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, April 25, 2015

Fairly Fraudulent Fair

The criminals are seated second row: Second and fifth from the left.
And they look so innocent . . .
I was so excited.
My cousin/pal, Jody and I were going to have a fair.
During afternoon recess at school. A real fair, with games and prizes.
We had saved our allowances. We had . . . ummm . . . permission . . .
Maybe I should tell you the whole story . . .
Jody was staying with me at the ranch for a few days while her parents were away on holiday.
We had conceived a marvelous scheme while we were supposed to be sleeping.
Just before my dad threatened to separate us for the night.
For the record, I don't know why they are called 'sleep overs'. Nothing resembling sleeping ever takes place. But I digress . . .
Jody and I had come up with this amazing idea. To hold a fair. With different contests and featuring real, bona-fide prizes of toys or candy. It was the best plan ever! Stupendous! The school would be talking about it for years!
Our plans grew and hatched more plans.
Barnum and Bailey would be put to shame! (I didn't know who they were, but whenever a circus was talked about, they were mentioned, so they must be important.)
There was only one hitch in our marvellous plan.
We were eight years old, in grade three, and needed permission to go down town to purchase the necessary candy and prizes.
And my mom refused to give us the necessary legal document.
Pffff . . .
We even provided the statement, already spelled out. All she had to do was sign.
She refused.
Sigh.
For sure, Barnum and Bailey didn't have such complications . . .
We were still puzzling over this difficulty when we got on the bus and sat in front of one of the grade 12 girls. We talked and talked, but no solutions were forthcoming.
The girl leaned over the seat and asked one of us to retrieve a pen she had dropped. I complied, still talking.
She reached out her hand to take the pen.
I paused, looking at her. At her . . . fully-grown hand.
That knew how to write in script.
That couldn't help but fool our teacher.
I smiled.
Later, we skipped happily off the bus, content in the knowledge that the two of us were smarter than our teacher. Than anyone. Than the whole world.
We duly presented the paper, properly signed, to Mrs. Ratcliff. She scanned it.
“Huh. I thought Jody's mom wasn't due home for a few more days.”
“Oh, she's back!” we assured her.
She nodded.
We bounced happily from the room. We had succeeded.
Our fair was underway.
We ran all the way downtown and had a marvelous time blowing our combined $.75 on penny candies and trinkets.
Then, clutching our paper bags of magic, we ran all the way back.
Our fair was a success. We conducted games and races and magnanimously handed out prizes, happily certain we were idolized by every child on the playground.
That everyone wished they were us.
Then, just as the bell rang, Kathy ran up to tell us that we were wanted.
In the principal's office.
We looked at each other. What could possibly have gone wrong? Our plan had been so fool proof.
Slowly, we trudged towards our doom.
“Jody, is your mother home?” The principal was staring at us from under bushy, frowning brows.
I stared at my feet, frozen to the spot.
Jody, just slightly braver than me, managed to shake her head.
“So, where did this note come from?” He waved our masterpiece.
“Ummm . . . Mom signed it before she left?”
The principal shook his head. “I don't think so.”
Sigh. We were caught.
“A girl on Diane's bus signed it.”
“Ah.”
I peeped up at him. Was that a good 'ah'? A 'very clever girls' ah?
He was still frowning.
Obviously not.
I looked at the closet door behind his chair.
Where I knew the strap was kept.
If he made one step towards that closet, I was going to head for the hills.
And I knew where those hills were . . .
He folded his hands together.
“Do you girls know what you did wrong?”
We nodded.
“Do you?”
We nodded again, with a little less certainty.
“This is what is called 'fraud'.”
Fraud? I'd never heard of the word.
“It's like lying.”
Ah. Lying. Now that I knew a lot about . . . from watching my siblings . . . not because I . . . oh, never mind.
“Deceiving someone.”
Another long word I'd never heard of.
“Lying.”
Okay, back on familiar ground.
“You got someone else to sign your mom's name. That is lying. Fraud.”
But she was an adult! my mind screamed. She was big. She could write script.
“You can't have someone else sign in place of your parent unless they are your guardian. Was this girl on the bus your guardian?”
Guardian? I was at sea again, and for someone who had never seen the sea, that was pretty lost. Ummm . . . I'm going to go with 'no'?
“No.”
I was right!
“So what you did was wrong.”
Rats!
Again, my eyes were drawn to that closet door. Not the strap! Not the strap!
He leaned back in his chair.
“I'm going to have to speak to your parents about this.”
I stared at him. Parents? Maybe the strap would be a good idea.
“They will have to take it up with you.”
I thought of my dad finding out. The strap was looking better and better.
“Now I want you to go back to your class and think about this.”
We nodded.
“And never . . . ever . . . bring in a permission form signed by anyone but your parents. And never . . .” his eyes drilled through us . . . “lie to anyone again.”
Again we nodded. Wide-eyed.
Then we escaped.
We were right. The school talked about our fair for weeks afterwards.
They, and we, just didn't remember it for the right reasons.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Age Perks


