Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Welcome to the Neighbourhood. Not.

For farm use only . . .
For kids who had been raised on the farm, moving to the big town was a big step.
They handled it well.
The street we were on was a 'local traffic only' type.
Alive with kids and bikes and . . . playing.
Perfect for anyone excited at the prospect of making new friends.
Which my kids were.
In no time, they had troops of buddies traipsing through the house.
Playing in the yard.
Running in the street.
Okay, that last activity probably sounds . . . dangerous.
But there were nearly 50 kids living in the houses on our street.
Anyone coming into the street lived there.
And drove carefully.
Moving on . . .
For the first while, our family was simply happy to have landed in such a wonderful place.
Friendly neighbours.
Private park.
Tons of playmates.
A dream come true.
But, like many dreams, this one came with a cold dose of reality.
Let me explain.
Our house was built on the side of a hill.
With a potential walk-out basement.
Which didn't.
Walk-out, I mean.
But the balcony looking out from the back had a lovely view of the neighbours below and on either side of us.
And on to the fields outside of town.
The kids spent a lot of time out there on the balcony.
Talking and playing.
Hollering across at the neighbours' kids.
Generally having a good time.
But our children were essentially farm kids.
They were virtually innocent when it came to the sophisticated 'town' children.
One day, a young man came home with our oldest son.
They had played Nintendo for a while, then moved out on the back deck to see the sights.
Which included our next-door neighbour's three children, happily playing in their back yard.
Now, here is where the story gets sticky.
My son had a BB gun.
A 'You'll put your eye out!' BB gun.
On the farm, it had been great fun.
Target shooting.
Trying to hit gophers.
Sometime, I'll tell you about the gophers.
But once we had moved to town, the gun had stayed in a rack on the wall.
There was nothing to safely shoot at in town.
I emphasize the word, 'safely'.
But my son's new friend was intrigued by this toy.
He asked if he could hold it.
Take it outside.
Shoot at the fence boards.
Ummm . . . I guess that's all right.
But it didn't stop there.
The boy shot a couple of times at the fence.
Then decided that the little kids next door offered better targets.
My horror-struck son watched as the boy shot over the fence.
Then he grabbed the gun and ran down to his room.
Soon, there was a knock at our front door.
I opened it to find our neighbour, red-faced with anger.
“Did you know that your kids were shooting a BB gun at my kids?”
I stared at him.
Surely not.
My kids knew better than that.
Didn't they?
I hollered for my son, who dragged himself up the stairs.
The picture of guilt.
I didn't even have to ask.
“It was my friend,” he said. “He shot at the kids over the fence.”
“Well, he hit one of them,” the outraged dad said.
I looked at my son, horrified. “Why didn't you tell me?”
“I didn't know what to do,” my son said. “I grabbed the gun and ran with it.”
“Where's your friend?”
“He left.”
“Probably a good thing,” the dad muttered. “What's his name?”
My son told him.
He looked squarely at my son. “You have some apologizing to do,” he said. Then he stalked off down the street, intent on retribution.
My son and I stared at each other for a moment.
Then he quietly handed me the gun.
And walked next door to apologize.
We learned a few lessons that day.
  1. You can make friends with kids.
  2. But all kids don't make good friends.
  3. And farm toys seldom make the transition to town.
The BB gun never saw the light of day again, until we moved from that house and it ended up in the garage sale.
And my son found different friends.
Good friends.
Painful lessons, in more ways than one.
But well learned.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Great Moor of Southern Alberta

How peaceful it all looks.
So deceptive . . .

