Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Creative Excuses

Creative jobs require creative excuses

Everyone, at some point, calls in sick to work.
Even the toughest of the tough.
The weather-hardend cowboys.
Their excuses are just a bit more . . . creative.
In my grandfather's day, his hired men were all experienced, life-hardened individuals.
And I do mean individual.
One morning, one of his cowboys failed to report with the others.
Grampa handed out the day's assignments, then went in search.
He found the man seated snugly in the bunkhouse, both feet comfortably propped up on a chair.
Grampa stopped in the doorway.
“Are you coming out to work?” he asked.
“Can't. Toik,” the man said.
Grampa stared at him. “Excuse me?”
“Can't. Toik,” the man repeated.
“Oh.” Grampa thought about that for a moment.
Then, “What?” he asked again.
The hired man looked at him. “Toik,” he said carefully.
Grampa nodded. “That's what I thought you said.”
He turned and headed back to the barnyard.
For some time, he puzzled over the man's answer.
What on earth was a toik?
Finally, he found himself working alongside one of the other men.
“Smith not coming?” the man asked.
Grampa shook his head. “No. He said something about a toik.”
The hired man grinned. “And you had no idea what he was talking about?”
Again, Grampa shook his head. “None whatsoever,” he said.
The man laughed. “You can't guess what a toik is?”
“Maybe I should translate.”
Grampa looked at him. “Please,” he said.
“Toe ache,” the man said.
“Ahhh!” Grampa said.
Things suddenly made . . . sense.
Sort of.
“Toe ache.”
Now I'm sure you've heard the excuse of 'a cold coming on'.
The flu.
Sore throat.
Sinus infection.
Broken bones.
Even the occasional bout of 'explosive diarrhoea'.
But I'd venture to guess that you've never before heard of a toik.
Well, now you have.

Friday, September 14, 2012

To Violin Music Lovers Everywhere

Beauty? Or the Beast?

The world is full of divine music.
Violin music.
And it has my Husby to thank for it.
Maybe I should explain . . .
When Husby was eight, his parents, like many parents have, decided that he should do something . . . musical.
They opted for the violin.
And he agreed.
A small violin was purchased at no small sacrifice for a less-than-wealthy family.
Dutifully, Husby carried it to the home of his chosen violin teacher, Mrs. Baines.
A woman of nearly two hundred years of age.
Okay, probably not quite two hundred.
But to a small boy of eight, a woman in her seventies was truly ancient.
Back to my story . . .
Once a week, throughout the fall and the winter, she taught.
And he learned.
She took him on a slow and careful tour of the violin world.
Demonstrating proper technique.
Bow handling.
Correct finger positions.
Tried to pour into his young mind, her love of all things violin.
He was, admittedly, a slow learner.
She taught.
He struggled.
In the spring, his parents received a phone call.
There would be no more lessons from Mrs. Baines. The poor woman had suffered a fatal heart attack.
Shocked, Husby wondered if he was somehow to blame.
He put his violin away for a while. He needed to think this through.
Thinking lasted throughout the summer.
Finally, in the fall, he consented to try again.
His parents found another teacher.
One who was only one hundred and fifty years old.
Again, they started in.
She taught.
He struggled.
A few months went past.
Another fateful phone call.
Another heart attack.
Not fatal this time, thank goodness. But strong enough that his second teacher was hanging up her baton for good.
This time, when Husby put his violin back into its case, nothing could induce him to remove it.
He was convinced that his playing – or lack thereof – was the reason that both of his violin teachers suffered heart attacks.
That conviction remains to this day.
He takes the argument further.
By hanging up his bow, so to speak, he saved violin teachers everywhere.
Enabling them to continue to teach the bright, talented young people who have grown into the world's foremost violin players.
Thus preserving and ensuring beautiful violin music everywhere.
So when you hear an exquisite piece?
Thank my Husby.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gone. Again.

I'm happy to announce the winner of a copy of my newest Christmas novel, Kris Kringle's Magic: 

Teresa Thompson! 

A huge thank you to everyone who entered. I hope you will spread the word about this wonderful story! Available for pre-order from Amazon.

And now, Today's post. 

