Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, July 29, 2011

The 60's. When Hail Was Invented

The new house, 2 AH (After Hail).
The handsome guy in the foreground? My Dad.

The day had begun like any other that summer.
Cloudless blue skies.
Soaring temperatures.
Plans to spend a few hours near or in the river.
Dad had taken my brothers, Jerry and George out to the field, haying.
Chris and I were helping Mom do . . . Mom things in the kitchen.
Well, Chris helped.
I tasted.
Hey, it's an important job!
Shortly after lunch, Chris and I got decked out in our fancy swimwear, ready to head to the river.
Mom walked with us as far as the lawn. She glanced up at the sky.
"Oh, my!"
I tilted my head back.
Much of my blue sky was no longer blue.
Instead it was rapidly being obscured by really ominous-looking clouds.
Black clouds.
A storm!
I loved storms.
And we certainly hadn't seen enough of them in Milk River in the early 60's.
Our trip to the river was forgotten as Chris and I followed Mom back into the house and took up positions in the living room.
One window each.
Then we waited.
The clouds boiled up, obscuring the sun. The rest of the sky.
The lightning started.
I should point out here that I had learned to count by timing the interval between the flash and crash of lightning.
One. Two. Three.
With each flash, there was a shorter and shorter interval.
The excitement level increased. 
Well, my excitement level increased.
Mom was darting back and forth from one window to another, anxiously watching for her husband and sons return from the hay field.
I was little. I lived in a 'never worried, always happy' world.
Occasionally, I glanced at my worried mother curiously.
But that was the extent of my sympathy.
Moving on . . .
Finally, we heard a weird sound from outside.
A rising wind howling across the chimney.
And then we saw the wall of . . . something come towards us across the yard.
Some really white-looking rain.
I moved to the couch beside my sister.
Her window had the better view.
Mom scurried into her bedroom and emerged with several pillows.
"Here, girls," she instructed, "hold these up against the windows!"
I stared at her. But if I held the pillow up against the window, I wouldn't be able to see the storm!
We all heard the shattering of glass from the kitchen.
Instantly, Chris pressed her pillow against the window.
Sighing, I copied her example.
I don't know how long the storm lasted.
Too long, according to my mother.
Not long enough, according to me.
As it passed, we stepped outside to see the damage/amazingness.
Depending on if you were an adult.
Or little.
The yard was four inches deep in snow.
Not bad for the middle of July.
I stepped out into it.
It was funny snow. Crunchy. More like pebbles than soft, white fluffiness.
I stomped around in it. Gathered a handful. Carried it back to my Mom.
She was standing where I had left her, just staring.
"Look, Mom. this snow is weird!" I tried to hand it to her.
"It's not snow, Darling," she said. "It's hail."
Yep. I was always on top things.
As we were standing there, Dad's truck pulled into the yard and skidded to a stop on the slippery road.
He and my two older brothers got out.
At least I think it was Dad and my brothers.
Certainly they had the right size and shape.
But there, all resemblance ended.
They were caked with mud. Straws of hay and grass sprouted all over them.
They really looked like . . . monsters.
I was prepared to run.
Before I could react, however, Mom moved forward and wrapped her arms around the taller one, mud and all. Then she moved on to the shorter pair.
Okay. Not monsters.
We all moved back into the house.
While Mom swept up the glass from a broken window in the kitchen, she and Dad told their stories.
His was far more exciting.
He and my brothers had been baling hay, with Dad and Jerry on the stooker behind George driving tractor.
When Dad had seen the clouds, he had tried to signal George to stop.
But George couldn't hear him over the noise of the tractor.
Finally, in his best Superman style, Dad leaped off the stooker, ran forward, scaled the tractor and turned off the key. Then he grabbed George, made another heroic leap, and shoved him and Jerry under the tractor.
It's always so much better in my imagination, but I digress . . .
The three of them had gotten a very close up and personal view of the storm from beneath this rather sketchy shelter.
Fortunately, though the hail had splashed them with mud and debris, it hadn't caused them any permanent damage.
Not so the rest of the ranch.
Chickens and other birds, not quick enough to get under shelter lay in small heaps in the barnyard.
Fences had been smashed to the ground and the entire garden lay in ruins.
Appendages had been hammered off vehicles and other machines standing unprotected in the barnyard and many windows were broken.
And the grand new house being constructed behind the old ranch house where we currently lived was especially hard hit.
Besides other damage, the newly-installed siding had been hammered to bits.
Pock marks had been knocked clean through the painted boards.
And we hadn't even moved in yet.
There were two hail storms that summer.
The second just as nasty as the first.
Mom finally gave up all hope of getting any peas out of her garden.
Or much else, either.
And the hay crop had been ruined.
And there was a lot of repairing and clean up.
Most of which I . . . umm . . . supervised.
But we survived.
To tell the stories.
My favorite thing.
And, by the way, I still love storms.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cleaning . . . And Underpants

Mom, with Chris and Jerry.
Mom's the goofy one in the middle.

