Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Licking the Bowl

The source of all that was delicious.
Mom was in the kitchen.
My favourite thing.
I was in my usual spot. On the cupboard beside her Sunbeam mixer.
That maker of all things delicious.
She added something to the mixture already in the bowl and turned on the beaters.
Mmmmm. Could anything look better?
I leaned closer.
“Mom? Can I have a taste?”
“Honey, it’s just sugar and butter and eggs.”
“But it looks so good!”
She stuck the tip of the spatula into the batter and held it up for me.
I leaned in and licked.
It was delicious!
Mom just shook her head, rinsed the spatula and continued adding ingredients.
“Mom? Can I have another taste?”
“In a moment, dear. It’s almost ready.”
I sighed and fidgeted impatiently.
Finally, she added one last ingredient.
I should mention here that vanilla smells much better than it tastes.
Just FYI.
Then she got a spoon and gave me a dollop of batter.
Mmmmm. Even better than the last taste.
“What is it?” I asked as I licked the spoon.
“White cake.”
“I like white cake.”
“I know.”
Mom scraped the batter into a cake pan and shoved the pan into the oven.
I looked around.
Usually, by this time, the sound of the mixer had attracted all the youngsters in the vicinity.
And some of the adults as well.
But there was no one.
The world was mine!
“Mom? Can I lick the bowl?”
Licking the bowl.
That ultimate in rewards.
That oft hoped-for and seldom granted treat of treats.
I should point out that it didn’t actually involve ‘licking’ the bowl.
Mostly it consisted of running a spatula around the inner surfaces, catching every minute spec of deliciousness.
Okay and there was some licking involved.
Mom set me on the floor and handed me the bowl and spatula.
I sat where I landed and started in.
Could life possibly offer anything better?
Moving ahead . . .
I was making banana bread this morning.
My fourth granddaughter was seated on the cupboard beside me, mouth sticky from ‘tastes’.
I spooned the batter into pans and put them into the oven.
“Grandma? Can I lick the bowl?”
The circle is complete.

Friday, July 4, 2014

For Farm Use Only

For farm use only . . .
For kids who had been raised on the farm, moving to the big town was a big step.
They handled it well.
The street we were on was a 'local traffic only' type.
Alive with kids and bikes and . . . playing.
Perfect for anyone excited at the prospect of making new friends.
Which my kids were.
In no time, they had troops of buddies traipsing through the house.
Playing in the yard.
Running in the street.
Okay, that last activity probably sounds . . . dangerous.
But there were nearly 50 kids living in the houses on our street.
Anyone coming into the street lived there.
And drove carefully.
Moving on . . .
For the first while, our family was simply happy to have landed in such a wonderful place.
Friendly neighbours.
Private park.
Tons of playmates.
A dream come true.
But, like many dreams, this one came with a cold dose of reality.
Let me explain.
Our house was built on the side of a hill.
With a potential walk-out basement.
Which didn't.
Walk-out, I mean.
But the balcony looking out from the back had a lovely view of the neighbours below and on either side of us.
And on to the fields outside of town.
The kids spent a lot of time out there on the balcony.
Talking and playing.
Hollering across at the neighbours' kids.
Generally having a good time.
But our children were essentially farm kids.
They were virtually innocent when it came to the sophisticated 'town' children.
One day, a young man came home with our oldest son.
They had played Nintendo for a while, then moved out on the back deck to see the sights.
Which included our next-door neighbour's three children, happily playing in their back yard.
Now, here is where the story gets sticky.
My son had a BB gun.
A 'You'll put your eye out!' BB gun.
On the farm, it had been great fun.
Target shooting.
Trying to hit gophers.
Sometime, I'll tell you about the gophers.
But once we had moved to town, the gun had stayed in a rack on the wall.
There was nothing to safely shoot at in town.
I emphasize the word, 'safely'.
But my son's new friend was intrigued by this toy.
He asked if he could hold it.
Take it outside.
Shoot at the fence boards.
Ummm . . . I guess that's all right.
But it didn't stop there.
The boy shot a couple of times at the fence.
Then decided that the little kids next door offered better targets.
My horror-struck son watched as the boy shot once over the fence.
Then he grabbed the gun and ran down to his room.
Soon, there was a knock at our front door.
I opened it to find our neighbour, red-faced with anger.
“Did you know that your kids were shooting a BB gun at my kids?”
I stared at him.
Surely not.
My kids knew better than that.
Didn't they?
I hollered for my son, who dragged himself up the stairs.
The picture of guilt.
I didn't even have to ask.
“It was my friend,” he said. “He shot at the kids over the fence.”
“Well, he hit one of them,” the outraged dad said.
I looked at my son, horrified. “Why didn't you tell me?”
“I didn't know what to do,” my son said. “I grabbed the gun and ran with it.”
“Where's your friend?”
“He left.”
“Probably a good thing,” the dad muttered. “What's his name?”
My son told him.
He looked squarely at my son. “You have some apologizing to do,” he said. Then he stalked off down the street, intent on retribution.
My son and I stared at each other for a moment.
Then he quietly handed me the gun.
And walked next door to apologize.
We learned a few lessons that day.
  1. You can make friends with kids.
  2. But all kids don't make good friends.
  3. And farm toys seldom make the transition to town.
The BB gun never saw the light of day again, until we moved from that house and it ended up in the garage sale.
And my son found different friends.
Good friends.
Painful lessons, in more ways than one.
But well learned.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Wrong Face

