Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, February 22, 2014


Supplier of kindliness. And food.
The Stringam ranch was a large spread situated some twenty miles from the town of Milk River, Alberta.
The land stretched for miles along the Alberta-Montana border.
The buildings were nestled in a picturesque prairie valley somewhere in the middle, surrounded by tall cliffs and the lazy sweep of the south fork of the Milk River itself.
It was nine miles to the nearest neighbour.
But we got there as often as we could.
Or, at least we kids did.
Maybe I should explain . . .
In my day, the school bus service ended at Nine-Mile corner, a triangle of crossroads exactly – you guessed it - nine miles from the ranch.
This necessitated the driving, twice a day, of a vehicle to intercept said bus.
Okay, it was something unheard-of in this day of school bus service to your door, but it was a fact in the sixties.
Mom was the driver of choice, with occasional relief work by Dad.
But that’s only a peripheral to my story . . .
Less than a mile from that corner, at the end of a long driveway, was the Sproad farm. Our nearest neighbours.
Ben and Clestia Sproad were an elderly couple who raised sheep and milk cows. Their daughter had married and moved away and they had settled into a routine of farm work, household duties, grandparenting and kindliness.
Their home was a haven of peace, cleanliness, love and fabulous German baking.
Every day, after the bus had deposited our little group beside the road, and if our intercept vehicle was not in sight, we would excitedly begin the long trek toward the promise of smiling faces and wonderful food.
We didn’t make it often.
Usually, the ranch station wagon would come skidding around the corner in a cloud of dust and slide to a halt beside us, before we had taken much more than a few steps.
But occasionally, if Mom had been delayed, we managed the ten-minute walk and actually grabbed the brass ring.
Or, in this case, the freshly-baked reward for our efforts.
Served happily by Mrs. Sproad, and accompanied by her soft, cheerful chatter.
“Oh, Di-ane! You are getting zo big. Zoon you’ll be taller than me! Here. Have another.” And she was right. By the time I was in sixth grade, I had passed her by.
On these special days, Mom would appear, rather red-faced and spilling apologies. “Oh, Clestia! I’m so sorry! I got tied up . . .”
It didn’t matter. Mrs. Sproad would laugh and offer something to Mom as well.
Soon we would be on the road back to the ranch.
Still tired from the day.
But with bellies filled with yumminess and hearts filled with cheer.
Nine-Mile corner no longer exists.
And the Sproads have long been gone.
But I can still taste that baking.
And feel the love.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Unin'habit'ed Nun

Also a Sister

In our church, everyone is addressed either as 'Brother' or 'Sister'.
It gives a fun, family feel to the congregation.
And to the whole 'attending church' scenario.
It was something I was raised with.
Women my Mom's age were Sisters.
Men were Brothers.
Life was simple.
Moving forward twenty years.
Still attending church.
Still addressing each other as either Brother or Sister.
But now, there was a new generation, calling me Sister.
I should point out, here, that when you work in the children's organization, or Primary, you instantly gain rock-star status if your class members meet you outside of church.
Hence, you can be wandering in the mall and a young voice will scream out, "Mom, look! It's Sister Tolley!"
And I do mean scream.
Back to my story . . .
One day, I was shopping with my children, plus a few.
Because who wants to go shopping with just your family?
A cry suddenly rattled the rafters of the local Safeway.
"Sister Tolley! I didn't know you shopped here, too! Look! Look! It's Sister Tolley!"
And then a chorus of "Hi, Sister Tolley!" "Sister Tolley, look what I'm wearing!" And the all-important, "Sister Tolley, look what I can do!"
It was adorable.
I oohed and aahed over their clothes and accomplishments and our two groups separated, intent once more on whatever it was that had originally brought us into the store.
One of the boys who had come along for the amazing experience of shopping with two parents and ten children turned to my son and whispered, loudly, "Wow! I didn't know your Mom was a nun!"
Okay. Not something you hear every day.
Or ever.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sleeping Through Disaster

