Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, July 22, 2011

Eight. Truly Great

Daddy and me
My birthdays were always exciting.
Family. Good food. Cake.
And presents.
My fourth had been truly memorable, with a little barn fire thrown in for . . . umm . . . excitement.
But my eighth was memorable for two other reasons.
Let me explain . . .
It began ordinarily enough, with Mom's wonderful breakfast and good wishes all around.
Dad had gone into the city, on ranch business, and wasn't expected back until later, when us kids got home from school.
But that was okay, because I knew that my real birthday, complete with birthday food and cake and the all importnat presents wouldn't happen until supper time.
I went through the day with high anticipation.
I'm sure my teachers tried mightily to teach me something that day, but who can compete with birthday supper and cake.
And presents.
By supper time, I had worked myself into a rare mood.
Mom made my favourite.
With meat balls.
Then the cake.
Again my favorite - Angel food.
With fluffy seven-minute frosting.
I should point out that the name of the frosting had to do with how long it took to make it.
Because it certainly didn't describe how long it took to eat it . . .
And then that moment.
The time I had been anticipating for an entire year.
When the wrapped boxes came out and were given the place of honour.
Right in front of me.
The first one was rather . . . book sized.
I tore into the colourful paper eagerly.
I should explain, here, that I had fallen in love with reading in the first grade, at the age of six.
Dr. Seuss had introduced me to world of books and I hadn't looked back.
By the time I was eight, I had graduated to the next step.
Chapter books.
And here, on my birthday, I was suddenly holding the greatest treasure I had ever seen.
Nancy Drew. The Secret in the Old Attic.
A chapter book.
All my own.
My world had just gotten bigger.
And there was more.
A large, rectangular package.
Reluctantly and reverently, I set down my precious new book.
And ripped into my other present.
The wrapping came off easily.
Revealing . . . Lego.
What on earth was that?
I stared at the package.
Everyone stared at the package.
My father was well known for finding the new and the wondrous.
He didn't fail here.
I opened the box and poured out a stream of little red, white and blue blocks.
Of varying sizes and shapes.
I unfolded the brightly-coloured instruction sheet.
And my world got bigger, still.
I needn't tell you that Lego became a large part of the Stringam world that day.
Or that my Nancy Drew collection expanded to include every volume ever written.
Or that a major part of playtime, for three generations now, consists of amazing feats of construction with myriad colourful blocks.
Or reading.
I only need to tell you that everything began on my eight birthday.
A day truly worth celebrating.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

If It Looks Like Candy . . .

Diane - in trouble again.

