Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, May 11, 2012

LDS Author Giveaway Hop!

I'm giving away one free copy of my family Christmas book, Carving Angels to one lucky participant!
Open to everyone!
Here's what you have to do:
1. Become a follower of On the Border and
2. Leave a comment.
That's it. That's all!
Don't you love simplicity?!
Oh, and one more thing . . . let me know me what you think!
I hope you win!!!

What is it all about?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Our Token Hawaiian Cowboy



The Stringam ranch was twenty miles from the nearest bus route.
But it still managed to attract a lot of employment-seekers.
In the earlier days, cowboys would arrive on their horses.
In my day, they arrived by ‘hitch-hike’.
Because they had been pointed in our direction when they got off the bus in Milk River.
And no one driving that road would ever pass by someone on foot.
So they arrived.
Often hot and sweaty.
But usually ready to work.
There were exceptions.
Oh, they still arrived, hot and sweaty.
It was the ‘work’ thing that they weren’t ready for.
They didn’t last long.
Case in point:
A young man arrived on the bus from Hawaii.
Okay, yes, I know that’s impossible.
Let’s just say he arrived on the bus.
And that he was from Hawaii.
He told the local bus-terminal operator that he was a cowboy looking for work.
Dutifully, the operator called Dad to see if the Stringam Ranch could use an extra couple of hands.
If they were attached to a large, happy, Stetson-sporting fellow from Hawaii.
Well, this was something new.
Our first Hawaiian cowboy.
Dad drove the twenty miles to bring this curiosity home.
He was a pleasant fellow.
And he sure loved Mom’s cooking.
So far so good.
Dad gave him an assignment.
An easy one, to start.
Tear out the fence along the tree-lined drive.
Dad wanted to replace it and he needed the old one removed.
Our newest hand was given tools.
And instructions.
And left on his own.
Some time later, he was discovered, lying in the shade, visiting with my eldest sister while she shelled peas.
He looked at Dad.
“Oh!” he said, jumping to his feet and hurrying back to work.
Dad went on with his day.
Only to stumble across the young man, once more, lying in the shade and visiting with my sister as she snapped beans.
Dad merely raised his eyebrows.
“Guess I’d better get back to work,” the young man said, pushing himself to his feet and sauntering back to his job.
Sometime later, the bell rang, calling everyone to supper.
The young man was first in line.
Smacking his lips over more of Mom’s cooking.
After supper, he remained in his seat and chatted with my sister while she washed the dishes.
For the next two days, he managed to find time to talk to my sister whenever she set foot outside.
He talked as she weeded the garden.
Washed the 4-H calves.
Hauled hay.
And shucked corn.
Are we seeing a pattern forming here?
Progress on his own project was minimal.
Actually, non-existent.
On the third day, Dad loaded him into the car after breakfast and gave him a ride back to the bus stop in town.
The job that had taken him three days?
My brothers finished it in three hours.
That was our one and only experience with a Hawaiian cowboy.
I’m sure there are other Hawaiian cowboys.
Who are very hard workers.
They just haven’t made it to Milk River, yet. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Uncle Roy

Uncle Roy as a boy

My Uncle Roy Torgny Berg was the sixth in a family of eight boys.
And one girl.
He was born on April 8, 1927
He died last night, May 8, 2012.
Today, my mind is filled with memories.
Uncle Roy was just over three years my mom’s junior.
As youngsters, they played together.
On one fateful afternoon, documented here, he even allowed himself to briefly stand in for the little sister she didn’t have.
Wearing the dress and bonnet she happily bestowed on him.
Until someone drove into the yard.
In later years, they worked alongside each other on the family farm, near Brooks, Alberta.
And competed against each other in 4-H shows and sporting events.
Living quite a distance apart, our families only got together at reunions, so, for many years, Uncle Roy was a shadowy figure, known mostly as the father of some of my favourite cousins.
Things changed when I was a teenager.
For a brief, wonderful week, I got to stay with my cousin, Paula, in Edmonton.
Uncle Roy’s daughter.
And that’s when the Friendly Feud started.
Highly intelligent, Uncle Roy was a professor in the Agriculture Department at the U of A. Eventually working his way to the head of that department.
Distinguishing himself through many academic achievements, he was one of the major proponents of importing exotic breeds of cattle from around the world to improve Canada/The World’s beef industry.
My Dad raised Polled Herefords.
Purebred Polled Herefords.
The Feud was on.
Uncle Roy gave me a copy of his book, New Concepts of Cattle Growth.
As I remember him best . . .
It had Herefords on the cover.
“That,” he pointed to the cover, “is the only place you will find Herefords in this book.”
To which I shot back, “Must be pretty boring reading, then.”
And it went downhill from there.
Finally culminating in my designing and cross-stitching two silly pictures for him.
One of a cow.
The other of a bull.
And both Herefords.
Because every house needs Herefords.
His book stands in my bookcase.
My pictures hang on his wall.
Uncle Roy.
I will miss him.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Crime and Punishment in the 60s

The Sweet and Innocent Grade Ones. Really.

