Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dress Up

Tristan - acting evil.

Our family loves to dress up.
Maybe that's the reason we love theatre so much.
It's legal there . . .
For my husby and I, it started in our respective childhoods.
We carried it, happily, into our own family.
Through the years, any excuse to dress up was instantly seized.
St. Patrick's Day.
As I said, any excuse.
Our costume collection grew apace (real word).
In no time, it outgrew the large cardboard box that I had originally stuffed things into and into its own room.
The kids spent many, many happy hours in that room, playing dress-up.
As they grew, so did their costumes, becoming more elaborate and detailed.
Bunnies, ladybugs and clowns became Elizabethan gowns and chain mail.
And I mean real chain mail.
With gauntlets.
The room that holds the costumes now is bigger than our first living room.
Our neighbourhood has grown accustomed to seeing our family traipsing around, dressed . . . unusually.
It's fun.
And now our grandchildren have caught the spirit.
Sometimes, good things are passed down through the generations . . .
Queen of Hearts

And yes, that's real chain mail. He knits it . . .
Expecting their/our first child/grandchild

A night in Bethlehem

Notice the backpack. Authentic in every way! Not!
My Husby as Teddy Roosevelt
Passing it on to the next generation . . .
Yes. They are PJ's

Friday, February 3, 2012

Chicken Feet

Warning: Graphic chicken action
Mmmm. Dinner!

Some ranch kids end up with a skewed view of life.
Let me explain . . .
Grant was butchering a chicken.
This involves such things as a head and foot-ectomy, removal of several important inner organs, and complete de-feathering.
Our kids had never witnessed this.
I had. (see here)
But, though they had been raised on a ranch, all animals had been sent off site for 'processing'.
This was their first exposure to one of the more graphic of ranch experiences.
I had been a little concerned for their sensibilities.
I needn't have worried.
They were front and center.
And jostling for position.
Grant placed the chosen/unfortunate chicken on the stump and, with one blow, removed the head.
Then he allowed the chicken to go through its death throes.
Then the all-important soaking in hot water to loosen the feathers.
And the gutting and dismembering.
Finally, we had, sitting on a plate, what would eventually be our dinner.
The rest of the chicken, the head, viscera and feathers, were gathered together in a sack for disposal.
Then Grant picked up one of the feet.
"Watch this, kids!" he said.
He pulled on a tendon and the foot flexed. Claws closed.
"Wow, Dad, that is the coolest thing ever!"
"Let me try! Let me try!"
They took turns pulling on the exposed tendon.
Squeamish? I think not.
I should point out, here, that we have four strapping sons.
And two gentle, timid daughters.
Tiana grabbed one of the feet.
"I'm gonna get you!" she hollered at Caitlin.
And the chase was on.
The two of them spent some time pursuing each other.
Finally, breathless and happy, they relinquished their chicken feet to their impatiently waiting brothers.
Who proceeded to enact act two.
And I had been worried.
The chicken doesn't fall far from the . . . tree.
So to speak.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Intruder Alert!

Mischief, mayhem and entertainment in one package.

In college, I shared a two-bedroom apartment with three other girls.
Debbie, she of the moth abhorrence, and I in one room, the other two girls in the second.
The apartment was on the main floor of an older, period home, with wonderful hardwood floors and original doors and fixtures.
And windows.
And therein hangs a tale, so to speak.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
We loved it there.
The south window in Debbie's and my bedroom faced the garage.
It was never locked.
The window, I mean.
With a barrel pushed underneath, it made an excellent entrance to our apartment.
None of this having to tramp around the house, through the entrance and clear across the living room.
Nope. We could step right into our room, drop our boots under the window, and we were home.
I don't think we used our keys to the front door once in the entire year we lived there.
And neither did our friends . . .
So noises from that window were not unusual.
Though not always expected.
One evening, Debbie and I were getting ready for bed.
Well, she was.
I was busy selecting a book for my usual nighttime read.
Without warning, the blind, which had been pulled down over the window, snapped up.
Whip! Whip! Whip!
Debbie, standing there half in and half out of her jammies, screamed.
No one could scream quite like Debbie.
Thinking someone was trying to come in and realizing her state of  'almost-dressed-ness', she scurried out into the front room.
Then she screamed again.
Louder, this time.
Thinking something had happened, I dropped my book and dashed out into the front room.
Something had.
Happened, I mean.
Debbie was collapsed on the floor in front of our little entryway.
I should tell you, here that the entry to our apartment was about four feet square.
There was a tiny coat rack built into one side. On the wall between that rack and the door was a small window.
It was dark outside.
And the lights were on inside.
Moving on . . .
I rushed over to my friend.
And realized that she was helpless with laughter.
She had dashed out of our room, pulling up her pajama bottoms.
Then she had seen movement in the entry.
Someone was looking at her.
She screamed and collapsed.
Only then realizing that the combination of dark night and lighted room had created a mirror-like trait in our little entry window.
She had seen . . . Debbie.
It must have been a scary sight.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It's a What?!

