Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Parental Perception

Not-Quite-Sanctuary. The family ranch in Fort MacLeod.
You can't hide things from your parents.
Just ask me . . .
I had my first 'official' job.
My Dad would argue this, as I worked for him for eight years.
Let me start again . . .
I had my first job-away-from-daddy's-ranch job.
It involved moving to Calgary, a city two hours to the north. And all the things that 'moving out' entails.
I had been an official Monday to Friday resident of Calgary for four months. And was feeling mighty independent as I made my weekly drive to my parent's ranch to fill my gas tank and stock up on food.
You look at 'independence' your way and I'll look at it in mine.
Ahem . . .
Just as I was driving into Claresholm, a small town just north of  the ranch, an ad came on the radio.
A rather effective ad, as it turns out. Wherein (good word) different people were asked what was most important in their lives.
There were various answers. The last being 'family'. Which was followed immediately by the sounds of screeching tires and an obvious vehicle collision.
I hadn't seen my family in six days.
And, I will admit it here, I'm a wuss.
The ad hit me hard.
I started to cry.
At that point, things got a little confused.
My Old English Sheepdog, Muffy, happily ensconced in her seat of power (commonly known as 'shotgun') came unglued.
Tears did that to her.
She alternately tried to lick my face.
And crawl into my lap.
Neither of which is very desirable when one is hurtling along the road at 40 MPH.
Which, if I could have seen clearly, should have been 30 MPH.
You can guess what happened next.
Red and blue lights erupted just after the last intersection.
And suddenly a wavery figure was indicating, rather forcefully, that I pull over.
He poked his head into my car, took one look at my red-rimmed eyes and tear-drenched face and immediately withdrew.
"Come to my car when you've composed yourself," he mumbled.
Then disappeared.
I dried my face and blew my nose.
Then calmed Muffy, who was still under the mistaken impression that I needed some good, doggy-style comforting.
Then I made my way over to the officer's car.
We had a nice chat, which culminated in an issued ticket for $25.00 and a warning to 'be more careful'.
Then, just as I reached for the door handle, the officer said, "If you don't mind. Why were you crying?"
I rolled my eyes. "It's silly, really," I told him.
"Do you mind telling me?"
"No." I related the entire fiasco, sparked by the ad on the radio.
It lost nothing in the telling.
I so love a good story.
He chuckled. Yes. People did that back then.
"I remember when I first went out to Regina for my RCMP training," he said. "I was one homesick puppy! I had never been away from home and I really missed my family."
We chatted a while longer.
Mostly about families and missing them.
And the incongruence (real word) of airing radio ads about car accidents specifically designed to make people cry.
And cause more car accidents.
I know. It doesn't make sense to me, either.
Then I left.
A few days later I paid my ticket and all was forgotten.
Or so I thought.
Moving forward several weeks . . .
I was sitting at the kitchen table when my parents came back from a quick trip to Calgary.
Dad came in and stopped beside my chair.
"How do you know an RCMP officer in Claresholm?" he asked.
I stared at him blankly.
RCMP Officer? I didn't . . .
I had to relate the entire story, something I had formerly neglected to do.
Because of my reluctance to confess.
Dad chuckled. See? Chuckling again. It did happen.
"So how did you find out?" I demanded.
"Your mother and I just went through a check-stop in Claresholm," Dad said.
"Oh," I said.
"And this very kind and cheerful officer took one look at my license and asked me if I had a daughter, Diane."
"Oh," I said again.
"You can't blame us for being curious."
"Umm . . . so . . . what did he say?" I could feel my face getting red.
I hate it when that happens.
"He just told us that we had quite a daughter."
"Your Mother and I agreed with him." Dad smiled. "He handed back my license and waved us off."
"Oh." For a normally talkative person, I was really groping around for something to say.
Dad patted my arm.
"And don't speed," he said.
See? Parents always find out.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pony Promotions

