Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, September 9, 2011

Students and Froggies - Who Learned More?

Cute. Or slimy. You decide.

Twenty Froggies

Twenty froggies went to school
Down beside a rushy pool,
Twenty little coats of green,
Twenty vests all white and clean.

"We must be in time," said they.
"First we study, then we play.
That is how we keep the rule,
When we froggies go to school."

Master Bull-frog, brave and stern,
Called his classes in their turn,
Taught them how to nobly strive,
Also how to leap and dive.

Taught them how to dodge a blow,
From the sticks that bad boys throw.
Twenty froggies grew up fast
Bull-frogs they became at last.

Polished in a high degree,
As each froggie ought to be.
Now they sit on other logs,
Teaching other little frogs.
                                   George Cooper

I realize that this sounds like a children's poem.
Because it is.
But I didn't learn it until grade twelve . . .
Biology class.
The real one.
Not the one the boys all talk about.
Moving on . . .
We were in the 'dissection' part of our school year.
The part that I found most fascinating.
But that many of the other girls . . . didn't.
We were scheduled, as part of the class, to walk down to the 'Fish Pond' and catch our own frogs.
Field trip!
But first, our teacher, Mr. Meldrum, handed each of us a copy of the aforementioned (good word, right?) poem.
We thought it was cute.
And clever.
And easily folded into paper planes.
Okay, not everyone thought it was as cute as I did.
Then we set out.
The walk down was enjoyable.
Beautiful late-spring day. Warm sun.
Cute boys.
Okay, I know what I said about biology class.
And boys.
But let's face it. We were all thinking about 'Biology'.
So . . . walking . . . and boys.
It didn't take long for us to reach the pond.
We spread out and began to pounce on the dozens of frogs who made the peaceful waters their home.
Well, most of us did. There were the inevitable few who couldn't bear to touch the 'slimy' (their word) little things.
Those of us who were less squeamish filled in.
So to speak.
In no time, we had collected enough of the little squirming bodies to have a frog each.
One strong lad (yes, I meant to use the word 'lad') was elected to carry the precious bucket.
The rest of us enjoyed the short walk back.
Then, to work.
We spent the rest of the morning performing various operations on our hapless little victims.
Fortunately, our teacher knew very well what he was doing and instructed us in the proper methods of 'painless' observation.
It was an interesting morning.
And far too short.
When it was done, I was the only student who took the poem home.
Or so I thought.
Some months later, when our school yearbook was handed out, I realized that other students in my class were actually paying attention.
Closer attention, even, than I was.
There, in the 'Last Will and Testament' page, beside one young man's name, were the words: "Being of sound mind and beautiful body, leaves said body to be dissected by twenty froggies who go to school."
And a fitting tribute.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Question I Get Asked the Most

Today, I am featuring a guest post by one of my favorite bloggers, Ginger, at 'The Amateur Writer'. A fellow 'rancher', she has captured what life is like on a ranch perfectly.
It is a sweet read!
The Amateur Writer

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rodeo Pigs

Admit it . . . this looks like fun!

Okay, we weren't supposed to do it.
In fact we had been strictly forbidden.
But we were kids.
Is that an excuse?
On the Stringam Ranch, two things were understood.
Horses were for riding.
That's what they were there for.
Pigs were food.
They were to be fed and left alone so they could grow and . . . produce.
Stirring them up was something that kept them from achieving their purpose.
And riding them definitely . . . stirred them up.
But it was so much fun! (Don't tell my dad.)
One could walk into the pig pen and socialize.
Pigs are very social animals and they love to play.
And after you have played 'pull the string' or 'follow the humans around the pen' or 'scratch me', the next logical step is 'ride the pig'.
Don't you agree?
Okay, Dad didn't see it, either.
He said that it might injure their backs.
Or slow their growth.
What did he know?
I weighed all of 40 pounds.
And the pigs probably maxed out at 240.
No way I was going to hurt anyone's back.
And they ran around all of the time.
It was a no-brainer.
And the one thing I was naturally blessed with was the ability to function with no brain.
Moving forward many years . . .
My second son and I had just finished building the new corrals.
We had turned the cow and pig in together to mow down some of the weeds.
They had a little altercation, in fact, two of them.
But that is another story
Moving on . . .
Nog, the pig, was huge.
And fat.
And slow moving.
What better time to introduce my youngest son to the wonderful world of 'pig riding'?
I suggested it.
"No, Mom," he said. "I'll fall off in the poop."
"There haven't been any animals in that pen before." I pointed out logically. "There is no poop."
It took a bit of coaxing, but I finally convinced him.
I helped him straddle the broad, red back, then stood back.
"Isn't that fun?"
The pig stood for a moment, chewing.
Then decided, in usual pig fashion, that where he really wanted to be was over . . . there!
He made a sharp left-hand turn.
Right out from under my son.
It was then that we discovered one of us had been right.
About the poop, I mean.
And it wasn't me.
Huh. Dad had been telling the truth all of those years ago.
Riding pigs is hazardous.
Just not to them. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Family Evenings