Mmm. Candy.
The ultimate in gustatory delight for all children.
Well, for most children.
Okay, for me.
The dangled 'apple' that entices obedience.
Or commands respect.
Okay, I'm not saying it was right.
Just yummy.
And, growing up in the 50's, I had my favourites.
Oh, the floors my Mom could get me to sweep, all on the promise of one delicious treat.
The dishes washed.
The bathrooms scrubbed.
With the prospect of yet another sweet, tasty . . . something.
And what 'somethings' there were . . .
But nothing quite compared to Lik-M-Aid.
The ads said it all, 'The Candy You Could Pour'.
Eating it was simplicity in itself. You didn't even need utensils.
Caveman forebears would have easily been able to figure it out.
You ripped open one end. Wet your finger, dipped it in.
And voila!
The fact that your finger and your tongue ended up the same colour – blue, red, purple – was just a bonus.
We connoisseurs could easily spot one another, too, by our discoloured pointer finger.
An added bonus.
It was like a club. (All Lik-M-Aid aficionados point to the sky!)
The only problem was that the end was too near the beginning. Within five minutes of ripping open that wonderful little bag of enjoyment, one was . . . ummm . . . licking the last.
And staring forlornly at the empty wrapper.
But I was undaunted.
If the Lik-M-Aid was gone, one simply had to . . . substitute.
Hmm. Mom had packets of cool-aid in the cupboard. I had seen them. I had watched her pour them into a pitcher, add water and voila! Deliciousness.
Cool-Aid? Lik-M-Aid? Are we seeing similarities here?
I had a hazy recollection of something else added to the cool-aid before it was poured out, but paying attention to insignificant details had never been my strong suit.
I headed for the kitchen.
I should probably point out here that finding the kitchen without Mom in residence was . . . tricky.
I managed it on several occasions.
I was a sneaky little monkey.
I know. I heard Mom say it quite often.
Back to my story . . .
I waited until she headed towards the basement.
A-ha! The coast was clear!
I stole into the kitchen, went immediately to her stash of cool-aid, and grabbed a purple pouch.
Mmm. Grape. My favourite.
Expertly, I ripped off the top, stuck in my finger and . . . tasted.
What was this stuff?
Someone had poured something different into this pouch. Disguised it as cool-aid to fool poor unsuspecting little kids.
The nerve.
How dishonest!
I sneaked another one. Cherry this time. Surely it would be better.
Rip. Taste.
Rip . . . you get the picture.
I have no idea how she did it, but Mom was always able to come upon me unexpectedly.
I think she had 'ninja' blood.
I dropped a packet of strawberry to the floor.
“What are you doing?”
I looked down at the . . . let's just call it 'several' discarded packets of cool-aid, then back at her.
Was that a trick question? “Umm . . . I thought it was Lik-M-Aid.”
“Well, it's not!”
Okay, yeah, I was starting to notice.
“Clean this up!”
I stared in dismay at the mess.
Mom sighed and helped me.
Mom was the soul of frugal. I guess the fact that the powder was slightly used really wasn't important. I watched as she poured all the unused cool-aid powder together into a container and capped it tightly.
It made really neat little lines of colour.
Huh. Cool.
Then she put it away.
Out of reach.
I didn't point out to her that her belated caution was unnecessary.
That stuff really tasted awful.
Her cool-aid was safe with me.
Unless mixed with that delicious 'something' that made it so . . . drinkable.
Hmm. Water. Was that the magic ingredient?
Maybe the cool-aid was worth another try . . .
I'd like to tell you that that was the last of my experiments.
But I'd be lying.
Candy floss and dust bunnies and I also have a history.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Summer in the Pits

You see a fire pit . . . we see a target
We have a fire pit.
The gathering place for our family for every day of the summer.
When the weather allows.
It is the scene of wiener and marshmallow roasts and long, long talks into the evening, watching the flames and embers glow.
Where parking toes within comfortable toasting distance and children running dangerously close (to the dismay of their parents) are the norm.
Oh, and because it’s the Tolleys, the fire pit is also the scene of . . . pittings.
Let me explain . . .
Our favorite summer food is cherries.
Cherries have pits.
So – pittings.
See it now?
Over the years, my husband has been able to hit that fire pit with better and better accuracy.
He taught his children.
It was fun.
Until they grew up, got married and discovered . . . manners. Or rather, discovered that their spouses had . . . manners.
Thus, the pittings ended.
For a while.
But in recent years, he has discovered a whole, new group of neophytes.
Small people who are ready and willing to embark on any adventure he introduces.
To the dismay of their parents.
Imagine this: A line of children, of various sizes, cherry juice dripping down their chins, spitting enthusiastically towards the fire.
Sound like fun?
Their parents don’t think so, either.
But Grampa and Gramma do.
And it’s our pit.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Best Holiday . . . Ever!