Mark. With his friend.
Our family loves root beer.
And our eldest son can sleep through anything.
These two facts are related.
Maybe I'd better explain . . .
My Husby loves to make root beer.
And he's very good at it.
I got my first taste of his homemade brew on our wedding night.
Neither of us drink alcohol, so he had brought several bottles of the magical elixir in his suitcase so we could toast each other.
It was . . . fun.
And thus began a family tradition.
I should explain here that root beer making is an exact science requiring skill and knowledge.
And large containers.
Grant used a garbage pail.
A new one, purchased for that exact reason.
Just so you don't get the wrong idea.
Moving on . . .
He would add the precise amount of water, then the elixir, then the sugar.
And finally, the yeast, the vitally important 'makes everything else work' ingredient.
Then the stirring.
And finally, the fun part, the bottling.
One important aspect of root beer making is the two to three weeks of 'construction' or 'fermenting' time.
It must sit quietly in a warm spot during that all-important period.
That's where our son, Mark, comes into the picture.
Mark was our first-born. He was little.
We kept his room warm.
Perfect for a couple of cases of root beer bottles waiting to 'become'.
So to speak.
Now, the biggest problem with home-brew is that, as the brew ages, the pressure inside the bottle builds. And after a few uses, some of said bottles may become weak.
And you can't tell, by looking, which are so affected.
You can probably guess what happens then.
Pop! Fizz!
It was very early morning. Grant and I were still soundly asleep.
The glorious rosy sun was just rising on another perfect prairie morning.
It's my story, I can remember is how I want.
Suddenly, there was a dull 'popping' sound.
Then another.
We were instantly awake. And knew, just as instantly, and with the instinct of new parents, what those sounds meant.
Our root beer was ready.
And we had a couple of weak bottles.
And, more importantly, they were posing a very real threat to our baby, sleeping mere inches away in his crib.
Imagining projectiles of glass flying everywhere, we scrambled from our bed, threw open the baby's room door and charged inside.
Before you get too excited, I should explain that things weren't as bad as we had imagined.
The bottles had obviously become weak at the base of the neck.
They looked as though they had been neatly beheaded.
The neck and lid were sitting right beside each bottle.
Our sleeping baby was fine.
Visions of flying glass faded from our minds and we immediately turned to the next problem.
Clean up.
Jabbering excitedly, we gingerly disposed of the broken pieces and hauled the remaining cases from the room.
Then proceeded with the scrubbing and vacuuming.
Finally satisfied with our efforts, we prepared to leave the room.
It was then I realized that Mark hadn't made a sound throughout the entire . . . loud . . . process.
I peeped into the crib.
He was still rosily, happily, soundly asleep.
Snoring slightly in that cute 'baby' way.
My Husby and I learned several things that day:
1. Re-use your root beer bottles judiciously.
2. Don't ferment your root beer
3. In the baby's room
4. Unless he's a great sleeper

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

One Dirty Dish

For once, he’d listened to his wife,
How to ameliorate her life,
And he went without delay,
To take her on a holiday.

But as he hastened to comply,
In proving he was one sweet guy,
He left his glistening lab in less
Than pristine order, I confess.

While those two hurried who knows where,
One petri dish abandoned there,
A part of his criteria,
Was moistened with bacteria.

When they returned, that fateful dish,
Was not as clean as they could wish.
Bacteria, possession had,
And things were looking rather bad.

Except one place had not been ‘got’,
No icky growth upon that spot.
Instead, a little bit of mold
Had landed there and taken hold.

Beating off the icky stuff,
And proving it had strength enough,
Its presence brought discovery,
And new ways for recovery.

I guess you’ve guessed by now that guy
Was christened Fleming from on high.
And penicillin, started small
S’the best discovery of all!

After that, we note that he
Made no startling discoveries.
His wife, by his chaos dismayed
Decided she would hire a maid.

Today, Delores of Under the Porch Light, has issued these six words: Listenglistenchristenmoistenhastenpenicillin
Now go and see what the rest of her slaves co-workers have done with them!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Coming Home

In 1973, at the age of nineteen, Husby (to be) departed for France to serve a mission for our church.
It was something he had always wanted to do.
And he had been preparing for it his whole life.
For two years, he wore out his shoes, walking the streets of Paris, meeting people.
Growing to love both them and their country.
And then, in an instant, it was over.
His time was done and he was headed home.
His flight was booked.
Letters confirming dates and times were sent to his family, who would be meeting his plane at the nearest international airport two hours from the family’s home town.
All was ready.
He arrived, bag and baggage, at the airport in Paris.
Only to discover that the flight he was booked on . . . didn’t exist.
Umm . . .
Frantically, he spoke to the people behind the counter.
No problem.
A new flight was suggested.
A flight that would have an overnight stop in one of the great cities in the US.
And then land in Calgary sometime the next day.
It was his best option.
He booked it.
Now, how to let his family know?
There was no time for a letter.
Overseas calls were ‘iffy’.
A flash of brilliance.
He would send a telegram!
He headed for the telegraph office.
Then, family duly notified, he climbed aboard the plane and relaxed.
Forty-eight hours later, heart pounding with excitement, he waited on the Calgary tarmac until the rest of the passengers had deplaned.
Then, closing the zipper on his bag, he stood and made his way out of the plane.
I should mention, here, that when missionaries come home families tend to get a little over-excited. After all, it’s been two years since they last saw each other.
Definitely justifiable.
It’s not unheard-of for groups of fifty or sixty people to crowd into the airport waiting room.
With banners and brass bands and dancing bears and acrobats and fireworks.
Okay, well, maybe not the fireworks.
Back to my story . . .
Husby was expecting, well, not a brass band, but a bit of enthusiasm.
Some smiles, some laughter.
A few warm hugs.
What he got was an empty waiting room.
He stood there.
And blinked.
His warm welcome was a complete frost.
No one was there to greet him . . .
One phone call alerted his family.
And two hours later, they arrived.
And he did get his warm, enthusiastic welcome.
When the excitement had slowed to a gentle boil, they were able to compare notes.
The family had been at the airport the day before as per their original agreement.
They had waited.
And waited.
And finally given up in tears and despair and headed home.
But what had happened?
For the first time – before or after – the telegraph office in Lethbridge had ‘broken down’.
All telegrams had been rerouted to another office.
And Husby’s had ended up somewhere between the two.
Lost in the ethereal world of the wires.
His great once-in-a-lifetime entrance.
Spoiled by the hand of fate.
And a single broken wire.

