Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ballooning the Cat

One of Gramma Berg’s favourite stories.
And with apologies to my Uncle Leif, who tells it better . . .
Gramma. And 'The Instigator'.

Among the many animals on the Berg farm were always a dozen or so cats. Plentiful food of mice, birds, scraps and fresh milk kept them healthy . . . and prolific.
Now cats were not normally allowed in the ranch house.
But that didn’t stop them from accumulating on the front porch and making feints at the front door.
Whereupon (Oooh, good word!) Gramma Berg would disperse the problem with the skillful handling of her broom.
But one friendly and persistent old mother cat would elude Gramma’s best efforts and re-appear with stunning persistence.
And rapidity.
And that was when Uncle Leif decided to try his hand . . .
He came up with ultimate ‘harassing the cat’ plan.
A balloon.
Simple, yet effective.
He would tie the balloon to the cat’s tail and she would be well and truly harassed.
Gramma was sceptical as to the effectiveness of her youngest son’s plan, so she kept watch from a distance.
Leif put the first part of his plan into action with the enticement of said cat with tender morsels from the kitchen.
While she was thus absorbed, he quickly tied the football-sized balloon to her tail with a piece of string.
Perhaps the string was a tad too tight.
Perhaps the cat simply panicked when this ‘thing’ bobbed and swayed almost on top her.
She took off.
Her first strategy was to simply outrun.
When this proved ineffective, she made for the nearest high place.
The telephone pole.
Scratching and clawing her way up, she finally reached the very pinnacle.
Then, pausing to survey the situation, she realized with dismay that the pesky ‘thing’ was still there.
All of her ‘cat’ instincts came out at that moment and, claws out, swiped at the offending balloon.
It popped.
With a loud and very satisfying bang.
This was too much for the poor cat.
With a combination of ninja-cat-moves and free fall, she hit the ground and headed for the barn.
By this time, Gramma was nearly unconscious with laughter.
Leif, satisfied that his genius plan had proved effective, smiled in satisfaction.
But the next day, you guessed it, the cat was back.
Happily curled up in her favourite ‘relaxing on the porch’ position.
But keeping a wary eye on Leif.
There was one outcome from Leif’s genius plan.
Hearing - and watching - Gramma tell the story.
She would start laughing so hard that someone else invariably had to finish for her.
Sometimes the result you are going for isn’t the one you get.
And that’s better.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Gift

“I’m shopping for my wife,” said he.
“For things she needs immediately.
And while I’m here, I thought I’d get
A special something for my Pet.”

 He wandered round the store a while,
And saw things staid. Or infantile.
Then found that he had ambled to
The women’s clothes all starched and new.

His eyes lit up as he assessed
New ways to help his wife get dressed.
In gowns of rough or slinky mein,
In shades from black to tangerine.

He wandered further through the store
Seeking something she’d adore,
High or low or bourgeoisie,
He finally came o’er to me.

“It seemed so simple,” he declared.
“But now I’ve looked, and now I’m scared.
The clothes selection’s vast and mixed,
And I can’t seem to choose betwixt.”

“There’s something that she needed, though,
To wear around her bungalow.
So help me please, I do implore.
There must be something in your store!”

“There’s much to choose from, sir,” I said.
“That’s sure to please your thoroughbred.
But there's one thing I need to know,
Just how big is her bungalow?”

Thursday, October 17, 2013

When Vaccums Go Bad

Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Okay, it was . . . weird.
Really weird.
But sometimes, weird has a logical explanation . . .
We were visiting with our good friends, Shane and Linda.
They had just finished building their dream home.
The last touches were slowly going in.
Shane had recently installed a new central vacuum system.
It really sucked. (But that was a good thing and has nothing to do with this story . . .)
Shortly after the vacuum was installed, and very late at night, Shane was in the front room doing . . . Shane stuff. Deciding it was time for bed, he stood up and started toward the doorway.
When the vacuum suddenly turned on.
I am not making this up.
The middle of the night. Everyone else in the house was asleep. And the vacuum switched itself on.
Let’s just say it was . . . startling . . . and go from there.
Shane immediately quickened his pace, intent on switching the mechanical demon off before it woke the whole house.
But as he crossed the room, it quit.
The vacuum, I mean.
See what I mean? Weird.
After that, it happened several times. Always when someone was in the front room. Usually when they were alone.
This went on for some time.
Then we showed up for a visit.
The four of us were sitting in the front room, catching up.
Shane told us the vacuum story.
Complete with hand gestures.
And the dance.
I frowned thoughtfully. (I do that . . .) “Shane,” I asked, “Where were you standing when the vacuum came on?”
He pointed out an area of the floor.
I crossed over and stepped on it.
The vacuum was suddenly roaring beneath us.
I moved off the spot.
The vacuum quit.
I did it again.
Vacuum on.
Vacuum off.
All three of them were staring at me.
Then Grant smiled. “I think I know what happened.”
The two men went into the basement and poked around, finally discovering a screw, just piercing the wiring. When pressure was applied from above, the connection was completed. The vacuum came on.
When pressure was released, the connection was broken. And the machine switched off.
The ‘haunted’ vacuum was explained.
But you know what?
It was heaps more fun before we figured it out.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Public Freaking

