Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Summer Pittings

Summer has come to Edmonton!!!
You see a fire pit. We see a . . . target.
We have a fire pit.
The gathering place for our family for every day of the summer.
When the weather allows.
It is the scene of wiener and marshmallow roasts and long, long talks into the evening, watching the flames and embers glow.Where parking toes within comfortable toasting distance and children running dangerously close (to the dismay of their parents) are the norm.
Oh, and because it’s the Tolleys, the fire pit is also the scene of . . . pittings.
Let me explain . . .
Our favorite summer food is cherries.
Cherries have pits.
That are fun to spit.
Pit spitting.
Or pitting.
See it now?
Over the years, my Husby has been able to hit that fire pit with better and better accuracy. He taught his children.
It was fun.
Until they grew up, got married and discovered manners. Or rather, discovered that their spouses had  manners.
Thus, the pittings ended.
For a while.
But in recent years, he has discovered a whole, new group of neophytes. Small people who are ready and willing to embark on any adventure he introduces.
Imagine this: A line of children, of various sizes, cherry juice dripping down their chins, spitting enthusiastically towards the fire.
Sound like fun?
Their parents don’t think so, either.
But Grampa and Gramma do.
And it’s our pit.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Cow's Fault

At least one of us was a lady . . .

It was hot!
I was tired!
Give me a minute, I'm sure I can think of better excuses . . .
The milk cow had been quartered in the east pasture, waiting for her to 'freshen'. (A cowboy term for 'give birth'.)
I know.
Cowboys are weird.
Moving on . . .
Her moment was getting close and it was time for her move into closer quarters.
I was elected to do it.
On foot.
Dad dropped me off at the gate with specific instructions. "Just chase her along the ditch, past the ranch and into the near-west pasture." I nodded. Instructions received and understood.
He drove off.
Things went well at first.
Right up until we reached the ranch entrance.
Madame Cow (I use this term lightly) couldn't quite get into her head the part of our instructions that said, "PAST the ranch."
I should explain here that the entrance to the ranch was on the north side of the road. The ditch we were following toward the west was also on the north side of the road.
And, when the breach in the fence appeared, Madame Cow insisted on turning . . . north. Towards the buildings. I had to sprint around her (remember I was on foot) and turn her back towards the road.
At which time she took the corner and headed east up the ditch we had just come down.
Another sigh. A little more forceful this time. And accompanied by a "Stupid cow!"
I got around her (feet, again) and turned her back west.
She followed the fence and again turned towards the ranch.
Way wrong!
"Stupid, dumb cow!"
Back towards the road.
Please head west. Please?!
Nope. East.
*#$! Cow!
Just a little swear.
This went on for some time, and my language, I'm ashamed to say . . . worsened.
Or got more colorful. That would be the 'PC' term.
Remember, I was raised around hired men. Experts at the English language. Or at least a colorful part of it.
Not an excuse, just a reason.
Again and again, I got round her and tried to head her in the correct direction.
Again and again, she . . . didn't.
And my language got more and more peppered with, shall we say, 'colorful metaphors'?
None of which explained to said cow exactly what I expected of her.
I have to admit that the poor animal was probably quite confused by this time.
There were the buildings. With hay and comfort.
Why were we going the other way?
Okay, strange human, I'll just go back where I came from.
Except that it would have probably sounded more like this:
In 'cow' of course.
Finally, after what seemed hours of chasing back and forth, and turning the air blue with . . . ahem . . . profanities (me, not her), the cow skipped past the ranch entrance and, wonder of wonders, walked right over to the proper field.
Okay, I'd rather go here, too . . .
Eureka! (real word)
I opened the gate and she stepped sedately through.
Then turned and looked at me.
Stupid human!
At least one of us had retained her gentility.
I closed the gate and started back towards the ranch, humming happily. All that had gone on before conveniently forgotten.
Dad's truck slid to a stop beside me. "Need a ride?"
I climbed in, still humming.
Dad drove for a moment. Then he said, not looking at me, "I got a real education this morning."
I looked at him, innocently, "Oh?"
"Yes. I discovered that my middle daughter knew words I didn't even think she had even heard of."
"Oh." Very tiny voice, "You heard me?"
"Heard you! They heard you in town!"
That was all that was said.
It was never brought up again.
But I knew that Dad knew.
And he knew that I . . . never mind.
I'd like to say that I never used 'foul' language again, but I'd be lying.
For some reason, working with cows brings out the lowest form of expression.
Probably a good thing I don't work with them any more.
And I should probably point out that swearing isn't an easy habit to get rid of.
Even now, years later, a very strange word will pop into my head.
I'm happy to report that it never makes it past my lips, but I feel some dismay in the fact that it appears at all.
I'm a work in progress.
I should have taken lessons from the cow.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mom. And Food.

