Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Everyone Loves ET . . . Eventually

Okay, he's cute!

The family was at the movies.
We had popcorn and treats.
Soft drinks.
And the quickest route to the bathroom mapped into our heads.
We were ready.
Erik was four.
A little more than eager.
The theatre darkened.
Expectation grew.
They don't do this any more, but in times past, every step to the opening of a movie served to heighten the anticipation to a fever pitch.
Slowly lowered lights.
Projector springing to life.
Train of white light beamed on the still-closed curtains.
Said curtains slowly drawing back.
Pictures suddenly appearing.
It was inspired.
Everyone in the theatre was transfixed.
Hands which only recently had been scrabbling (Grandpa's word) through the popcorn hung suspended, unmoving.
The audience waited, barely breathing, for the first signs of Movie.
And then it finally came, restoring breath and life to those watching.
And they were truly prepared to be entertained. Even bewitched.
Our movie that night was ET. The story about the little Extra Terrestrial.
It began
Cute little kids and family interaction.
ET was introduced.
Erik crawled into my lap and announced in what he fondly believed was a whisper, “I don't like him. He's scary!”
Not scary enough that he wanted to leave, however.
He watched as the children in the movie befriended the helpless, stranded little alien.
Adopted him.
Loved him.
(Spoiler alert . . .)
He cried when ET 'died'.
And cried, again, when he came back to life.
At the end of the movie, he sighed happily and followed the rest of us out of the theatre.
On the way home, as usual, we talked about the film and Erik posed the question, “Why was ET so much cuter at the end of the movie than at the beginning?”
I stared at him. “He was just the same, sweetie.”
“No. He was cuter at the end.”
We thought about it.
How could something that really never changed in looks get 'better' looking?
And then it hit me.
“Because, at the end, you loved him, sweetie.”
“Oh. Right.”
And it was true.
The ugly little alien remained ugly until we got to know him.
Loved him.
And then we saw his beauty.
Truth comes best from a four-year-old.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mitten to the Rescue

Red Mittens - not just for hands any more!
Photo credit:

We were shopping.
I will admit, here, that shopping is not my favourite activity.
I need a really good excuse.
It was Christmas.
Okay, a really good excuse . . .
My youngest two children and I were out to find a gift for Grant. Their Dad, my Sweetheart.
The hardest person to shop for.
After much wrinkle-browed thought, we had decided that whatever we were seeking would best be found at Lee Valley Tools.
My husband's favourite place on earth.
It is a long-standing family joke that he must go once a month to LVT to pay homage to Thor, the Tool God.
But I digress . . .
We set out.
It was December.
In Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, winter equals snow.
Ask anyone.
But avoid those with chattering teeth.
Th-th-they c-c-c-can n-n-n-never be t-t-t-trusted.
Or understood.
Where was I?
Oh, yes. Winter. Shopping. Setting out.
At first, things went well.
A heavy, wet snow was falling thickly, but the window wipers were managing to keep the windshield clear – sort of.
We made it into the city.
And immediately slowed to a snail's pace.
Let me describe the scene for those of you not familiar with travel accompanied by snow: All roads are now white. And slippery. All surfaces have become heavily coated in ice. Nothing is recognizable. Little is even visible.
The windshield wipers are your best, and only, friends.
But even they, too, get clogged with snow and need the occasional boost.
This is accomplished by stopping. Getting out of the vehicle. And slapping said wiper against the window hard enough to remove any accumulated snow.
Or, if you are my husband, by opening the window and catching the wiper when it is in its furthest upright position and giving it a quick snap while it is still in motion.
It's all about timing.
And coordination.
Neither of which I have.
And both of which were to be needed shortly.
Several times, I pulled out of the crawling traffic and performed the necessary operation to clear the windshield.
Then waited for a break in the traffic and pulled back in.
Total time wasted? Hours.
Okay, well, it seemed like hours.
There must be a better way.
I would try Grant's method!
It was genius!
When the traffic had stopped for yet another light, or stalled vehicle, I quickly rolled down the window. Then I reached out.
I waited for just the right moment, when the wipers were at their apex (neat word, right?)
Closer. Closer.
I reached out and caught the top of the wiper.
Okay, that didn't sound good.
As the wipers began their downward stroke, I realized what I had done.
The blade was still in my hand.
I had snapped the entire thing off it's arm.
Umm . . . oops?
The window quickly became covered in a blanket of white.
Well, half of it at any rate.
Unfortunately, it was the driver's half.
Rather necessary if you want to see where you are going.
And usually, the driver does.
Something needed to be done.
And there was no one but me to do it.
Quickly, I climbed out and switched my only remaining wiper blade to the driver's side.
Okay. Now I could see.
That's important.
But now, the other side of the windshield was suffering for the lack of wiper-age.
I looked around.
Our options were . . . limited.
“What about this?” My daughter's voice from the back seat.
My daughter holding up her red mitten.
I stared at it.
Huh. Might work.
I took it and, climbing out into the storm once more, proceed to tie it to the other wiper arm.
We switched on the wipers.
It worked!
Now we had a wiper and a . . . mitten.
I don't have to tell you how it looked.
In point of fact, we giggled every time that mitten came into sight.
But it worked.
We finished our trip.
Shopping done. Purchases made.
Van safely parked back on the driveway.
And Grant replaced the wiper that had so inconveniently decided to come off.
Stupid thing.
The wiper, not Grant.
I learned several things from this:
  1. Don't shop.
  2. Don't drive.
  3. Don't live in Canada
  4. Don't go anywhere without your red mittens.
Okay, you're right. I didn't learn anything because:
  1. I still shop.
  2. I still drive.
  3. I still live in Canada.
Wait, I did learn something!
Yes, I know it's summer.
But it's also Canada.
Pack your mittens!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Responsibility + No Sleep = ???

