Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Six-Man Hot Tub

For over twenty years, we ran a family business.
Mikey's Music Machine.
We were DJs.
Specializing in family dances.
We had . . . fun.
Running a family business is wonderful in many respects.
Telephone solicitors trying to sell your business advertising . . . aren't.
Wonderful, that is.
In fact, annoying would probably be the correct term.
With my apologies to anyone reading this who may have 'telephone solicitation' on their resume.
One particularly persistent individual had been on the phone with me for longer than I cared to talk to him.
Which was more than five seconds.
He wanted to sell our company pens.
Pens with 'Mikey's Music Machine' printed in a number of different fonts.
On an even greater selection of backgrounds.
In an attempt to convince me of the need for said pens, his company would guarantee that, by placing an order, I would receive one of the following:
  • A new car
  • A new, big-screen TV
  • A six-man hot tub.
It was there I stopped him.
“Six-man hot tub?” I said. “Does it come with the men?”
There was a long pause on the other end of the phone.
“Ummm . . . no.”
“Darn,” I said.
Then the unexpected response. “Are you married?”
It was my turn to say, “Ummm . . . yes.”
And his turn to say, “Darn.”
I really don't know what path the conversation had taken, but it was definitely not the one that we had started out on.
Time to get off the phone.
Which I did.
Without my pens.
Yep. Running your own family business.
An eye-opener.
In so many different ways.

Friday, July 20, 2012


I have to admit it.
I'm not always a nice person.
I've had my moments.
Confession time.
This is my worst one . . .

I was doing something important!
Well . . . important to me.
All right, I was reading.
But it was a good book!
You're right. I have no excuse . . .
We had a large family.
And several hired men.
“Diane. Dishes!”
Meals were plentiful.
The dishes following said meal? Numerous.
And the time required to clean them?
“Diane this is the second time I've called you! Come and wash the dishes!”
It was my turn.
But . . . my book!
Another sigh.
Mom poked her head into the living room, where I was so happily engrossed. “Diane, this is the third time. I'm not going to ask you again!”
Oh good. If she wasn't going to ask me again that meant I was in the clear, right?
Dad came out of his office. “Diane.”
“Fine.” I carefully closed my book and set it down. Then, feet dragging, headed mutinously for the kitchen.
And the 'mountain' of dishes waiting for me.
Mom was putting the last of the left-overs away.
“The dishwasher's empty, dear,” she said.
“Hrmphrfmphmrfamum,” I said.
I should point out a couple of things here.
Our dishwasher was the 'roll out' kind.
It normally resided under the cupboard.
When needed, it was pulled into the centre of the room, loaded with dishes, and rolled to the sink.
Where it was connected to the faucet.
It was heavy.
And my mom, she-of-the-annoying-habit-of-finding-chores, was standing directly in front.
I grabbed the handle and, regardless of what portion of my mother's body was in the way, pulled.
I caught the toes of one of her feet under the front of the dishwasher.
She yelped and jumped out of the way.
I mumbled an unconvincing apology and, feeling rather ashamed of myself, continued with my chore.
I really didn't mean to hurt my mom.
I was crabby and feeling ornery.
And that's absolutely no excuse.
Forty years later, I still regret it.
Temper and immaturity.
Not a good combination.
To this day, I wish I could kiss that poor bruised foot and tell her how sorry I am.
Maybe someday, I'll get the chance.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Our Furry Camping Neighbours

