Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mirror, Mirror . . .


Remember the 'fashion' dolls of the fifties?
The straight-standing, frozen featured, supposedly beautiful dolls?
That creative people crocheted or knitted clothes for.
Or sunk into cakes.
Those dolls.
Well, besides being known for arriving 'without wardrobe', they were also known for their pre-styled, fine, beautiful hair.
Hair that was not comb-able.
That stuck together in a tight ball and defied any efforts at style change.
I know that hair well.
Because I was born with the same stuff.
And matted permanently together.
Candy-fluff hair, my Mom called it.
Okay, 'candy fluff', I loved.
Candy fluff on my head?
Not so much.
Every morning, and several times throughout the day, Mom would come at me with a comb.
Or some other implement guaranteed to make my hair behave.
None of them worked.
All of them . . . hurt.
Mom: “Diane, hold still! I'm almost done!”
Me: “Waaah!”
And so it went.
As I grew, my hair . . . changed. Subtly.
Oh, it was still fine and soft.
But it no longer stuck together in one fuzzy lump.
Now it stuck together in several fuzzy lumps all over my head.
Mom: “Diane, hold still! There's just one more!”
Me: “Waaah!”
Finally, by about age eight, I outgrew the 'fuzzies'.
But made another important discovery.
Yes, my hair no longer matted together, defying all attempts at style.
And it was now longer and straighter.
But . . . it still hurt to comb it.
Yes. I was a hair wuss.
Mom: “Diane, hold still! Your hair will look beautiful!”
Me: “Waaah!”
Finally, in frustration one day, she uttered the fateful words, “Diane, don't you know you have to suffer to be beautiful?”
I stared at her. “Really?”
She nodded sagely.
I put it together.
If I suffered, I would be beautiful.
It was that simple.
This went on for several years.
Every day, I suffered.
Every day, I looked in the mirror.
Nope. Same face as yesterday.
Finally, at age fifteen, I challenged my mother's hypothesis.
Me: “Mom! I've suffered! Why aren't I beautiful!?”
Mom (In true 'Mom' form): “Oh, honey, you ARE beautiful!”
Right. Waaait. I see where this is going . . .
Moving ahead several years . . .
I was combing my granddaughter's fiery red, naturally curly hair.
ME: “Kyra, hold still! I'm almost done!”
Kyra: “Waaah!”
Me: “Don't you know you have to suffer to be beautiful?”
She stares at me. “Really?”
And so the story continues . . .

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Butt of the Game

Take me out . . .

I love baseball.
In fact, if I was to think about it, baseball is probably my favourite sport.
My mom was a helluva heckuva player.
I don't know if I ever equalled her ability.
Though I sure enjoyed trying.
But did you know that baseball and self-image go together?
Well, they do.
In my grade twelve year, I boarded for a few months with my best friend Debbie's family while attending school in Magrath, Alberta.
I should mention that her family were . . . characters.
Moving on . . .
During that time I played, along with Debbie, for the Del Bonita team.
It was a blast.
And we made a respectable showing in the league.
One afternoon, we were back at Debbie's house.
Celebrating a win.
I was euphoric (Oooh! Good word!) because I had hit a three-bagger that had brought in two runs.
The team hero.
Well, in my eyes, at least.
Debbie's parents had watched the game.
And were enjoying re-hashing it with us.
Her dad sat back and took a deep, satisfied breath. “Yep. That was a good game,” he said. He looked at me. “It's a good thing you joined the team.”
I smiled, feeling quite satisfied with myself.
He looked at his daughter and grinned. “Yep. Until you came, Debbie had the biggest . . .”
He paused.
I waited. Was he going to say hit? Arm? Throw?
Hero ability?
“ . . . butt on the team.” He looked back at me. The grin widened. “Now she has the second biggest.”
“Hey!” I said, my euphoric bubble bursting abruptly.
He laughed. “What makes you think I was talking about you?”
“But it was a good game,” he said.
I stared at him, narrow-eyed.
Did he really mean it?
Did I have a big butt?
I looked down at my 28 inch waist men's jeans.
Did they hide a monstrous backside?
He laughed again, got up and left the room. “Yep. Good game.”
“You don't, Diane,” Debbie said.
“What?” I looked at her.
“You can stop checking. You don't have a big butt. In fact, you don't have a butt.”
“Oh. Ummm . . . okay.”
“And you played a good game. That's just Dad's way of telling you.”
Did I mention that her family was quirky?
To this day, when I see a well-played baseball game, I think of . . . good plays.
You thought I was going to say big butts, didn't you?
Nope. That I save for when I'm playing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Aunt Emily

