Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, August 9, 2014

In the Eye

The Stringam ranch house had one delicious feature. 
That kids love.
And parents hate.
The kitchen ran right into the hallway, which ran into the living room, which ran back into the kitchen.
Or, alternately, if one wanted to change things up a little - from the kitchen into the living room into the hallway, back into the kitchen.
A perfect setup for running laps.
Which we did.
Usually at mealtimes.
Because it kept us near the kitchen but not completely under Mom's feet.
Unfortunately, in an effort to keep us safe, Mom would inevitably holler, “You kids stop that before someone loses an eye!”
We would stop.
Oh, not because we were afraid of losing something important.
But because Mom usually had a large spoon or knife in one hand when she said it.
Okay, yes, we were afraid of losing something important.
Moving on . . .
It was suppertime.
Mom was cooking.
My brother and I were running.
Mom said, “You kids stop running! Someone's going . . .!”
That was as far as she got.
I skidded out on the corner just going into the turn between the living room and the hallway.
There was a chair there.
It, and my eye, had what could only be called a 'close encounter'.
It won.
Remember what Mom said about 'losing an eye'?
Well, she was close . . .
There was the sound of contact.
Then the pause.
Then the shriek.
Mom came running.
I was writhing around on the floor, screaming. Both hands clamped over my right eye.
I'm sure Mom's heart probably stopped.
She pulled my hands away probably expecting to see the fulfillment of her prognostication (Oooh, good word!).
Fortunately for me, it hadn't happened.
The fulfillment, I mean.
My eyebrow had taken the brunt of the blow - puffing up and out quickly.
And remarkably.
I looked like a prize fighter.
Mom dragged me, still screaming, into the kitchen.
Where she produced her largest and deadliest-looking knife.
I stared at her, then clamped my hands back over my injured and decidedly puffy eye and screamed, “No, Mom! Don't cut it off!”
You see, when she picked up the knife, she had been looking for 'cool'. Something to lay against my wound to take down the swelling.
I was looking at an instrument of a far more radical method of 'swelling removal'.
Fortunately, her more humane treatment was what we went with.
“Diane! I'm not going to cut it off! The knife is cool. It'll help the swelling!”
I finally dropped my hands and allowed her to continue.
She pressed the cool surface against my eyebrow.
Moms know everything.
I'd like to say we stopped running.
That we learned our lesson. That one close call convinced us that Mom knew whereof she spoke.
I'd be lying.
George and me. (Pre-running days)
Beneath us . . . the chair!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Stating the Obvious

You see animals. They see . . .
Sometimes, all that matters is the obvious . . .
Our grandchildren were playing.
A little background here . . .
Husby has an extensive collection of plastic animals.
Mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish, vertebrate, invertebrate.
Animals from every continent of the world.
And from every age.
Yep. Extensive.
He bought them for his grandkids.
He says.
Said grandkids love playing with said animals.
They have been a great source of entertainment for many years already.
And, due to durability and indestructible composition, will doubtless continue to perform this service for many more years to come.
Countless scenarios had been acted out.
Did you know that a dolphin and a North American bison could be roommates and best friends?
Well they can.
Back to my story . . .
Then three-year-old, Rini, our budding science buff, was playing with two-year-old Thorin.
The theme of the day was dinosaurs.
Rini was acting as voice for the brontosaurus.
Thorin, the same for the triceratops.
Rini decided a teaching moment had presented itself.
“Look, Thorin,” she said. “You have a triceratops!”
Thorin stared at her. Then looked down at the toy in his hand.
“Tri-cer-a-tops,” Rini said again. “Tri-cer-a-tops.”
Thorin frowned.
Rini started in again. “Tri-cer-a-tops. Tri-cer-a-tops.”
Thorin smiled and opened his mouth.
Rini smiled, too. Encouragingly.
Thorin pointed to the horns on the dinosaur's head.
“Pokies!” he said happily.
Yep. Sometimes all that matters is the obvious.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Piece of Real Estate

It's done.
Following several thousand man-hours of sorting, packing, hauling, mistakes, searching, finding, more packing, more hauling, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, Daddy is safely installed in his new home.
It was not an easy decision to make.
He loved his condo.
And his independence.
But though he remains clear mentally, his once-robust physical self grows steadily weaker and more frail.
He's better off in a place where his meals are provided and help is always very nearby.
It's bittersweet.
We know he will be cared for.
But the memories of what used to be crowd close.
Bringing tears.
Life on the ranch was an adventure.
Every day a blur of what needed to be done and what happened while doing it.
From this...
... to this.
But there's a saying: Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened!
Life isn't over.
Here's to new adventures.
I love you, Daddy!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Juicing Cows

