Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



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by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Scarred by Life

Hands tell everything.
I was sitting in Church beside my dad and comparing my hand to his.
Mine were small, white and smooth.
Unmarked by life and softly innocent.
His were large, square, calloused.
Scarred by barbed wire and by life.
Hands that had wrestled cattle and the occasional bronc.
Hauled hay and grain.
Twisted wire or pounded nails.
Held books and rustled important papers.
Sewed up wounds and dispensed medications.
Smacked the occasional errant backside.
And tenderly held babies.
Hands that had accomplished something.
I measured my hand against his.
Would mine ever grow to be the same size?
I looked at my Mom's hands.
Long, tapered fingers with close-cropped nails.
Hands that scrubbed surfaces and small, wiggling bodies.
Punched bread and rolled out pie crust.
Cooked and stirred.
Gathered, sorted and folded.
Swept and cleaned.
Hands occasionally stained with ink from her writing.
And dirt from her gardening.
Scarred by her forays into the barnyard to help when help was needed.
Hands that soothed when others hurt and applied love and bandages in equal amounts.
And finally folded, blue-veined and fragile, over a still breast in peace.
Hands that had accomplished something.
Yesterday, my granddaughter was sitting next to me.
She placed her hand, soft, white and innocent, against mine.
"Will my hands ever grow as big as yours, Gramma?"
"Yes, dear. Certainly."
"I like to look at your hands, Gramma." She pointed. "What is this scar here?"
"Barbed wire, sweetheart."
"Did it hurt?"
"Probably. But not for long."
"You have lots of scars, Gramma."
"Scars are life, written in your hands," I told her.
"Oh." She turned my hand over. "Lots of scars."
"From doing things," I said.
I thought of the 'things' that my hands have done.
Cooked. Cleaned.
Baked. Sewed.
Wrestled cattle and chickens and pigs and puppies.
And small children.
Turned pancakes and pages.
Built houses and fences.
Written.
So many things.
Wonderful things.
I smiled at my granddaughter. "Your hands will do things, too," I said. "Important things."
"Like yours?"
I nodded. "Like mine." 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Edible Etiquette

Dad at College.
My Dad (hereinafter called 'Mark') attended college in Guelph, Ontario, training to be a veterinarian. Class of 1948.
His schooling there was fascinating.
His life in the off-school hours, even more so . . .
I should mention, here, that dad, the last child in a very large ranching family, had been raised with order.
And a degree of meticulousness.
Something he didn’t realize until he moved ‘out into the world’.
Back to my story . . .
Mark had secured a room at one of the local homes for the duration of his stay.
He and another Vet student happily carted in their belongings.
Met the family. Mom. Dad. Kids.
Settled in.
Appeared for their first breakfast.
And were immediately introduced to the differences in accepted family table practices.
At first, all went well.
Good food. Plenty of it.
Then, the son of the family grabbed a piece of toast and reached for the large jar of jam.
Taking the spoon that had been provided, he scooped out a large dollop and dropped it onto his toast.
Then licked off the spoon.
And shoved it back into the jar.
Others in the family proceeded to do the same.
Mark blinked.
And decided he’d have his toast without jam that morning.
Then that same young man poured himself a large glass of milk.
Drank some.
And poured the rest back into the jug.
Something that also turned out to be a common family practice as the boy's father cautioned him, "Pour it carefully, Son!"
Mark, wincing slightly, avoided the milk.
And anything else on the table that became ‘communal’.
I don’t want to say that Mark was fastidious but . . .
Okay, Mark was fastidious.
I think I would have been the same.
Two weeks in, he and his roommate decided they simply couldn’t take it any longer.
And said roommate decided that Mark should be the one to tell their landlady.
Sigh.
In what was one of the most uncomfortable moments of his life to that date, he gave notice to the thoroughly-dismayed woman.
“But the semester’s started!” she moaned. “I’ll never fill my rooms now!” She looked at Mark. “Why?!” she asked.
Ugh, the question he had most been dreading.
Haltingly, he explained.
She stared at him.
Then let him go.
Happily, Mark and his roommate settled into other housing.
The food wasn't as good, but it was a little less . . . shared.
And in case you’re wondering if that poor woman managed to secure new boarders, the answer is yes.
A few weeks later, Mark was talking to some fellow classmates and discovered that one of them was actually living in his old digs.
Mark asked--a trifle hesitantly--about the table manners there.
Fine. Perfect, even.
So either, that young man was accustomed to the common trough, or the landlady had taken Dad’s concerns to heart.
The result was the same.
Everyone was happy.
And well fed.
And that’s really all that counts.
Dad learned lots of things at college.
But the first was: ‘Share the sustenance. Not the Saliva!’

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Thar She Blows!

Okay. Picture them a little more tousled and windblown . . .

The wind blows in Southern Alberta.

