Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, August 24, 2012


We are vacationing in Banff, Alberta.
To our family, the most beautiful little corner of the world.
Smelling the sun-baked pines as we hike.
Tasting the pure, clear water.
Renewing our up-close-and-personal relationship with the mountains and all things forest.
It is our 22nd year at the Rocky Mountain Resort.
Our family was raised here.
Our kids learned to swim in that pool.
Lob tennis balls across the net in that court.
Work out in that gym.
Follow those trails.
Paddle down that river.
Wonderful, sunny, happy times.
Anticipated throughout the year.
Enjoyed fully and completely.
And given a fond farewell until the next time.
This year is a bit different.
Many of our kids are here.
With their kids.
Our little two-bedroom apartment has, of necessity, grown to three similar-sized units.
With a different family filling each one.
There is much scurrying down the porch or across the bridge to the other apartments.
Much giggling and laughter as the cousins play together.
Movie night takes up one entire living room/dining room/kitchen.
Just to accommodate the excited little watchers.
And we fill the pool.
One of our granddaughters, aged five, is just learning to swim.
For the first time, she announced that she no longer wanted to wear a life vest.
I was standing at one side of the pool as she swam to me from her mother on the opposite side.
“Kick your legs!” I called to her.
She swam furiously, finally touching my hands and standing up.
Glowing with accomplishment.
And quite suddenly, I was remembering saying and doing the exact same thing with her mother and aunts and uncles.
In the exact same spot.
I'm sure it was just yesterday.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Magic Elixir

Cool, clear water.
The Stringam ranch had plenty of it.
There was only one thing distinctive about it.
And I do mean 'stinc'.
Let me illustrate with a little aside . . .
My Husby's Gramma used to give her kids a dose of 'spring tonic' every year.
It consisted of sulphur mixed in lard.
Eaten from a spoon.
But she maintained that it kept them healthy.
Well, on the Stringam ranch, we never had to be dosed with this old wives remedy.
Because we got it merely by living there.
Yes, our water was right full of sulphur.
I am not making this up.
Our water was plentiful and healthful.
But reeked like rotten eggs.
The smell of it permeated everything and everyone.
And, oddly enough, we loved it.
We drank it.
Bathed in it.
Cleaned with it.
Offered it, chilled, to anyone who happened to drop by.
And snickered silently when they would hold their noses to drink it.
Poor, unenlightened visitors.
Our animals happily drank it, too.
In fact, when we took our cattle to show, we always had to take time to get them accustomed to the water in the new place.
Most places added chlorine.
Now THAT really stank.
And tasted worse.
I miss our good old sulphur water.
That elixir that kept us healthy and strong.
There is an addendum . . .
The people who bought the old ranch from us hauled their drinking water.
And finally drilled a new well.
I can only shake my head.
Strange, weird people.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Horse I.Q. Tests

Cute. Cuddly. And clever!

Horses are smart.
A little too smart.
At times, they are almost human in their need to be entertained.
Their ability to problem solve.
And their dislike of anything work-related.
Especially ponies.
The height-challenged members of the horse family.
One such pony, Shay, a little grey Welsh/Arab, was uncannily adept at removing riders.
She would run herself along the fence wall, scrubbing off any hapless humans who may have been astride.
Or, barring that, would duck her head and drop her rider . . . any rider . . . onto the ground.
Fortunately, it was a short drop.
In fact, she was so clever at removal, that the only way she could be controlled was to blindfold her.
That made for an interesting ride.
Nipper, a small, black Shetland cross had his own way of avoiding work.
Once his rider was aboard, he would immediately scurry – and I do mean scurry – under the clotheslines.
I should probably mention that there wasn't a lot of clearance.
Many a rider was quickly and neatly - with almost surgical precision – removed.
His patented technique was foiled however, when his rider, my sister, learned to duck.
Surprise turned to chagrin when he looked back after a clothesline pass and realized that his rider was still aboard.
Back to the drawing board.
Pinto, our cleverly named black and white Shetland pony, had the unique ability to ignore all attempts at enforcing a forward direction.
Or any form of speed.
Shouting and screaming in frustration.
He was happily oblivious.
His downfall came when his rider – me – learned to lead him far, far from home.
Then mount up and turn his head back towards the barn.
Man, those little legs could go.
Star, another Shetland with a – go figure – star on his forehead, was actually quite well-mannered.
Until there were other horses around.
He was definitely one who was influenced by the company he kept.
Then his innate talent would show itself.
He could ignore any and all attempts at enforcement-by-rein and follow the crowd.
Carrying his little, red-faced passenger to the nearest far-away place.
When these ponies weren't being called upon to perform menial service, they could be found, at any and all hours, with their heads in the feed trough.
The only thing that surpassed their ability to avoid work was their ability to eat.
Why did we keep them around?
They were short and easy to get on.
They were gentle.
And if we could make them do what we wanted, we could handle any problem.
Education by pony.
It should be a course in college.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ummm . . . Okay, Dad