See? Really old! And mysterious!

On the Stringam ranch, we had an old garage.
Really old.
It was long and single storied with white, stucco siding and very small windows.
At the north end, there was the big garage door.
Opening into a large, dark room.
Which, in turn, opened into the root cellar, described here.
But the root cellar only took up half of the 'basement'.
The other half was a really strange stable.
Well, I thought it was a stable.
It had dividers, forming stalls, though there were no gates.
And it was deeply covered with straw.
The weird thing about this stable was access.
The only entrance/exit was a small window high up in the south wall of the garage.
I often wondered how one could get any animals down there.
Someone didn't plan that very well . . .
No wonder the straw was clean, even though it wasn't fresh.
The small window, however, made an eminently suitable entrance/exit for children.
Like me.
And their toys.
Like mine.
It was my secret place.
My hiding place.
Where no one could find me.
All right, I admit that it was well within hollering distance of the front door of the house.
And that when my Mom wanted me, all she had to do was shout.
But I felt secret.
The single window had no covering, so, during the day, the room was brightly lit. And there was no danger that one could be shut into darkness by a heavy door.
Like in the root cellar, with which I had a history.
Moving on . . .
One could slide in through the window, toys and all, drop into the thick straw, and spend hours in one's own little sunlit, straw-filled world.
It became the place where I parked anything I didn't want the other kids to get into.
And where I hid the stuff I wasn't supposed to get into.
I once lugged in an entire boxful of old pamphlets and envelopes and stationary that Dad had tossed out.
What a treasure!
I would sneak into my secret room to play with it, certain that, if Dad caught me, there would be hell heck to pay.
I felt so sneaky!
I played happily for months in my secret stable.
Finally, I asked Dad what had happened to the door.
He stared at me, puzzled.
I explained that I had to crawl into the little stable through the window. What happened to the door?
He laughed. “That's no stable, Diane. That's the old ice house.”
Ah. Everything was explained.
“Um. What's an ice house?
Dad tried to explain to me that every winter, the men would go down to the river which just happened to flow right past the garage, and cut great chunks of ice.
Then the ice would be hauled up to the ice house and passed through the little window to someone waiting inside.
The straw was to keep it cold.
I suspected that he was pulling my leg because I had played down there for months and I hadn't seen one bit of ice.
“Why would they do that?”
“Well, they needed the ice to keep food cold.”
“Why didn't they use the freezer?”
“They didn't have freezers.”
I stared at him. How could anyone survive without a freezer?
“They didn't even have a fridge.”
Okay, now I knew he was kidding me.
Everyone had a fridge.
Some people, like us, had two.
I shook my head. “Dad. Dad. Dad. That's just silly.”
And I went back to my playing.
But you know something?
He was right.
Sometimes dads are.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tucked In


Routines are important.
Especially when one has many small bodies that one is trying to shuffle into bed.
The bedtime ritual in the Tolley household was probably one of the most adhered-to in the entire day.
Little, wiggling bodies were scrubbed clean.
Teeth brushed.
Hair combed.
Jammies donned.
Stories read.
Family prayer said.
And lastly, the all-important Ceremony of the Tucking In.
The grand and glorious final scene in the whole bedtime scenario.
I won't mention here that the tucking in was usually immediately followed by the "I can't sleep" or "I wanna drink of water" or the all important "I have to go pee".
Okay, maybe I will.
Moving on . . .
One of our children, particularly, looked forward to being tucked in each night.
Our daughter, Tiana.
She would emerge happily from the bathroom, sparkling clean and dressed for bed and announce to her Dad, "I'm ready!"
Whereupon (good word) he would drop the evening paper and follow her to the bedroom she shared with her sister.
Then would follow the boosting into bed.
The careful molding of the blankets around the warm little body.
And the ever important good-night kiss.
Then lights were doused, doors closed and Mom and Dad could relax.
At least until the post-tucking parade began.
One evening, Tiana announced to her father that she was ready to be tucked in.
Then realized that she had forgotten something and disappeared.
But notice had been given.
Dad was already on the move.
He went to her room, performed his usual ceremony.
Then resumed his chair and his reading.
Tiana re-appeared.
"I'm ready now," she said.
Her father looked at her. "I already tucked you in," he said.
"What? I'm right here! You didn't tuck me in!"
"Well, I tucked somebody in."
Tiana ran to her room.
"You tucked in my teddy bear!" she said loudly.
Her father grinned into his newspaper. "Well, I tucked in what was there," he said.
After that, it was a race to see who could get to Tiana's room first.
She, grinning as her father was forced to perform the usual ceremony.
Or her father, who would then tuck in whatever was close at hand.
I repeat. Routines are important.

