Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Grooming - Not for the Faint of Heart

Oh, sure. It looks harmless enough now . . .
Washing and scrubbing and blow-drying and trimming.
And brushing and brushing and brushing.
And shaving.
And trimming again.
And no, this isn't the local hairdressing salon on Prom day.
It's the local barn, as the local ranchers get their cattle ready for show.
Oh, there are a few differences.
The cattle have hair in more places, for one thing.
They are a fair amount larger.
They seldom cooperate.
And said grooming is sometimes dangerous.
Not things the average hairdresser worries about.
Moving on . . .
The first thing that must be accomplished before grooming can begin, is to restrain them.
Oddly enough, most cattle don't like the idea of getting wet.
And soapy.
And they like, even less, the sound of electrical gadgets in their vicinity.
They tend to head for the nearest far-away place.
With enthusiasm.
Thus, the restraint.
On the Stringam Ranch, this was accomplished by running them into a 'head-gate'.
A contraption designed to snap shut just behind the head and hold the animal, in an upright position, ready for grooming.
Picture a hairdresser, when she has tilted her patient back over the sink to wash . . .
Okay. Know what? Don't think of a hairdresser at all.
Because none of that applies here.
Back to my story . . .
With the animal thus confined, grooming can begin.
But the fact is that when one gets up close and personal with something that outweighs one by 15 times, things can sometimes get . . . interesting.
Case in point:
We were grooming the two-year-old bulls.
For those who might not know, they are the male cattle.
Don't be mislead but their age.
Toddlers, they aren't.
Most of them weigh anywhere from 1500 to 2000 pounds.
Most of that muscle.
And bone.
With just a touch of aggression.
And a bit of stupidity.
I should explain, here, that a head gate works because the animal coming towards it can see daylight through it.
They lunge for what they see as freedom.
Now I'd like you to imagine the force 2000 pounds of solid muscle and bone can create when it is properly motivated.
Force which is brought to a crushing, bruising halt by the solid head gate as it snaps shut.
I know what you're thinking.
Probably best to keep one's hands and feet and appendages out of the way.
I didn't.
Remember the 'dangerous' part?
It comes in here.
Unthinkingly, I had rested my right hand on one of the uprights of the head gate.
And was watching as the next victim customer approached.
With alacrity. (Oooh. Good word!)
The bull hit the gate.
Then, realizing that he couldn't get out that way, immediately pulled back.
It was the pulling back that saved my hand.
Which had been caught between the upright and the metal plate that it snapped against.
Absorbing the entire force from 2000 pounds of mass.
On the run.
If the bull hadn't reacted as he had, my thumb would have been neatly and completely removed.
With surgical precision.
By the sharp, metal plate.
As he reared back, I gasped and jerked my hand away.
Then slumped against the fence as blackness threatened.
Dad looked at me curiously.
Everything had happened so fast that he hadn't seen it.
Wordlessly, I held out my hand.
The imprint of the plate could be plainly seen in the heavy, leather glove that I wore.
Which glove was also instrumental in saving my thumb.
Gently, Dad removed the glove.
As I gasped and swore breathed heavily.
The skin hadn't been broken, though there was a lively line of red where the plate had hit.
I was rushed to emergency, but subsequent x-rays showed that the bones hadn't even been broken.
A miracle.
When the pain and swelling subsided several weeks later, I was left with a numb thumb (something that continued for the next two years), and though the skin hadn't broken, a scar, which I carry to this day.
I learned some valuable things.
  1. When a piece of equipment carries the warning: Please keeps hands clear, there's a reason for the warning.
  2. Inattention begets injury.
  1. Two-year-old bulls look just fine the way they are.
  2. Fussing not required.
  3. Or appreciated
Mom always told me, and I quote, “You have to suffer to be beautiful.”
She never pointed out that I would suffer.
And something else would be beautiful.
I probably should have paid attention.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Cattle Trips and Cookies and Cutlets - or - Me and My Big Mouth

What can I say but Mmmmmm.

