Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Insignificant. A Short Story. Part Two

What would you do?
If you could . . .
Part Two

“Who's to pay today, Lare?” she asked.
Her lab assistant, Larry turned to look at her. “Oh, Hello, Boss! Have a good weekend?”
“Why does everyone keep on asking me that?” Lucy muttered.
Larry stared at her. “I guess . . . because they're wondering if you had a good time?”
Lucy sighed. “Yes. I had a nice weekend. It would have been better if a few less mosquitoes had showed up, but still, we had a good time.”
Larry shook his head. “You and your mosquitoes,” he said, grinning.
Lucy made a face. “Can we please start our day?” she asked.
Larry coloured slightly. “Sorry, Boss,” he said.
He turned and picked up a delicate instrument. “I have been thinking and thinking all weekend,” he said, “going over the results of that final test we did on Friday, and I think I've figured it out. Initially, everything works. But we always seem to come to grief when we try to increase the power. The damper field erodes, spilling energy and causing the entire process to break down, system by system.”
He went on. “I filmed that last attempt and went over it frame by frame.” He held up the device. “I observed two weak joints in the whole process, here and here.” He indicated. “I have reinforced the shielding in those two places.”
Lucy carefully took the device from Larry's hands, cradling it gently in her own. “You think it could be that simple?” she asked.
“I do,” Larry said. “Who was it who said that the simplest solutions are often the right ones.”
“I don't know, but I think he – or she – is a genius.” Lucy grinned. “Or an idiot.”
“I'm going to vote for genius,” Larry said. “Shall we give it a whirl?”
“Lead on,” Lucy said.
The two of them crossed the lab.
“Oh, I had them replace the door in the booth,” Larry said. “Again.”
Lucy grinned. “We are rather hard on doors,” she said.
“Well, I think replacing a door now is a small price to pay,” Larry said.
“And I agree with you,” Lucy said. “But I don't know if the powers that be agree with us.”
Larry sighed dramatically. “Lack of vision, Boss,” he said. “Complete lack of vision.”
Lucy laughed and stood to one side as Larry opened a heavy glass door, then crossed a small inner chamber and pressed a recessed button in a console on the wall.
A door lowered slowly, revealing delicate and intricate wires and connectors. Lucy placed the instrument she held into the only clear spot and fastened it carefully.
Larry attached several connectors.
Then they both ran through the checklist mentally.
“One more time, and I think we're ready to try again,” Lucy said.
“I'll get the list. Let's do this right.” Larry ran to his workbench and came back with a clipboard.
The two of them checked off each item.
“Well?” Lucy looked at her assistant.
“Let's do it!” Larry said.
They both stepped out of the booth.
“I'll get the camera,” Lucy said.
“Starting the countdown,” Larry said.
“Give me ten seconds.”
Lucy picked up a small video camera and carried it back into the booth. “How much time should I give it?” she asked.
“Oh, I think we need at least thirty seconds,” Larry said.
“Okay, I'm going to set it for thirty,” Lucy said, pressing some buttons. She looked at Larry. “We can always increase it later.”
He laughed. “Yeah. If there is a later.”
“Hey! No pessimism allowed!”
Lucy set the small camera on a pedestal that she pulled to the centre of the booth. She smiled down at it. “Ready.”
“Okay,” Larry said. He paused. “Maybe you should join me on this side of the glass,” he added.
“Oh. Right.” Lucy stepped out of the booth and carefully closed the door. She took a deep breath. “Here we go again,” she said.
Larry flipped a switch and spoke into a small mike. “July 19. Process 486.2B. Trial 46.” He looked at the large clock on the wall. “Time: 9:49 AM.”
“Do it,” Lucy said.
Larry pressed the large, brown button in the centre of his console. “We're away!” he said.
Lucy reached out and gripped Larry's hand.
Ribbons of orange light began to swirl about the small booth. More and more. Faster and faster.
The booth began to glow.
“This is as far as we've come before,” Larry said.
“I know,” Lucy whispered. “Turn it up.”
Larry reached for a dial on the far right side. “Ready?”
Lucy nodded jerkily, not taking her eyes from the glowing booth in front of her.
Larry slowly began to twist.
The glow brightened. A high-pitched hum began.
And then, with a faint 'pop', the camera disappeared.
The glow died suddenly and completely.
Lucy looked at Larry, her eyes wide. “Did it . . .?”
“I don't know,” Larry said. He had his eyes on the clock.
For several seconds, both of them watched the sweep of the second hand as it made its way silently around the clock face.
Finally, Larry pushed a second button.
With another 'pop' the camera re-appeared. Sitting innocently on its pedestal as if it had never left.
Lucy caught her breath, and gripped Larry's hand even harder. She started forward.
“Wait,” Larry cautioned, pulling her back. “Let me shut everything down first.”
He pressed several buttons and turned a couple of dials. “Okay. That should do it,” he said.
The two of them made their way slowly to the door of the booth.
Lucy reached for the doorknob. She looked at Larry and grinned. “Ready?”
He grinned back. “Ready.”
She turned the knob.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Insignificant. A Short Story.

