Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Free Cotton Candy!

A reprint for those who expressed concern . . .

My Very Short Life as an Entrepreneur

You think these beds look nice . . .
You should see what's underneath!

The world was a magical place!
I was rich beyond my wildest dreams!
And the treasure trove I had just discovered had been right under my bed the whole time.
Who knew?!
Maybe I should back up a bit . . .
My Mom and Dad had taken us kids to The Fair.
Mostly so we could see the cattle competitions, I admit, but eventually, to take in the sights and sounds and tastes of the midway.
First, came the sounds.
And once I got used to the fact that all of the shouting and screams I could hear were actually people having fun, I was able to relax a little.
And take in the sights.
That was a lot for my four-year-old eyes to take in.
There were rides.
Merry-go-rounds, roller coasters, Ferris wheels and tilt-a-whirls.
The haunted house. The pirate's den.
And sideshows.
The alligator man and the girl who turned into an ape.
And then there was food.
I had been too frightened to be coaxed onto any of the rides.
Apart from the merry-go-round.
A quirk that exists to this very day.
But I didn't have to be convinced to try the food.
A foot-long hot dog, heavy with ketchup and mustard. A cob of corn, dripping butter. Several donuts. An ice cream cone.
I was certain that I had never had so much fun in my life.
Or eaten as well.
But the best was yet to come.
Something that I never could have imagined.
A treat that was fluffy and melty and oh, so good.
Cotton candy!
The Fair had just become the most amazing experience of my entire four years.
A memory that I treasured long, long into the future.
Or at least three weeks into the future.
I was looking for one of my toys.
It wasn't in sight.
I decided to look in places that weren't in sight.
Under the bed.
There, I made the most remarkable discovery.
Cotton candy.
Just laying there!
I picked it up.
It was definitely cotton candy.
I set it on the bed and bent over, looking for more.
I don't want to suggest here, that my Mom didn't keep a clean house.
She did.
It's just that a husband, six kids, a couple of dogs, a two-acre garden and several hired men can make it difficult for one to get to the hidden surfaces in one's home.
Enough said.
I scrabbled around under all of the beds in the house and managed to come up with a small mound of the magical substance.
Wow! I could sell this to the kids in the neighbourhood.
The ones to whom, like me, The Fair was a sweet and delightful, though distant, memory.
I began counting pennies in my head.
I carried my treasure out to my Mom.
"Look what I found!" I said.
"Oh!" Mom said. She was as pleased as I was, obviously. "Where did you find that?"
"Under my bed. And Jerry's bed. And George's bed. And . . ."
"Never mind," Mom said. "Here. Let me take care of it." She reached for it.
I snatched it away. Was she crazy? Did she really think that I would just hand her my treasure?
She looked at me.
"Diane, what are you going to do with that?"
"I'm taking it outside to sell to the other kids."
"You're going to sell it."
She was crazy. Couldn't she see the windfall that I held in my two little hands?
"Diane, what do you think that is?"
"Candy floss," I told her. I frowned. What did she think it was?
"Maybe you should taste it," she said.
No problem. I selected a choice bit and pushed it into my mouth.
Okay, first off, this didn't melt like the 'fair' type.
And second . . . ick!
I spit it out.
Mom laughed. "Diane, those are dust bunnies."
I stared at her. Then at my treasure.
No way those were bunnies.
"That's what they're called," she explained. "They're just dirt that has blown into a clump under the bed."
Well, whose idea was that?
Disgusted, I handed her my treasure to dispose of.
I learned some things that day:
  1. Things found under the bed are usually there for a reason.
  2. And not a good one.
  3. If your going to make money, salesmanship scores over taste.
  4. In fact, forget taste all together.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Okay. Looks Can Deceive . . .

Diane - in trouble again.