A tribute:

Happy Barn Burning

What was left of the barn

October second. My birthday. A time of reflection and renewal. Time to reminisce.
It was exactly 53 years ago that I made my way into the world.
Feet first.
Fourth of six children and second daughter for Mark and Enes Stringam. A pretty exciting time for everyone. Well, for me at any rate.
I grew, healthy and strong in a loving, ordered world. My birthdays approached, were celebrated with varying degrees of success, and then left behind. First. Second. Third. For my fourth, something special was planned. Very special. And very secret. No one knew what was coming.
No one.
Early on the morning of my fourth birthday, a frantic phone call jolted my Dad out of his bed.
“There is a rather major emergency at the ranch. Would you possibly be able to come out?”
“Erm, yes. The barn is on fire.”
“On my way.”
Or at lest that is how I picture the conversation. It was probably something more in the way of . . . “EEEEEEE (high pitched screaming)!”
And Dad, “AAAAAAAAAH (Not quite so high pitched)!”
And that was the total exchange. But I digress . . .
So dad jumped into his truck and drove the twenty miles to the ranch in record time. Really record time. The only other occasion that would warrant such reckless driving and high speeds was the imminent arrival of yet another small Stringam . . . but that event was months away. He arrived just after the fire department.
By then, the barn was well on it’s way to being a memory. Flames had consumed most of it and the remainder was burning purposefully . . . and cheerfully . . . in the early morning light. Acrid smoke coiled across the barnyard, obscuring the crowd gathered to watch. Tears filled most eyes. Some because of said smoke. Others due to the fact that their most precious possessions had – literally – gone up in it.
One hired man stood there, in his longhandles, shaking his head helplessly. It took some time, and the appearance of the attractive ranch cook, for him to realize that his attire was . . . less than conventional. He beat a hasty retreat to find something a little more . . . conservative . . . to wear.
And not just the humans were concerned. The smaller denizens of the barn had been rudely awakened and forced to – quickly – find new lodgings. One mouse, intent on that very errand, scampered from the mass of smoking debris that had been his home, and into the pale morning light. He stopped. Something was very wrong. There were two humans standing directly in his path. He worked it through his little mouse brain, then darted back into the smouldering pile. Better the evil you know . . .
There was great loss. Two litters of pigs - with sows, several horses, calves. Not to mention saddles, tack and equipment. None irreplaceable, but all valuable. Oh, and my birthday. Somehow, in all the melee, that was lost as well. Not that I cared. I was happily perched on the fence, just within toasting distance of the glowing fire, watching the spectacle. Not really understanding what was going on. Knowing only that, in four years of mischief, I’d never been able to come close to this excitement. Never.
The barn was rebuilt. Bigger. Better. More modern. And my . . . birthday was never forgotten again. Every year, Dad calls on this date to wish me a . . . Happy Barn Burning.
With music.
And the dance.
There is a codicil. Twelve years ago, my barn burned down. Our losses were not as enormous as the ‘original’ barn fire. We lost two little pigs and some equipment. But the most important fact was the date. April first. My father’s seventieth birthday. I had to phone to wish him . . . Happy Barn Burning.
Payback is so sweet.

Further news:
Huge grass fires in Southern Alberta this week have consumed all of the outbuildings on the old ranch.
Including the 'new' barn.
It was a landmark.
I am devastated.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Phlippant Phone Phrases

King of creative calling

Answering the phone is an art form.
Ranging from cheerful.
My personal favourite.
To surly.
Not so popular.
Then there’s: Clever.
Even disgusting.
How you answer the phone says a lot about you.
Maybe not in actual words, but the meaning’s pretty clear . . .
Hello!! L (What d’ya want!? I’m having the worst, terrible, awful, no-good day. And you just made it worse!)
Or: Hello!! JJ (I’ve been running through soft fields of primroses and I’m so happy, I just want to share, share, share!)
See what I mean?
In the Stringam household, telephone answering was very often . . . creative.
My brother, George, being the king.
Case in point:
The phone rang.
I should probably explain, here, that these were the days of the rotary phone (google it). There were no such things as call display, call waiting, or even answering machines (Except, maybe in the CIA or FBI or CSIS).
So there was absolutely no way to know who was calling.
Also, an actual electrical cord attached the single home phone to the wall and yet another cord attached the receiver to the phone.
It was entirely possible to get completely wrapped up in you call.
So to speak.
Just FYI.
Moving on . . .
My brother, George, he of the creative phone answering technique, was closest.
He picked it up.
“This is the devil! Who in hell do you want?”
Whereupon (good word) my mother smacked George.
Figuratively speaking.
Now, normally, when my brother answered the phone, the person on the other end of the line would laugh and say something equally inappropriate and the conversation would continue.
On this particular occasion, all George heard was a mighty ‘click’ as the phone at the other end of the line was forcibly returned to its cradle.
He shrugged and hung up.
The phone rang again.
Again, George picked it up.
“This is the devil! Who in . . .” you get the rest.
There was a short, breathless pause, then, “It that you, George?!!! LLL
I put in the little frowny faces to convey . . . displeasure.
Because the caller was my paternal Grandmother.
And she didn’t think my brother was funny.
At all.
Sheepishly, George admitted it. “Yes,” he said.
“Let me talk to your father! LLL
Notice the continuing frowny faces.
Ahem . . .
George handed the phone to Dad and headed for the nearest far-away place.
Dad received a lecture from his eighty-five-year-old mother, which he dutifully passed on to the culprit.
I’d like to tell you that the creative answering ended there.
That from then on, all calls were answered with respect and decorum.
I’d be lying.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Moose-t Terrifying Thing

