Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Uh-oh! Mom! I'm Car . . .!

Ready for town . . .
We lived 70 miles from the nearest city. Thus, a 'trip to town' was more of an event.
Inevitably, I got car sick. Not a pleasant thing for anyone stuck in the vehicle with me.
And, being four, I sometimes confused being excited with being sick.
Let me explain . . .
On the ranch, the most exciting thing our Dad could say was, “Everyone get in the car, we've got to go to the town!”
It was equivalent to being told we were going to Disneyland.
All right, I admit it, sophisticated world travellers, we weren't.
We would then pile into the car (and I do mean 'pile', seatbelts hadn't been invented yet) and head up the gravel road towards the great white lights of Lethbridge. The trip took an hour and a half. Usually more, when Diane was one of the passengers.
Invariably, at some point between the ranch and the first town, Milk River, a small voice would pipe up from the back seat, “I'm sick!”
The car would slide quickly to the side of the road. Mom's door would fly open. Diane would pop magically to the top of the heap of humanity in the back seat and . . .
I'll leave the rest to your imagination.
Every trip.
Every time.
But then . . . something changed.
The little voice would speak up sooner.
And sooner.
Until the car wouldn't even have made it out of the driveway before the fateful words were heard.
Mom and Dad tried to puzzle it out. Why was Diane getting sick so quickly after getting into the car?
They must have figured something because they certainly came up with an effective solution.

On that fateful day, Dad announced that he had to make a trip into town.
Just before he was trampled by his entire enthusiastic family.
With much talk and laughter, we kids piled (that word again) into the car.
Dad got in. His door closed.
A pause while he found the key and jammed it into the starter.
He turned the key.
The motor roared to life.
He reached for the gear shift.
“I'm sick!”
His hand hovered there for a split second. Then dropped down and shut off the key.
“Then, you'd better stay at home with your Mom.”
What?! No! I stared at him, horrified.
“Go on. Get out.”
The tears started.
I should mention here that my Dad is a real push-over for tears.
Any tears.
Except, obviously when his small daughter needs to be taught a lesson.
“Diane. Get out.”
Suddenly, Mom was there, opening the car door.
She carried me, by now crying bitterly into the house and set me down on a kitchen chair.
Over my sobs, I heard the car start up and pull out of the driveway.
They were really going to leave me! It was more than my little four-year-old heart could handle.
I lept off the chair, ran to my parent's room and crawled under the bed.
Now, I should point out here that, never before or since have I crawled under my parent's bed. Maybe because, never before or since has anything been that traumatic. But I digress . . .
I lay under there, sobbing for hours. (Or more probably five minutes – it's all the same when you're four.)
Suddenly, a banana appeared at the side of the bed. A fresh banana, with the peel still on, but just slightly opened to reveal the yumminess underneath.
It stayed there, just temptingly out of reach.
I looked at it.
I love bananas.
And it really looked good.
I slid towards it. Just a little.
It stayed there.
A little more.
I could almost reach it.
There! I could touch it.
And I was out from under the bed.
“Are you feeling better?”
I looked up. Mom was sitting there on the floor, holding the banana.
I nodded and crawled into her lap. She held the banana for me to take a bite, then handed the rest to me and snuggled me tightly.
I munched my way through the treat, still sniffing occassionally.
Mom waited until I was done.
“Was it good?”
Nod. Sniff.
“Would you like something else?”
She stood up, taking me with her and carried me into the kitchen.
Where she fed me a cookie.
Then another.
Why does everything look better on a full tummy?
Then she sat down. “Diane, in the car, were you really sick?”
I stopped chewing and looked at my cookie. Then I stared at her, wide-eyed.
“I don't think you were, were you?”
Slowly, I shook my head.
“So why did you say you were?”
I looked at the cookie again, my mind working frantically.
“Were you excited about going to town?”
I nodded.
“Okay, I want you to think about this . . .”
Great. Thinking. The one thing I was good at. Not
“When we go in the car, I don't want you to say that you're sick. Unless you really are sick.”
I turned that over in my mind. I nodded.
“Can you remember that?”
Another nod. I started chewing again.
Mom smiled and stood up. “Good.”
And, oddly enough, that was all it took.
Never again did I pipe up from the back seat for anything less than genuine illness.
Or the potty, which Mom kept under her car seat.
But that is a whole other story.

