Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



All of My Friends

Friday, June 23, 2017

Home Wreckers, Inc.

I really wanted to take Shop class.
Working with power tools. Smelling the aroma of freshly-sawn wood as you constructed your first-ever end table.
Making pottery and jewelry.
A handi-girl's dream.
But in 1970 (yes that's really when I started high school) at Erle Rivers High in Milk River, Alberta girls weren't allowed to take Shop class.
I know. Because I asked.
Moving on . . .
I, and the rest of the girls, took Home Economics. Home Ec., for short.
Or Home Wreck, as it was not-so-affectionately titled.
So we were 'Home-Wreckers'.
The place where we 'learned' to sew.
Cook.
Clean.
And generally find our way around running a home.
Once I got past not being able to take Shop, I really had fun.
I sewed a potholder. An apron.
And a little purple linen dress with the sleeves in backwards.
Sigh.
I baked cookies. Made Chicken-a-la-King served in little toast cups.
And Gourmet Hot Dogs.
I learned the proper way to scour pots (and the sink).
Scrub a floor.
And generally make my house squeaky clean.
Sew straight. Cook carefully. And scrub hard.
I did pass. With unremarkable marks.
And, surprisingly, I actually used some of the things I learned.
And still do today.
There is a codicil:
Now my brother . . .
Yes, they allowed boys to take Home Ec. 
For one glorious week sometime during the year.
And yes, I know it wasn't fair . . .
My brother remembers Home Wreck differently.
He remembers cooking.
Something he excels at today.
And hunting for mice with frying pans and spatulas.
Boys make everything more fun.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Dining Car

I probably don’t have to tell you that Canada is a large country.
In bygone years, the men who manned the trains crisscrossing it spent a long time aboard those trains.
A long time.
In those days, they spent much of the trip and all of their downtime in the little caboose as it clicked faithfully along the rails at the tail end of the train. It became their little ‘home away from home’. There, they did their visiting, sleeping, reading, game-playing, cooking and eating.
Let’s discuss these last two for a moment . . .
One group, in an effort to be fair, took it in turns to cook and wash up.
They had one rule: If anyone criticized the cooking in any way, their turn was accelerated instantly through the queue and they found themselves with spatula (or spoon) in hand for the next meal.
Yeah. Probably best to keep your mouth shut unless you had a hankering to take over as cook.
So the men silently choked down whatever they were given. No matter how unpalatable.
They still had to take their turn when it came, but at least they weren’t handed the apron at a moment’s notice.
One man in the group seemed singularly unable to create anything remotely appetizing. Or even edible.
Yeah. We’re definitely not talking gastronomic ecstasy here.
His friends were enduring his most recent effort, silently forking down breakfast.
Or what passed for breakfast.
One man poked disconsolately (real word!) at the blackened bit of char that had started life as an egg.
The cook narrowed his eyes, his hand tightening spasmodically on the spatula.
This is my story. I’ll imagine it how I want . . .
The man looked up and forced a smile at the cook. “Hank,” he said. “You burned the eggs.”
Hank smiled slowly and moved toward him, already extending his cooking utensil of choice.
“Which is truly remarkable,” his friend added, “Because it’s just how I like ‘em!”
Creative criticism.
It’s an art.
P.S. The trains that span our great country no longer pull a caboose behind them. With faster trains and shorter hauls between stops—and with improvements in technology—they simply aren’t needed.
I miss them.

The cover for my book, Daughter of Ishmael is once more in the news!
Having won the contest last week, it is now in the running for a larger prize.
Could you go to: http://indtale.com/polls/creme-de-la-cover-contest
And give it your vote!
You know I'll love you forever!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

