Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Happy Birthday, My Canada!

First, a little background: Canada Day is the national day of Canada, a federal statutory holiday celebrating the anniversary of the July 1, 1867, enactment of the British North America Act, 1867 (today called the Constitution Act, 1867), which united three colonies into a single country called Canada within the British Empire. Originally called Dominion Day , the holiday was renamed in 1982, the year the Canada Act was passed. Canada Day observances take place throughout Canada as well as among Canadians internationally.
Now, on with my story . . .

Saturday, July 1, 1967.
My Grade seven teacher had been harping on endlessly about this important date.
Something about it being Canada’s Centennial.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Canada.
And had celebrated her July 1 birthday with great enthusiasm for each of my 12 years.
I just didn’t see what made this particular birthday so important. Centennial? What did that mean?
Okay, maybe I was just a bit stuck inside my own world . . .
But I was more than willing to go to choir practice to perfect our renditions of ‘Oh Canada!’ and ‘God Save the Queen’.
And excitedly discuss the day’s planned activities with my friends.
And anticipate a holiday.
The day dawned, clear and bright.
And my family wandered over to the newly-erected ‘cairn’ down by the Milk River.
Flags were flying. Eight of them, to denote the eight flags under which our town had lived.
And grinning, happy people were beginning to gather.
Lots of people.
I excitedly greeted my friends as they arrived.
Finally came the time for us to assemble on some risers set up near the cairn.
There was clapping and excitement.
We sang. 
To further applause.
And not a few tears.
And then, the speeches.
And, suddenly, I realized what it was that everyone was emotional about.
My country, this country that I loved, was 100 years old.
That was significant.
And I was a part of it.
It was 48 years ago.
Today, my country is 148 years old.
Happy Birthday, my beloved Canada!

To my beloved readers and blog-followers and friends: I will be away from the computer for the next two weeks. Heading to the wilds of Canada for a much-needed break. I will desperately miss you, but will be back soon! I love you all!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Until Death (Conclusion)

A short story in two parts.
If you missed Part One, it's here.
Go ahead. We'll wait.

Part Two (conclusion):

For a moment, all was quiet.
Then a voice spoke out of the thick darkness. “Okay, everyone stay seated till I get the lights back on!” There was the sound of movement. Careful footsteps.
Suddenly, a large light fixture over the choir seats at the very top of the building sprang into life, reflecting in the eyes of several dozen people seated there. A large man turned from the wall and let his hand fall from the switch. “There. Now remember to collect everything you brought in with you,” he said to the people.
“Oh, Mr. Dale, do we have to go so soon?” a woman asked. “It was so beautiful, I just want to sit here and remember.”
Mr. Dale laughed and sat in the nearest seat. “It is quite an experience, isn’t it, Mrs. Stephans?”
Mrs. Stephans sighed. “Sooo romantic!” she dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.
Several assenting voices.
The man seated next to Mrs. Stephans spoke up. “I think it was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life."
Mr. Dale nodded and smiled. “It’s so nice to be a part of someone’s special day.”
“Please, can you tell us more about them?” Mrs. Stephans asked.
Mr. Dale wrinkled his brow in thought. “Let’s see,” he said. “Henry and Anna met when Henry’s family moved into the house next to Anna’s family. He was eight and she was six. It was literally love at first sight.  They finally received their parents’ permission and were to marry on Anna’s sixteenth birthday.” He smiled. “By all reports, those ten years between were a very, very long time for both of them.”
His smile disappeared. “But their happiness was not meant to be,” he said. He was silent for several moments. Finally, “Anna never made it to the ceremony.” He shrugged. “But Henry . . . waited for her.”
There was a storm of questions.
Mr. Dale held up his hands and got to his feet. “And now, I need to ask you all to follow me to the manse,” he said. “There will be coffee, tea and refreshments there. And a bit more information if you’d like. Please remember to collect all of your belongings,” he went on. “My collection of cell phones is plenty large already!”
People began to stir, collecting coats, handbags. Carefully, they followed Mr. Dale down the stairway to the main floor. A few of them ran gentle fingers over the pews, stopped in front of the plain altar and gazed up into the rafters.
A couple paused in front of the old pump organ. “Could you play it, Mr. Dale?”
Mr. Dale smiled apologetically. “I'm sorry, but it only plays for weddings."
They stared at him. “But . . .”
"Come along. I know you have questions. I can answer them at the manse."
Reluctantly, the group gathered, hovering quietly near the front door as their guide took a last look around for possible stragglers. 
Mr. Dale joined them, looked around at their woebegone faces and laughed. “You don't have to look so sad! I'll tell you everything!"
"But we want to hear it now, Mr. Dale," Mrs. Stephens said. "While we're still here . . ." she heaved a great sigh, " . . . feeling!"
There was a babble of assenting voices.
Mr. Dale smiled. "Okay. I can see your point." He glanced toward the altar. "I told you that Henry waited a lot time for the ceremony and that was so." He looked down for a moment. "The truth is, Henry waited over eighty years to meet Anna at the altar."
"But how is that possible?" someone asked breathlessly.
Mr. Dale smiled sadly. "The ceremony you just witnessed was supposed to have taken place on August 9, 1890."
Several members of his group caught their breath.
He nodded. "Anna was killed on her way here, just down the road, when the horses bolted and her carriage overturned. He glanced toward the corner where the gleaming, little organ sat. "The organ you asked about hasn't wheezed out a mortal note in over fifty years. It only plays every evening for the wedding of Henry and Anna." 
"Every evening?" someone asked.
He nodded. "Every evening." A tear trickled down his cheek and he brushed at it self-consciously. "They didn't get their ceremony in this life, so Someone ensures that they get it forever after."
He moved to the front door and held it open. “Shall we go? ”
The crowd slowly moved outside.
Mr. Dale glanced around the church, then reached out and snapped the switch on the wall, plunging the room into darkness once more.
He stopped there for a moment, with his head on one side, and listened. Somewhere, he thought he could hear the sounds of laughter and merriment. He smiled. “Have a happy evening, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Blakely,” he said. “You waited such a long time for it. I’m so glad it’s yours.”
He swung the heavy door shut.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Until Death

