Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, June 9, 2012


It was my first exposure to 'small town politics'.
Not a pleasant experience.
And I'll never forget it . . .
When I was in grade five, a new family moved to our town.
Parents, children.
The father had been offered the top position in one of the numerous churches in Milk River.
I first learned of the family when I met their daughter - I'm going to call her Sally - on the first day of school in September.
She was a sweet, quiet little girl. Funny.
With shoulder-length, soft brown hair.
And freckles.
We started visiting.
And discovered we had many interests (ie. boys) in common.
We started to 'hang out'.
I invited Sally to my house.
And she reciprocated.
I remember my first visit to her home.
Her parents were very glad to see me.
Almost tearful in their welcome.
It seemed a bit odd that parents would be so interested in one of their children's friends.
But I shrugged it off.
Because they were kind.
And there was a safe, peaceful feeling in their home.
Almost like being in my own.
They asked me about myself and our family.
Seemed very fascinated by every aspect of my life.
Served Sally and I a piece of cake.
I should mention, here, that this was the first time I had ever seen someone serve chocolate layer cake with a dollop of raspberry jam between the layers.
Jam wasn't my favourite thing at any time.
Though the cake was delicious.
Moving on . . .
As I was preparing to leave, Sally's mom gave me a hug and thanked me for being her daughter's friend.
I smiled.
I liked her daughter.
I liked the whole family.
After that, Sally and I were together a lot.
Hanging out at school.
Hanging out at each other's homes.
One day, we were sitting out on her front lawn.
A group of my friends showed up and gathered around us.
For a few minutes, I was happy to have all of my favourite people together.
Then the rest of them got up to go, asking me if I wanted to come with them.
“No. I'm staying here with Sally,” I told them.
“Why do you hang out with her?” one of my friends demanded. “The whole town hates them!”
I stared at him.
The town hated my friend?
I had never heard of such a thing.
My friends left.
But I sat there and turned that statement over in my ten-year-old mind.
The town hated my friend and her family.
I looked at Sally.
I looked at her kind, caring family.
Now some of what they had said and done began to make sense.
Their almost tearful excitement over Sally having a friend.
Their interest in me.
I talked to my parents about it.
They looked at each other.
“I don't know why,” my dad said. “But for some reason, the reverend has gotten off on the wrong foot with other members of the congregation.”
“But I was told the whole town hated them.”
“Well, not the whole town,” Mom said. “And we certainly don't.”
I shrugged it off.
And kept on being Sally's friend.
I helped them scrub egg off the front of their house.
Wondering, at the time, how on earth they had managed to spill eggs clear up there.
I kept Sally with me when other kids at school teased her.
I didn't understand any of it.
These were wonderfully kind, sweet people.
How could everyone not see that?
One day, Sally wasn't at school.
I walked over to her house.
It was empty.
She and her family had moved.
Gone back to where they came from.
For weeks, I was sad.
She had been my friend.
I had loved playing with her.
And now she was gone.
A new family moved into Sally's house.
A new leader for her church.
Someone who didn't 'get off on the wrong foot'.
They stayed.
But I never forgot Sally.
My friend with the soft brown hair and freckles.
Or my first experience with small town prejudice.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Good Cow Pony

A good cow pony is more than just transportation in the ranching world.
It is partner, confidante, shelter, and yes, even protector.
Dad's horse had been superbly trained.
By him.
Calving season is a rather exciting time of the year.
For at least a couple of reasons.
Because new babies are appearing in the fields.
And I don't care what you think, new baby calves are cute.
And because you are getting up close and personal with warm, furry creatures who outweigh you by several hundreds of pounds.
See? Exciting.
In an unpredictable/ohmygoodness sort of way.
Most cows on the Stringam ranch calved between January and March.
Without ceremony or fanfare.
In the field.
Calves were tagged and given their newborn shots within a few feet of where they were born.
I should mention here that Hereford cows are docile and easily managed.
Except when they have a newborn calf nearby.
You've heard the stories about getting between she-bears and their babies?
Well, Hereford cows would kill to have that reputation.
Actually, they would have to kill to get that reputation.
Just thought I'd point that out.
Because it really has nothing to do with this story.
Moving on . . .
Hereford cows may not be the black-leather-clad, chain-toting members of the bovine family, but they can still be rather aggressive when their babies are in danger.
Or when they think their babies may be in danger.
As when people are around.
My Dad found this out the exciting way.
He had come across a newborn calf, lying 'hidden' in the tall grass.
Dismounting, he straddled the calf and prepared to vaccinate.
And that's when Mama noticed him.
Suddenly, a thousand pounds of red and white indignation were breathing down his neck.
And I do mean down his neck.
I know this will sound funny, but when a cow is threatening, the best place to be in the wide-open prairie is 'under' one's well-trained horse.
You crawl under your horse and no cow will come near.
Hastily, Dad pulled himself and his captive under his horse and continued with his work.
The cow snorted and fidgeted, circling around, trying to find the flaw in this scenario.
The horse kept one eye on her.
Constantly turning to keep his hind quarters directed towards the irate bundle of hair and aggression.
This worked for a few moments.
But finally, even the presence of a larger, stronger, and infinitely smarter creature didn't deter.
She charged.
Remember where I mentioned that the horse kept his hind quarters towards the cow?
That's because that is a horse's 'dangerous' end.
Always loaded.
And ready to fire.
He let fly.
With both barrels.
He caught the cow in the head.
In mid-charge.
Now a cow's head is composed mostly of bone.
They can be hurt.
But it takes a lot.
This kick merely stopped the cow for a moment.
She shook her head, confused.
Then looked around.
What had she been doing?
About that time, Dad finished with the calf and let it go.
It trotted over to its mother and the two of them hurried towards the nearest far-away place.
Dad stood up and gave his horse a pat.
“Good boy.”
Then mounted up and continued his ride.
Another rather mundane day in the life of a good cow-pony.
What would we do without them?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

