Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Harvest for the Chicken(s)

A repost. Because it's Autumn. 

A mellow time. 
A time to catch one’s breath and simply appreciate the bounty and euphoria of the season. 
When the tireless efforts of every farmer in Alberta culminates finally in the production of golden streams of wheat, barley, canola and corn. Truckloads of peas, potatoes and sugar beets. 
When sheds and storage buildings are full of the warm, sweet smell of new-mown hay and grasses, carefully dried.
And on the Stringam Ranch, we, too had our harvest.
There was the bounty of endless (and I do mean endless, but that is another story) rows of garden produce to be brought in. Carrots, peas, beans, corn, turnips, potatoes, parsnips, beets, cucumbers. And many other things that a four-year-old simply couldn't name, though they did taste good. 
Oh, and chickens.
Because the chicken coop was situated near the garden, to me, the chickens were part and parcel of the fall harvest. Didn't we eat them? Didn't we ‘produce’ chicken at the same time as all of the other food? 
It just made sense.
The slaughtering of the chickens on the Ranch was a huge production. I can picture even now the great tubs of scalding hot water to loosen the feathers. The teams of choppers, pickers, and . . . innards removers. Everyone with a sharp knife or axe. Or with rubber-gloved hands working in the scalding water. 
It was every parent’s dream for their small child. 
But there I was. Bouncing from group to group. Being forcibly removed from the more dangerous situations. Slowly getting covered in feathers.
Most probably looking like a large chicken myself.
When some of the more stringent voices hollering at me to keep away had finally effected obedience, and my initial fascination with viewing the death throes of the chickens had worn off, I was at a loose end. 
Not a good thing for a four-year-old. 
Mischief happens. 
Not my fault.
The bodies of the chickens were systematically hauled away, so a closer study of them had proven impossible, but the heads . . .! Those were still there, lying forgotten near the chopping stump. They were piling up, obviously needing to be disposed of.
Please remember – I was a child of the Country. 
Capital ‘C’.
One by one, I began picking them up and throwing them, unceremoniously, into the river, only a few feet away. 
Hmmm. This was fun! 
They would bob for a few seconds, then sink into the milky depths, perhaps to be eaten by some unseen fish, or maybe one of the monsters that our dog, Mike, was sure lived there.
I found a paint can lid. Great! Now I could throw the heads out four at a time. Much more efficient. 
For some time, this obviously essential errand kept me occupied – to the vast relief of those who mistakenly thought they had more important jobs. I would collect the heads on my little ‘plate’, walk over to the river and . . . give them the Alberta version of a sea burial. 
It was genius. \
To a four-year-old.
Then the fateful, life altering event. I picked up a head, deposited it on my plate . . . 
No word of a lie. It opened! It was possessed! It was going to get me!
Straight into the air, the plate went. 
By the time it and it’s contents had hit the ground, I was already halfway to the house screaming, and I quote, “THE CHICKEN HEAD! THE CHICKEN HEAD!” 
Not very inventive, true, but effective. 
It stopped the entire production line for several seconds. Mostly, I admit, so the people could laugh, but why haggle over details? 
Mom consoled me, between chuckles, and all was smoothed over.
Except for one thing. From then on, I was afraid of chickens. I learned to wrestle 2000 pound bulls without turning a hair, but tell me to collect eggs from under a 3 pound pile of feathers and I was a quivering mass of . . . something soggy and cowardly. 
My family still laughs.

There is an addendum to all of this. When my husband and I were on our honeymoon, we decided to make a day trip to the Calgary Zoo. 
There was a display of emus. And a machine that dispensed grain to feed them. 
Put in a quarter, get a handful of feed. All went well to that point. I approached the emu with my little handful of grain. It moved closer. I moved closer. It looked over the fence. I looked at it. It’s beak opened. 
And my new husband was suddenly staring at the handful of grain that magically appeared in his hand.
I was halfway to the car screaming . . . 
You get the picture.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Photographic Evolution

