Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Renting in Paris

Okay. Not quite, but you get the picture . . . so to speak.

During the two years my Husby lived in Paris, France, he and his companions stayed in many and varied dwellings.
Some nice.
Some . . .
But the best of the best was the time they lived in a guest house on an estate in the Paris suburbs.
A real, four bedroom deluxe guest house.
On a real French estate.
The estate, itself, covered ten acres and included said guest house, as well as the main mansion and assorted outbuildings, all owned by an aristocratic octogenarian. A woman whose actions belied her age.
And athletic ability.
Let me explain . . .
Husby and his companions had been living in this, to-eight-young-men-in-their-early-twenties-who-had-lived-in-some-rather-unpleasant-places, remarkable abode, for about four months.
In all that time, owing to the fact that their rental had been handled by the man who directed them, none of them had met, or even laid eyes on, their landlord.
One afternoon, several of them were out in the beautiful grounds, enjoying an unexpected few hours of relaxation. Suddenly a slender, erect person carrying a cane appeared and moved slowly toward them across the yard, chattering in French as she came.
As the figure drew closer, they could see that it was a very well and expensively-dressed woman. She stopped next to them, and they deduced that they were, for the first time, addressing their landlord landlady. They also noted that she had the bearing of someone who was accustomed to being in charge.
For a few moments, they discussed the beautiful weather, and the day in particular.
Suddenly, the woman noticed a sizable bug, crawling up the trunk of the large, mature tree standing next to her.
“Ah!” she shrieked, making the young men jump. She turned and, wielding her cane with intent and purpose, preceded to pound the hapless bug until even the memory of it had disappeared. “C’est mauvais, ca! (That’s bad, that!)” she said.
Then she smiled and nodded at the speechless boys and, turning, continued across the yard.
I will add one more thing . . .
Their rent was always paid on time.

Our youngest son (Back row, fifth from the right or thirteenth from the left) - doing what his father did . . .

Friday, February 22, 2013

DINING in France

The skills he learned in France . . .
And cooking.

In his early twenties, my Husby spent two years living in Paris, France.
For a farm boy from southern Alberta, it was quite a culture shock.
But he loved it, and grew to love the French people.
During his years there, he discovered that the French love their food.
Love. Their. Food.
And he found out first hand . . .
During his stay there, Husby became acquainted with a wealthy U.S. national and his family who made their home in Paris.
Wonderful people.
One evening, the father decided to take his family out to dine.
He invited Husby and his companions.
Remember the place where I said ‘wealthy’?
That would become important here.
They went to a five-star, French restaurant.
And when the French say five-star, they definitely mean it.
Our little farm boy found himself in the very heart and soul of Haute Cuisine.
He nervously sank into a chair at one of the luxurious tables and accepted the expertly-flourished menu.
Fortunately, his French was good, so ordering didn’t cause any complications.
The meal came out in courses.
Slow courses.
When I say that the French love their food, I mean it.
And they take time to worship every. Single. Bite.
Finally, the main course appeared.
Husby’s American friend had ordered steak.
Steak was delivered. Smothered in onions and other good things.
Said steak was also very, very rare.
Now, I don’t know about you, but that would have been just fine with me. (Rancher’s daughter.)
But for Husby’s friend, it was simply unacceptable. “Could you please take this back and cook it?” he asked.
The waiter’s impeccable manners did not allow for any outward show of surprise or even opinion. He simply said, “Oui, M’sieur,” and carried the offending plate away.
A few minutes later, he reappeared, with the same steak on a fresh plate.
Still beautifully displayed.
Still rare.
The friend stared at it, then at the waiter. “Could you please take it back again?”
Now it’s no crime to like your meat well-done.
Most of my family members actually prefer it that way.
It’s just not acceptable when you are in a very fancy French restaurant.
A short time later, the steak re-appeared.
This time carried in with tongs.
By the chef, himself.
“M’sieur,” he said, slapping the steak down in disgust on a nearby plate, “you have murdered that steak!” The man then spun about and marched back to the kitchen, outrage and repugnance (good word) in every step.
For those of you planning on dining in France . . .
The people are wonderful.
The food divine.
The meat, rare.
That is all.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Great Eight