What would you do?
If you could . . .
Part One

“Oh, rats! The mosquitoes are out!” Lucy reached into her beach bag and pulled out a large bottle of bug-repellant. Uncapping it, she looked around at her companions. “Have I mentioned how much I hate mosquitoes?” she asked.
“Frequently,” Marie said.
“Is there a word that means more-than-frequently?” Darius asked.
“How about 'constantly'?” Frank asked.
“Perfect!” Darius laughed.
Lucy made a face at them, then proceeded to rub repellant onto every exposed surface.
There weren't many.
The temperature was in the eighties, but Lucy was kitted out in long-sleeves, long pants, thick wool socks and ankle-high hiking boots.
She put down the bottle and grabbed her beekeeper's hat. “There,” she said, adjusting the net. “I'm ready.”
Darius rapped on her hat. “Hello?” he said. “Can Lucy come out to play?”
Everyone, except Lucy, laughed.
“Shuddup!” Lucy said, folding her arms.
“Honestly, Luce, they're not that bad,” Marie said.
“Believe me, Mare, even one is bad!” Lucy peered out through her screen. “If I could have my way, I would go back to the day the first two mosquitoes appeared and SMASH THEM FLAT!”
“Stop beating around the bush, Luce, and tell us what you really think!” Darius said, laughing.
“Think of what I would save all of you from!” Lucy said. “Think of the service it would be to mankind if they never had to contend with those little, evil blood-sucking parasites!”
“When did we start talking about politicians?” Frank asked.
“I hate you all,” Lucy said.
Everyone laughed again.
“But think of all the companies that would fold if mosquitoes were eradicated from our world,” Marie said. “Every company that manufactures repellant in all its myriad shapes and forms.”
“Well, they'd just have to find other things to repel,” Lucy said. “And sucks to be them.”
“You're a hard case, Luce,” Marie laughed. “A hard case.”
“So now that you've got me up here as mosquito bait in the wilds, what are you planning to do with me?” Lucy asked.
“Well, if we could unwrap you, we were planning on a swim in the lake,” Frank said.
“And maybe a hike and a nice wiener roast around the campfire,” Darius added.
Lucy patted her hat. “Sorry guys,” she said. “But the wrapping stays on. I'll just watch.”
Frank looked at Marie and Darius. “Why do we keep on doing this to ourselves?” he asked.
Marie laughed. “What is the definition of 'insane'? When you keep doing the same things expecting a different outcome.”
“I guess we're all insane,” Darius said.
“Well I am,” Lucy said. “I keep coming out here, expecting a quiet, mosquito-less experience.”
“Yep. It's official. We're all insane,” Darius said.
* * *
“So how was your weekend?” Jen asked.
“Well, most of us had a great time,” Marie said.
Lucy stuck her tongue out at her friend.
Jen laughed. “Let me guess. You tried to get Lucy-the-mosquito-hater out of her armour.”
Marie sighed volubly. “It was hopeless,” she said. “Hopeless.”
“Did the rest of you enjoy yourselves?”
“Yeah,” Marie said. “The lake was warmer than I ever remember it being. The hike was wonderful and the campfire, a great end to a great weekend.”
She looked at Lucy. “If we hadn't had to drag Luce's sorry butt around all weekend, it would have been perfect!”
“Hey! I didn't ask you to haul me out to 'mosquito haven'!” Lucy said.
Marie laughed. “Really, we had a fun time,” she said. “I think even Lucy enjoyed herself, once we moved inside.”
Jen shook her head. “Luce, you really have a thing about mosquitoes,” she said.
“I think there is a word for it,” Marie said. “Phobia.”
“A mosquitobia?” Jen asked.
“Or a phobosquito,” Marie suggested.
Both women laughed.
Lucy shook her head and stomped off to her lab.
* * *

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Okay. Sometimes, it worked.

