Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ranch Pets -or- He Almost Got Stuck in the Baler, Can we Keep Him?

Bambi and four of his pets
Baby antelope kisses

A ranch is a different place to grow up.
In many ways.
Miles from any other humans, one never worries about what the 'neighbours will think'.
Also because of the distance between homesteads, one has to become very self-reliant.
One doesn't drive half and hour to borrow a cup of sugar or a can of soup.
One makes do.
And learns to plan ahead.
Kids growing up on a ranch make their own entertainment.
Well, at least they did in the 50s and 60s.
Electronics hadn't been invented yet.
There was one channel on the TV.
And talking on the phone wasn't the private enterprise it is today.
Entertainment consisted of visiting with your family.
Playing games.
Also with said family.
Swinging from ropes in the hay loft.
Or reading.
And, of course, playing with your pets.
On a ranch, there were all the usual pets one would expect.
And some a little harder to hid in your bedroom.
And then, at least on our ranch, the animals you wouldn't expect.
Oh, we had the usual assortment of barn cats.
The end result of years of 'spur of the moment' cat sex.
We had several dogs.
All brought in from other ranches and, unlike the aforementioned cats, strictly controlled.
And then we had the animals who had been injured or orphaned.
And just needed some care and a place to stay.
A litter of coyote pups.
Discovered by my father after finding a dead, female coyote.
And a seagull.
Found near the road, unable to fly.
Countless frogs.
A snake or two.
Several mice.
Assorted baby animals, found by me and subsequently (good word) turned out of the house by my unenlightened mother.
Did you know that a baby porcupine is really, really cute?
Well they are.
Moving on . . .
And several baby deer.
These wilder 'pets' didn't stay around long.
As they grew, they began to pose some problems.
Wild animals, no matter how cute, simply don't domesticate.
No matter how hard you try.
Or how much you talk to them.
Our baby deer, unexpectedly named 'Bambi', got quite aggressive, especially with my toddling baby sister.
I don't know what he thought she was.
But he didn't like it.
And tried to express himself with sharp hooves.
He, like most of them, after tearful good-byes, went to petting zoos in the area.
But, for a time, they belonged to our family.
I still think that befriending them and spending time with them was better than any form of electronic entertainment.
And I'm always right.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Country Kid's Lunch

Ahhhh! Lunch!
When one lives in the country, and rides the bus to school, one learns to take lunch.
I did.
Live in the country, take the bus and pack a lunch, I mean.
Lunch time was the high point of my school day.
The bell would ring.
The scramble for our various lunch boxes would be completed.
The inevitable question, "Whatd'ja get?" would be asked.
And serious eating would begin.
My Mom took extra pains to make our lunches varied and delicious.
With mixed results.
There was always the sandwich.
Which was the mainstay of ninety pecent of our lunches.
Thick slices of homemade bread containing one of the following:
Tinned tuna salad. Yum.
Chicken Salad. Yum.
Ground Beef and pickle. Yum.
Peanut butter and honey. Double yum.
As long as peanut butter had been liberally smeared on both slices of bread before the honey was added, because otherwise, the honey seeped into the bread and made a sort of . . . crust.
Not yum.
Peanut butter and jam. Easily exchanged for my neighbour's cold beef patty and mayo stuffed into a homemade bun. Yum.
Tinned salmon salad. Not in my lifetime. And not easily traded, either.
Hot dogs. The best. The very best.
I should mention, here, that microwaves existed only on Star Trek and pre-packaged meals, like Kraft pizza and macaroni-and-cheese still had to be . . . prepared.
Mom's hot dogs were an amazing feat.
She would cook the hot dogs while we were eating breakfast, then put two of them into our thermoses with a small quantity of the hot water.
Then seal it up.
Add a couple of hot dog buns wrapped in waxed paper, and a packet or two of ketsup and mustard and lunchtime couldn't come fast enough.
She always included some extras as well.
There was the inevitable sadly-bruised banana.
Which had looked perfectly good when it was put in.
Or the uneatable apple.
I've decided that the idea of gifting a teacher with an apple came from a student who simply didn't want to eat theirs.
And had been taught that wasting food was unacceptable.
But I digress . . .
Mom also included a treat.
Usually something homemade and yummy.
Like squares.
Or her famous butterhorns.
Occasionally, she would change things up a little.
When my thermos wasn't filled with hot dog deliciousness, she would usually put in chocolate milk or hot chocolate.
Either of which just nicely rounded out a lovely lunch.
Once, she put in something different.
But didn't tell me.
I saw the sandwiches, so I knew that hot dogs were out of the question.
So I did what I always did.
Grabbed my thermos and shook up what was supposed to be milk and chocolate in some form.
Then I unscrewed the lid.
It hit the ceiling hard enough to bounce clear over to the door.
And brought students from every room down the hall to see who was opening champaign in the grade nine classroom.
I looked up from my fizzing-over thermos and grinned.
Umm . . . Mom had filled it with Seven-Up.
The first and only time.
Another attempt at variety.
A good one, but wasted on me.
Later, when I started making my own lunches, they included fresh tomato sandwiches.
Made from tomatoes that I sliced at school so the bread wouldn't get soggy.
And packages of celephane-wrapped goodies.
The sandwiches were good.
Though they were made with store-bought bread.
But the treats never quite measured up.
To this day, when I hear someone mention lunch, I think of my Mom's homemade bread sandwiches, hot chocolate and my one experience with Seven-Up.
I miss those days.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cow Sniff

