Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Hours of fun. Or aggravation . . .
Mom always appreciated a good joke.
Usually, she stood back and . . . appreciated.
Occasionally, she was the instigator.
Let me explain.
Our family had just been introduced to a new game.
Actually, an old game, originally played with paper and pencil, now in a new format.
Plastic peg boards of Mediterranean sea blue.
With cute little plastic ships.
We spent many hours playing this game, trying to outwit each other with our clever placements.
Very occasionally, we were able to convince one or the other of our parents to play.
Dad was deadly. He systematically shot at your ships.
Every third hole.
You could see his juggernaut (good word) sweeping down on your hapless little fleet and were powerless to stop him.
The game always left you feeling like a butterfly on a pin.
But Mom was a little more. . .  gentle.
She would destroy your ships using woman's intuition.
You were just as dead, but you felt better about it.
One day, she was playing with one of my younger siblings, Blair. The game had been going on for some time.
Mom: "B-8."
Blair: "Hit." .
Blair: "G-3."
Mom: "Miss."
Mom: "B-7."
Blair: "Hit."
Blair: "G-1."
Mom: "Miss."
And so it went.
Finally, Mom had cornered Blair's last ship and was closing in for the kill.
And that's when Blair got tired of the constant discouragement. "Where are your darn ships anyways?!" he demanded.
Mom gazed down at her board. "Ships?" she said.
Then she grinned.
She hadn't put them on the board.
Game. Set. Match.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Travel-Sized Whistle Blower

Watch it!
You don’t break rules in our house.
You’ve heard of that tiny, small voice that whispers correction?
Well, it’s here.
And it isn’t that small.
Maybe I should explain . . .
Our granddaughter, aged 22 months, lives with us.
She is tall for her age.
And very, very excited about having things ‘just so’.
Doors left open must be shut.
In fact, if one is so foolish as to leave a cupboard door open, a small tornado will emerge from the bowels of the house to slam said door.
Even if one is still using it.
In the high heat of the summer, propping the front and back doors open for extra ventilation requires permission, in triplicate, and a signed order by the Pope.
And many, many repetitions of “No, Sweetie, Gramma wants it left open!”
Bodily releases of tiny bits of air (ie: burps, sneezes, coughs, farts) though they are extremely funny, are to be immediately followed by a firmly-stated excuse-all.
Or a small, insistent person will appear at your elbow. “‘Scuse me, Grampa! ‘Scuse me!”
Preparation for mealtime prayer is to be strictly followed.
Even if one isn’t technically in the room.
The business portion of our kitchen/dining room is separated from the eating portion by an island.
Easily seen past.
If one is in that area, and no matter what one is doing, one is expected to participate.
“Gramma! Prayers! Fowd arms!”
Yesterday, my daughter and I were bike-riding.
With a small person in the trailer behind us.
Something we do . . . often.
My daughter had, unthinkingly, done her hair on top of her head.
Totally unsuited to the actual wearing of a helmet.
She opted to leave her headgear at home.
Big mistake.
It was the longest ride of our lives.
Because every few seconds, a little voice from the rear would call out, “Mama! Hemit!” or “Hemit, Mama!” or “Hemit! Hemit! Hemit!”
Ad infinitum.
The point of my story?
Be careful what you teach your kids.