A short story in two parts . . .
Part One:

The light of countless candles softly illuminated the interior of the great room. The air was heavy with the smell of melted wax. Smoke rose in a thousand columns to the high ceiling where it pooled and swirled in the gently drifting air, blurring and softening the sight of the carved beams that supported the ancient church’s roof.
A small crowd of men and women, plainly and practically dressed, were seated in the highly polished, simple wooden pews. A few bonneted heads drew close together as women chatted with quiet enthusiasm.
A largish, well-rounded woman was seated before the tiny pump organ near the front of the room, her well-corseted figure threatening to overflow the bench. Her feet, nearly hidden in the heavy folds of her long dress, manipulated the pedals with ease, and plump, practiced fingers touched the keys reverently, filling the air with soft music and providing the final, perfect touch.
A young man, dressed formally in an obviously new, dark wool suit, stood nervously at the front of the room, eyes darting between the elderly minister speaking in a low voice beside him, and the front of the chapel.
Suddenly, the great, front doors swung wide and the music swelled into the stains of the wedding processional. The entire crowd slid quickly to their feet and all heads turned to see a veiled figure, dressed in a simple white cotton gown, appear in the opening, clutching a modest bouquet of wildflowers.
Smiles broke out on every face as the bride proceeded into the room and stepped slowly and gracefully along the aisle between the rows of benches in perfect time to the music.
The young man at the front, his eyes locked on the vision that was slowly approaching, straightened his tie. Then his shoulders. Then he cleared his throat and stretched his neck in its uncomfortable stiff, white collar. Finally, he forced quivering lips into a semblance of a smile.
The young woman reached him and held out her hand.
He grasped it tightly and all traces of nervousness vanished as he raised it to his lips, then tucked it tenderly into the crook of his arm.
The two of them turned together to face the minister.
The elderly cleric nodded to the organist and the music drifted to a stop. Then he turned toward young couple, as the people in the congregation quietly resumed their seats. “Dearly beloved,” he said. “It is with great pleasure that I stand before you today, to join in holy matrimony, this man . . .” he nodded to the young man, “. . . and this woman.” Another nod.
The crowd watched him quietly and expectantly.
The couple had turned and were looking at each other. Through the heavy veil, the young woman’s mouth could be faintly seen, curving into a soft, glowing smile. The young man’s eyes glistened suddenly with unshed tears.
The minister went on. “It has taken them no small amount of time and many twists and turns in life’s road to bring them together. But here they stand before you at last.”
A soft sigh went through the crowd and white handkerchiefs appeared in more than a few hands and were pressed into service, fluttering gently.
The elderly man smiled. “Owing to the difficulties they were forced to overcome in order to be here together today, I will dispense with the mostly boring and certainly long winded and formal words of wisdom I had planned to share and offer them only this: Love each other. You deserve each other.”
He looked at the crowd, grey eyes twinkling beneath heavy, white brows. “I think that should suffice, don’t you?”
Murmurs of assent in the crowd.
He turned back to the couple. “Henry James Blakely, do you take this woman, Anna Mary Mildred Peavey, to be your lawfully wedded wife? To have and to hold, to love and to cherish?”
Henry tore his eyes away from the woman beside him and looked at the minister. “I do,” he said, his voice breaking over the two words. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I do.”
A whisper of sound fluttered through the crowd.
The minister smiled and nodded. Then he turned to the young woman. “Anna Mary Mildred Peavey, do you take this man, Henry James Blakely, to be your lawfully wedded husband? To have and to hold, to love and to cherish?”
Anna turned to her companion, her shadowy lips once more curving into a sweet smile. “I do!” she said clearly.
Another sigh from those watching.
“Then, it is with great pleasure that I – finally – pronounce you man and wife,” the minister said. He smiled widely. “Congratulations, Henry. You may now kiss the bride.”
With trembling fingers, the young man caught the edge of the filmy veil and drew it up and back from his new wife’s face.
Warm blue eyes smiled, then drifted shut as Anna leaned toward him and pressed soft lips to his.
Henry’s arms went about her gently, as though fearing he would crush her slender body.
Then the two of them broke apart with a gasp and both faces coloured adorably. Henry once more tucked Anna’s arm through his and the two of them turned finally to face the crowd.
“Hurray!” someone said and several people laughed.
“Martin! Not in the church!”
More laughter.
“Dearly beloved,” the minister said, putting one hand on Henry’s shoulder and the other on Anna’s, “It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Henry Blakely!”
This time, several people cheered and a couple applauded.
The organ swelled into the Wedding March and the newly-wedded couple led the way along the aisle to the front doors. The minister followed closely and the church emptied as everyone crowded in behind them, talking and laughing.
Finally, the last two people swung the heavy front doors shut with a whoosh and a boom.
Instantly, every light went out.

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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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