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 got done gardening, cleaning or doing 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.
Thinking about it makes me tired.
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 that is another story . . .)
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 (freezer – another story). 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 was all.
To this 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.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Bus to Sleepytime

Blair and Anita.
And me. In my beautiful 'fur' coat.
Okay. I was six. Grade one is hard work! I was tired!
And we lived a million miles from town!
Enough background.
Living 20 miles from the local schools might be a blessing during ‘snow days’ in the winter when the buses didn’t run, but the rest of the time, it merely meant a very long ride. A very long, boring ride.
If one didn’t have someone to visit with, the trip was interminable. Especially to a six year old.
Which I was.
Seating was a highly organized, painstakingly structured fact of bus life.
The eldest kids got to sit in the back. The youngest directly behind the bus driver.
Okay, maybe not so organized . . .
Hijinks were restricted to the back two rows. Your progress through school and through life was largely measured by where you sat in the school bus.
I had never sat behind the first seat.
Until that fateful day.
The Lindemans weren’t on the bus. Will and Louise's seat in the second last row was empty and just waiting to be claimed.
My day had come. Happily, I perched in that heretofore inaccessible spot.
Our bus driver, a wonderfully kind and loving man named Dick Sabey was responsible for delivering us safely into the waiting arms of our mother, Enes Stringam, at Nine Mile Corner. It was a corner situated, interestingly enough, exactly nine miles from our ranch buildings.
Okay, so imaginative, we weren’t.
Day after day, our faithful friend dropped us off at the corner, waving to us cheerfully as we began the trek towards home.
Usually, we managed only a few yards before our mother’s car, trailing a cloud of dust on the country road, appeared around the turn. She would skid to a halt and load us in, questions and news being tossed back and forth before the doors had even closed.
Occasionally, when our amazingly busy Mom was late, we would manage to make it to the Sproade’s, an elderly couple who lived about ½ mile from the corner and whose house was always filled with the rich smell of wonderful German baking. Baking which needed to be eaten by ravenously hungry school children.
We prayed every day our Mom would be late.
But I digress . . .
It was chilly. I don’t remember if it was Spring or Fall, but the weather necessitated the wearing of fairly warm clothing. I had a golden faux fur parka. Purchased by my Dad specifically for a trip to cut our family’s Christmas tree. A coat that could easily have doubled as a bear disguise. But which was wonderfully warm . . . and cozy . . . and *yawn* comfortable . . .
When I awoke some time later, Dick and his dear wife, Scotty, were standing over me, shaking me gently. I sat up and looked around. It was dark. The lights of the Sabey home were shining dimly into the shadowy bus.
Nine Mile Corner was nowhere to be seen. Or my brothers and sister. Or my Mom.
That’s when the tears started.
Dick picked me up and carried me into the house, where Scotty calmed me and cuddled me. And fed me. (Amazing how so many of my stories revolve around food.)
Later, my relieved parents arrived to pick me up and the story was finally told.
The Stringam kids always left the bus in a group. The bus driver, watching alertly to make sure they were safely on their way, noticed that Diane wasn't with them.
But sometimes, kids stayed in town for some reason or another.
The accepted practice in such an instance was to give the driver a note explaining their absence.
But it wasn't unusual for said note to be forgotten.
Dick surmised I had had piano lessons . . . or something.
And since I hadn’t been sitting in my usual spot, my brothers and sister had concluded the same thing and headed quickly toward the Sproade's. By the time our Mom arrived and my absence was noted, the bus was long gone.
The time for panic had truly arrived.
Cell phones existed only in the imaginations of science fiction writers. The only phone connection available was a single party line, installed by my father (and enormously entertaining, but that is another story).
Mom wasted no time in calling the Sabey household and raising the alarm. Dick hadn’t yet returned from his route, so Scotty waited breathlessly at the front window for the bus. When he arrived, she met him and the two of them quickly searched the bus.
They soon discovered that a bulky coat, discarded on one of the last seats, actually contained a person. Not a very big person, to be sure, but a person just the same.
Some time later, with my Mom’s arms around me, I could see the humour of the situation.
Until I grew taller, about grade nine or so, I never again sat anywhere but directly behind the bus driver. It was safer there. And less forgetful.
And, oddly enough, I find it impossible to fall asleep in a moving vehicle.
Except when I’m driving.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Gardening With Toddlers

It seemed a good idea, I thought
                Some hours in the yard.
The winter months had been so long
                And I felt the need of working hard.

