Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, December 17, 2016

All I Got For Christmas...

My first 'real' Christmas. Age 14 months.
That's me. With Mom.

I've been trying to remember gifts I have received for Christmas.
I know I received some.
Many, in fact.
Stuffed toys. And the snuggling that ensued.
Lego. Always popular.
Books. Nancy Drew in particular.
Puzzles. Nearly always completed with my Dad.
There was the one year that my parents gave me a small musical instrument. I think they called it a musette.
It had a tiny black membrane that fit into one end and made the whole thing work.
A delicate membrane.
One could put a finger right through it.
Don't ask me how I know this . . .
I clearly remember the year we all got skis.
And the adventures that followed.
And the time my brother gave me a camshaft.
A real camshaft.
As it turned out, though, it wasn't my real present.
He had wrapped it up to confuse me just in case I had caught a glimpse of what he had actually purchased for me.
Moving on . . .
There were things I needed.
Clothes.
Quilts.
And things I didn't.
Tinned Vienna sausage.
And a mounted and stuffed Jack-a-lope head (Google it).
Things I really, really wanted.
A Palm Pilot. (You can Google that, too.)
Video Camera.
And a PT Cruiser. (I got three – all three inches long.)
And things that were just . . . sweet.
Several pairs of slippers.
And at least one bath robe.
I've truly loved them all.
Truly.
They were given with love.
And accepted with the same.
But I have been around for sixty-one Christmases, including this one.
Sixty-one.
Why can't I remember sixty-one gifts?
I know there was at least one per year.
Many times, more.
I guess it's because the memory of family and being together stands out more clearly.
You know, I think that's how it should be.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas with the Sputterlings

Those spunky Sputterlings: Norma and me.
I stopped in the living room doorway and just—stared.
A long streak of sunlight bathed the area in a bright glow, which was remarkable in itself following weeks of grey and gloom. But what really caught my attention was that there, in the center of said glow, huddled a smelly old bird. In a cage.
Reginald had come home.
For a moment, the two of us eyed each other.
Okay I admit it, even though we have, at times, shared accommodations—the most recent being at Cousin Edith’s house—we have never really been friends.
He ruffled up his feathers and croaked something that sounded like ‘smelly old broad’.
I narrowed my eyes, then tried to infuse some enthusiasm into, “Hello, Reggie, old boy. You’re home!” I don't think I nailed it because he immediately turned his back, shook his feathers and shot out a great, white glob which, with impressive accuracy, completely missed the pristine paper in the bottom of his cage and landed on the shining clean floorboards at my feet.
“Did you see?” Norma bustled into the room behind me. “Reggie has come home!” She noticed the great gob on the otherwise spotless floor.  “Oh! Reggie you little rascal!” She turned back toward the kitchen. “I’ll just get—”
What she was going to get was left to Reggie’s and my imagination. He had slicked his feathers and was looking toward the empty doorway--hope for possible treats in his round, dark eyes. I, on the other hand, was pretty sure her abrupt departure had something to do with bird poop.
He and I never have existed on the same plane.
I took a chair on the other side of the room, as far from the upcoming action as I could get, and picked up a magazine.
Norma scurried back into the room and I smirked at Reggie. I was right. She was carrying the anticipated bucket of warm, soapy water and a sponge. And, inexplicably, the star for our Christmas tree.
She dropped the star into my lap, then carefully lowered herself to the floor and attacked Reggie’s welcome home gift.
I picked up the star and stared at it. Then looked at her. Well, at her broad backside, which was all I could see. “Ummm—Norma?”
“It’s for—the tree—dear.” Her words were slightly muffled and punctuated by her cleaning efforts.
“Yeah?”
“I’m getting—the tree and—stuff out.” She sat back on her heels and wiped her forehead with the wrist of the hand holding the sponge. “It is December.”
“Yeah,” I said again. “But why did you bring it in here?”
She looked at me and frowned. “I don’t know.” She shuffled a bit on her knees, the held up a hand. “Could you please—?”
I sighed, got to my feet and helped Norma to hers, then followed her into the kitchen where she deposited her bucket. From there I trailed her to the sitting room where our tree sat in lonely glory in one corner, flanked by numerous boxes.
“See?” she pointed.
I set the star on a table and moved to sit in the one big armchair.
“Nooo!” she shrieked. “That’s for her!”
I paused halfway to sitting and blinked. “Her?”
Norma nodded. “Her.”
“Ummm—Norma?”
She smiled. “Well I’ve spoken to Frosty at the department store, written to Santa, even begged Krampus and the Grinch, who obviously must know her—”
I straightened and looked at her. “Okay?”
“Well, it's fairly certain by now we're never going to get her to leave. So I’ve decided that the only way we are going to have our beautiful white Christmas is to invite her.” Her smile widened. “Christmas is for sharing. That’s why I brought Reggie home. Oh, and Edith is coming, too.”
I turned toward the door.
“Where are you going? I need your help!”
I shook my head. “You’ve spoken to all of your imaginary friends. I’m going to call Batman.”
One of us needs to keep a foot in the real world.