I received my first camera the Christmas I was nine.
Together with one film.
A twelve exposure.
I hoarded those pictures judiciously. Carefully.
Only taking pictures of very, very special occasions.
And then, only when conditions were especially perfect.
I used up that first film in 32 seconds flat.
We had pictures of wrapping paper.
Kids admiring just-opened gifts nestled in a pile of wrapping paper.
And Mom stuffing more of said wrapping paper into the trash.
Okay, I admit it. Wrapping paper was the most exciting thing I could come up with.
Which says something about my life.
I should also mention, here, that my camera also came with a packet of little bulbs that you could press, one-by-one, into the flash. After they had been used, you pressed a little button and they would be forcibly ejected. This was an especially handy feature when brothers were hanging about. It’s amazing just how fast a brother can move when he has been shot with a little bulb of flaming-hot, molten glass.
Just FYI.
Moving on . . .
For the next few years, I snapped pictures of friends.
Doing . . . stuff.
Of pets.
Mine and other peoples.
And vacations.
Most of them blurry and unrecognisable.
“Okay, this is a shot of Great Aunt Maud. Or of Old Faithful. Take your pick.”
In college, I was handed a ‘real’ camera.
With dials and buttons and switches.
And sent forth into the hinterland to ‘take some shots’.
I will admit that my picture-taking had improved.
Now, people were easily differentiated from, say, cakes.
And my basketball players looked like basketball players.
Not the LCC square-dancing team they were usually mistaken for.
On or off the court.
In fact, my picture-taking skills had improved so much that I was given the position of official photographer in our Journalism class.
A promotion that came with its own dark room.
Yessiree. On any given Tuesday evening, I could be found in my darkroom.
Now why does everyone smile when I say that?
It’s true.
I was developing.
Okay, yes, I usually had a young man in there with me.
But, inevitably, their idea of what goes on in a darkroom and mine were vastly different.
Hmmm. I think I know now why they looked so surprised when I told them to, and I quote, “Sit over there and stay out of my way!”
Back to my story . . .
Following college, I was given a ‘point-and-shoot’. A camera that guaranteed perfect pictures. Without any input from me.
For several years, it faithfully recorded early years of marriage. Baby arrivals. And family life.
With one ore two side trips into ‘someplace green’.
Until that momentous occasion when it died.
Never to go again.
After a normal grieving period, I got another point and shoot.
No more films.
No more trips to the store, picking up or dropping off.
That little camera and I were inseparable.
Until recently.
When I got my new phone.
This is why.
Edmonton, Alberta at sunset.
I will admit that I sometimes think back to my little flashbulbs.
And the ejector that was so effective.
But only fleetingly.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Time Enough at Grandma's

Some of our treasures . . .

Many of our children have settled near us.
I can have grandchildren over whenever I want.
I'm bragging here.
Yesterday, several of my little 'monkey tribe' were over for a visit.
We laughed and giggled.
Ate bananas.
Created works of art with stickers.
And had sword fights.
It was here that we came to grief.
But not in the way you may imagine.
Let me explain . . .
Their mother dropped them off to play at Grandma's while she ran some errands.
All was well.
We played upstairs.
We moved our play downstairs.
Swords came out of the toy box.
Okay, yes. They play with swords.
Would it help if I said that they were constructed of foam?
Moving on . . .
The two oldest had just squared off against each other.
And Mom came around the corner.
Four-Year-Old's mouth dropped open.
“Mom!” he said indignantly. “We just got started playing!”
Apparently, there's an acceptable length of time when one is playing at Grandma's house.
Brief is definitely not enough.
It's a very good thing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lock Up Your Sons

Stringams. And one addition. The boy, second from the right is Graham, the son of one of Dad's college buddies.
He was staying with us for the summer.
Poor kid.

The Stringam ranch was twenty miles from the town of Milk River.
And nine from the nearest neighbor.
Admittedly, it took many, many people to keep the homestead wheels turning.
People we associated with on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.
Many people employed there had families who lived with them on the ranch.
And these families had kids.
That we Stringam kids played with.
So none of us really lacked for company.
But when Dad received notice that someone, maybe one of his old classmates or a friend from his bachelor days, was stopping by with his family for a visit, it was a cause for some excitement.
My first question was, inevitably, “Are there any girls my age?” Because we lived so far from civilization, visits usually lasted for days rather than hours. Thus, if there happened to be peers in the anticipated company, I was set for a very good time indeed.
Usually I was answered with a non-committal, “ I'm not sure. I think they have a couple of kids. They might be around your age.”
I would scoff quietly. How could my parents not know the most important fact, like whether there were any possible playmates in the crowd of eagerly awaited arrivals?
Pfff. I've said it before. Parents are weird.
Inevitably the guests would arrive.
Most of the time, their kids were pretty close in age to at least some of us.
And after five minutes, it didn't matter. We all played together anyway.
Time moved forward and things . . . changed.
Oh, we still had guests stopping by the ranch and said guests still stayed for a few days with us.
And brought their kids with them.
But now that I was twelve, my interest in their children was slightly different.
Now, when a visit was announced, my question was, “Is there anyone my age?”
Notice the slight difference?
I’ll say it again. “Is there anyone my age?”
This is significant.
Because I was no longer looking for girls to play with. Now I was looking for boys to flirt with.
And I thought I was being subtle about it.
Mmmm. Boys.
But looking back, I remember Dad’s grin whenever he told me, “I think they have a couple of sons. Probably a little older than you.”
He could read me like a book.
Probably a good thing I was never a gambler.
Or that there were boys in the poker pot.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ladies, Don Your Jammies

Studying for final exams is hard work.

