Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, November 2, 2013

They Never Look Up

-or-  I'm in Reverse! Everything Stay Out of My Way!

Our Delores has issued this week's challenge.
static, precursor, inclement, tractor, stump, racing
Six unrelated words that we must stitch together into something cohesive.
Or at least believable.
Fortunately, tractors and I have a history.
What follows is, unhappily, true . . . 
My victim. Again.
Dad had bought a new tractor.
Painted bright yellow, it was a thing of real beauty.
Or so the men in my family thought.
Pffff. Men.
It was parked proudly between the shop (formerly our home - see here) and the pasture, wherein my horse was . . . erm . . . pastured.
The tractor stood there in lonely glory, awaiting the delivery of two more back wheels.
Now it was unheard of, at that time, for a tractor to have more than the requisite two.
Back wheels, that is.
But this one did.
Or soon would have.
Each of the existing wheels had three feet of extra axle sticking out in happy anticipation.
This is important and a precursor to what follows.
And I didn't care.
I was racing to get my horse ready for a show.
I needed to load up my tack.
This entailed maneuvering the car between the pasture fence and the shed door.
Easily done.
I could see the tractor.
I could see the fence.
I could see the shed.
All was well.
What on earth had I hit?
There was the shed.
There was the tractor.
There was the fence.
All in perfect sight.
Okay. I was stumped.
I got out to inspect.
I should point out here that this was the same car that I had only recently filled with diesel fuel. My popularity had developed chills and fever over that event and was still rather . . . inclement. Any new stunt guaranteed that storm clouds would swirl forever more.
I walked to the back of the car.
To see six inches of extra axle poking into the rear car fender.
The extra axle.
That would, one day, support extra wheels.
In all of my careful looking, I had forgotten to look up.
To the stupid axle hanging in the air three and a half feet above the ground.
Once more, I drove to the house to show my dad.
Who gave me static and labeled me a driving menace.
He was right.

P.S. Tune in tomorrow for the rest of Delores' words . . .

Friday, November 1, 2013

Ups and Downs

Living on a great Alberta cattle ranch has its ups and downs.
Maybe I should explain . . .
In Alberta, cattle are generally raised in one of two locations.
In a feedlot. This is for the ‘feeder’ cattle. Those animals one to two years old without offspring.
The upside of a feedlot operation is that when you have to check on your animals, you just walk out into the corral and . . . look. The downside is it’s rather smelly.
But the cattle are happy and healthy with regular feedings and good friends to stand around with, so all is well.
The other location most frequently used is the field. Now the field, as suggested by its name, is out . . . in the field. So . . . not close to the house.
Checking the cattle every day requires a good horse and rider. (ie. me and/or Chico or Bluey or Zee or Zephyr or Fancy or Peanuts or Pinto or Rebel or Lady or Topper or . . .)
Or Dad in the family car. (ie. yikes)
Now, for many fields, the second option wouldn’t be a problem. Those fields are flat. (Saskatchewan flat. Google it…)
In our part of Alberta, the fields aren’t.
Flat, that is.
Maneuvering around them on a horse is simplicity in itself.
In a car? Less so.
And still, Dad did it.
A suggestion of a Sunday drive inevitably ended up in one field or another, ‘just to have a look’.
I, in the back seat would white-knuckle the entire trip as the car went straight up.
Or straight down.
Or, the very worst. Straight sideways.
We kids would roll around in the back seat like dried peas (seatbelts were only something they used at Cape Canaveral).
Fortunately, the speeds were kept to a minimum as we crawled about the field.
But that allowed for me to imagine tipping over backwards. Or forwards. Or sideways.
In slow-motion.
Believe me, I would rather have been crawling.
Quite literally.
The smell of sage in my nostrils.
The feel of the stiff, prairie grass under my palms.
The threat of some messy accident far away in the ‘never-going-to-happen’ realm.
One good thing came of our little trips through the fields.
I mastered the art of breathing only in short gasps.
P.S. I get sick on boats. Something about the up-ing and down-ing and sideways-ing. Perhaps a holdover from my childhood . . .?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Surprising the Surpriser

Little Sister's birthday has always taken a back seat to Halloween. This year, I'm changing that . . .
Happy Birthday, L'il Sis!!!