Sorrel gelding (male).
And yes. I can tell the difference . . .
During college, I rode with the LCC Equestrian Team.
It was infinitely more exciting than anything my journalism instructors could teach in the classroom.
Though not quite the same preparation for real life.
Every afternoon, I would present myself to my teacher at the tack shed and draw my piece of string.
This is exactly how it sounds.
There was a bundle of old twine strings hanging from a hook just inside the door.
I would grab one and head out to the pasture.
Once in the pasture, I would pick out a suitable mount (ie: one that I could get close to), and place the string around its neck.
Then swung aboard and ride the horse back to the tack shed to . . . tack up.
Simplicity in itself.
The heaviest thing I was ever forced to carry was a piece of string.
Okay, I will admit that everyone else carried bridles, or at the very least a halter.
I was weird.
And/or lazy.
Moving on . . .
It was a beautiful day.
The sun was shining.
A fairly common occurrence.
The wind wasn't blowing.
Not so common.
I was excited to be out of the classroom and into the field.
So to speak.
I should point out, here, that there were two sorrel (liver brown) horses in the herd.
One a gentle gelding (male).
One a sprightly mare (female).
The differences were obvious.
But I was simply looking for 'sorrel'.
I walked up to the first one and slipped my piece of string around its neck.
Then swung aboard.
The trip back to the shed was quick.
I remember being astonished at the spirit the old gelding was showing.
Wow. He'd never had this much life!
This was going to be a good day.
I stopped near the shed door.
My instructor was standing there. “Wow!” he said. “The last person who tried that ended up getting piled.”
'Piled'. That's a cowboy term for . . . piled.
There really isn't a better way to say it.
Back to my story . . .
I looked down at my mount. “You mean this isn't Chico?”
He looked at me strangely. “Umm, Diane, Chico is a boy.”
“Oh. I never even . . .” I slid off the horse. Sure enough, he was a she. “Oops.”
He went on. “GG has never allowed anyone to ride her bareback. She doesn't like it. She just bucks them off.” He looked at me. “Let's try something, shall we?”
“Umm . . . Okay!” My Dad always said that I had more guts than brains.
He was right.
My instructor grabbed a halter and handed it to me.
I exchanged it for the string.
“Now get on.”
I obeyed.
“Let's run some jumps, shall we?”
GG and I went over the entire course.
I will admit that the jumps were small and definitely not a challenge.
But the point is that we did them.
GG and me.
Something that had never been done before with that particular horse. 
In that particular tack.
My instructor was smiling when we returned. “I've been wondering who to appoint as team captain,” he said. “Now I know.”
I smiled back.
I still don't know exactly what happened that day.
With that horse.
But I was right.
It was a good day.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Snipe Hunt

Who could fool that face?
Actually . . .
As a young man, Dad spent his summers working on the ranch.
It was these summers that convinced him that ranching was in his blood.
And that he would make it his life’s work.
Even though it had its embarrassing moments . . .
Young cowboys on a big spread are often the butt of jokes pulled by the older, more experienced hands.
Dad, though he was the boss’ son, was no exception.
He and a schoolmate, Ruel, were invited to go with a couple of the men on a ‘snipe hunt’.
The snipe, they were told, was a bird that lived in the coulees around the ranch. It was very tasty, if you could nab one. But there was the problem. Snipes were tricky creatures. They only had one weakness - they were mesmerized by a light at night. Ordinarily, they stayed still when darkness fell, but if disturbed, would fly toward said light. The trick was to have someone wait quietly, holding a bag next to a lantern and, when the birds were stirred up, catch them as they flew to the light.
The boys were excited to be included on this fun hunting trip. They rode behind the two older hands and took up a position at the mouth of the coulee, bag and lantern in hand. Then they waited while the riders circled around to the other end to ride down the coulee, driving the tasty little snipes ahead of them and straight to the waiting sack and certain doom.
They waited for over two hours.
Finally deciding that something had gone terribly wrong, the two boys gave up and walked the two miles back to the ranch. When they reached the barn, they discovered the horses the two older hands had been riding, safely tucked up for the night.
Only then did they realize they’d been had.
They toyed with the idea of hiding in the hay loft and getting the rest of the men stirred up when they didn’t show up for breakfast. They even went so far as to sleep in the loft, snuggled down cozily in the soft, fragrant hay. But the enthusiastic swinging of a pitchfork early the next morning as one of the hands fed the horses convinced them that they should appear or risk being skewered.
They stood up and endured the general laugh at their expense.
Grampa Stringam was disgusted. “How could you fall for something like that?!” he demanded.
It had been embarrassingly easy, so Dad said nothing.
Sometimes, ranching isn’t about the cows.
But being cowed.

