Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hockey. Live.

Or something similar.

It was my first ‘live’ hockey game.

Okay, I know that all of them are live.
And live-ly.
Let me re-word . . .
It was the first game I attended where I was actually sitting in the bleachers.
It’s a lot more exciting when one is surrounded by fans.
And can feel the cold air on one’s cheeks.
Just FYI.
My friend Colleen RHF (rabid hockey fan), whose boyfriend was minding the net for our team, was explaining things to me.
I glanced at her occasionally as she spouted such foreign terms as ‘face-off’ and ‘icing’ and ‘high-sticking’ and ‘penalty’. But mostly, I just sat and happily watched the game not knowing--or caring--who was winning.
Colleen was not as . . . indifferent as me.
She wasn’t very tall, but she could sure make her presence felt, bobbing periodically to her feet to launch criticisms at whichever aggravating party was . . . aggravating. As in: “What’d’ya call that, Ref?! Are you blind?!!!”
But as loud as she was, her behaviour had nothing on the woman sitting in front of us, next to the boards.
I should probably mentions, here, that this was in the pre-safety days when nothing stood between you and the flying puck.
Nothing.
Back to my story . . .
Now that woman was vocal.
She used words I’d never even heard of, expertly launching them at the ref with practiced ease.
I tried mentally editing out the more profane. But if I’d been successful, the woman would have been sitting there with her mouth open and nothing emerging.
Halfway through the game, she became a little more pro-active.
And that’s when things really got interesting.
After flinging a particularly incendiary little ball of nastiness at the long-suffering ref, she leaned on the boards and waited for the man to skate past.
She didn’t have to wait for long.
If you know hockey, you know that this game goes back and forth. A lot.
The ref skated by, intent on the next play, whistle in his mouth and hands and feet working frantically.
The woman leaned over and swung her purse at him, knocking him clear into tomorrow. I say that because it was ‘tomorrow’ before he woke up.
He was carried from the ice with reverence and care.
The woman was escorted to the hoosegow with neither of the above.
When officers opened her purse, they discovered a bottle of whisky.
Full.
The ref made a complete recovery, living to ref again.
Never saw that woman again, though. At least not at any hockey games.
But the lesson was learned.
Alcohol can kill you.
In the right
 purse.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Ceremony of the Tucking In

Success!
Routines are important.
Especially when one has many small bodies that one is trying to shuffle into bed.
The bedtime ritual in the Tolley household was probably one of the most adhered-to in the entire day.
Little, wiggling bodies were scrubbed clean.
Teeth brushed.
Hair combed.
Jammies donned.
Stories read.
Family prayer said.
And lastly, the all-important Ceremony of the Tucking In.
The grand and glorious final scene in the whole bedtime scenario.
I won't mention here that the tucking in was usually immediately followed by the "I can't sleep" or "I wanna drink of water" or the all important "I have to go pee".
Okay, maybe I will.
Moving on . . .
One of our children, particularly, looked forward to being tucked in each night.
Our daughter, Tiana.
She would emerge happily from the bathroom, sparkling clean and dressed for bed and announce to her Dad, "I'm ready!"
Whereupon (good word) he would drop the evening paper and follow her to the bedroom she shared with her sister.
Then would follow the boosting into bed.
The careful molding of the blankets around the warm little body.
And the ever important good-night kiss.
Then lights were doused, doors closed and Mom and Dad could relax.
At least until the post-tucking parade began.
One evening, Tiana announced to her father that she was ready to be tucked in.
Then realized that she had forgotten something and disappeared.
But notice had been given.
Dad was already on the move.
He went to her room, performed his usual ceremony.
Then resumed his chair and his reading.
Tiana re-appeared.
"I'm ready now," she said.
Her father looked at her. "I already tucked you in," he said.
"What? I'm right here! You didn't tuck me in!"
"Well, I tucked somebody in."
Tiana ran to her room.
"You tucked in my teddy bear!" she said loudly.
Her father grinned into his newspaper. "Well, he was there!" he said.
"Dad!"
After that, it was a race to see who could get to Tiana's room first.
She, grinning as her father was forced to perform the usual ceremony.
Or her father, who would then tuck in whatever was close at hand.
Clothing.
Toys.
Books.
Homework.
Muffy.
I repeat. Routines are important.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The O'Connor Boy

He’s not a  mean or nasty lout,

In fact, were you to ask about
Our Paddy Craig O’Connor boy,
You’d find that he’s just hoi polloi.

