Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, April 13, 2012

Making His Mark . . . So to Speak

The scene of the crime
University of Guelph
Notice the tower in the back.
That's all. Just notice it . . .
I don’t want you to get the idea that my Dad, Mark Stringam, was a trouble- maker.
Okay, maybe I do.
Dad was a trouble-maker.
I think it had something to do with being born on April 1.
If the theory that ‘the day makes the child’ means anything.
Okay, yes, I just made that theory up.
Moving on . . .
So Dad was born on April 1 and thought it was as good an excuse as any to be . . . mischievous.
His pranks at home and in grade school are many.
And varied.
And will be dealt with in future blogs.
This story is about a prank from his college years.
One where foresight would have been helpful.
Another of his smellier pranks is illustrated here.
Back to my story.
Dad went to Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph.
Named for the beautiful province of Ontario, where it resided.
Okay, so creative naming wasn’t their strong suit.
It was an excellent college.
It managed to take a young goof-ball.
And turn him into a learned, young goof-ball.
Don’t tell him I said that . . .
He graduated in 1948.
It was a date worth celebrating.
So his classmates did.
With bottles and glasses of things alcoholic.
But Dad didn’t drink.
He had to get creative and endanger himself in a whole different way.
Something he accomplished by hanging (with a couple of friends) from the water tower and painting a large ‘Grad 48’ on the side.
Dad’s 'celebrating' could be seen for miles.
He was very proud.
Not everyone saw the beauty and creativity in Dad’s accomplishment, however.
There were words.
Loudly and irately spoken.
By people in authority.
Which Dad ignored.
And then a team of steeplejacks was brought in from Toronto to paint out his sign.
And obliterate what the management considered his lack of creative and artistic talent.
Pfff. What does management know?
Dad watched the men clamber around on the tower.
Taking hours to do what had only taken him minutes.
But he learned something:
1.      1.   Jobs requiring you to dangle 100 feet off the ground should be undertaken with safety apparatus.
2.      2.  Any job worth doing is worth doing well.
3.      3.   Steeplejacks make more money than veterinarians.
Oh, I’m not saying he internalized what he learned.
He just had fun learning it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sing We Now While Camping -or - What is your family's most annoying camp song?

With grandchildren

Our family was camping.
With our good friends, the Boyd family.
Something we have done every year.
For the past 24 years.
Rain or shine.
Usually rain.
It involves work.
Setting up trailers and tents for nearly thirty people inevitably includes some sort of exertion.
1.      1.  There is the usual ‘tarp wars’.
Won by whichever family can set up the best, tightest, most wrinkle-free campsite covering.
2.      2.  The leveling of the tents/trailers.
Highly important if some members of the tribe are susceptible to headache.
Inevitably brought on by sleeping with one’s head tilted below one’s feet.
3.      3.  And the choosing of the ‘Boydolley’ camp song.
This is very important.
It has to be the most aggravating, annoying, ‘stick in your head’ song imaginable.
We’ve had such treasures as: ‘Oh, How I Love to Stand’.
And: ‘Hi! My Name is Joe!’
Plus the ever-popular: ‘Ninety-Nine Bottles of Non-Alcoholic Beverage on the Wall’.
And who can forget: ‘Jon Jonson’?
Seriously, who can forget it . . .?
And then there’s the year that the Grandkids were finally old enough to get involved.
And vote.
What did they choose?
What classic would take its rightful place in history?
Was it something momentous?
It was ‘Slithery Dee’.
The classic song featuring a monster that comes out of the sea and eats everyone.
Perfect camp fare.
For a family camped beside a lake.
Moving on . . .
There were various versions.
Depending largely on the age and capability of the singer.
Megan, the eldest could sing it quite well, “Oh, Slithery-Dee!”
Right behind her was Kyra, “Oh, Swivery-Dee!”
And then there was the youngest talker, Odin, “Oh, Dee-Dee-Dee-Dee!”
They sang it by the hour.
And I do mean By. The. Hour.
Until . . . THE EVENT.
It was early afternoon.
Lunch had just finished.
Grandma (me) was lying on the bed in our tent trailer, telling stories to as many of the grandkids as would lay there and listen.
At nearest count – several.
Then they asked to sing ‘Slithery-Dee’.
I complied.
We were just getting through the first verse, wherein (good word) Megan had been eaten.
Then we were interrupted.
I should tell you, here, that our little tent trailer consists of a central square block.
With three wings/beds.
Each wing is covered by the main canvas, which hooks under said wing.
Canvas that can be . . . unhooked.
Without the person, or persons, on the wing knowing anything about it.
Back to my story . . .
Where were we?
Oh, yes.
End of first verse.
Unbeknownst (another good word!) to us, my Husby had unhooked the canvas immediately below us.
Just as we started to sing, “Oh, Slithery-Dee!”, a hand and arm reached up through the wall of the trailer and grabbed the nearest grandchild.
Who promptly screamed.
Inciting an immediate riot.
Grandma and grandchildren boiled out of the trailer like angry bees.
Then, realizing what had happened, started to laugh.
After we beat on Grandpa.
Every minute a new adventure.
What does your camp song do for you?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Badgers!


