Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Backing Up

Ah. The good old days . . .
I had to take a couple of horses to auction.
One of the more painful aspects of ranching . . .
In the old days, when I was ranching with my parents, a truck and trailer (chosen from the selection on hand) would appear magically outside the ranch house, loaded and ready to go.
Oh, the good old days.
This new ranching-on-my-own required much more forethought.
I had the horses.
And the pickup.
What I needed was a trailer.
A rental was indicated.
As an absolute neophyte in this area, I did what one did back then.
Went to the Yellow Pages.
Huh. Did you know there were dozens of companies whose sole purpose was to supply one with the best, biggest, lightest, heaviest, sleekest, cleanest, most-efficient, strongest, easiest-to-pull, prettiest (okay, I added that one), most-amazing trailer in the area?
Well there are.
I chose the nearest dealer.
And a trailer that looked like one of Dad’s.
Better the evil you know . . .
I drove over and, trying to look like I had done this all my life, hooked up to my newly-borrowed piece of equipment.
Okay, that part was easy. Back up the truck as near to the trailer hitch as possible.
Or until the attendant hollered, “Whoa!”
And hook up.
Okay. From that point I was more-or-less comfortable. I had pulled a trailer many times in my life. My real problems arose when I tried something new.
Like backing up with said trailer attached.
This is where I admit that my brother or Dad had always done the ‘intricate’ work.
Have you ever tried this?
Backing up a trailer, I mean.
It’s perverse.
You have to turn the controller vehicle in the complete opposite direction you want the trailer to go.
All the while looking backward over your shoulder.
It’s like trying to write something on a wall behind you by looking in a mirror.
Everything screams at you to turn the other way.
Usually while your spotter/attendant is screaming at you to do it right.
I did make it to the auction.
Horses, truck and trailer intact.
And, after much, MUCH backing up and re-backing up and adjusting and backing up again, and attendants sweating and swearing, finally moved the trailer close enough to the ramp to off-load two confused and rather dizzy horses.
Then I got the heck out of there.
I stopped at the ranch to clean out the trailer.
A nervous horse is a poopy horse.
Just FYI.
And I took the trailer back.
Now, when I had picked up the behemoth, it had been parked among its fellows in a neat line.
Second from the end.
When collecting it, I had only needed to back the truck, hook on, and leave.
Returning the trailer wasn’t going to be as easy.
I would need to maneuver it, without scarring its fellows on either side, back into its home.
The key word here is ‘back’.
I was sweating before I even drove into the yard.
The attendant cheerfully indicated my parking spot.
Yep. Right where I expected.
Cue the Hitchcock violin music . . .
I pulled ahead and shoved the truck into reverse.
Then, taking a deep breath, pressed down on the gas.
And slid in as neatly and perfectly as any trailer-jockey out there.
On my first try.
The trick then was to try to not look as surprised as the attendant.
And to keep the swagger (mostly caused by relief) out of my walk as I helped unhook.
And to suppress the desire to turn hand-springs on my way back to the truck.
Yep. Sometimes, the planets align.
All things work together.
And one is allowed to feel that sense of accomplishment that goes with a job well (and perfectly) done.
Not often.
But sometimes.
Enjoy it while it lasts . . .

Friday, September 6, 2013


Still catching up.
These are Delores' words from last week.
Drugged, scandalous, frying, clerk, entrance, hidden
What would I do without her?!