Who knew listening to their music could be so . . . educational.

Hey, hey, we're the Monkees
And people say we monkey around,
But we're too busy singing
To put anybody down.

It was 1966.
My cousin, Jody, and I had just discovered the wonderful, magical, empowering world of rock and roll.
And LP records.
The perfect pairing.
Now we could listen to the exciting new music whenever and however we wanted.
Which was all of the time.
And loudly.
Hey, hey, we're the Monkees . . .
Was driving itself like a hammer throughout the house.
For probably the 15th time that day.
I should probably mention that the only record-player I had access to, was my parents'.
In the front room.
Over the music, I vaguely made out the sound of my Mother's voice.
I looked up.
She was standing beside us.
Would you PLEASE turn that down?”
I turned the knob.
A bit.
Mom sighed.
I just wanted you to turn it down.”
I looked at the record player. “I did.”
She sighed again. “Diane. You have been playing that record over and over all day. Can't you think of something else to do? Or something else to play?”
Well, I'm not going to keep coming out here to tell you to turn it down!”
Now what she had said, and what I had just heard, were two different things.
She had been voicing a threat.
I had understood that she wasn't going to bother us any more.
She left.
Happily, I turned up Jody's and my music once more.
I never heard my Dad's approach.
Let's face it, I wouldn't have heard the approach of an entire herd of water buffalo.
Suddenly, a shadow fell over the two of us, sitting there on the floor in front of the record player.
A large shadow.
I looked up.
Just in time to see my Dad reach out, lift the needle from the record.
Remove said record.
And snap it in two.
Oh, my.
He handed the pieces back to me.
You mother told you,” he said.
I stared at the broken record, aghast.
But . . . but it was Jody's,” I managed, finally.
Dad shrugged. “I guess you should have listened to your mother,” he said.
Then he left.
Jody and I stared at each other.
Then we quickly gathered up our remaining records and carried them to safety.
I think I bought her a new one.
I don't remember.
I'll never forget the lesson.
And neither will Jody.
Following that . . . incident, whenever someone in her family looked like they might lose their temper, they would immediately be told, “Don't pull a Mark Stringam!”
Ah, lessons taught by my Dad.
And his friends, the Monkees.

Monday, August 20, 2012


Would you argue with that face?

