|Supplier of kindliness. And food.|
The Stringam ranch was a large spread situated some twenty miles from the town of Milk River, Alberta.
The land stretched for miles along the Alberta-Montana border.
The buildings were nestled in a picturesque prairie valley somewhere in the middle, surrounded by tall cliffs and the lazy sweep of the south fork of the Milk River itself.
It was nine miles to the nearest neighbour.
But we got there as often as we could.
Or, at least we kids did.
Maybe I should explain . . .
In my day, the school bus service ended at Nine-Mile corner, a triangle of crossroads exactly – you guessed it - nine miles from the ranch.
This necessitated the driving, twice a day, of a vehicle to intercept said bus.
Okay, it was something unheard-of in this day of school bus service to your door, but it was a fact in the sixties.
Mom was the driver of choice, with occasional relief work by Dad.
But that’s only a peripheral to my story . . .
Less than a mile from that corner, at the end of a long driveway, was the Sproad farm. Our nearest neighbours.
Ben and Clestia Sproad were an elderly couple who raised sheep and milk cows. Their daughter had married and moved away and they had settled into a routine of farm work, household duties, grandparenting and kindliness.
Their home was a haven of peace, cleanliness, love and fabulous German baking.
Every day, after the bus had deposited our little group beside the road, and if our intercept vehicle was not in sight, we would excitedly begin the long trek toward the promise of smiling faces and wonderful food.
We didn’t make it often.
Usually, the ranch station wagon would come skidding around the corner in a cloud of dust and slide to a halt beside us, before we had taken much more than a few steps.
But occasionally, if Mom had been delayed, we managed the ten-minute walk and actually grabbed the brass ring.
Or, in this case, the freshly-baked reward for our efforts.
Served happily by Mrs. Sproad, and accompanied by her soft, cheerful chatter.
“Oh, Di-ane! You are getting zo big. Zoon you’ll be taller than me! Here. Have another.” And she was right. By the time I was in sixth grade, I had passed her by.
On these special days, Mom would appear, rather red-faced and spilling apologies. “Oh, Clestia! I’m so sorry! I got tied up . . .”
It didn’t matter. Mrs. Sproad would laugh and offer something to Mom as well.
Soon we would be on the road back to the ranch.
Still tired from the day.
But with bellies filled with yumminess and hearts filled with cheer.
Nine-Mile corner no longer exists.
And the Sproads have long been gone.
But I can still taste that baking.
And feel the love.