“It was scandalous, I tell you! Scandalous!”
The weekly afternoon tea of the local Ladies’ Aid Society was hitting on all cylinders.
Mrs. Petrie had the floor. Currently, she was making her point by jabbing a tiny, half-eaten petit-four in Mrs. Hall’s direction.
Mrs. Hall nodded solemnly, her own cake untouched as she carefully sipped a fresh cup of hot tea.
I watched as Mrs. Petrie took another nibble of the rich frosting, heavy jowls quivering in delight.
“Do you know what happened?” Timid little Mrs. Barry’s soft voice took advantage of the momentary break.
Mrs. Petrie puffed up importantly and launched in again, crumbs of cake flying. “Oh, my dear, I know everything!” she said. She reached for a second petit-four, then a third, and set them carefully on her plate.
I glanced at the laden tray in the center of the table and sighed, praying silently that I’d made enough.
Mrs. Petrie’s stories do tend to go on . . .
“Well . . .” Mrs. Petrie looked around the table, making sure she had collected everyone’s attention. Her voice lowered. “They found her at the entrance to the park!” she said. “Drugged, they said!”
“No!” someone gasped.
“Yes!” Mrs. Petrie’s voice slid up a notch. She stuffed her second cake into her mouth and chewed quickly. “She was wobbling about, hardly able to walk!” She swallowed and reached for more cake. “Her brains are absolutely fried!” She shook her head woefully and pushed in another bite. “They say she’ll never be the same!”
“But that’s awful!” Mrs. Barry said, shocked.
“Oh, my dear, you don’t know the half!” Mrs. Petrie said, her voice lowered again. “They’re saying it was the clerk she’d been seen with! He did it to her!”
Mrs. Harris looked quite shaken. “Do you mean to tell us that that boy gave her . . . drugs?”
Mrs. Petrie nodded, her face grave.
“Oh, but that’s terrible!” Mrs. Butterfield dabbed at an imaginary tear. “What on earth will Margery do?”
“Well I know what I’d do if it was my daughter!” Mrs. Petrie said stoutly. “I’d put her on bread and water for a week!” She stuffed in another cake.
“But her brain!” Mrs. Butterfield said.
“I know!” Mrs. Petrie said. “She’s been absolutely ruined!”
Seven heads shook in sympathy.
I sighed and reached for a cake. The tray was getting perilously empty.
Just then, the door opened.
Seven heads swung around. Seven pairs of eyes speared the newcomer.
“I’m sorry I’m late!” Mrs. Beaker said, breathlessly. “I had to . . .”
She got no further.
“Marjorie!” Three of the ladies had risen to their feet. “We just heard!”
Mrs. Beaker paused in the act of removing her coat, frowning. “Heard what?”
“About your daughter!”
“Oh, that!” Mrs. Beaker laughed. “What a mix-up!”
Several people glanced quickly at Mrs. Petrie, who calmly claimed the last cake and started eating.
“Umm . . . what happened?” Mrs. Barry asked.
“Well, that boy Abby’s been seeing took her for a walk in the park,” Mrs. Beaker said. “Apparently, he’d been planning on surprising her with a proposal.” She smiled.
“What was he proposing?” Mrs. Hall asked suspiciously.
“Marriage!” Mrs. Beaker said.
“What?” Someone drew the question in with a shocked breath.
All eyes turned to the now-silent Mrs. Petrie, who continued to chew solemnly.
“But it was sort of a disaster,” Mrs. Beaker said, seating herself at the table. She glanced briefly at the empty tray, then nodded her thanks as someone filled a cup for her.
I slid my untasted cake in front of her and she nodded again.
“Really?” someone said. Everyone leaned closer. “Do tell!”
“Well, he had hidden the ring somewhere in the park, but, as they were walking, it began to rain.” She took a sip of tea. “Oh, lovely!” she said, smiling at me.
I smiled back.
“Then what happened?” Mrs. Butterfield asked impatiently.
 Mrs. Beaker frowned. “Well, as far as I got the story straight, he had to run to the spot where he’d hidden the ring because he was afraid that the rain would wash it away and Abby ran after him and broke the heel off her shoe!” She laughed. “I guess she went down in a heap! By the time he had rescued his ring and his future fiancĂ©e, both of them were a little worse for the wear!”
The ladies at the table were silent.
“They staggered out of the park, their arms around each other . . .” Mrs. Beaker laughed again. “I guess it was quite a sight!”
“So . . . no drugs?” Mrs. Hall asked.
Mrs. Beaker frowned. “No. Well, Abby took a couple of painkillers after they had collapsed onto the bench outside the park,” she said. “She had given her ankle quite a turn.” She looked at me. “This cake is divine!”
“Thank you,” I murmured.
“And now, Abby is engaged!”
There were several rather forced expressions of congratulation and, for a few seconds, the other ladies silently sipped and nibbled, casting the occasional accusing glance in Mrs. Petrie’s direction.
Suddenly, the visibly un-repentant woman sucked in a breath. “Oh, girls!” she said. “Did I tell you about Old Man Gunnar?”
All eyes turned toward her.
“Apparently, someone is trying to murder him!”
“Do tell!” someone said.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


