Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Candy Fluff Beauty


Remember the 'fashion' dolls of the fifties?
The straight-standing, frozen featured, supposedly beautiful dolls?
That creative people crocheted or knitted clothes for.
Or sunk into cakes.
Those dolls.
Well, besides being known for arriving 'without wardrobe', they were also known for their pre-styled, fine, beautiful hair.
Hair that was not comb-able.
That stuck together in a tight ball and defied any efforts at style change.
I know that hair well.
Because I was born with the same stuff.
And matted permanently together.
Candy-fluff hair, my Mom called it.
Okay, 'candy fluff', I loved.
Candy fluff on my head?
Not so much.
Every morning, and several times throughout the day, Mom would come at me with a comb.
Or some other implement guaranteed to make my hair behave.
None of them worked.
All of them . . . hurt.
Mom: “Diane, hold still! I'm almost done!”
Me: “Waaah!”
And so it went.
As I grew, my hair . . . changed. Subtly.
Oh, it was still fine and soft.
But it no longer stuck together in one fuzzy lump.
Now it stuck together in several fuzzy lumps all over my head.
Mom: “Diane, hold still! There's just one more!”
Me: “Waaah!”
Finally, by about age eight, I outgrew the 'fuzzies'.
But made another important discovery.
Yes, my hair no longer matted together, defying all attempts at style.
And it was now longer and straighter.
But . . . it still hurt to comb it.
Yes. I was a hair wuss.
Mom: “Diane, hold still! Your hair will look beautiful!”
Me: “Waaah!”
Finally, in frustration one day, she uttered the fateful words, “Diane, don't you know you have to suffer to be beautiful?”
I stared at her. “Really?”
She nodded sagely.
I put it together.
If I suffered, I would be beautiful.
It was that simple.
This went on for several years.
Every day, I suffered.
Every day, I looked in the mirror.
Nope. Same face as yesterday.
Finally, at age fifteen, I challenged my mother's hypothesis.
Me: “Mom! I've suffered! Why aren't I beautiful!?”
Mom (In true 'Mom' form): “Oh, honey, you ARE beautiful!”
Right. Wait. Who made this rule?!
I see where this is going . . .
Moving ahead several years . . .
I was combing my granddaughter's fiery red, naturally curly hair.
ME: “Kyra, hold still! I'm almost done!”
Kyra: “Waaah!”
Me: “Don't you know you have to suffer to be beautiful?”
She stares at me. “Really?”
And so the story continues . . .

