Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Our First Christmas

A repost as I head off on a book-signing tour.
Wish me luck!

Grant and Diane
The very early days of marriage, of most marriages, in fact, are days of exploration and discovery.
Of the combination of ideas and ideals. 
Of the solidifying of the ties binding the couple together.
So it was in our house. 
The happiness that goes with simply being together. 
One imagines that it will last forever. And it does. 
Until . . . The First Conflict.
I use this term lightly, because it really wasn’t a conflict, but more of a steady pull in two different directions. 
He wanted us to spend Christmas with his family. I wanted to spend it with mine.
I won.
Mostly, I admit because I painted a rosier picture than he did. I snared him with magical words like . . . food, fresh baking, treats, candy, chocolate, sugar, sugar, sugar. 
Okay, I exaggerated. 
But my family really did have fun on Christmas Eve. And I wasn’t ready, yet, to miss it.
And my Mom was a really good cook.
He gave in. And so, Christmas Eve found us nestled snugly in the bosom of my family, preparing to enjoy. 
Unfortunately, the preparing part went on a little too long.
My eldest sister, Chris was home for the holiday and she and Mom, demon bakers both, were lost in their own fragrant world. 
Admittedly a pleasant place to be, albeit rather ‘calorific’. 
The rest of us floated by periodically, sniffing, staring hungrily at the stacks . . . and stacks . . . of pies, cookies, cakes, butterhorns, brownies, fudge, cookies, lemon squares, butter tarts, cookies.
There really were a lot of cookies.
Dinner was forgotten as more and more goodies emerged from the cavernous depths of the great ovens. 
Cries from hungry tummies grew more and more insistent. 
Also, the younger set was getting impatient. It was time for that games of games, anticipated for a whole year. 
The annual Stringam bloodbath. 
The Christmas game of Rummoli.
With real poker chips.
Okay, so it wasn’t a bloodbath. Not even particularly violent. But it was as close to gambling as the Stringam gang ever got. 
And we really did anticipate it feverishly. 
Well . . . some of us looked forward to it with excitement. 
Okay, I really liked it. 
By 10:30 pm, many had given up the thought of getting ‘Christmas Eve’ started. 
Baking was still being pulled from the ovens, dinner still hadn’t materialized and even the faint hope of a Rummoli game had long since vanished. 
My husband looked at me. 
He was too kind to put it into words, but I was getting fairly good at reading him, and his expression said, “For this, we gave up an eight-course meal with my family?” I shrugged my shoulders and tried to laugh.
It was a weak attempt.
He decided to take matters into his own hands. 
He got up and wandered nonchalantly past the stack of baking which completely covered the counter and nearly filled the space between the upper and lower cupboards.
Seriously, we’re talking an area eight feet long and somewhere between 18 and 24 inches deep. Covered. With. Fresh. Baking.
His hand snaked out, nabbing a butter tart. 
Quicker than the eye can blink, it was in his mouth. All of it. 
The heavenly combination of flavours poured through his soul like celestial honey. His knees grew weak. He brought his teeth together to begin chewing this small slice of perfection. 
Mom straightened from pulling yet another pan out of the oven, her face flushed with heat and effort.
He was caught. 
He suspended all chewing movements and tried to look innocent, but Mom could spot sneaky at 1000 paces. 
Certainly she could recognize it standing across the counter.
That counter filled with mouth-watering . . . but I digress.
She set the hot pan on the cupboard, placed both hands on her hips and levelled a glare at him. “Don’t eat that!” she said. “It’s for Christmas!”
He stared at her. 
Then at the mounds of baking that couldn’t possibly be eaten in the next 24 hours. 
In the next 24 days. 
He put up one hand to cover his mouth. And the precious contraband that now had a home there. No way was he removing it from his mouth. All sorts of places in his body would have rebelled if he had tried. 
“Sorry,” he mumbled, slowly backing away, his hands spread apologetically.
We never did get our Rummoli game.
Or supper.
After that, my husband and I saved Christmas Eve for his family. And Christmas morning for mine. 
It was easier on our relationship.
Oh, and the statement, “Don’t eat that, it’s for Christmas!”
Quoted every time someone pops something into their mouth. 
Year round.
Just FYI.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Defensive Decorating

