Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Blair's Prayer

 . . .or crying works, too

It was an uncharacteristically quiet day in the Stringam household.
The older kids were at school.
Dad and the hired men were out . . . doing ranch stuff.
Mom and the two youngest children were in the house.
Anita asleep in babyland.
Blair, known for playing quietly . . . playing quietly in the basement.
I should point out, here, that two-year-old Blair was being toilet-trained.
The lessons were ongoing.
With mixed results.
Mom was busy in the kitchen.
Her 'mom alarm' went off.
Time to check on Blair's progress.
Or lack thereof.
She stood at the top of the stairs and called down.
“Blair! Time to go potty!”
Okay, so subtle, we weren't.
Her little tow-headed boy appeared at the bottom of the stairs.
Definitely not making eye-contact with his mother.
“Blair! Did you wet your pants?”
The answer was quite obvious.
Mom sighed. “Blair you come up here this moment!”
Obediently, the small boy started up the long flight of stairs.
On little hands and knees.
About midway, he paused.
Looked up at his mother standing like a nemesis at the top of the stairs.
Then put his little hands together.
Bowed his head.
And squeezed his little blue eyes tightly shut.
“Heavenly Father. Please bless Mommy, Daddy, Brothers and Sisters. And Blair.”
He looked up.
His prayer had been answered.
By this point Mom was sitting on the top step.
Laughing too hard to even consider another lesson in toilet training.
Who says prayer doesn't work?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mistaken Identity

Okay. YOU figure out who's who . . .

My Husby has four brothers.
All of which look/sound a lot alike.
Our oldest son, Mark was a daddy's boy.
He adored his father.
They spent a lot of time together.
A lot.
In the early years of our marriage, all of my Husby's family lived in close proximity to each other.
Getting together was easy.
And frequent.
Looking back, it was a fleeting, wonderful time.
One day, the entire family had been invited over for dinner.
They began to gather.
By ones, twos and threes.
My Husby, on the closing shift, was the last to arrive.
Our oldest son, just turned two, was missing him.
He toddled through the group, looking for that one special, familiar face.
Finally, he spotted it.
Ran over and lifted his arms.
Then, lifted by strong arms, he snuggled down and nestled there, happy and content.
A few minutes later, the door opened.
And his father came in.
“Where's my boy?” he asked.
Mark stared at him.
Then spun around and looked at the man holding him, his face a perfect picture of confusion.
He looked back at the new arrival.
Then, again at the man who held him.
Finally, he made a choice and dove towards his father.
His real father.
Then stared accusingly at the uncle who had been holding him.

There is a codicil:
My sisters and I look a lot alike.
At one of our family reunions, my youngest son patted the leg of the woman he though was me. “Mom? Mom?”
She turned and looked at him.
Definitely not Mom.
He gasped and hid his face in his hands.

Mistaken identity.
It happens in the best of families.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mom Mistakes

Two sweet faces

Occasionally, Moms make mistakes.
I just want to get that out there.
They do.
Not often.
But occasionally.
Moms are busy.
Usually keeping at least three balls in the air at any given moment.
Totally understandable . . .
My younger brother, Blair was playing in the front room.
Because he was always quiet.
Our baby sister, Anita, was playing nearby.
Less quietly.
Because she . . . never mind.
She had disdained her basket full of colourful toys and was climbing up on the coffee table and sliding off.
This had been entertaining her for several minutes.
Then, she mis-calculated.
Slid off a little too quickly.
And bumped something important.
Tears ensued.
Bringing Mom in a hurry from the kitchen.
She picked her sobbing daughter up from the floor where she lay in a crumpled, miserable heap.
“Blair! What did you do?!”
Blair looked up from the book he was reading, his mouth a perfect 'O' of confusion. “Ummm . . .”
He was summarily parked in the 'you've done something terrible' spot.
The piano bench.
Huh. You know I just figured something out.
Whenever we did something horrible, we were set on the piano bench to think about our sins.
Maybe that's why none of us liked playing the piano.
Just a thought.
Back to my story . . .
Blair blinked and frowned thoughtfully.
Had he done something?
He didn't think so.
He had been quietly reading.
Anita had been playing a few feet away.
On the coffee table.
“But Mom . . .!”
“Don't you 'but mom' me! You stay there and think about what you did!”
Mom marched back out to the kitchen.
Leaving a very confused little boy sitting on the piano bench in the front room.
Anita, tears forgotten, was back crawling onto the coffee table.
Yep. Moms make mistakes.
Fortunately for the future of the world as we know it, it doesn't happen often.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Clean, Clean on the Range . . .

Okay. You do this without getting grimy . . .

