Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, May 27, 2017

When It's Raining Mice


Okay, he only looks cute . . .
We lived in the country.
Far out in the country.
We had many people living in our house.
But we weren't the only residents.
Maybe I should describe our other (for lack of a better term) tenants.
They were warm.
Breathing.
And regularly produced offspring.
They routinely got into our food storage.
And created their own comfortable little hideaways. 
Mostly in our walls and dressers.
And they never, ever paid rent.
Oh, and two important points:
1. They were covered with hair.
2. They had tails.
You're right.
We had mice.
Did you know that mice like to nest in clean baby clothes, rendering them un-wearable?
That they climb anywhere?
And can squeeze through really, really tiny holes that it is nearly impossible to bar them from your home?
And they like everything we like.
Especially things that come in a cloth or cardboard package.
And some plastic.
Their standards are not high.In fact, they have even been known to burrow into boxes of Kraft dinner or bags of Ramen noodles, which we all know have no nutritional value whatsoever.
We learned to deal with them.
Trap them when we could.
Even poison some when we were truly desperate.
But still they kept coming.
We found 'mice tracks' in our clean bedding. On the shelves. On top of the TV. Even on the kitchen counters.
It was a nightmare.
One I think could easily be turned into a horror movie. Hmmm. Attack of the Mice? Or: The Teeth That Could Chew Through Anything? How about: The Really Annoying Things in the Walls?
Okay, I'm out. What are your suggestions?
Moving on . . .
My Husby and I were in bed, drifting at the edges of sleep.
Well, I was, he was reading a magazine.
Suddenly, he spotted movement.
I should explain here, that our temporary bedroom was in the basement and our bed was shoved into the corner formed by the meeting of two cinder-block walls.
Important note: Mice can climb cinder block walls.
And I was the person sleeping next to the wall.
Enough exposition.
My husband turned his head sharply and the mouse climbing up the corner, inches from my head, immediately dove for cover.
My husband narrowed his eyes, rolled the magazine he had been reading, and waited.
Okay I will admit that I'm only imagining the narrowed eyes.
But this is my story. I'll tell it how I want . . .
Soon, his patience was rewarded.
Our intrepid little explorer (See how refined I am? I could have called him *&^%$#@!!!) started, once more, upwards.
This time, Grant waited until the mouse was high enough on the wall that it couldn't possibly get back. Then he attacked.
SWAT! 
With the rolled-up magazine.
He got it!
The stunned mouse fell.
Right onto my chest.
The edges of sleep vanished as I gasped and sat up. Whereupon (good word) it fell with a plop into my lap.
Grant scooped it up, quickly dispatched it, and then turned the most apologetic face to me that I have ever seen.
And all I could do was laugh.
What else can you do when it starts raining mice?
Indoors.
P.S. We did solve our mouse problem. We moved.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Phunctional Phone Phun

My 'Creative Parenting 101' Professor
When Dad spoke. We listened.
Most of the time.
One ignored my father at one's own risk.
Let me tell you about it . . .
I had a boyfriend.
It was a new and exciting experience for me.
We would say good-bye at the school bus stop, get on our respective buses and head for home.
Fifty minutes later, we would be on the phone.
Talking.
For hours.
Literally.
I should point out here that, in the 1960s, we had one phone line to the ranch.
And, because we were ultra-modern and progressive, two phones on that line.
One in the kitchen.
And one in my parents bedroom.
The epitome of modern convenience.
Back to my story . . .
I don't know what we found to talk about. But talk, we did. Until one or both of us was tagged for chores.
Or supper was announced.
Or our parents got annoyed.
My Mom was usually quite predictable, saying such things as, “Diane! Get off the phone! You've been on there for an hour!”
To which I would comply.
Eventually.
And under protest.
My Dad was a little more creative.
He would walk in the door, see me there on the phone, note the time, and leave the room.
That was my cue.
And my only warning.
I had seconds to say my good-byes. 
Because Dad wanted me off the phone. And I wasn't going to like his methods.
They were . . . effective.
He would simply walk into his bedroom and turn on the radio.
Loudly.
Then take the phone receiver and lay it down beside said radio.
If I hadn't already ended my conversation, I did so then.
With a shouted good-bye and hastily cradled phone.
Mission accomplished.
Simply and elegantly, without a word being spoken.
Genius.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Battle(less)ship

