Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Finding Gentlemen

Me and Golly Gee.
And yes, that is a band aid on my nose.
Sexy!
I learned two things that summer.
1.      Barbed wire gates are tricky.
2.      Some young gentlemen, though they look strong, aren't.
Oh, and . . .
3.      They're still gentlemen.
I was herdsman for my Dad. Had been for two years.
It was a simple job, now that calving season was pretty much over.
My duties consisted of making sure that all four-footed red and white creatures were safe and happy.
Much like a mother hen.
On horseback.
The perfect job.
The only difficulty lay in the fact that all summer, there had been gangs of young men between the ranch buildings and the fields. Seismic crews more-or-less busy laying out lines and setting the charges that would indicate hidden reserves of oil.
The difficult part was in riding past them. 
It made me feel rather . . . conspicuous.
Particularly if they weren't busy at the moment and had nothing, other than me, to watch.
On this particular day, in full view of about ten pairs of eyes, I slid off my horse and effortlessly opened the gate.
Feeling distinctly uncomfortable.
Sigh.
I smiled, then hurriedly pulled my horse through and closed the gate.
I wasted no time in heading to the far side of the field, hoping that, when I was done, they would have moved a little further down the road.
It didn't happen.
By the time I finished my sweep, they had finished their work and were standing around, just outside the gate, waiting for their data to be collected.
And with nothing to do but watch me.
Perfect.
I dismounted and opened the gate.
Again, the cynosure (real word) of all eyes.
I led my horse through.
“Can I help you with that, Miss?”
I turned.
One of the young men, obviously a gentleman, had stepped forward.
I looked at the gate post in my hand, then back at him. “Umm . . . sure. Thank you.”
I handed him the post and stepped back.
He stuck the post into the bottom loop, then pushed it upright.
It didn't come anywhere near the all-important top loop.
I should point out here that a barbed wire gate is held shut by two loops of wire - one top and one bottom - on the lead post. If the bottom loop isn't high enough on said post, the gate is increasingly harder to fasten.
The young man had obviously seen me open the gate.
With the swat of one hand.
His manhood was now on the line.
He pushed, while trying not to appear that he was pushing.
Still no progress.
He began to get red-faced.
He put his shoulder to the post and pushed some more.
Still a gap of two or three inches.
A mile in 'gate' terms.
I suggested that he push the bottom loop a little higher on the post.
He did so.
And was still an inch out.
Oh, man.
He had offered to help me.
And he couldn't.
I couldn't bear to stand there and witness his embarrassment.
I told him, “I have to get to the ranch. I'll just leave you with that. Thank you so much!”
And gave him my biggest smile.
Then I jumped on my horse and made a quick exit.
A short time later, when the crew had moved on, I went back and checked the gate.
It was fastened.
I don't know if the poor man did it himself, or if half the crew had to help him.
At least I wasn't around to witness it.
But I will always be grateful.
He was a true gentlemen who personified my favourite expression, Nothing so strong as gentleness. Nothing so gentle as real strength.
You never know when you'll run into a true gentleman. Best to keep your eyes open.