I’m old.
He’s a little older.
We’re happy.
When we married, nearly 39 years ago, I looked into his hazel eyes and thought, “All I want to do is grow old with you.”
It’s happened.
We’ve had triumphs: Kids and grandkids. Family. Work accomplishments. Good health. Peace and freedom.
We’ve had tragedies: Kids and grandkids. Family. Work setbacks. Health problems. Disharmony and shackles.
But we’ve shouldered on. Through good times and bad.
Just in case you are thinking, “Oh, my word, is she going to wade through an exposition of My Wonderful Life?” let me reassure you.
You’re not far wrong.
Because this is my usual long-winded way of getting to a story . . .
I’ve hit the wonderyears that we affectionately call mid-life.
Where nothing in my physical self seems to behave the way it used to.
The way it should.
My nights are spent vacillating between shedding and/or cocooning in my blankets. At times, both. As some parts freeze and others parboil.
Sigh.
Last night, I discovered one of the joys of growing older with someone else.
You have to know that Husby and I used to leap happily into bed without doing much more than donning PJs, scrubbing teeth and saying prayers.
Now, our evening routine is a litany of age-defying/life-augmenting practices. Ending with my careful application of wrinkle-reducing face creams and his donning of his sleep-apnea mask.
I must admit – we are quite a sight. Darth Vader meets Slime-Faced girl.
I see a horror movie in there somewhere.
Back to my story . . .
Last night, the-play-that-has-consumed-our-lives-since-January opened (more about that in a later post) and I was particularly keyed up.
Awake at 3 AM. Music from the play blasting through my mind. Blankets on. Blankets off. Turn to one side. Turn to the other. Blankets on. Blankets off. Face up. Face down.
You’ve totally been there.
Meanwhile, Husby was peacefully snoozing. His machine breathing quietly.
He rolled over to face me, and my poor overheated self was suddenly enveloped in a soft, cooling breeze.
I looked up at the window, but it was as it had been. Not really doing its part to alleviate anyone’s (ie. my) discomfort.
I turned back to Husby. Then I held out a hand in front of his face.
Ah! The lovely little breeze was emanating from the exhaust port in his mask.
I laid back, smiling, and let the cool air get in its wondrous work.
Soon, I was comfortable and cocooned once more.
You have to know that growing older definitely has its drawbacks.
But growing older with someone else yields definite perks.
Plan accordingly.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fools and Children

Me and everyone on the ranch who was smarter than me.
(except Dad who was taking the picture. . .)
I was nine! I made it! I could do anything!I was supergirl!
As you may have guessed, nine years old was an important time in my family.
The time when one was moved up to the next level of responsibility.
Now I could do all of the cool things that my older brothers and sister could do. Things I'd been waiting years to do.
Wonderful 'adult' things like . . . mowing the lawn.
Odd, isn't it, how exciting and attractive something looks when someone else is doing it?
And how not-exciting and not-attractive it is when suddenly, it is your responsibility?
By the second time, the thrill of mowing our acres and acres of lawn had begun to pall.
In fact, I hated it.
Maybe if there were such a thing as a riding mower, I could have retained my enthusiasm.
But the fact was that we only had a small, electric mower. And you had to push that little cretin every square foot of the way.
Oh, and watch out for the cord, but I am getting ahead of myself.
My instructions were very specific. Always start at or near the plug-in. Then work away from it in rows.
And rows and rows and rows . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sorry! Got caught up in the memory . . .
Needless to say, my mind didn't stay focused on what I was doing.
In fact, it rather wandered. A bit.
One bright, sunny summer afternoon, when my horse and I could have been a small dot on the horizon, I was, once more, pushing that wretched mower.
But it wasn't all bad. Part of me - the thinking part - was off riding. Suddenly, I was rudely made aware of just why we are supposed to keep our minds at least in the vicinity of what we are doing.