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mom, The Cow . . . and Me

Me. Afterwards.
My very first memory occurred when I was two. 
To tell the truth, I’m not sure if it is a real memory, or if I simply heard my mother tell the story so often that I have pieced it together from that.
It is very real to me now.
I had my new little red cowboy boots on. I was ready for anything. 
Dad was out in the blacksmith shop and I knew he would be happy to see me. Certainly, I would be happy to see him. I decided to make the journey. 
But there was a fence and a large barnyard between us.
Oh, and a milk cow.
It was the custom in those days to take the calf away from the milk cow and only put the two of them together morning and evening, after the cow had been milked. That way, the cow’s production stayed very high, we were assured a constant supply of milk, and the calf received enough milk to ensure its proper growth.
A good system all around.
Except that one usually ended up with a rather irate, over-protective full-grown mama cow wandering at will in the barnyard. 
No problem. If you were an adult, or very fast.
I was neither.
Having been raised to nearly three on a ranch, I was fully confident of my ability to speak cow. I walked over to the fence, put my face against the bars of the gate and proceeded to bellow impressively. I don’t know what I said, but it must have been something truly insulting because the cow wasn’t impressed. In fact, she began to make noises of her own. 
And then she started running feints at the gate. 
Being two, I thought she was merely trying to amaze me. I continued to ‘talk’. She continued to react.
It was a fair dialogue. 
We were communicating.
Finally, in a positive froth, she pounded over to the barn, to make sure that her baby was still in his pen, unharmed. 
The way was clear for me to climb the fence and cross the no-man’s land that was the barn yard. I proceeded to do so. 
I probably made it a few yards before she hit me. I don’t remember much about that part. My mother definitely takes over the story from there.
She had been working in the kitchen and keeping an eye on me through the window. Suddenly, as with any toddler, I disappeared. She didn’t waste time in searching. She knew instinctively where I had gone. She started out on the run, spotting me just as I dropped down from the fence in triumph.
On the cow side.
Mom’s sight was obscured for a few moments as she ran. 
Trees. Sweat. Whatever. 
By the time she again had me in her sights, I was down and the cow was turning for a second engagement.
Somehow Mom was able to put herself into ‘super-mom’ mode and leap the fence at a single bound. (Actually, I think she opened the gate and ran through, but this sounds better.) 
She reached me just ahead of a black and white frenzy who was not pleased to place second. 
Mom scooped me up and screamed for my Dad, while the cow proceeded to try to knock me out of her arms. For a few seconds, Mom avoided the angry, gesticulating cow by spinning, pirouetting gracefully.
There was some real ‘bull-fighter’ potential in my mother.
But soon, the cow tired of the performance and changed tempos. 
She decided that the best way to the child was through the mother. Fortunately this new ‘barn dance’ with me at the centre was cut short by the arrival of my enraged father.
That’s the part I wish I could remember. 
When anyone, or anything, was threatening one of his children, my dad would . . . well let me put it this way. 
Two words. 
Mount Vesuvius. 
In work boots. 
Needless to say, in short order, the cow forgot all about her ongoing problems with me and was headed for the nearest far-away place with her tail tucked – figuratively speaking – between her legs, and I was being closely examined by not one, but two anxious parents. 
My only injury was a red cowboy boot crushed flat. 
The foot inside miraculously survived.
Ready to toddle off to new adventures.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Baseball Butts

Take me out . . .

I love baseball.
In fact, if I was to think about it, baseball is probably my favourite sport.
My mom was a helluva heckuva player.
I don't know if I ever equalled her ability.
But I sure enjoyed trying.
But did you know that baseball and self-image go together?
Well, they do.
In my grade twelve year, I boarded with my best friend Debbie's family while attending school in Magrath, Alberta.
I should mention that her family were . . . characters.
Moving on . . .
During that time I played, along with Debbie, for the Del Bonita team.
It was a blast.
And we made a respectable showing in the league.
One afternoon, we were back at Debbie's house.
Celebrating a win.
I was euphoric (Oooh! Good word!) because I had hit a three-bagger that had brought in two runs.
The team hero.
Well, in my eyes, at least.
Debbie's parents had watched the game.
And were enjoying re-hashing it with us.
Her dad sat back and took a deep, satisfied breath.
“Yep. That was a good game,” he said. He looked at me. “It's a good thing you joined the team.”
I smiled, feeling quite satisfied with myself.
He looked at his daughter and grinned. “Yep. Until you came, Debbie had the biggest . . .”
He paused.
I waited. Was he going to say hit? Arm? Throw?
Hero ability?
“ . . . butt on the team.” He looked back at me. The grin widened. “Now she has the second biggest.”
“Hey!” I said, my euphoric bubble bursting abruptly.
He laughed. “What makes you think I was talking about you?”
“But it was a good game,” he said.
I stared at him, narrow-eyed.
Did he really mean it?
Did I have a big butt?
I looked down at my 28 inch waist men's jeans.
Did they hide a monstrous backside?
He laughed again, got up and left the room. “Yep. Good game.”
“You don't, Diane,” Debbie said.
“What?” I looked at her.
“You can stop checking. You don't have a big butt. In fact, you don't have a butt.”
“Oh. Ummm . . . okay.”
“And you played a good game. That's just Dad's way of telling you.”
Did I mention that her family was quirky?
To this day, when I see a well-played baseball game, I think of . . . good plays.
You thought I was going to say big butts, didn't you?
Nope. That I save for when I'm playing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My Aunt Emily