Our good friends weren't planning on being home for Christmas.
Instead, they were taking their family to spend the holiday with his parents.
Over six hours away.
Apparently, the extended family was getting together.
It would be . . . fun.
And because they weren't going to be at home, they had also made a practical decision.
Why put up the Christmas decorations?
Decorating took time and effort.
And no one would be around to enjoy them.
And the biggest reason to rejoice?
They would miss, entirely, the all-important (and dreaded) clean-up involved in bringing in their family's usual live Christmas tree.
It just made sense.
To them.
To my Husby, Christmas decorating fiend, it was a travesty.
He reasoned that they would be home for over half of December.
Surely they needed to decorate for those days, at least.
But they didn't.
A week before the big day, we waved them off from their front drive.
My Husby turned to look at the bare, forlorn little home they left behind.
Nestled among it's lighted, decorated neighbours.
He shook his head. “It's just not right,” he said.
Then he grinned.
Something I've learned to treat with respect.
“We'll decorate for them!”
That night, he returned from work with a special tree tied to the roof of the car.
Very special.
It had been thrown into the ditch from a passing vehicle somewhere along his commute.
And had been laying there, forlorn and forgotten for most of the past year.
To say it was dead would be a vast understatement.
No hint of green remained among the dry, brown needles.
He untied it and stood it up.
“What'd'ya think?”
“Ummm . . . Oh, Christmas tree, Oh, Christmas tree! How dead and dry your branches!” I said.
He grinned. “It's perfect!”
I thought of our friends, happily enjoying the holiday in the bosom of their family.
Blissfully unaware of the clean up that would greet them the instant they arrived home.
I shook my head. “Your terrible,” I said.
“I know!” he responded. “Isn't it great?!”
He carried the tree to our friends' house.
And stood it up in their front stoop.
It fit perfectly.
Brushing needles from his hands, he returned home.
Mission accomplished.
A couple of weeks later, our friends returned.
Happy and content from two weeks in the warmth of kith and kin.
They pulled into the drive.
And stopped.
And stared.
They got out of the car.
And stared some more.
A tree, mostly bare, was standing in the stoop outside their front door.
The wind had playfully sculpted the piles of dead needles around it into imaginative drifts and eddies.
Somehow, during their absence, someone had sneaked onto their property . . .
And left something.
You know, I could just picture how it would look on a police report.
'Trespassers on property. Nothing stolen. Something . . . left.'
But I digress . . .
And, most importantly of all?
They had to clean up the needles.
Admittedly, the clean up was quick and easy and relatively painless.
Just a sweep and done.
But to someone who had planned to avoid it altogether?
Oh, they remained our friends.
Because they were extraordinary people.
But after that, they decorated.
It was just . . . safer.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Stopping for Directions . . .

What could be simpler???!

