Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Perilous Pasttimes

Or something similar . . .
I had just turned four and had recently discovered a new and wondrous activity.
Which I had to keep very, very secret.
Because for some reason, my Mom didn’t approve.
Weird . . .
I was a fresh graduate of the crib and had definitely moved on.
My new bed was a big, old, iron monstrosity with heavy bars forming the head and foot boards.
Did I mention big?
And old?
Well, both were appropriate.
It was about six thousand times the size of my old bed.
And a million times taller.
True story.
When my mom introduced us, we eyed each other distrustfully.
Okay, well, I eyed.
It just . . . sat there.
Looking huge.
Mom lifted me and set me on it.
I went very still. Then looked around.
The chenille bedspread was soft and neat.
I lay back. Hmm. Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.
I stood up.
Wait a second. This bed was really . . . bouncy.
I started to jump.
Mom came back into the room and saw me. “Diane, don’t jump on the bed. You might hurt yourself.”
I stopped and sat down.
Mom bustled out again.
I looked at the bed. The big, soft bed. How on earth was it going to hurt me?
I stood up. Waited a moment to make sure she was gone.
Then started to jump again.
She stuck her head back inside. “Diane!”
I stopped. Man, she was good!
She picked up my laundry basket and headed for the kitchen.
I started to jump.
“Diane!” Warningly from the dining room.
Geeze. That woman was everywhere!
This time, I waited until I heard her doing things to the wringer-washer in the kitchen.
On the second bounce . . . “Diane!”
Okay, that was freaky.
I heard the washer go on. Ha! No way could she hear me now!
I bounced a really, really big bounce.
The biggest bounce of my very short career.
And bounced my nose right into the metal headboard.
You know that pause between the thump and the wail?
It takes that long to discover that one has been injured.
That said injuries hurt.
And to draw a great, big breath.
Mom was there in a heartbeat.
Holding a cloth to a nose that was streaming blood.
Both from the business end.
And from the bridge, where it had been broken.
I have the scar, still.
There is a moral . . .
When Mom tells you not to do such-and-such because you might get hurt?
Believe her.

Just FYI.

Friday, June 21, 2013

My Playground

My good friend Delores from The Feathered Nest issues a challenge every Wednesday.
In the form of six words.
It is a challenge.
But so much fun.
This weeks words? Feet, mud, diamonds, expensive, sharp and sliding
They brought back a memory . . .
Okay, at times, the river crept a little too near to the buildings . . .
The Stringam ranch was built on a flood plain. The south fork of the Milk River curled around the home place, promising life . . . and the occasional adventure.
The summers of my childhood were spent on that river.
Perfect memories . . .
Sun baking down from a hot, blue sky.
Puffs of cloud.
My siblings and I with our feet deep in the cool mud.
Squishing it between our toes.
Hunting frogs and snakes among the reeds.
Trapping unwary minnows in the shallows.
Sliding down the river bank and into the murky, brown water.
Racing home at sunset because Mom was sure to have something special just coming out of the oven.
Idyllic days.
Oh, we had the occasional mishap.
Little sister nearly drowning.
Our friend Joanne stepping on something sharp and cutting her foot open six ways to Sunday.
But the good times far outweighed the bad.
I see ads now, offering expensive cars.
Diamonds and jewelry.
All promising the ultimate in happiness.
And I would trade any of them for just one more day on the river.
With my feet in the mud.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Randy and Art Class. And Me.