Sometimes our attempts to get up close and personal with nature gets us UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL with nature.
For many years, our family vacationed yearly at a beautiful campground in Saskatchewan.
Kimball Lake.
It is considered one of the top ten beaches in Canada.
Yes. Canada does have beaches.
Moving on . . .
One momentous year, we named the 'Year of the Bear'.
For obvious reasons.
I'd like to tell you about it . . .
Our family, being large in numbers, preferred to camp on the outer reaches of the vast campground.
The overflow area.
Usually we and our friends were the only people there.
It was amazing.
The kids could play 'Kick the Can'.
'Capture the flag'.
Venture all over the site.
And never disturb anyone.
Wonderful times.
When our kids were happily engaged in something quiet, it was also peaceful.
But one year, its remote location attracted another kind of camper.
The furry, four-legged kind.
Fortunately for us, these 'other' campers were two-year-olds.
Recently pushed out of the nest by new arrivals.
They were young and inexperienced.
One afternoon, I was happily relaxed in the hammock, reading.
My Husby was sitting nearby, working on yet another diamond willow project.
“Diane,” he said quietly.
“Diane.” A little louder.
I looked at him.
He pointed past me with his chin.
I turned to look behind me.
Not ten feet away, a coal-black young bear was demolishing a rotten log.
“Gee!” I rolled quickly off the hammock and joined my husband.
The bear looked at us.
“Maybe if we make some noise, it'll scare him off,” my Husby suggested. “Maybe.”
Meanwhile, behind us, our friend was frantically corralling children and putting them into cars.
I joined her.
My Husby got a large kettle and spoon and banged on it.
The bear, ears up and definitely interested, started towards him.
He quickly scrambled into our car.
Okay, that didn't work.
We had some neighbouring campers that year.
They too heard the noise and, carrying coffee and donuts, came over to see what was going on.
Horrified, we watched them from the safety of our car.
Fortunately for them, the park rangers were alert to the visit.
One arrived at the climactic moment.
Armed with rubber bullets.
He shot our little visitor in the butt.
Squealing loudly, the bear disappeared.
The ranger than gave us a lecture on bear safety.
Something obviously needed.
And continued his patrol.
Sometime later, a second bear, light brown in colour, appeared across the campground.
Near a deserted picnic table.
Which it proceeded to use as a scratching post.
Please note: Always wash your tables before use.
We remembered our bear-safety lecture and stayed well away from it.
But this time, our dogs noticed it and one of them barked.
The bear disappeared.
The third bear of the year was at the neighbour's site when we came back from the beach.
Licking the cans in the neighbour's recycle.
I should mention, here, that we all knew to pick up our garbage and deposit it in the bear-proof containers. But none of us realized that our empty cans were also a temptation.
The ranger was already there.
Unfortunately, this last bear had already been 'relocated' once.
She had returned.
She was out of chances.
The sound of the ranger's gun, this time, was eerie and final.
He loaded the carcass into his truck and drove away.
We watched him sadly.
Such a beautiful creature.
Who had the misfortune of discovering 'man'.
Yep. Camping is a chance to commune with nature.
Sometimes, the act of communing is a little poignant.
But always it is memorable.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Camping Survival Skills

For over twenty years, my Husby served as Scout supervisor.
This included acting as a leader on numerous scout camps.
A true test of one's manhood.
Or at least one's patience and endurance.
These camps were held, invariably, in the great outdoors.
Woods. Mountains. Streams.
Wild animals.
They glimpsed many, many of these latter.
But the animals they saw most were the cute, little furry ones who ran in and out of their campsites.
Made messes.
And stole food.
The original camp robbers.
On one camp, there was a particular little scamp.
A little bolder and craftier than others like her.
She got into one too many bags of treats.
One of the scouts, one who had aspirations to play major league, threw a rock at her.
Hit her square.
And knocked her dead.
I don't know which of them was the most surprised.
My Husby looked at the chagrined boy and decided this was a perfect teaching moment.
One did not waste what was given in the woods, he told the scouter.
He made the boy skin the squirrel out.
Clean it.
And cook it.
Unfortunately, the lesson was rather lost.
It was a young squirrel, tender and succulent.
Rather tasty.
The boys talked about the incident throughout the rest of the camp.
And into the next season.
And winter camp.
Attended by the younger brother of the first scout.
Who now had some big shoes to fill.
Or so he thought.
Again, there was an abundance of squirrels.
He chose one.
Took aim with his rock.
And hit it with one shot.
So far so good.
After enduring the getting-to-be-standard lecture from his scouter, he skinned the squirrel out.
Cleaned it.
And cooked it.
And suddenly discovered that not all squirrels are the same.
This one, a rather elderly male had been surviving on winter fare and was . . . nothing like the first.
Tough, stringy and decidedly . . . un-tasty.
Unhappily, he chewed his way through it.
Then hung up his stones and throwing arm for good.
Some records just aren't made to be broken.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fishing for Brothers