Mom liked cleaning.
With six kids, one husband, assorted hired men and various other duties and hobbies, she did a lot of it.
A lot.
I think she did it in her sleep.
Certainly, she did it in ours. If we lay down on the carpet in the front room for a nap, we would be picked up and cleaned.
That's just how Mom was.
But, as with any demon cleaner, sometimes the clutter and rubble would get away from her.
Particularly if she was busy with a project and unable to follow us Neanderthals around, picking up and tidying after us.
I can remember two instances when this was brought hilariously to my attention.
The kids in the neighbourhood had been playing at my house.
I don't remember what we were doing, but it involved toys and games.
And mess.
After most of the kids had left, Mom came out of the kitchen and surveyed the detritus that can only be the result of many small bodies . . . having fun.
While she was standing there, Laurie, from next door, twitched her apron.
Mom looked down.
"You sure have a messy house, Mrs. String-am!"
I don't know what Mom said in response.
Probably something tactful, knowing my Mom.
But the story lost nothing in the retelling.
Another time, George and I were playing under the kitchen table.
Yes. Under.
I know. Weird.
Mom was bustling around in the business area of the room.
She opened a cupboard.
And pulled out something . . . unexpected.
"What the . . . who put this underwear in my cupboard?!"
What she was holding was actually a pair of swim trunks.
Light grey.
With sharks printed on them.
But why quibble over details.
George and I stared at them.
Then laughed uproariously.
Mom snorted, folded them neatly, and carried them to their proper home.
We never found out who left them there.
Over the years, I've made up several scenarios that would account for it.
None practical.
Or believable.
But after that, at least once a week, George and I would hide something 'underwearish' (not a real word - I made it up) in Mom's cupboard and wait for her to find it.
Then laugh ourselves silly when she did.
Okay, we were little.
Things were funnier then.

There is an addendum.
I was busy in the kitchen, cooking, cleaning.
One of the myriad duties that accompany the care and feeding of six kids and one husband.
I set a pot in the sink and turned.
"What the . . . who put these dirty socks on my cupboard?!"
I had turned into my mother!
It's a good thing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

4-H An Alternative to Delinquincy

Me and my first 4-H calf. I'm the nerd in the cowboy hat.

