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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Friday, November 25, 2016

Fight? Flee?

Yep. Just clutch that pillow tighter...
Which are you?
I just read that, when faced with something dire, a person will fight.
Or a person will fly.
Sometimes, we don't know which one we are until the climactic moment.
Allow me to illustrate . . .
My bedroom was across and down the hall from the bathroom--directly across said hall from my parents.
And I wasn't an 'early-to-bedder'.
These two facts will become relevant . . .
I had been reading. Something I did every night.
For a very long time.
I finally decided it was time to get ready for bed.
Which included brushing and scrubbing.
And all things hygienic.
I should point out that all other members of my household had long been asleep.
Or so I thought.
I finished my evening ablutions. (Oooh! Good word!)
And, clutching my toiletries bag, headed for my bedroom.
Now the words 'across and down the hall' may sound like a long distance.
It wasn't.
But it was enough. And it was dark.
I darted toward my door and was just reaching for the doorknob when a voice came out of the darkness.
“What are you doing!”
Okay, it was the voice of my father, so it shouldn't have given me the fright it did.
But the fact remains – I was frightened.
And then, the ultimate response.
Fight?
Or fly.
Let me describe:
Pitch dark hall.
Household asleep.
Girl with large imagination dashing across the hall. (Quickly, so as to avoid things that might come out of the darkness and 'get her'.)
Voice rumbles out of said darkness.
What does girl do?
Fight?
Fly?
No. 
Girl crumples to the floor.
I am not making this up.
My legs folded up and I fell to the floor.
When faced with a crisis, or so I thought, I curled up. Like a little spider. But with less legs.
So, which are you?
Fight?
Or fly?
When you decide, let me know.
I will be the shivering little puddle of goo curled up on the floor.
Sigh.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Learning From Mom

More stories from Little Brother, Blair.
The Learner
As I make my way through life I often reflect on the things that my mother told me.  At the time they were taught, I didn’t really appreciate what was said, but their true and deeper meaning hit me later.  I guarantee! 
When I was a child, Mom would often have some treat for us.  We would all crowd around her saying me first, me first. 
Then one day she said to us.  “I don’t think it is nice for you to say me first.  From now on, I am going to give the first treat out to the one that says me last.” 
We all hesitated, but then we all started to say me last. 
I learned that it didn’t matter if I was first or last, I was given a treat.

While growing up the radio and or TV was often tuned to the news.  We would often hear politicians and individuals criticizing someone or something.  At times Mom would shake her head and say, “Anyone can criticize, but it takes a truly intelligent and creative person to find a solution.” 
                                                                                                   
Another thing that mom taught me was to try to look for the good in others, something I am still trying to master. 
While growing up, I would from time to time have a fellow student at school that was just making life miserable. 
I would express my dislike of that student to Mom and she would say, “You can always find good in someone if you look for it.” 
My response was often, “Sure Mom, but you don’t understand.” 
I had the opportunity to understand Mom’s guidance when I served a mission for our church.  I had a companion that wouldn’t follow the rules and was just hard to get along with.  I felt like I couldn’t get anything done, because I was always waiting for him.  For a while I was very frustrated.  I would express my frustration to him and we would argue.  However, nothing ever changed.  As I tried to figure out how to deal with the situation, I could hear Mom say to me “look for the good in others” and “you can always find good in someone if you look for it.”  I didn’t want to hear those words but they kept running through my mind.
Finally I decided to try to practice what she told me and within a few days my situation completely changed.  I learned that if I was careful, I could learn from almost anyone.
Mom would often say that “if you swear you are just showing that you have a limited vocabulary.”  Swearing was easy.  Trust me, when you are dealing with an ornery cow, swearing was really easy.  As I have gotten older, I find that it is not very satisfying and I have tried to come up with creative ways to express my frustration.  Some of these ways have brought laughter and a better feeling to an otherwise maddening situation.
 