The Stringam ranch sprawled out over many, many miles.
And took many hands to cover.
My Dad was twelve.
He had happily joined the ranks of the ranch-employed.
Aboard the first horse he could truly call his own.
The recently-broke and still fairly green, Queenie.
His pride and joy.
His first assignment was to keep an eye on the bulls.
I should point out, here, that the bulls were kept in the South pasture.
A vast, open field which went on forever.
With an outer fence that also went on forever.
Back to my story . . .
This fence had to be constantly patrolled.
On the other side of it were the Community Pastures.
Filled with . . . community cattle.
All female.
And none pregnant.
A state which their owners wanted to continue.
So someone had to explain to the bulls that any form of interaction was distinctly discouraged.
This was Dad's job. Make sure that the fence was doing its job.
Keeping the heifers on the one side . . .
And the bulls on the other.
But bulls are, after all, bulls.
And when the siren song goes off in their vicinity, they must answer.
With voice and/or action.
Usually action.
What's a paltry five lines of tightly-stretched barbed wire when love is calling to you from the other side?
They would ignore it as if it wasn't there.
And that's where Dad came in.
At a gallop.
Chase the bulls back.
Fix the fence.
He got pretty good at his job.
One day, he was riding along the fence.
Everything was calm.
Then, something moved.
A brown head poked up out of the great sea of grass.
A brown head with darker brown stripes.
A badger.
Dad had never seen a badger close up.
He turned Queenie towards it.
It turned away from them and started off across the prairie.
They followed.
It ran faster.
They pursued faster.
After a few minutes of this, the badger had had enough . . . umm . . . badgering.
So to speak.
He turned and attacked.
Well. Hissed.
At this point, Queenie decided she was finished with this adventure.
Dad could go it alone.
She dropped him, forceably, into the prairie dust.
And left him there.
Dad screamed and jumped to his feet.
Certain that his beloved horse had landed him on the badger.
Or that said badger was almost on him.
He pictured teeth and claws.
And ravening.
He wasn't sure what that was, but it sounded nasty.
He looked frantically around.
The badger had disappeared completely.
He took a deep breath of relief.
Then recovered his horse and continued with his job.
Dad decided, then and there, that the only four-footed animals he and Queenie would chase would be the big ones with hoofs.
And horns.
They were safer.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Enes Berg Stringam: In Memorium

January 6, 1924 to April 9, 2002
My Mom was raised on a ranch in Southern Alberta.
Near Brooks.
She was the only daughter of Ellen and Petrus Berg.
And only sister to eight brothers.
She thrived on their ranch.
Then she married my Dad.
And moved to the Stringam Ranch.
Where she continued to thrive.
Even with feeding ranch hands.
Having six babies.
Cleaning, gardening, cooking, baking, sewing, driving, preserving, chore-ing, wife-ing, mother-ing.
And everything in between.
She was a marvel of ingenuity.
A tower of strength.
And a fountain of energy.
And then, after she had raised her kids and was finally ready to relax and realize her fondest dream – to spend her time writing – she got sick.
The same disease that finally claimed her father's life.
She was devastated.
But only for a while.
With her usual grit, determination and courage, she started a Parkinson's work-out group.
And a Parkinson's support group.
Which she continued to shepherd while her disease slowly overtook her.
Finally, as her condition deepened, hospitalization was required.
And she was forced to let go.
Dad placed her in a care facility in Taber, Alberta.
The finest he could find.
Then he took an apartment a block away so he could be with her every day.
Because dinner together at the end of the day was a family tradition.
And he wasn't about to let something as paltry as Parkinson's disturb that.
For several years, they continued in this manner.
Mom, slowly slipping away.
Dad attentive.
The staff of the home watching over them both.
Then, one day, Mom refused to eat.
And shortly after that, slipped quietly into a coma.
Slowly, the family gathered to say our final 'See you soon!'.
We stood beside her bed and clasped her hand.
Held her and held each other.
Then, as always happens in the Stringam family, as the minutes ticked by, we started telling stories.
And laughing.
Something Mom loved.
And, as though that was the signal she had been waiting for, Mom slipped away.
Leaving us with her sweet memory.

There is an addendum:
Dad had chosen the best care for his beloved that he could find.
And he had done well.
The people in the home were kind and attentive to Mom.
Carefully caring for her every need.
Right up until the last.
Even as she lay in a coma, and everyone knew the inevitable outcome, they made sure of her comfort.
Lying in her bed, Mom had rubbed a small sore on her heel.
Her caregiver said, “Well, that can't be comfortable. Let's fix it.”
And she proceeded to place a small, round band-aid on the aged heel.
This was a woman in a coma.
Seemingly oblivious to everything and everyone around her.
And yet, her care-givers were concerned for her comfort.
Later, when my sisters and I were dressing her for her funeral, we noticed that little band-aid.
We left it.
A symbol of the love and care we all felt for our mother.

It's been ten years today since Mom left us.
We miss her.

Thinking of you, Mom.

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