeuvered them into Mom’s cart.
Whew.
Mom started toward the front of the store.
It was now or never.
“Mom? Can I have a chocolate bar?”
Chocolate bars were ten cents.
Surely she could spend ten cents on a chocolate bar if she could spend a dollar on . . .
“Sorry, dear, we can’t afford it today.”
. . . stupid bread.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Old Age is LOOMing

I come from a long line of ‘workers’.
The enthusiastically employed, I’ll call them.
People who believed in hard work and industry. That idle hands are the devil’s workshop.
My grandma Stringam is one of the first and foremost in that long line.
The things she managed to accomplish in her lifetime are varied . . . and astounding.
Raising eleven children would probably be considered a good life’s work. But she didn’t stop there. She served her family and entire community as nurse, midwife, secretary, teacher, general aide, social leader and counsellor.
Her husband passed away in 1959 at the age of 83 after a battle with cancer.
Grandma was 74 at the time and had worked many long years.
Most of us (ie. me) would have relaxed and coasted gently into our sunset years.
But Grandma decided that what she needed was a new interest.
She had dabbled in crafts most of her life. When time allowed.
Now she became serious about mastering them.
Especially weaving.
She purchased a large, floor loom.
And spent many of her waking hours (and a few of her sleeping ones, I’m sure) seated at that loom.
Creating amazing works of art.
Which she then fashioned into other works of art.
Every one of her numerous grandchildren received something from the talented hands of their grandmother.
I received several. Each carefully crafted and beautiful.
At the age of 75, Grandma, who was also serving as the Work Director for her church, was asked to travel to Salt Lake City to do a demonstration on weaving. She packed up her loom, 68 articles to display, her daughter and a long-time friend. And did it.
The demonstration.
At 75.
Grandma is one of my heroes.
Her example gives me the courage to try new things.
This week, I took up playing the cello.
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
And just never . . . did.
It really doesn’t sound like much yet. A lot of tortured strings and almost notes.
And my daughter says my ‘cello-playing’ face is quite . . . amusing.
But I’ll persevere.
Who knows. Maybe I’ll be asked to demonstrate somewhere when I’m 75.
I’ve got 15 years.
Better get to work . . .

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Coffin Crimes

Husby getting into character for 'Arsenic and Old Lace'.
Husby has a scar on his chin.
A long scar from a large wound.
A wound that took several stitches to close.
And I gave it to him.
Well, me and a coffin.
You’re right. Maybe I should explain . . .
Husby and I have, for more years than I care to count, been involved in the theatre scene.
Writing, directing, producing, acting, building, equipping, costuming, makeup-ing.
An almost endless round of ‘ing’.
For one of those productions, Husby had constructed a coffin.
Okay, we can’t for the life of us remember which production – one of the hundreds – but it was built for the sole purpose of looking coffin-ish onstage.
After the production, it ended up residing (along with thousands of other props and set pieces), in the large storage space belonging to our theatre group. A space that needed to be periodically reshuffled to make room for more and newer.
Ugh.
At this particular point in time, the coffin, which until then had had a special spot on the floor, was going up on top of a cabinet.
Okay, I said this was a storage room, I never said anything about safety standards.
Back to my story . . .
Husby and I were, as per usual, the shufflers. We had shifted and sorted and made room. Cleared a path to facilitate.
Hefted the coffin.
And started in.
And that’s where the whole scenario came crashing down.
Literally.
Husby, on the front end, tripped.
Me, on the back end, didn’t super-humanly grab the coffin and heft it into the air and out of damaging range.
Thus, with our forward momentum, exacerbated (Ooh! Good word!) by bulky coffin, Husby went to his knees.
And plowed headfirst into a wooden chair.
A chair that had been in the kitchen of several plays.
The bedroom of several more.
And at least ten living rooms.
A sturdy chair; built to last. I probably don’t have to tell you which - when wood met chin - lasted.
When I finally pulled the coffin off my man, he was holding a hand to his face.
And blood was dripping through his fingers.
Don’t you hate it when that happens?
After I had exclaimed and swabbed, we examined.
“I think it’s all right,” Husby said. But as he spoke, I watched the split in his lower lip puff and blow with each word.
Ewwww.
A hospital and stitchery were indicated. I drove him there and he received prompt medical attention.
And a sexy scar.
Which he gladly shows to anyone even remotely interested. While he graces them with lurid tales of his wife’s ongoing abuse.
Sigh.
P.S. Don’t ask about the scar up on his cheek from - and I swear this is true - a ‘friendly’ little game of football.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Another Horse