Thanks Mom for all that you taught me. 
Perhaps some day I will understand the value in all that you have said.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Timing of Toddlers

Me. And six of seventeen.
I know what I'm talking about . . .
For any of you who have children, are around children, or have heard of children, you know that their timing is the one thing about them that remains totally impeccable. Always.
Theirs is the voice you hear chanting, “I gotta go potty!” immediately after you’ve pulled onto the freeway.
The disembodied face that appears at your bedside just as you’ve dozed off.
The crash and the “Oh-oh. Mom!”, when you’ve got both hands kneading sticky bread.
When split-second timing is needed, the children in the immediate area are on it.
I have two examples:
My Eldest Son was sitting watching TV, his youngest daughter, aged nine months, perched on his lap. The two of them, with the rest of the family had been happily engrossed in ‘Arthur Christmas’. The credits were rolling and the sound of Justin Bieber singing a Christmas song filled the home. There was a pause in the music and Mr. Bieber could be heard, talking in the background. “It’s that time of year again! Time to let all of your problems go!”
At which point, said daughter, with accurate and impressive sound effect, let those pesky little problems go. Directly into her diaper.
Remember when I said, ‘engrossed’? I used that word deliberately.
My second example involves the same son, before he was married. Or a father.
But still involves children.
And timing . . .
Eldest Son was sitting in Sunday School class, discussing, with the other members of the group, the life of Paul. This man, an apostle of Jesus Christ, suffered many indignities and horrors to his person during his life. On occasion, he was dragged before local, and at times, high authorities.
At one point in his life, his captors hauled him up before King Agrippa.
The teacher introduced this significant ruler’s name in stentorian(real word!) tones.
His pronouncement was immediately followed by the loud scream of an infant seated with its parent in the back.
See? Timing.
The class broke up. Some 30 seconds later, order restored, the teacher grinned. “And that was Paul’s exact reaction!”
I don’t know how they do it.
The timing thing, I mean.
It’s a talent they are obviously born with.
Some of them maintain it throughout their lives . . .
I know as soon as I sink into a steaming hot bath, or start doing something sticky in the kitchen, that my daughter is going to telephone.
Timing. You know what I’m talking about . . .

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Harvesting Memories

Mom always maintained a large garden.
Hmmm . . . let me reword.
Mom always maintained a humongous, gargantuan, colossal, huge, enormous, vast, giant, mammoth (that's all the big words I can think of right now) garden.
Better.
Okay, well, that's how it appeared to us kids.
I will admit, here, that my help during the weeding and hoeing was minimal.
Mostly my nimble fingers came into play during the shelling and snapping.
And the rest of me got very involved with the eating.
Ahem . . .
Mom and the older kids would come in from the garden with bushel baskets of freshly-picked peas and/or beans.
Us kids would find comfortable spots on the lawn in the shade of the huge pines. Each would have a bowl which we would replenish now and again from the central stock. Chris would turn on her radio.
And we would shell/snap. And talk.
Sometimes the talk would get quite serious. For example, it was while my older sister and I were shelling peas that she explained the facts of life to me.
True story.
At other times, we would get very animated and silly, quoting heavily from Mad Magazine or one of our favourite movies.
The hot sun.
The cool shade.
The soft grass.
The top 40 on the radio.
The smell of pine and sage and green, growing things.
Occasional snitches of deliciousness from my bowl.
My brothers and sisters around me.
It is one of my most treasured memories . . .
This year we got a terrific harvest from the garden.
Peas, beans, beets, carrots and rhubarb.
And the next generation got involved in the processing.
Here's to many more years of gardening.
And a whole new passel of memories.
Snapping.
Shelling.
Heaven.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Camping With Coyotes

