Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Thank you, Dad!

Tomorrow is Father's Day.
A little tribute to the most special father in my life!
Happy Father's Day, Honey!
My Hero
For most of his career, my Husby has worked for the Culture department in our province.
He enjoys it.
Building museums.
Refurbishing older exhibits.
It has been a constant adventure.
But he learned, as a civil servant, that gratitude was an accepted part of the job and very, very rarely expressed.
Case in point . . .
He and his team had been refitting an interpretive center.
They had been at it for three years.
Their job was finally drawing to a close.
Which allowed the center to open.
Ironic but true.
A grand gala was planned for the opening night.
With speeches by pertinent politicians.
And food.
Myself and our two younger children made the trip and were seated in the audience, happily anticipating hearing from our husby/father.
The evening wore on.
Speeches by many, many people. None of whom had even stepped foot in the building until that night.
Then, finally, just at the end of the evening, the MC announced my Husby.
The man who had organized and directed the entire operation.
The whole three years.
I was so proud of him.
He had worked hard, spending weeks and weeks on a project that took him far from home and family.
And he had done well.
I glanced around. I was surrounded by evidence of his careful, thoughtful, precise planning and execution.
We were now seated in a world-class center with the best and most advanced displays found anywhere.
The crowd had clapped politely as he stepped to the podium. Most of them had no idea of the part he had played.
But his family did.
My daughter suddenly whispered, "Come on! Let's do it!"
My children and I surged to our feet, cheering and clapping wildly.
The rest of the audience stared at us in stunned silence for a moment.
Then the smiles began.
And the applause.
No one else got up, but everyone there knew that this man was special. Deserving of what little praise we could give him.
He smiled at us, then, in his usual calm fashion said, "I have no idea who those people are."
Then, "And I didn't have to pay them much to do that!"
Much laughter and the tone of the entire evening was changed completely.
Later, one of the people with whom he had worked closely stopped me.
"We were so happy when your family did that," she said. "We would all have joined you, if we weren't already standing at the back!"
Dads get very little recognition for good deeds done in this life.
My daughter's advice? 'Let's do it!'
Sometimes all it takes is a little courage.

Friday, June 13, 2014

To Bale Some Hay

Add one brother and it's pretty close.

Not me, but you get the picture.
So to speak . . .

Eight years old.
In my children's day, that meant that they were allowed to dress themselves.
And bathe without three younger siblings in the tub.
In my day, it meant that I was now old enough to drive the tractor.
Pulling the baler.
My day had come!
My first lessons were a confused jumbled of clutch, steering wheel, gas pedal and 'Don't do that!'.
But I soon had it figured out and was able to drive a fairly straight path down the field.
Training over.
I was now ready for the real thing.
Dad directed me to the field where the rows of mown hay were nicely dried.
And ready to be baled.
I should point out here that we used a machine that popped out small, rectangular bales.
Depending on the type of grass, they weighed between 20 pounds (my favorite - made of prairie wool) and 90 pounds (my least favorite - made of something that resembled lead).
And were always moved by hand.
There were none of these gi-normous round or rectangular bales that you see in the fields now.
Bales that couldn't possibly be moved by anything other than a tractor.
Or Superman.
Who didn't live on our ranch.
Mmmm . . . Superman . . .
Where was I?
Oh, yes . . . baler.
The tractor person - me - was supposed to follow just to the left of the windrow (line of mown hay) and keep the pickup on the baler . . . umm . . . picking up.
Are we clear?
Let's start.
The hay was grabbed by little fingers rotating on the baler.
Then it was passed through the machine and tamped into a small, rectangular compartment.
Finally, the contraption managed to tie the bale with two pieces of hemp string, and the whole thing was pushed out the back.
To where my brother, Jerry was waiting.
Jerry was standing on a stooker (small trailer) being pulled behind the baler.
The bales slid out of a chute straight into his arms.
Which he then stacked on a rack at the back of the trailer.
Four or five on the bottom.
Then one less.
Then one less.
Until a single bale marked the top of the stook.
Jerry then hit a leaver, which tipped the trailer, dropping the neat stack off the back and launching him into the air.
I don't know about other stookers, but Jerry always used this upward motion to see how high he could jump.
It was very entertaining.
Or at least it would have been, if I weren't keeping my eyes trained on the windrow.
Ahem . . .
The only things I had to worry about were keeping true and not going too fast.
If one went too fast, the tamper couldn't keep up and hay would get clogged in the baler.
Which then resulted in a broken shear pin.
And your brother running alongside the tractor and banging on the side to get your attention so he could put in a new one.
Or so I'm guessing.
It was a wonderful way to spend a hot July day.
The smell of newly-mown hay.
The blue sky.
Fresh, clear Alberta air.
Mountains shimmering on the horizon.
Your brother singing at the top of his lungs on the stooker.
And your mind busily creating all sorts of adventures.
A perfect world.
Discovered when I was eight.
From atop a tractor.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My 'G' String

