Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Once and Only

I come from a long line of non-smokers.
Generations of puff-nots.
But my best friend had a cousin staying over for the summer.
A cousin from the big city who had seen it all.
And done most of it.
I was about to get an education . . .
My family lived on a ranch twenty miles from Milk River, in southern Alberta.
Life out there was bliss.
And, because of a lack of outside influences, completely under the control of my parents.
I had seen people smoking.
Certainly I had.
But I had never considered the possibility of being one of them.
Not even for an instant.
Moving on . . .
My parents owned a house in town.
When Mom got tired of driving the twenty miles to take us kids to school and activities, we would move into town.
Until Dad got tired of driving out to the ranch every day to do ranching stuff.
Then we would move back.
It was a fun and exciting way to live.
The benefits of town living.
The joys of the ranch.
But one or the other of our houses often sat empty in the interim.
That summer, we were firmly ensconced on the ranch.
So the town house was sitting vacant.
A perfect place for 10-year-old girls to get an education from the 11-year-old-far-more-experienced-and-world-weary-cousin-from-the-big-city.
My parents had dropped me off at my best friend's house for a - gasp - three day sleep over while they went out of town.
We: my BFF, her younger sister and the Cousin (notice the capital letter) had been knocking around town for most of two days.
It had been an education.
It was about to become more so.
The Cousin bought a packet of cigarettes.
She was going to show us country hicks how to smoke.
Okay, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Our biggest problem lay in finding a secret place in which to do our teaching/learning. I mean, there were twelve kids in my BFF's family. Plus the Cousin. Plus me. Her house was out . . .
My family's empty town house.
I found the key and let us in.
The place echoed emptily.
We went into the main bathroom and dug out the cigarettes.
Cousin proceeded to light up.
Oooh! She looked so cool!
The rest of us were excited to try.
In no time, we each had a cigarette.
She helped us light them.
Soon, my BFF and her sister were blowing smoke in the most approved manner.
It took me a bit longer.
But I got it, once Cousin pointed out that one need to suck.
Not blow.
I should point out, here that my parents weren't due to pick me up from my BFF's until the following day.
And, even then, they had no reason to come to this house.
Our smoking education could continue apace.
Without threat of interruption.
But parents never do what they say they are going to.
My BFF's little sister went out to the front room.
And immediately returned, wide-eyed.
"Your parents are here!"
"Sure, sure," I said, taking another puff. "Nice try!"
We all laughed.
A sound that broke off instantly when my Mom appeared at the door.
"Oh," I said. "Ummm . . . hi, Mom."
She looked at me. Looked at the cigarette I held in my hand.
Then turned and left.
Without saying a word.
We quickly cleaned up our mess and headed for the front door.
My parents were waiting in the car.
I said some quick good-byes and climbed in.
For several minutes, my parents said nothing.
Finally, Mom turned to Dad and sighed.
Then Dad turned to me and said, "I'm very disappointed, Diane."
I was completely crushed.
He didn't know it, but those four words had just killed my cigarette habit.
Parenting done right.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Little Cleaner