Okay. YOU figure out who's who . . .
My Husby has four brothers.
All of which look/sound a lot alike.
Our oldest son, Mark was a daddy's boy.
He adored his father.
They spent most of Mark's waking hours together.
And many of the sleepy ones.
In the early years of our marriage, all of my Husby's family lived in close proximity to each other.
Getting together was easy.
And frequent.
Looking back, it was a fleeting, wonderful time.
One day, the entire family had been invited over for dinner.
They began to gather.
By ones, twos and threes.
My Husby, on the closing shift, was the last to arrive.
Our oldest son, almost two, was missing him.
He toddled through the group, looking for that one special, familiar face.
Finally, he spotted it.
Ran over and lifted his arms.
Then, supported by a strong grip, he snuggled down and nestled there, happy and content.
A few minutes later, the door opened.
And his father came in.
“Where's my boy?” he asked.
Mark stared at him.
Then spun around and looked at the man holding him, his face a perfect picture of confusion.
He looked back at the new arrival.
Then, again at the man who held him.
Finally, he made a choice and dove towards his father.
His real father.
Then glared accusingly at the uncle who had been holding him.

There is a codicil:
My sisters and I look a lot alike.
At one of our family reunions, my youngest son patted the leg of the woman he though was me. “Mom? Mom?”
She turned and looked at him.
Definitely not Mom.
He gasped and hid his face in his hands.

Mistaken identity.
It happens in the best of families.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Pox Among Us

The proper wearing of the dress. As seen here . . .
Our (then) five children had a problem.
All of them.
Chicken pox.
Every little body was covered.
Even the baby.
For a week, I spent my time applying the current ‘itch-free’ salves.
Filling the tub with baking soda and water.
Satisfying odd food cravings.
Did you know that warm brownies and/or chocolate chip cookies make chicken pox itch less?
Well, they do.
Moving on . . .
For our eldest daughter Caitlin, aged three, the chicken pox were an adventure.
An adventure that took a little turn.
Let me explain . . .
Caitlin would lift her little dress and look at her tummy and exclaim, “Look, Mommy! Chickie Spots!”
“Yes, sweetheart. Put your dress down.”
She was so interested in these spots that she spent most of her time with her dress up around her ears, looking at them.
I would hear her in various rooms of the house, speaking obviously to one or more members of the family. “Look! Chickie Spots!”
Followed by, “Caitlin! Put your dress down!”
Finally, not receiving the excited reaction she wanted, she would return to me.
“Look, Mommy! Chickie Spots!”
“Yes, Sweetheart. Put your dress down. Have a cookie.”
I should have known that she would require a bigger audience.
I should have realized that, to her, anyone coming into the house must be interested in her current fabulous condition.
I didn’t.
My good friend, Tammy came to the door.
I greeted her as she stepped bravely into the ‘plague house’.
We chatted a bit.
Then Caitlin appeared.
I didn’t move fast enough.
Up came the dress.
“Look, Sis ‘Sin! Chickie Spots!”
She laughed and nodded appreciatively. “Yes. You certainly do have the chicken pox.”
At the same time as I was saying, “Caitlin! Put your dress down!”
Sadly, this was only the beginning.
Long after the Chicken Pox had disappeared, Caitlin was still hiking up her little skirts and exclaiming, "Look! Chickie Spots!"
Two things came from this experience.
1. I always put shorts on under Caitlin’s dresses after that. Little girl panties are cutest when they are hidden.
2. The phrase, “Caitlin, put your dress down!” became immortalized in the annals of Tolley history.
Caitlin is grown and married now, with her own little girls.
She has long since learned to keep herself properly covered.
But her youngest insists on pulling her dresses up around her ears.
No spots, yet, but we’re hopeful.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Real Canadian