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Knose Knows

The nose is okay. The teeth . . .
Okay, yes, I had been told never to do it.
In fact, I had been threatened with certain death punishment if I did do it.
But it was my favourite indoor thing to do!
I was four. I admit it, my world was small.
My family was living in the ranch house on the Stringam ranch.
Two bedrooms downstairs.
And . . . umm . . . two bedrooms up? (I think. Counting past four made my mind crazy. And it was dark and scary up there.)
I had my own room on the ground floor.
I had recently graduated from my little ‘kitty’ bed to my own giant, iron bed.
My giant, iron bouncy bed.
You can probably see where this is going . . .
During the night, bouncy iron beds are good for sleeping.
During the day, they make perfect trampolines.
Yeah. My mom didn’t get it, either.
She would come into my room.
Kiss me awake.
Make the bed.
And leave.
Probably the part where she ‘left’ was her biggest mistake.
Or making the bed.
It’s a toss-up.
There was this remarkably smooth surface.
That was incredibly bouncy.
It was a no-brainer. Literally.
So I did.
Bounce, that is.
Boing. Boing. Boing.
First, on my knees.
Then, graduating to my feet.
Oh, you can really catch air when you use all of you!
This is fun!
“Diane! Are you jumping on the bed?”
Stopping. “Umm . . . no!”
“Don’t jump on the bed! You’ll get hurt!”
I looked around at my lovely, soft friend. Pffff! How could I possibly get hurt?
Boing. Boing.
“Diane!”
How did she know?!
Boing.
“Diane!”
Man, that woman could see through walls!
I sat there for a moment.
Then I heard the kitchen door close.
Mom had stepped outside for some reason.
My time had come!!!
Boing. Boing. Boing. Boiing. Booiing. Booiinng. Booiinngg!
Okay, now I was really flying!
You remember when I mentioned that mine was an iron bed?
Well, this is where that fact comes into play.
And FYI? If noses and iron come into contact?
Noses lose.
CRUNCH!
It took a moment for me to realize that something had happened.
Because something had definitely happened.
“Ahhhhhh!!! Moooooommmm!!!!” I can’t quite produce it here. Think of something high-pitched and piercing. Like an air raid siren.
Mom ran into the room and wrapped her erring daughter in warm, loving, Kleenex-bearing arms.
My little nose was shattered at the point of contact. The bridge.
I sported two very black eyes and a sore snout for many, many days.
I’d like to say I learned my lesson.
And I did. Sort of.
After my wounds had healed, and when Mom wasn’t looking, I still jumped on the bed.
But I hung onto the iron headboard.
That way, it couldn't leap out at me unexpectedly.
Because they do that.
I'm happy to report that today, over 56 years later, I no longer jump on beds. The ceiling is simply too close for comfort.
But I do jump on trampolines.
Oddly enough, whenever I do, my nose hurts.
It remembers.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Waiting For It

When I was four, my parents had a TV.
A wonderful, marvellous creation that stood on its own four legs in one corner of the living room.
And, if one waited, showed the most magical, amazing programs. Like Friendly Giant.
If one waited.
After breakfast, I would hurry to the living room—and the TV therein—and look to see if something had appeared.
Usually, nothing had.
Let’s face it. I lived on a ranch. Breakfast was E.A.R.L.Y.
And the TV stations didn’t wake up until long after morning chores were done.
Wussies.
I would stare at the dark screen for a while, quietly willing something to happen.
Then begin playing.
During those early hours, play often consisted of something that kept me close to said TV.
Or following Mom around, asking when Friendly Giant would be on.
Once in a while, the genius woman would say, “Soon,” park her repetitive and annoying daughter in front of the set, and turn it on.
The Indian Head test pattern would show its familiar face. So to speak.
And keep me entertained for some time.
Did you know that, if you stare at it long enough, it . . . changes?
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Eventually, ‘O, Canada’ would start and, immediately after that, I would see tiny little figures and ‘that big boot’.
Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
My day had officially begun.
Moving forward a generation . . .
No longer did one ever stare at a blank screen or a test pattern.
For my eldest son, it was a matter of watching some lessor show whilst waiting for Sesame Street to come on.
Because the programs just kept on coming.
Another generation forward . . .
Yesterday, my granddaughter (Hereinafter known as Little Girl—or LG for short—was sitting in her parents’ bedroom.
Looking up at the big screen TV on the wall.
The conversation went something like this:
LG: “Mo-om! I’m done watching that. I want to watch this, now!”
Daughter: “Well, here’s the remote. Choose which one you want.”
LG: “It’s taking too long.”
Me: “Sigh.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Poo-gestion Prevention

Okay, this is as gritty as I get . . .
We were having dinner with our good friends.
Lots of talk. Tons of laughter.
And some eating fit in there somewhere.
You know the drill . . .
The talk turned from our kids (our favourite topic) to dogs.
Another favourite.
Our friend, I’ll call her Tammy, mentioned with a shudder, that their miniature schnauzer (hereinafter known as Ruby), sometimes would . . . umm . . . eat those droppings she should have left far behind.
Yes, this was during dinner – now you know why there was more talk and laughter than eating.
Moving on . . .
Tammy had read, recently, that this usually indicated a lack of potassium.
And that the best treatment was to feed her dog a bit of banana.
Did you know that dogs like banana?
Well they do.
Ruby snapped it up like manna from heaven.
And the . . . umm . . . unfortunate tendency . . . disappeared.
Ta-daa!
Tammy’s husby - I’ll call him Gord - spoke up.
“You know,” he said. “I knew it would work!”
We all looked at him.
“Yeah. I’ve been eating bananas forever . . .”
We waited for the punch line.
“. . . and I’ve never once been tempted to eat my droppings!”
Banana. Tasty prevent-er of so many things . . .