Mark. In cleaner times.
Family reunions.
The renewing of ties.
An opportunity to get re-acquainted.
Catch up on family accomplishments.
Nestle once more in the warm embrace of kin.
Our eldest son Mark's first reunion occurred when he was eighteen months old.
He was getting around under his own steam very well.
And this outdoor wiener roast/party was a perfect time for him to practice his skills.
For several hours, he wandered around the site.
Getting filthy.
All the things that make a little boy so very happy.
He played with the host family's spaniel, Frodo.
Gorged on hot dogs.
Sampled all of the pot luck dishes.
Spit out the baked beans (another story).
Slurped up watermelon.
And laid sole claim to the marshmallows.
He was a happy, filthy little boy.
He toddled over to me, all smiles and dirt.
I dusted him off for the hundredth time and set him on my knee.
Only to discover that his fingers were stuck together.
I think it was the marshmallows.
Might have been helped along by the watermelon.
I'm sure there was at least one form of chocolate.
But those little, busy fingers were all fused together.
And Mark was happily making his rounds using paddles.
Or flippers.
I will admit they were still effective.
He was managing to accomplish a fair bit of eating and playing.
But I thought that, as a concerned mom, I should probably do something.
I went for a wipe.
But I hadn't counted on his ingenuity.
While I was digging through the diaper bag, he went for the nearest water source.
Frodo's bowl.
I wish I could say that this was shortly after the bowl had been filled.
And was still pristine and untouched by anything 'canine'.
I can't.
By the time I had returned with the antiseptically clean towelette, he had already taken care of business.
In the decidedly unhygienic dog bowl.
And was back on his rounds, little fingers freed for business.
He was happy.
And Frodo loved the watermelon/marshmallow/chocolate/hot dog flavoured water. So he was happy.
In fact, everyone was happy.
Except me.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pill Ills

Does this look delicious to you? Yeah, me either . . .
My Mom had a magic cupboard in her bathroom.
It was full of wonderful little bottles.
Intriguing little bottles with funny shapes and beautiful colours.
And with all sorts of interesting contents.
Most of them defied my little three-year-old fingers.
But one twisted off easily.
Disclosing little, white pills.
Okay they didn't taste very good, but they were little.
And melted on my tongue in a fun way.
I had another.
And another.
This was fun!
Mom came in just as I was finishing the bottle.
For some reason, she got quite upset.
She grabbed me and ran to the phone.
For a few seconds, she chattered excitedly.
Then she carried me to the kitchen and set me on the cupboard and hugged me tight.
I didn’t know what I had done that had gotten her so excited, but this was living!
Or not . . .
A few minutes later, a man came into the house carrying a black bag.
He put a tube down my throat.
And Mom let him!
And traumatic.
I cried.
For several minutes, the two of them fought to keep the tube where they wanted it.
With minimal/non-existent results.
Finally, Mom stuck her fingers down my throat and made me gag.
And I lost all of my wonderful little pills.
Um. Ick.
The doctor packed away his horrible tube and left.
I wasn't sad to see him go.
Mom cuddled me for most of the afternoon.
A few days later, I was again exploring Mom's treasure cupboard.
Well, look at that.
A new bottle of my little pills.
I wonder if they will taste any better.
Mom came in a bit earlier this time, but I had still ingested over half of the bottle.
She didn't bother calling the doctor, just used her patented new method to make me bring the pills back up.
This time, I got a scolding.
Moms can be so inconsistent.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


If you are ever in Denver . . .
Somewhere in or near Denver, Colorado, is my wonderful, stupendous, long-awaited, much-anticipated, beloved, toy of the century.
The one that was mine too briefly.
Maybe I should explain . . .
When I was growing up, my rancher father often took his family on holidays.
Said holidays often included some form of cattle show.
Or cattle ranch visit.
Or driving down the highway slowly because someone’s herd was just there.
In the field.
Waiting to be observed and categorized.
I know you’re wondering what this has to do with my toy.
It’s coming . . .
This particular family trip had been planned with the National Western Stock Show - annually held in Denver - in mind.
And that was okay with me.
Because said stock show also included horse classes.
And I had a new toy.
Now it comes out . . .
The Wham-o company had just released the most amazing gadget.
A solid rubber ball that would bounce higher and do more tricks than anything that had ever been invented.
Aptly named the ‘Superball’, it was a thing of beauty.
An amazing little ball of rubber that promised hours and hours of entertainment.
I had wanted one forever.
Well, since I had first seen an ad a couple of months before.
Dad had stopped at a store before heading over to the stock show.
They had them! A whole display!
The planets had aligned.
I was at a store that actually had the magical little balls for sale.
And my Dad was there.
With his wallet.
The day was mine!
And so, incidentally, was my little, dark blue miracle.
I pried open the package and, for the first time, felt the cool, smooth surface of the greatest high-bouncing ball of all time.
I sat there in the truck and held it.
Staring at it.
Smelling it.
I couldn’t wait to give it a good bounce.
Dad pulled into the stock section of the fair grounds and we all got out and went into the nearest pavilion.
I found myself standing in the lane of a long, concrete-floored, stall-lined, barn of a building.
I lifted the hand holding the ball . . .
And smashed it down onto the pavement as hard as I could.
All of the ads never really paid it full justice.
That little ball hit that hard surface and shot like a missile toward the ceiling.
I stared at it; eyes wide and mouth open in a foolish grin of pleasure.
Then my magical toy came down.
Finally landing somewhere in the endless mounds of straw that filled the building.
Okay, that, I never anticipated.
I searched for that ball for hours.
I’d be searching still if my Dad hadn’t dragged me away for some frivolous ‘have-to-eat-and-sleep-and-for-heaven’s-sake-it’s-only-a-ball’ reason.
My one and only Superball.
You know, the ads claimed that it would keep on bouncing, almost forever. 
The ads were wrong.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Song Allergies

