Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Our Un-Vacation

This week's words filter, squash, sour, dancing, muscle, breakthrough, from Delores of The Feathered Nest actually fit in with my frame of mind. Genius!

Why is it whenever you go on holiday, everything back home disintegrates?
It’s true.
The world waits for your vehicle to clear the driveway.
Then it falls apart.
Case in point . . .
My Husby and I were recently on our much-anticipated annual pilgrimage to the Great Canadian North Woods with our good friends.
All was well for the first 24 hours.
Then my phone buzzed.
I know, I know. Why did I take my phone with me on holiday?!
First mistake.
Moving on . . .
It started out innocently enough:
Tiana: Is it pouring out there? It sure is here!
Me: It is!!!
Then . . .
Tiana: My floor is all wet. Something tells me the wall shouldn’t look like this…
Tiana spent the next day keeping us apprised of her dance around puddles, cutting out drywall, arranging fans, breathing sour air, moving upstairs.
I spent the day worrying.
Then . . .
Tiana: Unrelatedly: the pool is almost 2 feet lower than it was yesterday…?
Somehow, we had lost 100 gallons of water. Our new vinyl pool was suddenly looking like a squashed tomato.
Me: Did it split somewhere? Is it lower than the filter? Maybe you should unplug it.
She could find nothing wrong, but again, I spent the day worrying.
Then, from our daughter-in-law:
Barb: Our van overheated. We had it towed in to Canadian Tire. It’s going to cost $3300.00 to fix.
This on a van that not even worth $2000.00.
Oh, no! How will they be able to afford a new van? They just bought a house . . . Okay, yes, it was their problem, but I worry.
Then . . .
Barb: I passed out yesterday. Caitlin is over, looking after the kids. I’m really sick.
You know the saying, ‘It never rains but it pours’?
Well, it was definitely raining. And pouring.
More worrying.
Somehow, our kids managed to muscle through.
And Husby’s and my seven little days of ‘vacation’ ended.
Since we got home, all has been quiet.
The kids bought a new (to them) van for a very good deal and our daughter-in-law is once more healthy and happy.
The bedroom (minus a large chunk of drywall) is dried out and our daughter happily re-entrenched.
And the pool has been refilled following a lengthy inspection which turned up nothing.
So what happened?
For our daughter in law? Broken vans, kids and heat and worry.
The soaked bedroom and the leaky pool? I had a breakthrough. I realized that the pool cover had become so full during that rainstorm that it had forced one side of the pool down and flushed out a great wave of water.
That had inundated our daughter’s room.
Both problems were actually the same problem.
The solution?
We do have one! We’ll never go on vacation again.

It’s too exhausting. J

Friday, July 26, 2013

Untrained Help

It's trickier than it looks.
I had gone to town with Dad.
It was always an exciting time for us kids.
The teaming metropolis, crowded with cars, alive with people.
Intent of their errands.
All hurrying to get somewhere.
Okay, it was Milk River. Population 499.
No one hurried.
And, the only time in the town’s history there had been a traffic jam was the year someone’s grampa’s car stalled in one of the intersections on parade day.
But still, we loved going there to run errands with dad.
Stopping at the hardware store.
The grocery.
The variety/clothing store.
The farm machinery shop.
Occasionally, he would buy us something.
But mostly, it was to listen to him visiting with the proprietor, getting caught up on the local news.
And to have a pop and a chocolate bar at the service station just before we headed home.
The local gas station had a large chest full of all kinds of soda.
The bottom part was filled with intricate wiring and tubing necessary to keeping the product cold.
The upper part, the part that was visible when one lifted the lid, was a series of long slots, with the bottle tops just visible in each.
All one had to do was carefully maneuver one’s chosen flavour to the end of its row and into the lifter.
Deposit a dime (yes, a dime) into the appropriate space.
And lift.
Take off the lid in the handy, dandy opener provided.
And deliciousness was yours.
Dad was doing the dime depositing and the choosing.
I was pulling up on the lifter.
It had worked for several bottles.
The two of us together had an impressive array of pop to take home.
Three or four at least . . .
Dad deposited another dime and reached for a bottle.
I happily pulled up on the lifter.
He looked at me, his hand still hovering between ‘orange’ and ‘grape’.
I don’t remember if he went to the proprietor and got his money back.
I only remember ‘that’ look.
And being relieved of my duties.

