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

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by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

1950's Communication

As I was driving to the city for an appointment yesterday, I saw two trucks stopped on a frontage road paralleling the highway.
They had been travelling in opposite directions and had pulled over next to each other in the centre of the road so the drivers could chat.
It brought back memories . . .
In the fifties, in the sparsely-inhabited and phoneless outer ranchlands of Southern Alberta, neighbours didn’t see each other much. Busy with ranch demands and family life, they only got together at county shindigs and the occasional branding or barn dance.
Oh, they travelled the same roads to and from the nearest towns, but the chance of running into one another on those long trails was slim to nil.
When it did happen, it was cause for excitement . . .
A cloud of dust appears on the horizon, slowly coalescing into a dark spec. Then into a vehicle.
As it draws closer, said vehicle is recognized – a friend or person who is not yet a friend.
The vehicle slides to a stop in the middle of the road.
Your car does the same and you look out to see that the other person is already leaning on his crossed arms out his open window – ready for a chat.
Everyone in each vehicle crowds around their driver for a peek and a listen.
Inevitably, there’s a few minutes of chatter, beginning with: “Well, Enes! I haven’t seen you in dog’s years! How are you? The kids? And how’s Mark?”
And Mom’s answer: “Oh, everyone’s fine. Busy. You know.”
“Heading into town?”
“Oh yeah. This crew never stops eating. And I have to make a call at the hardware and the shoemakers.”
“Yeah, the missus sent me on much the same errands. Oh, she’d like to drop by sometime, if that’s okay.”
“I’m always happy to see her! Tell her to bring the kids down for an afternoon. They could go swimming.”
“Had any rain at the ranch? We’re so dry, the birds are building their nests out of barbed wire and the trees are bribing the dogs.”
“You still have birds? And Dogs?”
“Good one.”
This goes on for some time. Until one or the other realizes that they have to be somewhere . . .
Then it ends with: “Well, better get back. I’ve got ice cream and we all know how much it likes this hot weather! Could you please tell Mark that I’ve got those bulls that need testing and we still haven’t done our vaccinating. Maybe have him stop by?”
“I’ll do that.”
“And you and the kids come by any time! The pot’s always on and you know you’re always welcome!”
The driver shifts into gear and, with a wave, heads off down the road.
We continue our trip, with us kids all swivelled around to watch the truck disappear into another cloud of dust.
Communication.
On the prairies. 
In the fifties.
It was always personal, neighbourly and eye-to-eye.
And you took it when you could get it.
Where you headin'?
P.S We kids often re-enacted the whole visiting-on-the-road scenario. When playing with toy cars, we would inevitably stop beside someone else and discuss plans - which usually included going for groceries.
P.P.S. It was even funnier when we were playing with model planes. Did you know those guys can hover? Well, when they see someone they know, they can hang there for inordinate amounts of time and discuss the weather.



Monday, October 5, 2015

Apex

The ranch
Production sale day.

The highlight of the Stringam Ranch year. Black Friday in our ranching world.
The catalogs have been printed, painstakingly hand-addressed (ugh!) and mailed out.
All over the world.
The cattle have been groomed, trimmed, tucked in and kissed good night.
The ranch site has been mowed, scoured, repaired and painted.
Now it sparkles like a new penny in the dawning sun as the crew slowly climbs out of bed.
Some (my parents) might not have seen their bed.
Arrivals start
Breakfast is on the table and Mom is a blur of motion as she tries to do three things at once.

A shout from the barnyard. “They’re here!”
A glance out the window. Sure enough, the first of a long line of vehicles is moving slowly up the ranch drive.
From then on, the day is a series of impressions.
Snapshots.
Greeting and handshaking.
Parking cars and the trickier trucks and trailers.
Handing out catalogues.
Tending the coffee and the all-important donuts.
Making sure the auctioneer staff are comfortable and cared for.
Dusting the bleachers, ready for customer bottoms.
Hearing the shouts and movement from the pens behind the sale barn.
The warm up patter from the auctioneer on the stand as he gathers the chatting, laughing, gesticulating crowd.
An open gate and the first animal, an outstanding heifer, in the ring.
The auctioneer assistant, armed with a cane, moving her about.
Oohs and aahs from the crowd as they thumb their catalogues, looking for this entry.
More chatter from the man with the mike.
Bidding.
The smack of the gavel.
Another open gate and the now-nervous heifer gladly disappearing.
Gates open.
Gates close.
Shouts from the pens as stock is shuffled into catalogue order.
Animals in.
Animals out.
Pounding of the gavel.
Talk and laughter as the auctioneer plays with the crowd.
The final animal, a 2000 pound bull, in the pen.
Final strike of the mallet.
“Mark and Enes Stringam would like to thank all of you for making this day special!” the auctioneer says. “And to invite you to come and enjoy a nice home-grown beef dinner on them!” A grin. “It should be good, it’s out of the neighbour’s bull!”
Much laughter. The crowd is well aware of the almost fanatic fence maintenance required by the ranch owner.
And the unlikely possibility of anything four-legged crawling through with mischief/romance in mind.
Everyone moving down the hill toward the long tables set out in front of the ranch house.
Tables groaning with mountains of Stringam beef, salads, rolls, and every other good thing.
A buzz of contented ‘people noise’ as food is consumed.
Sounds of vehicles as buyers take turns backing up to the loading chutes.
Visiting. Laughter.
The crowd slowly dwindling, along with the sunlight.
Finally, peace.
The mercury-vapour barnyard lamp shining on the faces of a family of exhausted people, collapsed in chairs in front of the house.

And in other news:
I'm famous! Well . . . almost . . .
This picture appeared in a neighbouring city's newspaper! And I didn't know until someone posted it to Facebook.
How exciting is that?!

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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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