Delores of Under the Porch Light has issued the challenge. 
Her followers obey!
This week's offerings: Vociferous, ambivalent, grunge, ink, flipped, dread
Come with me!
Future public speaking . . . champions
I’ve always been a talker.
The word vociferous could be very aptly applied.
But, during my formative years, if anyone ever wanted to fill me with absolute, bone-numbing, chill-of-death dread, all one would have to do was say, “Diane, why don’t you stand up and say a few words.”
Okay, the ‘saying a few words’, I could handle.
The operative/terrifying aspect here was the part where they said, ‘why don’t you stand up’.
Because that usually means that, in front of people, one has to STAND UP.
Grade seven provided the ultimate test.
Our English teacher whose name was Miss-Mueller-How-Could-You-Do-This-To-Me!, had assigned Every. Single. Person. in our class to do a report.
An oral report.
Okay, here’s where I admit that I had to have the words 'oral report' explained to me.
Miss Mueller HCYDTTM was happy to enlighten me.
A little too happy.
My soul was immediately immersed in dread.
Death was suddenly an imminent thing.
Due to occur on Thursday next.
I spent the following six days in an ambivalent froth.
Finally putting ink to paper the night before I was due to face the firing squad.
To this day, I can’t remember what I reported on.
Or even if I reported.
Because something happened just before my turn that is etched forever in my memory . . .
I‘m sure you’ve all been there.
Nervously Anxiously Apprehensively Terrified-ly awaiting your turn before the critical masses.
Well, the girl who preceded me was my good friend, Gladys.
She of the calm, self-possessed demeanour.
Gladys was also known for her clothes of uber-cuteness. No grunge here.
And I should mention, too, that Gladys’ outfit that day was a matching pants, top and hat that were OH-MY-GOODNESS-SOOOO-CUTE-I WANT-THEM-I-WANT-THEM-I-WANT-THEM!!!
Back to my story . . .
Gladys stood up in front of the class and began her presentation.
Suddenly, her voice . . . faded.
And the teacher leaped to her feet and caught her as she fell.
She survived.
Gladys, I mean.
I just thought I’d mention that in case you were concerned.
I know we were . . .
But her scary experience helped me to realize something.
The other kids in my class were just as scared as I was.
Some even more so.
And every single person in that audience wasn’t sitting there waiting for me to flip out or slip up so they could laugh.
They were thinking about/dreading their own ten minutes of infamy.
And if our reaction to our good friend’s mishap was anything to go by, all we wanted was for our classmates to succeed.
Who says you don’t learn anything from public speaking.
In Grade Seven?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Back Then

My home town!
Southern Alberta small town life in the 50s.
Crime hadn't been invented yet.
It was, literally, an entirely different world.
Our doors were never, ever locked.
Every house contained numerous children, who ran hither and yon (good term) all day long. In and out of each-others' yards and homes and refrigerators.
Mom, like all of the other moms, worked in her home, cooking, polishing and cleaning.
She would come to the door at meal times and call out into the street, whereupon (another good word) her various offspring would head home for home-cooked food.
Canned soup was something new and wonderful. Always served with yummy sandwiches.
At some point during the day, one of us kids would be sent downtown with a pillowcase to the local post office to retrieve the mail.
Shopping inevitably meant going to one of the two (yes, we had two) grocery stores, or if clothing or dry goods were required, Robinson's.
The drug store ran a tab (a sheet of paper with our names written on it) for chocolate bars purchased.
At ten cents each.
Freshly-roasted nuts could be procured from the display in the centre of the store.
Trips with Dad to see the insurance agent inevitably meant a Hershey chocolate bar, because the bottom drawer of Mr. Hofer's desk was full of them.
We had our own cobbler, Mr. Szabo, and I loved to go with Dad to his shop because it was fascinating to watch him fashion great hunks of leather into real shoes with his little hammer.
A trip to one of the two local car dealers turned into an adventure when he showed us his brand new Polaroid camera that magically developed its own pictures while you waited.
Every Saturday, Dad would send us to the movies with fifty cents. Twenty-five for the movie. Ten for popcorn and ten for a bottle of Grape Crush with a straw.
With five cents left over.
Until I discovered that the five cents could be spent on a package of licorice. Whereupon (that word again), I started coming home empty-handed.
But happy.
The theatre also had 'cuddle seats'. Double sized seats at both ends of every other row. Perfect for two sweethearts to cuddle in together while they watched 'Santa and the Martians' or 'Sinbad' or 'Lassie'.
All candy contained sugar and natural flavours.
Most of it was made on this continent.
Our clothes were mostly cotton.
Easily wrinkled, but pressed into shape by Mom's ever-present iron.
Easter Sunday was an opportunity to wear one's new spring hat and matching outfit.
And absolutely everyone attended church.
Thanksgiving was a chance to gather, not only one's own enormous family, but any and all extended family members and shoe-horn the entire mob into any available space.
At Christmas, an enormous, real tree was erected in the centre of the intersection of Main and First streets.
The traffic happily drove around it for the entire season.
The arrival of Santa in Mr. Madge's special North Pole plane, a much anticipated event.
And, once again, everyone went to church.
Midnight mass with one's Catholic friends was a special treat.
We rode our bikes down dirt - then gravel – roads.
One always held one's breath when a car went past until the dust cloud following it settled down.
Cars always drove slowly because the streets were inevitably teeming with children (or better known by their technical name - 'small fry').
There was only one channel on the black and white TV set, so if the program airing didn't appeal, there was literally nothing on TV.
In the evenings, when one wasn't involved in cubs, scouts, or CGIT, one was home with the family, watching the one TV channel or playing games together.
Mom always made treats.
Yummy ones.
We had whole neighbourhoods of Hungarians, Germans and Japanese.
And all of them were terrific cooks.
Funny how so many memories revolve around food . . .
Sports events were exactly that.
Ball games were played in a dirt lot and the crowd sat on the ground or brought their own chairs to enjoy the fun.
Basketball was huge.
The whole town would pack the high-school gym to cheer on our teams.
Winter sports were limited to home-style rinks, or the town rink, and only when it was cold enough to support ice.
The curling rink, with its refrigeration unit, was always popular.
'Bonspiel-ing' was a sport in itself.
The town was founded on and supported by, farming and ranching.
Most of the vehicles that rumbled down the streets were dusty farm trucks, many containing a farm animal or two.
And everyone knew everyone else.
Their address, phone number, family members.
Even pets.
It was a wonderful way to grow up.
Like an enormous, caring family . . .
I loved growing up in Milk River.
It was a perfect life.
But that 'small-town' life is largely vanished everywhere now.
Oh, one can catch glimpses of it.
Friendly neighbourhoods.
Caring neighbours.
But the absolute freedom of those days is gone.
Replaced by something . . . darker.
More suspicious.
It's a great pity.
What are your memories of growing up?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Dressed for Success

