Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, January 28, 2012


My Dad's hands. And Mine.
Look closely. They tell you everything.

Hands tell everything.
I remember sitting in Church beside my dad and comparing my hand to his.
Mine were small, white and smooth.
Unmarked by life and softly innocent.
His were large, square, calloused.
Scarred by barbed wire and by life.
Hands that had wrestled cattle and the occasional bronc.
Hauled hay and grain.
Twisted wire or pounded nails.
Smacked the occasional errant backside.
And tenderly held babies.
Hands that had accomplished something.
I measured my hand against his.
Would mine ever grow to be the same size?
I looked at my Mom's hands.
Long, tapered fingers with close-cropped nails.
Hands that scrubbed surfaces and small, wiggling bodies.
Punched bread and rolled out pie crust.
Cooked and stirred.
Gathered, sorted and folded.
Swept and cleaned.
Hands occasionally stained with ink from her writing.
And also scarred by her forays into the barnyard to help when help was needed.
Hands that soothed when others hurt and applied love and bandages in equal amounts.
And finally folded, blue-veined and fragile, over a still breast in peace.
Hands that had accomplished something.
Yesterday, my granddaughter was sitting next to me.
She placed her hand, soft, white and innocent, against mine.
"Will my hands ever grow as big as yours, Gramma?"
"Yes, dear. Certainly."
"I like to look at your hands, Gramma." She pointed. "What is this scar here?"
"Barbed wire, sweetheart."
"Did it hurt?"
"Probably. But not for long."
"You have lots of scars, Gramma."
"Scars are life, written in your hands," I told her.
"Oh." She turned my hand over. "Lots of scars."
"From doing things," I said.
I thought of the 'things' that my hands have done.
Cooked. Cleaned.
Baked. Sewed.
Wrestled cattle and chickens and pigs.
And small children.
Turned pancakes and pages.
So many things.
Important things.
I smiled at my granddaughter. "Your hands will do things, too," I said. "Important things."
"Like yours."
"Like mine."

Friday, January 27, 2012

Horse-Trading for Dummies

See what I mean?
Pic from:

At sixteen, I made my first foray into the wide, exciting world of horse trading.
It wasn't a good experience.
Let me explain.
I had been saving my money for months to purchase my first horse.
Okay, yes, we had dozens of horses on the ranch, but none of them had been purchased by me.
See the difference?
Okay, my Dad didn't, either.
Moving on . . .
Some friends of ours knew of a rancher near Waterton Park who had some horses to sell.
Beautiful scenery and a chance to buy my own horse.
It was a perfect world.
We drove into the mountains and left the main road, winding down the mountainside and into the prettiest little ranch I had ever seen.
I was filled with anticipation.
Only the best in horseflesh could come from such a place.
I was wrong.
Just FYI.
The owner introduced us to several horses, but one little bay mare immediately caught my eye.
The rancher noticed.
Perhaps my glassy-eyed stare and drool was a give-away.
He went into his spiel.
Yes. Ranchers have a spiel.
He told me I would love her. Her gait, conformation and performance were perfection.
Here. Let's saddle up and you can take her for a spin.
He did.
I did.
Everything he had said was true.
Money exchanged hands.
We loaded the sedate little mare into our handy-dandy trailer and headed home.
Before we had gotten back to the main road, I had a name for my new best friend.
It suited.
Back at home, my Dad got his first look.
He examined her carefully, then shrugged.
I don't know, he said. She looks pretty enough, but I don't know.
Horse sense. Some of them have it . . .
Some of us don't . . .
The next morning, I went out to saddle up my new little beauty.
I got a distinct shock.
During the night, someone had come and switched my sweet tempered little Fancy with a roaring, man-killing beast.
And I do mean man-killing.
The drugs had obviously worn off.
No sooner had I bridled her, then she reared up and struck out at me with her front hooves.
I should point out, here, that hooves are hard.
And can easily be used to cause 'blunt force trauma'.
I watch C.S.I. so I know about B.F.T.
Her first unexpected attack caught me, fortunately on the very top of my head.
Where my skull is the thickest.
She knocked me to my knees, but did no damage.
I struggled quickly to my feet and moved to the nearest far-away place.
Where I watched in wonder as she began her second attack.
Yep. The first attack had been no accident.
But I was ready and she posed no danger at that point.
My decision was made, however.
This horse had to go.
I talked to my friend. The one who had taken me to buy my little whirlwind of terror.
He was very interested.
He should be, he had gotten me into this mess . . .
He dealt with difficult horses and offered, on the spot, to trade me for a horse of my choosing.
This time, I took my Dad with me.
I may be dumb, but I learn quickly.
And we agreed on a nice, black gelding.
Tall. Lively.
But without one important aspect.
He wasn't out for my blood.
An important aspect as it turns out.
'Zee' and I became instant friends.
Something Fancy and I could never be.
Sorry, Fancy.
But it is your fault.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Favorite Toys

My first/George's third birthday party.
Notice the bull and matador.
How come I didn't have toys like that?

