Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Don't Even Blink

Blair. And a friend . . .
My Dad was in the blacksmith shop.
And wherever Dad went, we kids trailed after.
Why is it that everything Dad does is interesting?
For the first couple of minutes.
After that, one's short attention span rather gets in the way.
But I'm getting ahead of myself . . .
Two-year-old Blair had followed Dad to the shop.Mom was in hospital with newborn sister, Anita, and Dad was babysitting.
But that was okay because Dad did such interesting things . . .
For a short time, Blair had been fascinated with simply watching as Dad puttered.
Then, other interesting sights caught his attention.
Old paint cans filled with stuff.
He began to explore.
Dad kept an eye on him as he toddled about.
Then, Dad turned on the air compressor.
Its roar filled the old, log-built room and drew every kid in the vicinity.
He watched, fascinated as the wheel spun.
"Now you stay back, son," Dad told him firmly.
And he did.
For a very, very long time.
He was two.
Thirty seconds is a very, very long time when you're two.
Dad turned his back for a moment.
Blair saw his chance. He moved forward and reached out to touch the spinning wheel.
For a moment, he couldn't figure out what had happened.
Then the pain started.
He screamed.
Dad spun around to see Blair shaking his hand and spraying blood everywhere.
He grabbed him, pulled out his every-ready handkerchief to wrap around the wounded hand and headed for the house.
With his little boy screaming the whole way.
Dad made the trip to the hospital in record time.
And that is something when you are travelling on uncertain dirt roads.
Soon, Blair was home again, with a neat glove bandage around his pointer finger.
Which now was missing part of the first joint.
Dad figures that the spinning belt caught it and nipped it off against the flywheel.
A terrible wound.
Leaving a scar.
And a story to impress girls with twenty years later.
Ahem . . .
But a fixable wound.
And a solemn reminder that turning your back for a second is all it takes.
Ranches can be dangerous.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Prairie Sneaking

My good friend Delores of The Feathered Nest has issued this week's challenge.
effervescent, sanity, umbrella, tang, hustle and gumdrops.
Challenge accepted . . . 

I was at my first Prairie Party with my friend/roommate/almost-sister, Debbie (she of the effervescent eyes and sparkly personality), and my new boyfriend.
It was . . . rather exciting.
Even though the weather had been uncharacteristically iffy.
And was continuing in the same vein throughout the evening.
There was a crowd of farm/ranch kids all talking and laughing around a huge campfire, periodically opening umbrellas when the heavy overhead clouds shook out a few drops or hustling into the nearby camp kitchen if the rain increased.
Many remained sitting in the shelter, pouring drinks, eating chips, popcorn, nuts and the inevitable and still popular, gumdrops.
Which, as the liquor flowed and sanity decreased, seemed to be used mostly for target practice.
My new boyfriend and I, both non-drinkers, were sitting in his truck, one of several parked in a semi-circle around the kitchen providing light on the obviously moonless night.
No, really. We were talking.
He was showing me his new knife and my mind was a confused whirl of blade belly, AUS 8 Steel, bevel, edge, tang, bolster and anodization.
I was discovering that he was a lot of fun and very clever.
He was discovering that I laughed a lot.
Suddenly, his head snapped around toward the kitchen. “Look,” he said, nodding.
I turned.
A shadow was making its way toward us.
Sliding between cars and generally giving the impression of cautious-ness.
It slid quickly through a beam of light and dove once more into the shadows.
The two of us watched as she continued in our direction.
Finally, she left the shelter of the car just to our left and, crouching, made her way directly in front of the truck we were sitting in.
My boyfriend waited for just a moment . . .

Then, grinning widely, honked the horn.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Clean Enough

