Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Typing 10

In high school, amid the myriad choices, there was one class everyone was expected to take.
None of us could understand why.
It was a useless class.
What on earth would we ever need it for?
It's not like it had any practical applications.
Yep. Typing 10.
The colossal waste of time.
But we were, if nothing else, dutiful.
Daily, we would report to our teacher.
Then scurry to get the best machine.
I should explain, here, that the machines we used were all elderly 'Olivetti Underwoods'.
Totally manual.
Capable of jamming if any two keys approached the action zone at the same time.
And able to take whatever abuse we chose to mete out.
And, believe me, that was Abuse with a capital 'A'.
One friend would systematically pound on her machine for every mistake she made.
It was quite entertaining.
And made the typing of the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog not quite so mundane.
And repetitive.
We were taken through exercises designed to improve our accuracy.
Our speed.
And our ability to type while looking anywhere other than our keyboard.
None of which were my forte.
Our teacher would stand at the front of the room with her trusty little stopwatch.
And holler 'Go!”
Dozens of keys would begin clicking.
Okay, another thing I should mention is that manual typewriters, at least the ones we used, were noisy.
All of us typing together would constitute what could only be considered a 'din'.
With the sound of my friend periodically rising above as she stopped to punch her machine. “Stupid, useless . . .!”
Hands in our laps.
Then we would roll out our paper and check for mistakes.
This is where I always came to grief.
Well, one of the places.
I could type fast.
I just didn't ever hit the right keys.
Of all the kids in the class, I probably scored the worst.
Oddly enough, I'm the only one who now makes her living . . . typing.
The irony is just sickening.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Honey Bucket Wars

Our second son is tall.
Taller than average.
In his stocking feet, he stands six foot eight.
Put shoes on the lad and . . . well, you get the picture.
I have a close family friend.
I don't want to say that she is short, but . . . okay, she is short.
Her head reaches somewhere between our son's chest and his belt buckle.
But she makes up for lack of quantity with excess of quality.
Describes her perfectly.
Erik, said second son, used to tease her.
About her height.
Or lack thereof.
I should point out that this woman has six children of her own.
She could give it right back.
One day, he stood looking down at her.
And grinning.
“Oh!” she said.
Nearby was a bucket of honey.
Okay, yes. When one has six children, plus foster kids, one buys honey by the bucketful.
Moving on . . .
She pushed the bucket close and stood up on it.
I should point out that it only increased her height by about ten inches. Not nearly enough.
“Ha!” she said, looking up into his face. “What are you going to do about that?”
Erik merely stepped backwards.
“Oh!” She said. She jumped off her bucket and kicked it over beside him again.
Then she stepped up once more.
“Ha!” she said again.
He stepped back once more.
“Oh!” she said.
This went on for some time.
She pushed that honey bucket all over the kitchen.
Somehow, confrontation is a bit less . . . confrontational . . . when one partner has to keep moving their honey bucket to continue with the . . . confrontation.
Maybe an important point to consider . . .

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Frog

When my Husby was a teenager, he bought an old truck.
Which he painted green.
Forever after, it was known as The Frog.
And became a common sight on the streets of Fort MacLeod, Alberta.
The Frog was Grant's pride and joy.
He loved tinkering with it.
Often, his father commented on the amount of time spent with that old truck.
And the dollars.
“What are you doing now?” he asked one day. “Nickle-plating it?”
Grant laughed, but an idea was born.
He bought a small tin of aluminium paint.
Then crawled under the truck.
Scraped the rust and dirt off the chassis.
And painted it.
Shortly thereafter (oooh! good word) his father took the truck down to the local shop to have the oil changed.
The mechanic slid underneath to begin proceedings.
“Hey!” he shouted. “It's chrome-plated under here!”
Grant's dad had to see it.
He just shook his head and snickered.
Yes. Snickered.
“I knew it!”
Later, Grant and many, many friends were heading to a youth activity down near the river in Lethbridge.
The cab of the truck was stuffed with young bodies.
And the back with many more.
A policeman pulled them over.
“Have you been drinking?” he asked my Husby.
“No, officer,” came the respectful reply.
It's my story, I'll tell it how I want.
Moving on . . .
“No officer. We are just heading to a youth activity.”
“Well you have a taillight out,” the officer said. “While we're at it, let's give this truck the once-over.”
“Okay,” Grant said.
The officer and his trusty flashlight began a systematic search for 'things wrong'.
Brake lights.
High/low beams.
Grant pulled out the ashtray.
The horn honked loudly.
The officer swung his flashlight back to the console.
“Do that again!” he said.
Grant pulled out the ashtray.
“This thing belongs in a museum!”
He was right.
I never got to meet The Frog.
It had been sold long before I came on the scene.
But my Husby has described it.
And the many adventures they shared.
Good stories.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Ineffective Snitching