Twelve was an important age in the Stringam family.
It was when one finally got to join 4-H.
With the grown-ups.
No end of excitement.
First, there was the all-important choosing of the calf.
Then there was the twice daily ritual of feeding said calf.
Accomplished for the first day by me, and thereafter by George.
For the entire six years I was in 4-H.
Ahem . . .
There were the monthly meetings.
Where we were expected to hand in our record books - a concise documentation of our calf's daily diet, inevitable weight gain, and any other pertinent information.
Frantically scribbled half an hour before the meeting started.
Or during the meeting.
Moving on . . .
Twice a year, we were loaded into cars and taken on a 'calf tour'.
Where we exclaimed, more or less knowledgably, over each other's calves. And then, more importantly, had a wonderful dinner at one of the homes.
Usually one of the family's of Hungarian descent.
The best cooks in the entire world.
At the end of the year, we loaded our now-enormous darlings into trucks and headed into Lethbridge for the final show and sale.
Beyond exciting.
Three days of meeting new people (i.e. boys).
Walking along the midway and eating 'fair' food. (Foot-long hot dogs. Hamburgers. Corn on the cob. Doughnuts. Cotton Candy. Chocolate. Popcorn.)
Attending the dance.
Sleeping in the dorms.
Oh, yes. And grooming and showing and selling our calves.
And then, more exciting still, the club trip.
Where the club members, with their families, would embark, together, on a journey to . . . somewhere wonderful.
We toured all over Alberta and into Montana and Washington.
And saw . . . stuff.
One trip, in particular, stands out.
We had travelled into Washington and planned to camp at a brand-new and ultra modern campground.
Which, according to the pamphlet, was home to an enormous swimming pool and other amazing features.
It was the hottest day of the year.
And air conditioning hadn't been invented yet.
Our caravan pulled into the campsite and ground to a halt.
There were trees.
And water hydrants.
And little else.
Apparently, the pictures in the brightly-colored pamphlet had been artist's renderings.
Of amenities that would 'some day' be part of the campground.
Us kids gathered around the giant hole that would one day be a swimming pool.
And sighed.
Our parents started to set up camp.
It was hot.
One of the dad's hooked a garden hose up to a hydrant and started to clean off a table.
Another Dad filled a pitcher to add to the radiator of his over-heated truck.
They looked at each other.
Hose, squirting cool water.
Pitcher, filled with equally cool water.
Hottest day of the year. (I know. I already said that. But it really was.)
Pool that only existed on paper.
It was a no brainer.
The fight was on.
By the time it ended, every single person in the campsite was soaked.
More than soaked.
If you were moving. You were a target.
Let me rephrase that.
If you were breathing, you were a target.
A group of moms were sitting in a safe (i.e. dry) place, watching the fun and laughing uproariously (real word - I looked it up).
My brother, George, spotted them.
They were dry.
This was unacceptable.
He filled a bucket with water and . . . waited.
They saw him standing there and, staring in disbelief, slowly got to their feet.
"No, George!"
Begging availed them nothing.
In a moment, they were as soaked as the rest of us.
The fight lasted most of the afternoon, and, by the time it was finished, everyone was wet, cool, and happily exhausted.
Much the same condition we would have been in if the pool really had existed.
I don't remember much else about that particular trip.
Everything else paled when compared to "The Water Fight'.
Six years of experiences.
Of growing up.
I miss those times.
I suppose they still have it.
4-H, I mean.
And fun.
I wish I was still part of it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Grandma and Grandpa Berg's house

My Grandma and Grandpa Berg
Who loved me.

Christmas excitement at the Stringam house was always two-fold.
There was the anticipation and joy over the gift-giving.
And then there was the Christmas trip to Grandma and Grandpa Berg's house (hereinafter known as 'Grandma's House').
My Mom's parents.
I'm still not sure which was more exciting.
After the frenzy of unwrapping had dwindled and the euphoria and excitement of yet another Christmas morning had waned, it was time to pack the car for Grandma's house.
We were allowed one suitcase.
So I had to carefully choose what gifts to bring along.
Much wrinkle-browed thought was put into what would accompany me.
One had to keep in mind that it would be many days before one could play with all of the other new toys, so the decision could not be made lightly.
What clothing and necessities went into the suitcase, however, were hap-hazard at best.
And most of the time . . . no less than sketchy.
It wasn't unusual to find that I had forgotten such necessities as . . . underwear. Pajamas. Shirts. Pants. Socks. Toothbrush.
In fact, as my Mom pointed out on at least one occasion, "Diane, what did you pack? Because there certainly aren't any clothes in here!"
I would look up at her from where I was, happily playing with . . . whatever.
Back to my playing.
She would sigh and go to ask Aunt Eva or Aunt Louise if their kids had any clothes I could borrow.
It didn't matter. I was happily playing with my numerous cousins.
None of whom cared what I was wearing.
And that was just the start of the fun at Grandma's.
My older sister and I got to sleep in my Mom's old room at the top of the grand stairway.
In a bed with a delicious feather tick.
Perfect for a little, warm sleeping nest.
There was also a little, hidden cupboard
Deeply secret.
No one knew it was there, except Chris and I.
And of course whoever hung the old clothes and other stuff stored inside, but why quibble over details?
Just outside our room, against one wall in the hall, was a ladder.
Leading to the incredible, top secret attic.
My brothers spent hours up there, reading old comics and stuff left by my mother's brothers.
I was never allowed to go.
'Cause I was a girl.
Whatever that meant.
The large bedroom across the hall from mine was where my brothers slept. It was full of treasures. Books and games from my Mom's childhood.
Or at least from her brothers'.
I imagine they happened about the same time . . .
At the bottom of the staircase in the warmly shiny, plank floor was a square vent.
Just wide enough for Sharon, Julie, Susan and I to sit on.
Or lay on.
Or play . . . you get the picture.
All during Christmas, it blew warm air.
Just for us.
Hour after hour, we cousins and siblings would crouch together on the slatted steel. Warm and toasty.
There was plenty to eat at Grandma's house. Food that left her large, sunny kitchen in great, delicious quantities.
And just as quickly disappeared.
And the all-important cookie tins.
Grandma always baked many, many different kinds of cookies.
All delicious.
Then put a selection into several tins and placed them throughout the house.
It was like a treasure hunt.
Except that, invariably, the Smaarbucklesa (spelled phonetically because it's Swedish and none of us kids knew what she was saying . . .) disappeared immediately.
From every, single tin.
Even the furniture at Grandma's house was an adventure just waiting to happen.
When Grampa Berg wasn't sitting on it, there was always his chair, sitting innocently beside the great living room window.
The chair that vibrated, if one turned the dials.
Like the rest of Grandma's house, it was magic.
And there was always the carved, wooden feet under the dining table to sit on.
And hide.
Although, looking back, I really don't know how effective my hiding was.
Especially when someone would ask for Diane and someone else would say, "Probably under the table."
Sigh. Secret agent material, I wasn't.
But the most exciting part about being at Grandma's house was the little sun room on the side of the house.
A sunny little place.
That had a tenant.
Hanging silently on one wall.
Just waiting for the most daring cousin to dart in and . . . touch it.
And run away screaming.
Okay, okay, so I was always the one who was scared to go in and screamed on the way out.
But you have to admit that a stuffed moose head is really scary.
Okay, you don't.
But it was.
When I was four.
At Grandma Berg's house.
The best place on earth.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Terrible, Awful, No Good, Very Bad Trip