P.S. The snipe is a real bird, living along watercourses throughout the world. It is notoriously hard to catch and the person who could actually shoot one would be known as a 'sniper'. Thus the name for a skilled gunman.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Parenting Fail

Chris, Jerry and Dad.
Background: The RIVER
Sometimes, in our best efforts to raise and protect our children, we blow it.
My Mom was amazing, but even she had her moments . . .
My eldest sister, Chris, was a wanderer.
On a ranch, that is never good.
Mom often was forced to perform herculean feats in order to keep her small daughter safe. (See here.)
Hmm . . . Training for a few years down the road when another small daughter would try her patience?
And her ingenuity?
But I digress . . .
She tried many different things.
And, on one occasion, resorted to ‘reason’.
With less-than-stellar results.
Three-year-old Chris was very fond of wandering down beside the river that flowed past the ranch house.
At times, Mom had to physically pluck her daughter from the very jaws of death.
Finally, she decided to try something that would encourage Chris to police herself.
She told her small daughter that it was dangerous to walk near the river.
Because there was a giant octopus that lived there.
And it would get her if she got too close.
Chris stared at her mother wide-eyed.
“Octopus,” Mom said knowledgably.
Mom went back to her chores, happy in the knowledge that her little girl would now stay far from the wicked river’s banks.
A few minutes later, she looked up to see that, not only had her daughter disappeared, but her even smaller son.
Sighing, Mom began her search.
Even though she knew that the probability of the two of them heading for the river with the ravening, slavering octopus living there, her footsteps just naturally turned her in that direction.
Good thing, too.
Because it was there on the river bank that she found her intrepid duo.
Chris had toddler Jerry’s hand and was leading him along the bank.
Encouraging him to look out into the water and see if he could spot the octopus.
Yeah. Parenting fail.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Birds and the Bees and the Cows and the Rabbits . . .

Oh, the things you learn from the top rail...
It’s spring.
The time of new growth.
And baby animals.
Farm kids are exposed to the mating habits of animals early in life.
They just don’t always understand what they are seeing . . .
I was sitting on the top rail of the corral fence with my Dad.
Some cows, and a few bulls, just brought in from the nether pastures, were milling about below us.
Suddenly, one bull reared up.
Right onto the rear quarters of a cow.
I stared at them.
The bull slid down.
And another took his place.
Really weird.
After three or four re-enactments of the same scenario, I turned to my dad.
“Daddy.” Indicating the bull. “What is that cow doing?”
Where did you think they came from?
Dad got a bit red-faced.
This was the fifties. Sex hadn’t been invented yet.
“Erm. Well . . . he’s resting his feet.”
“Oh.” Yeah. I was fairly easy to fob off in those days.
Today’s kids are also educated.
At least as well.
Case in point . . .
My friend raised rabbits.
Beautiful, lop-eared, gentle, soft, furry rabbits.
And by raised, I mean hutches in the back yard, carefully and successfully monitored.
With the help – or at least close scrutiny - of her children.
Babies (kittens or kits) came with amazing regularity.
These are rabbits we’re talking about, after all.
One day, a school friend asked the daughter where the baby rabbits come from.
“From the mommy,” she said, knowledgeably.
“Oh,” said the friend. “How does that happen?”
“Well,” the daughter said, “The daddy rabbit gets on the mommy rabbit and shakes her!”
We've come so far.
What can I say but CUTE!

Monday, May 12, 2014

I'm Baaaack!

We did it!
Our steed.
Sailed the ocean north to Alaska.
And survived.
Actually, I've discovered that when one goes adventuring on a cruise ship, one should be prepared for difficulties.
Such as deciding which of 700 entrées one would like to eat at any given time of the day or night.
I think they should just weigh everyone when they come onto the boat, then again when they are leaving, and charge by the pound.
I had to take two different sizes of clothes. Pre and post cruise.
But what a glorious, glorious time!
More sun.(Incidentally, if you've been wondering where Spring is hiding, I found it. It's in Alaska!)
Fabulosity. (Is that a word?)
It was a week I will never forget!
More friends. And Husby and I.

Amazing food. eg. Watermelon pie. Made of different flavours of sherbet. With chocolate 'seeds'.

Unbelievable weather!

Approaching Glacier Bay.

Got him where I want him.

What happens on the cruise ship, STAYS on . . .
Thank you, Honey! What a way to celebrate thirty-eight wonderful years.
Here's to the next thirty-eight!!!

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