Admit it. This scares you.

Gramma Berg's house had a sunroom.
A wonderful spot.
All windows.
And one permanent tenant.
The sunroom was wonderful.
The tenant wasn't. At least to a very small girl.
It was large.
Dark brown.
With great, glassy eyes, a huge nose, a wooly beard.
And large ears.
Oh, yes, and an enormous pair of antlers.
A moose.
The quite obvious fact that it wasn't alive made no difference to its terror factor.
I was certain that, if I went into that room, the great creature would blink its eyes and 'get me'.
Okay, obviously I didn't think that through.
The creature possessed no visible limbs, and for all of my life, had resided in the same place on the wall.
Just exactly how it was supposed to 'get me' we'll never know.
But the truth remains, it terrified me.
And knowing this, my cousins made great sport of daring me to go into the sunroom.
Something which inevitably sent me screaming to some moose-less part of the house.
I loved Grammas house.
The moose and I tolerated each other.
So long as he kept his place, and I could see that place from a distance, we got along fine.
Kinda like a large spider.
But that is another story.
After Gramma passed, the moose was donated and hung where it could scare scores of other people.
Moving forward fifty years . . .
Several members of my family were holidaying in Banff, Alberta, this summer.
We spent a week scrambling about the mountains and wandering through the townsite.
We took the kids to see the 'stuffed animal place'.
Or Banff Museum, as it is officially named.
It houses hundreds of perfectly preserved birds and animals native to the Banff area.
Many of which were present when the museum opened.
In 1903.
On the second floor, it is quite possible to get up close and almost personal with the head of Sir Donald.
A bison.
Several of us were standing, looking at the great animal.
My six-year-old granddaughter peeked out from behind me.
“He scares me,” she whispered, shivering.
“But he's dead,” I said. “He can't hurt you.”
“He's scary,” she maintained.
Quite suddenly, I remembered Gramma's moose. And trembling in fear and delight as my cousins dared me to go into his sunroom.
Full circle.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fuzzy Warm Love

And each of them has/had a name. Please don't test me . . .

My first date with my Husby-to-be was memorable.
On so many levels.
You can read about it here.
Go ahead . . . you won't miss anything . . .
Our second date was even more memorable.
But for more exciting reasons.
It was the occasion of our first kiss.
Let me see if I can describe it . . .
Chore time.
The sun has set.
Darkness drifts slowly over the prairie.
A large, quiet feed lot.
Young bulls in the background, munching on grains.
The smell of fresh manure wafts on the cool, autumn breeze.
A young man and woman snared in the light of the mercury-vapor lamp.
Their eyes lock.
They move closer . . .
You get the picture.
Okay, maybe not to the normal person.
Fortunately for me, Husby-to-be was as un-normal as his wife-to-be.
A perfect match.
But the date was only beginning.
After our kiss, we returned to my parent’s home.
And that’s when I received my second surprise of the evening.
When we stepped into the vestibule (ooh! I like that word), Husby-to-be pulled a little package out of his pocket.
“Here,” he said, smiling. “I brought you something.”
Have I mentioned that I love surprises?
Well, I do.
Moving on . . .
I quickly opened the little bag and tipped out two little fuzzy men.
Pom-pom people.
With magnets on the back.
Ooooh! Cute!
“Thank you!” I said. Then I gave him a kiss.
It seemed like an appropriate response.
And I’d just discovered he was a great kisser.
Ahem . . .
And so began a tradition that lasted for years.
And covered a large part of our fridge.
Until a bottle of home-made root beer sprayed all over them.
Then they were relegated to a shadow box.
For safety.
And posterity.
I love traditions.
Almost as much as I love my Husby . . .

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