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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Saturday, June 18, 2016

Candy in a Bottle

Does this look delicious to you? Yeah, me either . . .
My Mom had a magic cupboard in her bathroom.
It was full of wonderful little bottles.
Intriguing little bottles with funny shapes and beautiful colours.
And with all sorts of interesting contents.
Most of them defied my little three-year-old fingers.
But one twisted off easily.
Disclosing little, white pills.
Mmmm.
Okay they didn't taste very good, but they were little.
And melted on my tongue in a fun way.
I had another.
And another.
This was fun!
Mom came in just as I was finishing the bottle.
For some reason, she got quite upset.
She grabbed me and ran to the phone.
For a few seconds, she chattered excitedly.
Then she carried me to the kitchen and set me on the cupboard and hugged me tight.
I didn’t know what I had done that had gotten her so excited, but this was living!
Or not . . .
A few minutes later, a man came into the house carrying a black bag.
He put a tube down my throat.
And Mom let him!
Weird.
And traumatic.
I cried.
For several minutes, the two of them fought to keep the tube where they wanted it.
With minimal/non-existent results.
Finally, Mom stuck her fingers down my throat and made me gag.
And I lost all of my wonderful little pills.
Um. Ick.
The doctor packed away his horrible tube and left.
I wasn't sad to see him go.
Mom cuddled me for most of the afternoon.
Sigh.
Nice.
A few days later, I was again exploring Mom's treasure cupboard.
Well, look at that.
A new bottle of my little pills.
I wonder if they will taste any better.
Mom came in a bit earlier this time, but I had still ingested over half of the bottle.
She didn't bother calling the doctor, just used her patented new method to make me bring the pills back up.
This time, I got a scolding.
Moms can be so inconsistent.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Super...Gone

If you are ever in Denver . . .
Somewhere in or near Denver, Colorado, is my wonderful, stupendous, long-awaited, much-anticipated, beloved, toy of the century.
The one that was mine too briefly.
Sigh.
Maybe I should explain . . .
When I was growing up, my rancher father often took his family on holidays.
Said holidays usually included some form of cattle show.
Or cattle ranch visit.
Or driving down the highway slowly because someone’s herd was there.
In the field.
I know you’re wondering what this has to do with my toy.
It’s coming . . .
This particular family trip had been planned with the National Western Stock Show - annually held in Denver - in mind.
And that was okay with me.
Because said stock show also included horse classes.
And I had a new toy.
Now it comes out . . .
The Wham-o company had just released the most amazing gadget.
A solid rubber ball that would bounce higher and do more tricks than anything that had ever been invented.
Aptly named the ‘Superball’, it was a thing of beauty.
An amazing little ball of rubber that promised hours and hours of entertainment.
I had wanted one forever.
Well, since I had first seen an ad a couple of months before.
Dad had stopped at a store before heading over to the stock show.
They had them! A whole display!
I was at a store that actually had the magical little balls for sale.
And my Dad was there.
With his wallet.
The planets had aligned. The day was mine!
And so, incidentally, was my little, dark blue miracle.
I pried open the package and, for the first time, felt the cool, smooth surface of the greatest high-bouncing ball of all time.
I sat there in the truck and held it.
Staring at it.
Smelling it.
I couldn’t wait to give it a good bounce.
Dad pulled into the stock section of the fair grounds and we all got out and went into the nearest pavilion.
I found myself standing in the lane of a long, concrete-floored, stall-lined, barn of a building.
Perfect.
I lifted the hand holding the ball . . .
And smashed it down onto the pavement as hard as I could.
Wow.
All of the ads never really paid it full justice.
That little ball hit that hard surface and shot like a missile toward the ceiling.
I stared at it; eyes wide and mouth open in a foolish grin of pleasure.
Then my magical toy came down.
Down.
Finally landing somewhere in the endless mounds of straw that filled the building.
Okay, that, I never anticipated.
I searched for that ball for hours.
I’d be searching still if my Dad hadn’t dragged me away for some frivolous ‘have-to-eat-and-sleep-and-for-heaven’s-sake-it’s-only-a-ball’ reason.
My one and only Superball.
You know, the ads claimed that it would keep on bouncing, almost forever. 
The ads were wrong.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

DON'T Sing it, Sam!