The mower . . . quit.
Just like that.
Dead.
There were some tell-tale sparks in the lawn, if one cared to look, but other than that, the stupid thing had just suddenly become lifeless.
I narrowed my eyes and began my investigation.
Aha! A cord. That just . . . ended. Snapped off as though it had been . . . cut. I searched around for the other end. There it was! Lying in the grass! Now how do you suppose . . .
The truth hit me like one of Dad's yearling bulls. I had done the unspeakable. The unpardonable.
I HAD MOWED THE CORD.
Soon, if Dad found out, I was going to be as dead as this mower.
I had to fix it.
I grabbed the two ends. Maybe if I just put them back together, they will magically join . . .
I sometimes wonder just how many guardian angels I wore out during my growing up years on the ranch. I think I went through them at an alarming rate.
But they were good at what they did.
There was an enormous explosion and a First-of-July amount of sparklers.
I dropped those two ends like they were hot.
Which they probably were.
And headed for my dad.
He just shook his head and followed me to the scene of the crime. Then he unplugged the live end of the cord (funny that I didn't think of that) and with a few quick strokes and some electrician's tape, mended everything.
Good as new.
I sat there in the un-mown grass and watched him work.
He got to his feet. "Okay, Diane, back to work. And watch the cord a bit more carefully."
I stared up at him.
After that traumatic experience he was going to make me get 'back on the horse'? (Something I would loved to have done, in reality.)
He smiled and turned away.
He was! He actually meant for me to start mowing again!
I looked at the couple of swaths I had completed.
Then at the millions of swaths left to do.
I reached out and tentatively flipped the switch. My trusty little cohort hummed into life.
Sigh.
I started pushing.
Okay. Careful of the cord. Always keep it between you and the plug-in. Be watchful. Be wary . . .
Oooh! Look at that hill. Soon my pony and I will be . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And yet another guardian angel sighs as he is called into service.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Not Your Average Grandma

It really wasn’t meant to be an insult.
I thought she’d be flattered.
I was wrong.
My eldest daughter, then aged 22 months, and I were manoeuvring
our stroller through the doctor’s waiting room.
It wasn’t crowded, but a few people had decided to stand, rather than sit.
A very few.
Okay, one woman was standing in the aisle apparently trying to decide if she was staying or leaving.
That’s okay with me; I’ve done the same thing more times than I care to count.
After a moment, she realized that we were behind her, waiting to pass.
“Excuse me!” she said and moved to one side.
“No worries!” I said.
Because that’s what I always say. It’s not original, I know, but it gets the job done.
Moving on . . .
At that moment, my aforementioned daughter looked up and saw this woman. Her little face broke into a sunshine sort of smile. “Gramma!” she crowed, holding out little, soft arms.
The woman stared at her, aghast.
It’s an expressive word – aghast.
It describes the look on the well-bred, perfectly-groomed face . . . ummm . . . perfectly
Truly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone more shocked.
My own smile . . . slipped a bit.
The woman’s head drew back and her upper lip curled slightly. She took in a large, indignant breath. “I AM NOT A GRANDMA!” she said.
Loudly.
Very.
Everyone in the office turned to look at us.
I felt my face grow hot.
Trying to salvage something from the unfortunate exchange, I stuttered out an, “I’m so sorry. She has a very pretty young grandma!”
I didn’t know what else to say.
The woman gave an indignant sniff and marched out of the waiting room.
“Gramma!” my daughter wailed, arms still reaching.
Another sniff as the door was firmly shut.
Crimson with embarrassment, I sank into the nearest chair and bent over my daughter.
To the woman in the doctor’s office: You really were lovely and beautifully dressed and groomed. I’m not quite sure why my daughter’s affectionate greeting hurt you so badly. Although I’m fairly certain you were very near to my own mother in years, I don’t think it was a comment on your age. It must have been your resemblance to one of the kindest, most beautiful women I’ve ever known.
I wish you could have taken it for the extraordinary compliment it was . . .

