Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, March 23, 2012

Prairie Eye Tests

Sigh. Just put them on . . .
My children were raised on Disney movies.
And the Great Canadian Plains are flat.
What do those statements have to do with eyesight?
Maybe I should explain . . .
In some parts of Alberta, the prairies stretch out, flat and almost featureless in all directions.
And you can see for miles.
If you can see.
Our eldest daughter was having greater and greater difficulty making out what was being written on her grade two blackboard.
We suspected that she would soon follow in the footsteps of both of her parents.
And all three of her older brothers.
We were saddened by this.
Caitlin had always been our little 'eagle eyes'.
Able to spot a MacDonalds sign from miles away.
The first one to spot a coyote or antelope.
Remember what I said about the prairies being flat?
We decided to test her.
One last attempt before we admitted defeat and took her to our good friend, soon to become our better friend, the optometrist.
We were driving.
A sign approached.
Visible for miles.
An easily read sign.
“Caitlin,” her dad said. “What does that sign say?”
Caitlin straightened up in the back seat, craning her neck to see out the front window. “It says . . .”
“Don't step on the mome raths!” came another little voice from the back seat.
Three-year-old Tiana had joined the conversation.
With the usual interesting results.
Maybe one too many times watching Alice in Wonderland?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Chokecherry Wine -or- You Made This, How?

Chokecherry syrup.
Delicious in so many ways.
And after so many months.
The digging out of the 'berry pails' wasn't always a reason for celebration.
When Mom headed towards the saskatoon bushes, yes.
But when the car turned to the chokecherry patch.
Not so much.
Don't get me wrong, we loved the end product of both enterprises.
But the picking of saskatoons also involved interim rewards.
Like the eating of said berries.
Again, not so much.
Fresh from the bush, they were . . . how shall I say this genteel-ly . . .?
In fact, before any of the bright red berries passed our lips, they had to be cooked and treated.
And added upon.
And poured into jars.
As jam.
Or even better, syrup.
You have to know that there was nothing quite like homemade chokecherry syrup on Mom's fluffy pancakes.
Where was I?
Oh, yes.
It was a great family favourite.
My Husby's mother made fabulous chokecherry syrup as well.
Every year.
She then dispensed bottles of it to eagerly awaiting offspring.
It went fast.
As soon as one bottle emptied, another took its place.
And therein (good word) lies a tale.
We had been using one bottle of syrup.
Then, as often happens in a household where ten people are sharing the fridge, our little bottle got pushed to the back and hidden behind a bottle of pickles.
I should explain, here, that we always purchased everything edible in gi-normous (made-up word denoting humongous-ness) sizes.
Because mealtime for our bunch strongly resembled the feeding of a threshing crew.
So the idea of a quart-sized bottle being hidden behind a monstrous jar shouldn't be too much of a surprise.
Moving on . . .
There our little jar remained.
While I opened another.
Which was subsequently used.
And replaced.
Some months later, when I finally reached the back of our fridge, I discovered our forgotten, woefully neglected little bottle of chokecherry syrup.
Dismayed at the thought of lost deliciousness, I opened the lid.
And sniffed.
Probably, I should mention that neither of us drink alcohol.
What follows makes more sense if I do.
“Grant, what's wrong with this chokecherry syrup?” I asked. “It smells . . . funny.”
“Funny, how?”
“Well, funny.”
I handed him the jar.
He sniffed. “I think you've created chokecherry wine, hon.” he said, grinning at me.
“What? How did I do that?”
“Fruit. Sugar. Neglect.”
Huh. So that's how it's done . . .
“So what do I do with it now?”
“Well I know someone who would probably enjoy it!”
We took it to our friend, who looked at it.
Swirled it around in the jar.
Sniffed it.
Then finally tasted it.
He looked at us. “Best chokecherry wine I've ever had,” he said, grinning.
Trust the two teetotallers to do it up right.
From the chokecherry patch, through Mom's kitchen (and fridge), to a tavern near you.
Bottom's up!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Prairie Pies