Friday, June 24, 2011

If They Look Like Peas . . .

Admit it, they would fool anyone!
But they look like peas!
They open, like peas.
And they have little pea-type things in them.
And if they look like peas, and open like peas and have little pea things in them, they must be peas.
I love peas.
I'm eating them . . .

The Anderson family lived in a geat barn of a house at the very top of the hill in Milk River. It was my favourite place to visit. And to play.
Not only did my best friend, Kathy, live there, but there were lots of other kids to play with (12 in all) and they had this amazing house with an infinite number of rooms and hallways and balconies and little, hidden cupboards. We could play pretend for an entire day and never run out of spaces or scenarios.
And to make things even better, across the road on the north, was farmland. With barley crops taller than we were, ripening in the sun.
I should mention here that Milk River produced three Barley Kings. An award given for producing the best that the barley world had to offer.
To me, barley simply made an excellent hiding place.
And along the road, on the East, screening the Ellert farm from the Anderson's back yard, was a high hedge of caragana.
That, in late summer, was hung with thousands of . . . peas.

We had been playing hard most of the day and it was nearly time to go home for supper.
We were hungry.
Kathy did the smart thing. She ran to her house to find food.
Her sister, Laurie and I decided to forage for ourselves.
After all, there were all of these peas that no one else was picking.
We simply couldn't let them go to waste.
Have I mentioned that I love peas?
I grabbed a big one and opened it.
Huh. Well, they weren't quite the right colour, but they were approximately the right shape and size.
I ate one.
Yuck. Not great. Well, the next one will be better.
Okay, it wasn't.
Maybe the next one.
Okay, all of those were pretty much awful.
The next pod will be sweet and tasty.
Well, maybe the next one.
And so it went.
I can't tell you how many of the awful things Laurie and I ate. It must have been quite a few. Because we certainly got sick.
I don't remember much about that part.
Mostly because I was unconscious at the time.
Who knew that peas could do that?
But I learned my lesson.
Never again would I snack on peas that grew, temptingly, on trees.
From then on, I stuck to things like . . . buffalo beans. Adult aspirin. Dust bunnies.
Oh the gastronomic adventures!
How did my Mom survive?
How did I survive?!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Just the Gas and a Touch of Diesel - Shaken, Not Stirred