 It was a surprise.
In more ways than one . . .
Mom and I were away for the day . . . somewhere.
My twelve-year-old brother and ten-year-old sister were home alone.
Well, technically, they were in the house alone.
Dad and my older brother were out in the barnyard.
But I digress . . .
Little Sister decided to surprise everyone.
With a delicious, delightful, delectable (that’s all the yummy ‘d’ words I can think of right now) dessert.
A cake.
She had seen Mom do it.
Even helped.
She dragged out the recipe and equipment and proceeded to assemble and stir.
All went well.
Soon, the smell of ‘cake’ was permeating the house.
Skillfully, she tipped the finished product out onto a platter.
And pulled out the ingredients for icing.
Sugar and milk and vanilla.
All according to her handy, dandy (oooh, another ‘d’ word) recipe card.
She added the requisite amount of sugar and milk.
A dribble of vanilla.
And . . . voila . . . what’s wrong with this stuff?!
The mixture at the bottom of the bowl more closely resembled soup than icing.
What had she done wrong?
She read the recipe again. She had measured correctly. Why wasn’t it working?!
She added more sugar.
Still a watery, sugary mess.
She knew that Mom often added flour to soups to thicken.
Maybe that’s what she needed. A bit of flour . . .
Nope. If anything, that made it worse.
She stared into the bowl.
Maybe that was how it was supposed to look?
She tried smearing some on her perfect cake.
Then she did something not mentioned on the recipe card.
She cried.
And that’s when Mom and I walked in the door.
I think Mom managed to salvage the situation.
And the cake.
With a gently-taught lesson on which kind of sugar to use. (Did you know there were kinds?)
Powdered is best for icing.
Turns out that granulated only works in certain, very select situations.
And flour never, ever goes into icing.
Little Sister still bakes. Infrequently, according to her.
Maybe she simply too busy being a wife, mom, grand-mom, flight attendant, business owner, cub leader, runner and all-around good friend to worry about anything else.
And that’s okay.

Love you, Best Friend!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jail Break

Countdown to Halloween . . .
Mischief-maker extraordinaire!
Halloween was a time of hijinks and high-spirited fun in Milk River in the 60s.
Much like it was everywhere.
My brother's stories always surpassed anything my friends and I could dream up, however.
Our lone constable tried hard to keep order in his town.
By different techniques . . .
1. Keeping a strong presence. Rather hard when you are the only cop in  town.  And the 'hooligans' (his word, not mine) know that as soon as you've driven past, you can't see them.
2. Locking everything up. Also only effective if one actually . . . locks . . .
But I am getting ahead of myself.
One group were especially rowdy.
My eldest brother's group.
Oh, they didn't do actual damage, unless you count the time they burned down a rickety old shed and, along with it, the power lines to the entire town.
But that is another story.
They just had fun.
One Halloween, our intrepid, lone policeman decided that the best defense was a good offence.
And the only way to do that was to round up the troublemakers before they actually . . . made . . . trouble.
Which he did.
My brother and his friends were escorted, under protest, to the local jail and locked into one of the cells.
Throughout the evening, many more were brought in.
The cell was getting crowded.
Our policeman was quite proud of himself.
He had single-handedly stopped the mischief in our town.
What he hadn't considered was the imagination and daring of this particular group of young men.
And the security of his police station.
With its back door that was never locked.
Something that all of the kids in town knew.
Partway through the evening, one of the mayor's sons sneaked in by that door and gave the 'prisoners', which included his brother, a file.
An actual file.
I am not making this up.
Then he left.
The boys locked in the cell immediately went to work and, in short order, filed through one of the bars.
Turns out it can be done . . .
One by one, they sneaked through the opening and out the back door.
One of them, however, refused to leave.
He wanted to see the face of the constable when he discovered the empty cell.
He got his wish.
The constable came in to collect one of the young men for delivery to a waiting parent.
He found, not a sound cell full of potential law-breakers; but instead, a cell minus one bar and most of his prisoners.
Consternation warred with chagrin in his expressive face. (Ooh! Good sentence!)
The lone young man was laying back on a bunk, both hands behind his head.
He sat up. "Sir! There's been a jail-break!"
And you thought Milk River was a sleepy little town!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Party That Wasn't