Artistic: fourth from the right, top row.
Un-artistic: fourth from the right, second row.
Grade three art class.
So much fun with so many things artistic.
None of them me.
I’m not sure, but I think when artistic ability was handed out in Heaven, I was outside.
Doing something else.
Or if I was there, my ability was poured in with a teaspoon and someone jiggled Heavenly Father’s elbow.
Moving on . . .
Others in my class were gifted with a bit more.
Quite a bit more.
One boy in particular was amazing.
And it was to Randy that I looked whenever a new assignment was handed out.
He never let me down.
We were in grade three, and had been given large pieces of paper and paints and instructed to paint a tree, I immediately turned to see what he did.
And how he did it.
He started with a graceful, fluid line of brown from the bottom of the page to the top.
I dipped my brush in my brown paint.
And made a streak.
That’s all. A streak. Heavy. Clumsy.
And distinctly un-graceful.
I tried to fix it.
It became an ungraceful streak that . . . thickened.
My teacher asked me, kindly, if I’d like to start again. I received my new piece of paper with relief bordering on giddiness.
And proceeded to do the same thing.
Oh, I did produce a tree.
But I had to label it so others would know.
Another time, we were given pictures to colour with our new pressed-wax crayons, and I fared better.
Again, I craned my neck to see what Randy would do.
His Santa picture was coloured heavily, completely filling in the spaces.
No white specks showing at all.
I tried to copy his technique.
But without his results.
Oh, I managed to stay within the lines. And it even turned out . . . acceptable.
But it just didn’t have the flare – the snap – that Randy’s did.
But I was nothing, if not persistent.
Every picture from then on was coloured with great intent. A lot of crayon.
And Randy’s technique.
But with equally disappointing results.
Then, a few months later, Randy changed things up.
For this newest colouring project, he outlined each space heavily, then proceeded to fill in lightly.
I could almost feel my mother’s relief as requests for new boxes of crayons . . . diminished. In fact, I think my current box and Randy’s new method actually lasted me through the end of the year.
I kept on trying. And sometimes, was actually satisfied with my efforts.
But, by the end of grade three, I had realized something.
When it comes to things artistic:
Some do.
Others appreciate.
I’m definitely in the second category.

And I’m happy there.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Raising Little Heroes

A re-post. Because I'm in a puppy mood . . .

A 'Cute' of puppies
For over 35 years, we have raised Old English Sheepdogs.
I love them.
To me, they are the perfect breed.
Happy, loyal, smart, easily trained, friendly, protective, gentle.
All of the best qualities of DOG writ large.
And hairy.
We have had many, many experiences with our puppies and dogs over the years, but one stands out . . .
A family came to look at our newest batch of puppies.
Now, I should explain here that a litter of OES puppies is called a 'cute' of puppies.
True story.
Moving on . . .
This family had a six-year-old boy and a fifteen-month-old girl.
The dog was for the boy, who was suffering from a severe illness.
A puppy was chosen.
By the very scientific method of sitting in the 'cute' and seeing which puppy climbed up into his lap.
Everyone was happy.
They left.
I thought of them from time to time, as I did all of my puppy families.
Then I got a phone call.
From the tearful, almost incoherent mother.
My heart stopped.
Until I realized that what she was crying were tears of joy.
Here is how she told it to me, with a little background added . . .
The family lived on the shore of one of the small lakes that are so plentiful here in northern Alberta. Their house was nestled in the thick trees surrounding the water.
Their yard opened directly out onto the beach.
A beautiful, picturesque spot.
But also dangerous to small children who might wander out into the cold (Canada has no other kind) water or become lost in the thick forest.
They were very careful.
Gates were kept locked at all times.
Back to the mother's story . . .
Originally purchased for their son, the little pup bonded, quickly and completely, with the little girl.
The two of them became inseparable.
Four months passed.
One summer day (we do get them in Canada, occasionally), the mother was in the front yard, filling the wading pool for her daughter who was playing in the back yard with the puppy, now six months old.
And already huge.
The puppy, that is.
Suddenly, the mother was startled by a loud scream.
She dropped the hose and broke records running to the back yard.
As she turned the corner, she skidded to a stop.
Someone had left the back gate, the entrance to all things dangerous, open.
And her baby was standing in that opening.
Or more accurately, struggling-to-move-forward, in that opening.
And screaming at the top of her lungs.
Directly behind her, teeth locked into her diaper and backside planted firmly on the ground, was the puppy.
Those teeth and that diaper were all that was stopping her from heading where she wanted.
Into the great unknown.
She wasn't happy.
The mother quickly ran to her daughter and picked her up, relieving the puppy of his self-appointed task.
The dog wiggled happily (normal OES behaviour) and, when the mother set her baby down once more, the two of them trotted off to another corner of the yard to play.
Crisis over.
Everything forgotten.
By the two most active participants, anyways.
It took the mother a bit longer.
For some seconds, she stood there in the open gate, thinking about what she had just witnessed.
For one thing, how had the gate, so assiduously (real word) kept locked, been left open?
And, more importantly, how had that six-month-old puppy known that his friend should not, ever, leave the yard alone?
And how had he figured out what to do, just in time?
That's when the tears started.
Later, when she had calmed some and her baby was napping, she called me.
It was a wonderful story.
After we had stopped crying.
Needless to say, that puppy became the pride and joy of his family.
And ours.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My Vice