Ahh, Holidays. some are good. Some are . . .

Everyone has one.
At least once.
The trip from hell . . . umm . . . the terrible trip.
Ours began innocently enough. Organized, even.
We were going to repeat last year's dream trip to the west coast to visit my parents in Abbotsford, BC. But this year, we would continue out to Vancouver Island to go deep sea fishing with Uncle Bub.
We were . . . excited.
I had bought special toys and games for the kids to play on the way to keep them entertained.
Because the view of the Rocky Mountains out the window wouldn't be enough . . .
The car was packed with food and yummy things.
Our valiant little trailer was hooked on behind.
We were ready.
The trouble started about five hours in.
With a leaky hose.
Cars don't run well if they have a leaky hose.
We stopped in Prince George, BC, to try to get it fixed.
And found out that it was a strange-sized hose.
Of course.
A little duct tape later, we were back on the road. Sort of.
Grant kept having to stop to add water.
Oh, and let out whichever child was next in line in the 'upchuck olympics'.
I should point out here that my Mom was right. Looking out the window during a trip was infinately better than playing toys or games.
Little stomachs obviously don't like toys and games.
An important point.
Moving on . . .
We were able to make it another four hours.
More car trouble.
We decided to take a break in Hope, BC.
A beautiful spot. Actually where the movie 'Rambo – First Blood' was filmed.
We pulled into the campground and looked at the map, choosing a little spot back in the trees.
Isolated and quiet.
Until the trains started coming through.
The first blew its whistle at midnight.
For a few unforgettable moments, we thought we had somehow, inadvertantly, set up our tent trailer right on the tracks.
We hadn't.
We had missed them by about six feet.
Trains in Canada are amazingly regular.
One sleepless night later, we were back on the road.
We limped into Abbotsford. And enjoyed a couple of days of much-needed bliss with my parents.
Then . . . that road again.
The ferry-ride was a little more expensive than we had anticipated.
But then, so was everything else.
We made it to the island.
For about half an hour.
Halfway to Uncle Bub's, the entire undercarriage of our faithful tent trailer gave way, skidding our little marvel along on its belly.
Grant pulled over and we surveyed the damage.
We had two choices.
Abandonment and despair and certain death.
My choice.
Or unhooking the trailer, driving to the nearest town and securing repairs.
My husband's.
Fortunately, we went with his.
One of the kids stayed with me guarding the trailer (because, someone might steal it . . . with no wheels . . . okay, it seemed to make sense at the time . . .) while Grant drove off.
We managed to get our trailer fixed, but we were stuck there for two days while the shop made the needed parts to repair it.
And used up every dime of our vacation savings to do it.
Finally, two days late and several dollars short, we limped (remember the car) into Uncle Bub's.
Only to find that the ocean was too rough to go out.
We waited a further two days, scanning the water eagerly each morning.
But the ocean had plans of it's own.
And they didn't include us.
Finally, defeated, we headed home.
The trip back was more of the same. Balky car. Sick kids.
The weather was good.
I have never been so glad to see the lights of home in my life.
We were taught several things on that ill-fated trip.
One. Don't buy toys and games for your kids to play on a trip if everyone is prone to car-sickness.
Two. Beautiful scenery doesn't make a cranky car driver better.
Three. Always check the campground map carefully and ask the attendant if there are any 'un-noted' features one should be aware of.
Four. Your trip will always cost at least 2.74 times what you have saved for it.
Five. Stay home.
Fortunately, we learned none of them.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My 'Almost' Pet - and My Dad

