Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cowboy Resumes

Who would you hire?

To a cowboy looking for employment in the 50s, the Stringam spread proved enticing.
Many times, someone would ride in with everything he owned on his back and in his saddle bags.
Usually at mealtimes.
Inevitably he would be invited to put up his horse and stay to eat.
The interview had begun.
During the meal, everyone seated around the table would ply the newcomer with questions:
Where are you from?
Where have you been?
Where are you going?
But the boss would be watching for answers to the unasked questions.
By the end of the meal, his decision would be made.
And the cowboy would be directed to the bunkhouse.
Or the highway.
We often wondered how Dad did it.
How could he tell what kind of a man/hand this stranger would be?
He finally let us in on his secret.
Or secrets.
By the way the man swung into the saddle and handled his horse, Dad could tell he'd had lots of experience.
The fact that he treated his horse with affection and respect, told Dad he was trustworthy.
He carried very little tack, so Dad knew he wasn't a thief.
He'd worked at the Bar K for two years and Dad knew their standards and expectations, so the man had been well-trained.
And last, he wasn't flamboyant in his dress. No ten-gallon hat or silver, big-rowelled spurs. The man had his needs and wants under control.
He was hired.
My Dad was seldom wrong.
Although once, some . . . refining was needed.
Let me explain . . .
Luke rode into the ranch yard, looking for work.
He was invited to loosen his girthstrap and join the boys for dinner.
He complied.
Talk was general as the boys got to know him.
There seemed to be a broad consensus that Luke was okay.
Everyone looked at Dad.
Who nodded.
Luke was directed to the bunkhouse and given a bunk.
The door closed.
And that's when everyone got the first whiff of Luke's one . . . drawback.
Luke didn't like water.
More particularly, washing in it.
At first, the boys were subtle.
Opening the windows.
And then the doors.
Then they started making comments.
“Whew! It sure smells in here!”
“I think someone needs a bath!”
Which got more pointed.
“Yak! I'm choking to death!”
With looks directed at the offending party.
Luke remained stubbornly oblivious.
Finally, the rest of the boys grabbed their bedrolls and toted them to the big ranch house.
“Morning, Ma'am,” the first one said. “We're moving into your attic!”
“Yep. There's poison gas in the bunk house,” the second one said.
“We're choking to death!” said a third.
And they did.
Move in, I mean. Not die.
Mom turned to Dad, eyebrows raised.
Dad shrugged his shoulders. “I'll talk to them,” he said.
He must have.
Because that evening, the boys moved back into their bunk house.
Then roped Luke, hauled him down to the river and scrubbed him down themselves.
All was quiet for a week.
Till glances and remarks indicated that the next 'bathing' was being contemplated.
This time, Luke hauled himself to the river and scrubbed off.
From then on, all one of the boys had to do was take down his rope.
And Luke would scurry for the shower.
Oh, he complained. “Too much water is bad for the health!”
His words, not mine.
But he did it.
And the sweet, clean air of the Alberta prairies once more wafted through the bunkhouse.
Hiring is a tricky business.
But with discernment, skill . . .
And soap . . .
It can be done.

Skiing - An Uplifting Experience

It's spring time in Edmonton. 
Which is really no different from winter.
Except for the date.
Today we were driving past one of the many ski hills that abound in the area.
The slopes were covered with intrepid skiers.
And not-so-intrepid ones.
But watching them ride the lifts reminded me of something . . .

