Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Friday, April 17, 2015

Learning More Than Learning

Back when kids had it all.
It was my day to help out in one of my grandsons’ classes.
A few hours spent with a group of 6-year-olds.
Inquisitive. Enthusiastic. Happy.
What could be more fun?
The teacher was bustling about the classroom as the kids gradually assembled. As they took off coats. Stowed backpacks and gear.
The bell rang.
“Class!”
The noise slowly subsided as the kids found their seats.
“Class!” she said again.
A few more sat down. Looked at her.
“Everyone’s eyes up here!”
This time, she managed to collect all but one.
“EVERYONE!”
Finally, all eyes were on her.
She proceeded with the day’s instruction.
I was suddenly remembering my own school days.
We assembled in an older building. Dark hallways. Tall ceilings. The smell of decades of chalk dust and wood varnish in the air. Creaky wood floors.
Our teacher, a larger woman, would always approach the classroom from the direction of the staff room. Because of the floors, she could be heard the moment she stepped from the stairwell.
Instantly, there was a commotion as kids found their seats and set out textbook and scribbler.
Because woe be unto anyone who didn’t have their book open and their mind obviously ready to learn when our teacher appeared in the doorway. We didn’t know exactly what would happen, but we knew it would be something earth-shattering. Even the class clown knew to sit down and shut up.
A few days ago, I asked my Dad what he did when he was in school. His reply? “We were expected to be sitting quietly with our hands folded together when the teacher appeared.”
Huh.
Today’s kids have everything necessary to learning.
Why do I feel they are missing something?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Few Sweet Words

For a few glorious months I exercised horses at the racetrack.
It was a perk to dating a young man whose uncle kept a string of racers.
Picture it: Cool early morning of a summer day. The sky is lightening to a cloudless blue overhead while the horizon glows a clear apricot.
The smell of fresh hay and grain and horses and manure as men and women begin hauling feed and cleaning stalls. Grunted early morning greetings as humans pass.
The metallic ring of tack as saddles and bridles are inspected and fitted.
The snort of a horse. Stamp of hoof.
The track, groomed and dampened by a couple of passes of the rakes and water truck, gives off its own distinctive smells of wet earth and sawdust.
The morning of a perfect race day.
There is a whole production before, during and after the actual running of a horse race. A coordinated and extensive ballet of people and horses, all moving in and amongst each other. Grooming. Inspecting. Saddling. Wrapping. And each with the same goal.
The finish line . . .
It was my duty as second horse-exerciser to also do that most mundane of jobs, the grooming.
And I loved it.
To run the brushes over the sleek coats. To pause and bury one’s face in the neck of one’s horse and just . . . breathe.
Paradise for the horse-lover.
Which I was.
I remember the first horse I readied for a race.
A three-year-old clear bay filly whose complex, hyphenated name escapes me, but who I called, ‘Lemon-Go-Lightly’ after a popular hair-lightener of the day.
Well, it made sense at the time . . .
She was slated for the two o’clock race and I had half an hour to get her ready for it.
I spent most of that time brushing.
And talking.
Yes. Talking.
I told her how beautiful she was. And how fast she would run. And how she’d leave all of the other old nags in her dust. I whispered into her ears and wrapped my arms around her neck and whispered into that as well.
Over and over, I told her how amazing she was and that she’d be running the best race of her life in just a few minutes.
Then I handed her over to the tack team with the words, “Today, she’s going to win!” They stared at me, then proceeded to saddle and wrap and lead my pretty baby out to her rider.
I started grooming another horse, but listened to the familiar sounds of a race being run.
I really wasn’t surprised when she came back - a winner by more than three lengths.
I knew she could do it.
After all, we had discussed it.
What I didn’t expect was her owner following her to the barn.
He stared at me for a moment. Then, “How did you know she was going to win?”
It was my turn to stare.
He went on. “This was her fourth race and she’s never placed above ‘show’. How did you know?”
I should mention here that race people are, quite often, a little superstitious . . .
I blinked. “We discussed it,” I said finally.
“Discussed it?”
“Yeah. While I was grooming her. I told her that she was the world’s fastest runner and that she was my pretty girl and that she was going to win.”
He frowned thoughtfully. Then turned and left.
I shrugged and went on with my tasks.
But later, I noticed that all of his groomers were talking to their horses. Whispering inanities into their ears. Praising them.
Labelling them winners.
P.S. I hear it works on people, too.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Age is Relative

Our good friend, Shirley, was having a wonderful visit with family.
She and her granddaughters had played games.
Shopped.
Explored.
Read stories.
Conquered the slide at the park.
Ate.
And, occasionally, relaxed.
It was during this last that certain . . . revelations . . . were ummm . . . revealed.
Grandma and granddaughters were sitting quietly, cuddling.
The youngest was exploring Grandma’s hand. She compared sizes. Traced the veins and lines. Noted any spots. Then the little fingers worked their way up Grandma’s arm.
The flesh was traced and pushed one way and then the other.
Finally, the little girl had worked her way up to Grandma’s elbow. There, she paused. Finally, the small fingers gripped the skin covering that joint; pulled it out, stretched it.
Jiggled it.
“Gee, Grandma,” the little girl said. “You’re sure a lot older than when I first knew you!”
Feeling young and care-free?
Like the world is your oyster and nothing and no one can take it from you?
Go and visit your grandkids.
They’ll bring back reality.
Sigh.

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Man of His Word

Dad and I were on our way into the big city.
Just the two of us.
Something that happened all too rarely.
We had been chatting happily about the errands that needed to be run and the places we had to go.
The highway was smooth and relatively traffic-and-pothole-free.
We were travelling along at a good clip.
Suddenly in the middle of an amusing anecdote that had to do with newlyweds and cooking mishaps, Dad stopped talking.
I looked over at him.
He was frowning and peering ahead.
I followed his gaze.
There, square in the middle of our lane was a slow-moving vehicle.
I say ‘vehicle’, but I hope you take the word as judiciously as I use it.
The, umm, means-of-transportation was indiscriminate of colour. I think that a rusty red was predominate. The actual seams and closures had long since lost any hope of fitting and fastening and mostly were strung together with baling wire. A cloud of smoke trailed behind in happy blue puffs.  It creaked and groaned with every turn of the patched and bare tires and from the noise the engine was making, a muffler was certainly part of a faint and distant past.
It was - in a word - decrepit.
I was astonished that it could still function. As more than a planter.
What had caught Dad’s attention was the speed at which it was travelling.
Slow.
Okay, it would have had to speed up to be classified as ‘slow’.
Picture a speed slower than slow. But just a hair faster than ‘stop’.
That’s it.
We pulled up behind it and waited to round a small hill so we could see to pass.
“Who’s that?” I asked Dad.
He told me. Obviously someone he knew well.
“But why’s he going so slow?”
Dad looked at the truck. “I don’t think he dares go any faster.”
“Maybe he should get himself something newer.”
“Well, there’s a story,” Dad said. “He bought that truck new in about 1948 and drove it for many years.”
I looked back at it. “I can see that.”
“When it became obvious that he needed something newer, he went and priced out the later models and discovered that they had increased remarkably in price.”
“Okay.”
“And then and there, he stated that, until truck prices came down, he was never buying a new one.” He nodded toward the decrepit vehicle. “I guess we can say he is a man of his word.”
I nodded.
Sometimes being true to your word is a good thing.
And sometimes . . .

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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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