It's July.
Camping time again.
Something our family has done for the past 1000 years.
Okay, so I only remember the last fifty or so, so I'm guessing.
We have had a lot of adventures in that time.
Today, I'm remembering one that happened because of our little blue tent trailer.
Our little trailer was purchased in Calgary, Alberta in January 1978.
It was so cold that day that I thought the flooring was a sheet of tin.
In my defence, linoleum can resemble tin when it is frozen solid.
Moving on . . .
When the planet heated up a bit, we opened our new purchase and discovered a tidy, little world in itself.
Three neat beds and a square central floor.
Perfect for a family of eight.
It has taken our family everywhere.
For many years, we camped yearly in a beautiful campground in Saskatchewan.
Kimball Lake.
And that's where this story takes place.
Our two youngest were napping.
I use this word lightly.
Because there was no 'napping' happening.
Tristan was in the playpen on the floor.
And Tiana on the bed she shared with her older sister.
Tristan had learned to crawl out of his pen and onto one of the beds.
Normally, this wouldn't have been a problem.
Let me describe our trailer to you.
It has three wings that fold out to form the beds.
The canvas wraps around each of these wings and hooks securely underneath.
With elastic cords.
It is possible to slide through those spaces.
If your small enough.
And Tristan, at thirteen months was definitely small enough.
He crawled up onto the bed.
Rolled against the side.
And slid through.
Now it wasn't a long drop to the ground underneath, but it would have given the little fellow quite a jolt.
Tiana, three, had been watching.
She saw him slip through.
And, with uncharacteristic three-year-old speed and fortitude, leaped across and grabbed him.
My good friend, Tammy and I were seated just outside, visiting.
Suddenly, we saw a pair of little legs kicking and wiggling out of the side of the trailer and heard my daughter call out.
I ran into the trailer.
Tiana and the top half of Tristan were visible.
She had both of his hands and was leaning back, trying to keep him from sliding further.
He was giggling happily and trying to wiggle out of her grip.
“Mo-om!” she shouted again.
I grabbed my son and pulled him to safety.
Then put him back in his bed with stern instructions to stay there.
That tiny son is now a husband and father.
But every year, when my Husby and I put up our little trailer, I think of the small boy and his almost escape.
I picture those little legs protruding from the side of the trailer, kicking merrily.
And his sister, recognizing his danger and holding on frantically with all of her three-year-old strength..
It's a good memory.

Monday, July 16, 2012


My Husby loves to cook.
And he's good at it.
His family is very, very appreciative.
Well, his wife is.
Moving on . . .
He started out cooking breakfasts.
Mostly out of necessity.
I seldom got back from my run in time to achieve 'hot and wholesome'.
Mostly, my family got “cold and fast'.
I don't have to tell you which my Husby prefers.
As the years went by, his breakfasts got more elaborate.
And delicious.
And his family scurried to the breakfast table, anxious to sample that day's offerings.
Grant usually had to call two or three times before anyone showed their sleepy face in the dining room.
None of them wanted to risk getting there too early or they would be immediately enlisted in 'table setting' duty.
He started calling them earlier and earlier in an attempt to get them there before the food got cold.
Finally, it became common for him to start calling when things started cooking.
A good fifteen minutes before any food approached the table.
But what was the custom in our house, wasn't necessarily the custom in others.
Something we learned by experience.
A young woman was staying a few weeks with our family.
It was her first morning.
Grant walked into the kitchen and started adding ingredients to pans.
The he hollered,” Breakfast!”
And went back to stirring.
I had finished my run and walked into the kitchen to set the table.
There was our little house guest, looking very small and lonely at the large, empty table.
All by herself.
She looked at me. “I thought Mr. Tolley called us for breakfast,” she said in a tiny voice.
I laughed. “Maybe I should explain a few things,” I said.
Sadly, she learned to show up with the rest of the kids.
Maybe learning about other cultures first-hand isn't always a good thing.

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