The 'tree field' on the ranch was just that.
A field.
With trees.
Distinguished from all of the other fields by their lack of said trees.
Because it had trees, it also offered cover.
And ideal place for spring calving.
I was Dad's herdsman.
It was my duty to oversee the spring calving.
And make sure that all calves . . . and their mothers . . . survived.
Normally, thing went well.
Occasionally, they did not.
But that is another story.
Usually, when I rode out to check the cows, I rode.
On a horse.
One of a selection of bone-headed ex-racehorses, I will admit.
Also another story.
On this day, I was in a hurry.
So I fired up Dad's one-ton truck.
The one with the dual rear wheels.
And headed out to the field.
I should explain, here, that the tree field had trees because it was situated next to the irrigation ditch.
A wide trench that meandered through the country side
And with which I also have a history.
Moving on . . .
In the spring, the gates are opened and water from the Old Man River diverted into the canals for irrigating the dry land farms and ranches throughout Southern Alberta.
It is an effective system.
But the canals were getting old.
And water seeped from them into the adjacent land.
Great if your land was close by and needed water.
Which the tree field was.
And did.
Thus – trees.
But the land could also become quite saturated.
And boggy.
Particularly in the clearing in the centre of the trees.
We thought it was very entertaining.
One could stomp on the seemingly dry ground and the land all around would quiver.
There was enough dry soil on top to hold up a cow.
Or my horses.
But remember, I was in the truck.
Considerably heavier than any horse or cow.
Back to my story.
I innocently drove out to check the herd.
The first pass, the one near the road, went well.
But there were no cows near the road, either.
I moved into the trees for a second pass.
Starting at the far east side of the field, I worked my way west.
Stopping now and then to walk into the trees to investigate a barely-seen patch of red hide.
I reached the far west side.
And started to turn.
It was then that I realized that I . . . and my truck . . . were sinking.
Here's something you don't see every day.
A truck, sinking out of sight in the middle of a dry land ranch in Southern Alberta.
I had two options.
  1. Holler for one of my parents.
  2. Mat that gas pedal and pray.
My parents were my parents. They lived to get me out of scrapes.
But both of them were at the ranch a mile away to the West.
I was on my own.
I went with my second option.
Mud and water sprayed from those dual tires as the truck struggled for purchase.
For a few, heart-stopping moments, it looked as though the bog would win.
Then, slowly, the truck started to climb up out of the hole.
Finally, I was flying along atop the bog.
I kept the gas pedal to the floor until I was through the tree line and solidly back on dry ground.
Then I stopped the truck and simply breathed.
I left the truck and walked (I may be a slow learner, but I do learn.) back to inspect the ruts I had left.
They were three feet deep and rapidly filling with water.
My brother told me later that I was a heartbeat away from losing the truck entirely.
“And the only thing that would have salvaged the situation would have been to call in a cherry-picker.”
I don't have to tell you that the 'cherry-picker' he is talking about had nothing to do with picking cherries.
And everything to do with being expensive.
Thank goodness for gas pedals.
And prayer.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Short Personal Chef

Oh, sure. He looks like that now . . .
I had a project.
Or more appropriately a PROJECT.
And a household to run.
And three little boys, aged six months to four years.
I needed help.
Let me explain . . .
My Husby was the director of the local Royal Canadian Mounted Police Museum.
And he had asked me to create a display for it.
A secret display.
Does that make sense?
Moving on . . .
I was to create, in latch-hook, the RCMP crest. 
No small feat.
I had a pattern.
I bought the materials.
I started in.
Now, I should point out, here, that my pattern had originally been designed to create the picture for a 'petit-point' medium.
250 stitches wide by 250 stitches long.
And should end up about four inches in size.
It could also be used for cross-stitch.
Which would make it about twelve inches.
I was doing latch hook.
Six feet square.
Enough said.
A project of that size and scope naturally was going to take time.
But the board of the museum was awaiting my 'surprise'.
I had to speed things along.
How to do that with three little boys.
Some of my usual duties were going to have to be shared.
Someone was gong to have to take over the cooking.
And the most likely candidate was my oldest boy, Markie.
Have I mentioned that he was four?
He was.
But, for six weeks, my four-year-old did all of the cooking in our house.
We ate fruit.
And anything he could manage to cook in the microwave.
We had hot dogs.
Fish sticks.
Lots of hot chocolate.
Cream of wheat.
Bowls of steamed vegetables.
Our menu was rather unvaried, but at least we ate.
And at the end of six weeks, fitted with an old barnwood frame created by my Husby, my RCMP crest 
was unveiled to the world.
The world liked it.
And I was able to smile and go back to being a Mom.
And relieve Markie of his cooking duties.
Everyone was happy.

There is a codicil . . .
To this day, Mark loves to cook.
His menu has grown vastly from hot dogs and anything 'microwavable'.
But when he's puttering in the kitchen, I still see that little boy.
The one who had to climb up on the cupboard to reach the microwave.
My little chef.
Picture it six feet square.
On a red Background.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When the 'Clean Bug' Bites Deep