Oh, please! Not that song again!

I grew up on a large old Southern Alberta ranch.
Among cattle, horses and hired men.
I loved it.
I spent many happy hours riding (or sleeping) on the horses.
Chasing the barn cats.
Catching mice.
Wandering through the corrals and feed lots.
Or my favourite, watching the hired men.
It was while doing the last, that I received both my nickname and my signature song.
Let me tell you about it . . .
The Stringam Ranch generally employed six or more hired men.
They worked hard.
Wrangling cattle.
Breaking horses.
Fencing.
Doing one of the myriad tasks that were ranching.
But, inevitably, each job included one extra chore.
Watching over Diane.
I don't want to say that I was always under foot but . . .
Okay. I was always under foot.
When they were in the corral with the horses, I was perched on the fence.
When they were milking the cows, I was sitting on one of the empty stools nearby.
When they were hauling hay, I was in the cab of the truck, nose pressed against the back window.
Yep. If anything was happening, you can bet Diane was in the middle of it.
I should point out, here, that these men were good men.
Hard working.
Dependable.
A bit rough around the edges.
But that I never heard one curse word from any of them.
Ever.
Looking back, I'm sure they knew these words.
They just never used them around me.
Believe me, I would have repeated anything I heard.
Back to my story . . .
It must have been a trifle . . . inconvenient . . . having the boss' four-year-old daughter always under foot.
They never complained.
In fact, they even had a nickname for me.
Danny.
Which I loved.
And gave me my very own song, “Danny Boy”.
Which I didn't.
I'm not sure who was the first to discover this song.
Or my aversion to it.
But the word quickly spread.
Soon, whenever I would appear, someone would begin singing, “Oh, Danny boy . . .”
Whereupon (good word) I would cover both of my ears and scream, “Noooooo!”
Then run away.
It was magical.
Not one word need be said.
And they could continue their work in peace.
Genius.
Moving forward thirty years . . .
When my youngest son Tristan was born, he was our 'Little Warty Boy'.
I'm not sure who came up with this.
Or why.
He didn't have warts or anything.
It just seemed to fit.
He even got a song. (Sung to the tune of 'Surfer Girl')
“Little tiny warty boy,
Fills my heart with so much joy.
Do you love me,
Little Warty Boy?”

We sang this for years.
Until he was about four and abruptly developed an aversion to it.
Suddenly, he began covering his ears and screaming, “Noooooo!” whenever someone started singing.
I felt his pain.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Learning to Ride

See? Blue.
When my husband married me, he got more than he expected.
I came with baggage.
More correctly.
Horses.
One was blue in colour.
Aptly and creatively named, 'Bluey'.
Okay, so imaginative, we weren't.
Bluey was . . . not a pretty horse.
She was an appaloosa-cross mare. About ten years old.
Like many of her breed, she had no mane. And an embarrassment for a tail.
But she was gentle and quiet. Patient and un-stampedable.
Perfect for farm kids.
But Bluey had one fault.
She was tall.
Too tall for the average child to climb on unassisted.
And that's where my story starts . . .
Mark and Erik, our two oldest boys, were in Bluey's field.
Playing.
Mark, 4, especially loved to ride.
But neither he nor his younger brother could climb up on their gentle friend.
Even though she was perfectly willing to stand quietly while they tried.
First, it was Erik helping his brother.
But they quickly discovered that three-year-old Erik's muscles simply weren't up to the task.
Finally, Mark had an idea.
He could help his little brother get up on Bluey.
At least one of them could have fun.
I have often imagined the conversation . . .
Mark: “Here, Erik, I'll boost your up.”
Erik (eyeing the mare suspiciously): “I want to go home.”
Mark: “In a minute. First, you get to have a little ride.”
Erik: “Don't want to ride.”
Mark: “Yes you do. It's fun.”
Erik: “Pretty sure I don't.”
Mark: “You're little. What do you know? C'mon.”
Erik: “Sigh.”
He submitted.
Once he was safely installed, Mark stepped back.
And gave the mare a slap. 'To get her going'.
She went.
Right out from under Erik.
Not a good thing.
A short time later, two boys came to the house.
One in tears.
They had both learned an important lesson.
The hardest thing about learning to ride is the ground.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Monsters on Holiday