Monday, January 30, 2012

First and Only

- or- Why I never became a smoker . . .

I come from a long line of non-smokers.
Generations of puff-nots.
But my best friend had a cousin staying over for the summer.
A cousin from the big city who had seen it all.
And done most of it.
I was about to get an education . . .
My family lived on a ranch twenty miles from Milk River, in southern Alberta.
Life out there was bliss.
And, because of a lack of outside influences, completely under the control of my parents.
I had seen people smoking.
Certainly I had.
But I had never considered the possibility of being one of them.
Not even for an instant.
Moving on . . .
My parents owned a house in town.
When Mom got tired of driving the twenty miles to take us kids to school and activities, we would move into town.
Until Dad got tired of driving out to the ranch every day to do ranching stuff.
Then we would move back.
It was a fun and exciting way to live.
The benefits of town living.
The joys of the ranch.
But one or the other of our houses sat empty in the interim.
That summer, we were firmly ensconced on the ranch.
So the town house was sitting vacant.
A perfect place for 10-year-old girls to get an education from the 11-year-old-far-more-experienced-and-world-weary cousin from the big city.
My parents had dropped me off at my best friend's house for a - gasp - three day sleep over while they went out of town.
We: my BFF, her younger sister and the Cousin (notice the capital letter) had been knocking around town for most of two days.
It had been an education.
It was about to become more so.
The Cousin bought a packet of cigarettes.
She was going to show us country hicks how to smoke.
Okay, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Our biggest problem lay in finding a secret place in which to do our teaching/learning.
My family's empty town house.
I found the key and let us in.
The place echoed emptily.
We went into the main bathroom and dug out the cigarettes.
Cousin proceeded to light up.
Oooh! She looked so cool!
The rest of us were excited to try.
In no time, we each had a cigarette.
She helped us light them.
Soon, my BFF and her sister were blowing smoke in the most approved manner.
It took me a bit longer.
But I got it, once Cousin pointed out that one need to suck.
Not blow.
I should point out, here that my parents weren't due to pick me up from my BFF's until the following day.
And, even then, they had no reason to come to this house.
Our smoking education could continue apace.
Without threat of interruption.
But parents never do what they say they are going to.
My BFF's little sister went out to the front room.
And immediately returned, wide-eyed.
"Your parents are here!"
"Sure, sure," I said, taking another puff. "Nice try!"
We all laughed.
A sound that broke off instantly when my Mom appeared at the door.
"Oh," I said. "Ummm . . . hi, Mom."
She looked at me. Looked at the cigarette I held in my hand.
Then turned and left.
Without saying a word.
We quickly cleaned up our mess and headed for the front door.
My parents were waiting in the car.
I said some quick good-byes and climbed in.
For several minutes, my parents said nothing.
Finally, Mom turned to Dad and sighed.
Then Dad turned to me and said, "I very disappointed, Diane."
I was completely crushed.
He didn't know it, but those four words had just killed my cigarette habit.
What price education?!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hands On Reunions

Mark. In cleaner times.

Family reunions.
The renewing of ties.
An opportunity to get re-acquainted.
Catch up on family accomplishments.
Nestle once more in the warm embrace of kin.
Our eldest son, Mark's first reunion occurred when he was eighteen months old.
He was getting around under his own steam very well.
And this outdoor wiener roast/party was a perfect time for him to practice his skills.
For several hours, he wandered around the site.
Getting filthy.
All the things that make a little boy so very happy.
He played with the host family's spaniel, Frodo.
Gorged on hot dogs.
Sampled all of the pot luck dishes.
Spit out the baked beans.
Another story.
Slurped up watermelon.
And laid sole claim to the marshmallows.
He was a happy, filthy little boy.
He toddled over to me, all smiles and dirt.
I dusted him off for the hundredth time and set him on my knee.
Only to discover that his fingers were stuck together.
I think it was the marshmallows.
Might have been helped along by the watermelon.
I'm sure there was at least one form of chocolate.
But those little, busy fingers were all fused together.
And Mark was happily making his rounds using paddles.
Or flippers.
I will admit they were still effective.
He was managing to accomplish a fair bit of eating and playing.
But I thought that, as a concerned mom, I should probably do something.
I went for a wipe.
But I hadn't counted on his ingenuity.
While I was digging through the diaper bag, he went for the nearest water source.
Frodo's bowl.
I wish I could say that this was shortly after the bowl had been filled.
And was still pristine and untouched by anything 'canine'.
I can't.
By the time I had returned with the antiseptically clean towelette, he had already taken care of business.
In the decidedly unhygienic dog bowl.
And was back on his rounds, little fingers freed for business.
He was happy.
And Frodo loved the watermelon/marshmallow/chocolate/hot dog flavoured water.
Everyone was happy.
Except me.

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