Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Thanks for the Music

A repost of my most popular story.

Beauty? Or the Beast?
The world is full of divine music.
Violin music.
And it has my Husby to thank for it.
Maybe I should explain . . .
When Husby was eight, his parents, like many parents have, decided that he should do something . . . musical.
They opted for the violin.
And he agreed.
A small violin was purchased at no small sacrifice for a less-than-wealthy family.
Dutifully, Husby carried it to the home of his chosen violin teacher, Mrs. Baines.
A woman of nearly two hundred years of age.
Okay, probably not quite two hundred.
But to a small boy of eight, a woman in her seventies was truly ancient.
Back to my story . . .
Once a week, throughout the fall and the winter, she taught.
And he learned.
She took him on a slow and careful tour of the violin world.
Demonstrating proper technique.
Bow handling.
Correct finger positions.
Tried to pour into his young mind, her love of all things violin.
He was, admittedly, a slow learner.
She taught.
He struggled.
In the spring, his parents received a phone call.
There would be no more lessons from Mrs. Baines. The poor woman had suffered a fatal heart attack.
Shocked, Husby wondered if he was somehow to blame.
He put his violin away for a while. He needed to think this through.
Thinking lasted throughout the summer.
Finally, in the fall, he consented to try again.
His parents found another teacher.
One who was only one hundred and fifty years old.
Again, they started in.
She taught.
He struggled.
A few months went past.
Another fateful phone call.
Another heart attack.
Not fatal this time, thank goodness. But strong enough that his second teacher was hanging up her baton for good.
This time, when Husby put his violin back into its case, nothing could induce him to remove it.
He was convinced that his playing – or lack thereof – was the reason that both of his violin teachers suffered heart attacks.
That conviction remains to this day.
He takes the argument further.
By hanging up his bow, so to speak, he saved violin teachers everywhere.
Enabling them to continue to teach the bright, talented young people who have grown into the world's foremost violin players.
Thus preserving and ensuring beautiful violin music everywhere.
So when you hear an exquisite piece?
Thank my Husby.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A Devil of a Delivery

My son works for Fed-Ex.
This is for him . . .

“Ma’am, would you be so kind as to . . .” I got no further.
The large woman seated behind the desk surged to her feet and pointed a plump, shaking finger at me. “Insubordination!” she shrieked.
I felt my eyes widen. I took a step back. “Ex-excuse me?”
“You miserable excuse for a man!” Her voice became even shriller. “What do you mean by coming here at this hour?!” She shot a telling glance at the nearby clock.
“I . . . what?”
Her eyes narrowed. “I see retribution for you! I see despair and a plethora of demons just waiting to grasp you in their claws and pull you down to where you will be properly inducted into those halls from which the wicked forever burn and never escape!”
I blinked and looked around, then indicated myself questioningly.
The finger came out again. “Yes, you! Demon-spawn!” She waved her hand, indicating the spotless corridors that lead off in every direction. “Watch and beware. The demons are preparing as we speak. Your time is at hand!”
I glanced rather nervously to the right and left. “Demons? C-claws? But I only . . .”
“Speak not! You will only seal your fate!”
“Seal my . . . but I came to . . .”
“Silence!” the voice had become a shrieking siren of sound. The small, watery, piercing eyes glanced down at my hands. “Hold! What do you carry there?”
I lifted an almost-forgotten package. “I . . . um . . .”
“Is it a potion? A talisman? Something from your master?”
“I . . . master? Well, actually, yes.”
“Give it to me little man! Before I set the denizens of hell upon you!”
“Ummm . . . here.”
She pounced, holding the seized package up and peering at it closely.
I lifted the clipboard in my other hand. “Erm . . . you’ll have to sign here. And here.”
“Ooh! It’s my samples from the museum!” The woman poked out a thick tongue and licked rubbery lips which had curved into the semblance of a smile. Then she grabbed a pen and scribbled next to my finger. “There! Thanks, Bruce! Next time, don’t be late!”
“See you tomorrow, Clara.” 