My Victim
I had my driver's license.
I was queen of the world!
I have to admit, here, that most ranch and farm kids were driving from the time that they could reach the gas pedal in the tractor.
But not officially. Not on an actual . . . public road!
I was quivering with excitement. And to make things even better, I officially became my parents' 'errand boy'.
I could die now, quite happily. Life couldn't possibly offer anything more.
Okay, so I then proceeded to back my father's car into the tractor. (Another story.)
And run it into the garage. (Another another story.)
And into the ditch. (Another . . . oh, never mind.)
But I was still on top of the world.
With all of the driving I was doing, inevitably, I would run through the gas. (Though, at $.29 per gallon, one had to be a bit judicious . . .) And Dad had a gasoline rule. Whoever was driving when the gas gauge reached 1/4, was responsible for filling the tank.
I should point out here that, on the ranch, we had our own bank of gasoline tanks, carefully monitored and filled periodically. There was one tank containing purple gas (for farm vehicles), one for diesel (tractors and equipment) and one for regular (mine). Two of them were side-by-side on the same framework. The other a bit apart on its own stand.
Dad showed me how to 'fill 'er up'. First, you unlock the nozzle. Then you twist the valve. Then you put the nozzle into the tank and pull up on the lever.
Simplicity in itself.
As long as Dad was standing there.
He took me through the steps several times until he was satisfied that I could do it on my own. Then he left me.
I finished filling and locked everything up again. I was, once more, the master of my universe.
For several months, I enjoyed my new found freedom. No longer was the 20 miles into town such an insurmountable barrier.
But, during those first months, I never again had occasion to fill the tank. Whenever I got into the car, it had already been filled by the previous driver.
What a blissful existence. Driving around in a car that never, ever ran low on gas.
The best of all worlds.
Then, Mom asked me to drive into the city to do an errand.
The city.
70 miles away.
I was ecstatic. I hopped into the car and headed out.
The trip was uneventful, if one ignored the fact that I was DRIVING TO THE CITY! ON MY OWN!
Okay. It was an event.
But when I returned home, I noticed that the gas gauge was just kissing the 1/4 full line.
Oh-oh. Time for a fill up.
I pulled into the tanks.
Then stared up at them.
Which one had Dad used?
I couldn't remember.
Okay, so I know a lot of things. I just can't remember what they are . . .
Finally, after much wrinkle-browed concentration, I chose one and proceeded to run through the procedures in my head. Unlock. Twist. Insert. Fill.
I had it.
I did it.
But a little voice in my head, the one that tried, vainly, to keep me from my many terrible fates, told me to stop at 1/2 full.
For perhaps the first, and only, time in my life, I listened.
I capped the gas tank and locked up the nozzle. Then drove triumphantly into the driveway.
Where the car stopped.
What was wrong?
I tried to start it.
It made the appropriate noises. Coughed a couple of times.
And died.
Have I mentioned that my next older brother is a whizz with engines and anything mechanical?
He came running.
“What’s the matter?”
“I dunno. It just . . . stopped.”
“Let me have a look.”
All was well. George would figure it out . . .
“Ummm . . . did you just put gas in?”
“Yeah. Why?”
“Ummm . . . I think you filled it with diesel.”
“Is that bad?”
He pulled his head out from under the hood and gave me . . . the look.
Now, anyone who has been to a mechanic and asked a stupid question knows exactly what I am talking about.
The sun went out of my day.
“What's the matter?” My voice had suddenly gotten very tiny.
He sighed patiently. “Diane, this car runs on regular gasoline.”
“You put in diesel.”
“And that's bad?”
“You might as well have filled the tank with . . . oh, I don't know . . . mud? Pancake batter?”
“I think you might have wrecked the engine.”
Big oh.
“Let's talk to Dad.”
How about . . . you talk to Dad. I'll just go and join the Foreign Legion.
“Come on.”
As it turned out, that nagging little voice of reason in my head had given me good advice when it told me to only fill the tank half full.
Dad simply had us push the car . . . did I use the word 'simply'? . . . and fill it the rest of the way with normal gas.
Oh, the car gas is in the tank off by itself! How did I miss that?
Then, he told us . . . and I'm quoting here . . . to “go and burn it off”.
What? Really?
Never, in the history of the world, had punishment so closely resembled reward.
Happily, my brother and I headed into town. Tooled main. Hit the mean streets of Warner. Back to Milk River. More cruising main. Off to Coutts.
It was a glorious night.
Okay, so we smelled a bit like a bus and the engine ran a little rough, but it was worth it.
Of course, afterwards, I had to pay the piper, in the form of car lessons.
To quote George, “No sister of mine is going to drive without knowing how everything works.”
And he did mean everything.
In subsequent years, because of him, I could change a tire or belt and perform everything from an oil change to a major tune-up. Or I could pull into a shop and tell the mechanic exactly what I needed or what I thought was wrong.
In their language.
And all because of a few drops of diesel.
Amazing how life works.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Climbing - Yes; Flying - No