Lake Okanagan. It only LOOKS peaceful and serene...
The Ogopogo was going to get me!
Ahem . . .
I have a vivid imagination.
I admit it.
It’s carried me to places near and far.
Most of which simply don’t exist.
But that doesn’t stop me from visiting them.
The problem with a vivid imagination is that it can cause you a lot of needless worry and some amazing heart gymnastics.
On with my story . . .
My family was visiting Penticton on the south shore of Lake Okanagan in the beautiful interior of British Columbia.
We had been having a marvelous time.
Picking fruit.
Eating fruit.
And stopping at any and all tourist sites.
Heaven.
We were camped just feet away from the shore of the lake.
A beautiful, peaceful body of water approximately 80 miles long and with an average depth of about 250 feet.
Now, I should mention here that I loved swimming.
I had learned in the muddy waters of the Milk River that flowed past our ranch.
We spent our entire summer in that river.
So, murky-ness didn’t scare me.
Nope.
What scared me were the tales of the great Ogopogo that supposedly inhabited that serene-looking body of water. The Ogopogo with its horse-shaped head and great undulating, serpent-like body that had been known to swallow native canoeists whole.
I stood on the beach and stared long and hard at the water, looking for anything that might betray the presence of the beast. Because I knew that, if I slid even one foot into that water, the monster would immediately sense the presence of a ten-year-old gleamingly white-skinned, skinny, tow-headed girl and think, “Oooh! My favourite meal!”
And pop to the top.
I knew it.
I would rather have watched my feet break through the scummy surface of some smelly municipal sewer than to disappear beneath the clean water of Lake Okanagan.
Except that sewers have been known to harbour their own monsters.
Sigh.
Finally, with much cajoling and some really pointed teasing, I waded in.
And I do mean waded – the water never reached my knees.
I wasn’t happy about it.
Every splash made me jump.
And I had a nagging, persistent feeling that great, piercing, bloodshot eyes were watching my every move, deciding where would be the tastiest place to sink sharp, ragged teeth.
I spent the entire ‘swim’ continually glancing behind me, certain I’d see a line of ripples leading in my direction. Or worse, a great, hulking form rising up out of the water, slavering jaws wide open and  . . . eww . . . dripping.
And where would my holiday be then?
Finally, I parked my little self on the beach.
Safely back from the monster-filled water.
Under a lovely, toasty sun.
I watched my brothers and sisters and scores of others as they tempted fate.
Silly, foolish people.
Tourist view in Kelowna.

'Actual' photo of the Ogopogo. You decide . . .

Monday, June 13, 2016

Ready, Aim . . . Chocolate.