He’ll shoulder in, with work to do
He loves his wife, and kiddies too,
He’s loyal, almost to a fault,
A fisherman--a seasoned salt.

But after a long day at sea
He’ll meet the boys occasionally,
And, of the good stuff, have a dram,
Then get himself into a jam.

‘Cause Paddy, when he’s had a few,
Well, there’s nothing he won’t do,
Though he draws the line at lawless stuff,
It's hard for him to say, "Enough!"

He’s mixed the pigs in with the sheep,
And upset everybody’s sleep,
Howled with the dogs, sang with the cats,
Joined Ladies Aid with a box of bats.

Dropped a pig in the local pub,
Took chickens to the senior’s club.
Yes, Paddy really has a knack.
For strolling down the 'mischief' track.

Until that time e’en Paddy knew
He’d knocked the Universe askew.
He had to make a major change.
Frivolities, he’d rearrange . . .

It’d started harmlessly enough,
With Paddy swimming ‘in the buff’.
Just floating out there in the bay
Till the Archbishop came his way.

I must admit: How could he know
An august visitor would show?
But there he was upon the sand,
With formal robes and raise-ed hands.

Well, Paddy rose out of the waves
Wearing just what God had ‘gave’,
Advanced to ask him “What's the craic?”
And give His Grace’s hand a shake.

And right there on the sea levee,
In frank and simple way, did he
Beseech His Excellence to leave.
A blessing for one who believed.

The blunt request no sooner said,
His Grace’s face turned slightly red,
T’was only then Pad realized
They were the cynosure of eyes.

The village, all, was there to see.
Pad sobered up immediately,
And in the mayhem that ensued,
Vowed he would be more subdued.

So if you’re staying there to sleep,
Hear pigs and chickens and some sheep,
Know, with those feats of fun and brawn,
That Paddy’s clothes are staying on.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Horse Trading for Dummies

Me and Zee.
Now that's a little more like it!
At sixteen, I made my first foray into the wide, exciting world of horse trading.
Let's just say it was a learning experience . . .
I had been saving my money for months to purchase my first horse.
Okay, yes, we had dozens of horses on the ranch, but none of them had been purchased by me.
See the difference?
Okay, my Dad didn't, either.
Moving on . . .
Some friends of ours knew of a rancher near Waterton Park who had some horses to sell.
Beautiful scenery and a chance to buy my own horse.
It was a perfect world.
We drove into the mountains and left the main road, winding down the mountainside and into the prettiest little ranch I had ever seen.
I was filled with anticipation.
Only the best in horseflesh could come from such a place.
I was wrong.
The owner introduced us to several horses, but one little bay mare immediately caught my eye.
The rancher noticed.
Perhaps my glassy-eyed stare and drool was a give-away.
He went into his spiel.
Yes. Ranchers have a spiel.
He told me I would love her. Her gait, conformation and performance were perfection.
Here. Let's saddle up and you can take her for a spin.
He did.
I did.
Everything he had said was true.
Sold!
Money exchanged hands.
We loaded the sedate little mare into our handy-dandy trailer and headed home.
Before we had gotten back to the main road, I had a name for my new best friend.
Fancy.
It suited.
Back at home, my Dad got his first look. He examined her carefully, then shrugged. I don't know, he said. She looks pretty enough, but I don't know.
Horse sense. Some of them have it . . .
Some of us don't . . .
The next morning, I went out to saddle up my new little beauty.
And got a distinct shock.
During the night, someone had come and switched my sweet tempered little Fancy with a roaring, man-killing beast.
And I do mean man-killing.
The drugs had obviously worn off.
Remember when I called her 'sedate? I obviously should have said 'sedated'.
No sooner had I bridled her, then she reared up and struck out at me with her front hooves.
I should point out, here, that hooves are hard and can easily be used to cause 'blunt force trauma'.
I watch C.S.I. so I know about B.F.T.
Her first unexpected attack caught me, fortunately on the very top of my head where my skull is the thickest.
She knocked me to my knees, but did no permanent damage.
I struggled quickly to my feet and moved to the nearest far-away place.
Where I watched in wonder as she began her second attack.
Yep. The first had been no accident.
But I was ready and she posed no danger at that point.
My decision was made, however.
This horse had to go.
I talked to my friend, the one who had taken me to buy my little whirlwind of terror.
He was very interested.
He should be, he had gotten me into this mess . . .
He dealt with difficult horses and offered, on the spot, to trade me for a horse of my choosing.
This time, I took my Dad with me.
I may be dumb, but I do learn quickly.
We agreed on a nice, black gelding.
Tall. Lively.
But without one aspect.
He wasn't out for my blood.
An important aspect as it turns out.
'Zee' and I became instant friends.
Something Fancy and I could never be.
Sorry, Fancy. But it is your fault.
P.S. They say, 'Never buy a horse with the blanket on'. Turns out you need a blood test as well.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Getting It Right

