Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Twenty-Four Hour Old Scotch

Okay. This story is about urine specimens.
Those who are faint of heart or easily queasy, stop now.
I told you to stop.
You don't listen, do you?!
You asked for it  . . .
In today's world, when a doctor requires a urine specimen, he sends his patient to the 'lab'.
See. Handy and dandy.
Or supplies said patient with a handy, dandy little container.
Complete with antiseptic wipes.
This wasn't always the case.
 Let me tell you about it . . .
My parents had been shopping.
I should probably mention, here, that in the 50s, no one ever locked their cars.
This is important.
Moving on . . .
Dad was helping Mom into the car.
A short distance away, a woman was also getting into her car.
A very obviously pregnant woman.
She opened the door.
Then gasped and leaned against her car.
Dad hurried over.
“Are you all right?”
Then he realized that she was laughing.
Really laughing.
“Are you all right?” he asked again.
The woman straightened and wiped her eyes.
Then she pointed at the car seat.
“The . . . the bottle!” she gasped.
Then went into another peal of laughter.
By this time, Mom had joined them.
She and Dad looked at each other and Dad shrugged.
Must be a pregnancy thing.
Finally, the woman calmed somewhat and again, wiped her eyes.
She looked at my parents.
“I'm on my way to my doctor,” she said.
Okay . . .
She looked back into her car and cleared her throat.
“I was supposed to bring in a urine sample.” She pointed into her car. “I left it there.”
My parents glanced at the empty car seat.
The woman looked at them again.
“The only empty bottle I could find was a whisky bottle,” she said.
“You left a urine sample in a whisky bottle on the front seat of your car?”
Things aren't always as they appear . . .
Dad was catching on fast.
The woman nodded.
“And someone stole it?”
Again she nodded. “They must have.”
Dad started to laugh.
He ushered Mom back to their car and helped her in.
Then he got into the car and sat back, still laughing.
“What's so funny?” Mom asked.
“Well, all I can think about is how the thief will discover his mistake!” Dad said. “What if it was some kids! Can't you see it? ”
“This is whisky? I don't know what all the fuss is about!”

Friday, February 17, 2012

To Hair is Human

Okay. See? Here she looks like a girl!

Sometimes, being thrifty has its limits.
When I was eighteen, my Mom taught me to cut hair.
She thought it was a skill I would need as I contemplated starting my own family.
The brave lady used herself as my working model.
Let's just say that, for several months, my Mom's hair was . . . interesting.
And leave it at that.
Her bravery was rewarded.
I learned to cut hair.
In one style.
And short.
Moving forward several years.
My Husby and I were blessed with three sons.
All of whom had the same barber.
I got quite proficient at boy's haircuts.
And fairly proud of myself.
We all know about pride, right.
After three sons, our family increased in size once more.
By a daughter.
A girl?
I should mention, here, that my sisters both knew how to do hair and fussy, 'pretty' stuff.
I had been raised in the barn.
With the horses.
And, for some reason, missed out on that talent.
Or interest.
I didn't realize my lack until the doctor laid my new daughter in my arms.
Holy Smoke!
My exact words.
It was then I realized that being born in the center of the family, with the boys, and spending all of my waking hours and no few of my sleeping ones in the barn, had ill-equipped me to deal with a girl.
I muddled through.
Fortunately, she mixed in with the boys as easily as her mother had.
And was gleaming bald till she was two.
That gave me time to work through some of my other inadequacies before I had to tackle the whole 'hair' problem.
But, finally, inevitably, the hair grew to a length that required either styling.
Or cutting.
I opted for what I knew and fetched my scissors.
All was well.
Or so I thought.
At this point in time, our family was engaged in providing 'Family Dances'.
It was fun.
One evening, several young boys ran up to the booth and informed us, loudly, that our son had just gone into the girl's bathroom.
I stared at them.
We didn't have any of our sons with us.
And our daughter was . . .
I learned to do hair.
And also to dress my daughter as a girl.
But that is another story.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Rodeo Action . . . Without Leaving Home

 Another story from Mom's journals.
How did this . . .
 . . . become this?