Time consuming.
Often lasting into the wee hours of the morning.
And even, at times, throughout the night.
It was exam time.
Debbie and I were cramming, comfortably dressed in warm pyjamas.
The clock struck three AM and there was no end in sight.
Time for a pick-me-up.
Food was indicated.
Preferably hot food prepared by someone else.
Someplace else.
Now, I should mention, here, that I always wore a long nightgown. High at the neck, full sleeved. Lovingly made by my mother of dark red flannel.
Disclosing nothing.
Debbie was also dressed in flannel. But there all similarity ended. Her flannel was in the form of ‘jammies’.
Pyjamas that had once consisted of a button-front jacket and long pants.
The jacket was now held shut by one last, tenacious button.
The pants had long since ceased to even approximate reaching the ankle and were now permanently formed to the bend of Debbie’s knee.
She loved them.
But fashionable, they weren’t.
Back to my story . . .
Our minds were too fuzzy from studying to even consider changing our clothes.
Okay, yes, there could be a valid argument made for said fuzzy minds operating machinery, ie. the car, but it was 3 am. Who would listen?
I threw on the long dressing gown that my Mom had made to go over my long nightgown.
And a coat.
I was ready.
Debbie had her short car coat which reached just above her knee. Said coat left an obvious several inches of ‘jammies’ hanging below.
Hmmm . . .
She frowned slightly, then leaned over and rolled up the tell-tale flannel.
All was well.
We set out.
Now there weren’t many places open to the public in Lethbridge, Alberta at 3 AM in 1974.
But, happily, the pizza place was.
I pushed the door open.
Every head in the joint turned to look in my direction.
All two of them.
Both cops.
I smiled and waved cheerfully and they smiled back.
Then their attention turned to the girl behind me.
The one frozen in place with one hand on the door.
And a pyjama leg dangling obviously below the hem of her coat.
They stared at each other.
One of the policemen beckoned.
Debbie shook her head, backing slowly towards the car.
I frowned at her.
What was the matter?
A moment before, she had been cheerfully ready go out in public, unconventionally dressed as she was.
What made the difference?
I could guarantee that they had probably seen much worse than a couple of girls collecting a pizza while dressed in pyjamas.
But Debbie retreated to the car and left me to pick up the pizza by myself.
Jammies. Good for everything. Lounging. Studying. Sleeping.
But used for dining out only under certain circumstances.
‘Cop-less’ circumstances.
So if you’re planning a late night run to the restaurant?
Wear your nightie.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What Started Out Bad . . .

Yesterday's post about pepper/bear spray reminded me of a story.
Didn't read yesterday's post?
It's here. Go ahead. We'll wait . . .
Our second son, he of the six foot eight inches in height, has been a pillar (pun totally intended) of the local city police force for most of a decade.
But, the experiences he has gathered over all of those years, serving as one of Edmonton's finest, still haven't been able to erase the experiences of his early days of training.
Case in point:
Each new officer must demonstrate his ability to continue to work under the most trying and difficult of circumstances.
Scenarios are crafted especially to create such a premise.
One of these is designed to demonstrate how well the new officer can function after being sprayed in the face with pepper spray.
The recruit stands to one side of the exercise yard and receives, directly in the face, a full dose of pepper spray.
That would be where a lessor man, ie. me, would just lay down and die.
But this is only the beginning.
Once sprayed, the officer, nearly blind and almost incapable of breathing, must call for backup and subdue and handcuff not one, but two suspects. Then finally, he may find his way to the sink at the far side of the yard to receive the blessed spray of water to clear eyes and air passages.
It is a gruelling, trying five minutes.
And ends with said recruits silent and contemplative as they sit blinking brilliantly reddened eyes, and breathing blessed pure air.
Fortunately for them, with the completion of this test, that particular day of training is over.
Family members are allowed to come and pick them up.
My son performed well.
He thinks.
Certainly he received a passing grade.
One can only assume what must happen if a recruit receives a failing grade . . .
Moving on . . .
As he sat there, blinking and sniffing, his new wife (of less than a month) arrived to take him home.
With much sympathetic cooing, she tucked him into a corner of the couch.
With a cool compress for his poor eyes.
And a warm, snuggly blanket.
Then she made him a batch of her famous cookies.
Remember where I said that his more recent experiences haven't erased those of his early training?
Well, I didn't say they were all bad.

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