My favourite toys . . . weren't mine.
Because everyone had better toys than me.
Or at least Mom and Dad did.
Their neat toys were all carefully displayed.
On their fireplace mantle.
Okay, I thought it was weird, too.
Especially since they never, ever played with them.
Not once.
I had watched.
There was a plaster matador and bull set.
One of which, had a cape.
And one, horns.
I'll let you sort them out.
They were immensely fun to play with.
Until Mom caught up with me.
"Diane, put those back!"
Then there were the models of bulls.
Horned and polled Herefords.
They were terrific when one wanted to play farm.
Of course, then the matador's bull would have to join in.
Giving the matador just that much more responsibility.
He was tall and strong and handsome.
He could handle it.
"Diane, what did I tell you?!"
But the best of all was the bronze horse.
He was glorious.
Standing looking out across the prairie, ears pricked.
He even had a bronze saddle and bridle.
With bronze reins.
"Diane! How on earth did you lug that thing down there! Put it back at once!"
Man, that woman was everywhere!
Mom and Dad's toys entertained me for years.
Until I dropped the matador.
It was an accident!
And twisted the reins off the horse.
Oops. Who knew they would do that?
But I maintain that if they didn't want them played with, they should have put them away.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Christmas Theatrics

Wraith - His usual location

We are a theatrical family.
And by that, I mean that we are deeply involved in theatre.
Not that we are prone to theatrics in the home.
That would just be silly.
The Tolleys are known for things like – bursting into song instantaneously.
And everyone knowing the words.
Launching into long quotes at the mention of a single phrase.
Dressing up.
Our family was, quite literally, raised on the stage.
To anyone not so inclined, we're weird.
We do weird things.
We direct/perform in/produce plays.
We host Medieval feasts for no reason.
We dress up on a theme and invite the neighbourhood to come in and eat pie to celebrate . . . whatever.
To our neighbours, we are that family who doesn't do anything normally.
Even our Christmas decorating is a bit . . . I'm going to go with the PC term and call it . . . different.
We don't do lights.
We did, but we've gotten lazy.
Now our Christmas decorating consists of our Halloween decorating, plus a small addition.
I know. Weird.
Years ago, for her graduating project, our youngest daughter sculpted a wraith.
You heard correctly.
A wraith.
Nine feet tall and rather spooky looking.
We love it.
Wraith at Christmas
And, yes, that's a Humbug hat.
Don't ask . . .
It comes out of our back yard every Halloween and is prominently displayed next to the front door.
Where it can scare the cookies out of the little 'trick-or-treaters'.
And where it usually freezes so solidly to the grass that it must remain through Christmas and into the spring thaw.
How do you hide a nine-foot-tall behemoth?
In plain sight.
You can see what I mean.
Yep. Christmas at the Tolleys.
Everyone welcome!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Enemies are Just Friends You Haven't Met Yet.

Tangmere. History makes me cry.   ( picture)

Reading my good friend, Joanne's wonderful blog (Cup on the Bus: Old Stories, Old Things), reminded me of something . . .
My Husby worked for Alberta Culture. Specifically building the great museums for which Alberta is famous.
The last two museums had been announced.
One to house a collection of cars and trucks and thing that go. Or fly.
The other to showcase the horse-drawn vehicle era.
Both having to do with transportation.
In preparation for this, my Husby was sent to the UK.
They have museums.
They could offer insight.
Thus, twenty-five years ago, he went.
Taking me.
It was a wonderful, informative, exhilarating, exhausting, emotional trip.
We saw farm museums. Transit museums. Air museums. Automobile museums.
We even went to the mews at Buckingham palace and got up close and personal with the gold coach.
But one visit stands out above all of the others.
Oh, we had seen exhibits expertly assembled.
Cunningly and beautifully displayed.
Extensive, professional artwork in beautiful buildings.
And trained, informed staff.
But none of them could compete with the (then) little museum, Tangmere.
Near Chichester, England, on the site of the old RAF Tangmere Airfield, this museum was almost exclusively manned by airmen who had served there during WWII.
Perhaps that is what made the difference.
The displays came to life when your guide, who had known the showcased men personally, described them.
He had many stories to tell.
And no few tears were shed in the telling.
One, in particular, I remember most vividly.
The worker/veteran described a gentleman entering the museum.
This man wandered from exhibit to exhibit, reading the hand-lettered cards and information.
Studying the artifacts.
Finally, he approached the desk.
"Have you a cemetery?" he asked in heavily German-accented English.
"Why yes, sir. It's just through there." The worker pointed towards a door.
"Thank you." The man went outside.
I'm not sure if it's still there, but there used to be a small cemetery directly behind the main building.
It housed everyone lost during the August 16, 1940 raid on Tangmere during WWII.
The visitor stayed outside for a long time.
Finally, he re-entered the building and returned to the front desk.
"Please excuse me, but I couldn't help but notice that you have buried the German dead with the English."
The man telling the story got a bit teary-eyed at this point.
"Why yes, sir," he told the man. "They were each and all someone's son."
The German visitor began to cry. Finally he whispered, "I was in the wave of German fighters who bombed you."
The Englishman put out his hand.
"Well it's nice to actually get to meet you!" he said heartily, shaking the other's hand. "And I should tell you that you and your boys made one hell of a mess!"
The worker looked at us. "I don't know what we were when he came in, but we parted friends," he said.
I cried all of the way back to our hotel. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