Okay, I’m a farm girl!
I had never heard of things like this!
Sigh . . .
I learned to play the guitar when I was twelve.
After an afternoon spent with my big brother, Jerry.
He made it look like so much fun.
We were sitting downstairs on the piano bench.
With an opened ‘Reader’s Digest’ music book propped up on the piano.
We were singing, “When You Wore a Tulip”.
And happily.
With Jerry strumming the guitar enthusiastically.
Picture it: “When you wore a tulip, a sweet, yellow tulip, and I wore a big red rose” . . . whereupon (good word) he’d stop and say, just under his breath, but completely in rhythm, “I don’t know that chord!”
“When you caressed me . . .” And the song would continue.
We sang and laughed for hours.
After that, I insisted on learning to play.
Patiently, he handed me the guitar and then taught me.
Fortunately for him, I caught on quickly.
And went on playing.
I was never an expert, but I enjoyed myself and played for family and friends.
Moving ahead . . .
I was happily playing “Puff the Magic Dragon” for my two young sons.
Well, ‘playing’ would be largely a misnomer at this point, because the oldest one kept trying to ‘help’.
Resulting in the dull ‘thump’ of a muted string.
Finally, one of the strings broke.
I removed it and coiled it, then set it aside.
When my Husby returned home that evening, I handed him the string and asked if he could pick me up another.
He nodded. “Sure.” Then, “Do you know which string it is?”
“Yeah. G.”
“You want me to pick you up a new G-string?” He started to laugh.
I nodded. “Yeah. I need a new ‘G’ string.” I frowned at him. “Why are you laughing?”
“Because you just asked me to pick you up a new G-string.”
I stared. Was he getting goofy? Had marriage and fatherhood finally tipped him over the edge?
“Yeah. I broke my ‘G’ string and I need a new one.”
 “You broke . . .?” He laughed harder, bending over and holding his sides.
“Yeah. What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing.” He wiped his eyes.
“Well, can you get me a new ‘G’ string?”
Another paroxysm (ooh, another good word) of laughter.
Then, finally, “You don’t know what a G-string is, do you?”
Remember where I said the words, ‘farm girl’? That would apply here.
He explained.
“Oh.” I suddenly understood his laughter.
He got me the string.
After a laugh with the guy in the guitar shop.
But, in true Tolley fashion, never let me forget the lesson . . .

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What's That Smell?

Okay. Let's see you do this without getting grimy . . .
Ranching doesn't encourage cleanliness.
You heard it here first.
In fact, ranching and cleanliness don't go together.
At all.
Let me tell you about it . . .
I had worked on the ranch all my life and had finally been promoted to 'herdsman' where I served for two glorious years.
This included such things as:
Riding herd.
Checking herd.
Feeding herd.
Treating herd.
Worrying over herd.
Hovering when herd was ready to calve.
Calving out herd.
Recording herd.
Eating and sleeping with herd.
Okay, maybe that last is a little extreme, but you get my point . . .
Sooo . . . cleanliness.
Cows aren't naturally clean.
I know this will come as a shock.
I'm sure you've seen the romantic pictures of mama cow licking her baby.
I have one thing to say about this.
Cow spit.
How clean can that be?
Cows also have other orifices that are . . . nasty.
And to which I have one response.
Cow pies.
Enough said.
On with my story . . .
I was ready to go to work.
Clean shirt.
Clean jeans.
Clean kerchief.
Clean socks.
Recently cleaned boots.
I headed out the door.
Bridle and riding pad on my horse and I was away.
We made good time reaching the calving field. And almost immediately spotted a cow.
But having difficulties.
I decided to take her back to the corrals. And restrain her. And help.
That's as far as my plans/actions went.
I grabbed the protruding calf feet.
And that's when the cow broke out of my hastily-built restraint.
Grimly, I hung onto the calf as the cow started across the corral.
Dropping me and her calf in the middle of a puddle of - let me put it this way - it wasn't spring water.
I got up.
Carted the calf to safety.
And headed for the house.
My mother met me in the doorway. Her clean daughter had gone out the door only half an hour before.
Now, dripping from head to toe with . . . barn puddle, said daughter had returned.
Mom stopped me in the porch.
“You just left here. Perfectly clean!” she said. “What did you do out there?!”
“Well . . .”
“Never mind. Clothes off here!” she ordered.
I was divested of anything gooey.
Whereupon (good word) I sprinted for the shower.
In my underwear.
Not for the faint of heart.
Or the fanatically clean.
Okay, let's face it . . . not even for the somewhat clean.
Don't you wish you were here?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Leading Edge in Home Defence