Every week, without fanfare or glory, Delores of Under the Porch Light quietly posts six little words.
Words meant to stump and/or amaze.
Or just really, really aggravate.
Then, those of us who follow her without question dip pens in ink and attempt to obey.
This week's offering?
insubordinationinducteddespairplethoramuseum and retribution.
I thought a shot of flash fiction would be fun.
How did I do?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Phone Phraseology for Phools

King of creative calling
Answering the phone is an art form.
Ranging from cheerful.
My personal favourite.
To surly.
Not so popular. 
Then there’s: Clever.
Even disgusting.
How you answer the phone says a lot about you.
Maybe not in actual words, but the meaning’s pretty clear . . .
Hello!! L (What d’ya want!? I’m having the worst, terrible, awful, no-good day. And you just made it worse!)
Or: Hello!! JJ (I’ve been running through soft fields of primroses and I’m so happy, I just want to share, share, share!)
See what I mean?
In the Stringam household, telephone answering was very often . . . creative.
My brother, George, being the king.
Case in point:
The phone rang.
I should probably explain, here, that these were the days of the rotary phone (Google it). There were no such things as call display, call waiting, or even answering machines (Except, maybe in the CIA or FBI or CSIS . . . or on Star Trek).
So there was absolutely no way for us normal folks to know who was calling.
Also, an actual electrical cord attached the single home phone to the wall and yet another cord attached the receiver to the phone.
It was entirely possible to get completely wrapped up in you call.
So to speak.
Just FYI.
Sooo . . . back to the ringing phone . . .
My brother, George, he of the creative answering technique, was closest.
He picked it up.
“This is the devil! Who in hell do you want?”
Whereupon (good word) my mother smacked George.
Figuratively speaking.
Now, normally, when my brother answered the phone, the person on the other end of the line would laugh and say something equally inappropriate and the conversation would continue.
On this particular occasion, all George heard was a mighty ‘click’ as the phone at the other end of the line was forcibly returned to its cradle.
He shrugged and hung up.
The phone rang again.
Again, George picked it up.
“This is the devil! Who in . . .” you get the rest.
There was a short, breathless pause, then, “It that you, George?!!!LLL
I put in the little frowny faces to convey . . . displeasure.
Because the caller was my paternal Grandmother.
And she didn’t think my brother was funny.
At all.
Sheepishly, George admitted it. “Yes,” he said.
“Let me talk to your father! LLL
Notice the continuing frowny faces.
Ahem . . .
George handed the phone to Dad and headed for the nearest far-away place.
Dad received a lecture from his eighty-five-year-old mother, which he dutifully passed on to the culprit.
I’d like to tell you that the creative answering ended there.
That from then on, all calls were answered with respect and decorum.
I’d be lying.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

At the Park

Our good friend, Shirley, is out of town.
Visiting with her son and his family.
She has been enjoying her time down south in the warmth and sun as her/our part of the world grows steadily cooler.
Yesterday was a warm, fall day. Perfect for an outing to the park with two of her granddaughters.
All went well.
The hike there.
Playing on the equipment.
The girls were especially enjoying the long slide.
Grandma was performing her grandmother duties.
It was then the girls proposed something a little more pro-active for their beloved grandparent.
Upping the ante. So to speak.
And with much coaxing, they succeeded.
 Soon, Shirley was perched atop the slide, ready to slide ride hurtle to the bottom.
She took a deep breath . . .
Just then, Youngest Granddaughter turned to her older sister and asked, “If Grandma dies, do you know the way home?”
Playing at the park.
Not for everyone.
Watch for flying grandmothers.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Moose-tly Terrifying

See? Scary!

Gramma Berg's house had a sunroom.

A wonderful spot.
All windows.
And one permanent tenant.
The sunroom was wonderful.
The tenant wasn't. At least to a very small girl.
It was large.
Dark brown.
With great, glassy eyes, a huge nose, a wooly beard.
And large ears.
Oh, yes, and an enormous pair of antlers.
Yes, I admit it - it wasn't your normal tenant.
It was a moose.
The quite obvious fact that it wasn't alive made no difference to its terror factor.
I was certain that, if I went into that room, the great creature would blink its eyes and 'get me'.
Okay, obviously I didn't think that through. The creature possessed no visible limbs, and for all of my life, had resided in the same place on the wall.
Just exactly how it was supposed to 'get' me, we'll never know.
But the truth remains, it terrified me.
And knowing this, my cousins made great sport of daring me to go into the sunroom.
Something which inevitably sent me screaming to some moose-less part of the house.
I loved Grammas house.
The moose and I tolerated each other.
So long as he kept his place, and I could see that place from a distance, we got along fine.
Kinda like a large spider.
But that is another story.
After Gramma passed, the moose was donated and hung where it could scare scores of other people.
Moving forward fifty years . . .
Several members of my family were holidaying in Banff, Alberta, this summer.
We spent a week scrambling about the mountains and wandering through the townsite.
We took the kids to see the 'stuffed animal place'.
Or Banff Museum, as it is officially named.
It houses hundreds of perfectly preserved birds and animals native to the Banff area.
Many of which were present when the museum opened.
In 1903.
On the second floor, it is quite possible to get up close and almost personal with the head of Sir Donald.
A bison.
Several of us were standing, looking at the great animal.
My six-year-old granddaughter peeked out from behind me.
“He scares me,” she whispered, shivering.
“But he's dead,” I said. “He can't hurt you.”
“He's scary,” she maintained.
Quite suddenly, I remembered Gramma's moose. And trembling in fear as my cousins dared me to go into his sunroom.
Yeah. It pretty much looks as though neither Sir Donald (nor I) had a leg to stand on . . .