All You Need

Finished at last.
Note: Large silver quonset (Center)
House, far left.
For one summer, the Stringams lived in a quonset.
Between moving from one ranch to another.
And waiting for our house to be finished.
You can read about it hereherehereherehereherehere, or here.
(It was a long summer . . .)
We had electricity, but no indoor plumbing or heat.
It could easily have been an ordeal.
My ultra-organized mother made it an adventure.
But even SuperMom couldn't control the weather.
And summers must end.
Especially in Canada.
It had been getting colder.
Noticeably colder.
We could lay in our beds and see our breath.
A fact that made us reluctant to leave said beds.
And we were setting new records for getting dressed.
Mom was starting to gaze longingly at her nearly-finished house across the field.
The one that didn't yet have any indoor plumbing or heat.
Rather like the place she was living in.
But it did have one attractive attribute.
One modern convenience.
It had a fireplace.
Okay, well, maybe not such a modern convenience.
Moving on . . .
Mom had been nervously studying the weather forecast every day.
And eyeing the house.
Which crept all-too-slowly towards completion.
Which would come first?
Winter?
Or her beautiful new home?
And then, the day arrived when all discussion became moot.
Because no one tells winter when to arrive.
Which it did.
With a fury.
A not-so-rare September blizzard.
We had a little lead time.
Schools were quickly closed to give students time to bus home.
Anyone who's ever been caught out on the shelter-less prairies in a blizzard knows that that is something to be avoided at all costs.
When we arrived at the quonset, it was to see Mom and Dad frantically packing.
For the next couple of hours, we carted carloads of necessities from the quonset to the house.
By late afternoon, though, the time was definitely up.
One could no longer see to drive.
Even in the barnyard.
We would have to make do with what had already been hauled.
Mom started organizing.
A few hours later, everyone was quite comfortably settled in the one room of the new house that was inhabitable.
The downstairs family room.
Mom had bedrolls laid out.
An electric stove set up.
And ropes strung to hang things on.
The kids were soon fed and in bed.
The dishes washed and stacked.
Mom still didn't have indoor plumbing.
In fact, nothing in the house worked.
And there was a monster storm was raging outside.
But Mom was doing something she had been dreaming about since she first set foot in the quonset, months before.
Sitting in front of a fire.
With every part of her warm at the same time.
Life was good.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Printed Love

Grade Twelve English 30.
My favourite class of all time.
What could possibly be better than reading books and stories and then talking about them?
Or of writing your own?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Our teacher was a veteran of many, many years. She had taught each of my three elder siblings and survived.
And now it was my turn.
Most of the time, I was fairly quiet in her class - choosing mostly to listen as the conversations went on around me. Keeping my opinions to myself, except when they could be submitted in a written format.
My grades were good.
We were working our way through a thick volume of short stories. Some exciting. Some bizarre. Some sweet and romantic.
It was during this last that I came to grief.
Let me explain . . .
We were reading a story about a man who saw a beautiful hand-made doll in the window of a local shop. The doll affected him greatly. It seemed to 'speak' to him.
He purchased it and tried to find out more about it and the person who had made it.
He discovered that the doll and others like it were made locally and that a woman usually brought them in to the shop a few at a time.
He tracked down the woman.
She was not the artist.
Instead, she kept the real doll-maker a virtual prisoner, and forced her to keep making dolls, which were then sold.
The imprisoned doll-maker was justifiably sad and put all of the love she would have given her unborn children into her dolls. Which was why they were so beautiful.
The man fell in love with the captive doll-maker, stole her away and married her.
And they lived happily ever after.
Okay, I admit it, when I read this story, I discovered that I'm a romantic.
I loved it.
Loved the 'happily ever after' ending.
I was excited for the discussion to start . . .
“How many of you liked this story?” the teacher asked.
My hand shot up.
Then slowly lowered as I realized that I was the only person in the class who had raised one.
“This story was drivel!” the teacher said. “Absolute tripe!” She stomped around the front of the class. “Stupid romantic nonsense! Waste of good print! Waste of time!”
She added several more derisive comments, then stopped and stared at me.
My hand was back on my desk.
“Well, I thought it was romantic!” One of the other girls tried to come to my aid.
The teacher snorted. “Hmph! Don't know why it was included in this book! Maybe as an example of lousy writing!”
The class was silent.
“Asinine garbage! Should be torn out of the book!” She glared around. “Any other thoughts?”
Let me put it this way . . . the discussion following this story didn't take up much time.
The story was given a brief technical reckoning, then dismissed.
And the class moved on to the next story.
I moved with them, reading and responding to my assignments.
Suspense.
Mystery.
Humour.
But I never forgot my first romantic story.
I read and re-read it.
Loving it more each time.
Mmmm.
Romance.
I still think I was right.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Back of His Head

I was visiting my folks, we had had a nice day,
I’d been married three weeks, had been living ‘away’.
“There’s just one thing I hate about marriage,” I said.
“When he goes out the door. It’s the back of his head.”

