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

Daughter of Ishmael

by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Breakfast and a Show

Ever helpful and concerned.
Kids can make eating out such an . . . adventure.
It was the early fifties.
Mom and Dad were vacationing in Montana with their three small children.
As they drove past the Deer Lodge prison, Dad tried to explain to four-year old Chris and two-year-old Jerry just what it was. He told them that when people were bad, the police would lock them up in the big building for punishment.
The original ‘time-out’.
He wasn’t sure just how much of his explanation his two oldest children took in.
The next morning, he had his answer.
The family had stopped nearby for breakfast. While they were eating, a deputy sheriff came in for coffee, then proceeded to tell the waiter about his exciting evening: 
One very intoxicated individual had been disruptive at a local dance and the deputy took the man to the local jail to sober up. There were no charges to be laid, so all that remained was to get the fellow up and send him home.
Throughout this story, Chris and Jerry were busily eating, not seeming to pay attention to the tale.
Finally, the man stood up and said, “Well, I guess I’d better go down and get my boy out of jail!”
Chris looked at her parents wide-eyed and very concerned. “That man’s little boy is down there in that big jail!” she said loudly.
To the amusement of the entire restaurant.
See?

Friday, July 8, 2016

Babe Diane

Summer = baseball.
I love baseball.
Let me rephrase that.
I LOVE baseball.
I don’t know why.
Maybe it’s because you get to beat an inanimate something with a thick, wooden stick.
Outside.
In the summer sunshine.
Or maybe there's just something 'magical' about the game.
But I am getting ahead of myself . . .
I played a bit.
Grade school.
High school.
But I didn’t play regularly until long after I had married and had a family.
It was then that I spent three glorious summers in a mixed league.
And it was fun.
Oh, I wasn’t one of their best players.
In fact, I spent most of my time out in right field.
Praying that the other team would hit the ball anywhere but to me.
In fact, the only place where I was competent was in the batter’s box.
And even there, only competent--good for a base or two.
Until that night.
Let me tell you about it . . .
It was a clear summer evening.
The mosquitoes weren’t too bad.
The sun was setting, but the field was situated such that it wasn’t in anyone’s eyes.
The shadows were lengthening.
The sky was trying to decide if it wanted to be cerulean blue or glorious orange.
My team was at bat.
Well . . . I was at bat.
The other team eyed me curiously.
I hadn’t done too badly in the field, but really hadn’t distinguished myself.
A couple of the guys moved in a bit.
The pitcher glanced around at the two players we had on base, then looked at me.
He went into his wind-up, which, in slow pitch, isn’t.
And flipped the ball at me.
I swung.
And felt the sharp crack and the burst of exhilaration as bat met ball.
Solidly.
And that’s when the first surprise of the evening dropped every jaw on my team.
Including mine.
That ball sailed out over the heads of the outfielders.
Way out.
Way, way out.
A triple.
It would have been a home run, except I’m old.
I brought in both of our runners and settled myself firmly on third base.
Then grinned as my team cheered wildly.
The next hitter brought me in and I was met by many slapping hands.
The good kind.
An inning or so later, I was again facing the pitcher. I grinned as the fielders moved back slightly in a she-did-it-once-but-is-this-going-to-be-a-habit sort of way.
They didn’t move back far enough.
Another triple.
Sometime later, I again stood in the hot spot.
This time, the entire outfield moved back.
Way back.
It didn’t matter.
This time, it was a home run.
That ball went far enough that even my aged legs could toddle around all the bases.
We won the game.
But that didn’t matter.
Because for the first – and only – time in my life, I felt like a real ball player.
I had watched as the opposing team moved back to the far reaches of the field and knew they were doing it because, and I quote, ‘This girl can hit!’
I don’t know what happened that night.
Maybe there was some charmed quality in the clear air.
Maybe the spirit of Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays or Babe Ruth had wandered in for a visit.
Maybe I was channelling my Mom.
Maybe I just had a pitcher I could hit off of.
All I know is that it was magical.
It was my night.
My only night.
And I’ll never forget it.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Being Neighbourly