Me - and my Disneyland Holiday hat

It was the trip to end all trips.
That magical place that only existed in my dreams.
And I was going there.
My Dad had come up with the plan, mostly because we had been everywhere else on the western half of the continent.
We kids were . . . ummm . . . a bit enthusiastic.
And we were going over Christmas, so none of that pesky waiting for Christmas morning. Instead, we took care of all of that days earlier.
We handed over the reins of ranch management to a young couple, packed up the truck and camper (nothing but first class here!) and headed out.
At first, singing and talking about the wonderful and exciting experiences that were before us, sufficed to keep us entertained. Then book reading, desultory (real word) conversation and looking out the window.
By the way, looking out the window was my Mom's favorite pastime on our car trips.
Mom was decidedly predictable.
Kind of like my car sickness.
But that is another story . . .
Christmas day was . . . different.
We couldn't find a Denny's anywhere.
And no other restaurants were open.
Dad finally found what could only be deemed a 'Greasy Spoon' or 'Dive' and we ate surprisingly good burgers and fries.
For Christmas dinner.
Then we were again on the road.
As we drove further and further south, the weather grew noticeably warmer. Slowly, layers of clothing were shed. By the time we reached Los Angeles, we were down to just one layer. (Unless you count our underwear, but we all know how I felt about that . . .)
How freeing.
We stopped at Marineland.
And Knotts Berry Farm
And Hurst Castle. Which I loved and where I would gladly have taken up residence.
Except that the guards found me.
Guards definitely don't have a sense of humor.
Or paternal instincts.
Then, finally, Disneyland.
Dad managed to find a parking spot at the outer rim of the lot, quite near Canada, actually and we trudged with purpose towards . . . the Great Gates.
The doorway to magic land.
The entrance to dream world.
Access to . . .
You get the picture.
At that point in time, one did not buy a 'pass'. That would have been . . . convenient.
Instead, we all got coupon books.
There was a section of 'first run' attractions. A section with 'lesser', but almost as popular. And several sections after that.
The 'Haunted Mansion' had just opened.
Need I say more?
The only problem was that this was the first sunny day in Los Angeles for several weeks.
And the entire population of the planet had suddenly decided that Disneyland was the place to be.
We had to share our magical world with 70,000 other people.
The line-ups were so long that choosing which ride to go on was not a matter of which was the most exciting, but which was the most available.
My brother and I stood for 3 hours to see the Haunted Mansion. The entire afternoon.
Oh, it was definitely worth it, even though George refused to go in the same car with me and I had to be frightened out of my wits all by myself.
For some reason, he had a problem with me wrapping my arms around his neck and screaming into his ear.
Brothers are weird.
After that, things are rather a blur.
I remember seeing Lincoln giving an address.
The real Lincoln. Somehow, Disney had convinced him to come out of retirement (re: death) and perform for us.
We went on a few 'ride' rides that didn't have enormous lineups.
And, at sundown, went for a romantic ride on the Mark Twain riverboat.
Yes, I'm sure the sign said 'romantic'.
I was, again, with George.
Who told me to stay on my side of the boat.
Okay, so, what did he think I was going to do? Cuddle up to him and coo in his ear like all of the other people were doing?
I remember eating a lot.
But then, I always remember the food.
And I remember thinking it was the best day of my life.
We only had one day there, but there were no complaints because Dad then took us to San Francisco and we got to ride the trolley car and tramp around Alcatraz Island.
And I got a shirt that said 'Property of Alcatraz - Unlisted Number' which I thought was hilarious.
And then, home. Which was an adventure all by itself.
We hit high winds near Pocatello, Idaho that nearly tipped us over, so Dad and the rest of the family parked in a campground.
With the truck's nose facing into the wind to keep it from performing gymnastics.
And he put George and I on the bus home.
Apparently, the couple looking after the ranch had to leave.
Who listened?
All I knew was that I got to ride on a Greyhound.
Okay, it was with my brother, but why haggle over details?
It was the perfect end to a perfect trip.

There is an addendum . . .
This summer, we were camping with our good friends and the topic of Disneyland came up.
They've been several times.
I described my own experience.
They stared at me in disbelief. "You mean you only got to go to one major attraction?!"
I described the circumstances again.
More incredulity (another real word). "You drove all that way and hardly got to do anything?!"
And for the first time, I thought about that.
Huh. We had only gone on one main ride. We had wandered round the place and seen a lot of other people going on other rides. We had eaten treats and watched exciting things.
And it had been a very long drive.
Nope, it was still worth it.
The best holiday, ever!

Monday, July 18, 2011

I Talk to the Trees . . .