Sunday at the Ranch was a day of rest.
We slept in!
Instead of getting up at the uncivilized hour of 5:30 AM, we got up at the uncivilized hour of 6:30 AM.
The Wrangler assigned for the day saddled up Slow Poke and rode out to bring in the horses.
The other cowboys swept out the barn, fed the animals in the feed lots and milked the cow.
The man who drew the short straw got cow-milking duty.
Not a favourite chore.
Especially on Sunday.
And a cause for real irritation to whoever got stuck with it.
'Horse Play' usually erupted around or near.
Let me explain . . .
Hans, an animal lover came down the stairs from the hay loft, Cyclone (the aptly-named barn cat) purring in his arms.
Seeing Joe seated beside the milk cow, grouchily taking his irritation out on poor Jenny, Hans got an idea.
Okay, not a great one, as it turns out, but an idea none the less.
He set the cat on Jenny's back and pulled his tail.
The cat's, I mean.
Whose claws instantly contracted into the innocent old cow's hide.
Bellowing in pain, Jenny lunged forward, kicking wildly to free herself.
The milk bucket flew into the air, spilling its contents all over Joe as he scrambled for the door, desperate to get away from the flying hooves.
Cyclone flew through the air like a rocket.
Five feet off the ground.
He shot through the door with legs spinning, all of his nine lives in jeopardy.
With Jenny, intent only on finding the nearest far-away place, right behind him.
Just as the Wrangler arrived on Slow Poke.
Horse, cow, cat and cowboys met.
Completely out of character, Slow Poke erupted.
With great heaves and grunts, he flung himself into the air.
Switching ends.
Pounding the ground.
The Wrangler catapulted into the sky in a beautiful arc.
Over the corral gate.
Everyone stood mesmerized.
In a total state of shock.
The dust settled.
Then the casualties began to moan and move.
This shook everyone out of their trance.
Mark grabbed his vet bag and began to check for cuts, broken bones and heart beats, prodding gently at each limp form.
He swabbed and bandaged and dispensed pain killers.
Then Joe sat up, rubbed his eyes and lay back down. "Wake me in the morning," he said, "I just had a nightmare!" He opened one eye. "I should have gone to church!"
The boys carried Joe to the bunkhouse.
All of the other casualties limped or dragged themselves away to the nearest safe place.
Where they collapsed into a heap.
Everyone survived.
But it was some time before Jenny, Joe, Slow Poke, Cyclone, or any others involved in the spin off would approach the barn without apprehension.
Sundays. Truly a day of rest.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

To Megan, On Her Ninth Birthday

Originally written for her father, Mark, on his ninth birthday.

Mark, Nine Years Old
Megan, Nine Years Old

Well, now I'm nine and you can see
The changes time has wrought in me.
I've grown three feet since I was born,
As tall and slim as a stalk of corn.

I've learned about so many things,
I know of bikes and kites and strings.
I can cook and clean and comb my hair,
And help my brothers with evening prayer.

I can haul in wood, or hammer nails,
Or water trees with heavy pails.
I can hold the baby, shine my shoes,
Or sit with you and discuss the news.

I can play piano perfectly,
And beat you at Monopoly.
I can take out garbage, weed and hoe,
Then eat the carrots, row by row.

In fact I've grown so big and tall,
With doing chores and playing ball,
That maybe you can't really see
How young and weak I still can be.

How I take Raccoon to bed at night,
And ask you to leave on the light.
How I still like my whole face kissed
And like to make a 'Christmas List'.

And even though I numb your knee,
I like to be held tenderly.
I like to know that you are proud
And have you tell me right out loud.

Please understand, with all my size,
With knowing looks in big brown eyes,
That I am not as big, you see
As my outside appears to be.

Ignore my size and adult airs,
Forget that I've climbed lots of stairs.
Just hug and kiss and try to see
That little child inside of me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Something Old. And New

. . . rise the new and improved.

From the ashes . . .

