Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bathtime Without Benefits

plus this


equals this.

For the youngest member of a family of 11 and in the year 1931, this meant much heating of water at the kitchen stove.
Hauling of said water to the washroom.
Filling of the washtub.
Then relaxing in deliciously hot water.
The best part of the week for my dad.
On this particular occasion, though, Dad’s bathtime would include something unexpected.
And definitely unwanted.
A visitor.
As he was sitting back, enjoying his few moments of bliss, something small flew in through the open transom over the door.
It did a couple of circuits around the room as the little boy in the bathtub watched, wide-eyed.
Finally, it lit on the sheer curtains on the small window high up on the outside wall and folded its wings.
Resolving into something small . . . and furry.
A bat.
The two regarded each other for a few breathless moments.
Then, eyes glued to his visitor, dad did the “quickest washing job of my life”, wrapped a towel around his little, naked body and found the nearest far-away place.
One of his older brothers went back in to take care of the unusual – and totally unwanted – bathtime visitor, and all was well.
From then on, however, when Dad took his bath, his preparations included filling the tub.
And closing the transom.
Then keeping his eyes carefully trained upward as he performed a quick wash.
And got out of the room.
I wonder if the introduction of a bat into bathtime would shorten the length of some of my teenagers’ showers.
Just a thought . . .

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pi is for Pie!

The Tolley's celebrate everything with pie.
Births. Blessings. Baptisms. Marriages.
Any excuse is a good excuse for pie.
And what could be more perfectly suited than a day that is actually called 'Pi'?
Yep. March 14.
Or 3.14.
The one day of the year that actually screams, "PIE!"
And the Tolleys responded.
In the only way they can . . .
47 1/2 pies!
This year was doubly exciting, because Eldest Daughter actually mixed most of the dough and rolled about a third of the pies.
The torch has been well and truly passed.
About seventy people braved the return of winter and joined with us in eating.
And visiting.
A wonderful night.
Pie-eating trainees. (Start 'em young!)
Our next special day is in May.
Mark your calendars now.
You're invited . . .

Thursday, March 14, 2013

To Chris on her Birthday

Chris. Birthday girl
From my earliest memories, Chris was there. 
The ideal big sister. Patient, kind, and endlessly watching over us younger brothers and sisters. 

Music played a large part in her life. We always had a radio going wherever we were working. I remember sitting together shelling peas – with some rock and roll blaring in the background and Chris singing along. 

Once, when Mom and Dad were out for the evening, leaving Chris in charge, we thought we heard a noise upstairs. 
The upper floor was in darkness, and it didn’t occur to any of us to turn on the lights. (You remember the horror shows when the heroine never turns on a light, allowing the nasty guy to lurk in the shadows? Reality!) Chris grabbed a long knife and a flashlight and we were off on our little exploration trip to find . . . the noise.We never did find it. Probably a good thing . . . for it.
And us.
But it was a real workout for our imaginations. Who says that there is no educational value in Horror Shows? I can picture it now. The little group all glued to one central figure clutching a long knife. Moving as one.
If anything had popped out of the shadows, trust me, there would have been serious injury.
Just not to it.

Chris had red hair. But most of the time, it was merely her hair colour. The term ‘red-haired temper’ seldom applied. Oddly enough, it is those times when the lid slipped that I remember most clearly . . . and fondly.
She and I were washing her 4-H calf in the milking stanchions in the barn. 
All was well. 
The water was running freely down the gutter and out the door, slowly filling the barnyard. 
One hired man, Ken, kept coming around and offering all sorts of . . . negative comments. At first, it was just a word on his way past. Then two. Then whole paragraphs. 
Finally, tired and disgusted, we decided we’d had enough of his ‘advice’ and closed up shop. We put the calf in his pen and tidied up the area. 
The puddle, we couldn’t do anything about. But the always-thirsty Southern Alberta soil would make short work of that, so we left it and headed for the house. 
Then Ken made the fatal mistake. He tried a parting shot out the front door of the barn when Chris was still within striking distance. 
And then . . . that red hair! 
She sprinted back to the barn, deadly purpose in every stride. I lost sight of her as she reached the doorway. All I heard was a thump, then she was kiting off towards the house. And Ken was . . . umm . . . swearing mad. 
I really didn’t know what had happened until later that I got to the house. Chris was in the bathtub. A good place to be after an emotional upheaval. She had been, and was still, crying.
I asked her what happened. She gave little self-satisfied smile through her tears, and said, and I quote, “I kicked him.”
I smiled with her. We all knew Ken. It was a fitting ‘end’ to the story.