We were visiting/staying with my husband’s sister.
Her home was in the country, surrounded by acres of Adventure.
Our kids loved it.
They had worn themselves out running outside, creating worlds with Lego inside, and were finally tucked into their respective beds.
The visiting adults had followed their example and were peacefully snoring.
My Husby and I were on the hide-a-bed in the family room.
All was quiet.
I should explain, here, that the family room was situated at the top of the stairs.
That the master bedroom was down said stairs.
And that anyone wanting to use the bathroom would have to walk through our room, between our bed and the only source of light in the entire house, the glass patio doors.
Back to my story . . .
I heard a noise.
As the mother of six, I was instantly awake.
A floor was creaking.
Someone was coming up the stairs.
An adult-sized figure materialized out of the gloom beside me making their slow, careful way towards the bathroom.
For a moment, they were silhouetted against the patio door.
Then they disappeared.
I’m not making this up.
They disappeared.
One moment they were there.
A black cutout against the lighter door.
And the next . . . gone.
I sat up.
“Who’s there? What happened?”
My whisper sounded loud in the stillness.
My Sister-In-Law’s voice from the end of the bed, “?@$%&* Lego!”
The figure reappeared, rising up from the floor.
Its gait subtly altered, it continued towards the bathroom.
Lego is the best, most imaginative toy ever, but those who have had the misfortune of stepping on one of those little blocks with an unprotected foot know the pain.
Let’s wince together.

P.S. I've just had an amazing thought! Spread Lego blocks around the house for defence. As long as the enemy approaches barefoot, you've got them!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Death By Toddler!

Oh, she only looks innocent...
The soft cascade of warm water and sweet-smelling soap caresses the aged body, following every curve.
And bulge.
Problems and irritations disappear down the drain with the water as total relaxation is, finally, achieved.
The warm water continues.
A state of near-bliss is achieved.
Ahhh . . .
Cue: Sharp strings played in a tight Eee! Eee! Eee! Eee!
The shower curtain is pulled back abruptly.
The shower-er spins about with a startled gasp.
A shadowy figure sticks its head into the cubicle.
“Hey! Gramma! What’cha doing?!”
And ‘Gramma’ collapses and dies of a heart attack.
Okay, it doesn’t quite have the punch of the original Psycho. But the death is just as real.
And permanent.
Death by Toddler!
Coming soon to a shower near you.
Rated: ‘T’ for Toddler. There is no stronger rating…
P.S. No skin was shown in the making of this experience.
Absolutely none.
The world simply isn’t ready for that.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

When Moms Get It Wrong

Two sweet faces
Occasionally, Moms make mistakes.
I just want to get that out there.
They do.
Not often.
But occasionally.
Moms are busy. Usually keeping at least three balls in the air at any given moment.
It's totally understandable . . .
My younger brother, Blair was playing in the front room.
Because he was always quiet.
Our baby sister, Anita, was playing nearby.
Less quietly.
Because she . . . never mind.
She had disdained her basket full of colourful toys and was climbing up on the coffee table and sliding off.
This had been entertaining her for several minutes.
Then, she mis-calculated. Slid off a little too quickly and bumped something important.
Tears ensued. Bringing Mom in a hurry from the kitchen.
She picked her sobbing daughter up from the floor where she lay in a crumpled, miserable heap.
“Blair! What did you do?!”
Blair looked up from the book he was reading, his mouth a perfect 'O' of confusion. “Ummm . . .”
He was summarily parked in the 'you've done something terrible' spot.
The piano bench.
Huh. You know I just figured something out. Whenever we did something horrible, we were set on the piano bench to think about our sins. Maybe that's why none of us liked playing the piano.
Just a thought.
Back to my story . . .
Blair blinked and frowned thoughtfully. 
Had he done something? He didn't think so.
He had been quietly reading.
Anita had been playing a few feet away on the coffee table.
“But Mom . . .!”
“Don't you 'but mom' me! You stay there and think about what you did!”
Mom marched back out to the kitchen.
Leaving a very confused little boy sitting on the piano bench in the front room.
Anita, tears forgotten, was back crawling onto the coffee table.
Yep. Moms make mistakes.
Fortunately for the future of the world as we know it, it doesn't happen often.

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