Ranch families know how to have fun.
And it usually involves dancing.
Let me explain . . .
Our barn had burned to the ground.
On my birthday. (see here)
It was a tragedy.
We lost some livestock and all of our tack and equipment.
But out of the ashes arose a newer, better, bigger barn.
With modern conveniences and plenty of room.
And lots and lots of places to play.
That's important when you're four.
Which I was.
Moving on . . .
The new barn was nearing completion.
And needed to be properly initiated.
A barn dance was called for.
I should mention here, that, in my world, barn dances nearly always occurred immediately after the barns were built.
Before the smells from the denizens living below stairs began to permeate the hay loft upstairs.
Enough said.
People began to gather.
The Stringam Ranch is located twenty miles from the nearest town (Milk River) and is surrounded by other ranches.
With ranch families.
You have to look for your entertainment when you are that far from the bright lights.
A barn dance was eagerly anticipated and reason for a lot of excitement.
And everyone, from the elderly to the newly arrived, showed up.
And people began to gather early.
While my Mom was busy in the kitchen, happily baking and cooking.
There was much talk and laughter.
Old friends greeting each other for the first time since last summer's brandings.
The anticipation began to build.
Finally, the piano player arrived.
And then the festivities hit a snag.
She had counted on the Stringams providing the piano.
But our barn didn't come equipped with one.
Go figure.
And this was the 50s.
Electronic anything hadn't been invented yet.
We needed to find a real piano.
A quick phone call to Lethbridge secured one.
But it was an hour and a half away.
With a fast truck.
A willing group was dispatched and the rest of the party began to . . . party.
There was good food to eat and lots of news to catch up on.
The time passed quickly.
Finally, a truck pulled into the yard, horn blaring.
The piano had arrived.
Many hands pulled it from the back of the pickup and pushed into the barn.
There was a brief discussion as to the best way to transport it from the ground floor to the hay loft.
Finally, it was centered beneath a large hay chute door. Ropes were passed beneath it and willing hands pulled it up to the dance floor.
I'm quite sure it must have weighed several hundred pounds.
You couldn't tell.
It was a mere blur of movement as it made the trip.
Within seconds, and I do mean seconds, music was blaring forth.
And the dance floor was crowded.
The Stringam Barn Dance was officially underway.
I should mention, here, that this is where I learned to dance.
Standing on my Dad's feet.
Like many, many of the other kids in the room.
That's just how it was done.
The party continued throughout the night.
We danced the Butterfly, Schottische, Two-steps, various Reels, Old-time waltzes, Polkas and many others.
What the group missed in the first three hours, they made up for in the last.
Everyone started heading for home about the time the sun came up.
Just in time to do morning chores.

There is a codicil.
Remembering the fun we had as children, and seeing a marked decline in the fun old Barn Dance, my family decided to re-introduce it to the world.
We started doing 'Family Dances' in 1990.
It was very popular.
Though we played in very few barns, and had all electronic equipment, the feeling was the same.
Families dancing together.
For nearly twenty years, we provided music and 'on the hoof' instruction to large family groups.
It was . . . fun.
And memorable.
A small slice of ranch life prolonged.
At least for a little while.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Supermom! The Rental . . .

Picture this same number of children
With three less adults.

When we were six . . .