She was working with yet another 4-H calf, trying to get it to lead. 
A . . . decidedly ornery 4-H calf. 
Imagine trying to put a rope on the business end of a steam roller and pulling it around the barn yard. You’re not even close. In fact, if we’d had a steam roller, it would have been entertaining to hook calf and machine together and see which came out . . . umm . . . in front. We would have taken bets. But I digress . . .
Chris had been fighting a losing battle for some time. The calf show was growing closer and she was getting a bit desperate. 
Suddenly a bright idea blossomed. She had seen Kung Fu. She knew what to do. She put her hand into the proper, scientifically proven form (as seen on TV), and studied the hide-covered head of her opponent. Exactly where could she inflict the most damage? She chose a likely looking spot and swung. 
And heard the satisfying crunch of bones. 
After a millisecond or two that she realized that something was wrong. If her technique was correct - and she had watched a lot of Kung Fu - then why was the calf still standing? Chewing his cud? 
Something had been damaged. She had heard the unmistakable sound. 
Then she looked down at her hand . . .
Needless to say, the calf was eventually ‘broke’ to lead in the usual ways. 
And Chris discovered that a hand really can inflict damage – when it is completely covered with a hard plaster cast.

Chris and I were riding. 
The end of a long day. 
Having successfully penned the last of a large herd, we were closing the gate, the anticipation of a quick ride back and a warm meal uppermost in our minds. 
Chris was doing the honours. As she put one foot in Gypsy’s stirrup, I turned my horse and headed out. Chris wasn’t quite on. 
And didn’t manage to get on.
Gypsy, seeing her pen mate heading for home and supper, gave a wild leap, spilling her would-be rider to the hard ground. From there, she proceeded to drag and then trample my sister. 
I stopped and waited for Chris to get up. 
She didn’t. 
Then something penetrated my pea-sized intellect. Maybe she’s hurt?! Maybe I’d better go for help.
We did manage to get Chris back to the ranch buildings. Mostly in one piece. 
And again, she spent months in a cast. This one to support a badly-broken knee. 
But in true ‘Chris’ style, she never pinned the blame where it belonged. Never offered one word of reproach. Merely suffered silently. 
But that is my sister.

Have I mentioned that I love her?
Happy Birthday, Chris.
P.S. The nail polish spilled on your carpet . . . ummm . . . not me!
Chris and Nipper

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Little Mark. And a friend.
Big Mark

Dr. Mark Reed Stringam.
My Dad.
Husband. Father. Grandfather. Great-grandfather. Adviser. Confidante. Friend.
Rancher extraordinaire. Breeder of purebred polled Herefords, single-handedly working to improve the beef industry in Alberta.
And succeeding.
With so great a man as his example, our eldest son could only profit from sharing his name.
And so we decided to name him, Mark.
Enough background.
My parents had taken my husband, myself, and our two small sons to dinner to celebrate my birthday. It had been a lovely time. Wonderful roast beef for which the restaurant was famous. Wonderfully sparkling, satisfying conversation. Two well-behaved little boys. (Hey! This is my story. I can remember it the way I want!)
We were replete. On every level.
It was time to go.
I packed the baby into his carrier and my dad picked up Mark, his fourth grandson. The first named for him.
And we headed towards the door.
In the entry, we paused for a few moments, waiting for my Mom.
Mark Jr., safely ensconced in his grandfather's arms, began to look around. He discovered a pin in the lapel of his grandfather's suit jacket.
A shiny gold pin in the shape of a polled Hereford.
Oooh. Shiny.
The small hand reached out, caressing the fascinating bit of gold.
"Do you like that, Mark?"
"Do you know what it is?" A note of pride crept into the grandfatherly voice.
Small head nodding.
"What is it?"
Our son, the namesake of the great Hereford breeder who was holding him, the small child who had been around cattle since he was born, could not help but get this right.
We waited breathlessly for the answer.
Mark screwed up his face thoughtfully. Then smiled. "Pig!" he said.
Oh, how have the mighty fallen . . .

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


My parents were a social sort.
And often entertained.
With friends and food and games galore
And fun for hours, sustained.

And in those days of party fun,
When er’ food came in sight,
There were no paper plates to eat
With gusto and delight.

No, only the best that could be found
Would aid my parents’ guests,
And so they served on china, fine
And silver for the rest.

And when the meal was done, the guests
Rose quickly to their feet.
And, as a group, cleared table, and
Would in the kitchen meet.

The duties there were quickly giv’n,
Who’d man the towels and sink.
And in an instant, all was done,
E’en faster than you’d blink.

When I was ten, above the rest
Stood out one woman there.
I watched in awe as she took towel
And dried the silverware.