Don't let the outside fool you . . .
Mom was a 'clean machine'.
She loved swept floors, made beds and clean surfaces.
And spent her days with a dust rag in her apron pocket and a broom in her hands.
She often requested assistance.
But her six kids and assorted hired men didn't always comply.
She never gave up.
She was nothing if not persistent.
"Pick that up!" was a favourite saying.
Followed closely by, "Make sure you put that away when you're done!"
Which went with, "If you had put it where it belonged, you'd be able to find it now!"
And there was always the ever popular, "Be sure you leave a place cleaner than when you found it!"
Yep. My Mom.
She tried hard.
But her offspring and assorted other residents were slow to take up the slack.
My brother, George, 'got it' first.
Dad had built a new shop, to my two older, mechanically-minded brothers' specific specifications.
It was a beautiful shop.
Brightly lit.
Containing all of the newest and best of equipment.
And organized to the 'nth' degree by George.
He spent a lot of time there.
One day, Mom needed something.
Her quest took her into the hallowed halls.
She opened the shop door and stepped inside.
George looked up.
"Wipe your feet," he said.
Mom's legacy truly lives on.
The apple definitely stayed in the near vicinity of that tree.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Blessed Art Thou, Mother

My Mom.
She of the wicked pen . . .
and wonderful cooking.
From my Mom . . .

Blessed art thou, woman.
For thou shalt be called 'Mother'.
Yea, and thy tasks and thy chores shall follow thee all the days of thy life.
And thou shalt eat the bread of thine own baking.
And thou shalt dwell forever in a dirty house, if thou dost not choose to clean it thyself.
Thou shalt arise before the cock croweth.
And thou shalt say unto thyself, "Where are the offspring which were given me? Yea, the sun has risen high in the sky and the hour grows late, wherefore I have been long at my labours."
And thou shalt go and find thine offspring prostrate in their cot.
And thou shalt say unto them, "Haste, arise and shine, for I have many labours for thee to perform; wherefore I have been many hours preparing the way."
And thine offspring linger in sleep and shall say unto thee, "Thou didst not watch the late, late, late show as I did last night and mine eyes are heavy and mine bones acheth."
And thou shalt say unto thy offspring, "Get thee up from thy cot; ere I lay a hand upon thee, and go ye hither and scrub a sparkling tub, for thou hast left black rings upon its sides."
And thy offspring shalt say unto thee, "I will go and do thy bidding - in a minute."
And thy rage shall know no end.
And thou shalt weep and wail and gnash thy teeth mightily.
Never-the-less, thou shalt scrub a sparkling tub thyself and glory shall be added unto thee, for thou didst not strike the lazy beast.
Thou are blessed above all others and thy descendants shall call thee 'Blessed', for thou preparest a table before them. Thou cookest meat and all manner of tasty vittles and they shall sit at thy table with thee and partake with thee.
And they shall add glory unto thy crown for they shall let thee also wash the dishes, if thou wilt.
And when the night falleth thou shalt be deflated, and thy offspring shall say unto thee, "She is an old woman, wherefore she neither goes dancing, nor does she watch the late, late, late show."
Thy art and thy craft shall make thee called upon and thou shalt labour at many tasks in thy kingdom for whosoever asketh.
Thou doest his bidding.
Thy back shall acheth with arthritis; thy cane and thy husband shall be thy support.
Thy veins shall be varicose in thine aching legs, but thou shalt do thy duty with a smile; neither shalt thou complain.
Thou are blessed with a crown every second Sunday in May.
Wherefore, thou art blessed above all others for thou are 'Mother' and thou shalt find joy in thy offspring forever.
If thou endureth to the end!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Chewing Gum

. . . or something similar . . .

We were driving to town.
Maybe that doesn't sound like earth-shattering news to you, but we lived a half-hour away.
When the roads were good.
This was an event.
Mom piled us six kids into the car.
Inquired as to bathroom status.
And started out.
I should mention, here, that the roads into Milk River were never great.
In dry conditions, they were a narrow, dusty, dirty track between two deep ditches.
In wet weather, they were a narrow, greasy, slippery amusement-park ride.
That was anything but amusing.
And they had to be navigated with utmost care and caution.
Picture my Mom's 1964 Envoy hurtling along at 65 MPH.
With six kids rolling about like dried peas.
But we were safe.
Mom had both hands on the wheel.
She would put out her arm if she was applying the brakes.
All was well.
Suddenly, we reached a stretch of road that had been 'graveled'.
I use this term lightly, because said gravel was uncrushed.
Fist to shoe-size.
Not good.
Mom slowed down, but rocks still spun and bounced, hurtling off into the ditch or hitting the underside of the car with deadly accuracy and vicious intent.
Finally one rock, a little larger than the others, hit with a metal 'clang' that shook the entire car.
Mom applied the brakes.
And deployed her patented arm gesture.
We all got out.
The smell of gasoline was strong in the dusty air.
We leaned down.
The last rock had put a hole in our gas tank.
Precious fuel was escaping, even as we looked.
Mom straightened.
What to do? What to do?
My oldest brother's jaws were moving, rhythmically.
For a moment, Mom stared at him.
Then she pounced. "Jerry! Are you chewing gum?"
My brother froze.
In our family, one wasn't allowed to chew gum in the car.
"Is anyone else chewing gum?"
We all stared at her.
She turned back to my brother. "Spit it out!"
"Um . . . why?"
"We can stuff it in the hole and fix the tank!"
But Jerry complied. Spitting a large wad of pink gum into his hand, he wriggled under the car and applied it.
We all bent down and looked.
It seemed to be working.
"Everybody in!" Mom said.
We lost no time, but scrambled back into the car and resumed our journey.
When we reached town, the car slid to a stop and we all piled out and bent over to look.
The gum had worked!
No more leak!
"We patched our gas tank with gum!" I proudly told curious passers-by.
They glanced at Mom's red face for confirmation.
She nodded.
Gum saves the day!