Monday, October 13, 2014

Of Beards and Blondes

My Father-in-Law (hereinafter known as FIL) was a tall, lean, man of few words.
Quiet, thoughtful and endlessly patient; when he spoke, you listened.
Usually what he had to say was of import.
But he had an aversion to blondes.
No one knew where this particular sensitivity came from. An unfortunate acquaintance.
A particular experience.
The true reason(s) passed when he did.
His wife, my Mother-in-Law (Ditto: MIL) was a small, dark-haired, bustling person of chatter and good humour.
Living for family and household.
The two of them, together, created a world of peace and calm.
Happy posterity and good food.
But there was one place where they differed.
Noticeably so.
Let me tell you about it . . .
FIL was a clean-shaven man. Never prone to going more than a day or two without face scrape-age. Even during harvest, a time in which many other rules and customs were sacrificed in favour of bringing in the all-important crop.
MIL preferred it that way. She liked to see the lines of one’s face.
But occasionally, FIL would tire of the ever-present razor and declare that he was going to grow a beard.
Anyone within hearing distance would suck in an astonished, slightly apprehensive breath and glance at MIL.
She would smile gently and announce, to no one in particular, “Hmmm . . . I think I’ll dye my hair blonde!”
FIL would silently lift his newspaper and go on with whatever had been interrupted.
MIL would go back to bustling.
And the conversation (so to speak) would die. Right there.
My In-Laws had an amazing rapport.
A friendship.
Truly loving relationship.
Even when they differed.
Interesting. Quietly heading off rebellion using one's partner's own aversions.
Only in the best of families . . .

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Price of Integrity

A guest post by Little Brother, Blair.

Pretty. But . . .
Love had paid off and my cow that was once a sick heifer grew up and became part of the herd.
She had a bull calf that also grew up and sold for a sizable sum of money.
And that’s where this story starts . . .
Oh the things that I could do with that money!
A motorcycle.
Maybe a motorcycle and a stereo.
I bought two heifers from Dad’s herd.
Two words: Dad. Convincing.
One of the heifers that I now owned was tall and growthy (Yeah, I know, but I have to use that word).  She appeared to be the picture of the perfect cow.  An orphan, she had been raised by a foster cow that had lots of milk. This meant that she had lots to eat and consequently became very big.
And fat.
She became part of the young cow herd on the ranch.
I took her to a couple of cattle shows and won first place trophies.
Eventually, my very fat, very big cow had a very big, growthy (yes, that word again) calf.  It was about then, we discovered why she was a very big, fat cow.
All the feed that she consumed maintained her large body. She had very little milk and her calf did not grow. 
Dad and I decided that she would have to go to market (Can you say Big Mac?). 
About that time, we had a visitor to the ranch. The kind of rancher that always had a good story to tell about his “prize” bull or cow at all of the cattle shows and sales.
The other ranchers would listen politely, all the while restraining the urge to roll up their pants and start ‘shoveling’. (A term used by ranchers when a fellow rancher tells stories that are a little hard to believe. I'd like to go into more detail but I am trying to be polite.)
Ahem . . .
The verbose rancher looked at all of dad’s cows, spotted my very fat, big cow and immediately offered a healthy sum of money for her.
Dad told him she was headed to market and gave him the details. 
The other rancher went pale.
I think he started to hyperventilate.
He wanted that cow.  He could get around the ‘no milk’ issue by having her calves raised by milk cows.
But dad (and I) had determined if a cow could not adequately feed her calf, she was not worthy of being a cow in our herd.
Or in anyone else’s. If a cow or its calves did not perform well, it would eventually reflect back to our herd.
The rancher was very upset and (once he started breathing normally), left dad’s place in a huff.
We continued with our plans and the very fat, big cow that had no milk went off to auction (burgers). 
And provided a healthy sum from which I bought my motorcycle one or two more calves.
Dad, again.

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