Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Pajama Game

We have a tradition in our home.
Well, several, actually.
But I'm only going to talk about this one . . .
On Christmas eve.
And spaghetti, but that is another story.
So . . . pajamas.
Every year, Mom hunts up the most distinctive pattern she can find and everyone is forced excited to wear it.
So, in honour of this very special time, here are a few examples from the past.
 Christmas, 2002.  And no, that isn't a cow print couch . . .

Christmas 2003. And yes, we do look like escaped prisoners.

2007.  Little jump, here.

2008 and our numbers are increasing.
You can't see the striped socks, but they're there!
2009. Things are changing radically . . .
2010. What a mob!

And that brings you up to date.
You'll have to wait until tomorrow to see 2011's PJs.
They'll be worth the wait . . .

Merry Christmas to all of you, my blog friends!
I'm so happy to have gotten to know you this year.
You've made the year special!
Thank you!

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Skiing Conundrum

Future skiers/blessed people

I love winter.
I just don't like cold.
I love snow.
But not on roads which then become icy and slippery.
And I have a hard time with high places.
Being born and raised on the prairies as I was.
So explain to me why I would drive, weekend after weekend, on slippery, snowy roads, up into the mountains, to slide repeatedly down high slopes.
I know. It makes no sense to me, either.
But I loved it.
My brother, George, and I would rise at the unbelievable hour of 4:00 AM on a Saturday, drive to West Castle, and spend the day going up and down.
Then drive home again.
Yup. 'Nuts' pretty much describes it.
Most of the time, the roads were fairly passable. Plowed and sanded.
But occasionally, they weren't.
And therein hangs a tale.
So to speak.
George and I had happily spent the day on the slopes.
We were starting the drive home in a pleasantly exhausted state.
All was well.
I don't quite remember what happened next.
It pretty much a blur.
Perhaps I should describe the scene.
The road to West Castle is narrow.
Occasionally, the road twists and turns amongst a heavy growth of trees.
But in many places, a sheer drop to the bottom of a rather tall mountain is the only thing awaiting anyone who ventures out onto the non-existent shoulder.
And I do mean sheer.
Remember what I said about heights?
That would be here.
Someone lost control of their vehicle.
George reacted with his usual skill, twisting and correcting all in one smooth movement.
But our little blue Toyota truck decided, arbitrarily, to go for a spin.
And not in a good way.
Not a good thing on a narrow winter road, high up in the mountains.
I closed my eyes as we slid towards the edge.
Then, miraculously, we felt the crunch of gravel under the tires.
Not air.
The vehicle stopped abruptly, facing the wrong way and definitely on the scary open-space side of the road.
I opened my eyes.
George was staring straight ahead, his hands still in a white-knuckle grip of the steering wheel.
I looked to the left.
We were definitely off the road.
So what could we possibly be sitting on?
I cautiously turned to the right.
 Nothing but open space.
Okay, that didn't look good.
George looked at me. "Did you know there was a little pull-out here?"
I stared at him. "Pull-out?"
His question was answered.
He opened his door and . . . stepped out.
I watched him.
Then he indicated that I should open my door.
I stared at him like he was a lunatic.
He indicated again.
Cautiously, I opened my door and . . . stepped out onto solid earth.
I hurried around to the safer side of the scene.
And glanced back.
Sure enough, there was a little jut of shoulder, just big enough for our little truck.
And we had slid onto it sideways.
With perfect precision.
We collected our thoughts and calmed ourselves a bit, then climbed back into our truck and continued the drive home.
A bit more slowly and with a great deal of gratitude.
Skiing requires snow.
And high places.
And driving.
We do our best to stay safe.
But it's nice when Someone Else is in charge.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I'm a Winner!!!

Isn't he cute?!
Look what my good friend, Delores of thefeatherednest sent me!
He sits proudly on my Dad's handmade clock in my front hall.
I'm so excited!
I think I'll call him Earnest.
I love owls!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Funnier Than a Sack of Hammers

Grandma and Grandpa Stringam. Where the humour comes from . . .