In the sixties, schools had strict rules.
Breaking said rules carried punishments.
A severe ‘talking to’.
Being kept in at recess or lunch hour.
Or *shudder* being sent to the *gasp* principal’s office.
Where there was always the looming specter of ‘THE STRAP’.
Which, I should point out, none of us had ever seen.
But which our entire class had heard on one occasion.
But that is another story.
Moving on . . .
I started grade one in the fall of 1960.
There were three of us Stringams in Milk River Elementary at that time.
My next older brother, George, in grade three.
And our eldest brother, Jerry, in grade six.
Our eldest sister, Chris, had just graduated to Junior High.
Because she had reached the unbelievable and unreachable age of twelve.
Jerry and his classmates ruled our school.
We lowly serfs in grade one observed their doings with awe bordering on worship.
I should mention that this was the brother who teased me mercilessly at home.
And who Mom chased around with the broom.
But at school, he was a lord.
He could do no wrong.
We spent hours in observation.
And mimicry.
Until . . . the event.
Remember when I was talking about rules/punishment?
Well that comes into play here.
In Milk River Elementary School in 1960, the principal had instituted a bold new form of punishment.
I am not making this up.
We really had punishment by lemon.
And no one was exempt.
No one.
On Friday mornings during Assembly . . .
Oh, I should tell you we also had Assembly every Friday morning.
Back to my story . . .
On Friday mornings, any malefactors were marched to the front of the gym, before the entire school population, and handed a lemon.
Which they then had to peel and eat.
For most of them, it was a painful process.
For those of us watching, it was a painful process.
Let’s just say it. Rules in Milk River Elementary weren’t often broken.
But one time, it was my brother, Jerry who had transgressed.
It was his turn to stand there.
And he had company.
Let me explain . . .
Jerry’s teacher was busily doing 'teacher' things at her desk.
Jerry and his friend, Stan had made a paper jet.
Okay, yes, they were supposed to be doing school work.
This was more fun.
They threw it.
And watched, proudly, as it flew, straight and smooth.
Then, in dismay, as it sailed neatly out into the hall.
It landed at the feet of the Principal, who just happened to be standing there at that precise moment.
He picked it up.
The boys held their breath and watched.
The Principal looked at the clever little plane.
Then, forgetting himself for a moment, threw it back into the room.
In full view of the teacher, who chose that moment to look up.
If there was a punishment bell, it would have clanged loudly at that point.
Paper planes were on the ‘forbidden’ list.
And all three ‘launchers’ were guilty.
At that Friday’s Assembly, my brother and Stan . . . and the Principal all took their places at the front of the gym.
Each was handed a lemon.
Which Jerry and Stan peeled and ate at lightning speed.
Just to get out of the spotlight.
The Principal took his time.
Wincing with every bite.
The assembled students were screaming with laughter by the time he was done.
Finally, he waved for silence and dismissed us.
Then probably hurried to the bathroom to gargle.
We never forgot.
And school crime hit an all time low.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Not the Career His Mama Chose