Her movements were that quick, I found,
My eyes could barely follow.
And soon a gleaming pile she had
All ready for tomorrow.

“I’d love to be that fast,” I said.
“My goal is clear to see.”
She shook her head, “I’m sorry, dear,
You won’t be fast as me.”

I took it as a challenge then
And practiced faithfully.
And finally knew just what she meant,
“You won’t be fast as me.”

For some of us receive one gift,
And some another. True.
Her gift was drying silverware
And mine was telling you.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Gaze Into Heaven

Marlene Bateman Sullivan
I love stories from people who have 'died' and come back to tell about their experiences.
Okay, I'm just quirky that way.
I just finished reading Gaze Into Heaven.
It is the best of this genre.
Never has a book been so interesting and yet filled me with such hope and quiet reassurance.
Each of the stories have been extensively researched and most come from actual diaries and journals of the people who experienced them, with other footnotes from family members who witnessed the retelling and thus shared in the experiences.
Categorized according to theme, 'buildings', 'music', 'activities' and many, many more, and with scriptural references to add weight and plausibility to the stories, it is compelling, riveting reading and I enjoyed every. Single. Word.

I arose, leaving my body behind.” 
Delve deep into over fifty documented near-death experiences from early Church history. Filled with engrossing personal experiences and perceptive commentary, scripture, and quotes from latter-day prophets, this book will help you find purpose in life as you come to more fully understand the Father’s plan for you in the eternities.

Gaze Into Heaven is a compilation of fifty documented near-death experiences of life beyond the veil, drawn from the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Filled with insight and inspiration, this book melds engrossing personal experiences with perceptive commentary, scripture, and quotes from latter-day Prophets. After reading this book, you won't ever think of life---or death---the same way.

Purchasing information:

Please Remain Seated

Who needs seatbelts?

For many, many years, I have taught in the Children’s organization within our church.
I love it.
It’s where the action is.
One never quite knows what the kids (ages three to 12) will come up with.
Or come out with.
Truly, it is an adventure every week.
We were attending church in one of the older buildings in Edmonton, Alberta.
Sharing it with three other congregations.
We had the ‘three to six’ time slot. The last one of the day.
A fortunate thing, considering what comes next . . .
Our senior boys’ class in the organization was filled with twelve of the most energetic young men imaginable. And I have a good imagination.
Their teacher, Rob, worked well with them. Good-natured, calm and resilient, he was able to level off their higher hi-jinks, and boost their learn-ability.
And they loved him.
Weekly, they all met in one of the small classrooms just off the main meeting room.
In this room were twelve older chairs.
One of them had once had a fold-able book tray attached.
For whatever reason, the tray had been removed, leaving the bolt holes by which it had been attached.
Two on either side of the chair, just below the seat.
The young man sitting in that chair discovered those holes.
And that one could stick four of his fingers simultaneously into them.
Which he did.
It was fun.
He pushed them in further.
And suddenly realized that he couldn’t. Pull. Them. Out.
Panic ensued.
His frantic teacher called for help and various solutions were tried and discarded.
Finally, desperately, the fire department was called in and, with their metal-snipping tools, was able to free the increasingly sad young man.
Injuries were, fortunately, minor. Scraped fingers. Some blood.
But nothing requiring professional attention.
By the time the emergency personnel had packed up and left, class time was a memory.
And that particular class probably went down in history as the most exciting and quickly-passing ever.
In thinking about it, Rob realized that for the first time, ever, his class (and particularly one young man), had stayed in their seats.
For the entire time.
Hmmm . . .
He asked if there were any more of those chairs.
Just . . . you know . . . wondering.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Four-Legged Friend

I'm ill.
Really ill.
My head is stuffed so full I think it's in danger of exploding.
Not a good feeling.
Tell me why, when one's nose is choked off to the point where it cannot allow the passage of the least bit of air, that it can still . . . drip?
I think it's a design flaw.
Today's story is a repost.
I'll be better tomorrow.
At least I still have my hope.
Back to bed . . .

Four-Legged Friend

The Hill. Picture taken before the erection of 'The Tower'.