My Dad has a great sense of humour.
He came by it rightly.
Let me explain . . .
Dad was in Lethbridge, running errands, shopping.
He stopped by the local hardware store.
There, in a bin just inside the door, was a pile of hammers.
Ordinary, wooden-handled hammers.
He stopped.
He was a rancher.
Hammers were in constant use.
And they were just as constantly disappearing.
He could always use another one.
He reached out, picking up the one on top.
And made an important discovery.
These weren't normal hammers.
They were light rubber.
But painted so perfectly that they could easily fool even the most scrutinizing (real word) glance.
The only way to tell was to actually pick one up.
Dad picked up several.
In fact everything the store had.
On his way home, he stopped off at his parent's comfortable house near the center of the city.
His father, George, a man past eighty, was seated in his recliner in the front room.
Sounds and delicious aromas were emanating tantalizingly from the kitchen.
Obviously, Dad had come at a good time.
He walked in, tossing a greeting to everyone in general, then entered the front room.
And whacked his father on the knee with one of the hammers.
Grandpa jumped.
"Oh!" Then he chuckled. "I thought you had lost your mind!"
Dad laughed.
Grandpa reached for the hammer. "Well. Isn't that remarkable!" He turned it over and over in his hands.
Then he leaned back in his chair. "Vina!" he called.
My Grandmother bustled in from the kitchen, drying her hands on a towel. "What is it, George? Dinner's almost . . ."
That's as far as she got.
As soon as she came around the corner, Grandpa threw the hammer at her.
"Oh!" she said as the soft rubber bounced off her chest. She put one hand to her chest. "I thought you'd lost your mind!" she gasped, unconsciously repeating Grandpa's words.
Grandpa chuckled as Grandma picked up the trick hammer and threw it back at him.
Yep. Humour is inherited.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Best Childhood Christmas

Christmas Elf: Caught in the Act . . .

It started out ordinarily enough.
Dad waving from the driveway as he started the long drive to Lethbridge to begin his Christmas shopping.
I should point out, here, that Dad always began and ended his shopping on the same day.
Christmas Eve.
He had a thing about children sneaking into his closet to peek at presents.
Not that I ever did.
Personally, I think it had something to do with his own childhood and his own childhood foibles and tendencies.
We waved happily to him, then went back to helping Mom with the Christmas baking.
Our duties were carefully delineated.
She mixed.
We watched.
She finished mixing and dug out cookie sheets and baking pans.
We tasted.
She shooed us away and began to spoon/scrape.
We waited.
She turned to put pans into the oven.
We tasted.
She shooed us away and finished spooning/scraping.
She turned to put pans into the oven.
We licked the bowl.
She shooed us away and started again.
She mixed.
We watched . . .
You get the picture.
But when pans started coming out of the oven, yet another duty was added to the roster.
Tasting the now-baked deliciousness.
And so it went.
Everyone had their responsibilities clearly outlined.
And we did them whole-heartedly.
No slackers in this bunch.
Sometimes, though, baked goodies actually made their way past the ravening hordes children to the fancy Christmas platters set out to receive them.
Not often, I will admit, but frequently enough that we realized what those platters were for.
But I digress . . .
Other duties included:
  1. Hiding when the baking was finished and clean up was indicated.
  2. Giggling loudly during hide-age.
  3. Sitting under the tree and periodically shaking/squeezing packages.
  4. Teasing younger siblings that Santa Claus would never be able to find our ranch.
  5. Re-arranging Christmas ornaments.
  6. Breaking said ornaments.
  7. Hiding again . . . because.
It was a busy day.
Mostly for my Mom, but why haggle over details?
Finally, just as we were getting ready to climb into bed for the long, sleepless night, we would hear Dad's car pull into the driveway.
And then would begin another whole round of excited children doing the dance of joy.
Sleep was further away than ever.
But, finally, we were herded into our beds and the doors firmly shut against peekage/sneakiness.
The wait was on.
I shared a room with my younger brother, Blair and my younger sister, Anita.
Somehow, I managed to keep them bottled up until some of us (not me) were ready to fizz over.
About 5 AM.
We could wait no longer.
Now the rule in the Stringam household was 'Look, but don't touch until Mom and Dad's feet hit the living room floor'.
On this particular Christmas, looking was especially exciting.
Because Dad had strewn his gifts over the living room floor.
The entire living room floor.
From the soft light of the Christmas tree, we were able to make out strange, long objects arranged at intervals from the doorway all the way to the tree itself.
What could they be?
We knelt down, trying to get a better view.
Had he opened a crate of something and left the boards flung about like flotsam?
Normally such behavior was reserved for the younger set.
Double weird.
Just when we were ready to burst with the excitement and curiosity, we heard our parents make their way up the hall towards us.
Dad reached around the corner and snapped on the light.
Our eyes were glued to the newly-revealed treasures.
The entire floor was littered with skis!
Beside each carefully arranged set of skis were a pair of poles and leather ski boots.
We hopped and skipped carefully around the room, checking name tags and finally settling beside the set that bore ours.
Mine were blue.
With long, silver poles.
And black leather ski boots.
I don't remember what else I got that year (sorry, Family).
Nothing could compare with my shiny new and wondrous skis.
Then I discovered that the excitement didn't end there.
The rest of Dad's gift included a week-long family skiing trip to The Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana.
The first of many such trips.
And the beginning of a whole new chapter for the Stringams.
Yup. The best Christmas ever.