Heading overseas.
Our second son, in his first career, was a soldier.
Mine/explosives expert.
Not a career his mama chose for him, I should point out.
He was slated several times to go overseas.
But only did so once.
I probably should explain . . .
There is a good deal of heavy training that goes into a call overseas.
Both physical and mental.
My son’s squad had received their notice.
They were slated to go to Nijmegen, Holland
And were preparing.
Picture men and women running. Climbing.
And lifting heavy objects.
Sitting at desks and puzzling over complicated logic problems.
Okay, that’s how I pictured it.
In reality, their short tour to Nijmegen was one of goodwill.
So their training consisted of marching.
And marching.
The day of departure grew closer.
They were representing Canada.
They needed to be properly outfitted.
They were issued new uniforms.
Including new boots.
Which they were instructed to wear.
While marching.
Now I don’t have to point out to you what the combination of new boots and 8 hours of marching can do.
Our son developed blisters.
Blisters on his blisters.
Which immediately became badly infected.
You’ve heard about a soldier only being as good as his feet?
It’s true.
He was put on the ‘injured’ list and sent back to base.
Somewhat disappointed and rather embarrassed.
But another tour was announced.
A real tour.
To Bosnia.
Real training this time.
Including the aforementioned (good word) running, climbing and lifting of things heavy.
Two days before they were ship out, my son was clearing some brush near the base.
Using a machete.
Which he had just sharpened.
His hand slipped. Slightly.
And he nicked his opposite thumb.
A quarter of an inch.
But it was a surgically precise quarter of an inch.
He managed to sever the tendon in his left thumb.
The surgeon assigned to fish out the two tendon ends and put them back together said she’d never seen anything like it.
Is she hadn’t been an eye-witness, she never would have believed that anyone could manage such a delicate and accurate operation with a scalpel.
Let alone with a huge machete.
‘Injured’ list again.
Needless to say, by this time, he was getting quite discouraged.
But I must admit that his parents were secretly happy.
Don’t tell him . . .
His third call came to serve overseas.
He again responded.
And this time - finally - succeeded.
For the better part of a year, he served as head of the mine cell on the base.
He did well.
And was commended.
Then came home to us.
I remember that first evening, after he stepped out of our van.
He immediately walked over and stood in the middle of the lawn.
We stared at him.
What had our son been learning overseas?
“I haven’t stood on grass for 10 months,” he said. “You don’t dare. Over there.”
Huh. Something we had never really thought about before.
We had assumed all of his sacrifices were made in the going.
We hadn’t realized the extent of what he was giving up while he was there.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

My 'Almost' Performance

Admit it. This scares you . . .

I'm sitting, waiting for my Sunday services to start.
I'm in a peaceful, wonderful place.
Quiet hymns are playing.
People are about me, speaking in hushed, reverent tones.
My mind is centred on things spiritual.
Okay, everyone else around me is probably having spiritual thoughts.
I'm remembering my most embarrassing moment in church.
Does that say something about me?
Moving on . . .
In our church, the speakers every week are chosen from the congregation itself.
Usually in threes.
There is a brief first talk.
A longer second one.
Followed by an intermediate hymn.
I should explain here, that this hymn is usually something instrumental, played by a member of the congregation.
Or an actual song, sung by said congregation while standing.
In case anyone is getting sleepy.
Thus refreshed, everyone is ready to listen to a third, and final, speaker.
My most embarrassing church moment concerns the intermediate hymn.
And my one chance to shine.
Which I flubbed.
Let me tell you about it . . .
In an effort to include everyone, the men who organize the Sunday services are always alert for hidden talents.
I should probably point out that some of them are hidden for a reason.
I had started taking piano lessons.
A smidgin of information my mother proudly conveyed to said men within a few weeks of my first sitting down at a piano.
And which immediately resulted in an issued invitation to provide the spiritually uplifting intermediate interlude for the next Sunday services.
I can sum up my feelings in one word.
But I had been asked.
I would do my eight-year-old best.
I practised hard all week.
I only had one song that would be suitable and I needed to have it perfect.
My family probably got sick of hearing it played over.
And over.
And over.
But they kept quiet about it.
Sunday dawned.
As Sundays do.
Disdaining my little music book, I walked up to the piano.
Rubbing suddenly moist fingers on my dress.
I took my seat and raised my hands in the approved 'piano-playing' manner.
I took a deep breath and struck the first note.
Then I let out my breath and played the next.
And the next.
This was going to go all right.
Confidently, I played the fourth note.
Then my mind blanked.
I stopped.
I couldn't remember the rest.
I hesitated.
Then I started again.
Surely, my fingers would remember it this time.
But they failed me.
I got stuck on the same note.
I tried a third time.
And met the same fate.
I put my hands in my lap. Maybe the congregation would think that the first four notes of the piece were all there were.
Okay, no.
Completely crushed, I stood up and walked back to my seat.
The congregation, consisting mostly of young families were, for the first time ever, silent.
I felt their sympathetic eyes on me as I made my way.
And while I sat with head bowed through the rest of the service.
I survived.
Pretty much unscathed.
I even played again.
Much later.
But never without remembering that first time.
What is it about the power of an embarrassing moment that makes you remember it . . . forever?
Do you have one?

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