Enjoyed today's adventure? For more with the Sputterling Sisters, go here. Here. Here. And here.

How did I do?
Every month, Karen of Baking in a Tornado submits words to her followers. 
From her other followers. 
They then submit their words back to Karen. 
And everyone else.
Make sense?
That's okay. It's fun!

My words this month were: white Christmas ~ Frosty ~ Santa ~ Krampus ~ Grinch ~ Batman
And submitted to me by: Sarah of Not That Sarah Michelle 
Go and see what the others have done with their challenge!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Bear Memories

It was Christmas.
The time of magic.
Wonderment.
And gift-giving.
For a single mom with two little girls and an income sufficient for the necessities and little else, it was a time to get creative.
And Pinterest hadn't been invented yet.
She desperately wanted to give something to the family who cared for her two girls, but what could she afford?
She saw some little salt-clay ornaments in a magazine.
Perfect!
She and her girls would make a set of those.
They spent several evenings mixing.
Rolling.
Assembling.
Baking.
Painting.
And detailing.
Six little Christmas bears emerged.
Perfect and beautiful.
They were wrapped and presented.
And very, very much appreciated.
Move forward a few years . . .
Those same Christmas bears were the Tolley family favourite.
A reminder of the precious years when we welcomed two little girls and their lonely single mother into our family.
They were the first things out of the box when we decorated our Christmas tree.
And always handled with care.
Until that Christmas.
Let me tell you about it . . .
Our family had welcomed in two little special needs foster children.
A brother and sister.
Both had come from . . . difficult circumstances. Christmas was something that had been observed only from a distance.
They were enthralled with everything.
The gifts.
The lights.
The baking.
The tree.
Especially the tree.
Three-year-old Little Girl spent hours looking at that tree. And when looking wasn't sufficient, she would pull the decorations off.
Systematically tasting each one.
Most were inedible.
But the little salt-clay Christmas bears, that so closely resembled cookies, could, with just a little effort, be eaten.
She did so.
I caught her at it.
“No! Those aren't for eating!”
I took them away and tried to instruct and advise.
Then moved them up, out of reach.
But when I was downstairs doing laundry, she got into them again.
By climbing the tree.
And knocking it over.
A few minutes later, I sadly rescued what was rescue-able.
It wasn't much. Only scattered, semi-chewed pieces remained.
One precious bear remained intact enough to still hang on the tree.
It hangs there today.
Still 'bear-ing' the scars of its trauma.
But it isn't just a bear.
It's memories . . .

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Giving, Wrapped


Little Wrapper Girl.
T’was giving that she liked to do,
Some things old. And some things new.
When neatly wrapped they all would be
A special gift for you. Or me.

She’d wrap most anything she found,
Items square. And items round.
That spoon there in your chocolate cup,
Then the cup too, to follow up.

Old toys and games. Knick-knacks, dishware,
That coat you’d flung across the chair.
Shoes and boots and mitts and hats,
Birdcage, bird and spitting cat.

All were grist to her wrapping mill,
All were wrapped, and would be, still,
Except the part I now speak of,
The giving them to those she loved.

‘Cause wrapping merely was the start,
Of giving. From a child’s warm heart.
Of watching as she did bestow,
And waiting for that happy glow.

She’s older now, and I am too.
We’ve kids and grandkids. Much ado.
But memories I just can’t escape,
Of a little girl, with wrap and tape.

Once a month, Karen of Baking in a Tornado gives each of our little writing group a challenge to produce a poem based on a theme.
December's? Giving. How apt for the season!