Now, it's your turn. What was your best childhood Christmas ever?

Monday, December 19, 2011

What Am I Bid . . .?

Tall. Long. Exceptional Herd Sire Prospect. 

And you thought a Cattle Sale merely meant selling cattle!

My brother, Blair and I were getting cattle ready for the annual Stringam Production sale.
Which was held . . . ummm . . . annually.
This was quite a process.
The sale was held in the fall.
And was the culmination of many, many months of work.
All of which was accomplished by the family slaves . . .
Moving on.
The first sign of the approaching sale was always the appearance of our Father figure with 'The List'.
Let me point out here that this was usually only a couple of months after the last sale.
But I digress . . .
Dad would plunk down 'The List', a stack (and I do mean stack) of envelopes, and a row of new pens.
"Okay, kids, time to get started!"
Which was our cue to pull ourselves away from whatever hot pastime we were currently engaged in (from the two channels on the TV, to this week's current riveting novel) and drag ourselves to the kitchen table.
Whereupon (love that word) we would each be handed a pen and a part of 'The List'.
And told to get busy.
While Dad found something else to do.
I should explain that 'The List' consisted of the names and addresses of people who had bought cattle in the past. People who might buy cattle in the future. And people who had once seen cattle.
It was endless.
I'm sure you were on it.
I should also explain that computers hadn't been invented yet.
Every envelope had to be painstakingly (the word 'pain' is in there for a reason) lettered by hand.
Double-checked by our editorial department (Mom).
And stuffed with an assortment of pamphlets and catalogues.
Have you ever seen a cattle sale catalogue?
It's riveting reading.
Pictures of . . . cows.
With catchy, informative descriptions: Long. Tall. Beefy. Impressive. Good producer. Great mother. Exceptional herd sire prospect.
Oh there were other pictures as well.
Mostly of us humans, standing behind the aforementioned long, tall, beefy, impressive, good producing, motherly herd sire prospects.
The bigger they were, the less of us you could see.
Probably a good thing.
Back to my story.
Once we had finished addressing and stuffing and stamping the envelopes, they were left in a pile for the shipping department (Mom) to take care of.
Then we were free to start on the real work.
Preparing the stock for the sale.
This consisted of feeding, cleaning up after, shuffling, and tucking them in with their jammies and teddy.
This went on for months.
As the time for the actual sale grew closer, we got even more proactive.
Checking the sale barn to make sure it was properly cleaned and that the bleacher seats were dusted and in good repair.
Because one couldn't have one's customers guests receive a splinter or a dusty bottom.
Pregnancy testing. (The cows, not us.)
Semen testing (I won't even touch this one.)
And finally, washing and/or air-grooming the stock.
Washing is pretty self-explanatory.
Air grooming consisted of running the animals into a head squeeze (Actually, it clamped shut on their neck just behind the head and held the animal in a standing position) while we moved freely around them, using a high-powered blower (think leaf-blower, but stronger) to redistribute any dust, dirt, or small animals that may have been making a home in the red and white hair.
It was a fun job, if one remembered to stay away from the business end of the blower.
If one forgot, and we frequently did, one ended up as the new home for all of the dislodged dust, dirt and small animals.
Thus, a day spent with the blower was inevitably ended with a trip to the showers.
Blair and I had reached the dirt-blowing stage of the whole production.
We had rigged a series of panels to move the animals from point 'A' to point 'B' as effortlessly as possible.
All was going well.
Dad had purchased a bull at another production sale a couple of years earlier.
Ranchers did that.
Bought cattle from each other on occasion.
Ostensibly (real word) to 'improve their line'.
But actually to encourage the other ranchers to return the favour.
The bull's name was Victor. He was tall. And long. And beefy. And an 'Exceptional Herd Sire Prospect'.
He was also stupid.
Notably stupid.
And when an animal stands out in a cow herd as 'stupid', you have to know that he is remarkable.
And not in a good way.
We got Victor into the squeeze.
We blew all of his little tenants away.
As well as a couple of pounds of dirt.
And some of his precious few brain cells.
We opened the squeeze.
Now, up until this point, all of the cattle had obediently made their way along the corridor we had created (by wiring some sheets of plywood together), happily returning to their familiar paddock and lunch.
Victor was . . . different..
Remember? Victor was . . . stupid.
Victor wanted to go . . . somewhere else.
Did I mention he was tall?
He simply lifted his head and went through our carefully erected barrier.
Four sheets of it.
Oh, he didn't hurry.
None of this running wild stuff.
He walked.
Crushing solid wood panels as he went.
We shouted and waved and finally resorted to beating on him with our hands.
We might as well have been something small and gnat-ty.
Because that's all the notice he took of us.
When he had pushed through the final barrier, he simply turned and looked at us.
Then wandered out into the corral and the sunshine.
The wrong corral, I might point out.
Stupid bull.
We did manage to get him back to where he belonged.
Some time later.
And when he felt like it.
Two days later, Blair and I were both present when he was sold, loaded into a trailer, and taken from our lives.
Sometimes, good comes from bad.
It was a satisfying lesson.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Join the Army. Get an Education (3rd and Final)