I have no excuse.
I'll let you judge . . .
A woman in our church group, whom I had never met, had just given birth to a tiny, sweet preemie girl.
She had two other children.
And a husband.
I offered to surprise them with dinner.
An easy and painless way to help out.
I made a pot of soup.
Fresh rolls.
And a salad.
Packing everything into a box, I got into the truck and headed out.
Now, I should mention here that I live in a small town.
I've lived in this same small town for nearly a quarter of a century.
Yes, it has grown.
A lot.
But it is still my home town.
And it takes three minutes to drive from one end to the other.
On a busy day.
Twenty minutes later, I was still driving around, looking for this sister's address.
Finally, almost tearful with frustration, I broke down and called her, begging for directions.
“I'm right across the street from Beau Meadow School,” she said. “You can't miss the house. It's brightly lit and there is a 'For Sale' sign in the front yard.”
Now, in our town, that particular school is on what we call the 'ring road'.
It makes a circuit of the entire town.
Meandering through all four quadrants.
It is the quickest way to anywhere.
This woman was on it.
I live just off it.
Our houses were, quite literally, one minute apart.
I finally pulled up to the described house, shut off my truck and carried my now-tepid-meal to the front door.
And realized something.
Not only was this house almost within spitting distance of mine.
But it was a house my son and his family had recently outgrown and sold.
After having lived there for over three years.
I had been in and out of it for that entire time.
I knew it almost as well as I knew my own.
I knew where it was.
And how to get there.
And where to park.
I could have told anyone how to find it.
Only one thing was missing.
I had never noted the address.
No excuse.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Chain

Oh sure. He's looks innocent here . . .

Christmas morning, the exciting, present-opening part, was inevitably on hold until the kids could get their father out of his bed.
It wasn't as easy as it sounds.
What began as a mainly physical feat when they were younger, soon progressed into a different sort of challenge as they grew older.
Their Dad got sneaky.
Case in point . . .
I was heading out to do the milking.
I turned to my Husby, who was still in bed and said, “Don't start till I get back.”
He grinned.
Something I have learned to treat with respect over the years.
“Oh, I imagine I'll still be here when you get back!” Then he reached under the bed and pulled out the end of a long, heavy chain. “Could you please hand me the other end?”
Puzzled, I reached under my side of the bed.
Sure enough, there was the rest.
This man plans ahead . . .
I handed it to him and he lapped the two ends and snapped a large combination lock shut through them.
He was right.
He would probably still be there when I got back.
Shaking my head, I left.
Milking was quickly accomplished and I was soon back at the house,
Pails brimming.
Just as I opened the door, I heard a cheer go up.
'Wow, everyone's sure happy that I'm home!' I thought.
It wasn't me.
They had just finished finding the final number for their father's combination lock.
And had succeeded in freeing him from his chains.
Quite literally.
I set the milk in the milk room and came upstairs.
Just as everyone poured, happily, from our bedroom.
“Mom! We got Dad out of his chains and we're ready to open presents!”
Now there's something you don't hear every day.
“Wow! You kids are good!” Thoughts of future bank robbers and safe-crackers suddenly came to mind.
“Naw! He gave us the first two numbers. Then all we had to do was figure out the last one.”
“Yeah. We did it by the process of elimination.”
“Oh. Well . . . good.”
“It was fun!”
You have to know that these kids have been exposed to many different challenges over the years.
Duct tape.
Mustard. (Don't ask.)
Air horns.
And Speedos. (Told here.)
If you want to read it, we'll wait . . .
I guess a small matter of freeing their father from some pesky heavy chains is child's play.
Well, at least for our children.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Has Arrived! Almost . . .

Last night, we invited a bunch of the grandkids over to help Gramma and Grampa bring in Christmas.
It was . . . fun.
Though many of said grandkids suffer from an extremely short attention span.
We did manage to get the tree up, largely due to the efforts of one daughter-in-law.
And decorated.
Gramma was over digging through the boxes.
Alternately exclaiming and wiping tears.
As always, getting out the decorations is a trip down memory lane.
Old and fragile works of art made by little fingers from as long as thirty-five years ago.
Many no longer able to be safely hung on the tree, but enjoyed only from their places of refuge.
For example, popcorn on a string doesn't last.
Just FYI.
I love Christmas!
This is what we finally managed to accomplish . . .
Gramma's Village

You can't see them all, but there are 22 stockings there. And more on the way . . .

What's Christmas without a mantel . . .

. . . or Santa's laundry?
Christmas Buddies                        

And just because we're Tolleys (Yeah, I don't get it either . . .)

And the main event!

And then I got to sleep with Santa!

Don't you just love Christmas?!

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