My good friend was in hospital for a couple of days for some minor surgery.
Her four kids (three girls and one boy) were staying with us.
And our (then) four kids. (Three boys and one girl)
The kids were perfectly matched.
Boy-girl, boy-girl, boy-girl and boy-girl.
And got along very well.
My house was quieter with eight (ranging in ages from 1 to 7) kids in it, than it was with just my own four.
They were all playing happily.
Then I suddenly realized that I needed to go to the store.
The status quo was about to change.
I buckled in what amounted to essentially four sets of twins and started off.
All went well.
We arrived at the store.
I immediately hunted up a cart.
No way I was going to try to herd this bunch without some modern conveniences.
The two babies were buckled into the baby compartment on the cart.
The two toddlers went into the basket.
The two kindergarteners hung onto the outside.
And the two seven year olds were allowed free range.
But with strict instructions to stay close.
We were off!
My errands were run in record time.
And, quite suddenly, it was snack time.
I looked into my wallet.
I should point out, here, that my husband had just graduated from post secondary and was working in his first real job.
We were poor.
Well, rich in children.
But poor in things that can actually purchase things.
Moving on.
My wallet held the grand total of two dollars.
Which in itself was a miracle.
I was standing in the middle of the food court, contemplating my options.
They were . . . limited.
Finally, I approached a kiosk called, The Loaf, which specialized in sandwiches made from thick slices of 'freshly-baked-on-the-premises' bread.
"What would you charge for just a slice of fresh bread and butter?" I asked the girl behind the counter.
She scrunched up her face in thought.
Then she said, "Twenty-five cents."
The magic words.
I ordered eight slices of fresh bread and butter and handed her my two dollars.
Then I passed out slices of thick, warm, fresh bread to each of my little hoard.
Who happily chowed down.
A cowboy term for tucking in.
Which is another cowboy term for . . . oh, never mind.
You get the picture.
They ate.
And enjoyed.
A couple walked past while my kids were busy . . . umm . . . enjoying.
"What a good idea for a snack!" the woman exclaimed. "I think you are the best mother I have ever seen!"
I smiled, rather self-consciously.
'Best mother' is obviously code for 'too-broke-to-buy-anything-else'.
We finished our snack and headed back to the Sears for one last item.
My friend's eldest daughter, who had been following closely asked if she could dart over and peek at the girl's blouses.
I told her that it was fine. I would just walk slowly so she could catch up.
And continued down the aisle.
I passed one of the entrances to the store.
Two women had just come in.
They, a mother and her mother, were struggling to control a small boy of about two.
Who was red-faced and screaming.
Actually, now that I think of it, all of them were red-faced and . . .
Back to my story.
The grandmother looked up and noticed me walk past with my cart full to overflowing with children and said," Here the two of us can't control one child and that woman," she pointed, "has . . . five, six, seven!"
Just then, my friend's oldest daughter rejoined our group.
I smiled at the women and said, "Eight."
And walked on.
Okay, I know it wasn't strictly truthful.
But it was so much fun to say it!!!
And, just for a moment, I felt like SUPERMOM!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Good Case of Mistaken Identity

Sorrel gelding (or neutered male).
And yes. I can tell the difference . . .
During college, I rode with the LCC Equestrian Team.
It was infinitely more exciting than anything my journalism instructors could teach in the classroom.
Though not quite the same preparation for real life.
Every afternoon, we would present ourselves to our teacher at the tack shed and draw our piece of string.
This is exactly how it sounds.
There was a bundle of old twine strings hanging from a hook just inside the door.
We would each grab one and head out to the pasture.
Once in the pasture, we would pick out a suitable mount (re: one that we could get close to), and place the string around its neck.
Then swung aboard and ride the horse back to the tack shed to . . . tack up.
Simplicity in itself.
The heaviest thing you were ever forced to carry was a piece of string.
Okay, I will admit that everyone else carried bridles, or at the very least a halter.
I was weird.
Moving on . . .
It was a beautiful day.
The sun was shining.
A fairly common occurrence.
The wind wasn't blowing.
Not so common.
I was excited to be out of the classroom and into the field.
So to speak.
I should point out, here, that there were two sorrel (liver brown colour) horses in the herd.
One a gentle gelding (male).
One a sprightly mare (female).
The differences were obvious.
But I was simply looking for 'sorrel'.
I walked up to the first one and slipped my piece of string around its neck.
Then swung aboard.
The trip back to the shed was quick.
I remember being astonished at the spirit the old gelding was showing.
Wow. He'd never had this much life!
This was going to be a good day.
I stopped near the shed door.
My instructor was standing there. “Wow!” he said. “The last person who tried that ended up getting piled.”
'Piled'. That's a cowboy term for . . . piled.
There really isn't a better way to say it.
Back to my story . . .
I looked down at my mount. “You mean this isn't Chico?”
He looked at me strangely. “Umm, Diane, Chico is a boy.”
“Oh. I never even . . .” I slid off the horse. Sure enough, he was a she. “Oops.”
He went on. “GG has never allowed anyone to ride her bareback. She doesn't like it. She just bucks them off.” He looked at me. “Let's try something, shall we?”
“Okay!” My Dad always said that I had more guts than brains.
He was right.
My instructor grabbed a halter and handed it to me.
I exchanged it for the string.
“Now get on.”
I obeyed.
“Let's run some jumps, shall we?”
GG and I went over the entire course.
I will admit that the jumps were small and definitely not a challenge.
But the point is that we did them.
GG and me.
With just a halter.
Something that had never been done before (or since) with that particular horse. 
In that particular tack.
My instructor was smiling when we returned. “I've been wondering who to appoint as team captain,” he said. “Now I know.”
I smiled back.
I still don't know exactly what happened that day.
With that horse.
But I was right.
It was a good day.

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