Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, October 24, 2015

Rain's My Choice!

I remembered something while talking to my baby brother yesterday.
A quote from Daddy:

It ain't no use to grumble and complain.
It's every bit as easy to rejoice.
When God sorts out the weather and sends rain . . .
Rain's my choice.

It reminded me, that, not only can't we control the weather, sometimes it does precious little good to stew over much of what happens in life.
So, whatever life chooses to dish out, that's what I'm going to go with.
Thanks, Dad!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Getting Smashed

Getting ready for the LONG trip . . .
It was the late 1950’s and Dad was in Toronto.
With 15 friends.
Twelve hairy chaps with four feet each.
And three not-so-hairy fellows who were . . . more like Dad.
Intrigued? Stay with me . . .
During the 50s, the government had programs encouraging people to raise bigger and better cattle. They even sponsored ranchers who were interested in hauling a few of their best cattle to agricultural shows around the country. They reasoned that said ranchers, eager for some first-place ribbons, would selectively breed bigger and better animals.
It worked.
Ranchers arrived at shows with trailer loads of their very best animals, hoping for a trophy or two and some recognition.
And that was what had brought Dad to Toronto. He and young friends Mike, Leroy and Patrick had driven from Alberta, carting a ‘carload’ (twelve steers) halfway across the country to the agricultural show there.
They learned a few things.
Some of which were unexpected.
Maybe I should explain . . .
The four friends arrived with several days to spare.
After unloading and settling their stock, they found they had time for some sight-seeing.
And the great Niagara was where they wanted to do it.
Renting a car, the four of them set out, touring, first the Canadian side of the falls, then crossing over the border to the American.
After several hours of ‘tourist-ing’, they decided that the next item on the agenda should probably include some sort of sustenance.
They began to scout around for a likely place.
And discovered that the restaurants nestled close around the falls were of the ‘posh’ variety.
Uh-oh.
Now these boys were all from the ranches of Southern Alberta. They were good boys. Polite. Respectful.
They just hadn’t been out and about much.
And never had any of them eaten at such high-class establishments.
They wandered around a bit, looking for a place where four young men – clean, but with calloused hands and traces of real manure on their boots - wouldn’t feel quite so out of place.
Finally, they picked a likely-looking prospect and walked in.
And discovered that the quiet exterior was slightly misleading.
This restaurant was definitely of the five-star variety.
Taking a collective deep breath, they hailed the Maitre’D and secured a table. Then further hiding their discomfort, proceeded to order, trying to sound as blasé about their surroundings at the other patrons appeared to be.
They did well.
Until Patrick was asked how he’d like his potatoes prepared.
“Smashed,” he said clearly.
The waiter stared at him. Finally, “Smashed?” he said.
“Smashed,” Patrick repeated.
The waiter nodded and, making a careful note on his pad, collected the menus and disappeared into the kitchen.
Leroy punched Patrick in the arm. “Smashed?” he said.
Patrick started to giggle.
Leroy joined him.
Then Mike.
All of their pent-up nervousness and discomfort burst out of the three of them in a joyous bubble of sound.
That they vainly tried to suppress.
This went on for some time. One of them would nearly gain control. Then look at the others and start again.
Ever try not to laugh? Seriously. In church or school or somewhere people aren’t supposed to laugh?
Yeah. It’s impossible.
Certainly it was for them.
Before long, the four friends were the cynosure (real word) of all eyes. And that just made them more nervous.
And less able to control their laughter.
They managed to make it through their painful meal.
Paid and finally escaped.
Oddly enough, none of them can remember what they ate. Apart from the smashed potatoes, of course.
But each of them learned a few things.
1. When in ‘Rome’, act as the Romans do.
2. When in ‘Rome’, speak as the Romans do.
3. Avoid potatoes in public.
And, most importantly . . .
4.  Don’t laugh.
Make a note in your guidebook.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Non-Sports-Related Injuries

Some of our blessings.
Caution: Lift with care.
I’ve been fairly active all my life.
And I have the scars to prove it.
I had all the usual bumps and bruises learning to walk as a baby.
Climbed and fell off of numerous fences, buildings, and assorted furniture.
Got trampled by an angry mama cow in the barnyard and got a flattened right boot.
Tried to fly using mom’s circular clothesline and almost bit my tongue right through.
Took a high-flier off my brother’s horse and landed on my face, resulting in impressive scratches and bruises.
Got a faceful of hoof from the same horse moments later.
Had an altercation with the arm of the armchair in my parents’ front room which resulted in one remarkable eyebrow.
Tore a twenty-two-inch groove in my leg from ankle to thigh, when I fell headfirst over the barbed-wire fence I was trying to cross.
Nearly lost my right hand in a cattle headgate.
Put all of my lower teeth through my lip when I got head-butted by an angry mama cow whose calf I was sitting on at the time.
And these were just injuries incurred in the course of growing up on a ranch.
I also sprained each ankle numerous times playing basketball, volleyball or baseball.
Sprained every single finger at least once – ditto.
Broke a wrist doing a celebratory leap.
Wrecked a knee running marathons.
Wrenched shoulders.
Sprained backs.
Twisted necks.
My purpose in telling you all of this is not so you will think I’m tough.
Or superwoman.
But because I don’t want you to think I give up easily.
That I can take pain and carry on.
But recently, I’ve developed a new injury.
Something I’ve never had before.
And I’m really struggling with it.
I went to the doctor complaining of pain in my elbow.
You heard me correctly.
My elbow.
She examined the offending joint. Worked it around. Hemmed and hawed. “You have tennis elbow,” she said decisively, moments later.
“Tennis elbow? How on earth did I get that?!” Since the knee injury, my sports participation has been strictly limited to laps of the pool.
And the occasional bike ride.
I’ve never even picked up a tennis racket.
“Well . . . golf elbow, then.”
Golf?! “Umm, that’s a game, right?”
She stared at me. “Well, what activities do you do?” she asked.
I frowned. “Swim. Bike. Play with my grandkids.”
Her eyes sharpened. “Grandkids?”
I nodded.
She smiled. “Do you lift said grandkids?”
I scratched my head. “Ye-es,” I said slowly.
“A lot?”
“Well, two of them live with me and one I babysit every day.”
She nodded, once more crisply confident. “That’s it, then.”
“What?” I was confused.
“I’m sure that the pain in your elbow can be directly attributed to the constant lifting of small bodies.” (Doctors talk like that . . .)
“I have . . . toddler elbow?”
She smiled. “In a word.”
Huh.
It’ll never be discussed in ‘Sports Illustrated’.
Never be the topic of concern for professional athletes.
But it’s real.
Toddler elbow.
To be found at a many grandparents’ houses near you.
You heard it here first.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Music to Hold Hands By