They may hold you to it.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Dad and some of the 'boys'.
It takes many hands to run a ranch.
Every one of my parents’ six children found . . . ummm . . . gainful employment there.
But before we kids were old enough to milk cows, heft bales and run equipment, these chores were tackled by hired men or 'boys' as they were called.
As many as six of them.
These men, mostly unmarried, lived in the bunk house.
And ate at the cook house.
If, for one reason or another, there was no cook in residence, they ate with us.
And that’s when I got to know them.
I can still see them as they filed silently to Mom’s supper table. Cowboy-hat tans that ended at the eyebrows, leaving the forehead white and gleaming. Hair slicked back and still wet. Heavy work shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows and slightly damp from their recent contact with soap and water. Rough, work-worn hands, newly-scrubbed but with darkened nails.
Over the years, we had many different men take up residence for long or short periods on the Stringam ranch.
Men from the neighbourhood who were just starting out on their own.
Educated young men from as far away as Hawaii or Korea or Denmark, wanting to learn the ranching ‘ropes’ to take back home.
New emigrants still struggling with the language.
I should mention, here, that learning English from the hired men on a ranch probably isn’t the best.
At least what they learned was . . . colourful.
Ahem . . .
All of them were taught to ride and work cattle. To fence and milk and hay and drive the disparate machines that were a part of ranching.
To think on their feet and react to the countless different scenarios that could – and did – crop up at any moment.
Those who lasted, eventually left the place changed men.
And they had their impact on us kids over the years.
And my favourite was Bud.
Bud worked on the ranch off and on. Beginning when I was four.
He was a local boy.
With a bit of a temper.
He and horses didn’t get along.
And the cows really didn’t like it when it was his turn to milk.
But he was always gentle and kind to me.
And I tagged after him everywhere.
Picture this: A tiny, skinny, white-blonde girl in jeans and a snap shirt.
Dad and me
And scuffed red cowboy boots.
Hopping and dancing along beside or behind.
Yep. That would be me.
I’d pop up the side of the fence and watch him feeding the bulls.
Sit on a stool nearby when he milked.
And follow him through his day as he went about his assigned chores.
He would smile at me and tease me.
Bud: “Hello, Diane-With-The-Red-Hair!”
Me: “Your hair is green!”
Yeah, so quick, I wasn’t.
He even gave me my own song, ‘Oh Danny Boy’. I’m guessing he didn’t know any songs with the word ‘Diane’ in them and that was as close as he could come.
And which song, interestingly enough, I hated.
As soon as he would start in, I would scream and disappear.
Hmmm. Maybe that’s why he did it . . .
I was devastated when Bud left the ranch to marry.
A few years later, he returned for a time, with his wife to act as ranch cook.
But his worsening health due to diabetes took its toll and he passed away from complications of the disease while still a comparatively young man.
Have you ever seen those internet sites titled ‘Gone, but Not Forgotten’?
Bud is there.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Little 'Sister'

Mom, third from left, and five of her eight brothers.
Her 'baby sister' Roy, alias Rosie, is far left.

A selection from my Mom's journals

This was my Mom's favorite story . . .

Being the only sister near the middle in a family of eight brothers, I found myself competing with the boys and growing up as a 'Tom Boy'.
I was athletic and could run as fast, jump as high and throw as far as my brothers.
I milked cows, drove and rode horses as well as the boys.
As the fourth in the family, I often considered myself the fourth brother.
In spite of this, I yearned for a sister, sharing my mother's yearning for another daughter.
By the time I was five, I had three new, small brothers but still no sister.
My prayers unanswered, I seemed destined to be alone in a mob of boys.
My little brothers seemed more cooperative and trusting than my older brothers; maybe little brothers could substitute as sisters? I decided to try to make one my little brothers into a little sister. Perhaps if I dressed them up in girls' clothes, they would pass as sisters. I rummaged through Mama's trunk and found an old dress and a bonnet with lace trimming.
Armed with these frillies, I looked about for a likely prospect.
Roy, the fifth brother and three years my junior, seemed the best choice. I approached him where he was playing in the yard.
"Roy, come and see what I have here."
He came willingly after I promised him a cookie.
We went upstairs where I slipped him into the dress, tied the belt and put on the lace bonnet, all the time crooning how nice he looked - so very nice. I gave the dress a tug to cover grubby clothes and ankle-height shoes.
I called my new little sister Rosie, my favorite name at the time.
For a while we played games that I supposed girls would play. We played with dolls and improvised a tea party including the promised cookie.
We were having such a good time, just us girls.
It was wonderful having a beautiful little sister.
Finally, I thought and I and my little sister should go for a walk to see the cats and the farm animals which would be frolicking about outside.
I took Rosie by the hand and for several blissful minutes, I led her around the yard, describing all the interesting features of our farmyard and garden.
Luckily, we did not encounter any brothers with their taunting giggles and snorts.
Suddenly a car came into the yard.
 The spell was broken. Rosie, reverting to Roy, leapt into the air and shot like a rocket toward the house.
As the passengers poured out of the car, they were surprised to see what looked like a human tornado, shedding clothes as it sped to the nearest hideaway.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Miss-Taken Identity