Ranching doesn't encourage cleanliness.
You heard it here first.
In fact, ranching and cleanliness don't go together.
At all.
Let me tell you about it . . .
I had worked on the ranch all my life.
And had finally been promoted to 'herdsman'.
Where I served for two glorious years.
This included such things as:
Riding herd
Checking herd
Feeding herd
Treating herd
Worrying over herd.
Hovering when herd was ready to calve.
Calving out herd.
Recording herd.
Eating and sleeping with herd.
Okay, maybe that last is a little extreme, but you get my point . . .
Sooo . . . cleanliness.
Cows aren't naturally clean.
I know this will come as a shock.
I'm sure you've seen the romantic pictures of mama cow licking her baby.
I have one thing to say about this.
Cow spit.
How clean can that be?
Cows also have other orifices that are . . . nasty.
And to which I have one response.
Cow pies.
Enough said.
On with my story . . .
I was ready to go to work.
Clean shirt.
Clean jeans.
Clean kerchief.
Clean socks.
Recently cleaned boots.
I headed out the door.
Bridle and riding pad on my horse and I was away.
We made good time reaching the calving field.
And almost immediately spotted a cow.
But having difficulties.
I decided to take her back to the corrals.
And restrain her.
And help.
That's as far as my plans went.
I grabbed the protruding calf feet.
And that's when the cow broke out of my hastily-built restraint.
Grimly, I hung onto the calf.
As the cow started across the corral.
Dropping me and her calf in the middle of a puddle of . . . let me put it this way - it wasn't spring water.
I got up.
Carted the calf to safety.
And headed for the house.
My mother met me in the doorway.
Her clean daughter had gone out the door only half an hour before.
Now, dripping from head to toe with . . . barn puddle, said daughter had returned.
Mom stopped me in the porch.
“You just left here. Perfectly clean!” she said. “What did you do out there!”
“Well . . .”
“Never mind. Clothes off here!” she ordered.
I was divested of anything gooey.
Whereupon (good word) I sprinted for the shower.
In my underwear.
Not for the faint of heart.
Or for the fanatically clean.
Okay, let's face it . . . not even for the somewhat clean.
Don't you wish you were here?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mom the Rum Runner

The Smuggler - and her get-away vehicle

Mom was a teetotaler.
I thought I should mention that or what follows won’t make any sense.
Dad had surprised Mom with the trip of a lifetime.
Okay, in the 60’s it was the trip of a lifetime.
Driving down along the scenic 101 through Washington, Oregon, California and into Mexico.
They were going to be gone for weeks.
She was just a bit excited.
They set out.
Visiting every landmark, great and small.
Every roadside exhibit.
Every tree, post and rock along the entire route.
Dad loved to see . . . things.
When they had finally finished with SeaWorld, time was growing short.
They had one day to make a hop into Mexico.
Tijuana was all they would have time for.
They set out.
Crossed the border into Mexico.
And had a day of shopping the family-run stalls and businesses on the streets of Old Mexico.
Mom was in her element.
The sheer amount of purchasable ‘stuff’ was mind numbing.
She set to work with a will.
Picking up such treasures as: Velvet paintings.
Items of leather work.
And some lovely bottles, encased in clever, hand-woven reed containers.
Happily, she piled her purchases into the back seat of the car and the two of them set off on the long road back to Canada.
Crossing the border from Mexico to the US was a simple matter of declaring that, yes, they had done some shopping and spent ‘X’ amount of dollars/pesos, and no, they weren’t transporting any firearms, tobacco or alcohol.
They continued on.
Back through California, Oregon and Washington.
Seeing whatever sites Dad had missed on their first pass.
There weren’t many.
Finally, they reached the border, again declaring how much they had spent and that they weren’t carrying any firearms, tobacco or alcohol.
The last few miles to the ranch were covered quickly.
Mom had children to see.
And gifts to bestow.
Their homecoming was noisy and enthusiastic.
Mom handed out her purchases.
Brought all the way from Mexico.
Across two borders.
She had purchased one thing for herself.
The three little bottles in their fancy, hand-woven cases.
She arranged them proudly on the mantle above the fireplace.
One larger.
Two smaller.
For many months, they sat there, unopened.
In their place of honor.
Then one of my brothers happened to pick one up as he was dusting.
It was full of liquid.
“Mom! What’s in this bottle?”
“What kind of liquid?”
“Well . . . just water, I suppose.”
“Huh.” He twisted off the cap.
Let’s just say that, if it was water, the water in Mexico is vastly different than anything that flows in Canada.
“Mom. I hate to tell you this, but this isn’t water!”
Mom appeared. “It isn’t?”
“Umm . . . no.”
“Well what is it then?”
“I think you have three bottles of tequila here.”
Okay, remember the part where I mentioned ‘teetotaler’?
That would apply here.
 “What’s tequila?”
 “It’s a very strong alcoholic drink. From Mexico. With a worm in the bottom.”
The ‘liquid’ was duly poured out, worm and all, and good old 100 proof ranch sulphur water poured back in.
Mom went back to the kitchen and my brother went back to his dusting.
All was well.
But I can’t help but think about my teetotaling Mom bringing her three bottle of tequila across two borders.
It’s always the ones you don’t suspect . . .