 
Camper Extraordinaire, far right.
 When I was eleven, I was excited to become a boy scout.  My friends and I wanted to go camping and do things that scouts do.  We had already been on a short day-camping trip with our junior scout group and I loved it. 
I tried to figure out a place that my friend Gerry and I could go camping alone.  I thought about the backyard, but that wasn’t cool and we would not be able to show that we were camping outdoor geniuses.  We needed to camp in a place that was convenient for my father as he drove to and from the ranch several miles west of Milk River. 
Then I realized there were several places on the ranch itself that made ideal sites. One had a spring that bubbled up out of the ground.  Dad could take us there on one of his trips to the ranch then pick us up the following day.
It was late spring and the weather was ideal.  Gerry and I planned what we needed, packed our backpacks and loaded them into Dad’s truck.  One of the items we packed was pancake mix.  I was excited for us to cook this in the morning.  It seemed like it would be a great treat. 
We were driven to the ranch and then out to the spring.  It was an ideal day and an ideal location—about a mile away from the house and ranch buildings where my brother and his wife lived. 
As Gerry and I unpacked our gear, we realized that we didn’t have any butter or lard to lubricate the frying pan for making pancakes, so we walked the mile back to the ranch buildings to borrow some from my brother. 
Then we walked back to our camp and settled in for the night.
As it got dark Gerry and I crawled into my little pup tent and into our sleeping bags.  We were camping and ready for all that it had to offer.  We talked for a while and started to fade off to sleep. 
Then we heard something outside our tent.  Now Gerry and I must have seen the same scary movie because we were both immediately afraid of whatever it was.  I suppose that we could have looked but we didn’t dare.  Whatever was outside the tent probably had large teeth, massive claws, and it would cause great bodily harm to my friend and me.
Then coyotes started howling.  It sounded like they were right beside our tent.  Gerry and I were terrified.
Those coyotes were kind enough to serenade us all night. 
Then we could hear rustling outside our tent.  I don’t think I slept at all.  I kept thinking that if I survived, I could have pancakes in the morning with choke cherry syrup.  I prayed that morning—and pancakes—would come soon. 
After a very long night, we saw the sun rise. Somehow we had survived.  The critters that were rustling around our tent had miraculously disappeared and we ventured out to a beautiful spring morning.  The fact that we survived the night (and the menacing monster) made the day that much more beautiful.  A great day to be alive.
Gerry and I mixed up the pancake batter and we made several pancakes.  They tasted so good considering our near-death experience. 
Then we looked around our tent.  Deer tracks were everywhere but about 30 feet from our tent, we found coyote tracks. 
We probably weren’t in any danger, but when one is in the midst of a pack of howling coyotes in the middle of the night, your perspective changes.
Also when you’re in the midst of coyote tracks in the middle of the morning.
Just sayin. . .

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Passing of the Torch

Foreground: Ranch.
Background: Machinery Hill
On the Stringam Ranch, there was a hill.
A large hill.
It had old machinery parked on top.
We called it the 'Old Machinery Hill'.
Okay, so creative, we weren't.
There, could be found the outdated, outmoded and discarded mechanical devices of ranch life.
Mowers, haybines, cultivators, tractors, cars and trucks.
All past their 'best-before' date.
All neatly parked in rows.
My brothers spent many blissful hours on that hill, deconstructing the various machines (and machine engines) to be found.
Excitedly, they would point out to me the valves and sprockets pulled from this amazing machine and 'Wow! Aren't they fantastic?!' Then proceed to explain just how these intricate little marvels fit into the whole 'making-this-machine-bale-hay' scenario.
To which I would nod and smile. Then run off to see what the horses were doing.
But that was just the beginning of my brothers' mechanical adventures.
Throughout their lives, I can picture them with various machine parts spread out neatly as they re-constructed and fine-tuned.
Something that still goes on today.
I should probably mention that the 'mechanical bug' hit me as well.
Later.
I took apart, fixed and re-assembled in my world, too.
Mom's piano-organ. Her toaster. Iron.
The only thing that defeated me were the clippers.
Oh, and the washing machine and I have a history, too.
But we won't mention those.
Please, let us not mention those.
Moving ahead . . .
Our four-year-old grandson was playing quietly in their basement.
A little too quietly.
Usually this heralded trouble.
His mother went to check.
She found him with one of his sister's musical toys disassembled in front of him.
Part of it had stopped working.
The need for new batteries had been ruled out because the other parts were still working.
He had rummaged through his father's tools and found the screwdriver he needed.
Then proceeded to take the toy apart.
This was when his mother came in.
He looked up at her.
“It wasn't working,” he said calmly. “So I'm fixing it.”
Now remember, this boy had just turned four.
The two of them saw that a wire had become disconnected.
They reconnected.
No response.
“It has a micro-chip,” he said suddenly, pointing. “See? It's fit in right there. Maybe it just needs a new micro-chip.”
His mother stared at him. “You're probably right,” she said, finally.
When she told us the story, I was reminded suddenly of my brothers.
With their tools.
And their sprockets and wheels.
The torch is truly passed.
The newest generation . . .
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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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