So armed with gloves and rakes and things,
                I started out the door.
Trailed by two toddlers
                Who loved to help with Gramma’s chores.

Things went well for a tic or two,
                As Gramma started in,
The girls spun circles in the yard
                Till Linney fell and bumped her chin.

A kiss and cuddle, tears were gone
                It really wasn’t hard.
I set her down and looked to see
                That Hazel’d wandered from the yard.

She’d not gone far, I scooped her up
                And carried her back home.
Then penned them both behind the gate,
                And told them sternly ‘not to roam’.

While toddlers watched, I grabbed my rake,
                But got no further then,
‘Cause Hazel shrieked; I had to run
                She’d fallen in the mud . . . again.

I fished her out and cleaned her off,
                A kiss and all was well,
Then turned just as another shriek,
                Told me Lin was stuck as well.

I’m sure by now you’ve realized
                I didn’t manage much.
With Lin caught in the tramp’line springs
                And Hazel eating chalk and such.

Four trips to bathroom, ‘Pee, potty now!’
                And squabbles over things,
And pouring sand in someone’s hair,
                And all the angst that action brings.

Searching the yard from stem to stern
For Linney’s missing shoe,
Then doing the whole thing o'er again
                Cause Hazel’s hat was ‘somewhere’, too.

With helping up and helping down
                And watching in between.
It’s no wonder that my work just sat,
                With little progress to be seen.

Last night when all were sound asleep
                And peace had been restored,
I looked out the window there,
                And sang my praises to the Lord.

For though my tools were strewn about
And no sign of success,
My time was so well spent, because
                Two little girls, my day did bless.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cleaning. And Underpants

Mom, with Chris and Jerry.
Mom's the goofy one in the middle.

Mom liked cleaning.
With six kids, one husband, assorted hired men and various other duties and hobbies, she did a lot of it.
A lot.
I think she did it in her sleep.
Certainly, she did it in ours. If we lay down on the carpet in the front room for a nap, we would be picked up and cleaned.
That's just how Mom was.
But, as with any demon cleaner, sometimes the clutter and rubble would get away from her.
Particularly if she was busy with a project and unable to follow us Neanderthals around, picking up and tidying after us.
I can remember two instances when this was brought hilariously to my attention.
The kids in the neighbourhood had been playing at my house.
I don't remember what we were doing, but it involved toys and games.
And mess.
After most of the kids had left, Mom came out of the kitchen and surveyed the detritus that can only be the result of many small bodies . . . having fun.
While she was standing there, Laurie, from next door, twitched her apron.
Mom looked down.
"You sure have a messy house, Mrs. String-am!"
I don't know what Mom said in response.
Probably something tactful, knowing my Mom.
But the story lost nothing in the retelling.
Another time, George and I were playing under the kitchen table.
Yes. Under.
I know. Weird.
Mom was bustling around in the business area of the room.
She opened a cupboard.
And pulled out something . . . unexpected.
"What the . . . who put this underwear in my cupboard?!"
What she was holding was actually a pair of swim trunks.
Light grey.
With sharks printed on them.
But why quibble over details.
George and I stared at them.
Then laughed uproariously.
Mom snorted, folded them neatly, and carried them to their proper home.
We never found out who left them there.
Over the years, I've made up several scenarios that would account for it.
None practical.
Or believable.
But after that, at least once a week, George and I would hide something 'underwearish' (not a real word - I made it up) in Mom's cupboard and wait for her to find it.
Then laugh ourselves silly when she did.
Okay, we were little.
Things were funnier then.