Hop on over and see what the others have done:

Karen of Baking In A Tornado. The Essence of Giving
Dawn of Spatulas On Parade. Tis’ the Season for Giving
Lydia of Cluttered Genius. Giving...and more giving

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Seasonal Dressing


Clockwise from right: Aly (Hired man's son),
Anita, Blair, and Me - in my little gold beauty.
It wasn't often that we kids were able to go on a field trip with my Dad.
When it happened, we were eager.
When it happened at Christmas, we were beyond excited.
Ecstatic!
Exuberant!
Exhilarated!
Elated!
Euphoric!
Electrified!
That's all of the 'E' words I can think of.
Except that 'energetic' should be stuck in there somewhere.
And, for me, usually immediately followed by, "Empty all tanks!"
When I think about it, I guess it's not surprising that we didn't go on field trips with my Dad very often.
Back to my story . . .
Dad was taking us four oldest kids to the Sweetgrass Hills to cut down our family's Christmas tree.
It was the 60's.
Families did things like that back then.
But we had to make a quick stop in Milk River at the Robinson's store to get me a winter coat.
I had outgrown my old one and Dad wasn't excited about trailing me through the forest wrapped in my blanket.
Go figure.
So the excitement level for this trip had just been dialed way up.
In fact, I was so elated, that Dad didn't even wait for the 'announcement' (see above), but sat me in the car with a bucket already in my lap.
Smart man.
We made the 20 miles to Milk River without incident. (see above . . . again.)
And entered the store.
I should explain here that the Robinson's Store was the only shop in Milk River that featured clothing.
There were neat piles of everything wearable.
And the wood plank floors creaked delightfully.
And if you were really lucky, you got to watch Theo Barrows gift wrap packages at her counter in the middle of the store.
The curling of the ribbons was especially fascinating.
Where was I  . . .?
Oh, yes.
New coat.
Dad asked the manager where we could find coats in my size and was conducted, with me tagging eagerly behind, to a rack at one side of the store.
My eyes were immediately drawn to a gold, furry, wonderful garment.
I reached out a hand and brushed the soft fur.
Oooooh!
"This one, Daddy! This one!"
"Okay, we'll try this one," Dad said.
I dropped my blanket and slipped my arms into the sleeves.
Perfect!
"I guess we'll take it," Dad said.
Good thing, too, because there was no way they were ever going to pry me out of that coat.
Dad paid and we trooped back out to the car.
The other kids excited now to get to the real reason for this trip.
Me brushing and brushing the soft fur on my arms and chest.
We had fun finding the tree.
I think.
We did end up with one.
I really don't remember much about it.
Me and my coat were happy, sitting in the car together.
And watching through the windshield.
Because, after all - one couldn't wear one's new coat out into nature!
What if it got soiled?
Dad later said something about 'waste of time and money'.
But who listened?
Later:
Blair (in my now-outgrown coat which he hated), and Anita
The original recycling program