Watch out! She'll get you!
The morning milking happened . . . early.
Before any of the younger kids were stirring.
It was a peaceful time.
Just the farmer and the cows.
The afternoon milking, though was quite different.
Though the milker was still ensconced (real word) with the cows, the bustle of afternoon chores was going on all around.
Talk and laughter as the kids fed chickens and pigs.
Held buckets for the calves.
Hauled feed.
Opened and closed gates.
Chased kittens.
It was a busy, happy time.
And the baby generally was left with little to do.
Tristan was five.
He had helped feed.
And now was looking for Mom.
I should mention, here, that our little milk barn had two rooms.
One for the business part of the operation.
And a waiting room with a little pen.
I was milking Kitty.
One of our two gentle, little Jersey milk cows.
Bunny was in the outer room, already milked and patiently awaiting her freedom.
Tristan came into the barn.
"I'm here, sweetheart."
(Real conversation.)
"You done?"
I could hear sounds of someone small climbing the gate of the pen.
"Can I wait here?"
"Sure, sweetie. I'll just be a minute."
A heavy sigh. "Okay."
"Did you help feed?"
"Yeah. Are you coming?"
"Pretty soon."
Suddenly, "Mom! Mom!"
"What's the matter?"
"Mom! This cow is coming over!"
Cows are intensely curious. If something comes into their sphere, it needs to be investigated.
And smelled.
And tasted.
"She won't hurt you."
"Mom! She's getting closer!"
"She won't hurt you, sweetie!"
Then, indignantly, "Mom, she's getting sniff on me!"
Cow sniff.
If that's the worst that could happen . . .

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bathed. But Clean?

Okay, there are only six here. But you get the picture . . .
Mom is third from the left.

Bath time has changed over the past century.
The concept of indoor plumbing is really very recent.
In my mother's day, running water in the house meant that some enterprising and resourceful person had built the house over the well.
And designed the kitchen so that the sink was situated perfectly to accommodate the pump.
Right where the water was needed.
Clear and cold.
Directly from the ground.
Heating it to a decent temperature for such things as cooking and cleaning was a whole other process.
So . . . bath time.
I should mention, here, that I wasn't present for any of this.
I'm telling it as my mom told me.
Every Saturday night, Gramma Berg would pull out the large tub and set it in the middle of the kitchen floor.
Then painstakingly fill it bucket by bucket.
She had nine children, eight boys and my mom, to scrub.
And one tub to do it in.
The youngest went in first.
Then the second youngest.
All went well to this point.
Though the water was getting a bit . . . soapy.
But that is where her system inevitably broke down.
The fifth youngest son always exhibited the same reaction to stepping into warm water.
He peed.
In the water.
Every time.
And my Mom, who stood next in line would get a little . . . perturbed.
Gramma always tried to soothe her only daughter by pointing out that the water was mostly clean and soapy. And that Mom would get a good rinse with clean water.
But Mom was only slightly mollified (real word.)
I often wondered why, in my time, my mother so enjoyed her baths.
I didn't have to go back very far to find out.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Vermin Not Invited

Never in Alberta.