Daddy and me
My birthdays were always exciting.
Family. Good food. Cake.
And presents.
My fourth had been truly memorable, with a little barn fire thrown in for . . . umm . . . excitement.
But my eighth was memorable for two other reasons.
Let me explain . . .
It began ordinarily enough, with Mom's wonderful breakfast and good wishes all around.
Dad had gone into the city, on ranch business, and wasn't expected back until later, when us kids got home from school.
But that was okay, because I knew that my real birthday, complete with birthday food and cake and the all importnat presents wouldn't happen until supper time.
I went through the day with high anticipation.
I'm sure my teachers tried mightily to teach me something that day, but who can compete with birthday supper and cake?
And presents.
By supper time, I had worked myself into a rare mood.
Mom made my favourite.
With meat balls.
Then the cake.
Again my favorite - Angel food.
With fluffy seven-minute frosting.
I should point out that the name of the frosting had to do with how long it took to make it.
Because it certainly didn't describe how long it took to eat it . . .
But I digress . . .
And then that moment.
The time I had been anticipating for an entire year.
When the wrapped boxes came out and were given the place of honour.
Right in front of me.
The first one was rather . . . book sized.
I tore into the colourful paper eagerly.
I should explain, here, that I had fallen in love with reading in the first grade, at the age of six.
Dr. Seuss had introduced me to world of books and I hadn't looked back.
By the time I was eight, I had graduated to the next step.
Chapter books.
And here, on my birthday, I was suddenly holding the greatest treasure I had ever seen.
Nancy Drew. The Secret in the Old Attic.
A chapter book.
All my own.
My world had just gotten bigger.
Then there was more.
A large, rectangular package.
Reluctantly and reverently, I set down my precious new book.
And ripped into my other present.
The wrapping came off easily.
Revealing . . . Lego.
What on earth was that?
I stared at the package.
Everyone stared at the package.
My father was well known for finding the new and the wondrous.
He didn't fail here.
I opened the box and poured out a stream of little red, white and blue blocks.
Of varying sizes and shapes.
I unfolded the brightly-coloured instruction sheet.
And my world got bigger, still.
I needn't tell you that my Nancy Drew collection expanded to include every volume ever written.
Or that Lego became a large part of the Stringam world that day.
And that a major part of playtime, for three generations now, consists of amazing feats of construction with myriad colourful blocks.
Or reading.
I only need to tell you that everything began on my eight birthday.
A day truly worth celebrating.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


My Dad and his mount for the day.
My eldest brother’s horse.
The ultimate in challenges.
My world was small. I admit it.
By the age of seven, I had moved through the ‘pony’ stage was ready for something a bit . . . bigger. Certainly more challenging.
My brother’s sorrel gelding was the answer. 
If I could ride him, I would have achieved my greatest goal. By so doing, I would enter the world of the adults. I would finally be considered a grown-up.
Or so I thought.
We were selecting our mounts for yet another round-up. This one to include branding and all of the fun and high-jinks that went with that.
My brother, Jerry, stepped into the corral ahead of me. He lifted the halter he held. He approached . . . Ranger. 
My day had come. Before anyone could think of stopping me, I moved to Topper’s side and slid my halter over his alert head. 
So far, so good.
Grooming and saddling took next to no time. A good thing as I was in a fever of impatience.
And then I was aboard.
Wow! The ground was so far away! This horse was a giant!
Okay, he would have had to stand on tip hooves to reach 14 hands, but I had been riding a Shetland pony. My measuring stick was slightly skewed.
But I digress . . .
And we were off.
All went well to that point. In fact, all continued to go well as we received our assignments and separated to begin collecting the herds. I was given one of the smaller fields. A measly little quarter section. No problem. Topper and I started off with a will. I was amazed at how much more quickly he moved than my little Pinto.
I have to admit here that Pinto had one speed.
This was living! 
And then . . . that sun. 
In Southern Alberta, at least the corner where I was raised, the early summer days are . . . hot. There are no trees. The sun beats down on the hard-packed earth, turning it into a heat reflector of gigantic proportions. In no time, the heat waves are distorting every horizon. 
And the favourite little blue jean jacket so necessary when you first hit the barnyard is suddenly superfluous. And distinctly uncomfortable.
And really needing to be removed.
With slow, staid Pinto, a simple task. No sooner thought of, then accomplished. He wouldn't even have noticed.
With Topper, another story entirely.
I undid the buttons.
His ears flicked back. I’m almost sure his eyes narrowed. “What are you doing up there, Human?”
I slid one arm half-way out of the sleeve.
A jump. A little kick. “Whatever it is, I don’t like it!”
I stopped moving.
He settled.
I moved, he jumped.
This went on for some time. Then I finally tired of the theatrics and decided to show him who was boss.
I shed my coat entirely.
He decided to show me who was really boss and shed me.
I’m not sure whether I bailed off, or he planted me. It matters little because the results were the same.
My face took the brunt of the landing.
When I came to my senses a short time later, I struggled to my feet and discovered that Topper was actually waiting for me a little distance away.
I approached him slowly. The only speed I could muster.
He watched me, warily.
I drew closer.
He tensed.
Closer still.
He let fly with both back hoofs.
I really don’t know how I managed to survive life on the ranch. I must have a particularly hard head. 
The next thing I remember is one of our hired men, Bud. He had followed the trail of my belongings until he finally discovered me, lying in a very small heap.
He plucked me from the prairie floor, like flotsam off a beach.
I noticed, with some degree of satisfaction, that he had already rescued my beloved jacket.
Reunited. I must have smiled. In your face, Topper!
Bud set me on the saddle in front of him and I looked down at the horse he was riding.
The delicious appaloosa.
The ultimate in challenges.
If I could ride him, I would have achieved my greatest goal . . .
You can see where this is heading.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A (Possible) Alternative to Delinquincy

Me and my first 4-H calf.
I'm the nerd in the glasses and cowboy hat.

