Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Mouths of Babes

Three of our grandchildren were over at Gramma and Grampa's for a visit.
They had run down the stairs.
Watched Grampa at work on the basement ceiling.
Played on his ladder.
Examined/rearranged his tools.
“Hey, you kids get out of there!”
Run back up the stairs, giggling.
Played with the castle.
Fished Sister out of the castle.
Found something to interest Sister so she wouldn't play with the castle.
Fished Sister out of the castle again.
Gave up on the castle and beat Gramma at Blokus instead.
And generally really, really worked up an appetite.
It was time for dinner.
Gramma made their favourite.
Something truly delicious.
Tasty, even.
Hot dogs.
Places were set and bodies gathered.
Blessing said and eating begun.
For a few minutes, there was little in the way of conversation.
Mostly munching and satisfied sounds.
Then, our six-year-old finished a bite and looked at his Grampa.
“You know, Grampa, you have a big tummy,” he said.
Grampa smiled. “I know,” he said.
“Yep. A big tummy.”
More eating.
Then, with characteristic six-year-old logic, “It's lots more polite to tell someone they have a big tummy than to say they're fat.”
Gramma shot water out of her nose.
Grampa stopped chewing and stared at his grandson. “Really?”
“Oh yes. Lots more polite.”
You heard it here first, folks.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Small Lessons

My Husby took me to see The Hobbit last night.
We both loved it.
It is the story of a small, seemingly unremarkable person.
Who changes the course of his world’s history.
My favourite kind of story.
There is a place in the tale, where the man who was instrumental in starting this small person on his remarkable journey is asked why he did so.
Why did he choose as he did?
His answer?
He had noted that it’s the small things that truly make a difference.
The little, daily acts of kindness that matter.
Those ‘seemingly insignificant’ people whose small efforts effect the biggest changes.
I cried.
Because that is my reaction to everything.
And it got me thinking.
My latest novel, Kris Kringle’s Magic, is the story of one person who lives in a world which thinks that the sad, ill treatment of a particular group of people is, woefully, acceptable.
He stands against this thinking.
Alone, for the most part.
It is a story of courage.
A story of doing what is right, even when everyone around you disagrees.
The abused people in the tale?
They react to their ill treatment with kindness.
Even love.
I have been invited to visit schools in my area to discuss the lessons in this book with the children.
To deliberate with them whether it’s okay for one group of people to treat another group with disdain.
Even cruelty.
At one point, to put things into their perspective, I ask them to consider what they would do if a bully pushes them down.
Bruising and scraping their hands.
Then runs away laughing.
And falls, breaking his arm.
What would they do?
Every student . . . EVERY STUDENT . . . says immediately, that they would go and help.
I pretend to protest.
“But he has just hurt you! He pushed you down!”
Universally, their answer, “But it’s the right thing to do!”
One young man said, “You don’t want to descend to his level!”
I have learned something amazing.
These smallest, seemingly unremarkable people in our world, are capable of the greatest acts of kindness.
The most forgiveness.
The purest love.
Qualities less seen among the adults.
So when do we lose that ability?
We must have had it.
But somewhere between childhood and growing up, it gets . . . lost.
I know I would think twice before going to help that person who was just mean to me.
I think I would do it.
I hope I would.
I hope I would be like the children.
Would you?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Failing Grade

Quick! Take a picture!

In Southern Alberta, in the sixties, the country roads were more a suggestion than an actual fact.
Sketchy at best.
When conditions were dry, they stretched, bare and passable for miles.
And miles.
When conditions were wet, Heaven help you.
Gravel was non-existent.
Drivers used such words to describe them as: Greasy. Slick. A blooming nightmare.
And *&*()+}|?@#$%^&!!!
The county employed men and machinery to maintain said roads.
Actually catching sight of one was right up there with spotting a unicorn.
Definitely something to pass on to your children.
“Kids, there was a time when I saw . . . the road grader!!!”
But occasionally, their presence (rather than the lack of it), would be felt.
Let me explain . . .
My next older brother, George was driving our Dad’s late-model truck.
I used to know the make, model and year.
Now all I can remember is: It was yellow.
Moving on . . .
He was heading out to see friends.
Or just coming back from seeing some friends.
Both activities took him along the same stretch of road.
He topped a rise.
And there, completely blocking the entire road, was a pile of gravel.
A large pile of gravel.
Pushed there by the road grader.
Or dropped there by a passing gravel truck.
Then abandoned while the mastermind took a much-needed coffee break.
Or nap.
Stopping was out of the question.
George was left with two choices.
And two seconds in which to make one.
Hit the gravel.
Or hit the ditch.
He chose the gravel.
The truck engine instantly began to make loud, distinctly un-muffled noises.
Remember “*&*()+}|?@#$%^&!!!”?
Well, that would apply here.
He stopped and got out.
The manifold had been neatly and surgically separated from the rest of the muffler system.
“*&*()+}|?@#$%^&!!!” again.
Fortunately, that was the extent of the damage and George was able to drive home without further incident.
To face the Wrath of Dad.
After a few minutes in which:
1.      George’s driving was severely called into question, followed by
2.      A diatribe against the roads and road maintenance in general,
3.      An appointment was made to get the muffler replaced.
I went with Dad to facilitate this final decision.
We were driving down the main street of Milk River.
Normally, Milk River is a quiet place.
Conversations while standing on the street corner are entirely possible.
And frequent.
There was one going on as we passed.
Between, believe it or not, several of George’s friends.
Dad and I smiled and waved.
Then Dad shifted the truck into neutral and floored the gas pedal.
The truck made a loud, distinctive and courageous ‘BLAAAAAT’.
That echoed off the buildings and shattered glass.
Okay, I’m making up the whole ‘shattered glass’ thing, but the rest is true.
The whole street turned to look.
Dad grinned.
Put the truck back into gear.
And proceeded.
I stared at him.
This was the Dad who, very recently, had been berating my brother for suspected ‘horsing around causing vehicle damage’.
Dad obviously knew what he was talking about.
That acorn definitely hadn't fallen very far from that tree.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Our Heart-Pounding New Years'