Okay. Picture us in costumes. And masks. 
It was the most exciting two months of my life!
And it just kept getting better!
Maybe I should explain . . .
I was five, turning six.
And, finally, that day of days arrived.
That day I’d been looking forward to since . . . I had learned to look forward to . . . things.
I got to go to school with my older brothers and sister.
Surely the best of times.
First school supplies and lunch box.
First bus ride.
First time walking into the new school. (And it was new. We were the first grade one class to actually start there . . .)
First teacher.
First friends.
First enemies.
First lessons.
First mistakes.
First heart-stopping successes.
And then, first time planning a Halloween party.
School just kept getting better and better.
We would have treats and games and more treats and more games.
And be able to dress up.
Mom was right. School was the best place on earth to be.
And to make things even better, our class was going to have a second party.
At our teacher’s home!
Okay, I should probably explain, here, that there was no second party at Miss Woronoski’s home. I really don’t know where I got that idea.
And it was mine alone.
Mom dropped us kids off to go trick-or-treating (Moms did that in 1960) and we happily started in.
After a few minutes of knocking on doors and collecting treats, we got to my teacher’s boarding house. Bursting with excitement, I knocked on the door. The lady there was nice and gave us some treats. Then I explained that I was there for the party with Miss Woronoski. She looked rather puzzled, but shrugged and nodded and let me in.
Miss Woronoski wasn’t there. She was out with friends.
But I was welcome to wait.
So I did.
For hours.
Okay, I was six, so it was probably only a few minutes.
When Miss Woronoski finally arrived, she was, justifiably, confused to find one of her students waiting in her sitting room for a party that existed only in the child’s mind.
But she was sweet about it.
And did her best to entertain me until my Mom showed up.
Then she ushered me out the door, whispering words of comfort and sympathy and encouragement in my little ears.
Lest you feel sorry for me, please know I really didn’t miss out on anything that night.
I collected plenty of treats, as well as a couple of hugs from a wonderful teacher.
And isn’t that what Halloween is all about?
Almost ready to go. That's me...eating, as usual.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Any Excuse

Countdown to Halloween . . .
Tristan - acting evil.
Our family loves to dress up.
Maybe that's the reason we love theatre so much.
It's legal there . . .
For my husby and I, it started in our respective childhoods.
We carried it, happily, into our own family.
Through the years, any excuse to dress up was instantly seized.
St. Patrick's Day.
As I said, any excuse.
Our costume collection grew apace (real word).
In no time, it outgrew the large cardboard box that I had originally stuffed things into and into its own room.
The kids spent many, many happy hours in that room, playing dress-up.
As they grew, so did their costumes, becoming more elaborate and detailed.
Bunnies, ladybugs and clowns became Elizabethan gowns and chain mail.
And I mean real chain mail.
With gauntlets.
The room that holds the costumes now is bigger than our first living room.
Our neighbourhood has grown accustomed to seeing our family traipsing around, dressed . . . unusually.
It's fun.
And now our grandchildren have caught the spirit.
Sometimes, good things are passed down through the generations . . .
Queen of Hearts

And yes, that's real chain mail. He knits it . . .
Expecting their/our first child/grandchild

A night in Bethlehem

Notice the backpack. Authentic in every way! Not!
My Husby as Teddy Roosevelt
Passing it on to the next generation . . .
Yes. They are PJ's

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Bare Blue Stringam
Both of my parents served in the 4-H calf club in our community.
This duty included attendance at the club's annual summer retreat.
I know you are wondering what this has to do with nicknames, but wait for it . . .
Because both of my parents were going on the trip, all of their children had to come along.
My brother, Blair, was three.
A happy, friendly little boy.
Who didn't always spit out his words clearly.
One young man, a member of the club, asked the smiling little towhead his name.
"Blair Lewis Stringam."
"Blair Lewis Stringam.
"Admittedly, it came out sounding something like 'Blairloostringam'.
But I digress . . .
"Bare Blue Stringam?"
"No! Blair Lewis Stringam."
"Okay. Bare Blue Stringam."
And just like that, he had a nickname.
It's that easy.
My Grampa, George Stringam had a younger brother who couldn't pronounce Grampa's name clearly.
It came out "Dard."
Thus, his nickname. Dard.
Which my brother, George, inherited the moment he was born.
My daughter, Tiana, was learning to spell her name.
She wrote the letters 'T', 'I' and 'N' properly. But her 'A's' had the lines on the wrong sides, thus disguising them as 'B's'.
Her second oldest brother, Erik was looking at a sheet of paper she had been practicing on. "Who's Tibnb?" he asked.
A name we call her to this day.
My eldest daughter was . . . bouncy.
She hopped everywhere.
We called her 'Tigger Pie'.
A lot.
So much that, on her first day of school, she insisted that it was her real name.
I, myself have been through several incarnations of my name as told here.
My MIL didn't agree with nicknames. "Why," she would ask, "do people choose perfectly good names for their children, then go out of their way to call them something else entirely?!"
A good question . . .

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