Okay. Picture him even smaller and glued to a dog...
Phil was a tiny boy.
Not yet two.
With the dubious honour of being both the youngest of the ‘Three Musketeers’ and of his family of seven.
He had been dropped off at Auntie and Uncle’s place for a few days while Mom and Dad took a brief holiday.
For the first few minutes, he followed sisters and brothers around the unfamiliar house, whimpering and trying to make sure they didn’t disappear.
Like his parents had done.
Then he saw his Auntie’s three Old English Sheepdogs.
Tears were forgotten as his face brightened.
His small world . . . changed.
For the next two days, Phil attached himself, quite literally, to the big male, Chiefy.
Whom, in his baby way, he thought was called ‘Chiefy-Sit’.
During that time, whenever Chiefy moved, it was with two small hands clutching fistfuls of long, grey hair and a little man toddling along as fast as he could, babbling, “Chiefy-Sit! Chiefy-Sit!”
When Chiefy finally did ‘sit’, Phil would pounce on him. Burying his little face in the soft, gray hair.
If Phil was distracted and moved away, Chiefy followed.
When the little boy slept in his crib, it was with one small hand through the bars, still clutching the long, soft hair.
They were quite literally, inseparable.
It was a short, sweet, two days.
But it ended.
Phil’s family moved away and visits were few and far between.
He grew up and Chiefy grew old.
They never saw each-other again.
Moving ahead twenty-plus years . . .
Tomorrow, my Husby and I are travelling down to Portland, Oregon.
We are going there to witness Phil and his bride marry.
He’s all grown up now.
But when I see him, I will be thinking of that little boy.
And his short-term furry best friend.
It will be a wonderful, happy time.
I can feel the tears already . . .

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Catching Up

Each week, my good friend and fellow blogger, Delores issues a challenge to her neophytes. 'Use these words, my Hardy Wordsmiths!' And we do.
But I am playing catch-up. These are last week's: Crystallize, morbid, fragrance, cling, instant, blueprint.Oh, what fun I had . . .

I sniffed. “I smell it again!” I said.
Norma looked up from her newspaper and frowned, confused. “What?”
“That fragrance! That weird fragrance!”
She pursed her lips and sniffed, audibly. “I don’t smell anything.”
“Come over here. It seems to . . . cling to this exact spot!” I stepped to one side and indicated with both hands. “Right here!”
Sighing, Norma set down her paper and heaved her bulky self to her feet. “Fine,” she said. “But I’m only doing this because you’re my sister.”
“You’re a true friend,” I cooed, giving her just a bit more space.
Obligingly, she manoeuvred herself into the designated spot. “Okay. Here I am.”
“Now sniff!”
She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. Then frowned and did it again. “Huh,” she said.
“Right?” I watched her.
She stepped to one side and sniffed once more. Then stepped back and repeated the procedure. “Huh,” she said again. She looked around, then slowly dropped to her knees. “I only do this because I love you,” she said, glancing up at me.
“And I love you,” I said. “So what’s making that smell?”
She bent down and sniffed the carpet. “Huh. Nothing.” She sat back on her heels and stared thoughtfully upwards. Her eyes brightened. “Maybe it’s the spirit of some former resident,” she said.
I gave her my best ‘tell-me-another’ look. “Right. A former resident who haunts only this spot?”
“Well, maybe she died right here.”
“Don’t be morbid,” I said, moving a step away.
“No! I can see it! Her body laying here, crystallizing slowly.”
"Ugh!" I said. Then grinned and picked it up. “Her spirit hanging around till her mortal remains are discovered, then deciding in that instant that it must always stay . . .”
“Pfff! What will you think of next?!”
Norma made a couple of shuffling movements, then sighed and held up her hands. “Could you?” she asked.
I shook my head and reached out to help her to her feet.
Both of us sniffed the air again.
Suddenly, a whisper of sound. A . . . hissing. It burst inside my head. “Blueprint!” it said.
I spun around, then looked at my sister. “Did you . . .?” I said no more. The look on her face told me everything.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

For Greater Things

Tristan and his wife, Jess.

When we were teenagers, my husby and I got involved in theatre.
And stayed involved.
This year marks 44 years for me.
And slightly more for him.
I know, I know. Do the math.
That makes us both . . . old.
But we love it.
We raised our children on the stage.
All six of them.
Our most recent production, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers closed recently.
To a standing ovation.
Our youngest son, Tristan was singing the role of Adam.
And as I watched him, I couldn't help but remember his first time on stage, at the age of 5.
We weren't sure if he would remember lines, so we made him a mute.
Big mistake.
He hasn't stopped talking since.
Then I thought about all of the roles he has had in his short lifetime.
And other experiences he has had on the stage.
Let me tell you about one.
We were setting up the stage for a production of “I Hate Hamlet”.
Look it up. It's funny.
We were trying different configurations with our set pieces.
One piece, a double glass door in it's own frame, was built by a home builder.
He hadn't understood that set pieces were supposed to drag around easily.
And be . . . light.
He had built it according to building code requirements.
So . . . definitely not light.
We had stood it up and were discussing where it should go in the grand scheme of things.
My son, Tristan was sitting innocently in a chair on stage, waiting for his parents to finish moving furniture around.
We stepped away from the door, intent on another piece of scenery.
And that's when it tipped.
The door, I mean.
Towards my son.
It was one of those things that you could see happening.
But were powerless to stop.
For a moment, time slowed to a crawl.
The door dropped.
And smacked the back of our son's chair off.
A large, heavy, wooden chair.
Broke the back right off.
Our son turned and looked.
The door had missed him, quite literally, by a whisker.
I watched him singing last night.
And thought about that wall falling towards him so many years ago.
Obviously preserved for greater things.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Vanity, You Heartless Wench