Oh, please! Not that song again!

I grew up on a large old Southern Alberta ranch.
Among cattle, horses and hired men.
I loved it.
I spent many happy hours riding (or sleeping) on the horses.
Chasing the barn cats.
Catching mice.
Wandering through the corrals and feed lots.
Or my favourite, watching the hired men.
It was while doing the last, that I received both my nickname and my signature song.
Let me tell you about it . . .
The Stringam Ranch generally employed six or more hired men.
They worked hard.
Wrangling cattle.
Breaking horses.
Doing one of the myriad tasks that were ranching.
But, inevitably, each job included one extra chore.
Watching over Diane.
I don't want to say that I was always under foot but . . .
Okay. I was always under foot.
When they were in the corral with the horses, I was perched on the fence.
When they were milking the cows, I was sitting on one of the empty stools nearby.
When they were hauling hay, I was in the cab of the truck, nose pressed against the back window.
Yep. If anything was happening, you can bet Diane was in the middle of it.
I should point out, here, that these men were good men.
Hard working.
A bit rough around the edges.
But that I never heard one curse word from any of them.
Looking back, I'm sure they knew these words.
They just never used them around me.
Believe me, I would have repeated anything I heard.
Back to my story . . .
It must have been a trifle . . . inconvenient . . . having the boss' four-year-old daughter always under foot.
They never complained.
In fact, they even had a nickname for me.
Which I loved.
And gave me my very own song, “Danny Boy”.
Which I didn't.
I'm not sure who was the first to discover this song.
Or my aversion to it.
But the word quickly spread.
Soon, whenever I would appear, someone would begin singing, “Oh, Danny boy . . .”
Whereupon (good word) I would cover both of my ears and scream, “Noooooo!”
Then run away.
It was magical.
Not one word need be said.
And they could continue their work in peace.
Moving forward thirty years . . .
When my youngest son Tristan was born, he was our 'Little Warty Boy'.
I'm not sure who came up with this.
Or why.
He didn't have warts or anything.
It just seemed to fit.
He even got a song. (Sung to the tune of 'Surfer Girl')
“Little tiny warty boy,
Fills my heart with so much joy.
Do you love me,
Little Warty Boy?”

We sang this for years.
Until he was about four and abruptly developed an aversion to it.
Suddenly, he began covering his ears and screaming, “Noooooo!” whenever someone started singing.
I felt his pain.