Mom, George, Chris, Jerry, Dad and me.
Not picuted: The clothesline.
Climbing was my thing.
I loved it!
Ask anyone. My climbing ability was legendary. My experiences, many and varied.
Many's the time my mom would sprint up the old machinery hill to save her tiny daughter from the jaws of certain death.
Or at least from a very unpleasant fall to the bottom of the 100 foot TV tower.
And my father, too was no stranger to my favorite activity. During a visit with the manager of the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton, Alberta, the new chandelier in the great room was being discussed.
"It's magnificent," Dad said, gazing up into the rafters 50 feet above them.
"Yeah, we really like it," the manager said, following his gaze. "The only thing I'm concerned about is how we're going to clean it."
"Clean it!" Dad said. "Well, I have a daughter who will climb it!"
Together, my parents plucked me off the top of horses, bulls, pigs, haystacks, combines, tractors, trees, shed roofs, barn roofs, garage roofs, car roofs - I really seemed to have a thing about roofs - water towers, windmills, and even the propane tank.
Admittedly, a fall from many of them probably wouldn't have been fatal. Just . . . uncomfortable.
But no amount of lecturing or lurid stories illustrating the dangers of such activities could discourage me.
I just had to climb.
And then that fateful day . . .
Isn't it odd that fateful days never, ever seem to start out any different from any other day? I mean, sullen, red skies would be entirely appropriate. That way, you'd know that something momentous was about to happen.
But I digress . . .
I had discovered a wonderful new activity.
It included Mom's clothesline and the picnic table.
And climbing.
What else.
For some reason, the table had been shoved close to the clothesline. Close enough that someone daring - me - could make a run along the table and launch oneself - also me - onto the clothesline.
Now I should point out here that Mom's clothesline wasn't one of those boring long stretches of wire so useless to an enterprising youngster. No.
It was a new-fangled round one.
That spun if it was pushed.
And if you leapt and caught the wires just right, you could spin all the way around and back to the table.
Which I did.
Several times. In fact, I was the neighborhood champion. Again and again I would perform for my audience to appreciative oohs and aahs.
Several of the kids tried it, but no one could go quite as far or as fast as I could.
I decided it was time to up the ante, slightly.
I was going to try for a double axel.
Two times around.
It had never been done. Never even been attempted.
But I was going to do it.
My audience was assembled.
I dusted my hands together and poised at the back edge of the picnic table.
The crowd grew hushed.
I took a deep breath and launched myself along the table.
I flew gracefully across the intervening space.
Even more perfect.
I reached out for the wires.
And for the first time in my life, missed.
I reached again, frantically, then looked up at the wires, as they slowly moved further and further from me.
How could this be?
With a heavy thump, I hit the ground, driving every square millimeter of air from my lungs.
My friends stared at me, frozen. Then there was a collective scream and they all rushed forward.
"Diane! Diane! Are you all right?"
I just stared at them and tried to catch my breath.
Then a horrified, "Diane, you're bleeding!"
I looked down. They were right. Blood was spattered on my shirt and shorts. I looked at my arms. My legs.
Then I tried to talk.
And realized where the blood was coming from.
My mouth.
Shocked, I put a hand over it.
"Mrs. Stringam! Mrs. Stringam!" several voices began shouting.
My Mom came on the run.
She was so used to me.
"Oh, my!" She knelt beside me and put a towel to my chin. "Open your mouth, Honey."
I tried to obey, but my mouth didn't want to. It had suddenly begun to hurt. It wanted to stay shut.
I felt the tears begin.
"It's okay, Honey, just open your mouth."
Finally, I was able to open it. A little.
Mom gasped, and put the towel over my mouth.
"Come on, Dear, let's get you into the house."
"Mrs. Strin-gam? Will Diane be all right?" I vaguely recognized Laurie's voice.
"She'll be fine, Dear. I'll just take her into the house and get her cleaned up."
Mom half-led, half-carried me into the cool, quiet house and sat me down on the cupboard in the kitchen. Then she sponged the blood off my face and neck.
"Let me have another look, Honey," she said.
Obligingly, though I really didn't want to, I opened my mouth for her.
"Okay, well, you've cut your tongue, Honey. It's probably going to hurt quite a bit. But it'll be all right."
So she kept saying. Why didn't I believe her?
"Here. Hold this while I call Doctor Clemente."
I took the towel she was pressing to my face while she went to the phone.
"Yes, Doctor." I could hear her in the hallway. "Yes. Okay." She hung up the phone.
Then she was back beside me. "Here, Honey, let me take it."
She gently swabbed at my mouth again.
Mom could make anything feel better.
Later, after I had refused supper, a new thing for me, I overheard her talking to Dad.
"Yes, I think it's bitten at least half-way through. It's still attached, but barely. The doctor thinks it will heal just fine, but it'll be a while, and it'll be painful."
A while?
That is parent code for 'forever'.
It did heal. And quite quickly, too, in 'Parent' time.
During that time, I was the focus of all of the neighborhood kids. Everyone would come up to me and ask me to stick out my tongue.
Then ooh and ah delightedly.
I was a celebrity.
It was almost enough to get me climbing again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Under 'Dress'ed

And yes, that's me. Far right. Second row. Dressed in my best.
A Dress?!
Mom wanted me to wear a dress? To school?
I had somehow slipped into an alternate universe.