The day I realized just how good I had it . . .
For the first twelve years of my life, 'cleanliness' and I really only had a nodding acquaintance.
I admit it.
Oh, I bathed. Whenever my Mom told me to.
And I cleaned my room/living quarters.
Again when my Mom told me.
Mom was a clean nut.
But the Christmas of my twelfth year, something happened that changed me forever.
And made me realize that I like things to be clean around me.
Really clean.
Let me explain . . .
We had been invited to the home of some good friends for dinner.
It was exciting.
Families with six kids didn't get invited out very often.
For purely logistical reasons.
At least that's what I tell myself.
Moving on . . .
We drove up and were warmly welcomed into the house.
We stepped into the entryway.
And, for the first time in my life, I noticed dirt.
The house was filthy.
I mean filthy.
You couldn't tell what colour the floor tiles were, or even if there were floor tiles. I honestly think some of them were missing, but it was hard to know.
We were led to the kitchen, where the grand feast was being prepared.
I stopped in the doorway.
Or stuck.
It was hard to tell the difference.
Both the counter and the table in the kitchen were generously coated in the reminder of many, many meals. And things had obviously overflowed more than a few times and dripped down the front of the cupboards to pool on the floor.
The stove was unrecognizable.
Even the walls were a hazy sort of conglomerate yellow-grey. The result of the overlapping of hundreds of filthy fingerprints, splashed whatever, and humidity.
Light was dimly provided by several bare, yellowed bulbs.
Perhaps that was a blessing.
One couldn't quite make out exactly what the rubble was, lying heaped in the far corners of the room.
And under the table.
My parents stepped carefully and cheerfully into the room, already deep in conversation with our hosts.
"Is there anything we can help with?" Mom said. This was her usual and inevitable response when entering anyone's home.
Or garden.
Or feed lot.
Huh. Feed lots. And cleanliness . . .
But I digress . . .
"Oh, no, Enes, we've got things well in hand," was her response.
Well in hand?!
I'll just keep mine in my pockets, thank you very much.
"Diane, come and help us."
Mom had noticed my hesitation.
But had somehow missed the rising green colour.
"Sorry, Mom. But I think I need to go outside for a moment."
I remember her look.
Suspicion with just a slight touch of concern.
"Are you all right?"
"I'm really not feeling very well."
She came over to me.
I remember the sound of her feet, sticking to the floor with every step.
She put a hand on my forehead.
"Hmm. You seem a little warm. Maybe you'd better join the men in the front room."
The mess went on?
I couldn't bear to venture further.
"No, I really think I'd better go outside."
I was beginning to sound more than a bit rushed.
"Do you need the bathroom, honey?" our hostess asked solicitously.
My eyes widened. I could only imagine.
"Um, no. Just some fresh air."
I bolted towards the door.
And I do mean bolted. I hardly noticed my feet sticking to the floor.
Soon, I was outside in the fresh air.
Happily sitting in the nice clean dirt.
With the family dog.
He and I knew a good thing when we found it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Motive for Murder

Looking for a great summer murder mystery?

            “As she drove back to Wendy’s house, the headlights cleaved the darkness and the rain, which was falling harder now. Erica had to park across the street and was nearly to Wendy’s door when she stopped suddenly, catching herself as she nearly fell over something.

It was the still figure of a man lying face down on the driveway. He was strangely unmoving. The light from the porch illuminated a puddle alongside him, which was growing bigger by the second. A chill shivered down Erica’s spine as she noticed that the puddle was streaked by dark red threads that ran and merged with rivulets of rain.”
*  *  *
Meet Erica Coleman—a gifted and quirky private investigator with an OCD-like passion for neatness and symmetry, a penchant for cooking, (ten terrific recipes are included), and a weakness for chocolate.
Erica imagined that her trip to Florida would be a slice of heaven—a chance to get away from it all and catch up with her best friend, Wendy. But one day into her vacation, all hope of fun in the sun is dashed when she stumbles, literally, over a dead man on Wendy’s driveway. With police closing in on her friend as their main suspect, Erica must find the real killer before Wendy ends up behind bars.
With Erica’s skill, solving the mystery should be a piece of cake but then a second homicide-attempt hits close to home and generates a whole new list of suspects. There’s no way to sugarcoat it, a murderer is on the prowl, and no one is above suspicion.
As the plot thickens, it appears Erica may have bitten off more than she can chew, but she forges on, sifting through mounting evidence until she hones in on the killer who has a surprising motive for murder. With a dash of romance and some surprising twists, this thrilling mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.

Praise from Traci Abramson and Betsy Brannon Green
Motive for Murder is fresh, captivating, and cleverly written. The colorful cast of characters will enthrall readers as they try to navigate the clever twists and turns of this captivating mystery. Intriguing, memorable characters, and a skillfully written mystery make Motive for Murder Marlene Bateman's finest work yet—a must read!  Traci Abramson
With a fresh, crisp writing style, Marlene Bateman introduces readers to a fascinating cast of characters and skillfully unravels an intricate plot full of twists and surprises!  I loved Motive for Murder and you will too!  Betsy Brannon Green
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Author Website:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Happy Trails