1965.
The year boys were discovered in Milk River.
Okay, yes, they had always been there.
And yes, I had seen them.
But up until that time, they had been covered with cooties.
True story.
Also true was the fact that, in 1965, I got my first, ever, boyfriend.
A real. Living. Breathing. Boy. Who liked me.
1965 was also the year for miracles.
Moving on . . .
I was finding out about the wondrous world of sitting in a movie with a boy.
Hanging out at recess with a boy.
Talking on the phone with a boy.
Sitting in assemblies with a  . . .
You get the idea.
It was new.
It was unusual.
It was amazing.
Okay, it didn’t last long. Let’s face it, both of us were ten. Attention spans are notoriously short when you’re ten.
But for a while . . .
My boyfriend and I and another friend were sitting in the travel trailer behind his parents’ house.
I should mention here that 1965 was also the year that we realized the radio played . . . music.
Rock and roll music.
I don’t know about you, but my parents’ radio was always tuned to the news.
Yep. The news.
Twenty-four hours a day.
Yuck.
Back to my story . . .
My boyfriend had fallen hard for a newly discovered group, The Beatles. He had bought one of their records and we were listening to it.
They were SO COOL!
It was the fifth or sixth time we had restarted the LP and by this point, all three of us were getting quite proficient with the words to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand!”
“I wanna hold your ha-a-and!” I was singing at the top of my lungs, really not caring who else might be listening. “I wanna hold your hand!”
My boyfriend took the hint. Sat beside me, took my hand and sang along.
It was the best moment of my life.
Then, suddenly, his mother appeared in the open door. “Diane, your Mom is here. Time to go.”
I looked at my boyfriend and grimaced. (Yes. Grimaced.)
Our moment was over.
But that was all right. I was sure there would be others.
Lots of them.
I was wrong. Not long afterwards, my boyfriend’s attention . . . wandered.
As did mine.
That’s the good thing about being 10.
But whenever I hear The Beatles sing, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, I’m back in the trailer behind his house and he and I are singing along at the top of our voices.
And holding hands.
Memories don’t get much better than that.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Cake Break

Home again.
With a real, working internet connection!
Yay!

I love hearing about people.
Where they came from.
Who their families were.
Their stories . . .

I have a good friend who was raised in a bakery.
Really.
Her family lived on the third floor of the building. The bakery was on the second, and the ‘workings’ (ovens and things) on the first.
I think it sounds like a small slice of heaven. Or maybe a large slice. Pun intended.
This is a part of her story . . .
Her father immigrated to their small Alberta town as a young man, intent on finding his way.
He took a job at the local bakery and, using skills brought with him from the old country, quickly made himself useful.
There was a girl at that bakery.
A pretty girl.
Daughter of the owner.
Much to the owner’s dismay, the two quickly became an item. I expect it was all right for Papa to be a baker, but he wanted more for his daughter.
Daughter had other plans.
The two made arrangements to be married.
And the father/boss gave grudging permission, both for the ceremony, and for the time away from the shop. But he only gave them enough of said time to perform the actual ceremony. Then both of them were to be back at the store to work.
Yes, it sounds odd to me as well.
Moving on . . .
The two slipped away to be married.
An hour later, they were back, aprons donned and ready to work.
Now the young new husband was very handy at decorating cakes.
Very handy.
In fact, he had been doing most of the decorating in the shop almost since his arrival.
As a gift for his young bride, he had created something really special. A many-tiered cake, astoundingly decorated with angels and trumpets and flowers painstakingly fashioned out of icing.
It had taken him some time.
Upon their return to the shop, he presented his gift.
It was . . . well received.
It was at that moment that another young groom came into the shop, intent on picking up the cake he had ordered for his celebration.
The cake, another decorated by our young husband, was duly handed over and paid for. Then, as the second groom carried his precious cargo out of the shop, he slipped and he and a mound of perfectly-arranged, meticulously-bedecked cake and frosting both hit the floor with a resounding splat.
He emerged unscathed.
The cake . . . didn’t.
The young man scrambled to his feet and stared down at the ruin of what had been a work of art.
And his gift to his new bride.
Dismay writ large, he looked over at the young baker.
Who, in turn, looked at his bride.
Who nodded silently.
Our young groom went into the back of the shop and emerged with his own gift. The one he had spent hours decorating for his beloved. The one she had enjoyed so briefly.
The two of them handed it silently over to the unhappy groom.
The story ends there.
I have to imagine the joy on the young man’s face.
The pain in the heart of the creator.
And that of his darling . . .
The two of them celebrated many, many years together. Took over the bakery and raised several children there.
There were other cakes.
Just as meticulously decorated.
Just as beautiful.
But none more appreciated than the first.

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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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