The pop still tasted good.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Putting the 'Ghost' in Ghost Town

See? No horses.
The best of times.
The worst of times.
My parents had decided that our family needed to visit Montana.
And Virginia City.
It sounded . . . Western.
To those of us from the ranch, that translated to mean – exotic.
We led a small life, I admit it.
I don't remember much about the 'getting there'.
I was four.
It was long.
And sleepy.
But I do remember stumbling along wooden slats with my Mom.Then being carried by said Mom.
That's when it got exciting.
We were in an old fashioned, western town with boardwalks and hitching posts.
There were even a couple of watering troughs.
But no horses. I noticed that straight off.
We went into the museum.
I should explain, here, that there are two different kinds of museums.
The slick, professional, institutional showcase of fact.
And the humble, heart-felt, community tribute to history or 'collection of stuff out of Gramma's wash shed'.
And, because my husband is an historian, we've seen many, many examples of each kind.
Moving on . . .
Virginia City's museum was the warm, homespun type.
Long glass-topped tables filled with . . . curiosities. Those little, wondrous items which fill the local citizen's heart with awe and amazement.
But really don't have a global impact.
I stared obligingly at antiquated pieces of equipment and tools. Signs and billboards of past eras. Household paraphernalia.
But what I most took note of was anything that suggested 'horse'.
Oh, and the preserved bodies of two-headed lambs and calves and kittens.
While my family wandered around, I stood nose to nose with one or another of these amazing specimens.
While they exclaimed about 'memories' I pointed out numbers of eyes and ears.
It was a fascinating visit.
But it ended.
All too soon.
And suddenly we were back outside on the boardwalk.
We moved to the next building.
A drug store.
Or at least that's what Mom called it.
It didn't look like the one in Milk River.
But I was willing to give it a shot.
I followed Mom inside and wandered up the first aisle.
I was bored.
Maybe if Mom picked me up again.
Things always looked more interesting when she carried me.
I help up my arms.
She obliged.
Okay, I was right. It was a bit better from up here.
We wandered through the store.
At the back, against the wall stood a large, wooden cabinet.
With one door.
Which was closed.
I stared at it as we grew closer.
It seemed . . . mysterious.
Okay, I admit, I didn't know what the word mysterious meant.
But the mere mention of the word sounded . . . mysterious.
Ahem . . .
Mom stopped beside the cabinet.
With the only closed door in the entire place.
I stared hard at that door.
What secrets did it hide?
Candy? Toys? Maybe another two-headed kitten?
I looked at Mom. “Open it, Mom! Open it!”
“Well I don't think I should,” she said uncertainly, glancing over at the proprietor.
He merely smiled and nodded.
“Open it, Mom! Please?!”
“Well, It's probably storage or something.”
“Open it! Open it!”
“Well, I guess it's all right.” Another glance at the proprietor.
“Open it! Open it!”
Her hand reached out and grasped the knob.
I held my breath.
What were we going to see?
Something magical?
Something wildly exciting?
Something . . .
The door swung back with an appropriately spooky 'screech'.
Hanging quietly within was a skeleton.Human.
“Ai-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi! Close it! Close it! Close it!” I hid my face in Mom's shoulder.
Mom must have swung it shut.
I didn't see.
And I missed quite a bit of the rest of Virginia City, glued as I was to her shoulder.
But that was all right.
How could they top that?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Get the Gate

Approach carefully. It's tricky
On a ranch, there are gates.
Many gates.
In the corrals, big gates made of long, wooden boards.
That are fun to swing on.
As long as your Dad doesn't catch you.
Moving on . . .
Along the hundreds of miles of barbed-wire fences in the pastures, the gates are made of . . . barbed wire.
Go figure.
Barbed wire gates are fashioned by four or five long pieces of wire stretched between two end posts. Then three or four lighter 'dancers' (smaller poles) are nailed to these wires to keep them from tangling when the gate is being opened or closed.
Barbed wire gates are a bit tricky, but easily used, once you get the knack.
With practice, and a cooperative horse, one can even open and close these gates without ever having to get out of the saddle.
If one has an uncooperative horse, the mere thought of dragging a fence post and wires a few feet leads to Entertainment!
Notice the capital 'E'.
Okay, one doesn't have to look for excitement on a ranch.
Soooo . . . gates.
And using them.
My Mom, raised on a ranch and married to a rancher, never quite got the knack of the barbed wire gates.
I should point out here that, when we were riding, we took turns opening and closing.
When we were driving, the person riding 'shotgun' was the designated gateman.
Because Mom was so entertaining, she was always stuck in that seat.
So the rest of us could watch.
Oh, Mom could open the gates, a trick in itself.
And close them.
An even better trick.
But that is where her difficulty started.
Because somehow, she always closed them with herself on the wrong side.
Whereupon (good word) she would have to either perform the entire operation again, or crawl through.
She always chose the latter.
And the rest of us had a good chuckle while she did so.
Okay, you're right, we did have to look for our entertainment.
But at least we didn't have to look far . . .