Years ago, our family used to ski Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana.
Every winter.
It was the highlight of our year.
Well, mine, anyway.
Dad forked over a whopping $3. per ticket for us to ride all the lifts all day.
Watched as we attached said ticket to our ski jackets.
Then waved us off cheerily.
I don't know what he and Mom did all day while we kids were having the time of our lives.
But as long as he showed up at the end of the day and immediately took us to be fed, we were happy.
But back to the ski slope . . .
At that time, Big Mountain had four main slopes.
There was the bunny hill.
Which we learned on.
Then immediately spurned.
Two intermediate slopes.
Where I and my siblings spent the most time.
And, finally, the advanced slope.
Which, for me, merely served as the entrance to the back trails. (See here.)
Oh, I skied it.
And ended up taking off my skis and walking down.
Don't ask.
Moving on . . .
The first thing we learned about skiing was the fact that you had to get to the top of the hill before you could come down.
Skiing 101.
And that required the use of the tows/lifts.
Sure. It looks fun here . . .
The bunny slope had a rope tow.
A very sneaky rope tow.
Consisting of a rope running continuously.
I assume it was pulled by some sort of . . . pulley.
The rope had to be approached cautiously.
One would place one's mittened hands on the rope.
Then slowly tighten said hands around the heavy, quickly-moving hemp until finally, one's grip was tight enough to actually start one sliding up the hill.
It wasn't as easy as it sounds.
If one gripped too hard, the rope would jerk one off one's feet.
Which, I must admit was hilarious.
Unless it was you.
And, even funnier was the sight of a pulled-off/escaped mitten riding up the rope.
All by itself.
Do not attempt this without supervision.
The tow on one of the intermediate hills was a little more . . . touchy.
It was the 'poma' lift.
Pomas consisted of a long pole attached to the high tow wire.
With a little disc welded onto the bottom.
Which disc, when inserted between the skiers legs, would, theoretically pull one up the hill.
It took practice.
A lot of practice.
There were the inevitable mishaps and false starts.
People who lost their grip on the poma and watched it spring up into the air.
While the hapless skier slid to a halt down below.
Or, better yet, the people who lost their balance and were dragged several feet before they realized that any hope of completing their ride to the top was gone and that their best tactic at that point was to . . . let go.
The poma lift always attracted a non-skiing group of observers.
Whose sole purpose was to watch.
And laugh.
I should mention, too, that getting off was . . . tricky.
Enough said.
Effective. And cosy.
The other intermediate slope tow was a 'T' bar.
A bar in the shape of a T.
That pulled two riders up the slope.
Or one rider if the other one fell over.
Which happened a lot.
If you were a bit more of a skiing expert, you got to ride the chair lift.
The most fun of all.
And the easiest to ride.
How often does that happen?
The problem was that it took one to the very highest slope.
And the steepest (see above).
My siblings and I became experts on each of these lifts.
The Ultimate.
Oh, not all at once.
It took time.
And we had our learning curve.
Which was infinitely more 'curve' than 'learning'.
But still, we had fun.
And were finally able to stop providing entertainment for the jerks.
Masters of the ski lifts.
Life just didn't get any better.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Less Than Quiet

It's 'take a friend to Church' day!
Take these!

We are a church-attending family.
Always have been.
We love it.
The quiet, peaceful feeling that comes from stepping into the Lord's house.
There is only one problem.
One is expected to keep that quiet, peaceful feeling by being . . . quiet.
And peaceful.
Maybe you haven't noticed, but our family isn't very often quiet.
Well, seldom.
Okay. Never.
So, going from loud and noisy to . . . less loud and noisy takes effort.
And resourcefulness.
Something my Mom had 'in spades'. (A gambling term for 'a lot of'.)
Not that I've ever gambled.
Ahem . . .
She would tote a huge bag of books and things quiet to church every week in a bid to effect reverent behaviour.
It worked.
For a time.
Then we outgrew her books and toys and games.
I know. I know.
That's about the time we should have been able to sit and listen without visual aids.
We didn't.
Instead, our teen-aged selves resorted to more grown-up ways of entertaining ourselves.
And remember – electronic diversion existed only in the mind of Gene Roddenberry at this time.
We had pens.
We had paper.
We drew pictures.
But not just any pictures.
Pictures designed specifically to make whichever sibling was sitting next to us, laugh.
And get glared at and shushed by Mom.
It was a fun game.
My next older brother, George, was the best at it.
He could quickly sketch the weirdest people or animals or machines.
Then supply them with the best captions.
His was a rare form of genius.
I will call it spiritualavoidance supersonicus.
Or SAS for short.
He could have taught classes.

There is a codicil:
My Husby always had his pockets full of strange and wondrous treasures specifically designed to keep our youngsters quiet during our hour-long Church service.
I often marvelled at his ingenuity.
And resourcefulness.
His little figures and toys kept all six of them entertained right up until the time that they moved out and into their own lives.
But shortly after the youngest left, I realized that Grant's toys weren't specifically to entertain his kids.
Remember SAS?
And having somethings 'in spades'?
That would apply here as well.
Grant still had his pockets full of animals.
I wondered why.
I didn't wonder for long.
I lead the music.
Several times during the service, I have to make the short trip to the front of the chapel.
While he remains sitting on our bench.
Second back, directly in front of me.
That's when his little friends come out to play.
Solely for my benefit.
Picture it.
I'm at the front, waving my arm and trying to act dignified and serious.
He's on our bench, making his little friends dance and sing to the music.
I should mention, here, that his favourites are the little animal heads on a stick, whose mouths open and close by working a trigger system.
And those little suckers can sing!
His goal?
To make me smile.
It works.
Where's my Mom when I need her?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Could I just Take One to Go? And Come. And Go.

Just look at it.
So innocent. So tempting.