Family games - mischief made legal

On the ranch in the evenings, particularly the long, winter evenings, opportunities for entertainment were few.
If there wasn't anything on the one TV channel, you pretty much had to come up with your own.
Entertainment, I mean.
This meant music (the make-your-own variety), which we practised with more or less success.
Mostly less.
My own personal favourite.
Having a drink with the hired men in the bunkhouse.
Probably the least recommended for us kids.
Or games and/or puzzles.
Usually we went with games and/or puzzles.
One didn't get a lecture from one's parents when one played games and/or puzzles . . .
We had several favourites.
A word game which aimed for word construction creativity.
But only good for four of us six players.
Another word game. This one, disclosure being the goal.
Boggle. (Or if we were feeling daring, Big Boggle.)
Another word game . . .
Huh. I just realized that we played a lot of word games.
And three of us ended up being writers.
Go figure . . .
A card game played by four players.
Unless you're from Southern Alberta.
Where it is played by forty tables of four players.
But that is another story . . .
A card game resembling bridge and also played extensively in Southern Alberta. (Also known as 'Apostate Rook' if you played 'One High'. At least according to my husband.)
Poker and sequence, all rolled into one happy package.
And finally, Monopoly.
The apex of games.
The ultimate in Stringam family fun.
And won, inevitably, by Jerry.
Not that he tried.
Or even appeared to try.
He hummed, sang, bounced his knee rhythmically, talked, told jokes and CLEANED OUR CLOCKS.
Almost every time.
Why did we keep on playing?
Good question.
Inevitably, I would end Monopoly with a tiny little hoard of cash, very tiny, clutched in one hand as I stared with dismay at my little shoe, parked firmly on Park Place or Boardwalk.
Each with their large, expensive hotel.
And each with Jerry's smiling face behind them.
I would hand over my little pile, along with the last of my properties, and quietly fade into the sunset.
And immediately challenge him to a rematch.
To which he happily complied.
Okay, I get it now.
It's just another example of the 'I'll get him next time!' mentality.
I never did.
Get him, I mean.
Moving on . . .
Puzzles posed a bit less competition.
A more relaxing way to spend time together.
Visiting was permitted. Even encouraged.
But minutes could go by with soft music playing in the background and not one word said.

Our family's evenings now consist of visiting or playing cards.
Or watching movies.
Not too different from those I experienced growing up.
Family time.
It's a good thing.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Laundry. Saturday night entertainment

And each of the eight brothers had a sister . . .

My Mom had eight brothers.
And each of them had a sister.
My Mom.
Most of the time, this was a good thing.
They played together.
Worked together.
And when someone put a banana peel down Mom's back at school, they 'protected' her.
It was a good balance.
Being the only other female on the farm meant work, however.
Besides helping with things outdoors, she had indoor chores.
Cooking, cleaning, dishes.
Those 'invisible' things that go unnoticed until they don't get done.
Of all of them, the most entertaining was always the laundry.
You never knew what you would find . . .
There was one very firm rule in the Berg household.
You cleaned your plate at mealtime.
Much of the food was produced on the farm and Grandpa Berg took a very dim view of any of it being wasted.
Each of the sons, and the daughter, had to show an empty plate before they were allowed to leave.
If they had been served something they didn't like, they had to eat it anyways.
Or get creative.
Uncle Leif, the youngest of the brothers, got creative.
He knew that those vegetables and potatoes he had been staring at had to go somewhere.
He just didn't want them inside of him.
What to do?
No dog or pet was allowed inside the house, so one couldn't slip food to them under the table.
His parents would notice any significant quantity of food simply thrown on the floor.
His options were definitely limited.
But he would think of something . . .
When Mom and Grandma Berg were doing the laundry, it was Mom's responsibility to turn out the pockets on the boy's trousers.
Inevitably, it was an entertaining enterprize.
Especially when they got to Uncle Leif's.
Because that was when they discovered what had been done with those unwanted and totally unnecessary vegetables and potatoes.
While he had been sitting there, contemplating, he had come up with the most ingenius and inventive method of making them disappear.
He was wearing trousers.
And they had . . . pockets.
What followed was inevitable. And a no-brainer.
Back in the laundry, Mom turned out each pocket to discover little, dried up memories of yesterday's dinner.
And, as I said, entertaining.
And that's just the laundry.
Imagine what he could do with such things as . . . bedrooms. Chores.
But that is another story.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bread Heels

Worth fighting for . . .
In the Stringam household of eighty years ago, all food was prepared from scratch.
Processed or instant foods simply didn't exist.
Nothing came packaged from the store.
Bread was something that emerged, nearly every day, from the large oven.
No other option was possible.
No other option was needed.
Grandma's crusty, fresh bread, hot from the oven, was the favourite food of my Dad's family of nine brothers and sisters and their home was nearly always awash in the wonderful smell.
But each large, beautiful loaf only had two ends.
Because bad manners hadn't been invented yet, it never occurred to Dad and his siblings that they could do anything about that.
Side note: My husband and his brothers, the creators of bad manners, would cut off every available surface – sides, top, bottom – after the ends had been claimed.
But I digress . . .
So, as the time drew nearer for the family to assemble for the evening meal, Grandma Stringam would slice one entire loaf of fresh, warm bread.
And place it neatly on a platter to go to the table.
That was about the time that every child in the house would suddenly appear.
And wrestle each other for the privilege of 'helping'.
The only time in the history of the world that that would happen.
Moving on . . .
Carefully, the winner would carry the precious platter of warm deliciousness to the table and park it in the centre.
Then he would quickly snatch one of the two crusty ends and set it on his own plate.
At first, this 'claim' was all that was needed.
But not for long.
Finally, the sacred placing of the bread on an individual's plate wasn't sufficient as a deterrent because as soon as the bread was placed and the claimer gone, someone else would creep in and slide said crusty slice of yumminess to their own plate.
Then the next person would do the same.
And the next.
This would go on until everyone assembled for the actual meal.
Whoever possessed it at that time . . . won.
Sort of like a game of 'hot potato', but better.
As time went by, more and more sneakiness was required.
The bread was placed under the plate.
Under the napkin.
Stabbed with the owner's fork.
The owner's knife.
Finally, in full view of whoever happened to be waiting in the wings for their turn, the possessor would stick out his (or her) tongue and lick the back of the hotly contested piece of bread.
Okay, remember what I said about manners?
Forget it.
Then place the now-thoroughly-claimed prize on their plate.
The entire contest came to a screeching halt.
But only for a while . . .

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