Saskatoon season.
The very best of times
On the prairies, pies come in two forms.
The edible.
And the inedible.
One kind is made from prairie fruit.
The other comes from cows.
One smells wonderful.
The other . . . doesn't.
Just FYI.
Sooo . . . prairie fruit.
This comes in the form of raspberries, strawberries, some apples, choke cherries and saskatoons.
The first three are grown mostly in gardens.
The latter two, in the creases and folds of the landscape near water.
The first three can be picked at any time during the summer, as they ripen.
The last two need planning.
Especially the saskatoons.
Their picking requires a family adventure.
And that's where the fun comes in.
Sometime in the summer, Mom's stack of pails would magically appear.
It was the signal for all of us kids to quickly get into our swimming suits because we were making a trip to the river to pick berries and go for a swim.
The best of times.
Mom had several favourite berry-picking spots.
All of them thick with bushes.
And none of them near our house.
She would load us, our pails and our towels, into the car.
And in a cloud of dust, we were off.
The saskatoon bushes started at the top of the cliff.
And grew downward.
Toward the river.
You had to move carefully.
And hang on.
Like little goats, we would scamper all over those bushes.
Or pretending to pick.
Mom's plan was always to have each of us fill a bucket.
Simple enough.
If kids hadn't also come equipped with mouths.
One handful into the bucket.
One handful into the mouth.
And so it went.
After a while, each of us would have half a bucket of berries.
A blue mouth.
And full tummy.
With the hot, summer sun shining down, the smell of baking sage and grass in ones nostrils, and one's family gathered around, it was pure heaven.
Then we would swim.
And to top it off, fresh saskatoon pie when we got home.
Did I mention the best of days?

There is an addendum:
Picking chokecherries wasn't nearly as much fun.
For one thing, they are SOUR.
But they make the nicest syrup.
And that is another story.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dads, Dates, Football and Spaghetti

Daddy and me.
Okay, picture us a few years older.
But just as cute . . .
I was on a date with my Dad.
The best of times.
I had been working at my 'first-official-job-wherein-Dad-was-not-my-boss' in Calgary, Alberta, and having the time of my life.
Have you noticed that saying 'having the time of your life' doesn't necessarily denote 'good' or 'bad'?
I mean, it could mean the worst time of my life.
Or the best time of my life.
Just saying..
Moving on . . .
Dad had to come up to the big city on business and had stopped in to my work to ask the boss (whom he was good friends with and NO, that's not the reason I got the job. Not that I'm admitting anyway . . .) if he could take his best girl out on a date.
My boss smilingly agreed and I was free for the day.
There are perks to having your father be good friends with your boss.
Dad took me to a football game.
It was a perfect day.
Crisp, cold air, but not too chilly.
Blue, blue sky.
Okay, I'm remembering it how I want.
Dad and I had been sitting through the game.
Cheering on all of the guys in red, white and black.
I used to be a football cheerleader.
I had a vague idea of what the game entailed.
Get the ball across the opposing team's goal line.
By whatever means necessary.
Then hug the players if they won.
And especially if they lost.
But partway through the game, I had a blinding revelation.
“Dad, all of those players have spent all of this time fighting for control of the ball!”
Dad looked at me. “Yes,” he said, doubtfully.
“Well, I just had an idea!”
His eyes narrowed. Dad was used to my brilliant ideas.
“Go on,” he said.
“Well, if they're just going to fight over the ball,” I said, “why don't they just use two balls?”
Okay, we thought it was hilarious.
The guy in front of us? Not so much.
“Could you please shut up?” he demanded. “Some of us are trying to enjoy the game!”
We decided it was a good time for Dad to take me to dinner.
We went to my favourite restaurant.
The one I went to only when Dad was buying.
Old Spaghetti Factory.
We were seated in the old trolley car that is central to every OSF restaurant.
Things were getting busy.
Soft music was playing.
Quiet talk and laughter around us.
Gentle chime of silverware on china.
Subdued, romantic lighting.
The server brought us our menus and fresh, warm bread with selections of butter, then withdrew while we sliced, ate and perused.
Now you know why it is my favourite restaurant . . .
Dad was studying his menu.
“Can you read this?” he asked, finally.
I glanced down. “Ye-es,” I said, slowly.
“Well, I can't!”
He pulled out a matchbook and proceeded to light a match.
Then used its light to read his menu.
Did I mention the 'subdued' lighting?
The server sprinted towards our table.
“Problems, sir?” he asked.
Dad looked at him, lit match still in hand. “Nope.” Then turned back to his menu. “But I think my daughter and I are ready to order.”
There is nothing . . . nothing like a date with your dad.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Service by the Stupid