Canada Day.
For those of us who think Canada is the greatest little corner of the earth, a time to reflect on our blessings.
And so, a re-post about my son, the soldier.

Heading overseas.
Our second son, in his first career, was a soldier.
Mine/explosives expert.
Not a career his mama chose for him, I should point out.
He was slated several times to go overseas.
But only did so once.
I probably should explain . . .
There is a good deal of heavy training that goes into a call overseas.
Both physical and mental.
My son’s squad had received their notice.
They were slated to go to Nijmegen, Holland
And were preparing.
Picture men and women running. Climbing.
And lifting heavy objects.
Sitting at desks and puzzling over complicated logic problems.
Okay, that’s how I pictured it.
In reality, their short tour to Nijmegen was one of goodwill.
So their training consisted of marching.
And marching.
The day of departure grew closer.
They were representing Canada.
They needed to be properly outfitted.
They were issued new uniforms.
Including new boots.
Which they were instructed to wear.
While marching.
Now I don’t have to point out to you what the combination of new boots and 8 hours of marching can do.
Our son developed blisters.
Blisters on his blisters.
Which immediately became badly infected.
You’ve heard about a soldier only being as good as his feet?
It’s true.
He was put on the ‘injured’ list and sent back to base.
Somewhat disappointed and rather embarrassed.
But another tour was announced.
A real tour.
To Bosnia.
Real training this time.
Including the aforementioned (good word) running, climbing and lifting of things heavy.
Two days before they were ship out, my son was clearing some brush near the base.
Using a machete.
Which he had just sharpened.
His hand slipped. Slightly.
And he nicked his opposite thumb.
A quarter of an inch.
But it was a surgically precise quarter of an inch.
He managed to sever the tendon in his left thumb.
The surgeon assigned to fish out the two tendon ends and put them back together said she’d never seen anything like it.
Is she hadn’t been an eye-witness, she never would have believed that anyone could manage such a delicate and accurate operation with a scalpel.
Let alone with a huge machete.
‘Injured’ list again.
Needless to say, by this time, he was getting quite discouraged.
But I must admit that his parents were secretly happy.
Don’t tell him . . .
His third call came to serve overseas.
He again responded.
And this time - finally - succeeded.
For the better part of a year, he served as head of the mine cell on the base.
He did well.
And was commended.
Then came home to us.
I remember that first evening, after he stepped out of our van.
He immediately walked over and stood in the middle of the lawn.
We stared at him.
What had our son been learning overseas?
“I haven’t stood on grass for 10 months,” he said. “You don’t dare. Over there.”
Huh. Something we had never really thought about before.
We had assumed all of his sacrifices were made in the going.
We hadn’t realized the extent of what he was giving up while he was there.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Un-Party Party Line