My Husby has as secret longing.
Oh, it's not a bad thing.
Unless you are the one purchasing the replacements.
Maybe I should explain . . .
My Husby has a secret yearning to run over traffic cones.
You heard me right.
He has always wanted to run them over.
I don't know why.
Because they're there?
Because they silently direct his life?
Because they forbid entrance?
All of the above?
But the fact remains that he would dearly love to run one over.
And probably would, if he weren't married to me.
The person who happily keeps him on the straight and narrow.
“Honey, you're getting a bit close.”
“Honey, you'd better move back into the middle of the lane.”
Calm now.
Driving with us is an interesting experience.
Moving on . . .
He finally gave in to his urge.
But not in the way you may think.
He went out and bought himself a cone of his very own.
For two days, it sat on my kitchen table.
Where he could admire it.
Then it found its permanent home.
In the center of our driveway.
Close to the garage entrance.
I stared at it.
Then at him.
What on earth was he thinking?
I soon found out.
Every night when he comes home from work, he drives over it.
Flattening it completely.
Then, when he backs out in the morning, it springs back upright.
Ready and waiting to welcome him home once more.
He's a happy man.
But who knew those things were so tough?
If I had found out sooner, I might have let him hit a couple.
Now what are we going to do about my secret urge to drive through one of those little wooden barriers that they put across restricted roads?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wanted: Troll (Must Have Own Bridge)

For three wonderful years, we lived in a perfect house.
Oh, don't get me wrong, all of our homes have been wonderful.
And very comfortable.
But this particular house was all of those things.
And a little bit more.
Because it had a stairway that was perfect for playing 'Troll Under the Bridge'.
It's a real game.
You can look it up.
It will be found somewhere under 'Tolley: Favourite Games'.
True story.
Okay, my Husby made it up.
But it was still fun.
The stairway in our house consisted of a short upper set of six thickly-carpeted steps.
Ending at a wide, also-carpeted landing.
Then a 180 degree turn before descending the last six steps to the basement.
A beautiful hunting/trapping/escaping set up.
Which was very well used.
My Husby would pretend he was a troll and lay on the stairs.
His head just poking above the top stair.
All of his little Billy Goats Gruff could try to run past him along the upper hallway.
Screaming and giggling wildly.
One by one, he would nab them and demand to know who they were.
One by one they would answer, “I'm a Billy Goat Gruff!”
Whereupon (good word) he would shout, “No Billy Goats on my bridge!” and set them behind him on the landing/prison.
Then, as he hunted for more victims, the entrapped would escape back up the stairs, still screaming and giggling.
And join once more with their fellow little goats in teasing and tantalizing the troll.
This went on for some time.
Usually until Dad got played out.
Then, one day, we moved from that house.
Subsequent (Ooo, another good word!) houses had similar, but not quite as perfect designs for playing Troll Under the Bridge.
The family made do.
Move forward 15 years . . .
Our present house is entirely unsuitable for the game.
It is a bungalow with one long, very dangerous, grandma-nightmare-inducing stairway.
We have put a gate at the top, which is rigidly patrolled whenever grandchildren come over to play.
A great disappointment to grandchildren who have been raised on stories of Troll Under the Bridge, as fondly told by their parents.
But in our front room, we have a large hassock.
(Ottoman, pouffe, footstool.)
Leather covered.
Padded top.
And it stands in front of our couch.
With a two-foot space between.
Hmmmm . . .
A few pool noodles strapped together with a bit of duct tape.
A bridge.
Propped between the couch and the hassock, the scene for the new and improved Troll Under the Bridge.
Which the next generation of Tolleys has taken to with great enthusiasm.
With just as much noise and exuberance as their parents.
There are a couple of subtle differences, though.
  1. The grandkids are a bit craftier than their parents had been.
Our nearly-four-year-old grandson, when seized and questioned by the troll, answered readily, “I'm a troll.”
My Husby/troll blinked.
This was a first.
But, since trolls are allowed on the bridge, the boy was allowed a free pass.
Smarty pants.
  1. The troll gets played out rather quickly.
He is, after all, an older troll now, with lots of grey hair and a few creaking joints.
Usually, he is finished long before the shrieking hoards are even close to admitting defeat.
And after they leave, he collapses on the couch and takes a nap.
Ah, the price of joy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Smoking Can be . . . Scary