“I wish he could stay at home always. With me.”
Dad smiled, “You’ll be glad when he goes, Hon, you’ll see.”
“With your work and your chores, he’ll just be in the way,
You’ll be glad for the back of his head every day.”

Now I have to admit often Dad had it right,
With his bits of advice and his splendid insight.
But, frankly, in this, well Dad’s counsel was flawed,
(I still marvel at this ‘cause that really was odd!)

And for forty-one years now, my Husby’s left home,
Dressed in his best, with his hair freshly combed.
His tie in its place and his briefcase in hand,
With footsteps so sure, his position, he’s manned.

And each day as I stood there, to bid him good-bye,
I have to admit, there were tears in my eyes.
But happiness bloomed when, once more, he’d return,
Worn out from his day, as our living, he’d earned.

But something quite different has happened today,
‘Cause this was the last time I’ll send him away.
Today, he retires. Yes his work life is done,
And from here on I’ll spend my days with ‘HoneyBun’!

So, Daddy, I know that you’re watching from ‘there’.
I know, your advice you dispensed ’cause you cared.
But in this you were wrong, Dad. You have to agree,
I’m happy ‘cause Husby’ll be home now, with me!

Mondays are for Poetry!
My good friends Jenny and Delores agree with me!
Head on over and see how their week is starting!
You'll be glad you did!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Choke This Down

Chokecherry syrup.
Delicious in so many ways.
The digging out of the 'berry pails' wasn't always a reason for celebration.
When Mom headed towards the saskatoon bushes, yes.
But when the car turned to the chokecherry patch.
Not so much.
Don't get me wrong, we loved the end product of both enterprises.
But the picking of saskatoons also involved interim rewards. ie. the eating of said berries.
Chokecherries?
Again, not so much.
Fresh from the bush, they were . . . how shall I say this genteel-ly . . .?
Icky.
In fact, before any of the bright red berries passed our lips, they had to be cooked and treated.
And added upon.
And poured into jars.
As jam.
Or even better, syrup.
You have to know that there was nothing quite like homemade chokecherry syrup on Mom's fluffy pancakes.
Mmmmm.
Where was I?
Oh, yes.
Syrup.
It was a great family favourite.
My Husby's mother made fabulous chokecherry syrup as well.
Every year.
She then dispensed bottles of it to eagerly awaiting offspring.
It went fast.
As soon as one bottle emptied, another took its place.
And therein (good word) lies a tale . . .
We had been using one bottle of syrup.
Then, as often happens in a household where ten people are sharing the fridge, our little bottle got pushed to the back and hidden behind a bottle of pickles.
I should explain, here, that we always purchased everything edible in gi-normous (made-up word denoting humongous-ness) sizes.
Because mealtime for our bunch strongly resembled the feeding of a threshing crew.
So the idea of a quart-sized bottle being hidden behind a monstrous jar shouldn't be too much of a surprise.
Moving on . . .
There our little jar remained.
While I opened another.
Which was subsequently used.
And replaced.
Some months later, when I finally reached the back of our fridge, I discovered our forgotten, woefully neglected little bottle of chokecherry syrup.
Dismayed at the thought of lost deliciousness, I opened the lid.
And sniffed.
Huh.
Weird.
Probably, I should mention that neither of us drink alcohol.
What follows makes more sense if I do . . .
“Grant, what's wrong with this chokecherry syrup?” I asked. “It smells . . . funny.”
“Funny, how?”
“Well, funny.”
I handed him the jar.
He sniffed. “I think you've created chokecherry wine, honey.” he said, grinning at me.
“What? How did I do that?”
“Fruit. Sugar. Neglect.”
Huh. So that's how it's done . . . “So what do I do with it now?”
“Well I know someone who would probably enjoy it!”
We took it to our friend, who looked at it.
Swirled it around in the jar.
Sniffed it.
Then finally tasted it.
He looked at us. “Best chokecherry wine I've ever had,” he said, grinning.
Trust the two teetotallers to do it up right.
From the chokecherry patch, through Mom's kitchen (and fridge), to a tavern near you.
Bottom's up!

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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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