The Depression gave us many sad stories.
But there are also stories of service and sacrifice that are truly inspiring . . .
My Grampa Stringam was a rancher.
He also served as an MLA in the provincial legislature.
It kept him busy.
And gave him a much broader scope in which to help those in need.
One morning, he announced to Grandma that he was heading over to the neighbours.
When Grandma asked why, he told her that the neighbour had a horse to sell.
“Oh,” she said. “I didn’t know we needed another horse.”
Her response? A cryptic, “We don’t.”
Grampa disappeared, returning some time later. Without the horse.
When Grandma asked him if his business had been concluded satisfactorily, he nodded and smiled.
Fixing him with her best frown, she asked him what was going on.
His smiled widened. “I bought the neighbour’s horse.”
“But why? When you admitted that we didn’t need another.”
“Well, his wife needs medical help and he needs the money to pay for it.”
Enough said.
There is a codicil . . .
Grampa paid the man for the horse.
A fair sum for the times.
The man’s wife got the medical help she needed.
And all was well.
But there is one other point to this story.
An important one.
Grampa never did go and get the horse he had paid for.
Grandma was right.
He didn’t need another horse.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Little Truth

These are truths I’ve come to know
As through Life I’ve chanced to go.
A better time you will have too.
If, from these facts, you do accrue . . .

The first: you cannot baptize cats,
Don’t argue, just accept the fact.

If Mom and Dad, a spat have shared,
Never let Mom brush your hair.

If Sister hits, then don’t hit back,
You will get blamed for the attack.

Though with faith he seems imbued,
Don’t trust your dog to watch your food.

Unless you want a style with ‘flair’,
Don’t sneeze while someone cuts your hair.

When holding cats, to avoid the welts,
Leave the vacuum somewhere else.

If brother is a three-year-old,
A tomato’s not for him to hold.

White shorts look good, but people stare
At polka-dotted underwear.

And when you‘re sad as sad can be,
The best place is on Gramma’s knee.

And as I’ve aged, my wisdom’s grown,
My chickens from the nest have flown.
But as an elder, I’ve learned more,
Take heed, here’s what you have in store.

Raising teenagers, you’ll agree,
S’like nailing jelly to a tree.

Those wrinkles, although clearly there.
Are painless. Just so you’re aware.

Those oaks that you see standing ‘round,
Were once a nut that held its ground.

If jogging’s what you like to do,
Then laugh. You’ll jog the inside, too.

And cereal somewhat kills the joy,
When picked for fibre. Not the toy.

So there. That’s it. It’s all I’ve got.
I know it’s really not a lot.
But if you want to silly be.
Try these, and you’ll be just like me.

Monday, January 26, 2015

I.D. Please

Okay, they look a little funny, but we love them.
A couple of years ago, our youngest daughter and her daughter moved back to Edmonton from the west coast.
They had been away for far too long.
It was cause for celebration.
So everyone came over to . . . celebrate.
I should probably explain here that, at that time, when all of our kids and their families gathered, we numbered twenty-five people.
Twelve of whom were under the age of ten.
Organized confusion.
Generally, the parents and very youngest members gathered in the front room upstairs to chat.
The oldest of the grandkids fled to the basement.
Where the toys were.
Now these kids were used to being together.
And treated each other like siblings.
Getting along fabulously for the most part.
With occasional bouts of tears and irritation . . .
It was a fairly normal evening.
Adults – visiting.
Kids downstairs – playing.
Someone started to cry.
Our six-year old came running up the stairs.
“Someone’s crying!” he announced. Needlessly, I might point out.
I looked at him. “Who is crying?”
Now, my daughter’s daughter hadn't been around for some time. While the rest of his cousins were decidedly well known to this young man, this little girl was not.
He handled the confusion well.
“That baby, who I have no idea who she is!”
Ah. Identification complete.
Maybe we should put that on her birth certificate.

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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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