Teacher of all things important.
Care-taker extraordinaire.
Sometimes you think you know someone.
But you really don't . . .
My Dad is the youngest of eleven children.
Nine boys.
And two girls.
The youngest girl, my Aunt Mary, was a short, round, happy lady with numerous children and even more numerous grandchildren.
More about her in another post . . .
His other sister, Emily, was an entirely different person.
Emily was the eldest child in the family.
She was a tall, spare, maiden lady.
Erect and correct.
And I was terrified of her.
Emily had served a mission for her church in her early twenties.
Briefly - and tragically - entertained the thought of marriage.
And lived the rest of her life teaching home economics and helping her mother care for the family home.
She was the professed cleaner to my Grandmother's cooking.
The maker of everything tidy.
The bestow-er of a set of sewing scissors to every niece who reached grade nine.
And the dragon in the den at the top of the stairs.
A note . . .
Aunt Emily's office was the first room to the left as one went up the stairs of the family home.
It was a lovely place. Neat and organized.
With a little window/door that opened out onto the roof/sundeck of the garage.
Us kids loved to sneak into that room and let ourselves out onto that deck.
But only when Aunt Emily wasn't about.
Back to my story . . .
Throughout my childhood, I loved visiting Grandma Stringam's home with my parents.
But walked softly around Aunt Emily.
When I was eighteen, all of that changed.
I had moved to the city to attend college.
Go figure.
For four months, I stayed with my Grandma and Aunt Emily.
At first, though I'm sure they tried to make me feel welcome, I spent very little time in their home.
Choosing, instead to study at the college or at a friend's and returning only at bedtime.
Then I got sick.
Really, really sick.
Strep throat.
One evening, after we had put the paper to bed (a newspaper term for sending everything to the press and washing our hands of all responsibility), I collapsed.
My friends carried me, quite literally, to my grandmother's home and to my little bed on the second floor.
I remember very little of it.
There, safely ensconced, I lost all consciousness for several days.
Someone took care of me.
Gave me liquids.
Fed me.
Cleaned up after me.
Helped me to the bathroom.
Hauled me to the hospital for a shot in the backside.
I do remember that . . .
And generally took excellent care of me.
As I slowly became more cognisant, I realized that the person who had been so patiently and lovingly nursing me was my scary Aunt Emily.
One afternoon, I opened my eyes and felt . . . almost human.
Aunt Emily appeared beside my bed.
“Feeling better?”
I nodded uncertainly.
“Oh, I'm so glad! I'm going to the store to get you something special. What would you like?”
And it was then that I realized that eighteen years had gone by without me knowing my special aunt at all.
Eighteen years of misunderstanding and unwarranted fear.
Wasted years.
I wasted no more.
In the following weeks and months, we became friends.
Aunt Emily died at the age of 85 from complications following surgery.
We were given twenty five years of friendship.
I will always be grateful.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Walk With Me

In housework, she is most devout,
Tidies, takes the garbage out.
Dusts and scrubs like a machine,
Till everything is shining, clean.

This automatic cleaning bent,
Alleviates her discontent.
‘Cause she’s alone and lonely, too.
But cannot figure what to do.

Her married friends come to her aid,
“There’s no such thing as an ‘Old Maid’”!
Utopian, your life is now.”
“To no one do you e’er kowtow.”

“Yes, you’re alone, but you should note,
You’ve sole control of the remote.”
“You needn’t ask another’s view
When making changes old to new.”

“You needn’t sleep with someone’s snore,
Who leaves socks and neckties on the floor.”
“Then walks around in underwear,
Trailing crumbs from here to there.”

 “Whate’re you want to do, you do.
And no one picks or barks at you.”
“Your perfect life, your good friends see,
Of plagiarism, guilty be.”

 She smiled and said, “My Spinster state,
Appears to you, my friends, as great.
There’s no one that I must consult.
None who would demean, insult.”