You Had it Tough? We Rode the Bus!

 . . . or something similar.

You've heard the stories from the past where kids had to walk to school through eight feet of snow.
Both ways.
Well, those didn't apply to me.
I rode the school bus.
Which was an adventure in itself.
Let me explain . . .
School buses in the early sixties were very similar to those driven today.
I'm almost sure there was an engine under the oversized and bulbous hood.
They had a driver.
And lots and lots of kids.
But busses in the sixties had a few 'extra' features.
Forms of entertainment that simply don't exist today.
Too bad.
Busses today have powered windshield wipers that are sturdy, dependable and have several settings.
They keep on working through rain, snow, sleet, hail.
In fact, anything that may be thrown at the all-important front windshield.
The busses that carted me to and from school had wipers, too.
Just not the kind you see today.
They had what is know as 'vacuum' wipers.
I'm not sure what made them work.
But I know what didn't.
Revving the engine.
If it was raining hard and the wipers were going, all was well.
Until the bus was required to do something untoward.
Like move faster.
Or go up a hill.
The engine would rev.
And the wipers would quit.
The driver would have to roll down the side window and stick his (or her) head outside so they could see.
If the driver took his foot off the accelerator, the wipers would start again.
Push the pedal down? They stopped.
It was enormously entertaining.
But not nearly as much fun as when the bus was required to go up Angel's hill.
Yes. We really had an Angel's hill.
Oh, it's not what you're thinking.
It was simply the hill that led to the Angel family's ranch.
But I digress . . .
Our rather aged vehicle had a hard time going up that hill.
Sometimes, if we had a larger than normal load (perhaps all of us kids had eaten lunch, for example), the bus wouldn't be able to make it.
We'd have to get off and trail along behind the bus till it reached the top.
Well, we younger kids would trail.
The older kids would push.
Whereupon (good word) we would all clamber back aboard and happily find our seats once more.
Huh. I just realized that we did have to walk uphill to get to school.
Pushing the bus.
Good story!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Pills to Give You Ills

Does this look delicious to you? Yeah, me either . . .

My Mom had a magic cupboard in her bathroom.
It was full of wonderful little bottles.
Intriguing little bottles with funny shapes and beautiful colours.
And with all sorts of interesting contents.
Most of them defied my little three-year-old fingers.
But one twisted off easily.
Disclosing little, white pills.
Okay they didn't taste very good, but they were little.
And melted on my tongue in a fun way.
I had another.
And another.
This was fun!
Mom came in just as I was finishing the bottle.
For some reason, she got quite upset.
She grabbed me and ran to the phone.
For a few seconds, she chattered excitedly.
Then she carried me to the kitchen and set me on the cupboard and hugged me tight.
I didn’t know what I had done that had gotten her so excited, but this was living!
Or not . . .
A few minutes later, a man came into the house carrying a black bag.
He put a tube down my throat.
And Mom let him!
And traumatic.
I cried.
For several minutes, the two of them fought to keep the tube where they wanted it.
With minimal/non-existent results.
Finally, Mom stuck her fingers down my throat and made me gag.
And I lost all of my wonderful little pills.
Um. Ick.
The doctor packed away his horrible tube and left.
I wasn't sad to see him go.
Mom cuddled me for most of the afternoon.
A few days later, I was again exploring Mom's treasure cupboard.
Well, look at that.
A new bottle of my little pills.
I wonder if they will taste any better.
Mom came in a bit earlier this time, but I had still ingested over half of the bottle.
She didn't bother calling the doctor, just used her patented new method to make me bring the pills back up.
This time, I got a scolding.
Moms can be so inconsistent.

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