And I don't mean blows in the modern 'that really stinks' way.
Although it's true.
No, I mean blows in the old-fashioned 'wind is really strong' way.
Because it blows.
Hard.
From the West.
And constantly.
One never quite gets used to it.
Even when one is raised with it.
It's . . . irritating.
People try to cope.
They make jokes about it.
Like the farmer getting out of bed hours earlier than usual, telling his wife that he needs the extra time to drive to the next province because that's where his land has drifted to.
Or being able to tell how old a person is by the direction and angle of their leaning.
Wind is a part of living on the prairies.
You just do the best you can.
When my husby and I lived in our first home, a mobile one, we were careful to park it East to West, instead of North to South.
That gave our home a marginally better chance of not being rolled.
Yes. The wind is strong.
Case in point . . .
I had been to town with my (then) four kids, ages 6, 5, 2 and 0.
We pulled up to our house.
I should point out, here, that our little home was newly-built and stood at the top of a small hill, clearly exposed to the prevailing breezes.
Which were . . . prevailing.
And the 2000+ trees we had planted in rows about the house were years away from providing any actual . . . wind break-ish-ness.
We got out of the car.
The older two boys made a bee-line for the house.
No sense in standing out in the open to be pummelled by God's natural sand-blaster.
I unbuckled my two-year-old, Duffy, and lifted him from the car, then turned and unclasped the baby's car seat.
Then I turned back and reached for Duffy's hand.
I missed.
He was eager to get to the house and was already following his two big brothers.
He had just reached the front of the car when a big gust of wind knocked him flat.
But it didn't stop there.
No, it continued to blow, rolling him over and over, across the yard.
“Mommy!” he shrieked.
I didn't dare set the baby down for fear of the same thing happening to her, so I ran after him as fast as I could, still lugging the car seat.
It was like a scene out of a movie.
Little boy doing a tumbleweed impression while his mother, hampered by yet another child (with carrier), runs after him.
I'm almost sure I saw Charlie Chaplin do something similar . . .
I managed to catch my son when he snagged against the corner post of the garden fence.
He was shaken up and dusty, but otherwise unharmed.
We grow them tough in the prairies.
Now we'll just have to work on growing them heavier.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dark. And Scary

Debbie.
Mischief, mayhem and entertainment in one package.
In college, I shared a two-bedroom apartment with three other girls.
Debbie, she of the famed moth abhorrence, and I in one room, the other two girls in the second.
The apartment was on the main floor of an older, period home, with wonderful hardwood floors and original doors and fixtures.
And windows.
And therein hangs a tale. 
So to speak.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
We loved it there.
The south window in Debbie's and my bedroom faced the garage.
It was never locked.
The window, I mean.
With a barrel pushed underneath, it made an excellent entrance to our apartment.
None of this having to tramp around the house, through the entrance and clear across the living room.
Nope. We could step right into our room, drop our boots under the window, and we were home.
I don't think we used our keys to the front door once in the entire year we lived there.
And neither did our friends . . .
So noises from that window were not unusual.
Though not always expected.
One evening, Debbie and I were getting ready for bed.
Well, she was.
I was busy selecting a book for my usual nighttime read.
Without warning, the blind, which had been pulled down over the window, snapped up.
Whip! Whip! Whip!
Debbie, standing there half in and half out of her jammies, screamed. (And you can believe me when I say that no one could scream quite like Debbie.)
And scurried out into the front room.
Then she screamed again.
Louder, this time.
Then I heard a thump. A decided body-hitting-the-hardwood thump.
I dropped my book and dashed out into the front room.
To find Debbie collapsed on the floor in front of our little entryway.
I should mention here that the entry to our apartment was about four feet square.
There was a tiny coat rack built into one side. On the wall between that rack and the door was a small window.
Uncurtained.
It was dark outside.
And the lights were on inside.
Moving on . . .
I rushed over to my friend.
And realized that she was lying there . . . helpless with laughter.
She had dashed out of our room, pulling up her pajama bottoms.
Then she had seen movement in the entry.
Someone was looking at her!
She screamed and collapsed.
Only then realizing that the combination of dark night and lighted room had created a mirror-like trait in our little entry window.
She had seen . . . Debbie.
It must have been a scary sight.

Monday, April 18, 2016

My Grandpa Memory

My Grandpa as I remember him.
With my older siblings, Chris and Jerry. 
My Grandpa, George Lewis Stringam, was born in 1876, in Holden Utah.
He ranched there with his dad. Married. Prepared to welcome children.
And then tragedy struck.
His first wife, Mary Ann (May) Snow, passed away, together with her twin unborn sons, following an accident involving a carriage and runaway horses.
Broken hearted, Grampa continued to ranch. Then accepted a call to serve a mission for his church to Australia.
After his return home, he married longtime friend, Sarah Lovina Williams and they set up housekeeping, first on his father’s farm, then on their own place in Teasdale, Utah.
A few years later, they had settled in Glenwood, Alberta, ranching there and in the Milk River area, and raising nine of eleven children.
My dad was the baby.
Grampa was a rancher, husband, father, grandfather, MLA for Cardston for three terms, faithful church attender and leader, neighbour and friend.
He was faithful, honest, hardworking, kind, and thorough, with a terrific sense of humour and a firm belief that actions should always speak louder than words.
My Dad loved him and tried to emulate him throughout his life.
Grandpa Stringam passed away just before I turned four.
I have only one memory of him . . .
My grandparents, in their later years, moved to the city of Lethbridge, in Southern Alberta. The main entry of their home opened onto a hallway that bisected the house, front to back, with French doors to the right, leading into the living room.
Behind those doors was my grandfather’s recliner.
At this point in time, he must have been quite ill with the cancer that finally took his life.
All I know is that’s where I found him.
Reclined in his chair, feet up and newspaper spread out in front of him.
“Grampa!” I said.
The newspaper dropped. “There’s our little Diane girl!”
That was all the invitation I needed.
There was Grandpa. There was Grandpa’s lap. Just waiting for a little girl to snuggle.
And that’s what I did.
For several minutes, I cuddled there, listening to his heart beating and the sound of his voice coming through his chest as he talked to my parents.
I didn’t follow the conversation, which was probably quite serious.
All I knew was that I felt safe. And cared for.
Breathing in, for what turned out to be the last time, the scent that was Grandpa.
As a young man

During his mission to Australia

Oh, the missionary life!

May 4, 1903

At my parents' wedding
Gramma and Grampa Stringam on their Golden Anniversary

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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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