Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, May 27, 2011

My Big Crime

My brother and me.
I'm the criminal on the right.

 Okay. I confess. I stole something.
I have no defense. I did it. I'm guilty.
I was four. Is that an excuse . . .?
Mom and I were doing the weekly grocery shopping. A very exciting time for both of us. Well, for me, at any rate. We had driven in from the ranch in the family's late-model Chrysler (Dad always drove a Chrysler), which was an adventure in itself.
There were no seatbelts. They hadn't been invented yet. Apparently no one had yet seen the wisdom in fastening small, easily-launched bodies into a safe place while hurtling down sketchy gravel roads at 60 miles per hour in a two ton vehicle.
My mom used to hold out her arm when she applied the brakes.
I was safe.
We pulled up to the curb across the street from the grocery store and proceeded inside.
The check-out desk, usually manned by a woman, stood in the center of the store, surrounded by the magical world of the grocery. Directly behind the desk was a bank of cubicles, in which one could find the most amazing things of all . . . the penny candies.
It was there that I would park myself, after the cart got too full to hold me. I admit it was difficult to leave the treasures that my mom had been adding to the cart. Treasures like canned peas. Baked beans. Tinned salmon. And the all-important Spam.
But I found comfort in just looking at the myriad possibilities behind that main desk.
A whole family of chocolate. Straws of sweet, flavoured powder. Licorice and JuJubes formed into the most amazing shapes. Wax figures which could be nipped and sucked dry of their wonderful, sweet juices. Lick-M-Aid. Lollipops. Suckers. Bubble gum in two sizes of colourful balls. The choices were truly endless to a four-year-old. And my mom's purse offered the gateway to this bounty.
I couldn't stand it any longer. I ran to her.
"Mom? Can I have a bubblegum?"
"Not today, dear."
What? What had she said?
Had she really used those three words? The small utterance that shattered my hopes and dreams? That barred me forever from the bliss that all of that candy represented?
It couldn't be.
"But Moooom!"
"Not today, dear. I don't want you to be eating any candy before dinner."
Huh. Dinner was a lifetime away. What a stupid excuse.
"Just one?" I turned. My eye was caught by the bin full of bright orange bubble gums. The big ones with the little, rough bumps on the surface.
And the total deliciousness inside.
I pointed. "Just a bubble gum? I'll eat my dinner. I promise."
A smile from my long-suffering parent. "No, dear. Not today."
Huh. Well, we'll just see about that.
Mom had brought her purchases to the desk. The woman behind it was distracted. I would just take one gum. No one would ever know.
My hand crept into the bin of orange bubble gums. Wrapped itself around one tempting morsel. Popped it into my mouth.
Ha. Mission accomplished. I began the wonderfully arduous task of breaking down the hard, candy shell.
Mom finished paying for her groceries and was following the young boy carrying them to our car.
I fell in happily behind her.
The boy set the bags in the trunk, smiled at my mom and me and left.
Mom opened the door for me and I jumped inside. Still chewing.
She got in.
And sniffed. Then her head whipped around and she skewered me with a gimlet gaze.
"Diane! What are you eating?!"
I froze. How did she know? The gum was in my mouth, safely hidden.
I decided then. Moms were definitely magic.
Clever prevarication was in order.
"Ummm. Nothing."
"Diane, did you steal a bubblegum?"
I stared at her. Moms could see through cheeks!
My head drooped. "Yes."
She sighed. "Diane, you know that stealing is wrong, don't you."
I lifted my head. Tears were already starting to pool. "Yes."
"What should we do about it?"
Tears started to slide down my cheeks. "I don't know."
Mom opened her purse and reached inside. Then she handed me a penny. "You will have to go back inside and pay for it."
I stared at her in horror. Go inside? Face my victim? Confess my guilt?
"I - I don't want to."
"But you have to."
I sat there, my four-year-old brain working frantically to find another solution.
Any other solution.
Finally, I sighed. Mom was right. I would have to go inside and pay for my ill-gotten bubblegum. I opened the door and got out.
For a moment, I stood there in the gutter, wiping my cheeks and staring across the street at the grocery store. Which, incidentally, had assumed gigantic proportions since Mom and I had left.
Suddenly the orange deliciousness in my mouth didn't taste very good.
I spit it out into the gutter and looked down at it.
It still had bits of the hard candy shell imbedded in the softer gum. I hadn't even broken it in.
I sighed and looked at Mom through the window of the car.
She nodded towards the store.
I started across the street, feet dragging.
This was the widest street ever known to man.
Finally, I reached the store and went up the steps.
The door jingled happily. The woman behind the desk turned and looked at me. I approached slowly and tried twice to produce a voice. Finally, "I forgot to pay for a bubblegum," I said, sliding the penny across the counter towards her.
She nodded and looked at me gravely.
"Thank you, dear," she said. "You know it's not right to steal, don't you?"
Well I certainly do now! I nodded.
"Don't do it again."
I shook my head.
"Thank-you for being honest."
Another nod.
And I was free. I ran back to the car.
Mom didn't lecture. She knew I had learned my lesson.
I still love bubblegum balls. Especially the orange ones with the little rough bumps. But every time I chew one, I remember being four years old.
And learning about being honest.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Keep Your Eye on the Ball . . . Please