My Trees . . . and some of their brothers

We went camping this week.
In the great Canadian back woods.
It rained.
Only once, though.
From Saturday through Tuesday.
We huddled under our tarp, pretending that we loved camping in the rain.
Finally, the torrential (and very loud) rains moved on, and, at last, we could hear the gentle wind through the pines.
I was instantly transported back to a special time in my childhood.
In 1938, as a young man, my dad planted two pines in back of the family's home on the Stringam ranch.
Twenty-two years later, those same trees, now behemoths among their lesser brothers, sat in the front yard of the newly-constructed ranch house.
The kitchen, dining room and garage faced those trees.
And my bedroom.
It was summer.
One of those special summer days of pure, clear air, blue skies and soft wind.
When living on the prairies is is a gift of inestimable value.
It was early. Mom had been stirring in the kitchen since dawn.
I was lying awake in my bed, listening to a sound that drifted in through my opened windows and was, at once, calming and intriguing.
I had never noticed it before.
A soft ssssssssssssss.
Mom came into the room and sat on the edge of my bed.
“Time to get up, Pixie-Girl.”
“Mom, what's that sound?”
She cocked her head to one side and listened. “What sound, Sweetheart?”
She went still.
“There. Hear it? That ssssss.”
She smiled. “That's the wind in the trees outside your window.”
I stood up on the bed and looked outside.
The two great trees were there in the front yard, effectively screening the house from the rest of the ranch buildings.
They were still.
Then I heard it again. Ssssss.
This time, I noticed some movement in the huge branches. Slight. But there if you looked.
My trees were speaking to me!

Throughout the years, they continued to speak to me.
As we all grew older . . .
Sitting there in the great Canadian woods, surround by the massive evergreens, I was a little girl again, lying in her bed.
With my mom busy in the kitchen.
And my trees as whispering and murmuring to me from the front yard.
The sweet sound of memories.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Creating Worlds . . . on the Kitchen Floor

Looks like building material to me!
The headquarters/chief residence of the Stringam ranch, like most ranch houses then and now, was centred around a large, family kitchen.
Everything important happened in that room.
Eating, visiting, business, playing. More eating.
It was, quite literally, the soul of the house.
Mom reigned supreme over its scrubbed surfaces and gleaming appliances.
All traffic came through it, stopping either briefly, or of longer duration.
I lived there.
Whenever Mom was in residence (and Mom was always in residence), I could be found.
Dragging out stacks of plastic ware or pots and pans.
Or, even more exciting, the dozens of Jello packages that Mom kept in a corner cupboard.
Just for me.
It was amazing what one could construct out of those small, cardboard boxes.
Castles. Forts. Corrals. Houses. Barns. Apartment buildings. Stores.
Even schools.
Infinite possibilities.
Infinite hours of fun and creativity.
I should mention, here, that Lego hadn't reached my little world.
But it would.
Moving on . . .
And my Mom, moving about the kitchen, had to step carefully to avoid disaster.
To both of us.
How lightly she moved, dancing and weaving around the complicated constructs that, to me, were edifices of genius and creativity.
Occasionally, we came to grief.
Something I had made would have meandered a little too far across the floor and Mom would trip over . . . whatever.
But not often.
Mom should have been a professional terpsichorean (real word – I looked it up).
Or Superman. She could certainly leap any building I made with a single bound.
Looking back, though, I have to wonder why Mom kept so many Jello packages in that cupboard.
Certainly, we ate a lot of it.
But that still didn't justify the number of boxes stored there.
Maybe, like Moms everywhere, she knew . . .
How much fun assembling castles out of sweet-smelling boxes could be.

There is a codicil . . .
My grandchildren were playing on the floor of the kitchen as their mother and I were preparing supper. They had a complicated construction of Tupperware, old yogurt containers, pots . . . and Jello packages.
I stepped over it.
“Careful, Gramma! You'll knock down the princess' castle!”
And suddenly, I was four years old again.
Creating worlds on the kitchen floor.

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