Server and Servee.
I'm a people-pleaser.
Or try to be.
Call it a weakness.
But I've always had this compulsion to make everyone around me as comfortable as possible.
Most of the time, it's fun.
Occasionally, not.
Let me tell you about it.
When I was first married, my greatest wish was to see my new Husby happy, comfortable and well-fed.
I worked hard at it.
Fortunately, he is a kind and considerate man, so all was well.
I had meals ready at meal times.
Kept the laundry done.
Cleaned the house.
Ran errands for him.
This went on for some time.
Then, I began to realize that some of the 'errands' were jobs he could have done equally well himself.
And probably should.
Case in point:
Whenever he would use a tissue ( Kleenex), he would then hand me said used tissue and I would hunt for a garbage to throw it in.
True story.
Can everyone say “gullible”?
This went on for nearly three years.
Then, one day, we were at a reception.
My Husby used a tissue and turned and held it out to me.
Now, the normal people-pleasing Diane would have taken it and found a place to dispose of it.
The new Diane looked at the tissue, then at my Husby and said, “Throw it out yourself.”
Whereupon (good word) he laughed and stuck it into his pocket. “Finally caught on, did you?” he said.
And that's when I hit him.
Oh, not hard.
Just enough for him to know that I was . . . displeased.
And that he could run his own stupid errands from now on.
I said it.
Kleenex, anyone?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Riding Lessons

See? Blue.
When my husband married me, he got more than he expected.
I came with baggage.
More correctly.
A horse.
Blue in colour.
Aptly named, 'Bluey'.
Okay, so creative, we weren't.
Bluey was . . . not a pretty horse.
She was an appaloosa mare.
About ten years old.
Like many of her breed, she had no mane.
And an embarrassment for a tail.
But she was gentle and quiet.
Patient and un-stampedable.
Perfect for farm kids.
But she had one fault.
She was tall.
Too tall for the average child to climb on unassisted.
And that's where my story starts.
Mark and Erik, our two oldest boys, were in Bluey's field.
Mark, 4, especially loved to ride.
But neither he nor his younger brother could climb up on their gentle friend.
Even though she was perfectly willing to stand quietly while they tried.
First, it was Erik helping his brother.
But they quickly discovered that three-year-old Erik's muscles simply weren't up to the task.
Finally, Mark had an idea.
He could help his little brother get up on Bluey.
At least one of them could have fun.
I have often imagined the conversation . . .
Mark: “Here, Erik, I'll boost your up.”
Erik (eyeing the mare suspiciously): “I want to go home.”
Mark: “In a minute. First, you get to have a little ride.”
Erik: “Don't want to ride.”
Mark: “Yes you do. It's fun.”
Erik: “Pretty sure I don't.”
Mark: “You're little. What do you know? C'mon.”
Erik: “Sigh.”
He submitted.
Once he was safely installed, Mark stepped back.
And gave the mare a slap.
'To get her going'.
She went.
Right out from under Erik.
Not a good thing.
A short time later, two boys came to the house.
One in tears.
They had both learned an important lesson.
The hardest thing about learning to ride is the ground.

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