Who wouldn't want to be HER grandma?!
I was waiting in the doctor’s office for an appointment.
I had four children.
And with cuts, bumps and ‘whatever was going around at the moment’ tended to spend a lot of time there.
My youngest wasn’t feeling well.
We had assumed our usual location in the large room.
My daughter was happily seated in her stroller, watching the other people in the room.
I was engrossed in a four-years-old copy of Time magazine.
Funny how the headlines and concerns of that day looked almost comical four years hence.
But I digress . . .
A woman entered the room and took a seat nearby.
A well-dressed, exquisitely-groomed, obviously prosperous woman in her mid-forties.
My daughter looked at her. “Grandma!” she crowed happily.
She loved her grandma.
I smiled. The woman did have the same hair-colour.
To us it was a title of honour.
Obviously, our opinion wasn’t shared by the whole audience . . .
The woman glanced over at us.
Then, realizing that the little girl was actually speaking to her, her expression of well-bred hauteur changed.
To one of absolute horror.
She got huffily to her feet and glared at me. “I AM NOT A GRANDMA!” she announced.
I stared back. What do you say to that?
“Umm . . . she has a really young Grandma,” I stuttered lamely.
It was all I could think of.
“Humph!” the woman said and, turning, stomped to a different part of the room and out of our sight.
But my daughter wasn’t done. “Where Grandma go?” she asked plaintively. “Grandma!”
I’ve waited for doctor’s appointments.
Sometimes for as long as a couple of hours.
None were as long as this one.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Bridge. Mixed

Portion of a painting by George Hughes . . .
 My parents were having a Bridge party.
Something that was very popular in the Sixties.
The house had been cleaned, top to bottom until everything sparkled like a new penny.
I should mention here that I’ve always wondered why, when company was coming over, my Mom felt it necessary to clean absolutely every surface in our home.
Was she really expecting her guests to go wandering into the storage rooms or laundry room?
Were they actually going to notice the fingerprints on the downstairs bedroom wall?
But, already, I digress . . .
Several card tables had been set up in the front room.
Each with four chairs.
A deck of cards.
Pad of paper.
And the all-important, easily snitched from, dish of treats.
Usually mixed nuts.
Or (cue exciting music . . .) bridge mix.
Have you ever eaten bridge mix?
The chocolate-coated voyage to tasty yummy-ness?
It’s an adventure in itself.
There are mint, orange, and Irish crème flavored pieces coated in dark chocolate; peanuts, raisins, caramels, and Turkish delight in milk chocolate.
The adventure comes in finding one that you like.
Because some of them can fool you . . .
My favourites? The orange, Irish crème, peanuts and caramels.
The others? Ick.
At first, the only way to tell was by size and shape, but that can be deceiving. The raisins, for example, can fool you into thinking they’re peanuts.
Taste was the next option.
But Mom and Dad protested, sometimes violently, when they discovered treats with little nibbles taken out of the sides.
Then returned to the dish.
I know. Parents are weird.
But there was no way I was ever going to chance my taste buds coming into contact with something as icky as Turkish delight.
Or mint.
Raisins and I also have a history. (Seehere)
Finally, I came up with a solution.
If you squeezed the candies gently, they cracked just enough for you to get a glimpse of their soft centre.
If the colour denoted icky-ness, you could, by squeezing in the opposite direction, return them to their original shape.
Caution: May contain icky pieces
We won’t go into the fact that we kids weren’t even supposed to be in the front room.
Let alone snitching from the candy dishes.
Moving on . . .
I don’t know if people still have bridge parties.
Judging by the cries of excitement or dismay that emanated from the room, they were an immense source of fun and dismay in equal parts.
Myself, I never learned to play the game.
But I do remember the treats.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Keys to Adventure

Okay, well, they looked like keys to me . . .
To say that my mom was a neat and tidy person would be a vast understatement.
She was also careful.
Frugal, thrifty, economical.
She made do.
And stored anything that might come in handy . . . later.
There were times that her tidy habits provided me with hours of pleasurable fun.
Well . . . one habit.
Mom always had a great supply of pins of all types and styles, many gleaned from clothing purchases.
Any pin found was carefully saved.
If her handy-dandy pincushion wasn’t in the vicinity, she would poke them into the crack of a window or door frame for later pick-up.
She was also careful with keeping her safety pins.
Those were strung onto a larger pin.
For easy storage and easier access.
Because safety pins could be used for anything!
Any quick repair job was a snap with a safety pin.
So to speak.
But this is where her habit of saving and storing was of vital importance to me.
Because those little bunches of pins were magical.
Did you know that I’ve flown planes?
Well, I have.
And driven busses and tractors.
Captained boats.
Took the wheel in giant earth-movers.
Piloted spaceships.
Driven trains.
All without ever having to leave my house.
And all due to one of Mom’s collections of safety pins.
Because those bunches of pins looked, to me, like sets of keys.
And they could start anything my imagination could come up with.
I would insert the largest one into the imaginary keylock, turn it with the impressive sound of “taw-aw-aw-aw-vroom!”
And I was away.
Hours of fun.
I could be driving a moon-buggy in the morning.
And be digging into the depths of the earth in a giant corkscrew machine in the afternoon.
And all because of Mom’s habit of saving old pins.

Thanks, Mom.
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