Okay. Call it what you want . . .
You see them in the fields. Standing. Eating. Wandering about. Staring contentedly at nothing.
They are in the barns. Being milked. Standing. Eating. Wandering about. Staring contentedly at nothing.
They care for little calves. Nursing. Licking. Bellowing. Giving the occasional kick. Ignoring.
You know them as ‘meat’, ‘milk’, ‘cheese’, ‘cream’.
We know them as aggravating, funny, stupid, perverse, blind, ornery and endlessly hungry.
And the reason we get out of bed in the morning.
We’ve called them cows, dogies, critters, some terms unprintable here.
And our bread and butter.
Our family raised Polled Herefords.
A breed known for its gentle disposition.
And beef production.
We also kept one ‘milk’ cow. Usually Holstein.
A breed known for their milk production.
Near the Stringam spread was a herd of Jersey cows.
Also known for their high dairy output.
And gentle disposition.
Dad pointed them out as we drove past. “See. Diane! Those are Jersey cows! They give milk!”
Four-year-old Diane, nose pressed against the car window, “Oooo!”
I will admit that, occasionally, things got turned around in my little girl mind . . .
The next time we drove past that particular field, I pointed excitedly to the quiet animals out grazing. “Ooo! Daddy! Look! It’s those juicy cows!”
I was right.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Fight or Flee

Which are you?

I just read that, when faced with something dire, a person will fight.
Or a person will fly.
Sometimes, we don't know which one we are until the climactic moment.
Allow me to illustrate.
My bedroom was across and down the hall from the bathroom.
And I wasn't an 'early-to-bedder'.
These two facts will become relevant . . .
I had been reading.
Something I did every night.
For a very long time.
I finally decided it was time to get ready for bed.
Which included brushing and scrubbing.
And all things hygienic.
I should point out that all other members of my household had long been asleep.
Or so I thought.
I finished my evening ablutions. (Oooh! Good word!)
And, clutching my toiletries bag, headed for my bedroom.
Now the words 'across and down the hall' may sound like a long distance.
It wasn't.
But it was enough.
And it was dark.
I darted toward my door.
And was just reaching for the doorknob when a voice came out of the darkness.
“What are you doing!”
Okay, it was the voice of my father, so it shouldn't have given me the fright it did.
But the fact remains – I was frightened.
And then, the ultimate response.
Or fly.
Let me describe:
Pitch dark hall.
Household asleep.
Girl with large imagination and small intellect dashing across the hall.
Quickly, so as to avoid things that might come out of the darkness and 'get her'.
Voice rumbles out of said darkness.
What does girl do?
Girl crumples to the floor.
I am not making this up.
My legs folded up and I fell to the floor.
When faced with a crisis, or so I thought, I curled up.
Like a little spider.
But with less legs.
So, which are you?
Or fly?
When you decide, let me know.
I will be the shivering little puddle of goo.
Curled up on the floor.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Toddler Timing

Me. And six of thirteen.
I know what I'm talking about . . .
For any of you who have children, are around children, or have heard of children, you know that their timing is the one thing about them that remains totally impeccable. Always.
Theirs is the voice you hear chanting, “I gotta go potty!” immediately after you’ve pulled onto the freeway.
The disembodied face that appears at your bedside just as you’ve dozed off.
The crash and the “Oh-oh. Mom!”, when you’ve got both hands kneading sticky bread.
When split-second timing is needed, the children in the immediate area are on it.
I have two examples:
My Eldest Son was sitting watching TV, his youngest daughter, aged nine months, perched on his lap. The two of them, with the rest of the family had been happily engrossed in ‘Arthur Christmas’. The credits were rolling and the sound of Justin Bieber singing a Christmas song filled the home. There was a pause in the music and Mr. Bieber could be heard, talking in the background. “It’s that time of year again! Time to let all of your problems go!”
At which point, said daughter, with accurate and impressive sound effect, let those pesky little problems go. Directly into her diaper.
Remember when I said, ‘engrossed’? I used that word deliberately.
My second example involves the same son, before he was married. Or a father.
But still involves children.
And timing . . .
Eldest Son was sitting in Sunday School class, discussing, with the other members of the group, the life of Paul. This man, an apostle of Jesus Christ, suffered many indignities and horrors to his person during his life. On occasion, he was dragged before local, and at times, high authorities.
At one point in his life, his captors hauled him up before King Agrippa.
The teacher introduced this significant ruler’s name in stentorian (real word!) tones.
His pronouncement was immediately followed by the loud scream of an infant seated with its parent in the back.
See? Timing.
The class broke up. Some 30 seconds later, order restored, the teacher grinned. “And that was Paul’s exact reaction!”
I don’t know how they do it.
The timing thing, I mean.
It’s a talent they are obviously born with.
Some of them maintain it throughout their lives . . .
No matter what time it’s set for, I always, always walk into my daughter’s room ten minutes before her alarm is due to go off.
And I know as soon as I sink into a steaming hot bath, or start doing something sticky in the kitchen, that my other daughter is going to telephone.
Timing. You know what I’m talking about . . .