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Bubble Trouble

My brother and me.
I'm the criminal on the right.
Okay. I confess. I stole something. Once.
I have no defense. I did it. I'm guilty.
I was four. Is that an excuse . . .?
Mom and I were doing the weekly grocery shopping. A very exciting time for both of us. 
Well, for me, at any rate. 
We had driven in from the ranch in the family's late-model Chrysler (Dad always drove a Chrysler), which was an adventure in itself.There were no seatbelts. They hadn't been invented yet. Apparently no one had yet seen the wisdom in fastening small, easily-launched bodies into a safe place while hurtling down sketchy gravel roads at 60 miles per hour in a two ton vehicle.
My mom used to hold out her arm when she applied the brakes.
I was safe.
We pulled up to the curb across the street from the grocery store and proceeded inside.
The check-out desk, usually manned by a woman, stood in the center of the store, surrounded by the magical world of the grocery.
Directly behind the desk was a bank of cubicles, in which one could find the most amazing things of all . . . the penny candies.
It was there that I would park myself, after the cart got too full to hold me.
I admit it was difficult to leave the treasures that my mom had been adding to the cart. Treasures like canned peas. Baked beans. Tinned salmon.
The all-important Spam.
But I found comfort in just looking at the myriad possibilities behind that main desk.
A whole family of chocolate. Straws of sweet, flavoured powder. Licorice and JuJubes formed into the most amazing shapes. Wax figures which could be nipped and sucked dry of their wonderful, sweet juices. Lick-M-Aid. Lollipops. Suckers. Bubble gum in two sizes of colourful balls. The choices were truly endless to a four-year-old.
And my mom's purse offered the gateway to this bounty.
I couldn't stand it any longer. I ran to her. "Mom? Can I have a bubblegum?"
"Not today, dear."
What? What had she said? Had she really used those three words? I stared at her, aghast. Did she realize that her small utterance had shattered my hopes and dreams. Had barred me forever from the bliss that all of that candy represented?
My life was officially over.
At four.
It couldn't be.
"But Moooom!"
"Not today, dear. I don't want you to be eating any candy before dinner."
What kind of excuse was that?
"Just one?" I turned. My eye was caught by the bin full of bright orange bubble gums. The big ones with the little, rough bumps on the surface.
And the total deliciousness inside.
I pointed. "Just a bubble gum? I'll eat my dinner. I promise."
A smile from my long-suffering parent. "No, dear. Not today."
Huh. I pouted for a moment. Then smiled. Well, we'll just see about that.
Mom brought her purchases to the desk and she and the woman behind it were distracted as they added and bagged.
I would just take one gum. No one would ever know. My hand crept into the bin of orange bubble gums, wrapped itself around one tempting morsel and popped it into my mouth.
Ha. Mission accomplished.
I began the wonderfully arduous task of breaking down the hard, candy shell.
Mom finished paying for her groceries and was following the young boy carrying them to our car.
I fell in happily behind her.
The boy set the bags in the trunk, smiled at my mom and me and left.
Mom opened the door for me and I jumped inside. Still chewing.
She got in. And took a deep breath.
Then her head whipped around and she skewered me with a gimlet gaze. "Diane! What do I smell?!"
I froze. How did she know? The gum was in my mouth, completely hidden. I decided then. Moms were definitely magic.
Clever prevarication was in order.
"Ummm. Nothing."
"Diane, did you steal a bubblegum?"
I stared at her. Moms could see through cheeks!
"No."
"Diane!"
My head drooped. "Yes."
She sighed. "Diane, you know that stealing is wrong, don't you."
I lifted my head. Tears were already starting to pool. "Yes."
"What should we do about it?"
Tears started to slide down my cheeks. "I don't know."
Mom opened her purse and reached inside. Then she handed me a penny. "You will have to go back inside and pay for it."
I stared at her in horror. Go inside? Face my victim? Confess my guilt?
"I - I don't want to."
"But you have to."
I sat there, my four-year-old brain working frantically to find another solution.
Any other solution.
Finally, I sighed. Mom was right. I would have to go inside and pay for my ill-gotten bubblegum. I opened the door and got out.
For a moment, I stood there on the curb, wiping my cheeks and staring across the street at the grocery store. Which, incidentally, had assumed gigantic proportions since Mom and I had left.
Suddenly the orange deliciousness in my mouth didn't taste very good. I spit it out into the gutter and looked down at it. It still had bits of the hard candy shell embedded in the softer gum. I hadn't even broken it in.
I sighed and looked at Mom through the window of the car.
She nodded towards the store.
I started across the widest street ever known to man, feet dragging.
At long last, I reached the store and went up the steps.
The door jingled happily. The woman behind the desk turned and looked at me. I approached slowly and tried twice to produce a voice. Finally, "I forgot to pay for a bubblegum," I said, sliding the penny across the counter towards her.
She nodded and looked at me gravely.
"Thank you, dear," she said. "You know it's not right to steal, don't you?"
I nodded.
"Don't do it again."
I shook my head.
"Thank-you for being honest."
Another nod and I was free. I ran back to the car.
Mom didn't lecture. She knew I had learned my lesson.
I still love gum balls. Especially the orange ones with the little rough bumps. But every time I chew one, I remember being four years old.
And learning about being honest.

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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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