In the Dark

Cute. AND can see in the dark!

My Baby Sister was the cutest little girl ever!
She still is
Cute, I mean.
But that's another story . . .
Baby Sister gave a whole new meaning to the word active.
She was born when our mother was nearing forty and slowing down.
Which gave a whole new meaning to the word ironic.
Mom would carry on with her usual daily chores.
And just let Baby Sister run laps around her.
And I do mean laps.
Mom would wash the dishes.
Baby Sister would run laps through the kitchen/dining/living/bed rooms.
And the hall.
Mom would do laundry.
Baby Sister would run laps through the kitchen/dining/living/bed rooms.
And the hall.
Mom would tidy the bedrooms.
Baby sister would run laps through the . . . you get the idea.
'Busy' would have described her very well.
As would 'independent'.
And that's where this story starts . . .
In the spring calving season, as the community's only vet, Dad hardly saw his bed.
Cows usually waited until the middle of the night before getting down to business.
Like many women.
Myself included.
Maybe it's a female thing.
Anyways . . .
The wee hours of the morning usually found him creeping through the house as quietly as possible, heading for his much-anticipated bed.
In complete darkness.
He passed the closed door to the youngest childrens' room and made the turn towards his own.
Then he heard something.
What was that?
He paused and glanced back at the closed door.
Had he just heard a noise from in there?
He looked down where the door skimmed the linoleum.
No light.
Another noise.
Okay. That was a 'thump'.
He moved closer and put an ear to the door.
Definite sounds emanating from within.
He could hear more thumping.
Then a small grunt.
He turned the knob and silently swung the door inwards.
Now I have to paint the picture for you.
The house is in complete darkness.
The only lights on a ranch this far from town come from natural sources.
ie. Moon. Stars.
Or from the mercury vapour lamps which light the feedlots and barnyard.
Neither effectively illuminated the scene before him.
Unrelieved, ebony blackness was all he could see.
But the noises continued.
There was nothing for it.
He would have to turn on a light.
Taking a quick breath, he flipped the light switch.
The room sprang into view.
Double bed, with two sleeping children in the far corner.
Crib, empty, directly ahead.
Shouldn't there be a baby in there?
He looked down.
The noises he had heard were explained.
The not-yet-two-year-old 'Baby' had wet her training-pants.
Crawling out of the crib, she had found some clean ones and, seated in the center of the rug, was trying to effect changes.
All in near-perfect darkness.
I don't know about you, but I think toilet-training was moot at this point.
Although some sort of 'I-can-see-in-the-dark' career could have definitely been considered.
Maybe vampire-ism.
The little girl looked him and stood up.
Finished pulling up her pants.
Then crawled back into her crib.
Abandoning her used pants in a little heap in the middle of the carpet.
Dad just stared.
Then, grabbing said pants, he threw them into the clothes basket and turned out the light.
And made his way to his own bed.
Relaxing beside his sleeping wife, he stared up into the darkness.
What else went on in the dark?
Maybe he didn't want to know.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Of Brothers and Cookies and Raisins

It only LOOKS delicious . . .