A guest post by Erik Tolley

There are also some other trades that you could join, like the Military Police, Intelligence (I still can't get any answers as to why they call it that . . .), Logistics (nobody will tell me what they do, either . . .), Medics, Marching Band, Cook, etc.
Unfortunately, I've never seen anybody from these trades, so I can't elaborate on what they do.
Not that anyone in the Combat Arms does much, either.
After selecting your preferred trade, you will be given several pounds of forms to fill out, a medical examination (thank goodness the doctor didn't need a rubber glove), and an aptitude test.
This all finds out if you are in good health, or if  you need to come back when you look less like an overstuffed sofa, or if you can at least remove the overstuffed sofa from your fat butt so the doctor can finish the examination.
Now, when that's all over and done with, you will be told whether you qualify for your preferred trade or not.
If you do, you will be given another annoying pamphlet with an attractive picture and a catchy slogan, which will describe in detail what you will learn to do in Basic Training.
Here is a list of some of the things that it will tell you:
Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence
Rifle Drill
First Aid
Rank Structure
Everything Else

Strangely, this annoying pamphlet doesn't list many of the other things that you will learn while on your Basic Training course.
These other things are just as important to military life as the things listed above.
To correct this, I have added a few of my own ideas of what should be placed on future annoying pamphlets:
Dirty Jokes
More Swearing
Female Anatomy
Male Anatomy
Alcohol Abuse
Washing Vomit Out of Your Clothing
Dragging Drunken Comrades Back to Base
Standing At Attention When You Blood Alcohol Content is 0.25
Scaring Civilians

Who says the Army isn't educational?

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Read it! You know you want to!

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