Next to bedtime, the highlight of a mother's day.
Or at least in my mother's day.
Mom was a great believer in the taking of naps.
It didn't matter if her children – ie. me -- weren't tired.
It they, meaning me, were willing and able to perform amazing feats of strength and energy. Provide positive proof that a nap definitely wasn't needed.
Someone needed a nap.
She would march me to my room.
Pull the blinds.
And point to the bed.
Reluctantly, I would lie down.
Mom would lie down beside me.
To make sure I stayed.
It worked.
I did stay.
Until she went to sleep.
See? One of us definitely needed a nap.
But I digress . . .
And that's when the skills I had learned over time at great personal cost came into play.
Let me describe . . .
First, I would slide out from under Mom's arm.
You have to know that this was only the beginning.
And, oddly enough, the easiest part.
Because once free of that arm, things got more complicated.
Mom was attuned to the slightest shift in the mattress.
I had to make sure that I didn't get careless and move too quickly.
Slowly, I would slide toward the edge of the bed.
An inch.
And carefully.
With long pauses between.
That fourteen inches of mattress looked mighty big at times.
And I didn't get a second chance if I got caught.
Countless times, I would have nearly reached my goal and Mom's eyes would snap open. “Diane! Get back here!”
But there were glorious days when I was really sneaky, and would make it clear out to the living room before she noticed.
She would appear in the doorway, bleary-eyed and unsteady.
“Diane! What are you doing?”
It was a small victory.
But a victory nonetheless.

P.S. You know you're truly an adult when you no longer take naps.
But wish you did.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Truck Ballet

Okay. Picture it in orange . . .

If one was raised on a ranch in Southern Alberta, one was driving by the time one could clearly see above the dashboard.
This involved getting physically taller.
Because Dad wouldn’t allow one to use the Sears catalogue for added height.
By the time I was 12, I was there.
Dad handed me the keys, took me through car control basics in a nearby empty field, and set me loose.
Oh, I wasn’t allowed on any roads.
And my driving was strictly limited to running errands to and from said fields.
But I was driving!
Oddly enough, in those early days, I never had any accidents.
Not one.
Those were reserved for after I received my driver’s license and had discovered the joys of driving on real roads.
Case in point:
I was driving a friend’s cool, orange, 1974 Ford truck.
Four-on-the-floor with a smooth clutch.
The steering was a bit dodgy. Armstrong, as we were fond of calling it.
But it was a sweet truck to drive.
We were heading to the track.
I should mention, here, that I used to help my friend with his uncle’s racehorses at the track.
It was . . . fun.
But that is another blog post.
Moving on . . .
It was time to feed and start the day’s training.
And, as is usually the custom in Alberta in February, the roads were icy.
We were coming to a curve.
Slowing was indicated.
Now I had been well-instructed by my brothers on the best way to begin.
By down-shifting.
I pressed the clutch.
Expertly shoved the gearshift into the next lower gear.
And let out the clutch.
All while driving over a sheet of black ice.
The next few moments are a blur.
I do remember the sensation of spinning.
Because we were.
That old truck performed maneuvers that could have put it on center stage during a performance by the Royal Alberta Ballet.
Did you know a truck can pirouette?
Well, it can.
And very gracefully, too.
Eons and multiple circles later, we finally came to a rest, parked neatly on the median.
Facing the wrong way.
We had, somehow, managed to miss three traffic signs, two trees and one astonished pedestrian.
With dog.
For a moment, we caught our breath and counted limbs.
Then I put the truck into gear and started forward.
Down off the median and onto the street.
The wrong way.
“In Canada, we drive on the right side,” my friend pointed out shakily.
Oh. Right.
I drove back onto the median and crossed over it to the other side of the street.
We made it to the track safely.
But, for some reason, my friend would never let me drive his truck again.
Even though I pointed out, rather intelligently I believe, that there couldn’t possibly be ice on the streets of Lethbridge in the middle of July.
Some people simply don’t forgive and forget.
Emphasis on forget.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bonk Eye