I love raisins.
Especially in trail mix.
Or coated in chocolate.
I should probably point out, here, that coating in chocolate is not really an accurate test of raisin love.
If you coated a hubcap in chocolate, I'd eat it.
Moving on . . .
I did not always love raisins. (Even now, I prefer my cinnamon buns and other baked treats to be raisin-free.)
It wasn't until after I was married that I learned to appreciate them.
There is a reason for that.
Which I'm happy to tell you about now.
My brother, George, is two years older than I.
Throughout our growing-up years, his prime responsibility was the teasing of his younger sister.
He practised his craft at every opportunity.
And became very good at it.
One day, our mom made cookies.
Something she did a lot.
On this particular occasion, she had produced mounds of raisin cookies.
They were spread out temptingly across the table.
The aroma drew my brother and I from the depths of the house.
“Mmmm. Raisin cookies,” George said. He turned to me. “I knew that Mom was going to make raisin cookies today.”
“You did?” I asked innocently.
“Yep. I did,” he said.
“Did Mom tell you?”
“You can tell by the smell?”
“Partially. But that's not the real reason.”
“Well, I give up. How did you know?”
He leaned towards me, a big grin on his face. “I knew Mom was going to bake raisin cookies because I saw her picking the raisins off the fly-paper at the back door.”
And from that moment on, in fact for the next twenty years, George had all of the raisin goodies that emerged from Mom's kitchen to himself.
Smart cookie.

P.S. He also tried to convince me that my rice was moving.
But that is another story . . .

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How Do You Take Your Milk?

Not for the shy or faint of heart . . .

Recently, there had been a lot of press about women nursing their babies.
Usually because it has been carried to extreme lengths.
I nursed my babies.
And loved doing it.
But this isn't a commentary about that.
Though it is about 'extremes'.
Maybe I should explain . . .
A veterinarian friend of my father's had stopped in for a chat.
An immigrant from the UK, he was very fond of his tea.
My father offered him a cup.
Uncharacteristically, he declined.
With a slight shudder.
Dad stared at his friend.
What could possibly have put Dr. Ilovemytea off his favourite beverage?
He realized that he had aroused Dad's curiosity.
An explanation was in order.
He told Dad that he had just come from a vet call to a farm at the furthest border of his practice.
'Out in the sticks', you might say.
His veterinarian business had been concluded.
And successful.
Hoping to prolong what was, to her, the highlight of a normally solitary day, the woman of the household had invited Dad's friend into her front room for a visit.
She had recently given birth to a fine son.
And was anxious to share her story with someone.
All was well.
She and baby were thriving.
Baby was nursing well and growing rapidly.
The woman offered the doctor a quick cup of tea before he began the long trek back to town.
Happily, he accepted.
The tea was brewed.
The woman brought it in and set it in front of her guest.
“Would you like milk?” she asked.
Dad's friend said that, indeed, yes, he would love milk.
Whereupon (good word) the woman flipped out a breast and squirted some milk into the doctor's tea.
He blinked.
Well . . . at least it was fresh.
As the story unfolded, Dad burst into laughter.
“So, did you drink it?” he asked his friend.
“Of course,” the doctor said.
“How was it?”
“Well, it tasted just fine,” he said. “Put me off a bit. But tasted fine.”
“Well,” Dad said, “You're braver than I am!”
Tea, anyone?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Party Line Panic

See? Behind my dad? Entertainment in a box!

My brother recently blogged about the fun/mishaps of people ‘rubbering in’ on the party phone lines.
It’s here, and is great fun to read.
Go ahead. We’ll wait . . .
But the history of the party phone line wouldn’t be complete without the following story:
Still further west of the Stringam Ranch was a community known as Twin River.
It’s accepted social leader was Alfred Jones.
Successful farmer and all-round good guy.
One morning, Alfred received a phone call from a concerned and upset member of the neighbourhood.
She had been listening in on the party line and overheard the news that, “Bert Sibley had died.”
Now Bert had farmed in the area for many, many years. He and his wife had raised their children.
Sold the farm.
And retired to the nearby town of Magrath for some well-deserved rest.
As a stalwart of their community, his death was something of note.
The woman thought that, at the very least, friends and neighbours of the Sibleys should supply flowers at the soon-to-be-announced funeral.
Alfred agreed.
“In fact,” he said, “I’m heading to Lethbridge on business right now. I’ll stop in while I’m there, and order the flowers.”
The woman agreed and hung up.
Alfred started out.
The road from the Jones Ranch in Del Bonita, to Lethbridge, runs directly through the aforementioned Magrath.
As he reached the outskirts of the town, Alfred decided it would be proper for him to stop in and offer his condolences to the grieving widow.
He pulled up to the house and made his way to the front door.
While he was waiting for his knock to be answered, Alfred happened to glance into the front room through the large window.
There was Bert.
Lying on the couch.
Oh, my word, thought Alfred. They haven’t even taken the body away yet!
But that wasn’t his only shock of the day.
Just as the door opened, the ‘body’ sat up.
Alfred stared.
Then gulped.
Then turned to Mrs. Sibley, standing in the doorway and stammered out something inane about stopping in to see how they were enjoying town life.
Then got out of there.
Mrs. Sibley never knew how close she was to being offered flowers and condolences.
For a husband who was very much alive and sitting in the next room.
The good old party line.
Originator of all things entertaining.
How can anything in this modern world compete with that?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

In the Beginning . . . Part 2

Grant's story. Told in my own words . . .