Twelve was an important age in the Stringam family.
That anxiously awaited, feverishly anticipated time.
When one was finally considered a grown up.
And, at long last, able to join 4-H.
Okay, I know what you're thinking, but we were a ranching family. What more can I say? 
Ahem . . .
Yep. 4-H. No end of excitement.
First, there was the all-important choosing of the calf, which enlisted years and years of experience and an eye for perfection. ("Umm . . . I want the red and white one over there! Nooo . . . I mean the red and white one over there . . . Wait! I want that one! He's cute!")
Then there was the twice daily ritual of feeding said calf. (Accomplished for the first day by me, and thereafter by my brother, George. For the entire six years I was in 4-H.)
There were the monthly meetings where we were expected to hand in our record books. (A concise documentation of our calf's daily diet, inevitable weight gain, and any other pertinent information. Frantically estimated and scribbled half an hour before the meeting started. Or during the meeting.)
Then, twice a year, there were the 'calf tours'. (Where we exclaimed, more or less knowledgeably over each other's calves. And then, more importantly, had a wonderful dinner at one of the homes. Usually one of the families of Hungarian descent. The best cooks in the entire world. Mmmmm.)
And finally, at the end of the year, we loaded our now-enormous darlings into trucks and headed into Lethbridge for the final show and sale.
The reward and culmination of a year of my brother's hard work.
Beyond exciting.
Three days of meeting new people (i.e. boys).
Walking along the midway and eating 'fair' food. (Foot-long hot dogs. Hamburgers. Corn on the cob. Doughnuts. Cotton Candy. Chocolate. Popcorn.)
Attending the dance.
Sleeping in the dorms.
Oh, yes. And grooming and showing and selling our calves.
Waving good-bye.
And then, way beyond exciting, came the annual club trip.
Where the club members, together with their families, would embark on a journey to . . . somewhere wonderful.
And exciting.
We toured all over Alberta and into Montana and Washington.
And saw . . . stuff.
One trip, in particular, stands out.
And in my usual long-winded way, I worked myself around to it . . .
We had traveled into Washington state and planned to camp at a brand-new and ultra modern campground.
Which, according to the pamphlet, was home to an enormous swimming pool and other amazing features.
It was the hottest day of the year.
And air conditioning hadn't been invented yet.
Our caravan of ten or so vehicles pulled into the campsite and ground to a dusty and exhausted halt.
There were trees.
And water hydrants.
But little else.
Apparently, the pictures in the brightly-colored pamphlet had been artist's imaginative renderings of amenities that would 'some day' be part of the campground.
Us kids gathered around the giant hole that would one day be a swimming pool.
Saying a silent farewell to the fun we could have had there.
Our parents started to set up camp.
It was hot.
One of the dad's hooked a garden hose up to a hydrant and started to spray the dust off a table.
Another Dad filled a pitcher to add to the radiator of his over-heated truck.
They looked at each other.
Hose, squirting cool water.
Pitcher, filled with equally cool water.
Hottest day of the year. (I know. I already said that. But it really was.)
Pool that only existed on paper.
It was a no-brainer.
The fight was on.
By the time it ended, every single person in the campsite was soaked.
More than soaked.
If you were moving. You were a target.
Let me rephrase that.
If you were breathing, you were a target.
A group of moms were sitting in a safe (i.e. dry) place, watching the fun and laughing uproariously (real word - I looked it up) thinking that their age and authority made them exempt.
Oh, the folly.
My brother, George, spotted them and immediately noted two things:
1. They were dry.
2. This was unacceptable.
He filled a bucket with water and waited for them to notice him.
They saw him standing there and, staring in disbelief, slowly got to their feet.
"No, George!"
Begging availed them nothing.
In a moment, they were as soaked as the rest of us.
The fight lasted most of the afternoon, and, by the time it was finished, everyone was wet, cool, and happily exhausted.
Much the same condition we would have been in if the pool really had existed.
I don't remember much else about that particular trip.
Everything else paled when compared to "The Water Fight'.
Six years of experiences.
Of growing up.
I miss those times.
I suppose they still have it.
4-H, I mean.
And fun.
I wish I was still part of it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

In Heaven. Cooking.