There is a codicil.
The shop that could have repaired our tank was closed for the weekend.
They used to do that in the 60s.
Mom had to drive home with her gum-patched tank.
Then drive back into town the next day for Church.
And back to the ranch again.
Then into town on Monday to finally effect repairs.
That gum not only got us into town, but it got us back home, back in, back home and back in.
I defy duct tape to perform - or taste - as well.
The perfect repair material.
Who knew?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Of Brothers and Horses

A reworked repost for a busy day. Enjoy!
My elder siblings. Before they were elder . . .

I was witnessing a miracle.
My brother, George, was on a horse.
The professed hater of horses was astride one.
I was so proud of him.
And excited.
A whole new world was opening up for me. 
I could picture long rides together, exploring the ranch, picnics in our saddlebags.
Okay, so neither of us actually had saddlebags, but we did know how to tie a bread bag of food behind our saddles.
That was almost as good.
I also have to admit that we never had quite acquired the knack of packing said food so that it didn’t mix together. Once we had chocolate cake and cheese, that . . . 
But that is another (shudder) story.
Moving on . . .
George was riding.
He was on his little pony, Star, doing circuits of the barnyard.
A slow start, but a start nonetheless.
I was on my way to the corral for my horse, Pinto. This amazing event simply had to be shared. I couldn’t pass up such an incredible opportunity.
Even as I approached the corral, however, I could see that destiny was working against us.
Destiny in the form of one of the hired men.
He was standing, motionless, next to the gate of said corral. In his posture I could detect . . . malevolence? Cunning? Creepy-ness?
No, just stupidity.
He reached out and . . . opened the gate.
Now the horses imprisoned there had been standing around for hours, heads hanging, trying their horsey best to look as unenergetic as possible. The hope being that, through their posture alone, they could discourage any potential slave drivers from inflicting them with our frivolous plans for . . . work.
Or anything work-y.
Dynamite couldn’t have moved them.
Only one thing could send the electric shock that would awaken them from their comatose state.
The promise of freedom.
Through that open gate, they could glimpse . . . far away-edness. 
And they made a straight line for it.
Right through my brother, George.
He was calm. He didn’t panic.
He had me for that.
I watched in horror as his little horse was scooped up by the rest and whisked off towards . . . wherever they were going.
With horses, you never know.
They don’t even know.
The entire group galloped as one, down the hill, along the river.
My brother’s blue coat was clearly visible in the melee as he clung desperately to the smallest horse.
Now one can only imagine the deadly possibilities.
The churning hoofs, flint hard and razor sharp.
Okay, I’m exaggerating.
But they still could cause some rather serious damage.
Even at four I knew that.
I spun around and headed for the house screaming at the top of my lungs, “My brother! My brother!”
Not really original, I’ll admit, but effective.
My Mom came on the run, white faced and breathless.
I pointed at the cloud of dust rapidly moving towards the nearest far-away place and jumped around a bit. 
The two of us stared at it.
And at the little cloud that was rapidly losing ground against the larger horses.
Star was falling behind.
It was then that we saw pony and blue jacket part company.
Sensing a safer moment, still not too far from the ranch buildings, George had decided to cut his losses, discard dignity, and bail off.
As his tiny figure began the long trek home, the two of us raced to meet him.
It was a joyous reunion.
George was bruised, both physically and emotionally.
And mad.
And no one can get mad like George.
Picture Dad.
But smaller and more concentrated.
Fortunately, he wasn’t mad at us.
Just at the hired man.
And every horse in the world.
A fact that (sigh) remains to this day.

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