Ready to work.
If you look closely, you'll note the absence of glasses.
And the presence of the band-aid.
     1. My new boyfriend had a medical condition I wasn’t aware of.
           2. The world refused to coalesce into remotely recognizable shapes when I wasn’t wearing my glasses.
           3. I was vain.
There. I think I’ve covered all of the bases.
Would you care to try to convene these statements into a story?
I’m almost sure it would be better than mine.
Fine . . .
My new boyfriend was ‘working’ for my Dad.
Which meant that he spent a lot of time on the ranch, following me around, and occasionally did some actual work.
On this bright summer afternoon, we had been assigned the arduous task of moving the milk cow from her pasture on the east side of the buildings to the more convenient pasture on the west side.
We were on foot.
He was heeling.
I was heading.
Which meant that I was in the front to get in the way if said cow decided to turn in the wrong direction.
He was behind in case she suddenly felt that she couldn’t bear to leave her former pasture.
I should probably point out here that I always wore glasses. There’s nothing more embarrassing than discovering after a lengthy, one-sided conversation, that the person you are talking to is actually the neighbour’s mule.
I will say only that he was a good listener.
Back to my story . . .
On this bright and sunny afternoon, I had removed my glasses because I was trying to improve my tan lines. Large, white, goggle-shaped circles on one’s face weren’t conducive to beauty.
Oh, I also had a band-aid on my nose for the same reason.
Lets’ not talk about this any more . . .
At first all went well.
Then, they didn’t.
I ran ahead to stand as a human shield when the cow crossed over the entrance to the ranch buildings.
Once I was in position, I turned to ascertain progress.
The cow had turned and was heading back to familiar ground.
Trevor had disappeared.
I quickly ran up the road, got around the retreating animal and turned her back in the right direction.
Then spent the next twenty minutes sweating, hollering and cursing.
Oh yes. I cursed. For the whole story, read here. It’s not a pretty tale, but we’ll wait till you get back . . .
Finally, I had the stupid, perverse, ornery, cantankerous, belligerent, of-questionable-heritage, stupid (I repeat the word, deliberately) animal where she needed to go.
Daddy picked me up for the short ride to the ranch buildings.
And that’s when I remarked that my boyfriend, he of the dubious intelligence, had abandoned me.
Had just disappeared.
Dad frowned.
He turned into the drive to the ranch.
Then stopped.
Shoved the truck into reverse.
And, tires squealing, sped back along the main road.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Your boyfriend,” Dad said, coming to a skidding stop.
And there he was. My boyfriend. Lying in the ditch.
How had I missed that?
Oh, right. Glasses.
Turns out that he had a medical condition that caused him, at times, to faint.
Who knew?
Fortunately, he had simply slid down into the soft, thick grass that lined the ditch and slept peacefully in the warm sun until we discovered him.
Dad got him up and we helped him make his woozy way to the truck.
By the time we reached the ranch buildings, he was well on his way back to normalcy.
After we had gotten him seated on the couch and supplied with drinks and eats, Dad turned to me. “Glasses,” he said simply.
 I nodded sheepishly and went to fetch them.
I learned something from this:
         1. When acquiring a new boyfriend, always ascertain health concerns.
         2.  Don’t ever try to outguess your optician.
         3. Don’t be vain.
       You learned it here.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Tough to Say Goodbye

For over twenty years, we've spent part of each summer roaming the trails and mountains around Banff, Alberta.
The most beautiful spot on earth.
I'm not prejudiced . . .
Our kids learned to swim in the condo pool.
Saw their first bear while hiking those trails.
Scrimped and saved for their annual trip to the Rocks and Gems Shop.
Or the all-important Candy Store.
Watched the elk and deer saunter through from the second-floor balcony.
Laughed at the squirrels as they chattered and scampered.
Learned to play horse-shoes and croquet on the lawns.
Played games, watched movies and slept in.
Till Seven.
Now the next generation is experiencing those same wonderful things.
It's tough to say goodbye.
Even though we know it isn't forever.
This is why . . .

First hike.

Hiking's HARD work!

When you run out of trail, keep going!

Old Husby of the Mountain.
Umm . . . no comment . . .

How can we leave it behind?
Till next year, Banff, farewell!

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