Sometimes you think you know someone.
But you really don't . . .
My Dad is the youngest of eleven children.
Nine boys.
And two girls.
The youngest girl, my Aunt Mary, was a short, round, happy lady with numerous children and even more numerous grandchildren.
More about her in another post . . .
His other sister, Emily, was an entirely different person.
Emily was the eldest child in the family.
She was a tall, spare, maiden lady.
Erect and correct.
And I was terrified of her.
Emily had served a mission for her church in her early twenties.
Briefly entertained the thought of marriage.
And lived the rest of her life teaching home economics and helping her mother care for the family home.
She was the professed cleaner to my Grandmother's cooking.
The maker of everything tidy.
The bestow-er of a set of sewing scissors to every niece who reached grade nine.
And the dragon in the den at the top of the stairs.
A note . . .
Aunt Emily's office was the first room to the left as one went up the stairs of the family home.
It was a lovely place. Neat and organized.
With a little window/door that opened out onto the roof/sundeck of the garage.
Us kids loved to sneak into that room and let ourselves out onto that deck.
But only when Aunt Emily wasn't about.
Back to my story . . .
Throughout my childhood, I loved visiting Grandma Stringam's home with my parents.
But walked softly around Aunt Emily.
When I was eighteen, all of that changed.
I had moved to the city to attend college.
Go figure.
For four months, I stayed with my Grandma and Aunt Emily.
At first, though I'm sure they tried to make me feel welcome, I spent very little time in their home.
Choosing, instead to study at the college or at a friend's and returning only at bedtime.
Then I got sick.
Really, really sick.
Strep throat.
One evening, after we had put the paper to bed (a newspaper term for sending everything to the press and washing our hands of all responsibility), I collapsed.
My friends carried me, quite literally, to my grandmother's home and to my little bed on the second floor.
I remember very little of it.
There, safely ensconced, I lost all consciousness for several days.
Someone took care of me.
Gave me liquids.
Fed me.
Cleaned up after me.
Helped me to the bathroom.
Hauled me to the hospital for a shot in the backside.
I do remember that . . .
And generally took excellent care of me.
As I slowly became more cognisant, I realized that the person who had been so patiently and lovingly nursing me was my scary Aunt Emily.
One afternoon, I opened my eyes and felt . . . almost human.
Aunt Emily appeared beside my bed.
“Feeling better?”
I nodded uncertainly.
“Oh, I'm so glad! I'm going to the store to get you something special. What would you like?”
And it was then that I realized that eighteen years had gone by without me knowing my special aunt at all.
Eighteen years of misunderstanding and unwarranted fear.
Wasted years.
I wasted no more.
In the following weeks and months, we became friends.
Aunt Emily died at the age of 85 from complications following surgery.
We were given twenty five years of friendship.
I will always be grateful.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Every Family Needs a 'Pat'

Could have been Pat . . .

Pat was a mixed breed, bit-of-everything, tour-of-the-world-on-four-feet breed of dog.
Shirley’s family belonged to him.
And he took his responsibilities seriously.
Allow me a couple of illustrations.
  1. Shirley and her family lived in a small town in Alberta.
They went to school near where they lived.
But Shirley’s parents were determined that their children be raised with music.
Lessons were offered in a church in another part of town.
Beyond the school.
Once a week, on Monday afternoons, they would walk directly to the church after school, rather than stop at home first.
It just made sense.
Immediately after the close of the school day, the three of them would head out for their weekly lesson.
Surrounded by other children intent on their own afternoon assignments and activities.
In short order, they were at the church.
Lessons proceeded.
Then it was time to go home.
And this is where Pat came in.
Whenever they opened the church door, there would be their faithful companion, waiting to escort them home.
He never showed up at the school, when there were other children about.
He waited until his kids were ready for the long walk back to the house after lessons.
And he did this every Monday.
Every Monday.
Occasionally, when there was no school, and by association, no lessons, Pat would sit vainly in front of an empty church.
Then, finally working it through his doggy brain that there was no sound emanating from the building, and no kids exiting, he would head home.
The very best and most attentive of escorts.
  1. Shirley’s family was planning a summer holiday.
Two weeks of fun.
But someone must be found to care for their beloved Pat while they were away.
A neighbor on a nearby farm offered.
Shirley’s Dad packed their faithful dog up and carted him off to the farm for two weeks of chicken-chasing and fun with the resident dogs.
Leaving him happily cared for, her Dad headed back into town.
The family packed up the car and pulled into the road.
And there was Pat. Heading for home as fast as his legs could carry him.
Holiday over, he was ready to rejoin his family.