Daddy and Me. And George. I'm the one with the curlers in her hair . . .

I like dogs.
If I had to state a preference, I would have to admit that I favour big, hairy ones.
Even if they slobber.
But, truth to tell, I like all kinds.
Pointy. Fuzzy. Smooth. Dreadlocked. Naked. Huge. Tiny. Rat-sized. Medium. Purebred. Heinz 57.
If it resembles a dog in any way, I’m well on the way to being smitten.
And I’ve always been this way.
Dad can tell you.
In the past, if any member of the ‘doggy’ fraternity crossed my path, I was ready to welcome it with open arms.
And therein lies a tale . . .
I was playing with my friends on the school playground.
I’m not sure what we were playing, probably something noisy.
And dangerous.
But I digress . . .
A dog wandered into our sphere.
A black and tan dog.
Thin and wasted, with the worst case of ‘post nasal drip’ I had ever seen.
But with long, silky hair and beautiful, but sad, teary brown eyes.
I loved him.
He would be mine.
And, my dad was a vet.
He could fix my new best friend!
I clutched a handful of hair, just behind the dog’s head, and led him to my house, two blocks away.
The rest of the kids followed.
We were an ‘in the moment’ crowd.
What can I say . . .?
It took a long time, with frequent stops for my new friend to rest, but finally, we arrived. My Dad met my dog and me as we came up the drive, followed by the rest of the neighbourhood.
“Umm, Diane? What’s going on?”
Dad was used to me. If I detected a trace of . . . hesitancy, that’s probably because he had learned to view anything I did with . . . hesitancy.
Smart man.
I looked up at him expectantly. “Daddy! This nice doggy is sick!”
“Umm, yes, I can see that . . .”
“Fix him!”
Dad glanced at the dog. Then he looked at me.
I put on my most endearing face.
At least, that’s what I was going for.
He knelt down.
He looked the dog over. “I’m afraid he’s really sick, Honey,” he said.
“I know. Fix him!”
He sighed and stood up. “Wait here a moment.”
I turned and grinned at the other kids. See? My Dad could do anything.
Dad came back with a syringe filled with something . . . fixy.
He injected the dog and patted it on its droopy head. “There. That’s the best I can do.”
I looked at the dog. It wagged its tail slightly. See? It was better already.
“Can it come and play with us?”
“I think the best thing would be for it to rest here in the garage.”
“Umm. Okay.”
He helped me lay out a blanket and settle my doggie on it comfortably. Then he closed the garage door and told us to let him rest.
We did.
I peeked in through the garage window a couple of times.
It was easy enough if I dangled from the clothesline just outside.
But my little friend just lay there on the blanket.
Getting better.
The next morning, I leaped out of bed and charged down the hallway, on my way to see my new friend.
My Dad met me at the door.
“Oh, Diane, your doggy is gone.”
“Gone? Where?”
“His family came and got him.”
I was sad, but I knew that Dad had injected him with just the magic elixir (yes, we used that in the 50’s) that would heal him entirely. And thoughts of my doggy running and playing with his family cheered me.
All was well.

There is an addendum . . .
I was visiting with my Dad last night and he recalled the story of my little short-term friend.
I smiled in memory. “Oh, yes. The one with distemper. The one you saved.”
Dad looked at me and shook his head. “Actually, I didn’t save him,” he said. “The shot I gave him was to lessen his pain. He died that night.”
I hadn’t thought about that little dog for over fifty years, but suddenly, I could picture the soft, brown eyes. The long, silky hair and funny, tan ‘eyebrows’. The skinny body.
I felt unaccountably sad for the little fellow.
But, just as suddenly, I was grateful to my Dad.
For his skill. For his compassion.
He did manage to fix him after all. 

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