My Dad taught me manners.
I was a slow, but well-fed, learner.
Maybe I should explain . . .
Dad and I were on a cattle show tour.
I say, 'we' but I was mostly useless.
I had injured my hand in a grooming accident getting ready for the show.
Don't ask.
The road was long between cities.
Because Alberta is a big place.
But we had eats.
Mostly sweet or salty.
But all yummy.
My Dad's favourite cookies were large marshmallow/cookie/chocolate bits of delicious-ness.
I should explain here that sometimes, in Canada in the summer, we have hot days.
I know.
The words 'Canada' and 'hot weather' usually aren't found in the same sentence.
But it's true.
Back to my story . . .
It was hot and stuffy in the truck.
Heat has a rather negative effect on marshmallow/cookie/chocolate bits of delicious-ness.
Melts them, quite effectively, into solid lumps of delicious-ness.
It was mid-morning.
We had been on the road since lunch.
It was now about 4:00 pm.
Snacking was indicated.
I dragged out the bag of cookies.
And realized that each row had been fused into one, long cookie.
Except the first row.
From which two were already missing.
I picked up the remaining (rather large) cookie and looked at it.
It could be done.
I shoved it into my mouth and chewed happily.
Then realized that my father was staring at me.
Incredulous (good word).
“Did you just eat that whole cookie?”
“Maybe,” I mumbled through a mouthful of marshmallow/cookie/chocolate delicious-ness. “Who wants to know.”
He just chuckled and shook his head and the matter was dropped.
Or so I thought.
A couple of hours later, we stopped for supper.
I ordered my favourite, veal cutlets.
They arrived.
Two very large cutlets.
With mashed potatoes, vegetables and thick, yummy gravy.
Remember my injured hand?
Well that comes into play here.
“Daddy, could you please cut my meat for me?”
“Certainly.” Dad grinned and slid my plate over.
Now, anyone familiar with that grin knows that something was being plotted.
Because it was.
He took his knife and fork and sliced each large cutlet down the middle.
Then he slid my plate back in front of me.
I stared at the four very, very large bites.
Then at my Dad
Who was nonchalantly cutting his own meat.
“Dad, how am I supposed to eat that?”
“Well, judging by the bite of cookie you shoved into your mouth a couple of hours ago, those should be just about right,” he said. “Go for it!”
I stuck my tongue out at him and slid my plate back.
“Now cut!”
He laughed and did so.
It exists, even on a cattle trip.
Who knew?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Summers as a Ranch Brat

The Overnight bag

Every summer, Dad and an assortment of his children would head out on the 'Cattle Show' circuit.
We hit every major fairground in Alberta.
It was . . . fun.
On the Road
We would truck the chosen animals to the fairgrounds.
Secure our spot in the barns.
Prepare the site. (Fluffing up straw figured largely here.)
Lead in the animals and tie them.
Then set up our tack box and assorted matching equipment and chairs, tables, etc.
Trying to make the entire area as tidy and un-barn-like as possible.
We were ready.
For the next two days, we hauled feed in little rubber tubs.
Buckets of water.
And hauled out anything remotely smelly or dirty.
We would wash and brush and blow dry and trim.
Periodically, we would untie one of the animals, lead him or her into a ring and parade around.
Then stand them up and keep them in one place while the judge walked around them.
Poking and prodding.
Frowning seriously.
Before he moved on to the next animal.
Then we paraded around again while he watched.
And we watched him.
Everyone praying that our animal would be the one he slapped.
In a cattle show, slapping is good.
It allowed us to participate in the Parade of Champions.
This was our summer.
Cattle show to cattle show.
The reward.
Feeding, cleaning and trading news with the exhibitors all around us.
Showing cattle.
Taking occasional side trips to the fairway for foot-long hot dogs and corn-on-the-cob.
With the kids who were also exhibiting with their dads.
Life was perfect.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Coffee Row

A Yarn About Yarn

The store with everything.
At just the right price . . .

Dad was running an errand.
For his mother.
It was 1937 and the family had just recently moved to Lethbridge from Glenwood, Alberta.
He enjoyed the independence of being able to walk the few blocks downtown to the big stores and was happy to have an excuse.
Plus, his mother paid well.
She handed him a quarter and he set out.
A little background . . .
The yarn that his mother wanted him to pick up for her at Woolworths cost fifteen cents.
Which left ten cents change.
All his for running the errand.
Also, the candy store came first on his route.
Moving on . . .
Dad happily calculated how to spend his newfound wealth.
Planning ahead is everything.
Then, bag of candy in hand, he continued on towards Woolworths.
Only to discover that the yarn that his mother had sent him for was now seventeen cents.
He had already spent the change.
He didn’t have enough.
Dad looked down at his bag of candy.
No way was the store going to take it back.
And no way he could go back and confess to his mother what he had done.
How to fix this?
He stood outside the store for some time.
Dismay apparent.
Finally someone inside the store next door noticed him and came out.
“Something wrong?”
Dad explained.
“Oh, no problem, we have the same yarn. We’ll sell it to you for fifteen cents.”
Dad stared at them.
Surely his problem wasn’t going to be solved this easily?
But it was.
And in the right colour.
Happily he trotted home.
Clutching both candy and yarn.
I don’t know if his mother ever found out.
She had her yarn.
And Dad had his candy.
All was well.
The part of this story I have a hard time believing is not that someone noticed a forlorn little boy out on the sidewalk of a big city and helped him solve his monumental problem.
It was the fact that yarn cost fifteen cents.
And that he could buy a bag of candy for ten.
The cause of so much trouble . . .
I’d liked to have lived in those days . . . 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rainy Days and Poker

The incentive
It seemed like a good idea at the time.