Recently, I've noticed something.
That, in itself is remarkable.
Moving on . . .
I work with a group of elderly people.
Some of them like nothing better than talking about their health.
Or lack thereof.
I've been treated to stories of gall bladders.
Mysterious lumps.
And a plethora of aches and pains.
I cluck sympathetically.
Knowing that each of these ailments will probably visit me at some point.
But what is truly remarkable is the fact that the very young people I also associate with, ie. my grandchildren, are equally interested in their health.
Scrapes, bruises and cuts are examined minutely and then displayed, accompanied by a lurid tale of woe.
Sometimes, a tiny wound might go undetected for several days. Have scabbed over and be well on its way to healing. But once discovered, it must be fussed over and bandaged and kissed.
Several times.
My two-year-old granddaughter had fallen and bumped her head.
Just above her eye.
After the initial tears and hysteria, she had examined her wound in the mirror.
There was a distinct bruise above her eye.
“Mom!” she said loudly. “Bonk eye!”
Her mother agreed that, yes, she had 'bonked' her eye.
But that wasn't enough.
She had to tell everyone in the room.
Several times.
Later, at dinner, she mentioned it again.
Several more times.
Her uncle Tristan, having been at an activity, was late to dinner.
He slid into his chair and started dishing out food.
Here was someone new to tell.
“Unca Tristan!” she said, “Bonk eye!”
Tristan looked at her. “Yes, I see that you bonked your eye,” he said. He started eating.
“Unca Tristan, look! Bonk eye!”
“Yes,” he said.
“Bonk eye, Unca Tristan!”
She took a couple of bites of food. Then, “Unca Tristan!”
“I know,” he broke in, rather wearily.
“Bonk eye!”
This went on through the remainder of the meal.
And every time we saw her for the next few weeks.
Long after the slight bruise had healed.
And until the next injury pushed it off the front page.
Then it was, “Unca Tristan! Look!”
He looked at me. “On, man. Are we going to have another chorus of 'bonk-eye'?” he said.
I laughed.
Health issues.
Most important at each end of the age scale.
Differing only in seriousness.
Not in concern.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Through My Kitchen Window

For three years, we lived next to a haunted house.
Okay, it really wasn't 'haunted'.
But strange things went on there.
Maybe I should explain.
We lived on a street of tiny, beautiful starter homes.
Less expensive and perfect for people living on a lower income. They were filled with senior couples and young families.
We fit into the second category.
The house beside us, whose front porch I could see from my kitchen window, was home to a little elderly couple.
Sweet people.
We saw them seldom.
Then, one day, I noticed that two young girls were going in that front door.
I should mention, here, that I spent a lot of time at my kitchen window. It was over my kitchen sink.
Enough said.
For many months, we saw those girls regularly.
Then, suddenly, more people appeared. A young woman with tattoos, piercings, a neanderthal whose whose origins were questionable, and a baby named Levi.
Then I realized that I hadn't seen our elderly couple in quite some time.
In fact I never saw them again.
For several months the two young girls and the couple with their baby came and went.
Then two young boys, similar in age to the two young girls, appeared.
And the two young girls stopped.
Appearing, that is.
Now, as near as we could figure, the young couple and their baby and the two young boys lived there.
Then all activity ceased.
No one came or went.
One morning, I opened my front door to a very tall police officer. “Do you know the people who live next door?” he asked.
“That house?” I asked, pointing.
He nodded.
“I'm ashamed to say that I don't,” I said. “There was a nice elderly couple there. Then two young girls. Then a young couple and a baby. Then two young boys. But that's about all I can tell you.”
“Come with me,” he said. He led the way to the house.
I stopped in the front doorway.
I've always wanted to use that word . . .
The cute little house had been destroyed.
Cupboards had been ripped down off the walls and shredded into matchsticks. Every single wall and door had been punched out. The bannister ripped off the stairway and broken. Toilet ripped off the floor and thrown out the window.
The damage was unbelievable.
And, over the din of five kids and seven day-home kids, I had heard absolutely none of it.
Obviously someone had been very angry.
Or very, very disturbed.
For six months the little house remained empty.
Then, one day, crews appeared and effected repairs.
And, finally, a sweet young couple and their baby moved in.
Ahhh. Normal at last.
Then the fights began.
Usually in the wee hours of the morning.
One morning, after breakfast, I was again at my post, hands in the sink, when a police car, followed by a van pulled up next door.
Two policeman, one carrying a large camera got out.
Oh, no. He's killed her, I thought.
The two went into the house.
Sometime later, more police cars arrived.
It took me a while to notice because I had the phone and was sitting on the floor calling my husband.
“I don't want to live here any more,” I said, tearfully. “Please move me somewhere else!”
I ended my phone call and stood up.
Just as the front door opened.
A policeman came out.
Carrying two large, beautiful, healthy marijuana plants.
He was followed by another, carrying two more.
Then another.
And another.
In all, I counted 16 plants.
Okay, not what I expected.
The officers stowed the plants and left.
I must admit that I was quite surprised when things next door became more or less normal for a while after that.
Then the fights began again.
One particular night, we heard the loud slam of a door.
Then pounding.
Then, “Open this door!”
The husband had pushed his wife outside and locked the door.
Soon we heard the starting of a vehicle and the squealing of tires.
Exit wife.
For a few weeks, the young husband and the baby continued to live there.
Then we moved.
I couldn't take it any longer.
Who needs TV when one has a kitchen window?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