See what I said about responsibilities?
Every family needs a Pat.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Beauty Meets the Beast

Would you put these two together?
Me, neither.

Growing up in the great outdoors gave me an appreciation for all things . . . outdoors-y.
IE: horses.
But sadly, instilled in me a complete ignorance of the finer points of creating a beautiful home.
IE: embroidery.
My Mom ran a very efficient home.
She cooked, cleaned and organized.
And even, on occasion, helped in the barnyard when the need arose.
With all of that, somehow, she also found time for the pretty things in life.
She embroidered pillowcases and tablecloths.
Runners and handkerchiefs.
Even tea towels.
And did them beautifully.
Unfortunately, the urge to 'pretty' things up had been left out of my makeup.
Or so I thought.
It was merely dormant.
After the birth of my first baby, I was suddenly bitten by the sewing bug.
I had to sew.
A lot.
I started out simply: overalls, pants and shirts for my boy.
Then moved on to more complex: dresses for me.
And blue jeans.
But that is not what this story is about . . .
From sewing practical, functional garments, my next logical progression was to the finer stitching.
My Mom would be so proud.
I got hooked, quite literally, on counted cross stitch.
Wall hangings.
I loved it.
Whenever there was a break in the day's routine . . . and even when there wasn't . . . I was back on the couch.
I should point out, here, that I had always been a 'night owl'.
Preferring the hours after my kids were in bed, to indulge in whatever pursuit was currently consuming me.
Usually reading.
Occasionally watching TV.
Now, my staying-up-in-the-evening time was taken up with those fine little needles and yards and yards of cotton floss.
I made dozens of beautiful pictures and hangings.
Working far into the night to complete some intricate piece.
It was a peaceful moment in time.
Until one evening.
Allow me to describe . . .
It was quiet there in the night.
Everyone in the household was asleep.
All the lights, save the one that snared me and my comfy armchair in a noose of light, were off.
I worked silently away.
Consulted my pattern.
Switched colours.
Continued on.
Then I started to feel . . . creepy. Like someone was watching me.
I looked up. Peered intently into the shadows of the kitchen and hallway.
No one.
I went back to my stitching.
Again, that feeling came over me.
Again, I looked.
I was really starting to get spooked.
I tried to concentrate on my work.
I had only put in one stitch when I was nearly overwhelmed by the feeling that someone, somewhere, was silently watching.
I dropped my sewing into my lap and peered toward the kitchen.
Then I turned and looked the other way, into the living room.
And nearly died.
Two eyes were indeed staring at me.
From about two inches away.
I screamed and pressed one hand to my suddenly hammering heart.
It was then I realized that the two large, staring eyes belonged to my son's Bopo the Clown which was standing directly behind my chair.
They didn't blink or move.
They didn't have to.
Just the sight of them staring at me out of the dim light was enough to totally shatter my night.
I did what any normal person would have done.
I 'bopped' Bopo in his large bulbous, red nose.
I hit him again.
Sigh. I felt marginally better.
But it was definitely time for bed.
The next evening found me back in my chair.
Needle in hand.
With Bobo turned forcefully to the wall.
Beauty definitely doesn't need a beast.

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