Admit it. This strikes terror into your heart!
Maybe I overreacted.
We were on holiday.
In a foreign land.
France, to be exact.
And having a glorious time.
Our family had just finished an underground rafting trip.
Did I mention that we were under the ground?
Well we were.
And it was fantastic!
Feeling slightly euphoric, we had driven to our hotel and were unpacking in the parking lot.
Other stuff that wasn't suitcases or food.
Our rooms were on the second floor.
One door opening from the long communal balcony into two separate units.
I dragged myself and my load up to the second floor.
Then looked back into the parking lot where the rest of the family was still in the process of unloading/loading.
There, standing in the very center of the lot was a young man, dressed completely in black.
Black hoodie pulled up over his head so that only his nose showed.
He was just standing there quietly.
Looking up at me.
It was . . . startling.
I stared back at him for a moment, then turning, shoved my key in the door and escaped into my room.
Throwing my load onto the closest bed, I took a quick look around.
Nice, quiet little room.
Two double beds.
Then I walked over to the window.
And threw open the curtains.
The man in black was standing directly outside the window, now looking into my room.
I screamed.
I admit it.
He had been mysterious, standing down there in the parking lot.
Standing right outside my window, he was downright frightening.
And really, really creepy.
He made some sort of gesture, but I didn't notice.
I was too busy pulling the curtains shut and crawling under the bed.
Okay, so heroine material, I'm not.
My husby toted his burden of suitcases, etc. into the room a couple of seconds later.
And stared at me as I crawled out from under the bed.
“Ummm . . . looking for anything in particular?”
“No. That guy just frightened me,” I said, as calmly as possible.
“What guy?”
“The one dressed in black. Out there on the balcony.”
“There was a guy out on the balcony?”
“How could you miss him!” I demanded. “He was right there!”
My Husby walked across the room and whipped the curtains back.
I caught my breath.
Isn't this sounding mysterious?
There was no one there.
“But he was right outside! Looking into the room!” I stomped over to the window and peered out.
The man had disappeared.
“Huh. Weird.”
My husband was staring at me. “I think you were down in that cave too long,” he said.
I snorted.
I want to point out that it was a ladylike snort. Because I am a . . . oh, never mind.
When my kids arrived a few seconds later, I challenged them.
“Did you guys see the scary guy in black?”
They too, stared at me. “Scary guy in black?”
“Yeah. He was down there.” I pointed.
“Oh, you mean the one down in the parking lot who was trying to bum cigarettes?”
Cigarettes? Ahem. "Yes. That would be the one.”
“Yeah. We just told him we didn't smoke and he left.”
So much for my scary encounter.
I had been hiding under the bed to escape a . . . broke smoker.
Holidaying can be such a learning experience.
But never quite the way you imagine it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I Can Do It! - or - The Night the Lights Went Out in Alberta

When this . . .
Becomes this . . .

Dinner time on the Stringam ranch was the best part of the day.
Plenty of good food.
Lots of company.
Stimulating conversation.
The quiet melding of day's work and evening's relaxation.
But, as usually happens, the good times must end.
And be followed by the un-stimulating.
The mundane.
The dishes.
A subtle reminder that there was payment required for the privilege of eating at one of the world's best tables.
Everyone had their assignments.
Up until this point, mine had been to collect the silverware.
And things un-breakable.
Oh, and stay out from under foot of those whose job it was to deal with the more fragile of the table's settings.
But I had recently turned eight.
My duties had suddenly become more onerous.
Remember what I said about things breakable?
That would definitely come in here . . .
My job now included the ceremonial carrying of the plates to the sink.
The beautiful plates that featured a hand-drawn etching of either a horse or a bull.
For the first few weeks, I carried them one at a time.
It took a while, but no plate was damaged.
Then I got . . . efficient.
And creative.
If I scraped everything onto one plate, I could stack the plates at the table and, theoretically, carry them several at a time to the sink.
A much more efficient system.
And a great saving of my valuable time.
I did it.
First with a couple of plates.
Then three.
Finally, through a system of trial and error, I discovered that I could carry a total of eight plates at a time.
The time savings were astronomical.
I staggered under the weight of so many heavy dishes, but I got my job done in a fraction of the time.
One evening, Dad had watched me at my job.
Eyeing the heavy stack of plates uncertainly.
“Are you sure you can carry all of those, Diane?”
“Oh, I do it all of the time, Daddy!” I chirped happily, pulling the stack towards me.
“Well they look a bit heavy for you.”
“On, no! Look. I can do it!”
No sooner were the words out of my mouth then the entire stack of beautifully illustrated plates slipped from my hands and fell to the floor.
It was a crash of Biblical proportions.
I don't know what that means, but it sounds mighty.
Which it was.
The crash, I mean.
For a moment, I stared in horror at the mass of broken crockery at my feet.
The sound had drawn people from the far reaches of the house.
And even in from the yard, where the cowboys were enjoying an evening smoke.
Everyone was present to witness my utter failure.
There was only one thing to do.
And I made it good.
Angry words were swallowed as everyone rushed to comfort me.
“Diane, what did I just say?”
Gulp. “The stack was too heavy.”
“And . . .?”
“It wa-a-a-a-s!”
“Okay, no use crying over it,” Mom said, coming to my rescue. “Help me clean it up.”
I should mention here that Jerry, he whose job it was to wash that night, should have thanked me for relieving him of a large part of his chore.
He didn't.
He owes me one.
Moving on . . .
One plate survived.
One of the bulls.
And it remained.
A gentle, subtle reminder that one should never take on too much at once.
Or tragedy can follow.
Good lessons.
Expensively taught.

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