Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Prairie Pie

On the prairies, pies come in two forms.
The edible.
And the inedible.
One kind is made from prairie fruit.
The other comes from cows.
One smells wonderful.
The other . . . doesn't.
Just FYI.
Sooo . . . prairie fruit.
This comes in the form of raspberries, strawberries, some apples, choke cherries and saskatoons.
The first three are grown mostly in gardens.
The latter two, in the creases and folds of the landscape near water.
The first three can be picked at any time during the summer, as they ripen.
The last two need planning.
Especially the saskatoons.
Their picking requires a family adventure.
And that's where the fun comes in.
Sometime in the summer, Mom's stack of pails would magically appear.
It was the signal for all of us kids to quickly get into our swimming suits because we were making a trip to the river to pick berries and go for a swim.
The best of times.
Mom had several favourite berry-picking spots.
All of them thick with bushes.
And none of them near our house.
She would load us, our pails and our towels, into the car.
And in a cloud of dust, we were off.
The saskatoon bushes started at the top of the cliff.
And grew downward.
Toward the river.
You had to move carefully.
And hang on.
Like little goats, we would scamper all over those bushes.
Or pretending to pick.
Mom's plan was always to have each of us fill a bucket.
Simple enough.
If kids hadn't also come equipped with mouths.
One handful into the bucket.
One handful into the mouth.
And so it went.
After a while, each of us would have half a bucket of berries.
A blue mouth.
And full tummy.
With the hot, summer sun shining down, the smell of baking sage and grass in ones nostrils, and one's family gathered around, it was pure heaven.
Then we would swim.
And to top it off, fresh saskatoon pie when we got home.
Did I mention the best of days?

P.S. Picking chokecherries wasn't nearly as much fun.
For one thing, they are SOUR.
But they make the nicest syrup.
And that is another story.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Gold Medal Stacking

A good start.
The magic number.
And she was so close!
Gather around. I have a story to tell . . .
Our family loves to eat out.
Someone else cooks.
And cleans.
What’s not to love?!
Our budget doesn’t allow for great frequency.
But we manage it about once a month.
We do have our favourite places, but we like to branch out and explore new locations as well.
On this particular day, we were trying one of the new places.
Famous for their Eggs Benedict and other breakfast foods.
Mmmm. Breakfast . . .
Where was I?
Oh. Right. Barb and Ernies.
Our order had been placed.
We were gnawing on our napkins with hunger pulling children down off the table waiting patiently for our food.
Now, I should mention here that, some years before, in desperation, Husby had created a kid-diverting activity. Creamer-stacking.
You heard me right.
Creamer stacking.
Wherein one stacked creamers. The goal being to see just how high one could stack said creamers.
Okay, so, rocket science, it wasn’t.
But it was diverting.
Husby’s record was sixteen.
Back to my story . . .
There was a bowl of creamers on the table.
Our youngest daughter decided her day had come.
The day when she beat her father’s record.
Carefully, she smoothed out the edges of the paper seals on the little plastic containers.
Carefully matched them. Top-to-top. Bottom to bottom.
One. Then another. Then another.
Other bowls of creamers were secured from other, unoccupied tables.
Her stack grew.
Finally, she placed the sixteenth. The stack shook. Just a bit.
We held our breath.
It steadied.
She reached for the seventeenth creamer.
Set it gently on top and made the microscopic adjustments.
Then, just as she was about to release it and, incidentally, proclaim her new status as World Creamer Stacker Supreme, Ernie, he of the name, Barb and Ernie . . .
Shook. The. Table.
Her carefully arranged stack collapsed.
Along with her world title hopes.
And her euphoric bubble.
It was then we realized that everyone had been watching us, because the rest of the restaurant burst into laughter and clapping.
And totally missed the heated, narrow-eyed glare our daughter turned on the restaurant owner.
Husby’s creamer-stacking record remains unbroken to this day.
Oh, there have been some feeble, half-hearted attempts.
But they're usually abandoned after about seven.
If you’re ever in Edmonton, try Barb and Ernie’s.
The food is fantastic.
But forget the extra activities and stick to eating.
It’s better for Ernie’s health.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