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mis-Matched Memories

A time of growth.
And how to make our own meals.
And do our own laundry.
Laundry day was nearing.
I could tell because, suddenly, there was room for everything in my dresser.
And I was down to my last two socks.
One red.
One brown.
I stared at them.
Then, shrugging, pulled them on. The weather was chilly and they were necessities.
And in the rush to get out the door for my 8:00 class, I forgot them.
Sometime later, I had removed my shoes (I don’t remember why) and was sitting on the floor in the hallway outside the Journalism room with a couple of friends.
People were walking past us.
An astonishing number remarked on my mis-matched socks.
It was more attention than I had ever gotten.
From that day on, I never wore matching socks.
I even shopped deliberately for socks of the same make, but different colours, so they could be selectively mixed.
Sometimes, I even wore mis-matched shoes.
Call it a fashion statement.
It was . . . fun.
Move ahead forty years.
My Husby and I were shopping at one of the big box stores in Lethbridge.
We were down for a visit and enjoying the old familiar sights.
“Diane, is that you?”
I turned. One of my Journalism instructors, with her Husby, was standing behind me in the line.
There was the usual frantic ‘catching up’.
As the line slowly moved forward.
Then her Husby said, “Show me your socks!”
Some people are remembered for their great contributions to world peace.
For art.
I’m remembered for socks.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Getting Dirty

Old Garage. Magical play area around the end to the right . . .

New garage. Boring.
Just in front of the Old Garage was a magical place.
Okay, yes, it was technically part of the driveway.
Probably, in a normal world, not the best place to play.
But the Old Garage was really just a work room.
And seldom, if ever, used for actual . . . vehicles.
That was what the New Garage was for.
So the driveway in front was probably the safest place on the ranch.
Moving on . . .
The garage formed a wall along one side of our little play area.
With trees and/or bushes on two other sides.
And the winding driveway leading in.
Nestled among the bushes was the great propane tank, which supplied much-needed gas to the ranch houses.
And ensured that the immediate air would always have that little ‘tang’.
And sometimes substituted as a ‘horse’ when the need arose.
The dust/sand was deep in that particular spot.
And warmed by the sun.
Perfect for creating roads and castles and towns.
And just generally whiling away the hours in sunlit bliss.
Okay, yes, our ‘whiling’ was usually followed by, “Diane! What were you doing? Rolling in the dirt?!”
But it was worth it.
Moving ahead 50-plus years . . .
We have a sand box in our back yard.
I was watching some of the grandkids . . . playing.
They were digging and creating and generally having a great time.
One of them lay down on her tummy and proceeded to make a close inspection of the ditch she was digging.
Her mother looked over at her. “Bronwyn! Stop rolling in the dirt!”
And suddenly, I was four years old again.
Digging in the dirt with my brothers.
The occasional whiff of propane in the air.
And the sun warm on my back.
Full circle.
Three little girls - full circle.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

That's Progress

One and one-half hours from the Stringam ranch is the city of Lethbridge, Alberta.
When the Stringams really needed to shop, that was the place to go.
There were tons of great stores . . .
But, if one wanted a bit of adventure, the best was Progress Clothing.
Progress was our favourite place to shop.
It wasn’t what you would call a ‘high-end’ store.
It catered more to the farmers and ranchers in the area.
The people needing sturdy, serviceable, work apparel.
Tough boots.
Heavy leather gloves.
Progress consisted of a long, open room with thick windows facing the street.
Dangling fluorescent light fixtures.
And huge tables set evenly about the old-wood flooring.
Great piles of clothing were stacked on every available surface.
More or less grouped together according to type and size.
Colours were limited. Most articles were blue, green, black or tan.
But choosing pants, shirts or one of the myriad other items that went with working on a ranch was only the first (and less exciting) part.
The true fun of Progress Clothing began when one was holding one’s prospective purchase.
And a salesman approached.
Because the ‘suggested retail price’ on the tag was just that.
A suggestion.
From there, the haggling commenced.
“How much for these pants?”
“The tag says $7.00.”
“But I’m buying four pairs.”
“Hmm . . . okay $6.00.”
“Really? That’s the best you can do?”
“Hey, I’m trying to feed my family!”
“And I’m trying to feed mine!”
“Okay. Okay. $5.00. But that’s my last offer.”
And so it went. It was . . . fun.
If you were lucky, you would pay half of what the original sticker stated . . .
I hadn’t been to Progress in quite a while.
I had discovered some of the specialty ‘Western’ shops.
With their high-priced ‘stylish’ western clothes.
And I had my own money.
And no encumbrances.
Then, shortly after I was married, my Husby (a newly acquired encumbrance) and I, feeling both the need to be economical and the desire for some adventure, stopped at the great old store.
I found a pair of warm, winter boots.
Practical boots.
My Husby held them up to the salesman. “How much?” he asked.
The salesman stared at him.
“How much?” he repeated.
The salesman leaned forward and touched the tag. “$8.00,” he said.
“Will you take six?” my Husby asked.
The salesman frowned. “The tag says $8.00,” he repeated.
“Oh. So . . . $8.00?”
The store and the clothes were the same.
And the prices.

But the important stuff was different.

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