Hours of fun. Or aggravation . . .
Mom always appreciated a good joke. Usually, she stood back and . . . appreciated. Occasionally, she was the instigator.
Let me explain . . .
Our family had just been introduced to a new game. Battleship. Actually, an old game, originally played with paper and pencil, now in a new format.
Plastic peg boards of Mediterranean sea blue. With cute little plastic ships.
We spent many hours playing this game, trying to outwit each other with our clever placements.
Very occasionally, we were able to convince one or the other of our parents to play.
Dad was deadly. He systematically shot at your ships.
Every third hole.
You could see his juggernaut (good word) sweeping down on your hapless little fleet and were powerless to stop him.
The game always left you feeling like a butterfly on a pin.
But Mom was a little more. . . gentle. She would destroy your ships using woman's intuition.
You were just as dead, but you felt better about it.
One day, she was playing with one of my younger siblings, Blair. The game had been going on for some time.
Mom: "B-8."
Blair: "Hit." .
Blair: "G-3."
Mom: "Miss."
Mom: "B-7."
Blair: "Hit."
Blair: "G-1."
Mom: "Miss."
And so it went.
Finally, Mom had cornered Blair's last ship and was closing in for the kill.
And that's when Blair got tired of the constant discouragement. "Where are your darn ships anyways?!" he demanded.
Mom gazed down at her board. "Ships?" she said.
Then she grinned.
She hadn't put them on the board.
Game. Set. Match.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Preserved

And yes, that is a jester costume . . .
When we were teenagers, my husby and I got involved in theatre.
And stayed involved.
This year marks 48 years for me.
And slightly more for him.
I know, I know. Do the math.
That makes us both . . . old.
But we love it.
We raised our children on the stage.
All six of them.
A recent production, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers closed recently.
To a standing ovation.
Our youngest son, Tristan was singing the role of Adam.
And as I watched him, I couldn't help but remember his first time on stage, at the age of 5.
We weren't sure if he would remember lines, so we made him a mute.
Big mistake.
He hasn't stopped talking since.
Then I thought about all of the roles he has had in his short lifetime.
And other experiences he has had on the stage.
Let me tell you about one.
We were setting up the stage for a production of “I Hate Hamlet”.
Look it up. It's funny.
We were trying different configurations with our set pieces.
One piece, a double glass door in it's own frame, was built by a home builder.
He hadn't understood that set pieces were supposed to drag around easily.
And be . . . light.
He had built it according to building code requirements.
So . . . definitely not light.
We had stood it up and were discussing where it should go in the grand scheme of things.
My son, Tristan was sitting innocently in a chair on stage, waiting for his parents to finish moving furniture around.
We stepped away from the door, intent on another piece of scenery.
And that's when it tipped.
The door, I mean.
Forward.
Towards my son.
It was one of those things that you could see happening.
But were powerless to stop.
For a moment, time slowed to a crawl.
The door dropped.
Down.
Down.
And smacked the back of our son's chair off.
Really.
A large, heavy, wooden chair.
Broke the back right off.
Our son turned and looked.
The door had missed him, quite literally, by a whisker.
I watched him singing that night.
And saw him with his little family later.
I thought about that wall falling towards him so many years ago.
Obviously preserved for greater things.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Wire Art

Art isn't always found on display.
And real artists don't necessarily work in a studio.

A true work of art . . .
On a ranch, fences are rather important.
They mean the difference between control and chaos. 
With a good fence, one can dictate which animals live where.
And which of the bulls certain cows are exposed to.
It probably isn't obvious, but with purebred animals, control means the difference between a progressive herd.
And one that is headed only for the meat market.
It is an exacting science of reading pedigrees and understanding genetics.
I rode the horses and put cows where Dad told me.
You can see where I was on the 'ranching is science' scale.
So back to the control thing . . .
A good fence means that things are ordered.
Predictable.
Profitable.
Poor fences spell trouble.
And diminishing returns.
Thus, the most important task on the Stringam Ranch outside of actually . . . associating with the cattle, was building fences.
Something Dad did rather well.
Let me tell you about it.
Building a four-wire barbed wire fence takes many stages.
First, the building of the corners, a sturdy framework of posts and neatly twisted wire, capable of sustaining enormous pull.
Then stringing the wire between the corners. This is a tricky part. As my brother, George can attest.
Then, planting posts in a straight line along the wires.
Note: Hold post from the side 
Accomplished with a 'post pounder' mounted on a tractor. A useful, but potentially dangerous gizmo. (Side note: hold post from the side.)
Then tacking said wires to said posts.
This was my job.
All it took was a steady hand.
Or if you lacked that, stamina.
Which was what I had.
If the first whack or two didn't get the staple into the post, the next 14 whacks would.
Moving on . . .
This was at that point most of the fence-builders would pack up their tools and call the job finished.
And where the true artists shone.
Remember, we were talking about my Dad.
Once the fence was actually assembled, Dad would stand back and look at it.
I should point out here that the fields in Southern Alberta are seldom flat. They may not change much, but they do change.
And a fence has to run smoothly along them.
I emphasize the word 'smoothly'.
If a fence goes down into a dip, then up again, the tightly stretched wires can actually, over time, pull the lower posts up out of the ground.
True story.
And that is where Dad came in.
He would walk along the fence, find the places where the line would dip, and weight it.
Really.
He would find a large rock (not uncommon on the prairies), tote it over to the dip, fasten a wire around it firmly, then attach the rock to the fence, pulling the wires down so they followed the ground perfectly.
I had watched him do this so often that, to me, that's just how it was done.
I was wrong.
Once, an elderly rancher from west of us came looking for the county veterinarian.
Who happened to be out building fence.
The man drove up in his rusted old pick-up and stopped near where my Dad and brothers were working.
Climbing out of his truck, he greeted everyone, then stood and watched their activities.
Finally, Dad finished with his current wire and rock creation, and turned to speak to the old man.
Only to find him in tears.
Thinking the man had a real emergency, Dad quickly walked over.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Oh nothing," the old man said, blowing his nose. "It's just that I haven't seen that kind of fence-building in fifty years!"
True artists appreciate true art.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Pew