War Wounds

My little soldier.
My kids belong on a stage.
Case in point:
It was a hot, sunny, summer afternoon.
We sometimes get those in Edmonton.
Seven-year-old Erik was riding his bike on the sidewalk.
Next to a street that closely resembled the frenetic scramble of frantic ants when someone has stirred up their nest.
Dozens of neighbourhood kids of every size and variety screamed/shouted/laughed.
Scenarios were being enacted.
Dares carried out.
Counter-dares being proposed.
And through it all, Erik rode his bike serenely up and down.
Up and down.
Up and . . . oops.
Right at the foot of our neighbour’s lawn, in an effort to avoid a collision, he turned.
And toppled off his bike.
I had just come to the door, carrying a bowl of freshly-washed raspberries to offer as a mid-afternoon snack. I watched him go down.
In slow-motion.
Scraping one knee.
He rolled onto his back and, for several seconds, lay there. Then he looked up at me. “Mom!” he shouted. “I fell!”
“I saw you!” I called back. “Come on! Let’s get you fixed up!”
Slowly, he rolled over onto his stomach. Then, with kids running back and forth and even leaping over him, started crawling – crawling – up the lawn toward me.
Dragging his wounded leg.
He looked like a soldier crossing a battlefield.
My little cardboard soldier.
I shook my head and watched him.
Finally, he reached the steps and flung himself onto his back, now looking thoroughly trounced.
“Mom! I hurt my knee! I think I have gangrene!”
I handed him the raspberries and went to get the bandaids.
Two minutes later, he was back on his bike.
Dangerously inflamed, obviously-going-to-fall-right-off knee pumping madly as he rode.
Yep. A stage.

Every week, Delores of Under the Porch Light posts a six-word prompt for her neophytes. 'Do or die!' she tells us.
I did.
This week's words: Cardboardvarietyraspberrytrouncedinflamedgangrene

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

All Gummed Up

Or something similar . . .
We were driving to town.
Maybe that doesn't sound like earth-shattering news to you, but we lived a half-hour away.
When the roads were good.
This was an event.
Mom piled us six kids into the car.
Inquired as to bathroom status.
And started out.
I should mention, here, that the roads into Milk River were never great.
In dry conditions, they were a narrow, dusty, dirty track between two deep ditches.
In wet weather, they were a narrow, greasy, slippery amusement-park ride.
That was anything but amusing.
And they had to be navigated with utmost care and caution.
Picture my Mom's 1964 Envoy hurtling along at 65 MPH.
With six kids rolling about like dried peas.
But we were safe.
Mom had both hands on the wheel.
She would put out her arm if she was applying the brakes.
All was well.
Suddenly, we reached a stretch of road that had been 'graveled'.
I use this term lightly, because said gravel was uncrushed.
Fist to shoe-size. It would probably be more accurate to say it had been 'rocked'. Or 'bouldered'.
Not good.
Mom slowed down, but rocks still spun and bounced, hurtling off into the ditch or hitting the underside of the car with deadly accuracy and vicious intent.
Finally one rock, a little larger than the others, hit with a metal 'clang' that shook the entire car.
Mom applied the brakes.
And deployed her patented arm gesture.
We all got out.
The smell of gasoline was strong in the dusty air.
We leaned down.
The last rock had put a hole in our gas tank.
Precious fuel was escaping, even as we looked.
Mom straightened. What to do? What to do?
My oldest brother's jaws were moving, rhythmically.
For a moment, Mom stared at him.
Then she pounced. "Jerry! Are you chewing gum?"
My brother froze.
In our family, one wasn't allowed to chew gum in the car.
"Is anyone else chewing gum?"
We all stared at her.
She turned back to my brother. "Spit it out!"
"Um . . . why?"
"We can stuff it in the hole and fix the tank!"
But Jerry complied. Spitting a large wad of pink gum into his hand, he wriggled under the car and applied it.
We all bent down and looked.
It seemed to be working.
"Everybody in!" Mom said.
We lost no time, but scrambled back into the car and resumed our journey.
When we reached town, the car slid to a stop and we all piled out and bent over to look.
The gum had worked!
No more leak!
"We patched our gas tank with gum!" I proudly told curious passers-by.
They glanced at Mom's red face for confirmation.
She nodded.
Gum saves the day!

There is a codicil.
The shop that could have repaired our tank was closed for the weekend.
They used to do that in the early 60s.
Mom had to drive home with her gum-patched tank.
Then drive back into town the next day for Church.
And back to the ranch again.
Then into town on Monday to finally effect repairs.
That gum not only got us into town, but it got us back home, back in, back home and back in.
I defy duct tape to perform as well.
Or taste better.
The perfect repair material.
Who knew?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Chicken Anatomy 101

Warning: Graphic chicken action

Mmmm. Dinner!

