Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Scar

She was sitting on my knee, studying my face as only a toddler can.
Wha's that, Gramma?" She pointed.
"My chin," I said helpfully.
"No, Gramma . . . that!" She pointed again.
"Oh, that's a scar, sweetheart."
She touched it. "Owww!" she said.
"It doesn't hurt, sweetheart. It's old. Like Gramma."
"Gramma got it from a cow."
She stared at me. Skepticism writ large in the two-year-old expression.  No way the gentle cows from the books we read could ever have given Gramma the two-inch scar she sported across her chin.
"Yep. A cow," I repeated.
So, for my granddaughter, and those who haven't heard the story, a repost . . .

Me and GollyGee. Ready for action...

I never used a saddle.
Only a 'riding pad'.
Tacking up was amazingly easier. Riding much more natural.
And no stirrups to get in the way.
But it afforded other . . . complications. For one thing you could never use a rope.
Nothing to dally to.
Chasing down and securing a calf presented . . . certain challenges.
But . . . Adapt. Adopt. Become adept. The theme song of ranch life.
I simply rode up beside them and leaned off to one side, catching said calf by the tail. Then I slid off on top of him. Or her.
It was fool proof.
Until I met Cow 175.
Head on.
But I am getting ahead of myself . . .
The day started out much as any other. I was 'riding herd'. Checking to see if anyone had calved, or needed help in doing so. I came across a small, obviously newborn calf hidden in the tall grass.
I should explain that a new cow mother will instruct her new calf to lie quietly until she returns.
I don't know how they do this. But they do.
The new little calves will simply lie there while you vaccinate them and check them over.
But the final step, the one where the calf is officially identified and tagged to match mama, is the trickiest.
Because this requires the attendance of said mama.
Imagine trying to pick out the mama when all the cows and calves . . . look the same.
I found that the best way was to straddle the calf and make 'distressed baby' noises. Guaranteed to encourage any mama to come on the run.
It worked.
She came.
She saw.
She attacked.
Now I should mention here that my Dad raised Polled Herefords. The breed known for their gentle dispositions. Oh, and also a breed that has no horns. Thus the word 'polled'.
They don’t need them. Let's just say that if they had them, my scar would look a whole lot different.
And this story would have had a vastly different ending.
See that 'poll' on her head, between her ears?
Avoid that.
Moving on . . .
175 hit me with the pointy part of her head. The part between her ears made entirely of bone. Really hard bone.
I saw stars and quite a bit of the prairie as I left the calf.
In a summersault.
The culprit and her offspring wasted no time in vacating the area.
I got to my feet and stared after them, fuzzily. I had lost my glasses in the encounter. But that didn’t even slow me down.
I piled back onto my horse and started after the two, quickly nabbing the calf once more. This time, I took the precaution of dragging it beneath my horse.
Something else you should know is that throughout my years on the ranch, I was known for riding really . . . ummm . . . green horses. Usually radically unsuited to ranch life. GollyGee, my mount of the moment was totally in keeping with this reputation. She was an ex-racehorse. Tall, lean, fast, and really . . . un-smart. Usually, a person walking anywhere near her would have sent her, by the most direct route, to the moon.
And a person dragging something toward her? To Jupiter.
Perhaps the anger radiating off me - in waves - had a stupefying effect. Perhaps she was merely trying something new. Self preservation.
Whichever. She stood like a rock as I dragged the 50 pounds of protesting red and white calf beneath her.
Now most cows are afraid of horses. Fortunately for me, this particular cow was only over-protective, not suicidal.
She did laps while I injected and tagged her calf.
Then I stood up, releasing the baby, but before it could regain its feet and rejoin its mama, I walked over and booted her. Twice.
I don't know what it did for her, but it made me feel good.
Then I watched as the two of them headed for some human-less spot.
Riding back to the scene of the crime, I searched around until I finally discovered my glasses. Miraculously undamaged.
Then I rode home and stabled my horse.
And here is where the story really gets interesting . . .
My Mom was the daughter of a rancher. Her years of ranching experience were many and varied. But she could still be shocked.
Something I did.
On a regular basis.
When I walked in the kitchen door, she screamed. And ran for a towel. It was only then that I realized that I could feel the tip of my tongue.
Through my bottom lip.
And that my shirt was completely covered in blood.
Huh. How did I miss that?!


  1. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing!!

    You are a tough cookie.

  2. How did your mother survive you?!

  3. Oh my, that was quite a rip roaring story. You had my whole attention on every word of this one. It was a good scar story.

    1. Thank you, LeAnn. It's fun to remember . . . now.

  4. Repeating Susan Kane, how did your mother survive you? She's one tough mum, I guess.
    I remember the first time I read this and how I worried that your glasses would be broken or lost forever.

    1. Naw. My glasses survived many an altercation with animals. It was me sitting on them they had a difficult time with . . .


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