How do you relax after dinner?
Okay, I admit it: Our family is weird.
We like theatrics.
And things medieval.
Case in point:
My husband has a collection of catapults.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Catapults.
He loves them.
Oh, they're not large enough to cause havoc.
And certainly not of a size to terrorize the neighbourhood.
Although I wouldn't mention that to him. It might give him ideas.
Moving on . . .
No. His catapults are small.
Suitable for launching little, foil-wrapped chocolates.
Which he does.
Usually after family meals.
Our family is large.
And we have two tables in our dining room.
One round table, built by my Husby and seen here.
And one smaller table, also built by my Husby, which seats all of the grandchildren.
It is to this smaller table that he retreats after the meal is done.
With his grandkids, his catapults and his stockpile of chocolate balls.
Which he and his little army then proceed to fire at anyone left sitting at the main table.
Remember when I mentioned 'weird'?
That would apply here.
I should point out that the balls of chocolate don't hurt.
The little catapults barely throw them with sufficient force to get them to the other table.
Back to my story . . .
The usual targets of the invading hoards are their wife and/or mothers and/or grandmother.
Who have all learned to duck when needed.
I should also mention that, perhaps fortunately, their aim isn't great.
One day, we had just finished one of Grandpa's sumptuous feasts and he and assorted grandchildren had set up a siege at the kid's table.
Several of the moms were still sitting at the main table.
Visiting.
One of our granddaughters, five-year-old Kyra, came to tell her mother something.
Her timing was . . . unfortunate.
She had placed herself right in the line of fire.
So to speak.
A chocolate ball whizzed towards her.
With unusual, but deadly precision.
Thock!
Right in the center of her forehead.
She gasped and clapped one hand over the spot.
Everyone burst out laughing.
She wavered between laughter and tears for a few seconds.
Then her mother told her that she got to eat the offending chocolate ball.
And any thought of tears was forgotten.
She hunted for, and happily ate, the treat.
Then disappeared.
A few minutes later, she was back.
“Mom, can I have another chocolate ball?”
Her mother looked at her. “You have to let Grampa shoot one at you first.”
“Oh.”
She thought about that for a moment.
Then she put both hands, palms out, over her forehead and stood up tall. “Okay, Grampa! I'm ready!”
Bravery.
It comes in all shapes, sizes and ages.
But never more noticeable than in a weird family.
After dinner.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Men and Women: The Differences

I know it's hard to tell, but there are differences . . .
My husby and I were just finishing supper.
The doorbell rang.
He went to answer it.
It was a good friend from our Drama Society, who needed to discuss . . . drama.
We sat down in the living room.
And discussed.
Then, as usually happened, the discussing turned to visiting.
But something about the visit was odd. He wouldn't look at me.
I should point out that this was a man that both my husby and I had been good friends with for over fifteen years.
Our families were close.
We had spent many, many hours together, rehearsing, performing  and directing plays.
And much of that time had been spent in visiting.
This was the first time he wouldn't look at me while doing so.
Weird.
An hour and a half later, he left.
I shook off my uneasy feelings and went to get ready for bed.
I opened my mouth to floss my teeth.
And discovered that a leaf of lettuce was neatly covering one of my upper front teeth.
Not wedged between.
Not faintly visible.
Covered.
Like it had been painted.
Green.
Ick.
I stared.
Suddenly things were becoming clear.
Suddenly I knew why our friend hadn't been able to look at me during our visit.
I turned to my husby.
“Honey, I have a lettuce leaf covering my tooth!”
“Yes.”
Okay, a man of many words, my husby isn't.
I swallowed. Hard.
I knew the answer, but I asked it anyway. “Was it there the whole time we were visiting?”
“Yes.”
“Why didn't you tell me???!!!”
“I didn't want to embarrass you.”
“What?! You don't think I'm more embarrassed now?!”
He shrugged.
I took a deep breath.
“Honey, I want you to promise me something.”
“Okay,” he said, rather warily.
“Promise me that if you see anything, anything that I would be embarrassed about, you will tell me.”
“Umm. Okay.”
And there we see a fundamental difference between men and women.
Women will go out of their way to tell a total stranger that the tag is sticking out of the back of their blouse.
Or that they have something stuck in their hair.
Or that they have some gravy on their sleeve.
And then offer aid.
Men don't.
Tell, that is.
Or aid.
If they observe it at all, they keep it to themselves.
Even with other men.
I once saw a man standing in a group of men with his zipper down.
And his shirttail sticking out of said zipper.
And no one told him.
I asked my husby afterwards if he had observed it.
“Yes.”
“Why didn't anyone say anything?!”
“Didn't want to embarrass him.”
Doesn't it occur to these people that it's infinitely more embarrassing to discover these things for oneself hours later?
Yep. Men and women.
Some of our differences are delightful.
And some . . .

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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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