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Generational Lava

“Gaahh! Mom! You’re standing in the lava!”
Mom and Dad had taken us kids to see the movie ‘Krakatoa, East of Java’.
(Okay, yes, I know that the title is geographically incorrect, but that was what it was called.)
It had scared me to death. All my young, six-year-old mind could think of after that was trying to get away from the slowly-flowing river of death.
And my favourite game became the daring deathwalk over precariously-placed pillows across the lava lake that was the front room.
I was at it again.
And Mom wasn’t cooperating.
“Oops! Sorry!” Mom jumped lightly onto the closest pillow.
Whew! That was close! I didn’t have a lot of Moms to spare. I’d sure hate to lose this one.
For hours, my brother and I made up scenarios that necessitated leaping back and forth across the pillows and landing, temporarily safe, on the couch or coffee table.
It was fun.
And, nimble kids that we were, we never got burned even once.
Fast forward a few years . . .
My kids were downstairs playing.
I went to check on them.
They had pillows placed at strategic intervals across the family room floor.
“Careful, Mom! Don’t step in the lava!”
Now where did they get that idea?
The déjà vu was frightening.
And, moving forward again - a lot of years . . .
Yesterday, my daughter and I were visiting in the front room, seated comfortably in recliners.
Her daughter and another granddaughter were playing.
They had been through the toy box.
And had graduated to hiding under piles of cushions on the couch.
Giggling.
A few minutes went by.
“Careful!” the three-year-old said.
I turned to see what they were doing.
They had set the cushions out across the floor in a line and were hopping back and forth along them.
“Stay on the bridge!” the three-year-old cautioned. “Don’t get hurt!”
The two-year old jumped off the last cushion and onto the floor.
“Gaahh!” my daughter and I said together. “You’re stepping in the lava!”
Okay, now I see where it comes from . . .

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Little Corn-y

I can only dream.
I’ve never been able to grow corn.
The planets are aligned against it.
Why am I thinking of this in the middle of winter?
Because it’s the middle of winter.
Moving on . . .
For over forty years, I’ve kept a garden.
Oh, it has changed in that time.
Mostly gotten smaller.
For many, many of those years, I attempted to grow corn.
Corn-on-the-cob just says summer to me.
Most of the time, my tidy little corn plants merely peeked above ground.
Sighed.
And died.
Twice, they grew to maturity.
Developed ears, even.
And then . . .
Well, let me tell you about it.
I had a large garden behind our mobile home just outside of Orton, Alberta. (Near Fort MacLeod)
It was growing beautifully.
The weather had cooperated.
The rains had come when they were needed.
Plenty of sun.
For the first time, ever, I had mature corn plants.
Nearly ready to harvest mature corn plants.
Then, one sunny, but slightly breezy day, the county sprayer drove by.
Spraying the ditches.
For weeds.
Now, if there is any wind, the county sprayers are supposed to be cautious. Not spray near homesteads. Avoid people.
This sprayer . . . wasn’t.
And did.
And the next day, I walked out into my garden and noticed that everything looked . . . wilted.
My first thought was frost.
Okay, it was July, the only month of the year when frost is . . . uncommon.
Then I remembered the sprayer.
Long story short – the weed-killer had lived up to its name.
My garden – and my beautiful corn – was dead.
Sigh.
A couple of years later, in a different small house and with a different garden patch, I again saw my efforts to grow corn rewarded.
Saw ears develop.
And then . . . grasshoppers.
In 1983, in Southern Alberta, we had a ‘plague of locusts’. A real plague – look it up. They were so numerous that cars were known to slip in the tide that constantly flowed across the roads. They devoured crops and hay.
And my corn. Drilled holes right through those babies.
Another sigh.
Oh, I didn’t give up.
I tried.
And tried.
And tried.
But never again did my corn amount to anything more than tall, attractive (earless) plants.
I still eat corn.
And corn-on-the-cob still shouts summer to me.
But, alas, someone else has to do the growing.
I will stick with the appreciating.
And devouring.
The two things I’m obviously best at.

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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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