Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Monday, June 6, 2011

Mark and Enes Stringam

Mom and Dad.
Yes, they always dressed like that.

Today is dedicated to Mark and Enes Stringam, my parents.
Mom and Dad were married 63 years ago today at the United Church in Brooks Alberta.
Reverend Dixon performed the ceremony, which was attended by family and friends.
But that was only the beginning.

The young couple immediately moved to the Stringam Ranch on the Alberta/Montana border.
Mom knew she was marrying the youngest son of a notable Southern Alberta ranching family. But what she didn't know, but quickly discovered, was that she had also married a clown. A joker. Tease. And all around goof.
The adventure had begun . . .

On their honeymoon, they chose to camp. Rustic. Earthy. Isolated.
All the perfect ingredients for a newly-married couple.
Then it rained.
And got cold.
Whatever clothing dad took off, mom put on.
Then they moved their tent into a nearby shelter, along with all of the other campers in the area.
Okay, so intimate, it wasn't.
Just at dawn, Dad, always an early riser, got up and made a beeline for the showers.
Mom awoke some time later to the loudly-belted strains of "'Cause some dirty dog put glue on the saddle!" (Still a family favorite.) Shaking her head, she turned over to complain to Dad about the rude person singing in the showers.
But Dad wasn't there.
It was about then that Mom realized just who was making all the noise.
And still she stayed married to him.
* * *
Once she was settled on the vast Stringam ranch, Mom quickly discovered that life wasn't so different from what she had known on the Berg Ranch near Brooks. There, she and her mother had the care and feeding of Mom's father and eight brothers.
Now, she had the similar responsibility for Dad (this new goofball husband), and six hired men.
It was a toss-up as to which group could eat more.
Fortunately, Mom soon proved that she was more than capable of satisfying any hungry person, or persons, who strayed into her kitchen.
She spent a lot of time in that kitchen.
And in her vast gardens, which supplied food for that kitchen.
* * *
There was a bell on the ranch.
A large bell, rung only at meal times and in case of dire emergency. A bell that could be heard, on clear days, at a distance of five miles.
Only authorized people were allowed to ring this bell.
And Mom wasn't, yet, authorized.
But she wanted to be.
The bell's cord draped temptingly through her kitchen window and over her sink. Teasing her with its proximity and, at the same time, its inaccessibility.
She glanced at it. Right there. Just a little pull. Only a tiny ring. No one would even notice . . .
Sometime later, while maneuvering a stack of dirty dishes towards the sink, she inadvertently caught the forbidden cord.
A loud 'clang' made her freeze instantly.
Moments later, the kitchen door burst open, revealing a very concerned Dad. "What is it? What's the matter?"
Mom looked at him, red-faced. "Nothing, dear. I just happened to catch the cord . . ."
"What's happened?" One of the hired men had come in just behind Dad.
"Is there a problem?" Someone hollered from the front door.
"Everyone okay in there?" Mom didn't even know where that voice came from.
Two more men bumped into those already assembled in the kitchen. "Someone need help?"
Mom could now hear the pounding of hoofs coming up the driveway.
Could she possibly just sink into the floor?
"False alarm, boys," Dad said, grinning at Mom's red face. "Let's get back to work."
The kitchen emptied out and Mom could hear Dad making explanations out in the yard.
Soon she was alone again.
Well, at least she knew that the bell worked. Sometimes a little excitement was a good thing.
She stared at the cord.
* * *
Dad spent a lot of time out riding. And when he wasn't riding, he was working somewhere in the barns or corrals. Or moving irrigation pipe. Or hauling hay or feed. Or doing one of the million or so things that went into ranching. And when he wasn't doing that, he was, as the area's only veterinarian, making vet calls.
To say that he was busy is a distinct understatement.
We kids saw him at mealtimes, or when we went out to the barnyard to get in his way . . . help, I mean.
Often, his duties would call him from the supper table and he wouldn't return until long after we were tucked in for the night.
He would quietly enter the house and tip-toe to his bedroom.
Then he would empty his pockets onto the carved-leather organizer on his dresser, before getting ready for bed. Coins, his jackknife, keys, instruments. Everything contained in those pockets would be dropped into the various different compartments.
They made a 'thumping' sound as they hit the leather. A soft but very distinct sound.
And it vibrated into every corner of the house.
Inevitably, I would wake to the sound of the creaking floor as Dad crept down the hall.
Then I would hear the tell-tale thump of his pockets' contents, hitting the organizer.
I would sigh happily and turn over.
Dad was home. All was well.
* * *
I don't know how they did it.
Mom and Dad had six children and numerous hired hands. Together, they still managed to organize and direct the various operations that went into running a ranch and household. Feeding, milking, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, cleaning, sewing, repairing, overhauling, riding, fencing, driving, having babies, parenting, reading, cooking, canning, church responsibilities, veterinarian calls, Hereford club duties, neighborly visits and on and on and on. The only way they could have accomplished it all was to never sleep.
To say that I'm proud of them would be a vast understatement.
To say that I'm grateful, even more so.
Today is their day.
I love them.

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