Sunday, August 3, 2014

My Short Ranching Career. Part Two.

Blair. Getting animated.
I bought another big growthy (once again, that word) heifer.
She was tall. She was dark red. She had a white face.
But there, her resemblance to a normal Hereford ended.
She was not the typical quiet animal you usually associate with the breed.
She was jumpy and would get agitated . . . easily.
I worked with her to quiet her down. Trained her to tie. To lead.
I would bring her into the barn, place a halter on her, tie her to the fence and groom her.
She enjoyed it.
Think of it as getting a good back scratch. But in this case using a comb.
She had lots of hair which meant that I could groom and cut it to make her look like the perfect heifer. This was important because purebred cattle breeders often had cattle shows where they would exhibit their animals and I wanted my heifer there.
I prepared her and got her ready for her first big exhibition.
Now we knew she was a little nervous so my veterinarian/dad told me to give her a tranquilizer to help her calm down.
When I arrived at the cattle show, I backed the trailer to the arena area, then opened the back of the trailer, untied my prize heifer and began to lead her out.
I had worked with her so much that I thought we were friends.
I soon discovered that we . . . weren’t.
When she saw the open door in the back of the trailer, she bolted.
And kicked me in the chest as she flew out.
I was caught completely by surprise.
She really connected as she kicked and my world started spinning.
Now in order to help you understand the force that a heifer or bull can kick with, picture having a 600 pound boxer punch you.
With everything he has.
My breath was gone.
I didn’t want to let go of the halter because some other poor unsuspecting person might get run over. I managed to hang on long enough to slow her down, but finally I had to let go. However, a friend and I finally cornered her and got her tied up at her assigned stall.
Then I called my very capable, very reliable, extremely intelligent veterinarian/dad and asked what I should do.
He said to give her a little more tranquilizer.
Considering that I did not want another repeat of the kicking episode, I complied.
The tranquilizer was just taking effect when I took her into the show ring for her group. She stepped lively and I was able to present her well to the judge.  He placed her in one of the top spots.
Then the tranquilizer really kicked in. So to speak.
My heifer planted her 4 feet squarely and stood there with her belly hanging, causing her back to bow.
She was very hard to move. At one point as I tried, she started to lean on me.
I felt like I was trying to maneuver a drunk around the show ring. 
By this point, the judge had almost all of the animals placed and came back to survey the group.  As he looked at my heifer, he sighed and moved her down 8 places.
8 places!
By this point, however, I didn’t care.
When the heifer category was over, I loaded her up and headed home.
I worked with this heifer for several more months and once again thought she was quiet and cooperative.
Again, ‘thought’ is the important word here.
Dad and I were given the assignment from the young Hereford breeder association to compile a booklet on how to prepare a heifer for a cattle show. This involved taking pictures of clipping and grooming an animal to make them look their best.
My heifer had lots of hair that we could use to demonstrate (only their hair dresser knows for sure).
As I groomed and cut, dad took pictures.
The clippers that I was using where very large and noisy. If you used them for long, your hands would feel numb. I was clipping hair along my heifer’s belly when suddenly I was lying on my back, looking at the ceiling of the barn.
The clippers were in my hand buzzing away.
I looked at dad. “Umm . . . how did I get here?”
Dad told me that my heifer had just kicked me. She had kicked so fast that I didn’t see it coming. 
She was very agitated and dad and I spent some time trying to get her settled down.
This was very difficult considering one of us had just been assaulted.
Finally, she was calm again, and dad and I could finish the pictures. Then I took her back to her pen.
As I walked down the hill to the ranch house I realized that my chest hurt. I lifted up my T-shirt. Let’s just say that she did her work well.
And I began to evaluate how important it was for us to continue our relationship.

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