Monday, May 14, 2012

The New G-String

It's not what you think . . .

Okay, I’m a farm girl!
I had never heard of things like this!
Never mind . . .
I learned to play the guitar when I was twelve.
After an afternoon spent with my big brother, Jerry.
He made it look like so much fun.
We were sitting downstairs on the piano bench.
With an opened ‘Reader’s Digest’ music book propped up on the piano.
We were singing, “When You Wore a Tulip”.
And happily.
With Jerry strumming the guitar enthusiastically.
Picture it: “When you wore a tulip, a sweet, yellow tulip, and I wore a big red rose” . . . whereupon (good word) he’d stop and say, just under his breath, but completely in rhythm, “I don’t know that chord!”
“When you caressed me . . .” And the song would continue.
We sang and laughed for hours.
After that, I insisted on learning to play.
Patiently, he handed me the guitar and then taught me.
Fortunately for him, I caught on quickly.
And went on playing.
I was never an expert, but I enjoyed myself and played for family and friends.
Moving ahead . . .
I was happily playing “Puff the Magic Dragon” for my two young sons.
Well, ‘playing’ would be largely a misnomer at this point, because the oldest one kept trying to ‘help’.
Resulting in the dull ‘thump’ of a dead string.
Finally, one of the strings broke.
I removed it and coiled it, then set it aside.
When my Husby returned home that evening, I handed him the string and asked if he could pick me up another.
He nodded. “Sure.” Then, “Do you know which string it is?”
“Yeah. G.”
“You want me to pick you up a new G-string?” He started to laugh.
I nodded. “Yeah. I need a new ‘G’ string.” I frowned at him. “Why are you laughing?”
“Because you just asked me to pick you up a new G-string.”
I stared. Was he getting goofy?
Had marriage and fatherhood finally tipped him over the edge?
“Yeah. I broke my ‘G’ string and I need a new one.”
 “You broke . . .?” He laughed harder, bending over and holding his sides.
“Yeah. What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing.” He wiped his eyes.
“Well, can you get me a new ‘G’ string?”
Another paroxysm (ooh, another good word) of laughter.
Then, finally, “You don’t know what a G-string is, do you?”
Remember where I said the words, ‘farm girl’? That would apply here.
He explained.
“Oh.” I suddenly understood his laughter.
He got me the string.
After a laugh with the guy in the guitar shop.
But, in true Tolley fashion, never let me forget the lesson . . .

Sunday, May 13, 2012


I'm going to call them parent-isms.
The things parents tell their kids.
Some of which are true.
My Husby's dad was known for his parentisms.
He had his kids convinced that he could measure their potential – with a yard stick.
He'd hold the yard stick near them and announce that their ability was 'nigh onto nothing'.
Fortunately, they didn't believe him.
He was also famous for asking them if they'd rather 'be dumber than they look or look dumber than they were'.
His victim would choose one or the other and he would grin and say, “How could you be?”
Which would result in a heated glare.
And just widened his grin.
He also convinced his children to eat carrots.
Lots of carrots.
By telling them that if they did, they could see better.
Okay, I know that all of us were informed that we would be able to see better if we ate our carrots.
Even in the dark.
But he took it just that much further.
His exact words?
Not only would they see better in the dark, but they would be able to see through hills in the dark.
And at least one of his children believed that one.
For years, my one-day-husby-to-be would peer into the night, trying desperately to see through hills.
He never did.
But he sure ate his carrots.
Sometimes, when his kids were with him in the yard, Husby's Dad would stoop and pick up a small pebble. Then hand it to the nearest child with the words, “Suck on this. The flavour will come.”
They caught onto that one fairly fast.
After trying it only a time or two.
Or three.
But the dreaded phrase for which he is most famous? “Go get the switch.”
This only occurred during moments of extreme stress.
When a misdemeanour was grave.
I should point out that 'the switch' was a long willow branch.
Kept in the garage.
And that the culprit had to go and fetch it.
Hand it to his father.
Then wait for punishment to be meted out.
The culprit would take the 'long route'.
Through the barn.
Around the corrals.
Through the chicken coup.
And the pig pen.
Past Grandma's.
And finally into the garage.
Emerging with the dreaded willow switch.
By this time, having already suffered agonies.
Husby's Dad didn't have to do anything more.
He would make a light, token swipe at legs or bottom, then hand the switch back with the words “don't do it again”.
And they didn't.
What parentisms did your parents use on you?

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