Ready, set...
We are and always have been, a Church attending family.
We love it.
And I was raised to believe that, to show proper respect, we should always go dressed in our best.
And that included our children.
So from their very earliest days, our girls were in dresses.
Hair neatly done.
And our boys in suits and ties.
Sometimes, when we left, our home was in complete disarray.
Okay, often, when we left, our home was in complete disarray.
But we were neat and clean.
Even the youngest of us.
When our oldest boys were born, I made each of them a white shirt and tie and a three-piece suit; jacket, pants and vest.
They looked . . . dressy.
At least I thought so.
The clothes were handed down to our youngest son, who came some years behind.
So, at the age of 14 months, he was dressed for church in a little brown suit and vest, with a white shirt and dark red tie.
He looked like a miniature accountant.
All he needed was the tiny briefcase.
Moving on . . .
During our worship service, he wet his diaper.
And everything else below the waist.
I took him to the Mother's room to make repairs.
Unfortunately, all I had to put him in was a fresh diaper.
The pants would have to go home for cleaning.
Fortunately, all of the upper garments has survived.
Now, my son was dressed in a white shirt and tie. Vest and jacket.
And diaper.
Okay, the accountant image was shot forever.
Or maybe not . . .
We headed back to the chapel.
He, happy to be dry once more.
Me, praying that no one would notice my baby, dressed in a less-than-normal manner.
My prayer wasn't answered.
We quietly opened the door and slipped inside.
So far so good.
We crept towards our bench.
Still well.
I released his little hand to slide into the bench.
And that's when the little cretin saw his opportunity to escape.
Giggling shrilly, he dashed up the aisle towards the front of the chapel.
I started to go after him, but stopped when I realized that the entire congregation was now watching us. I stared after the rapidly retreating shirt, tie, jacket and vest.
And diaper.
I was torn between stopping the charge.
And admitting that he was mine.
I should point out here, that our chapel has two aisles, one on either side of the large room, as well as a wide space at the front and back.
My son reached the front and started across towards the other side.
Still shrieking happily.
I studied him, trying to figure out the best and fastest way to knock him into next week stop him.
I realized that when he reached the far side, he only had two options. Go back the way he had come, or start down the far aisle.
I was betting on the latter.
As calmly as I could with the entire congregation now ignoring the struggling speaker and watching the two of us, I walked back up the aisle towards the back of the room. Then began to make my way across, paralleling my son's path.
He turned the corner at the front and started down the far aisle towards the back.
Hah! I knew it!
I cut him off at the pass, scooped him into my arms and disappeared through the far door and into the safe, unpopulated hallway.
Still shrieking.
Him, not me.
Though I was considering it.
I collapsed into a chair.
And sighed weakly.
Mission accomplished.
People thought the whole episode was 'cute' and 'sweet' and 'hilarious'.
They were so understanding.
I and my family however, will never forget.
And now we have a whole new meaning for the words, 'Sunday suit'.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Verbal Tactics

Now that I have your attention . . .

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 had our twenty-month-old son, Mark, in the highchair.
Eating his favourite - pancakes.
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!”
I'm assuming he meant GRant.
His father's name.
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?”
“More pancake, Honey!”
We had created a monster.

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