I love Alberta.
It's beautiful.
Wide, grassy prairies.
High, majestic mountains.
Blue skies.
Clear air.
Okay, I know that it gets cold in Alberta.
And yes, -40 is not uncommon.
But, probably because of the extreme temperatures, Alberta is missing a couple of very important things.
And I'm not complaining.
1. Alberta is the only place on earth that has no rats.
None. They are stopped at the borders, asked to produce a current passport, then turned away.
Let's face it, have you ever seen a rat with any passport, let alone a current one?
There is even a designated rat un-welcome committee stationed at every border.
An effective one.
Equipped with guns and traps.
And lots of cheese.
I don't know about you, but that would certainly indicate to me that I wasn't wanted.
Moving on . . .
So . . . no rats.
2. Alberta also has no big bugs.
Okay, we have bugs.
Just not big ones.
I've seen the pictures of people holding cockroaches that reach to their elbows and spiders that could easily carry off small children.
I know what big bugs look like.
And we don't have them.
That makes me happy.
We know how blessed we are.
Case in point:
Our son was preparing to go out to milk.
It was cold.
Alberta cold.
He was layering up at the back door.
Long johns.
Cotton socks.
Wool socks over cotton ones.
Heavy shirt.
Heavy coat.
Touque. (Warm Canadian winter hat)
Yep. In Canada, we pretty much invented layering.
And going outside isn't something you do at the spur of the moment.
It takes thought.
And time.
I was preparing breakfast and I could hear my son moving around at the back door.
And mumbling to himself.
I dried my hands and walked over to him.
What I heard was, " . . . cockroaches."
I moved closer.
"We don't get cockroaches," he said.
As he pulled on one sock.
"We don't get cockroaches."
Second sock.
"We don't get cockroches."
"We don't get cockroaches."
And so it went.
The same refrain with each and every layer.
Psyching himself up to open that door and get the blast of cold air in the face.
We live in Alberta.
It is beautiful.
And cold.
But we don't have rats.
Or get big bugs.
Sometimes it takes the one to appreciate the other.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Baling . . . Baling . . .

Add one brother and it's pretty close.

Not me, but you get the picture.
So to speak . . .

Eight years old.
In my children's day, that meant that they were allowed to dress themselves.
And bathe without three younger siblings in the tub.
In my day, it meant that I was now old enough to drive the tractor.
Pulling the baler.
My day had come!
My first lessons were a confused jumbled of clutch, steering wheel, gas pedal and 'Don't do that!'.
But I soon had it figured out and was able to drive a fairly straight path down the field.
Training over.
I was now ready for the real thing.
Dad directed me to the field where the rows of mown hay were nicely dried.
And ready to be baled.
I should point out here that we used a machine that popped out small, rectangular bales.
Depending on the type of grass, they weighed between 20 pounds (my favorite - made of prairie wool) and 90 pounds (my least favorite - made of something that resembled lead).
And were always moved by hand.
None of these gi-normous round or rectangular bales that you see in the fields now.
Bales that couldn't possibly be moved by anything other than a tractor.
Or Superman.
Who didn't live on our ranch.
Mmmm . . . Superman . . .
Where was I?
Oh, yes . . . baler.
The tractor person - me - was supposed to follow just to the left of the windrow (line of mown hay) and keep the pickup on the baler . . . umm . . . picking up.
Are we clear?
Let's start.
The hay is grabbed by little fingers rotating on the baler.
Then it is passed through the machine and tamped into a small, rectangular compartment.
Finally, the contraption manages to tie the bale with two strings of hemp string, and the whole thing is pushed out the back.
To where my brother, Jerry is waiting.
Jerry is standing on a stooker (small trailer) being pulled behind the baler.
The bales slide out of a chute straight into his arms.
Which he then stacks on a rack at the back of the trailer.
Four or five on the bottom.
Then one less.
Then one less.
Until a single bale marks the top of the stook.
Jerry then hits a leaver, which tips the trailer, dropping the neat stack off the back and launching him into the air.
I don't know about other stookers, but Jerry always used this upward motion to see how high he could jump.
It was very entertaining.
Or at least it would have been, if I weren't keeping my eyes trained on the windrow.
Ahem . . .
The only things I had to worry about were keeping true and not going too fast.
If one went too fast, the tamper couldn't keep up and hay would get clogged in the baler.
Which then resulted in a broken cotter pin.
And your brother running alongside the tractor and banging on the side to get your attention so he could put in a new one.
Or so I'm guessing.
It was a wonderful way to spend a hot July day.
The smell of fresh mown hay.
The blue sky.
Fresh, clear Alberta air.
Mountains shimmering on the horizon.
Your brother singing at the top of his lungs on the stooker.
And your mind busily creating all sorts of adventures.
A perfect world.
And discovered when I was eight.
From atop a tractor.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