Our eldest son isn't someone who could be considered 'sneaky'.
In fact, I think he swings quite the other way.
Oh, he tries.
In fact, when he was little, he used to fancy himself a ninja.
The master of subtlety and sneak-iness.
But when it came to actually . . . shifting the blame, or obfuscation of facts?
He was lost.
And oddly enough, it was usually because he couldn’t bear to leave things in a disorderly manner.
Let's face it. Sneaking into other people's possessions, and tidying them before you leave?
Better than they were before?
Not the most subtle of practices.
When Mark was 12, his scout group was fund-raising.
He dutifully received his case of chocolate-covered almonds.
I should point out that he was supposed to sell them.
He didn't.
The case rested - for safety's sake and because I knew my almond-loving son - on the floor in my bedroom.
Daily, I lifted one of the boxes on top and rattled it.
Just to make sure it hadn't been tampered with.
In hindsight, I should have dug deeper.
Moving on . . .
The evening came when we had been planning to go door-to-door.
I lifted the case.
It was surprisingly light.
Much too light.
I discovered that the only boxes that actually contained almonds were the four on the top.
Mark had been systematically eating the rest.
Then tidily sealing the empties and putting them back into the box.
He also had a thing for ice cream.
The sneaking of which was a family Olympic sport.
But where the other kids would grab a spoon and sneak a bite, then dispose of said spoon into the sink where it would instantly achieve anonymity.
Mark would get out a bowl.
And spoon.
Sneak his ice cream.
Then rinse the bowl and spoon.
And set them in the freezer.
With the ice cream.
Remember what I said about subtlety?
Yep. Not happening.
Years have passed.
I can't comment about his almond/ice cream snitching ways or their effectiveness today.
His wife has to worry about that.
It's a perfect world.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When Mom DOESN'T Know Best

My future Husby and I were preparing for our wedding.
It had been a painless process to this point.
We were standing in the Men's Wear shop.
The best one in Lethbridge.
Husby-to-be was dressed inn a new suit.
Light blue.
Spiffy. (real word)
He looked fantastic.
It was the 70s.
Styles were . . . unusual.
I loved this new, light-blue suit.
I thought it would look fantastic with a dark blue shirt and a light tie.
Now, I should explain here that Husby-to-be had spent his whole life, and particularly the last two years in a dark suit, white shirt and dark tie.
He never noticed how the rich and famous and photographed were dressed.
Never caught a glimpse of the 'fashion' ads.
Dark suit, white shirt and dark tie were what a young man wore.
Every young man.
His wife-to-be was just a touch more daring.
I had seen the fashion ads.
Had glanced through the Movie Star magazines.
I knew Husby-to-be would look amazing in a light suit, dark shirt and light tie.
Like the men in the Godfather.
In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have mentioned that.
I had gotten him into the suit.
But there, all progress had stopped.
He stared suspiciously at the dark shirt I was holding up.
And the light tie.
Finally, he uttered the words that every husby-to-be learns, sooner or later, NOT to say.
Those fateful words that draw a neat line between pre-marriage days and post-marriage days.
“I'll ask my mom what she thinks.”
I'm sure the look on my face spoke volumes.
Because he immediately recognized he had said something wrong.
He wasn't sure what, but . . . definitely wrong.
He did wear the light suit.
But with a white shirt and dark tie.
All totally without any input from his mom.
Compromise at its best.