Old Cowboy Joe was telling tales in Main Street yesterday,
Describing his adventures in the city far away,
But Joe, he didn’t know the terms or language he should use,
So Charlie helped him so his hearers wouldn’t be confused.

Now Joe said, “I arrived at church, t’was Sunday, ‘fore sunrise.
They had me park Ol’ Blue, my truck in their corral, sidewise.”
“It’s not ‘corral’, Old Joe,” said Charlie, in a quiet voice,
“It’s ‘parking lot’, please get it right. Just make the proper choice.”

Ol’ Joe just shrugged and nodded and continued with his tale,
“I left Ol’ Blue and moseyed to the door along the trail.”
Charlie rolled his eyes and leaned on in toward his friend,
“It’s called a ‘sidewalk’, Joe,” he said. “You’ll get it, in the end.”

Joe looked at him and made a face, then started in once more,
“I met this dude there in the church, he was just inside the door.”
“That ‘dude’ would be the ‘usher’, Joe,” said Charlie, with a grin.
“He’s the guy who meets you there, the instant you walk in.”

“He led me down the chute,” Joe said. “I followed where he led.”
“An ‘aisle’ not a ‘chute’,” Chuck said. “Come on, Joe, use your head!”
Joe rubbed his nose. “With Chuck’s consent, I’d like to end my tale.”
Then Charlie smiled, “It’d go so well if you, my friend, spoke ‘braille’!”

“I stood there, just inside the church and looked around a bit,
“The dude then led me to a stall and showed me where to sit.”
Chuck looked at him. “A ‘stall’?” he said. Then spat the word out, “Pew!”
Joe said, “That dame I sat beside? Well, that’s what she said, too!”

Monday's for POETRY!
Come on, it needs all the  help it can get!
Delores and Jenny agree with me.
Mosey on over and see what they've done...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Gates to...

Approach carefully. It's tricky
On a ranch, there are gates.
Many gates.
In the corrals, big gates made of long, wooden boards.
That are fun to swing on.
As long as your Dad doesn't catch you.
Ahem . . .
Along the hundreds of miles of barbed-wire fences in the pastures, the gates are made of . . . barbed wire.
Go figure.
Barbed wire gates are fashioned by four or five long pieces of wire stretched between two end posts. Then three or four lighter 'dancers' (smaller poles) are nailed to these wires to keep them from tangling when the gate is being opened or closed.
Barbed wire gates are a bit tricky, but easily used, once you get the knack. With practice (and a cooperative horse) one can even open and close these gates without ever having to get out of the saddle.
If one has an skittish (ie. stupid) horse, the mere thought of dragging a fence post and wires a few feet leads to Entertainment!
Notice the capital 'E'.
Okay, one doesn't have to look for excitement on a ranch.
Soooo . . . gates.
And using them.
My Mom, raised on a ranch and married to a rancher, never quite got the knack of the barbed wire gates.
I should point out here that, when we were riding, we took turns opening and closing. When we were driving, the person riding 'shotgun' was the designated gateman. Because Mom was so entertaining, she was always stuck in that seat. So the rest of us could watch.
Oh, Mom could open the gates, a trick in itself. And close them.
An even better trick.
But that is where her difficulty started.
Because somehow, she always closed them with herself on the wrong side. Whereupon (good word) she would have to either perform the entire operation again, or crawl through.
She always chose the latter.
And the rest of us had a good chuckle while she did so.
Okay, you're right, we did have to look for our entertainment.
But at least we didn't have to look far . . .

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