When Rude Requires Rude

Our family loves taking holidays.
And for a simple country family from Southern Alberta, we have managed to cover a good portion of the globe.
We have had wonderful experiences.
Sunsets over the Mediterranean.
Fresh bratwurst in an open-air mall in Frankfurt.
Moving church services in an old cathedral in Cork.
A wild bus ride through the streets of London.
The smell of the dust in the air on a hot afternoon in Turkey.
The bustle on the streets in Paris.
But, sometimes, when we travel, we have . . . 'adventures'.
Let me explain . . .
We were touring one of the great cities in Europe.
And enjoying seeing things that for us, had existed only in pictures.
We wandered into a very popular tourist site.
And were instantly accosted by a small, but determined group of 'entrepreneurs'.
These people had made little bracelets and were anxious to make a sale.
At first, it seemed as though they wanted to present you with a little gift.
They would smilingly knot one around your wrist.
And I do mean 'knot'.
Then stand back and loudly demand money.
Great scam.
We had seen it happen to people walking just ahead of us.
“Keep your hands tucked in!” Grant whispered urgently to the rest of us.
“Don't let them grab you!”
I should point out here that we had no intention of letting them grab us.
And, through our travels, we had learned the great art of 'obtuse and avoidance'.
The tourist's best friend.
If you don't make eye contact and pretend you don't hear, you avoid a lot of unwanted purchases.
This didn't work here.
If you looked away, a pair of enthusiastic salesmen would move alongside.
One would grab your hand and the other would tie the bracelet firmly.
There was no way of getting rid of it, short of cutting it off.
You would be forced to pay.
We managed better than most.
You learn to be agile, working on a ranch.
But two of them had converged on our youngest daughter.
An outspoken girl of 21.
She had tucked both of her hands against her body and said, “No, thank you.” And, “I'm not interested.” And, “I don't want a bracelet.” several times.
Then she tried to break, as politely as she could, through the closed ranks around her.
Politeness and patience were wearing thin.
And not working in the slightest.
The salesmen had resorted to trying to physically take her hands, chattering enthusiastically in their native tongue.
She shifted back and forth, eluding them.
We started towards her, intent on rescue.
We weren't needed.
Before we could reach her, she suddenly shouted loudly at the two men, “Get the hell away from me!”
Did I mention outspoken?
All heads in the square turned.
Smiles broke out on many tourist faces.
The two would-be salesmen fell back and stared at her.
Finally, one of them drew himself up and sniffed, “There is no need to be rude!”
They disappeared, taking their little bracelets with them.
There was laughter and a small smattering of applause.
Okay, it came from us, but why haggle over details?
I was proud of my daughter.
She had tried to be polite.
She had tried to be firm.
But, faced with a situation in which neither of these tactics proved effective, she became fierce.
And won the day.
This was an isolated incident.
Fortunately, one of very few negative experiences we've had in our travels.
But it proved to us that when patience and good manners don't work . . .
Good old 'country spunk' will.
Take a farm girl.
"I have a baguette and I know how to use it!"

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