Some ranch kids end up with a skewed view of life.
Let me explain . . .
Husby was butchering a chicken.
This involves such things as a head and foot-ectomy, removal of several important inner organs, and complete de-feathering.
Our kids had never witnessed this.
Though they had been raised on a ranch, all animals had been sent off site for 'processing'.
This was their first exposure to one of the more graphic of ranch experiences.
I had been a little concerned for their sensibilities.
I needn't have worried.
They were front and center.
And jostling for position.
Grant placed the chosen/unfortunate chicken on the stump and, with one blow, removed the head.
Then he allowed the chicken to go through its death throes.
Then the all-important soaking in hot water to loosen the feathers.
And the gutting and dismembering.
Finally, we had, sitting on a plate, what would eventually be our dinner.
The rest of the chicken, the head, viscera and feathers, were gathered together in a sack for disposal.
Then Husby picked up one of the feet. "Watch this, kids!" he said.
He pulled on a tendon and the foot flexed. Claws closed. 
Uh-oh, I thought.
"It's gonna get you!" Everyone scattered, screaming, as he enacted his own version of Day of the Living . . . Chicken.
Okay, so it'll probably never be a hit.
Back to my story . . .
"Wow, Dad, that is the coolest thing ever!"
"Let me try! Let me try!"
They took turns pulling on the exposed tendon. Squeamish? I think not.
Our youngest daughter grabbed one of the feet.
"I'm gonna get you!" she hollered at her sister.
And the chase was on.
The two of them spent some time pursuing each other.
Finally, breathless and happy, they relinquished their chicken feet to their impatiently waiting brothers.
Who proceeded to enact act two.
And I had been worried.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Sniffed Out

Watch out! She'll get you!
The morning milking happened . . . early.
Before any of the younger kids were stirring.
It was a peaceful time.
Just the milkmaid (ie. me) and the cows.
The afternoon milking, though, was quite different.
While the milker was with the cows, the bustle of afternoon chores was going on all around.
Talk and laughter as the kids fed chickens and pigs.
Held buckets for the calves.
Hauled feed.
Opened and closed gates.
Chased kittens.
It was a busy, happy time.
And the baby generally was left with little to do.
Tristan, said baby, was five.
He had helped feed.
And now was looking for Mom.
I should mention, here, that our little milk barn had two rooms.
One for the business part of the operation.
And a waiting room with a little pen.
I was milking Kitty.
One of our two, gentle little Jersey milk cows.
Bunny was in the outer room, already milked and patiently awaiting her freedom.
Tristan came into the barn.
(Real conversation.)
"I'm here, sweetheart."
"You done?"
I could hear sounds of someone small climbing the gate of the pen.
"Can I wait here?"
"Sure, sweetie. I'll just be a minute."
A heavy sigh. "Okay."
"Did you help feed?"
"Yeah. Are you coming?"
"Pretty soon."
Suddenly, "Mom! Mom!"
"What's the matter?"
"Mom! This cow is coming over!"
Cows are intensely curious. If something comes into their sphere, it needs to be investigated.
And smelled.
And tasted.
"She won't hurt you."
"Mom! She's getting closer!"
"She won't hurt you, sweetie!"
Then, indignantly, "Mom, she's getting sniff on me!"
Cow sniff.
In a world full of troubles, if that's the worst that happens . . .

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Driving With Karen Caution

The Behemoth
Things move.
Big things.
They move.
I have proof.
On the ranch, we had a large power pole.
Full sized.
Firmly planted.
It had been there since the beginning of time.
So . . . for quite a while.
It stood in the very center of the turn-about.
People driving in would go around it, conduct their business and complete the turn as they drove out.
Unless you lived there.
Then you would have to drive in and park.
Preferably somewhere out of the way so the next person would have a place to drive in and turn.
At times it got a little . . . tricky.
I lived there.
I had parked.
I needed to leave.
This entailed backing the van up, maneuvering into the lane, then completing the turn to head out.
I should probably point out here that our van could quite easily have been described as a behemoth (good word!). It held 12 passengers.
Or two parents and six children, neatly spaced to avoid argument-age.
Well to try to avoid argument-age.
Well . . . never mind.
I loaded in the kids.
I sorted out the first argument.
I started the van.
I sorted out the second argument.
Good so far.
The third argument started.
I began to unknot that disagreement just as I stepped on the gas.
The van reversed, as it should.
Straight back.
All of us inside were concentrating on the ongoing conversation.
None of us (ie. me) noticed the pole directly behind the van.
Well, not until we (ie. me) smacked into it.
I pulled ahead and got out to survey the damage.
The bumper had a lovely crease in it, bending it towards the van and forming a point that made it impossible to open the back door.
Double oops.
Later, when I showed my husband, he laughed, shook his head and simply sawed the top point off the dent. Just enough so the door would clear it.
But leaving the dent for all to see.
The conversation went like this . . .
Husby: "Honey, didn't you see the pole? The large one that has been standing in the center of the yard since forever?"
Me: "Ummm . . . I don't know how to answer that question."
Husby: "You did know about the pole, didn't you?"
Me: "Ummm . . . yes?"
Husby: "You did see it?"
Me: "Well, it was like this . . . I was backing out carefully . . ."
Husby: "Yes?"
Me: "And then . . . that nasty old pole just jumped behind me."
Husby (with just the right amount of skepticism): "Jumped."
Me: "Yes."
Husby: "Right out of the ground."
Me (getting into my story): "Yes. It was the weirdest thing!"
Husby: "I'm going to go lie down."
True story.
P.S. I also have an experience with Cuba, which has also been known to move. But that is another story.

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