Mom and Dad were planning a trip. A long trip.
I was five. Anything more than an hour was a long trip.
I was being farmed out at my cousin Jody's place for the duration.
That was exciting.
During that time, my grade one class was to have its first, ever school pictures taken.
Even more exciting.
Then, the bad news. Mom expected me to dress up for this photo op. And I do mean 'dress'.
My life was over.
She dropped me and my little suitcase off at Uncle Jay and Aunt Jesse's and waved happily as she drove out of the yard.
A little too happily.
Jody grabbed my hand and dragged me to her room. From then until bedtime, we were a blur of activity.
In the morning, as per instructions, I dragged out the hated dress and laid it on the bed.
We regarded each other.
Then I glanced down at the small bag where I had stuffed my play clothes the night before. My little 'snap' shirt and jeans. So much more comfortable.
And really not that dirty.
And, best of all, my Mom would never know.
I smiled. My decision was made.
Have I mentioned that a great many of my decisions really weren't . . . thought through? And that, somehow, Mom always found out?
She was magic.
I wadded up my dress and shoved it back into my suitcase. Then I happily pulled on my shirt and jeans and snapped them up.
I was ready.
Aunt Jesse smiled at us when we presented ourselves for breakfast. Jody in her pretty little dress. And me.
"Didn't your Mom send any clothes for picture day?"
I shook my head and mutely indicated what I was wearing.
Aunt Jesse frowned at me doubtfully, then finally shrugged and put another pancake on my plate.
Soon we were on the bus and all thought of itchy, restricting dresses was driven from my mind.
Grade One, with Miss Wornoski, was always wonderful, but this day was especially exciting as we anticipated our first, ever, class photos.
Okay, I know it sounds mundane. But we were five.
Everything's exciting when you're five . . .
The time came. Miss Wornoski lined us up for the parade down the hall to the 'photo' room. She arranged us neatly on chairs. The photographer told us to smile. The flash went.
Then, one by one, each of us sat in the lone chair to one side, to have our individual pictures taken. It was more excitement than my five year old self could handle.
And then, it was over. Our little faces had been captured. Immortalized for all time.
Along with what we had chosen to wear.
Some weeks later, our teacher handed out our pictures. I pulled mine out and stared at it. Look! It's me! And there we all were! My whole class.
Pictures were definitely things of beauty!
I tossed it to my Mom as I climbed into the car. "Pictures, Mom!"
She set it aside till we reached home.
By then I had forgotten all about it.
Later, my Mom called me into the kitchen.
She was holding my small, brown envelope in one hand, and my pictures in the other.
"Diane, what happened here?"
I glanced down at the pictures and smiled. "Pictures, Mom." Okay, so quick, I wasn't.
"Yes, but what happened to the dress I sent for you to wear?"
I froze. My mind shuttling around frantically for an answer to her question. "Ummm . . ."
"Did you wear your play clothes to school on picture day?"
"Well . . ."
"Diane, I told you to wear your pretty dress!"
I stared at her, my eyes narrowed. Aunt Jesse told you, didn't she?!
Mom waved the picture. "Look at all of your friends in their nice clothes."
I glanced down. Then up at her again.
"Didn't you want to look nice?"
But I did look nice! My favorite shirt. My favorite jeans. I frowned.
What was the problem?
Mom sighed. "Never mind."
I smiled and went off happily to play.

It's over 50 years since that day. A couple of weeks ago, my husband took me to see Tosca, performed by the Metropolitan Opera.
It was an exciting evening. One we had been anticipating for a very long time.
Grant was standing at the door, dressed in his finest. He looked at me. "Ready to go?"
I nodded.
He looked down. "Maybe you will want to wear something other than jeans and a shirt?"
Oh. Right.
Some things never change . . .