There is an addendum.
I was busy in the kitchen, cooking, cleaning.
One of the myriad duties that accompany the care and feeding of six kids and one husband.
I set a pot in the sink and turned.
"What the . . . who put these dirty socks on my cupboard?!"
I had turned into my mother!
It's a good thing.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

I Want That!

There really aren't 20 mule teams inside. I looked.

On the Stringam Ranch, electronic media was in its infancy.
We had one TV channel.
And that only came on for a limited number of hours per day.
Mom would park me in front of the TV just shortly before 10 AM, and I would stare at the 'Indian head' test pattern until the National Anthem.
And then, magically, The Friendly Giant would appear.
He read stories and played music.
Just for me.
Of course there were other programs. The Jack Benny Show. Leave it to Beaver. Lassie. The Wonderful World of Disney. Bonanza. Ed Sullivan.
And Woody Woodpecker, that always came on when I was supposed to be gathering the eggs. (But that is another story.)
Each memorable by itself. And each enhanced by the ads woven skillfully between and throughout.
I loved the ads. Those wonderful, amazing ads that, in 30 seconds or less, could convince me that now, thanks to the additive of the month, I could have cleaner wash.
Or whiter teeth.
Or better coffee.
We weren't actually coffee drinkers, but I was sold by the ad that asked, “How do you like your coffee?” and then answered by, “Why, I like my coffee . . . Crisp!”
How convincing were such ditties as, “You'll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent!”
Inevitably followed by, “Mom, I want to brush my teeth!”
Or, “J-E-L-L-O!” Which was the immediate precursor to snack time.
I was mesmerized (and yes, I meant to use that word) by the ad featuring several pickles dancing around, singing, “You can tell a Heinz pickle, by its crunch!” and ignoring the jar, who implored them to get back inside before they got eaten up. And, after all of them were eaten, that same jar lamenting, “You can't tell a Heinz pickle nothin'!”
That was hilarious. And if something made me laugh, I had to have it.
We simply couldn't do without it.
Mom had to buy it.
Or make it. Or do it.
The Kraft ads with the smooth-voiced narrator and the wonderful scenes from the perfect Kraft kitchens.
Mmmmm. Mom could do that.
The housewives in the pretty dresses, pearls, pumps and a miniscule apron demonstrating everything from floor wax to cookware.
Well . . . my Mom always wore a dress, and an apron. And I had seen her in pumps and pearls whenever she and Dad went out.
But for some reason, I couldn't get her to combine them when doing housework.
“No, Mom, you have to do it this way! Like on TV!”
Moms are weird.
The Marlboro ads convinced me that I wasn't a real man if I didn't sm . . . okay, so I know I could never be a real man, but . . . never mind.
Mom was off the hook there.
She did buy boxes of Kellogg's frosted flakes because Tony the Tiger said they were “Grrrrreat!”
She didn't have to worry about Esso, though.
I had a bit of a problem with putting a 'Tiger in my Tank'.
I wasn't quite sure how Tony would feel about that.
She never bought me the tiny, little chuckwagon I so desperately wanted, that drove through the house carrying . . . ummm . . . whatever it carried. I confess, I never really got past watching the tiny little driver and team.
I begged and begged my Mom for the 'Five Pounds Thinner Girdle' from playtex or the 'Cross Your Heart Bra' from the same company.
And I couldn't understand why that made her laugh.
Every time.
I also tried to convince her that she needed to be using Ivory Snow for all things 'baby'. And to add the power of the Borax 20-mule team to everything else.
Actually, I just wanted the mule team. I can't tell you how many boxes I opened looking for them.
Mom probably can.
Moving on . . .
We ate Campbell's soup on occasion and I tried to look plump cheeked and shiny like the Campbell's kids.
I also wanted the bowls they ate from.
She balked at that.
She did buy me Kraft Peanut Butter.
Oh, occasion, she tried to substitue some inferior brand that was on sale, but, inevitably that jar of lowly second-rate peanut butter went stale on the shelf.
I had seen the ads.
I chewed Wrigley's Juicy Fruit Gum because it had better flavour and wanted only Chiquita bananas because the girl had a neat hat.
'Carnation hot chocolate was frothy great – and – so easy to make'. And it went so well with 'Jiffy pop, Jiffy pop the magic treat. As much fun to make as it is to eat!'
Okay, I have to admit it.
Ads worked for me.
It's probably a good thing that we didn't have more channels.
Mom never would have survived.

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