I come from a long line of non-smokers.
Generations of puff-nots.
But my best friend had a cousin staying over for the summer.
A cousin from the big city who had seen it all.
And done most of it.
I was about to get an education . . .
My family lived on a ranch twenty miles from Milk River, in southern Alberta.
Life out there was bliss.
And, because of a lack of outside influences, completely under the control of my parents.
I had seen people smoking.
Certainly I had.
But I had never considered the possibility of being one of them.
Not even for an instant.
Moving on . . .
My parents owned a house in town.
When Mom got tired of driving the twenty miles to take us kids to school and activities, we would move into town.
Until Dad got tired of driving out to the ranch every day to do ranching stuff.
We would move back.
It was a fun and exciting way to live.
The benefits of town living.
The joys of the ranch.
But one or the other of our houses often sat empty in the interim.
That summer, we were firmly ensconced on the ranch.
So the town house was sitting vacant.
A perfect place for 10-year-old girls to get an education from the 11-year-old-far-more-experienced-world-weary-cousin-from-the-big-city.
My parents had dropped me off at my best friend's house for a--gasp--Once and only.three day sleep over while they went out of town.
We: my BFF, her younger sister and the Cousin (notice the capital letter) had been knocking around town for most of two days.
It had been an education.
It was about to become more so.
The Cousin bought a packet of cigarettes.
She was going to show us country hicks how to smoke.
Okay, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Our biggest problem lay in finding a secret place in which to do our teaching/learning. I mean, there were twelve kids in my BFF's family. Plus the Cousin. Plus me. Her house was out . . .
Idea!
My family's empty town house.
I found the key and let us in.
The place echoed emptily.
Perfect!
We went into the main bathroom and dug out the cigarettes.
Cousin proceeded to light up.
Oooh! She looked so cool!
The rest of us were excited to try.
In no time, we each had a cigarette.
She helped us light them.
Soon, my BFF and her sister were blowing smoke in the most approved manner.
It took me a bit longer.
But I got it, once Cousin pointed out that one needed to suck.
Not blow.
Oh.
I should point out, here that my parents weren't due to pick me up from my BFF's until the following day.
And, even then, they had no reason to come to this house.
Our smoking education could continue apace.
Without threat of interruption.
But parents never do what they say they are going to.
My BFF's little sister went out to the front room.
And immediately returned, wide-eyed.
"Your parents are here!"
"Sure, sure," I said, taking another puff. "Nice try!"
We all laughed.
A sound that broke off instantly when my Mom appeared at the door.
"Oh," I said. "Ummm . . . hi, Mom."
She looked at me. Looked at the cigarette I held in my hand.
Then turned and left.
Without saying a word.
We quickly cleaned up our mess and headed for the front door.
My parents were waiting in the car.
I said some quick good-byes and climbed in.
For several minutes, my parents said nothing.
Finally, Mom turned to Dad and sighed.
Then Dad turned to me and said, "I'm very disappointed, Diane."
I was completely crushed.
He didn't know it, but those four words had just killed my cigarette habit.
Forever.
Parenting done right.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Dog Water