To celebrate the squeaky-clean beginning of yet another year, I'm going to regale you with the tale of our New Year's Eve.
It's a heart-stopper. 
Really . . .
We spent the evening, much like millions of other people, happily celebrating with friends.
Eating wonderful food that someone else prepared. (My personal favourite.)
Playing games: Charades. Word scramble. Card contests.
And visiting.
Sometime after midnight, we senior citizens called it a successful, wonderful night and left for our respective homes.
Husby and I were safely in bed by 2:00 AM.
All was well.
All was not to remain well.
Just as we were both deeply asleep, someone pounded on our front door.
In my half-awakened state, it sounded frantic to me.
“Grant! Something's wrong!” I screamed, leaping from bed and switching on lights as I sped down the hall.
Mentally, as I ran, I tallied where my kids and grandkids were. Who had stayed in for the evening and who might still be out.
One family, I knew, had taken their little girls to a friends' party.
They could conceivably still be out.
What's wrong? What's wrong?
I reached the front door, heart racing and breathing heavily.
I peeked out.
No one.
I opened the door.
The front step was echoingly empty.
I stepped out and peered around.
No one.
The night was quiet.
The street deserted.
Nothing moved.
I came back inside and shut the door.
Then I peeked out again.
What on earth . . .?
By this time, my Husby was also up.
Doing a circuit of the windows and doors.
No one.
We looked at each other.
Did another circuit.
Still no one.
Puzzled, I headed back to bed while Husby locked up again.
He soon joined me and almost immediately dropped back to sleep.
I didn't.
For the next two hours, heart still racing, my mind spun through every terrible, horrible thing that could ever befall a family that now numbered twenty-five.
It was a long night.
We survived it.
None of the terrible, awful things happened.
I know, because this crazy mom/grandma phoned everyone as soon as it was light this morning.
Two facts remain.
  1. Someone pounded on our door last night. The reasons remain obscure.
  2. Somewhere in our bed is my Husby's liver, scared out of him when I screamed.
Happy New Year.

Monday, December 31, 2012

My Non-Alcoholic New Years

New Year's Eve.
The time for parties.
And, I know this will surprise you, but it reminded me of my first real party.
With boys.
I'd like to tell you about it . . .
It was my first real party.
With boys.
I was fifteen.
The basement family room had been cleaned to a sparkle.
Fire roaring in the fireplace.
Food and nibbles set out in a tempting array.
Soft drinks table arranged with numerous selections and/or glasses.
The pool table was set.
Music blaring.
Lights dimmed.
And actual guests circling the room.
Playing pool.
Playing games.
My first party was hitting on all cylinders.
Then . . . a snag.
Or rather, my younger brother and sister, aged ten and eight.
Okay, a snag.
The two of them, banned from the actual epicentre of fun-ness, had been circling the outside of the house and peering through the basement windows at us party-ers.
During one of their circuits, they came upon three bottles of beer.
Stashed innocently outside one of the windows.
One of the party-goers, knowing ours was a non-acoholic home, had brought his own party with him.
Recognizing those three bottles as potential disaster (their words, not mine) they dutifully came and reported.
“Oh,” I said.
“What should we do?” they asked.
“Umm . . .” Okay, so I was my usual decisive self.
They stared at me for a moment, then left.
Shaking their heads.
Sisters. Pffff.
A short time later they were back.
“We've taken care of it,” they said.
“Oh? Good,” I said.
And gave it very little other thought.
Until the next day.
At breakfast the next morning, they told me their ingenious and daring solution to the whole 'someone-brought-beer-to-our-teetotalling-party fiasco'.
They had taken the bottles.
Opened them.
Emptied out the contents.
Refilled them.
With wholesome, nourishing, party inducing . . . water.
Re-capped them.
And replaced them.
They thought it was hilarious.
I'm not sure what my friends thought.
Certainly no one mentioned anything.
But how can you complain when someone tampers with the alcohol you clandestinely (ooh, good word!) brought to a party of fifteen/sixteen-year-olds?
After that, my friends opted to hold any parties at their homes.
Where the drinks menu could be a bit more varied.
And a little less secretive.
And tamper-proof.
The jury's still out on whether they were more fun.

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