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Takin' Off of the Green - or - The Panty 'Caper'

Me - at my best . . .
I hated them.
Maybe it was the color. Yucky green.
Maybe it was the fit. Tight elastic on the legs.
I only wore them under duress, when there was simply nothing else in my drawer. And following a highly intellectual and diverting argument with my Mom . . .
"Put them on, Diane!"
"Put them on!"
Being the semi-obedient four-year-old that I was - and because 'going commando' hadn't been invented yet - I would haul my little green panties out from under the bed where I had hidden them and . . . shudder . . . pull them on.
Quickly, I would then hide them under a pair of blue jeans and try to put them out of my mind by heading outside to play.
They itched.
They crawled into unwanted places.
They made me sweaty.
Sighing, I ignored them and joined the group of kids on the corner.

Now a couple of points of background . . .
In 1959, as in every neighborhood in Canada, weather permitting, we local kids gathered. Play commenced. As our mothers were working busily in their homes, we kids ran up and down the street, engaged in one of a thousand different imaginative schemes. At lunchtime, we were called home. We ate as quickly as we could, then returned to the street. Our mothers cleaned up and went back to their ironing or canning or one of hundreds of other chores. We kids played until supper was announced.
When the lunchtime scenario was again enacted.
Actual physical parental supervision was unheard of. We policed ourselves. Tattled on each other. Looked after each other. When Kenny fell and broke his arm, an army of kids ran to his house and brought his mother. When Brenda got sick on the merry-go-round, same thing.
It was a wonderful, carefree way to grow up.
Also, at this particular time, my Dad and older brothers had put up our family's brown canvas tent in the back yard.
I know this doesn't sound like an actual part of the story, but wait for it.
Now, back to my story . . .

My best friend and next door neighbor was Laurie. A sweet-tempered, agreeable girl just a bit younger than me.
She followed me in everything.
Not always a good idea.
By early afternoon, I had been wearing the dreaded panties for much of the day. They had been my largely unwelcome companions while running, climbing, crawling, doing gymnastics, climbing, rolling, spinning, climbing . . . okay, I did a lot of climbing, but that is another story.
They were really starting to bug me.
But there was no way I would ever be able to sneak into the house to remove them.
And then it hit me!
If I ducked into the tent, I could shed the dreaded panties and my Mom would never know!
It was a brilliant plan. Awe inspiring.
Completely fool proof.
I acted immediately.
"Were are we going?" Laurie was right behind me, as usual.
"Into the tent."
"What are we going to do?"
"Take off our panties."
Did I mention that I often got Laurie into a lot of trouble?
In a few seconds, the deed was done. I wadded my cast-offs into a little ball and stuffed them down into a hidden corner of the tent.
Laurie did the same.
Then I pulled on my jeans and headed back outside.
Laurie followed.
Hah! Mission accomplished. No one would ever know.
Our friends were sitting around in my front yard, breathing hard from yet another race up and down the street. I pranced to the middle of the circle with Laurie close behind.
"We're not wearing any panties!" I sang out.
Okay, so, secret agent material, I wasn't.
"Panties!" Laurie echoed.
And suddenly, Laurie's mom was there, grabbing her little daughter and running with her towards their house.
I watched them go, wondering at the shocked and dismayed expression on Laurie's mom's face.
What on earth was wrong with her?
Maybe I should point out here that Laurie's mom always dressed her in frilly, feminine dresses.
Short-skirted dresses.
I got a lecture. Something about modesty and being a good example.
Who listened.
Parents are so weird.

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My good friend and Amazing Blogger, Marcia of Menopausal Mother awarded me . . .

Irresistibly Sweet Award

Irresistibly Sweet Award
Delores, my good friend from The Feathered Nest, has nominated me!

Sunshine Award!!!

Sunshine Award!!!
My good friend Red from Oz has nominated me!!!

My very own Humorous Blogger Award From Delores at The Feathered Nest!

Be Courageous!

Grab and Add!

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Ghost of the Overlook

Ghost of the Overlook
Need a fright?