Mark. In cleaner times.
Family reunions.
The renewing of ties.
An opportunity to get re-acquainted.
Catch up on family accomplishments.
Additions.
Losses.
Nestle once more in the warm embrace of kin.
Our eldest son Mark's first reunion occurred when he was eighteen months old.
He was getting around under his own steam very well.
And this outdoor wiener roast/party was a perfect time for him to practice his skills.
For several hours, he wandered around the site.
Exploring.
Eating.
Getting filthy.
All the things that make a little boy so very happy.
He played with the host family's spaniel, Frodo.
Gorged on hot dogs.
Sampled all of the pot luck dishes.
Spit out the baked beans (another story).
Slurped up watermelon.
And laid sole claim to the marshmallows.
He was a happy, filthy little boy.
He toddled over to me, all smiles and dirt.
I dusted him off for the hundredth time and set him on my knee.
Only to discover that his fingers were stuck together.
Really.
I think it was the marshmallows.
Might have been helped along by the watermelon.
I'm sure there was at least one form of chocolate.
But those little, busy fingers were all fused together.
And Mark was happily making his rounds using paddles.
Or flippers.
I will admit they were still effective.
He was managing to accomplish a fair bit of eating and playing.
But I thought that, as a concerned mom, I should probably do something.
I went for a wipe.
But I hadn't counted on his ingenuity.
While I was digging through the diaper bag, he went for the nearest water source.
Frodo's bowl.
I wish I could say that this was shortly after the bowl had been filled.
And was still pristine and untouched by anything 'canine'.
I can't.
By the time I had the antiseptically clean towelette, he had already taken care of business.
In the decidedly unhygienic dog bowl.
Ick.
And was back on his rounds, little fingers freed for business.
He was happy.
And Frodo loved the watermelon/marshmallow/chocolate/hot dog flavoured water. So he was happy.
In fact, everyone was happy.
Except me.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Happy Dad's Day!

Today is Father's Day.
A little tribute to the most special father in my life...
My Hero
For most of his career, my Husby has worked for the Culture department in our province.
He enjoys it.
Building museums.
Refurbishing older exhibits.
It has been a constant adventure.
But he learned, as a civil servant, that gratitude was an accepted part of the job and very, very rarely expressed.
Case in point . . .
He and his team had been refitting an interpretive center.
They had been at it for three years.
Their job was finally drawing to a close.
Which allowed the center to open.
Ironic but true.
A grand gala was planned for the opening night.
With speeches by pertinent politicians.
And food.
Myself and our three younger children made the trip and were seated in the audience, happily anticipating hearing from our husby/father.
The evening wore on.
Speeches by many, many people. None of whom had even stepped foot in the building until that night.
Then, finally, just at the end of the evening, the MC announced my Husby.
The man who had organized and directed the entire operation.
The whole three years.
I was so proud of him.
He had worked hard, spending weeks and weeks on a project that took him far from home and family.
And he had done well.
I glanced around. I was surrounded by evidence of his careful, thoughtful, precise planning and execution.
We were now seated in a world-class center with the best and most advanced displays found anywhere.
The crowd had clapped politely as he stepped to the podium. Most of them had no idea of the part he had played.
But his family did.
My daughter suddenly whispered, "Come on! Let's do it!"
My children and I surged to our feet, cheering and clapping wildly.
The rest of the audience stared at us in stunned silence for a moment.
Then the smiles began.
And the applause.
No one else got up, but everyone there knew that this man was special. Deserving of what little praise we could give him.
He smiled at us, then, in his usual calm fashion said, "I have no idea who those people are."
Then, "And I didn't have to pay them much to do that!"
Much laughter and the tone of the entire evening was changed completely.
Later, one of the people with whom he had worked closely stopped me.
"We were so happy when your family did that," she said. "We would all have joined you, if we weren't already standing at the back!"
Dads get very little recognition for good deeds done in this life.
My daughter's advice? 'Let's do it!'

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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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