Monday, July 23, 2012


In the calving field at the Stringam Ranch was a large patch of bullberry bushes.
Or at least that's what we called them.
I don't know what their 'official' name is.
It doesn't matter.
Whatever their name, they're deadly.
Spikes – I am not exaggerating – up to two inches long.
Against a tender and unprotected human hide, they could do some real damage.
The cows in the field had learned to use them.
When a *gasp* human appeared, they would charge into the bushes.
And chuckle with their friends.
I know.
I heard them.
Moving on . . .
The first time or two, my horse decided to charge in after them.
I should explain that a horse's hide is equally as tough as a cow's.
A human's? See above.
Inevitably I would emerge from such incidents rather the 'worse for the wear'.
As my mother was so fond of saying.
The second time I showed up at home with bloodstains on my shredded jeans, my mother drug out Dad's moose-hide chaps.
Now, I should mention here that chaps look really good on a tall slim cowboy.
Really, really good.
And certainly they have their uses.
The chaps, not the cowboys.
Okay yes. A cowboy, too, has his uses.
But that is a completely different sort of post . . .
Back to my story . . .
Chaps provide protection from the ravages of ranch work.
They have saved many a pair of jeans from wear during haying.
And many a cowboy from damage when things get up close and personal.
But they are perversely hard to ride in when one is doing so bareback.
I know.
I tried.
Bareback riding requires balance.
And a good grip with the knees.
Chaps, especially heavy ones, prevent the all-important knee grip.
And actually make balance a bit more difficult.
What to do?
Protection won out.
I wore the chaps.
And they sported the scars to prove it.
Picture leather nearly a quarter of an inch thick.
With cuts that went almost all the way through.
That could have been me.
Years later, I showed them to my children.
Who expressed proper and well-deserved awe and amazement.
Yesterday, my Husby and I were wandering through a store in cattlemen country.
Hanging from the rafters just inside the front door were a pair of chaps.
But not just any chaps.
These were made of leather, dyed green and purple and gold and pink.
With silver fringe.
I stared at them.
Chaps had obviously changed.
Not just for protection any more.
Now they could be worn to scare cows out of the bush.
Or so that their rider could be seen by satellite.
Ranching has come a long way.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Picnics are a fixture of the great Canadian summer.
Something anticipated throughout the long, dark winter.
The reward for spending months huddled around the wood stove.
Okay, I'm exaggerating.
But Canada does have winter.
And Canadians definitely look forward to summer.
And picnics.
The trouble with picnics is that they are so dependant on so many factors.
Weather is a biggie.
For instance, it's rather hard to picnic in the rain.
Though it has been done.
Wind, too can play havoc with one's plans.
As well as one's picnic blanket, napkins, paper plates.
And smaller guests.
But one of the most insidious of picnic problems is the uninvited guest.
And, believe me, they show up for every picnic.
They show up if a picnic is merely being contemplated.
I'm sure they have poked their noses in at your picnics.
And I do mean poked.
I'm talking mosquitoes here.
Those little, lighter-than-air messengers of doom.
Irritators extraordinaire.
High-pitched precursors to prolonged itch and expressive words.
Known to achieve sizes heretofore only seen in the pre-Cambrian days.
With the ability to carry off unsuspecting small animals.
The reason Canadians wear their winter gear year round.
And learn to eat quickly and with one hand.
While the other hand feverishly stands guard.
My friends were picnicking.
Their entire family had turned out.
They were visiting.
Enjoying the beautiful day and fresh air.
And generally doing those things that make a picnic so enjoyable.
Grandmother was seated at one of the many picnic tables.
Enjoying a hamburger.
With a sesame seed bun.
In the company of one of her young grandsons.
That's when the uninvited guests arrived.
One particularly determined individual was making life miserable for said Grandmother.
She lifted a hand and grabbed at it.
Now the normal hand motion is: Grab. Look. And if one is successful, Smash.
She completed the first two manoeuvres.
Rats. She had missed.
But she did see a sesame seed, stuck to her finger.
Which she then, happily, licked off.
Now I should probably mention, here, that the grandson was seated opposite, watching his beloved grandmother.
I probably don't have to describe what he thought he saw.
But I will.
Grandmother grabbing mosquitoes.
And eating them.
His horrified expression and the words 'Grandma! Yuck!' which burst out of him alerted her to what he was seeing.
She quickly explained.
And peace and appetite were restored.
But she raises an important point.
Instead of making mosquitoes the uninvited guests at a picnic, why not make them the picnic?
Who's with me?
Smashing hands up!

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