What is it about some people?
They can walk into a room and you know, instantly, that they are a force to be reaconed with.
Growing up, my Dad was like that.
He had a terrific sense of humour.
But if he ever cleared his throat and gave you that blue-eyed stare.
You ran for cover.
And it wasn't even as though there was a threat of violence.
Although his knuckle, properly applied to the top of one's head, could roll your eyes around a bit.
He just had 'it'.
Dad was the family disciplinarian.
Oh, Mom tried.
She did a lot of talking.
Actually got quite animated.
But it was Dad who was instantly obeyed.
And it carried forward into the next generation.
Allow me to illustrate . . .
My Husby and I had gone out for the evening.
Our (then) three boys were being cared for by my parents.
It had been a fun time for them.
Games with Gramma and Grampa.
And then, bedtime.
Gramma bathed them.
Dressed them in clean pyjamas.
And tucked them into bed.
The youngest in a crib.
The two oldest in the double bed in the spare room.
All were told, firmly, to go to sleep.
Only the baby obeyed.
The older two laughed and giggled.
Bounced and played.
Several times, Gramma marched in.
Demanding quiet and slumber.
She was given neither.
Finally, she brought in the big guns.
She sent Grampa.
My Dad opened the bedroom door.
Two little boys turned to look at him.
“That's enough!” he said. “Sleep!”
Then he closed the door.
Silence descended.
A while later, Mom went to check on the boys.
Both were sound asleep.
But how they were asleep.
She gently closed the door and returned to the front room.
“Mark, what were the boys doing when you went to the bedroom door?”
Dad looked up and frowned thoughtfully. “I don't know,” he said.
Mom said, “Come with me.”
The two of them went back to the bedroom.
Mom opened the door once more and motioned for Dad to look.
Mark, Jr. was sitting up, leaning against the headboard.
Erik was laying on his side, propped up on one elbow.
Both were sound asleep.
Dad looked at them. “Yeah,” he said. “Like that.”
They had passed out almost the instant Dad had ordered it.
Now that's authority.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

First Heartthrob

See? C.U.T.E.

How had I never noticed this before?
How long had this been going on?
Maybe I should explain . . .
I was at the movies.
Something the kids in my family did at least once a week.
The highlight of said week.
This particular picture was a western.
My favourite.
But something was different this time.
Oh, there were the usual items of interest.
Lots and lots of horses.
And I think there were cattle also.
But for the first time, I noticed that there were also . . . cowboys.
When did they get there?
One cowboy, in particular, caught my attention.
Black-haired and lithe.
Slim and well-muscled.
And oh-so-delicious in jeans and boots.
No wonder people liked westerns so much.
And I had thought they came, like me, to see the horses.
I was glued to the screen every time he appeared.
Which proved to be frequent.
Being as he was the star of the picture.
I was so enraptured that I didn't follow much of the story.
Oh, there were a couple of noteworthy parts.
One, in particular, featured one of the secondary cowboys being captured by bad guys and then creatively tortured with cactus needles within earshot of his buddies.
The next morning, his badly abused body was dropped in the middle of their camp.
I will admit it. It made me sick.
For two days.
But even that horrifying scene couldn't dim the splendour of my new hero as he saved the day.
I watched eagerly for his name to be mentioned in the end credits.
Audie Murphy.
I said the name over and over.
Committing it to memory.
Then I headed home.
“Mom, did you know that there are really cute guys in movies?”
My Mom stared at me. “Umm . . . yes,” she said, rather cautiously.
This was a new topic of conversation for me and I'm sure she was wondering where I was going with this.
“Well, the movie I just saw starred the cutest guy ever!” I said enthusiastically.
“Oh, yes,” I said. “His name was Audie Murphy! Oh, Mom he was soooo cute!”
“Audie Murphy? THE Audie Murphy?”
“Oh.” I frowned. “Have you seen the picture?”
Mom laughed. “No,” she said. “But I used to drool over Audie Murphy when I was your age!”
Now it was my turn to stare. “Really?”
“Oh, I was so in love with him!”
“Huh,” I said and headed for my room.
My mom had been – had been – in love with my hero when she was my age?
He was . . . old?
Suddenly, in my mind, the handsome face I had seen in the movie started to undergo . . . changes.
Lines appeared.
Grey hairs.
False teeth.
Okay, I admit it, I have a good imagination.
I never saw my new/old hero again.
I think the movie I had seen was his last.
Newer, younger heroes took his place in my world.
Heroes that my Mom had never dreamed about.
But, oddly enough, at this end of my life, it's Audie Murphy that I think of when someone mentions their screen heartthrobs.
I guess it's true.
First love is always the sweetest.

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