Off to visit the neighbours.
Theirs wasn’t the most sought-after homestead in the community.
Their home was humble. Built in 1917, they raised eight children and lived to 1948 without electricity or running water.
They weren’t the best housekeepers. Their home with its worn floorboards and non-existent screens (allowing the entrance of many bugs and even the odd chicken) was often known as ‘Fly Spec Inn’.
But the love and kindness shone out of every crack and every chink in the siding.
Their children loved to return there.
And, if a guest should drop by . . .
Mom and Dad had been married a few months. Dad had introduced his new bride to every family in the district, save one. Their nearest neighbours eight miles to the west.
He decided the time was right, so the two of them climbed into the car and made the trip.
They were welcomed with open arms.
Quite literally.
Invited to stop and yarn a while.
Then pressed to stay for supper.
The youngest daughter set the table. Then, at the urging of her mother, re-set with the ‘company cups’. Which, as it turned out, were the cups without the black lip stains from constant use and less-than-stellar cleaning.
The food was hot and plentiful.
Bread came fresh from the oven in a massive, round loaf.
If one asked for a slice, one got a SLICE. Mama would grab the loaf, hold it against her round belly and cut away with a large knife. Then, using the same knife, she would flip the wedge across the table to whoever had asked.
Her precision was unerring. And her grin when successful exposed toothless gums all the way back to the spaces left by absent molars.
It was a memorable meal. Memorable for all the right reasons. Not for the ‘fly specs’ or the missing screens or the worn floorboards, or even for the lacking electricity and running water. No, it was memorable for the kindness. The cheer. The love.
A few months later, that home was improved and enlarged to accommodate its becoming the community Post Office.
Though Mom and Dad invited the family over many times, they never went back.
It simply wouldn’t have been the same.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

While Mama's Away...

Front: My Dad.
Behind: Uncle Bryce of the coal oil.
Ignore the gun...
1921.
Just another year in the life of my grandparents, George and Lovina Stringam.
July had finally come. Snow and blizzards and calving and feed for the cattle and any one of a thousand different winter-time worries were finally over.
For a few months.
The summer-time worries had taken over.
Grandpa and some of the older boys had gone out to the Waterton spread. (The family ranching business had grown to two operations, one in Glenwood and one near Waterton.)
Grandma (pregnant with her tenth child), and her oldest daughter Emily were, with the help of one hired man, ‘holding down the fort’ in Glenwood.
Then, the baby—as babies do—decided to make an entrance.
Which necessitated a quick trip to the hospital.
In 1921, women stayed at the hospital a good deal longer than they do now.
Just FYI.
Granma’s visit turned into a stay of over a week.
In that time, a friend visiting from Utah had elected to help Emily with child care and everything-in-addition-to-childcare.
But when the opportunity to catch a ride home appeared on the horizon, the friend took it.
Thus fourteen-year-old Emily carried on with the care of her younger siblings, cooking for the household, and inside and outside chores by herself.
Yeah, I couldn’t have done it, either.
Things were going surprisingly smoothly.
Then . . .
Eighteen-month-old Bryce decided he wanted a drink of water. Emily, busy in the kitchen, told him she would get it ‘in a moment’.
Bryce wandered into the wash room.
Spying a dipper, the toddler immediately decided not to wait for his sister, but take his thirst into his own hands.
So to speak.
And downed the contents of the dipper.
Coal oil.
Making him instantly one very sick little boy—his stomach and bowels and lungs all infected.
Discovering what had happened, Emily quickly called her neighbour, who just as quickly called the doctor 20 miles away in Cardston.
With instructions from the only GP in the area, the two women did what they could for the little boy and with the help of another neighbour, they nursed him through the night and for the next week.
My Uncle Bryce lived.
And Grandma and her healthy baby girl returned home from the hospital.
All was well.
1921. Just another year in the life of my Grandma and Grandpa Stringam.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A Field Promotion