Monday, December 12, 2016

Decorating as Home Defence

Our good friends weren't planning on being home for Christmas.
Instead, they were taking their family to spend the holiday with his parents.
Over six hours away.
Apparently, the extended family was getting together.
It would be . . . fun.
And because they weren't going to be at home, they had also made a practical decision.
Why put up the Christmas decorations?
Decorating took time and effort.
And no one would be around to enjoy them.
And the biggest reason to rejoice?
They would miss, entirely, the all-important (and dreaded) clean-up involved in bringing in their family's usual live Christmas tree.
It just made sense.
To them.
To my Husby, Christmas decorating fiend, it was a travesty.
He reasoned that they would be home for over half of December.
Surely they needed to decorate for those days, at least.
But they didn't.
A week before the big day, we waved them off from their front drive.
My Husby turned to look at the bare, forlorn little home they left behind.
Nestled among it's lighted, decorated neighbours.
He shook his head. “It's just not right,” he said.
Then he grinned.
Something I've learned to treat with respect.
“We'll decorate for them!”
Uh-oh.
That night, he returned from work with a special tree tied to the roof of the car.
Very special.
It had been thrown into the ditch from a passing vehicle somewhere along his commute.
And had been laying there, forlorn and forgotten for most of the past year.
To say it was dead would be a vast understatement. No hint of green remained among the dry, brown needles.
He untied it and stood it up.
“What'd'ya think?”
“Ummm . . . Oh, Christmas tree, Oh, Christmas tree! How dead and dry your branches!” I said.
He grinned. “It's perfect!”
I thought of our friends, happily enjoying the holiday in the bosom of their family.
Blissfully unaware of the clean up that would greet them the instant they arrived home.
I shook my head. “Your terrible.” 
“I know!” he responded. “Isn't it great?!”
He carried the tree to our friends' house and stood it up in their front stoop.
It fit perfectly.
Brushing needles from his hands, he returned home.
Mission accomplished.
A couple of weeks later, our friends returned. Happy and content from two weeks in the warmth of kith and kin.
They pulled into the drive.
And stopped.
And stared.
They got out of the car.
And stared some more.
A tree, mostly bare, was standing in the stoop outside their front door.
The wind had playfully sculpted the piles of dead needles around it into imaginative drifts and eddies.
Huh.
Somehow, during their absence, someone had sneaked onto their property . . .
And left something.
You know, I could just picture how it would look on a police report.
'Trespassers on property. Nothing stolen. Something . . . left.'
And, most importantly of all?
They had to clean up the needles.
Admittedly, the clean up was quick and easy and relatively painless.
Just a sweep and done.
But to someone who had planned to avoid it altogether?
Maddening.
Oh, they remained our friends.
Because they were extraordinary people.
But after that, they decorated.
Always.
It was just . . . safer.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Road to Skiing

Future skiers/blessed people

I love winter.
I just don't like bitter cold.
I love snow.
But not on roads which then become icy and slippery.
And, being born and raised on the prairies as I was, I have a hard time with high places.
So explain to me why I would drive, weekend after weekend, on slippery, snowy roads, up into the mountains, to slide repeatedly down high slopes.
I know. It makes no sense to me, either.
But I loved it.
My brother, George, and I would rise at the unbelievable hour of 4:00 AM on a Saturday, drive to West Castle, and spend the day going up and down.
Then drive home again.
Yup. 'Nuts' pretty much describes it.
Most of the time, the roads were fairly passable. Plowed and sanded.
But occasionally, they weren't.
And therein hangs a tale.
So to speak.
George and I had happily spent the day on the slopes.
We were starting the drive home in a pleasantly exhausted state.
All was well.
I don't quite remember what happened next.
It pretty much a blur.
Perhaps I should describe the scene . . .
I'm not sure about now, but 40 years ago, the road to West Castle is narrow.
Occasionally, the road twists and turns amongst a heavy growth of trees.
But in many places, a sheer drop to the bottom of a rather tall mountain is the only thing awaiting anyone who ventures out onto the non-existent shoulder.
And I do mean sheer.
And non-existent.
Remember what I said about heights?
That would be here.
Now back to my story . . .
Someone lost control of their vehicle.
George reacted with his usual skill, twisting and correcting all in one smooth movement.
But our little blue Toyota truck decided, arbitrarily, to go for a spin.
And not in a good way.
Not an advisable thing on a narrow winter road, high up in the mountains.
I closed my eyes as we slid towards the edge.
Then, miraculously, we felt the crunch of gravel under the tires.
Gravel.
Not air.
Strange.
The vehicle stopped abruptly, facing the wrong way and definitely on the scary open-space side of the road.
I opened my eyes.
George was staring straight ahead, his hands still in a white-knuckle grip of the steering wheel.
I looked to the left.
We were definitely off the road.
So what could we possibly be sitting on?
I cautiously turned to the right.
 Nothing but open space.
Okay, that didn't look good.
George looked at me. "Did you know there was a little pull-out here?"
I stared at him. "Pull-out?"
His question was answered.
He opened his door and . . . stepped out.
I watched him.
Then he indicated that I should open my door.
I stared at him like he was a lunatic.
He indicated again.
Cautiously, I opened my door and . . . stepped out onto solid earth.
Huh.
I hurried around to the safer side of the scene.
And glanced back.
Sure enough, there was a little jut of shoulder, just big enough for our little truck.
And we had slid onto it sideways.
With perfect precision.
We collected our thoughts and calmed ourselves a bit, then climbed back into our truck and continued the drive home.
A bit more slowly and with a great deal of gratitude.
Yep.
Skiing requires snow.
And high places.
And driving.
We do our best to stay safe.
But it's nice when Someone Else is in charge.

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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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