My Dad was big on responsibility.
Like lots of dads.
And he tried to teach it to his kids.
Like lots of dads.
With more or less success.
Like lots . . . you get the picture.
From my earliest memories, my Dad has been a finisher. Any task he was given or that he assigned himself was always completed with exactness.
It was a good example for us to follow.
Most of the time.
At one point, when I was little, Dad had been assigned to teach a class in our church congregation.
He took it very seriously.
Not only did it give him the opportunity to share his thoughts and beliefs with a group of young people, but it also provided a captive audience.
Something else he loved.
Moving on . . .
Every Sunday, one could find my Dad.
Perched on a too small folding chair, expounding to his group of enthusiastic eager excited resigned youngsters.
He was always well-prepared and ready.
Eager to share what he had learned.
But my Dad was also the county's only veterinarian.
At certain times of the year, he was the epitome (great word, right?) of busy.
Still, he would show up for his class on Sunday morning, ready to instruct.
It was spring.
Calving season.
Dad hadn't seen his bed for days.
Mom drove to church because he didn't trust his blurred vision and slow reflexes.
But he could still teach!
He collected his manual and scriptures and took his seat, facing his little congregation.
They were, more or less, his.
He began.
A few minutes later, he jumped.
And . . . woke himself up.
Not a good sign.
He peeked at his audience.
For the first time, ever, they were looking at him.
All of them.
And paying attention.
In fact, one could probably say they were riveted.
Dad felt his face grow hot.
He glanced down at his lesson.
What on earth had he been saying? He had no idea.
Dad taught us two things that day.
  1. Neither wind, snow, sleet, or lack of sleep should keep anyone from carrying through with their responsibilities.
  2. Lessons are much more interesting when the teacher is asleep.
Don't you dare fall asleep in my class! That's my job . . .
Hmm . . . you heard it here first, teachers.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

When City Hits the Country

City Kids!