The ranch cook. With Chris and Jerry.
Mom could make anything taste good.
And it didn't matter what she had going in her life, meals were always plentiful and on time.
She would serve a full, cooked breakfast of ham, eggs, pancakes and oatmeal, with lunch simmering on the stove and dinner baking in the oven so both meals could be produced quickly as soon as she finished the gardening, cleaning or chores, got back from driving us kids to school, picking up whatever was needed from the hardware, the feed store, and the grocery, and attended one of her numerous Herefrord club meetings or quilting or sewing bees.
Sometimes I think about the scheduling nightmare that her life must have been.
Just thinking about it makes me tired.
She was amazing.
But back to the food . . .
When Mom was 10 years old, she went with her dad and brothers up to the Berg family's 'other place' to cook while Grandpa and the boys brought in the hay crop.
She often described the little wood stove she used for her meals. “It had the littlest oven,” she told me, “just big enough to fit in one pie.”
She was making pie???!
At ten years old???!
By herself???!
Okay, 'amazing' just doesn't quite cover it.
By the time I was ten, I figured I was doing extremely well because I knew how to eat pie.
But I digress . . .
So, at the age of ten, she was doing all of the cooking for her father and three older brothers.
Well, she certainly learned how to cook.
Mom could open the fridge (that same fridge that one of us kids had just looked into and pronounced, 'empty'), and produce a hearty, rib-sticking meal.
In minutes.
And totally without the aid of a microwave.
Okay, she had all the modern conveniences. Electric stove. Running water.
Cheese Whiz. 
But still, the meals she could produce.
Her roasts were works of gustatory art.
Her pastries and pies had to be tasted to be believed.
Even her vegetables were unsurpassed by anything available in the vast dining world.
Mom could take cauliflower that she had grown and preserved; then cook and serve it in such a manner that not a scrap was left over.
I tried it with my kids.
Somehow, when I prepared frozen cauliflower, it just came out . . . soggy.
And disgusting.
Oh, Mother, where art thou?
I did learn how to make her pies.
But that is all.
To this very day, my siblings and I contact each other regularly, asking if anyone knows the recipe for . . .
No one does.
When I cross over to the other side, it will be with a pen and paper in hand.
The first thing I will ask Mom will be, “What the heck is your recipe for your angel food cake topping?”
Notice I said 'heck'. That's because you can't use anything stronger in Heaven.
Where I know Mom is.
Probably cooking.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Future Daddy Training

Big Brother

Our third son, Duffy, was two-and-a-half when our first daughter was born.
He stuck to the baby and I like glue.
That doesn't mean he learned anything . . .
At the tender age of three, Duffy was enrolled in the Sunbeam class in our church.
With eight little girls.
Boys were obviously something new.
Moving on . . .
The scheduled lesson was all about babies.
A precious gift from God.
It was a beautiful lesson.
My four-month-old baby, Caitlin was invited into the class.
I came with her.
Sort of like show-and-tell.
But interactive.
And noisy.
Okay, just like show-and-tell.
After the little girls got tired of cooing over the real baby, their teacher (the mother of five girls, herself) brought out a large basket.
Filled with everything 'baby'.
There were dolls by the dozen.
Everything to keep the budding little mothers in the class happy forever.
Duffy was a boy.
And, though his older brother liked cuddling dolls, Duffy was more comfortable with trucks and things 'boy'.
He was handed a baby doll.
And a blanket.
He dangled his doll by one foot and looked at the little girls around him.
All had at least one (and some two) little babies wrapped warmly and tucked tenderly into their arms.
Most were singing softly.
And rocking.
Duffy stared at them, then held up his baby.
Still by one foot.
Okay. He could handle this.
He spread his blanket out on the floor.
Then dropped the doll onto one corner and proceeded to roll it up like a sausage.
He then jammed the resulting package under one arm like a satchel.
The teacher handed him a bottle.
There's more?
He took the bottle and looked at it.
I should mention here that I nursed my babies.
Duffy had never seen a bottle before.
He frowned, thoughtfully.
What an earth was he supposed to do with this?
Finally, he pulled out his little, blanket-wrapped bundle, grabbed a corner of said blanket and gave it a pull.
The doll flipped out, spun in the air for a moment, then clattered to the floor.
Duffy again grabbed it by the foot.
This time, he examined it closely.
Ah. There was a tiny hole in one butt cheek.
Perfect for the strange little bottle he had been handed.
He stuck the nozzle of the bottle into the little hole and beamed happily at me.
All was well.
My son, father to future generations . . .

There is a codicil.
Despite this obviously rocky start, Duffy has proved to be an excellent and loving father.
Gifted with working with children of special needs.
I guess he was watching after all.

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