Mmm. Candy.
The ultimate in gustatory delight for all children.
Well, for most children.
Okay, for me.
That dangled 'apple' that entices obedience.
Or commands respect.
And, growing up in the 50's, I had my favourites.
Oh, the floors my Mom could get me to sweep, all on the promise of one delicious treat.
The dishes washed.
The bathrooms scrubbed.
With the prospect of yet another sweet, tasty . . . something.
And what 'somethings' there were . . .
But nothing quite compared to Lik-M-Aid.
The ads said it all, 'The Candy You Could Pour'.
Eating it was simplicity in itself. You didn't even need utensils.
Caveman forebears would have easily been able to figure it out.
You ripped open one end. Wet your finger, dipped it in.
And voila!
The fact that your finger and your tongue ended up the same colour – blue, red, purple – was just a bonus.
We connoisseurs could easily spot one another, too, by our discoloured pointer finger.
An added bonus.
It was like a club. (All Lik-M-Aid aficionados point to the sky!)
The only problem was that the end was too near the beginning. Within five minutes of ripping open that wonderful little bag of enjoyment, one was . . . ummm . . . licking the last.
And staring forlornly at the empty wrapper.
But I was undaunted.
If the Lik-M-Aid was gone, one simply had to . . . substitute.
Hmm. Mom had packets of cool-aid in the cupboard. I had seen them. I had watched her pour them into a pitcher, add water and voila! Deliciousness.
Cool-Aid? Lik-M-Aid? Are we seeing similarities here?
I had a hazy recollection of something else added to the cool-aid before it was poured out, but paying attention to insignificant details had never been my strong suit.
I headed for the kitchen.
I should probably point out here that finding the kitchen without Mom in residence was . . . tricky.
I managed it on several occasions.
I was a sneaky little monkey.
I know. I heard Mom say it quite often.
Back to my story . . .
I waited until she headed towards the basement.
A-ha! The coast was clear!
I stole into the kitchen, went immediately to her stash of cool-aid, and grabbed a purple pouch.
Mmm. Grape. My favourite.
Expertly, I ripped off the top, stuck in my finger and . . . tasted.
What was this stuff?
Someone had poured something different into this pouch. Disguised it as cool-aid to fool poor unsuspecting little kids.
The nerve.
How dishonest!
I sneaked another one. Cherry this time. Surely it would be better.
Rip. Taste.
Rip . . . you get the picture.
I have no idea how she did it, but Mom was always able to come upon me unexpectedly.
I think she had 'ninja' blood.
I dropped a packet of strawberry to the floor.
“What are you doing?”
I looked down at the . . . let's just call it 'several' discarded packets of cool-aid, then back at her.
Was that a trick question? “Umm . . . I thought it was Lik-M-Aid.”
“Well, it's not!”
Okay, yeah, I was starting to notice.
“Clean this up!”
I stared in dismay at the mess.
Mom sighed and helped me.
Mom was the soul of frugal. I guess the fact that the powder was slightly used really wasn't important. I watched as she poured all the cool-aid powder together into a container and capped it tightly.
It made really neat little lines of colour.
Huh. Cool.
Then she put it away.
Out of reach.
I didn't point out to her that her belated caution was unnecessary.
That stuff really tasted awful.
Her cool-aid was safe with me.
Unless mixed with that delicious 'something' that made it so . . . drinkable.
Hmm. Water. Was that the magic ingredient?
Maybe the cool-aid was worth another try . . .
I'd like to tell you that that was the last of my experiments.
But I'd be lying.
Candy floss and dust bunnies and I also have a history.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Electronic Age

Two electronics whizzes . . . and their parents.

For the past three days, we have been travelling across the country with a one-year-old.
It has been a wonderful, educational, exhausting time.
And I have learned something about electronics.
Yes. I said electronics.
Maybe I should explain . . .
First, a little background.
Kids now seem to have an affinity for anything ‘electronic’.
If I have any problems with my computer or anything that attaches to the wall with a plug or adapter, I hit ‘control-alt-delete’. Then shout for my son or son-in-law.
They hit a couple of keys and I’m once more off and running.
And these abilities start at a very early age.
Our four-year-old grandson watched his father type in the password for his computer, then load and play a game.
Only watched, mind you.
A few days later, his mother walked into the family room and found her son playing his father’s game.
I should mention that this is a bang-bang, shoot-shoot game, but not spectacularly gory or detailed.
“Hey!” she said. “How did you get on there?!”
The son giggled and fled.
A short time later, his mother called his father at work.
“You left your computer on!” she said.
“No, I didn’t.”
“Well, you must have! I just caught our son on your game!”
There was silence on the other end of the line. Then, “I haven’t been on the computer for days,” he said. “The computer would have long gone to sleep.”
“Well then how . . .?”
“He had to have watched me type in the password.”
“But he’s only four!”
“It’s the only explanation.”
Now, back to today . . .
Compared to our one-year-old, our four-years-old is . . . old.
And this incident, I watched.
Our one-year old grabbed her mom’s cell phone.
Flipped it over.
Switched it on.
Slid the lock.
And immediately started punching buttons, rearranging some, cancelling others.
All as fast as you could blink.
Faster, even.
So simple, even a child could do it . . .
This Gramma needs help.
Is there a child out there?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Laundry. Cheap Entertainment