Monday, April 14, 2014


The warring factions.
Dinner is over.
Everyone is comfortably full.
With the cleaning of the dessert plates, the grandkids have scattered.
Thus abating the noise.
The adults’ visiting, hinted at before, has been undertaken in full.
The best of times.
Suddenly, one of the two-year-olds skids around the corner of the kitchen, makes a bee-line for Gramma and dives into her lap. Gramma’s arms are pulled protectively around a little, warm body.
Not a word is said.
Now, I should mention, here, that this behaviour, while not uncommon is . . . okay, yes . . . uncommon.
Snuggles in Gramma’s lap are brief.
Unless Gramma is holding a book.
Or treat.
And usually, there is some shrewd preliminary negotiation, as in: “Shall we have a story?” or “Who wants a treat?”
Back to my story . . .
Suddenly one of the three-year-olds also comes around the corner.
And she, too, goes straight to Gramma.
Then stands there.
Staring silently and accusingly at the little cousin in Gramma’s lap.
Ah-ha! I'm beginning to see . . .
I look down. “Hazel, what did you do?”
Wide eyes look back.
Still no words.
I look at the other little girl. “Bronwyn, what did Hazel do?”
A tiny voice, “She poked me!”
“Poked you?”
“Where did she poke you?”
Pointing to the ribcage on the left side.
“Hazel, did you poke cousin?”
More nodding. Still wide-eyed.
“Are we supposed to poke cousins?”
Head shaking.
“Maybe you should apologize.”
Two heads nodding. Two little girls saying, together, “Sorry!”
Yeah, the whole ‘say you’re sorry!’ thing is still a work in progress . . .
Hazel slides off Gramma’s lap and the two give each other a big hug.
“Now play nicely!” I say.
And they giggle and disappear.
Oh, if only the world’s conflicts could be solved as easily . . .

Sunday, April 13, 2014

War and Chocolate

How do you relax after dinner?
Okay, I admit it.
Our family is weird.
We like theatrics.
And things medieval.
Case in point:
My husband has a collection of catapults.
Yes, you read that correctly.
He loves them.
Oh, they're not large enough to cause havoc.
And certainly not of a size to terrorize the neighbourhood.
Although I wouldn't mention that to him. It might give him ideas.
Moving on . . .
No. His catapults are small.
Suitable for launching little, foil-wrapped chocolates.
Which he does.
Usually after family meals.
Our family is large.
And we have two tables in our dining room.
One round table, built by my Husby and seen here.
And one smaller table, also built by my Husby, which seats all of the grandchildren.
It is to this smaller table that he retreats after the meal is done.
With his grandkids, his catapults and his stockpile of chocolate balls.
Which he and his little army then proceed to fire at anyone left sitting at the main table.
Remember when I mentioned 'weird'?
That would apply here.
I should point out that the balls of chocolate don't hurt.
The little catapults barely throw them with sufficient force to get them to the other table.
Back to my story . . .
The usual targets of the invading hoards are their wife and/or mothers and/or grandmother.
Who have all learned to duck when needed.
I should also mention that, perhaps fortunately, their aim isn't great.
One day, we had just finished one of Grandpa's sumptuous feasts and he and assorted grandchildren had set up a siege at the kid's table.
Several of the moms were still sitting at the main table.
One of our granddaughters, five-year-old Kyra, came to tell her mother something.
Her timing was . . . unfortunate.
She had placed herself right in the line of fire.
So to speak.
A chocolate ball whizzed towards her.
With unusual, but deadly precision.
Right in the center of her forehead.
She gasped and clapped one hand over the spot.
Everyone burst out laughing.
She wavered between laughter and tears for a few seconds.
Then her mother told her that she got to eat the offending chocolate ball.
And any thought of tears was forgotten.
She hunted for, and happily ate, the treat.
Then disappeared.
A few minutes later, she was back.
“Mom, can I have another chocolate ball?”
Her mother looked at her. “You have to let Grampa shoot one at you first.”
She thought about that for a moment.
Then she put both hands, palms out, over her forehead and stood up tall. “Okay, Grampa! I'm ready!”
It comes in all shapes and sizes.
And ages.
But never more noticeable than in a weird family.
And after dinner.

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