Usually, the first thing we kids in the Stringam home heard in the morning was the kitchen radio.
On a country channel.
This was followed almost immediately by the sound of pots and pans.
And . . . cooking.
We instantly knew that Mom was awake and had taken up her front-line position before the stove.
Good food was imminent.
Even now, fifty-some years later, the sound of a radio in the early morning means good food.
Though I may have to be the one making it.
But I digress . . .
Mom’s radio played throughout much of the day. If it got switched off, her country records would take up our air waves.
I loved it.
Have you ever noticed that much of the old-time country music has a certain . . . beat?
A slow, bomp-ba-dum-dum, bomp-ba-dum-dum beat?
Well it did.
And whenever it came on, I would pretend I was riding a horse.
Across the ‘lone prairie’ of the living room.
The beat was perfect.
I could keep this up for hours.
Or as long as the song lasted.
My favourite was Dale Evans’ song ‘Happy Trails’, sung by Roy Rogers.
I would ride my horse and sing at the top of my voice, “Happy trails to you! Until we meet again. Happy trails to you! Keep smiling until then.”
And, somehow, that song and my Mom became synonymous with each other.
Moving forward many, many years . . .
My Husby and I were in Jasper National Park here in Alberta.
He was attending a conference.
I was  . . . doing other stuff.
Part of my day included a long, lovely swim in the huge pool.
I know, life is tough.
I had finished my laps and was simply lying back in the water, looking up at the perfect eggshell-blue sky and smelling the scent of pine in the fresh air.
A group of men were doing some work on the roof of the great main building next to me.
The sound of saws and hammering quit for an instant.
And an exquisite (can I use that word here?) male voice floated down to me. “Happy Trails to you! Until we meet again.”
He was simply singing while he worked.
I wonder if he noticed the woman in the pool below him.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Musical Scare Tactics

Son and Grandson
My second son is a large man.
Six foot eight in his stockinged feet. When he puts boots and a hat on, considerably taller.
And he is a body builder.
He works as a cop in our fair city.
Let me put it this way . . .
No one argues with him.
They just nod politely and do as he asks.
His very first day on the job, he and his partner responded to a knife-wielding incident. When he got out of his car, the 'perp' took one look, dropped the knife and spread-eagled himself on the sidewalk.
Size is important.
But the man inside the uniform is a gentle, loving person.
And tons of fun.
Before he began to serve with the police, he spent eight years with the armed forces, reaching the rank of Sergeant.
And he drove a big truck.
These two points are important.
Moving on . . .
One day, he was on his way home from the army base driving the aforementioned (good word) truck. It was a beautiful, warm day, and his windows were opened wide.
His head was shaved and he had his army kit on.
He looked every inch the soldier he was.
He was 'in the zone'. Listening and moving to his favourite music, blaring from two powerful speakers.
I should mention here that his favourite music probably isn't what people expect to hear from a head-shaved, muscular, giant of a man in army fatigues.
And sunglasses.
In a monster truck.
But pouring from the speakers were The Archies.
And they were singing their hit song, "Sugar, Sugar".
He stopped at a stoplight.
Still grooving.
Then he glanced to his left.
A small pickup was sitting beside him.
With three teenage boys in the seat.
All of whom were staring at him.
Up at him.
Their expressions were . . . interesting.
My son grinned at them and nodded. Still bobbing to the rhythm.
The light changed and he drove on.
But the small truck stayed where it was.
I think he frightened them.
Who says you need a weapon to intimidate?
Sometimes all it takes is the right music.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Try, Try Again

I'll get it. Just give me time.
Our children learn from what they see.And hear.
Most of the time, it's a good thing.
Occasionally, it's not.
Sometimes, it's just plain fun.
My husby, Grant, had our twenty-month-old son, Mark, in the highchair.
Eating pancakes.
Mark's very favourite.
I was across the room, nursing our two-month-old son, Erik.
All was well.
Everyone was happy.
Then my husby decided to take advantage of Mark's utter absorption in forking pieces of pancake into his mouth and make a quick trip to the euphamism (real word – look it up!).
For a few minutes, Mark was happily engaged.
Then, the pancakes ran out.
I looked over at him.
He was waving his little fork in the air.
No response.
Still no response.
Mark changed tactics.
“Da . . . Gwant!”
Faint sounds from the eupham . . . okay, the bathroom.
Not enough to satisfy Mark, however.
By the way, how did he even know his father's name?
I always called him . . .
Now there were definitely sounds emanating (good word) from the bathroom.
Mark had gotten a reaction. With twenty-month-old persistence, he was going to pursue it.
More laughter. But definitely getting louder.
His father emerged, still chuckling.
“What is it, son?”
“Mo' pancake, Ho-ney!”
We had created a monster.

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The Liebster Award
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Irresistibly Sweet Award
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