See? Behind my dad? Entertainment in a box!
My brother recently blogged about the fun/mishaps of people ‘rubbering in’ on the party phone lines.
It’s here, and is great fun to read.
Go ahead. We’ll wait . . .
But the history of the party phone line wouldn’t be complete without the following story:
Still further west of the Stringam Ranch was a community known as Twin River.
It’s accepted social leader was Alfred Jones.
Successful farmer and all-round good guy.
One morning, Alfred received a phone call from a concerned and upset member of the neighbourhood.
She had been listening in on the party line and overheard the news that, “Bert Sibley had died.”
Now Bert had farmed in the area for many, many years. He and his wife had raised their children.
Sold the farm.
And retired to the nearby town of Magrath for some well-deserved rest.
As a stalwart of their community, his death was something of note.
The woman thought that, at the very least, friends and neighbours of the Sibleys should supply flowers at the soon-to-be-announced funeral.
Alfred agreed.
“In fact,” he said, “I’m heading to Lethbridge on business right now. I’ll stop in while I’m there, and order the flowers.”
The woman agreed and hung up.
Alfred started out.
The road from the Jones Ranch in Del Bonita, to Lethbridge, runs directly through the aforementioned Magrath.
As he reached the outskirts of the town, Alfred decided it would be proper for him to stop in and offer his condolences to the grieving widow.
He pulled up to the house and made his way to the front door.
While he was waiting for his knock to be answered, Alfred happened to glance into the front room through the large window.
There was Bert.
Lying on the couch.
Oh, my word! thought Alfred. They haven’t even taken the body away yet!
But that wasn’t his only shock of the day.
Just as the door opened, the ‘body’ sat up.
Alfred stared.
And gulped.
Then turned to Mrs. Sibley, standing in the doorway and stammered out something inane about stopping in to see how they were enjoying town life.
Then got out of there.
Mrs. Sibley never knew how close she was to being offered flowers and condolences.
For a husband who was very much alive and sitting in the next room.
The good old party line.
Originator of all things informative. Mis-informative. 
And entertaining.
How can anything in this modern world compete with that?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Thank Me Later

Okay. Yes. This is our preferred mode of travel.
I invented the paving machine.
And I did it with the power of my mind.
It was magic.
Maybe I should explain . . .
In 1964-1965, our family moved to the great metropolis of Lethbridge.
My father was running two ranching operations at the time and he thought it would be easier from a central location.
So, for one glorious year, us kids discovered the joys of city living.
Milk delivered right to the door in handy-dandy little bottles.
Ditto cream, cheese, etc.
Weird-tasting water. Let’s face it, who in their right mind would choose chlorine over sulphur?!
Riding the city bus.
Neighbours near enough to hear/see everything your family said/did.
And a whole new crop of friends.
It was a fun year.
And over too soon.
Oddly enough, with all of this ‘new stuff’ what I struggled most with were the streets.
Yeah, I know. Strange.
The streets around our new house were gravel.
I was used to dirt.
Dirt that didn’t flip you and your bicycle sideways unexpectedly. Scraping flesh off of knees and legs and nether regions.
I learned to curse trying to stay upright in that gravel.
Okay, I will admit that said cursing consisted of ‘stupid gravel!’ and ‘Moooom!’, but that was getting out there. For me.
And then, the day I changed everything.
I was sitting on my bike on the sidewalk, having just pulled myself and my bike onto terra firma from the stupid, rotten (it had been a rough day) gravel street. I was glaring at said street.
Then, in my mind, I pictured a great machine that would simply drive across the treacherous coating of rocks and dirt and death and coat it in a hard, delightfully smooth, totally bike-welcoming surface.
One a little friendlier to life and limb.
Imagine my surprise when, the very next day, such a machine was spotted one street over from mine.
All of the kids in the neighbourhood pulled their bikes as close as possible to the behemoth and just watched.
It was a miracle!
As soon as the machine and the accompanying out-rollers had moved on, we were riding our bikes on the fabulous new, delightfully smooth road.
I can still remember the heat rising up from the black surface.
The machine continued around the block until it had completely covered all of the streets with the same impermeable, biking-conducive material.
I know you’ve probably witnessed the same miracle yourself.
So, when you are driving on smooth, seamless roads.
You can thank me.

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