And each of the eight brothers had a sister . . .
My Mom had eight brothers.
And each of them had a sister.
My Mom.
Most of the time, this was a good thing.
They played together.
Worked together.
And when someone put a banana peel down Mom's back at school, they 'protected' her.
It was a good balance.
Being the only other female on the farm meant work, however.
Besides helping with things outdoors, she had indoor chores.
Cooking, cleaning, dishes.
Those 'invisible' things that go unnoticed until they don't get done.
Of all of them, the most entertaining was always the laundry.
You never knew what you would find . . .
There was one very firm rule in the Berg household.
You cleaned your plate at mealtime.
Much of the food was produced on the farm and Grandpa Berg took a very dim view of any of it being wasted.
Each of the sons, and the daughter, had to show an empty plate before they were allowed to leave.
If they had been served something they didn't like, they had to eat it anyways.
Or get creative.
Uncle Leif, the youngest of the brothers, got creative.
He knew that those vegetables and potatoes he had been staring at had to go somewhere.
He just didn't want them inside of him.
What to do?
No dog or pet was allowed inside the house, so one couldn't slip food to them under the table.
His parents would notice any significant quantity of food simply thrown on the floor.
His options were definitely limited.
But he would think of something . . .
When Mom and Grandma Berg were doing the laundry, it was Mom's responsibility to turn out the pockets on the boy's trousers.
Inevitably, it was an entertaining enterprise.
Especially when they got to Uncle Leif's.
Because that was when they discovered what had been done with those unwanted and totally unnecessary vegetables and potatoes.
While he had been sitting there, contemplating, he had come up with the most ingenious and inventive method of making them disappear.
He was wearing trousers.
And they had . . . pockets.
What followed was inevitable.
Back in the laundry, Mom turned out each pocket to discover little, dried up memories of yesterday's dinner.
And, as I said, entertaining.
And that's just the laundry.
Imagine what he could do with such things as . . . bedrooms. Chores.
But that is another story.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Creating Worlds

Looks like building material to me!
The headquarters/chief residence of the Stringam ranch, like most ranch houses then and now, was centred around a large, family kitchen.
Everything important happened in that room.
Eating, visiting, business, playing. More eating.
It was, quite literally, the soul of the house.
Mom reigned supreme over its scrubbed surfaces and gleaming appliances.
All traffic came through it, stopping either briefly, or of longer duration.
I lived there.
Whenever Mom was in residence (and Mom was always in residence), I could be found.
Dragging out stacks of plastic ware or pots and pans.
Or, even more exciting, the dozens of Jello packages that Mom kept in a corner cupboard.
Just for me.
It was amazing what one could construct out of those small, cardboard boxes.
Castles. Forts. Corrals. Houses. Barns. Apartment buildings. Stores.
Even schools.
Infinite possibilities.
Infinite hours of fun and creativity.
I should mention, here, that Lego hadn't reached my little world.
But it would.
Moving on . . .
And my Mom, moving about the kitchen, had to step carefully to avoid disaster.
To both of us.
How lightly she moved, dancing and weaving around the complicated constructs that, to me, were edifices of genius and creativity.
Occasionally, we came to grief.
Something I had made would have meandered a little too far across the floor and Mom would trip over . . . whatever.
But not often.
Mom should have been a professional terpsichorean (real word – I looked it up).
Or Superman. She could certainly leap any building I made with a single bound.
Looking back, though, I have to wonder why Mom kept so many Jello packages in that cupboard.
Certainly, we ate a lot of it.
But that still didn't justify the number of boxes stored there.
Maybe, like Moms everywhere, she knew . . .
How much fun assembling castles out of sweet-smelling boxes could be.

There is a codicil . . .
My grandchildren were playing on the floor of the kitchen as their mother and I were preparing supper. They had a complicated construction of Tupperware, old yogurt containers, pots . . . and Jello packages.
I stepped over it.
“Careful, Gramma! You'll knock down the princess' castle!”
And suddenly, I was four years old again.
Creating worlds on the kitchen floor.

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