The mighty Ball Player
At the Stringam ranch, size definitely mattered. Average was never good enough. The buildings were oversized The land was oversized. The animals were oversized.
Well, at least that's how everything looked to me.
I was four.
One thing that was larger than normal was the barnyard and I know that because . . . well, I'm getting ahead of myself.
The game of preference among the ranch residents was baseball.
On summer evenings, all of the hired men would gather around the radio, and later, the TV, to cheer their heroes in the national pastime.
I had no idea what it was that so interested them. All I knew was that this was the one time in the week that everyone stayed put. And paid proper attention to the most important person on the ranch.
On evenings when no game was being broadcast, and once all of the animals had been properly tucked in for the night, those same hired men would challenge each other - and any one else who could swing a bat - to a game of pick-up.
In the barnyard. (Remember what I said about size . . .?)
I was always parked safely atop the fence and charged with the solemn duty of being the sole member of the audience.
They told me it was because I was the best at cheering. But I knew differently. It was because they feared my 'heavy hitter' status.
Well, if they wanted me to cheer. Cheering was what they would get.
Enthusiasm, I had.
Unfortunately, staying power, I didn't.
Inevitably, something would distract me. A cat. Dog. Butterfly. Imagined cat, dog or butterfly. Clouds. Grass.
And quite often, the game went far past my all-important bedtime - which, I might point out, came while the sun was still high in the sky and which was a terrible waste of daylight, in my opinion.
But I digress . . .
It was the most magical Saturday. One in a summer. When the haying is finished and the evening chores are still hours away.
Time for the annual Saturday afternoon baseball game.
Even my mom left her evening meal preparations and myriad other duties and joined us. (I should point out here that Mom was probably the best hitter of the lot - a fact that rather irked most of the hired men.)
My Mom, Dad and brother, George, were playing on a team with two of the men. My elder brother Jerry, sister Chris and four other men made up the other side.
I was, once more, on the fence.
The game was pretty much tied up.
Whatever that meant.
Al was up to bat and there was a strange gleam in his eye.
Not that I could see it. On the fence. Remember?
He nailed that ball and it sailed straight and fast, over the heads of our intrepid outfielders, and towards the barn. The new barn. With brand new windows.
One of which did not survive what happened next.
Everyone gasped and winced when the tinkle of breaking glass reached us a split second later.
Our only ball disappeared inside.
Time was called as everyone scrambled towards the barn.
Al was left at home plate, still clutching the bat, a look of horror on his face.
For the next half-hour, we searched for that ball.
The shattered window bore mute evidence of it having passed this way. But it was not to be found.
Directly inside the row of windows was a corridor which ran in front of the tie-stalls and allowed for feeding. On one side of this corridor, the outside wall, on the other, solid, wood planks reaching to a height of about five feet and forming the front of the stalls. Then there were the stalls themselves. Then another, wider corridor. And on the other side of that space, the tack rooms.
Every square inch of the tack rooms, stalls and in fact, the whole lower floor of the barn were minutely searched.
No ball.
And chore time was fast approaching.
And people were talking about Al's hit as having been 'over the fence'. There were several long faces as the members of the opposite side acknowledged that Al's team had just drawn into the lead by one run.
Those people frantically began sifting through the hay in the mangers. The straw on the floor.
Still no ball.
"If we don't find it soon," my dad said, "we'll have to quit. We have to do the chores before it gets dark."
Redoubled efforts.
Still no ball.
Then Al, he of the mighty swing, walked over to the broken window to inspect the damage more closely.
"Well, here it is!" he said.
The rest of us turned to look. Sure enough, he was holding our baseball.
"Where was it?" Dad asked.
"Here. On the windowsill."
"What?" Everyone clustered around.
"Yeah. It was sitting here on the windowsill."
"But how could that be?" Mom asked. "It went through the window like a shot. We all saw it."
"I dunno. I just found it sitting here on the windowsill."
"Well, that is strange."
They probably figured out instantly what had happened, but I had climbed on one of the horses and missed the dénouement.
Fairly typical for someone with my short attention span.
The game went on and the incident was relegated to an amusing side note in a (with the exception of the broken window) very fun afternoon.
It was years before I figured out exactly what had happened.
The ball had smashed the window, still going at a fairly hefty pace. Then it had bounced off the heavy planks of  the tie stalls just inside and bounced right back onto the ledge.
Simple logic.
Don't know why it took me so long to figure out . . .