I‘m a gum chewer.
I admit it.
I’ve been like this since always.
Gum and I even have a history. If you want to go and read it now, we’ll wait . . .
I once chewed a piece of gum till it disintegrated.
I’m not making this up.
It takes a while, weeks even; one has to be determined.
But it can be done.
So I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to you that, through the years in Alberta’s non-chewing houses of learning, gum has gotten me into trouble.
It started right in the first grade.
Picture my head snapping up as everything I have ever known disappears instantly and completely from my brain.
Something that happened every time a teacher called my name, for whatever reason.
All the way through college.
Moving on . . .
“What have you got in your mouth? Are you chewing gum?”
Frozen ‘deer in the headlights’ stare.
“You are, aren’t you?! You’re chewing gum!”
Slow, tentative nod.
“Get rid of it!”
At this point, the teacher would usually produce a trash can and hold it up suggestively, indicating that I should make the long, embarrassing trek from my desk to hers to spit out the offending bit of deliciousness.
Which I did.
As I got older, to save myself that final indignity, I would simply swallow the evidence as soon as I was discovered.
“Diane! Are you chewing gum?!”
“Did you swallow it? You did, didn’t you?!” Then, warningly, “It’ll stick your stomach together!”
Did any of this discourage me?
Did it stop me?
Then high school and Mrs. Wollersheim, that teacher of teachers.
That paragon of wisdom.
The smartest woman I ever knew.
“Diane! Are you chewing gum?”
Mrs. W turned to the class. “Class, do you know the difference between the gum-chewing girl and the cud-chewing cow?”
Huh. Something different. Maybe I’d finally found a teacher who didn’t mind . . .
“It’s the thoughtful look on the face of the cow!”
I guess not.
“Diane! Get rid of it!”
I had already done so, but I nodded anyway.
After that, all she had to do was look at me and I would do a quick and frantic check to see if any gum was loitering somewhere in the vicinity.
But it didn’t stop me.
Nothing stopped me.
As I type this, I‘m working on yet another piece.
When I’m onto something good. I stick with it.
Pun intended.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Sisters. Sigh.

The innocent bystander/cause-of-it-all.
Our youngest granddaughter, Baby Girl (hereinafter known as BG) is a tiny little thing.
Not walking yet, she scurries using the time-honored technique perfected by infants and babies since earth started.
Hands and knees.
At eleven months old, she can sure get around.
Her favourite toy/workout apparatus is a rocking moose.
One of many made by my Dad, BG’s great-granddad.
(Yes, I said moose. We live in Canada, it seems apropos.)
If BG isn’t busily exploring somewhere she shouldn’t, she can be found on that moose. Rocking wildly.
And she’s more than a little possessive.
Something only recently discovered.
Allow me to illustrate . . .
BG, the youngest of four siblings, was underfoot in the kitchen.
Her oldest sister, nine years her senior, saw an opportunity to take a ride on the currently unoccupied moose. (Hmm. There’s a statement you don’t see often!)
I should mention here that said older sister has waist-length hair.
This will be important later.
Moving on . . .
BG looked over and spotted her sibling on her moose.
She motored over and, latching onto the moose’s tail, levered herself to her feet.
Balancing there, she reached out and grabbed a hank of her sister’s hair.
Then she pulled.
“Ahh! Mom!” eldest sister squawked.
BG pulled again.
“Mom! She’s got me!”
BG tugged and tugged and finally, eldest sister disentangled herself and dismounted.
Her youngest sibling lost no time in climbing aboard.
Then she turned and grinned at her sister.
A knowing, ‘Nya-nya-nya-nya’ sort of grin, complete with wrinkled nose and sparkling eyes.
Did I mention that she’s eleven months old?!
I predict she’ll be CEO of a major company by the time she’s two.
Stay tuned . . .