We are not gamblers.
We’re not.
But we taught our kids to play poker.
Maybe I should explain . . .
We have a timeshare condo in Banff, Alberta.
Every year, for one week, that beautiful corner of the world is ours.
But, sometimes, it rains.
We don’t mind much.
There is still the swimming pool, where our kids spend 6 hours of the day.
And the cable TV.
A special treat that absorbs another segment.
But for the time usually spent  walking/hiking, we have to get creative.
Board games.
Even better.
So with a deck of cards and a large bag of Smarties, we set out to teach them poker.
I know. I know.
Hear me out . . .
We had the list from our Rummoli game, so we knew that a flush beats three-of-a-kind, etc.
We were ready.
I don’t know what type of poker we were playing.
It consisted of dealing five cards and having one chance to trade some in.
And then betting Smarties.
I should point out, here, that the ‘chips’ kept getting eaten.
Especially by our five-year-old.
Each hand was dealt.
Cards were traded.
Bets were placed.
Hands were judged.
Smarties were claimed.
And the next hand was dealt.
It was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.
To make it just that much more fun, the makers of Smarties had come up with something unique.
Purple Smarties with a tiny pair of sunglasses printed on one side.
They weren’t worth more.
Or taste any different.
But they were unique.
And therefor valuable.
Throughout the afternoon, my kids learned such phrases as:
‘Your deal.’
‘Cut the cards.’
‘Full house: aces over threes.’
‘Read ‘em and weep!’
‘Who dealt this stuff?’
And the all-important, ‘Ahhhh! I’m out! I’ve got spit!’.
The latter of which was immortalized by said five-year-old when he walked in the door of his grandmother’s. “Hi, Gramma! We played poker and I had spit!”
Erm . . . yes . . . poker.
That greatest and most educational of all family games . . .

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ruby. Not Your Ordinary Sheepdog.

Our usual Camping buddies
Panda and Chiefy
The Interloper
Okay, I admit it. She's cute.

We raised Old English Sheepdogs.
A wonderful breed.
Did I mention shaggy?
We had raised them for years.
Long enough that anyone remotely connected to us had one of our pups.
Old English Sheepdogs wherever you looked.
A good thing.
Then our close friends bought, in addition to their resident sheepdog, a *gasp* Miniature Schnauzer.
They called her Ruby.
We stared at the wee little mite suspiciously.
Snapping black eyes.
Little black nose.
Little ‘folded-over’ ears.
Okay, we had to admit it, she was cute.
Really cute.
She was accepted.
And immediately took over the household.
Now, I should probably mention here that our dogs went with us camping.
All of our dogs.
And our friends brought their dogs as well.
We usually got campsites adjacent or directly across from each other.
And put down roots.
Now we were accustomed to camping with Sheepdogs.
Who stayed in the campsite.
Even when their family went to the beach without them.
And were seldom/never heard from.
We discovered that a Miniature Schnauzer was . . . different.
For one thing, she had a habit of speaking up when there were strangers walking past.
Or thinking of walking past.
Or breathing . . . somewhere.
And she didn’t like to stay in the campsite.
If chained, she was vociferous in her opinion of families who treated their doggies so.
And, if left unchained, she would disappear.
For the first day, dealing with her was a puzzle.
Not that I pointed out that she was definitely not an OES.
Several times.
Her family soon devised a solution.
They wrapped her leash around a small log.
Which slowed her down.
Notice I didn’t say ‘stopped her’.
No, it just slowed her down.
Enough that her family could keep her in sight.
Now, when they strolled across into our campsite, Ruby would appear a few minutes later, manfully (can I say that about a female dog?) pulling her little log.
“Oh, here’s Ruby,” they would say. “With her log of shame!”
But Ruby learned.
And found her place in our family.
Amongst the sheepdogs.
I don’t know what life would be like without her.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bunnies in Church

What do you wear to Church?

As a rancher, during the work week, Dad was usually seen in work shirts and pants.
Heavy boots.
Leather gloves.
But on Sundays, all of that changed.
He would appear, dignified and tidy, in 'church' attire.
White shirt.
Polished boots.
And a tie.
Usually, Dad chose his own ties.
He had good taste.
Well . . . conservative taste.
No garish patterns.
No fluorescent colours.
Yep. Conservative.
But one of his ties stands out in my memory.
One that . . . wasn't conservative.
It was a quiet, dark tie.
With tiny, white polka-dots.
His favourite.
He wore it for three years.
And that is hilarious.
Maybe I should explain . . .
One day, just after church, I was giving my dad a hug.
Something I did often.
But now I was getting tall enough that his tie and my eyes were pretty much on the same level.
I buried my face in his clean, white shirt.
Then I opened my eyes.
And saw . . . dots.
No . . . wait . . . they weren't dots.
They were . . . something else.
I grabbed his tie and examined it closely.
“Dad, do you know what's on this tie?”
“Polka-dots,” came the ready answer.
I lifted the end of the tie up to his face and held it there.
He looked.
Then took the tie from me and looked again.
A bit more carefully.
“Oh,” he said.
That tie he had been wearing for the past three years.
Teaching and/or officiating in church.
Before lots and lots of people.
That tie.
Well, the tiny, regular pattern?
Wasn't polka-dots.
It was playboy bunny heads.
Tiny little white playboy bunny heads.
My dad had been a leader in our local church congregation for three years . . .
Wearing a tie with playboy bunny heads on it.
See? Hilarious.
I think he thought it was funny, too.
But the tie disappeared.
Never to be seen again.

Dad still has quite a collection of ties.
But not one of them has polka dots.
Real or imagined.

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