My cousin was visiting.
For two whole weeks.
She was a city girl.
But the only difference between a city girl and a ranch girl was location.
I took her swimming in the river.
She got sand in her suit.
She taught me ballet.
I fell over a lot.
I taught her how to swing from a rope in the hay loft.
She got a rope burn on her hands.
She taught me how act out stories.
I . . . actually, I liked that.
A lot.
I tried to get her to ride the pigs.
She stood outside the fence and made faces.
She taught me gymnastics.
I fell and knocked the air out of me.
I decided it was time to teach her my most favourite thing.
Horseback riding.
I drug her out to the corral and pushed her up to the top rail.
Kicking and screaming.
Her, not me.
Looking back, I can see the differences between the two of us as we perched up on that fence.
The country and the city girl.
Me, in my inevitable shirt and jeans.
She in her white slacks and blouse and light blue sweater.
Even a fool would have found it obvious.
I wasn't a fool.
Well, actually . . . never mind.
The horses were drowsing in the corral.
She eyed them suspiciously.
“They're okay,” I reassured her. “C'mon.”
Trustingly, she followed me down and into the corral.
I picked out the nearest horse, Coco.
“Here. This is a good one.”
“But she's so huge!” Her eyes got bigger as she drew closer.
“She's gentle!” I gave the large, coco-brown mare a reassuring pat. The horse reached out and lipped my hair. “See?”
My cousin moved beside me.
“Okay. What do I do?”
I showed her how to stand beside the horse and grab a handful of mane.
Then I cupped my hands, told her to step into them and boosted her up.
At the proper time, she swung her leg.
She was aboard.
The excitement must be coursing through her.
She must be palpitating with accomplishment and eagerness and a sense of 'the world is mine'.
I stepped back.
I must admit that everything my cousin did was graceful.
Her walking. Her dancing.
Her falling off a horse.
It should have been all right.
The horse wasn't even moving, after all.
But she didn't land on the ground.
Instead, she fell into something much softer.
I don't think she was pleased.
I guess some people have a problem with large, steaming piles of . . . horse buns. Road apples. Horse puckies.
To the uninitiated, manure.
People are so weird.
She got to her feet.
And looked down at her light blue sweater.
Her heretofore pristine light blue sweater.
Then she looked at me.
I never got my cousin back up on one of our horses.
Instead we spent the rest of her stay dancing. Doing plays and gymnastics. Reading.
While Mom got the marks out of her sweater.
Before her mom saw them.
City girls.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Four Magic Words: Tell Me About You!

That head was learning things. Who could have guessed?!

I learned a few things as I was growing up.
Okay, I know that comes as a surprise to many, but it's true.
Some lessons were fairly severe, but a few, and even some of the most life-changing were quite . . . for want of a better term, painless.
I was staying with my best friend and nearest neighbour at her parent's ranch, fifteen miles from my own.
We had had a glorious week, riding, playing, getting into her father's hair.
Oh, yes, a glorious week.
It was time to go home.
Her Dad needed the break.
It was a fairly easy trip when one was merely negotiating the fifteen miles of dirt roads between our ranches.
But my parents had moved, for the winter, to our town home in Milk River.
A further twenty miles to away.
A trip of approximately an hour, if the road conditions were favourable.
Which they often weren't.
Originally, my Dad had planned to pick me up when he came out to do a vet call.
His plans had changed.
And now, so had mine.
I would be riding with my best friend's uncle.
The scary one.
For an hour.
Just the two of us.
I suddenly didn't care if I ever saw my parents again.
I wanted to stay with my friend.
Or die.
Neither choice was given to me, however.
Amidst much hugging and goodbye-ing, I was pushed out the door and parked in the uncle's truck.
I curled into a little ball in my corner and tried to pretend I didn't exist.
We started out.
The silence was thick.
After a while, the uncle reached out and turned on the radio. A short time later, he turned it up.
Now, at least, we had music to fill the emptiness.
But I found myself getting more and more uncomfortable.
My parents always claimed that visiting made the time go by faster.
I definitely wanted that to happen.
Finally, I thought of a question about his ranching.
I asked it.
He answered. Quite politely, I might add.
I asked another.
Again, he answered. With even more detail than the last.
This went on for some time.
Suddenly, I realized that we were . . . visiting.
And that he was funny.
And not nearly as scary as when we got into the truck.
What a nice surprise.
The trip turned out to be infinitely shorter than I had anticipated.
In fact, we got so animated in our conversation that we were parked in my family's driveway before I even realized that we had reached the town.
And I learned that all you need to do to get a conversation going is to ask a question about whoever you're with.
Generally, they like to talk about themselves.
And that, when you are visiting, no one is as scary as they first appear.
Even someone else's uncle.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The End of Slavery

Dad and some of his many slaves . . .