The Stringam ranch buildings were ringed on three sides by high cliffs, and dominated on the fourth by a high hill. 
As a result, there were only two entrances to the ranch, on either side of said hill.
As a fortress, it would have been ideal. Easily defended and defensible.
As a playground, it was perfect.
From the top of the hill, one could see, quite literally, for miles. The lack of any trees or large vegetation allowed for a completely unbroken view to any horizon.
And if one climbed up the tower perched firmly, but terrifyingly on top of the hill . . . well the possibilities were endless.
As I well knew.
From much experience.
On many occasions, my heroic mother did the sprint to the top of the hill, scampered up the tower, and plucked her small, but adventurous, daughter from the jaws of certain death.
Death being the sudden stop at the foot of the tower.
I just thought I'd point that out . . .
There was much of the Olympiad in my mother. I think of the numerous air and land speed records she broke, all without the witness of a single stop-watch or measuring stick.
But I digress . . .
The hill was also the resting place for the moldering bodies of many, many derelict machines, both agricultural and civil.
Parked neatly in rows were such identifiable things as threshers, mowers, combines, tractors, rakes, cars and trucks, all having outlived their ‘best before’ date.
They had all been replaced by something new and improved, but had not been sent to that great ‘tribute to rust’ that is the local parts yard because of the possibility, however slim, of still being useful.
It was this collection of . . . old and intriguing, that drew my brothers and myself day after day.
They, to explore and dismantle.
I to . . . get in the way and fall on something sharp.
Or climb into derelict vehicles and create worlds.
Or finally get bored as they tinkered and start climbing . . . but we’ve been over that.
Our responsibilities were clearly laid out, and we did them with a will.
From my brothers’ point of view, imagine the potential.
Armed with nothing more than a screwdriver, wrench and pliers, you could attack and dismember any of the inmates of this glorious, magical place.
You could tap into engines and other secret places and uncover intricate systems hidden to the incurious and unaware.
You could emerge, covered in grease, but triumphantly holding aloft the flywheel of . . . the . . . the behemoth parked between the car and the truck.
I could really only identify the cars and trucks.
Four years old.
Moving on . . .
The three of us spent many happy hours there.
They in their grease and machinery parts.
I in my exploring and imaginary worlds.
For three ranch kids growing up on the prairies, it was perfection. Truly the place where dreams come true.
And then, into our peaceful little world came . . . the rabbit.
It wasn’t anything unusual, as rabbits go. A large jack. Cream and dark brown fur. Long ears and . . . really jumpy legs.
I should mention here that I was - and am - crazy for animals. Any animals. This rabbit would be the perfect pet for me.
At least from my point of view.
It had other ideas.
At first I approached it slowly, hand out, friendly smile firmly affixed. 
It sat up and eyed me, nose twitching.
Then when I was still several steps away, it hopped. 
In the wrong direction.
Stupid rabbit.
I moved closer once more. It waited until I was, again, several steps away, then it . . . you get the picture.
This went on for some time.
Finally, running short of patience, I increased my pace.
It caught on to the change in strategy with astonishing speed, and also moved faster.
I ran.
It ran.
This was getting us nowhere. I finally flopped down on the ground and scowled at it.
It stopped and looked at me again.
I stood up hopefully.
It ducked into an irrigation pipe.
Ha! My . . . erm . . . strategy had worked! It was mine!
I carefully blocked both ends of the pipe and ran to get Mike’s cage.
A little background here.
Mike was our Saint Bernard.
He was huge.
But he hadn’t always been so.
When he had first come to live with us, he had been a puppy. For about two weeks.
Then he had outgrown his little wire mesh kennel and moved right into the only other place big enough to house him.
The garage.
That had left the kennel vacant.
And totally right for a pet rabbit.
I lugged it to the top of the hill.
Now the tricky part. How to coax the rabbit into his palatial new home.
I opened the door of the kennel and pulled one end of the pipe inside.
Then I went around to the other end of the pipe and began to lift.
Fortunately for my four-year-old muscles, aluminum irrigation pipes are fairly light. I lifted the pipe higher and higher, until I was stretched nearly to the limit of my height.
It wasn’t far.
But it worked!
I could hear the rabbit scrabble for purchase inside the pipe and finally give up and slide downwards.
I smiled broadly as his furry rump emerged from the end of the pipe.
He landed in the cage.
I was filled with triumph.
And elation.
And dismay.
The moment his feet touched the mesh of the kennel, he was off like a shot.
Through the bars of the cage.
Who knew that a four-inch wide rabbit could fit through a two inch wide space?
I watched, disappointed, as my pet headed for somewhere far away.
I kicked at the cage.
Stupid cage. 
Then I noticed that some of the rabbit’s fur had caught in the mesh. I plucked it off and examined it. I rubbed it on my cheek.
I stuck it in my pocket and patted it tenderly.
My rabbit.
A few days later, when Mom was doing the laundry, she discovered the little patch of rabbit fur in my pocket. But, being my mother, she just shook her head and smiled.
And later, when Dad was loading pipe to start irrigating and found one with an end stuck inside Mike’s old cage, he did the same thing.
After all, they were my parents.
They knew me.

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