Sunday, June 16, 2013

To the Fathers in My Life

To the wonderful fathers in my life. First my Dad, then my Husby.
And now my brothers and sons.
I love you all!
As a tribute, two of my favourite stories . . .
You know me. What else would I do? :)

Bunnies To Church

What do you wear to Church?
As a rancher, during the work week, Dad was usually seen in work shirts and pants.
Heavy boots.
Leather gloves.
But on Sundays, all of that changed.
He would appear, dignified and tidy, in 'church' attire.
White shirt.
Polished boots.
And a tie.
Usually, Dad chose his own ties.
He had good taste.
Well . . . conservative taste.
No garish patterns.
No fluorescent colours.
Yep. Conservative.
But one of his ties stands out in my memory.
One that . . . wasn't conservative.
It was a quiet, dark tie.
With tiny, white polka-dots.
His favourite.
He wore it for three years.
And that is hilarious.
Maybe I should explain . . .
One day, just after church, I was giving my dad a hug.
Something I did often.
But now I was getting tall enough that his tie and my eyes were pretty much on the same level.
I buried my face in his clean, white shirt.
Then I opened my eyes.
And saw . . . dots.
No . . . wait . . . they weren't dots.
They were . . . something else.
I grabbed his tie and examined it closely.
“Dad, do you know what's on this tie?”
“Polka-dots,” came the ready answer.
I lifted the end of the tie up to his face and held it there.
He looked. Then took the tie from me and looked again a bit more carefully. “Oh,” he said.
That tie he had been wearing for the past three years, teaching and/or officiating in church before lots and lots of people.
That tie.
Well, the tiny, regular pattern?
Wasn't polka-dots.
It was playboy bunny heads.
Tiny little white playboy bunny heads.
My dad had been a leader in our local church congregation for three years . . .
Wearing a tie with playboy bunny heads on it.
See? Hilarious.
I think he thought it was funny, too.
But the tie disappeared.
Never to be seen again. (I recently discovered that my brother, George, latched onto it and has it safely stashed.)

Dad still has quite a collection of ties.
But not one of them has polka dots.
Real or imagined.

Eyes, Ears, Mouth and Nose

My Sweetie and . . . Me
Newly married.What a wonderful time.
A time of love. Friendship. Companionship.
A time of discovering for the first time that one has a true and forever friend. Someone to be with.
It's magical.
Then, too, it is the time to discover those oh-so-human frailties that we have tried so very hard to keep from our sweethearts.
And finally have to admit to owning.
Everyone has bodily functions. Get over it.
My husband and I had been married for a couple of weeks.
On this particular morning, he had risen early and disappeared into the bathroom.
I had stayed where I was. Warm and comfy and still deliciously drowsy.
Soon the door opened and my new husband emerged, but not looking as he had when he went in.
He had blown his nose, while attending to other necessities, and given himself a nosebleed.
Easily fixed. Just stuff a Kleenex into his left nostril.
Oh. He had discovered a pimple in his right ear. Quickly disposed of. And another Kleenex inserted to blot up any discharge.
Now, back to bed to snuggle with his new wife.
I stared at this apparition who was approaching my bed. It looked like my husband. But it had white tissues issuing from nose and ear. Could it possibly be . . .? I braced myself up on one arm. "Is that one Kleenex?" (Hand gestures to suggest pulling something which had been run into the head through the ear and now protruded from the nostril.)
"Was that a 'harrumph'?"
With a glare, he spun around, headed back into the bathroom and firmly closed door.
He never answered my question . . .

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