My Dad didn't have children.
He had slaves.
At least that is how his children saw it . . .
Dad worked hard.
Doing . . . ranch stuff.
It took him most of the day.
Every day.
When he came in at the end of the day, his chair looked really, really good.
And it took great motivation to entice him to leave it.
Great motivation.
Silly little things like removing one's work boots or tossing things in the garbage weren't nearly big enough.
Thus it was necessary to find other ways to accomplish these things.
That's where we came in.
His six little, willing slaves.
Every evening, one of us would be chosen for the distinct honour (his words) of helping Dad remove his boots.
This was a fairly simple operation, easily accomplished by a pair of small, eager hands, a backside and a large foot.
Don't get the wrong idea.
There was no kicking involved . . .
The large person seated in the chair would lift his booted foot.
The smaller person, standing, would turn their back and straddle the lifted foot.
Then they would grasp the boot.
That's where the large foot came in.
While the small hands gripped the boot, the large foot would apply pressure to the small backside.
Small person, and boot, would be moved, slowly, away from the large person.
Until, at last, the boot would drop to the floor.
Surgery completed.
The second boot would follow the first and much toe-wiggling comfort would be achieved.
And, more importantly, no one who had been working hard all day would have moved out of his chair.
Utopia. (That's another word for Paradise, I looked it up . . .)
Moving on . . .
Dad was also reluctant to leave his chair for such frivolities as throwing things in the garbage.
Call in the slaves once more.
Dad always finished the evening meal with a toothpick.
I know, I know, the rest of the world would infinitely prefer ice cream, but what can I say?
Dad even followed his ice cream with a toothpick.
That's just Dad.
He even had a preference.
For toothpicks, I mean.
He liked the wooden ones.
Which he would then proceed to chew into a little ball of pulp.
Umm . . . ick.
Now in our earlier years, us kids could always be counted on to receive the little ball of 'ick' and drop it into the proper receptacle.
As we grew older, we got, for want of a better term, smarter.
We found other places to be when Dad got to the end of his little splinter of wood.
Dad had to get . . . creative.
My Mom had a plant.
A beautiful pineapple plant.
She had grown it from the cut off top of a pineapple imported from her and Dad's trip to Hawaii.
I think the rules for bringing fruit across the border were different then.
But I digress . . .
It was large.
Really large.
And it sat on the floor right beside Dad's chair.
He's only human, he can't be blamed for what happened next.
He called out for a child.
Any child.
We were all hidden in the family room.
He sighed and looked for someplace to deposit his little, wooden offering.
Huh. A large, leafy plant.
Right beside him.
If Mom hadn't wanted it tampered with, she should have found somewhere else to put it.
He hid his little lump of sawdust in the pot.
Under the convenient leaves.
Mission accomplished.
Hey, that worked great!
And there wasn't a sign of anything!
He had discovered something new and wonderful.
Especially when one was blessed with slacker children.
Like us . . .
He did it the next night.
And the next.
And for many, many nights afterwards.
Then, one day, when Mom was taking care of her beloved plant, she noticed that it wasn't looking very healthy.
She pulled out the pot to investigate.
I don't have to tell you what she found.
At this point, the layer of chewed up bits of toothpick was a couple of inches deep.
The plant was obviously as fond of them as us kids were.
And protesting in the only way it could.
By dying.
Okay, yes, that is a bit extreme, but it was a plant.
You have to admit it didn't have many options.
Huffily (real word), Mom moved the plant somewhere . . . not close to Dad.
And put a garb,age container beside his chair.
Then,soon after, made him wear shoes.
Everyone was happy.

We have all moved away from home.
Dad still has a garbage can beside his chair.
And he still wears shoes that he can remove by himself.
But when we were visiting a short time ago, he initiated our oldest granddaughter in the fine art of helping Great-Grandpa remove said shoes.
It was a short walk down memory lane (in work boots).

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