July First Miracle

We had decided to take our children for a holiday over the long July first weekend.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time.
But we had made a couple of mistakes.
  1. We hadn't planned. Anything.
  2. We hadn't made reservations.
Did you know that you need reservations to camp in Alberta over THE long weekend?
Well, you do.
It was getting late on June 30.
We had been through dozens of campgrounds.
All completely filled with people who were better planners than we were.
Or at least had started out on their holiday a bit earlier in the day.
We saw a sign for yet another campground.
Almost hidden in the undergrowth.
Maybe others would have missed it.
We drove in.
Right away, we saw an empty campsite.
Things were looking up.
The site wasn't very big.
Just down the street was a second.
Also tiny.
Forgetting the hours we had spent searching, we decided to do a loop and see if there were any better.
We completed the circuit.
A second loop opened off the first.
We decided to give it the once-over.
Grant turned.
We had gone only a few dozen feet before we realized that this was not part of the campground.
The road we were on trailed off into the trees, instantly becoming a small path.
We needed to turn around.
Grant nosed the car into the tall grass on an approach to a farmer's field.
There was a thump.
And the steering on the car . . . quit.
We couldn't turn.
Grant got out and inspected.
A large log had been pulled across the approach.
Presumably to stop exactly what we were trying to do.
The car had rolled over it.
And completely destroyed the power steering.
Grant stared at it, shaking his head.
Finally, he moved the log, opened the gate, and drove our car straight out into the field.
It was the only thing we could do.
We stopped.
And looked at each other.
It was seven pm on Friday, June 30.
The beginning the THE long weekend.
A disabled car.
Six hungry kids.
And no options.
We got out.
“Maybe we should say a prayer,” one of the kids said.
Good idea.
We gathered close and prayed.
For help.
For guidance.
For some miracle that would instantly replace our ailing car with a new and pristine model.
Then Grant grabbed a basin and started out for the campground.
A few minutes later, he was back.
Basin brimming with cold, clear water.
But what was even more wonderful was the police car following directly behind him.
The kids and I surrounded Grant, peppering him with questions and turning to stare at the car.
Two officers emerged.
As they came closer, I realized that there was only one officer.
The other man was dressed in 'civvies'.
Grant handed me the water and turned to the men.
“This is the car,” he said.
The second man walked over, lifted the hood and bent over the engine.
Grant joined him.
It turned out that this second man was good friends with the officer. He was a mechanic and the owner of the nearby auto wreckers. He had decided to come along with his friend as the officer ran his evening rounds.
The two of them, Grant and the mechanic, began to converse in 'car'.
Finally, they straightened.
“I'll send someone over in the morning to pick it up,” the man said. “We can fix you up. No problem.”
I could have kissed him.
But there was the fact that we were total strangers.
So I shook his hand instead.
True to his word, a tow truck arrived the next morning at 8:00 AM. Took the car and disappeared.
At 3:00, the car was back.
Driving under it's own abilities once more.
Our prayers were truly answered.
We had been granted a miracle.
My daughter looked at me. “The car's fixed?” she asked.
“It is, Sweetie,” I said.
“It's a miracle.”
“It is.”
She looked at me again. “I wonder what that policeman thought when the mechanic appeared beside him after our prayer.”
I smiled. I wonder, too.

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