Sorrel gelding (male).
And yes. I can tell the difference . . .
During college, I rode with the LCC Equestrian Team.
It was infinitely more exciting than anything my journalism instructors could teach in the classroom.
Though not quite the same preparation for real life.
Every afternoon, I would present myself to my teacher at the tack shed and draw my piece of string.
This is exactly how it sounds.
There was a bundle of old twine strings hanging from a hook just inside the door.
I would grab one and head out to the pasture.
Once in the pasture, I would pick out a suitable mount (ie: one that I could get close to), and place the string around its neck.
Then swung aboard and ride the horse back to the tack shed to . . . tack up.
Simplicity in itself.
The heaviest thing I was ever forced to carry was a piece of string.
Okay, I will admit that everyone else carried bridles, or at the very least a halter.
I was weird.
And/or lazy.
Moving on . . .
It was a beautiful day.
The sun was shining.
A fairly common occurrence.
The wind wasn't blowing.
Not so common.
I was excited to be out of the classroom and into the field.
So to speak.
I should point out, here, that there were two sorrel (liver brown) horses in the herd.
One a gentle gelding (male).
One a sprightly mare (female).
The differences were obvious.
But I was simply looking for 'sorrel'.
I walked up to the first one and slipped my piece of string around its neck.
Then swung aboard.
The trip back to the shed was quick.
I remember being astonished at the spirit the old gelding was showing.
Wow. He'd never had this much life!
This was going to be a good day.
I stopped near the shed door.
My instructor was standing there. “Wow!” he said. “The last person who tried that ended up getting piled.”
'Piled'. That's a cowboy term for . . . piled.
There really isn't a better way to say it.
Back to my story . . .
I looked down at my mount. “You mean this isn't Chico?”
He looked at me strangely. “Umm, Diane, Chico is a boy.”
“Oh. I never even . . .” I slid off the horse. Sure enough, he was a she. “Oops.”
He went on. “GG has never allowed anyone to ride her bareback. She doesn't like it. She just bucks them off.” He looked at me. “Let's try something, shall we?”
“Umm . . . Okay!” My Dad always said that I had more guts than brains.
He was right.
My instructor grabbed a halter and handed it to me.
I exchanged it for the string.
“Now get on.”
I obeyed.
“Let's run some jumps, shall we?”
GG and I went over the entire course.
I will admit that the jumps were small and definitely not a challenge.
But the point is that we did them.
GG and me.
Something that had never been done before with that particular horse. 
In that particular tack.
My instructor was smiling when we returned. “I've been wondering who to appoint as team captain,” he said. “Now I know.”
I smiled back.
I still don't know exactly what happened that day.
With that horse.
But I was right.
It was a good day.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Cowed by Snipe

Dad (right) and Ruel.
Who could fool these two?
As a young man, Dad spent his summers working on the ranch.
It was these summers that convinced him ranching was in his blood.
Something he could make his life’s work.
Even with its embarrassing moments . . .
Young cowboys on a big spread are often the butt of jokes pulled by the older, more experienced hands.
Dad, though he was the boss’ son, was no exception.
He and a schoolmate, Ruel, were invited to go with a couple of the men on a ‘snipe hunt’.
The snipe, they were told, was a bird that lived in the coulees around the ranch. It was very tasty, if you could nab one. But there was the problem. Snipes were tricky creatures. They only had one weakness--they were mesmerised by a light at night. Ordinarily, they stayed still when darkness fell, but if disturbed, would fly toward said light. The trick was to have someone wait quietly, holding a bag next to a lantern and, when the birds were stirred up, catch them as they flew to the light.
Slick.
The boys were excited to be included on this fun hunting trip. They rode behind the two older hands and took up a position at the mouth of the coulee, bag and lantern in hand. Then they waited while the riders circled around to the other end to ride down the coulee, driving the tasty little snipes ahead of them and straight to the waiting sack and certain doom.
They waited for over two hours.
Finally deciding that something had gone terribly wrong, the two boys gave up and walked the two miles back to the ranch. When they reached the barn, they discovered the horses the two older hands had been riding, safely tucked up for the night.
Only then did they realize they’d been had.
They toyed with the idea of hiding in the hay loft and getting the rest of the men stirred up when they didn’t show up for breakfast. They even went so far as to sleep in the loft, snuggled down cozily in the soft, fragrant hay. But the enthusiastic swinging of a pitchfork early the next morning as one of the hands fed the horses convinced them that they should appear or risk being skewered.
They stood up and endured the general laugh at their expense.
Grampa Stringam was disgusted. “How could you fall for something like that?!” he demanded.
It had been embarrassingly easy, so Dad said nothing.
Sometimes, ranching isn’t about the cows.
But being cowed.

P.S. The snipe is a real bird, living along watercourses throughout the world. It is notoriously hard to catch and the person who could actually shoot one would be known as a 'sniper'. Thus the name for a skilled gunman.

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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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