Each week, Delores of The Feathered Nest issues a challenge for those of us brave (or crazy) enough to participate. The challenge is six little words. Use them or lose them. I've been behind a bit, so for the next few days, I'm playing catch-up.
It's too much fun to miss . . .
Last week's words: instanttelegramflashbrilliantzipper and frost

Monday, February 17, 2014

'Bean' There

You want me to eat what . . .?

My Dad always claimed to be allergic to onions.
Whenever he ordered any burger, he always asked them to 'hold the onions'.
We just assumed that he really was allergic to onions.
Later in life, we discovered that his reticence was due, not to allergies, but to aversions.
There's a difference.
But what a scheme!
My kids tried to use it, too.
Our eldest, Mark, became quite expert.
His particular nemesis?
Harmless, deep-browned, baked beans.
My personal favourite.
And one of the major ingredients in my award-winning chili.
Something that appeared with amazing regularity on the family dinner table.
From his very earliest years, Mark exhibited an unparallelled reluctance to put those nasty, evil beans anywhere near his mouth.
Regardless of how many times they might appear on his table.
Once, when he was just learning to say the blessing on the food, his father tried to trick him into 'bean acceptance'.
Grant: “Father in Heaven.”
Mark: “Father in Heaven.” (But imagine it in a little 20 month-old voice.)
Grant: “We thank thee for this food.”
Mark: “We thank thee for this food.”
Grant: “Because it's so yum.”
Mark: “Because it's so not yum.”
Laughter (Grant).
More laughter (Mom).
Grin (Mark).
And so it went.
For 19 years.
At the age of 19, Mark received a mission call for our church to Boston, Massachusetts.
He excitedly prepared to go.
I took him aside. “Mark, you know what they call Boston, don't you?”
“Bean Town.”
His face whitened a little. “Bean Town?”
“Yep. Where do you think the term 'Boston Baked Beans' comes from?”
He had to sit down for that one. “Boston Baked Beans,” he said, faintly.
“Yep. So you'd better get used to eating them, because you will probably be getting them morning, noon and night.”
He went anyways, brave boy that he was.
And returned two years later.
We met him at the airport.
We had sent our little boy.
We brought back an adult.
The first thing I asked him was how he felt about beans now that he had spent two years in the midst of the world's best bean eaters.
His response?
“I just got served beans for the first time yesterday.”
Even the 'Bean Towners' catered to my son . . .
Mark eats beans today.
Mostly to show his children it can be done.
But he doesn't wage much of a battle.
His oldest daughter Megan's favourite food is Grandma's chili.
Okay, maybe the acorn skipped a generation, but it still landed near the tree.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Mom Spit

Notice the cute little boys.
One with hair. One with . . . cheeks.
Ignore the glasses.

When I was expecting my second son, I craved anything 'tomato'.
Pizza, spaghetti, anything I could put tomatoes in or on.
But especially tacos.
Mmmmm. Tacos.
There was only one problem.
I couldn't get them hot enough.
I would buy the hottest salsa I could find.
Not enough.
Add a couple of drops of Tabasco.
Still not enough.
A few more drops. (I admit it. My spice world was limited to salsa and Tabasco.)
Almost there.
Seven drops.
And that's the way I ate them.
The entire nine months.
My baby boy was born without any hair on his head.
I think I burned it off.
This is relevant.
Moving on . . .
After the baby arrived, my husband took his little family out for fish and chips.
Mmmmm. More food.
I had our newest baby in a snuggly on my chest.
Toasty and comfortable.
Just the top of his little, bald head peeking above the dark green corduroy of the carrier.
My dinner arrived.
I looked at the loaded plate.
Then at my baby.
I could take the carrier off and lay it on the table, I suppose.
But that would take effort.
And the food was there, waiting to be devoured.
Hunger decided.
I would just eat.
Over the baby.
It was just like being pregnant again.
Sort of.
All went well.
The mushy peas went first.
That was easy. I just held the bowl close and spooned.
Then the fresh, deep-fried, perfectly cooked fish.
And finally, to top everything off, the thick, golden brown chips.
With ketchup.
And so it went.
Then, that fateful dip.
Right on the top of my baby's bald head.
What to do?
I could get a wipe and clean it off politely.
Pfff. One swipe of my tongue would take care of it much, much better.
I happily went back to eating my chips.
That's when I noticed the woman sitting at the next table.
Looking at me.
A frozen expression of horror on her face.
Clucking in disgust, she stood up and marched huffily from the restaurant.
I remember being a trifle embarrassed.
And briefly uncomfortable.
Then I shrugged.
In the days before wipes, Mom used to clean entire faces with mom spit and a Kleenex.
It's all a matter of perspective.
And hunger.

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