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Eyes, Ears, Mouth and Nose

My Sweetie and Me

Newly married.
What a wonderful time.
A time of love. Friendship. Companionship.
A time of discovering for the first time that one has a true and forever friend. Someone to be with. Always.
It's magical.
Then, too, it is the time to discover those frailties that we have tried so very hard to keep from our sweethearts. And finally have to admit to owning.
Everyone has bodily functions.
Get over it.
My husband I had been married for a couple of weeks.
He had risen early in the morning and disappeared into the bathroom.
I had stayed where I was. Warm and comfy and still deliciously drowsy.
Soon the door opened and my new husband emerged, but not looking as he had when he went in.
He had blown his nose, while attending to other necessities and given himself a nosebleed.
Easily fixed. Just stuff a Kleenex into his left nostril.
Oh. He had discovered a pimple in his right ear. Quickly disposed of. And another Kleenex inserted to blot up any discharge.
Now, back to bed to snuggle with his new wife.
I stared at this apparition who was approaching my bed. It looked like my husband. But it had white tissues issuing from nose and ear. Could it possibly be . . .? I braced myself up on one arm. "Is that one Kleenex?" (Hand gestures to suggest pulling something which had been run into the head through the ear and now protruded from the nostril.)
"Was that a 'harrumph'?"
With a glare, he spun around and headed back into the bathroom.
Firmly closed door.
He never answered my question . . .

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What's in a Name?

Dr. Mark Reed Stringam.
My Dad.
Husband. Father. Grandfather. Great-grandfather. Adviser. Confidante. Friend.
Rancher extraordinaire. Breeder of purebred polled Herefords, single-handedly working to improve the beef industry in Alberta.
And succeeding.
With so great a man as his example, our eldest son could only profit from sharing his name.
And so, Mark, we decided to name him.
Enough background.
My parents had taken my husband, myself, and our two small sons to dinner to celebrate my birthday. It had been a lovely time. Wonderful roast beef for which the restaurant was famous. Wonderfully sparkling, satisfying conversation. Two well-behaved little boys. (Hey! This is my story. I can remember it the way I want!)
We were replete. On every level.
It was time to go.
I packed the baby into his carrier and my dad picked up Mark, his fourth grandson. The first named for him.
And we headed towards the door.
In the entry, we paused for a few moments, waiting for my Mom.
Mark Jr., safely ensconced in his grandfather's arms, began to look around. He discovered a pin in the lapel of his grandfather's suit jacket.
A shiny gold pin in the shape of a polled Hereford.
Oooh. Shiny.
The small hand reached out, caressing the fascinating bit of gold.
"Do you like that, Mark?"
"Do you know what it is?" A note of pride creeps into the grandfatherly voice.
Small head nodding.
"What is it?"
Our son, the namesake of the great Hereford breeder who was holding him, the small child who had been around cattle since he was born, could not help but get this right.
We waited breathlessly for the answer.
Mark screwed up his face thoughtfully. Then smiled.
Oh, how have the mighty fallen . . .

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