Grant and his 'blonde'.

In Grant's family, dating a blonde was . . . frowned upon.
By the patriarch of the family.
Whenever one of the five sons asked to borrow the car for a date, or otherwise indicated that an activity with a girl was being contemplated, their father would hold up the keys and say,”She's not a blonde, is she?”
Whereupon (good word) the boy would invariably look properly horrified and shake his head.
The keys would be bestowed.
The son would happily go off on his date.
Who probably was blonde . . .
No one knew where this aversion to blondes came from.
Their dad would never tell.
But it was rooted deep.
If you'll pardon the pun.
On occasion, he would threaten to grow out his beard.
Something his wife abhorred.
And she would, in turn threaten to dye her hair blonde.
All discussion ceased.
Moving on . . .
Grant had been serving a mission in Paris, France.
Every week, he received a letter from his family, written by his mother.
When he had been out about six months, one of those letters had included a short note from his father:
“Hi, Grant.
How are you doing?
Hope you're having a great mission.
Love, Dad"
That was it. Short and sweet.
His letters from his mom continued to arrive regularly.
But nothing more from his father until he was about six months from coming home.
“Hi, Grant.
How are you doing?
Hope you're having a great mission.
I have a blonde picked out for you.
Love, Dad”
Grant read this note several times, not believing his eyes.
Surely his father, that dispenser of all knowledge, And allergy-est of blondes extraordinaire, had flipped.
He grabbed a pen.
Letters were hand-written and posted in 1975.
Good to hear from you!
Tell me about this blonde!!!
Love, Grant”
For six months.
Finally, it was time to come home.
Mission accomplished.
So to speak.
As mentioned in my last blog, due to a little mix-up with his flight booking, Grant was forced to take a different flight.
One that dropped him off for a connection in New York City.
The telegram he sent went through to the nearest telegraph office.
In Lethbridge.
Which, for the first time in history, had shut down.
His family, following his original instructions, went to the airport to await his arrival.
He didn't.
Arrive, that is.
After a day of waiting, they returned home.
To make a few frantic, but fruitless phone calls.
Grant's plane touched down in Calgary.
Knowing what a fuss people tended to make of a returning missionary, he waited until he was the last to get off.
And entered a waiting area devoid of . . . waiters.
To say this was a bit of a let-down would have been to put things mildly.
But soon, he was reunited with his family and all was forgotten in the scramble of bringing their missionary home for the first time in two years.
Once in the car, though, he turned to his father.
“So, Dad. Tell me about this blonde.”
His father just grinned.
Grant looked at his mother.
Who shrugged.
Grant had to wait until Church the next week to find out what was going on.
He walked into the building.
A fifty-something woman was standing there, hands on hips, obviously eyeing him.
Politely, he walked over and extended his hand. “Hello, I'm Grant Tolley.”
She grasped his hand and leaned closer. “I wish my daughter, Diane, was here,” she said.
Grant smiled, rather uncomfortably and moved on down the hall.
There, he saw another woman, this one younger and red-headed.
Again, he extended his hand.
She gripped it and leaned in close. “I wish my sister, Diane was here!”
Doesn't this begin to sound like the 'Puss in Boots' story?
“Make way for the Marquis of Carrabbas!”
Just a thought.
Moving on . . .
Diane (me), was in Lethbridge.
I had spent the night with the family of the boy I was currently dating.
Okay, yes, I knew Grant was the one, but that didn't stop me from dating . . .
The next week, again at church, we finally came face-to-face.
We were heading to class and I 'happened to be' following him up the hall.
He pulled aside a curtain and stepped back to let me pass.
“You must be Diane,” he said. 
No, 'I've heard so much about you.' 'So, you're the blonde.'
Just that. “You must be Diane.”
“You must be Grant,” I answered.
He looked exactly like his picture.
And suddenly, in my mind, I heard the words, “That is the man you're going to marry.”
So clearly.
I even glanced around to see who had said it.
Of course, Grant didn't hear it.
He maintains to this day that either his dad or my mom were hiding somewhere in the vicinity and whispering the words into my ear.
We sat together in class that day.
He, more or less still in 'missionary mode' where girls don't exist.
And me, determined that my 'happily ever after' was definitely on it's way.
Which it was.
It took us a while to get to that first date.
It's a must-read and you can find it here.
But the rest, as they say, is history.

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