“But still sometimes, it would be nice,
To be noticed – once or twice.”
“And have someone with whom to talk,
Commit to me and walk the walk.”

“Yes, your life’s messy; yes, it’s tough.
At times it may get downright rough.”
“But still, you are together, see?
I’d love somebody there for me.”

“I’ll carry on. I’m happy, true!
Because I have such friends as you!”
But here’s what my good friends can do,
It’d help if you were watching, too!

Again, Delores challenges with her six little words.
Again, her minions scramble to answer.
This week?
 Utopian, plagiarismnecktieautomaticspinsterdevout
It's an introspective day.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Would you put these two together?
Yeah. Me neither.

Growing up in the great outdoors gave me an appreciation for all things . . . outdoors-y.
IE: horses.
But sadly, instilled in me a complete ignorance of the finer points of creating a beautiful home.
IE: embroidery.
My Mom ran a very efficient home.
She cooked, cleaned and organized.
And even, on occasion, helped in the barnyard when the need arose.
With all of that, somehow, she also found time for the pretty things in life.
She embroidered pillowcases and tablecloths.
Runners and handkerchiefs.
Even tea towels.
And did them beautifully.
Unfortunately, the urge to 'pretty' things up had been left out of my makeup.
Or so I thought.
It was merely dormant.
After the birth of my first baby, I was suddenly bitten by the sewing bug.
I had to sew.
A lot.
I started out simply: overalls, pants and shirts for my boy.
Then moved on to more complex: dresses for me.
And blue jeans.
But that is not what this story is about . . .
From sewing practical, functional garments, my next logical progression was to the finer stitching.
My Mom would be so proud.
I got hooked, quite literally, on counted cross stitch.
Wall hangings.
I loved it.
Whenever there was a break in the day's routine . . . and even when there wasn't . . . I was back on the couch.
I should point out, here, that I had always been a 'night owl'.
Preferring the hours after my kids were in bed, to indulge in whatever pursuit was currently consuming me.
Usually reading.
Occasionally watching TV.
Now, my staying-up-in-the-evening time was taken up with those fine little needles and yards and yards of cotton floss.
I made dozens of beautiful pictures and hangings.
Working far into the night to complete some intricate piece.
It was a peaceful moment in time.
Until one evening.
Allow me to describe . . .
It was quiet there in the night.
Everyone in the household was asleep.
All the lights - save the one that snared me and my comfy armchair in a noose of gold - were off.
I worked silently away.
Consulted my pattern.
Switched colours.
Continued on.
Then I started to feel . . . creepy. Like someone was watching me.
I lifted my head. Peered intently into the shadows of the kitchen and hallway.
No one.
I went back to my stitching.
Again, that feeling came over me.
Again, I looked.
I was really starting to get spooked.
I tried to concentrate on my work.
I had only put in one stitch when I was nearly overwhelmed by the feeling that someone, somewhere, was silently watching.
I dropped my sewing into my lap and peered toward the kitchen.
Then I turned and looked the other way, into the living room.
And nearly died.
Two eyes were indeed staring at me.
From about two inches away.
I screamed and pressed one hand to my suddenly hammering heart.
It was then I realized that the two large, staring eyes belonged to my son's Bopo the Clown which was standing directly behind my chair.
The eyes didn't blink or move.
They didn't have to.
Just the sight of them staring at me out of the dim light was enough to totally shatter my night.
I did what any normal person would have done.
I 'bopped' Bopo in his large bulbous, red nose.
I hit him again.
Sigh. I felt marginally better.
But it was definitely time for bed . . .
The next evening found me back in my chair.
Needle firmly in hand.
And with Bopo turned forcefully to the wall.
Beauty definitely doesn't need a beast.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Calling in Sick

Creative jobs require creative excuses
Everyone, at some point, calls in sick to work.
Even those toughest of the tough. The weather-hardened cowboys.
Their excuses are just a bit more . . . creative.
In my grandfather's day, his hired men were all experienced, life-hardened individuals.
And I do mean individual.
One morning, one of his cowboys failed to report with the others.
Grampa handed out the day's assignments, then went in search.
He found the man seated snugly in the bunkhouse, both feet comfortably propped up on a chair.
Grampa stopped in the doorway.
“Are you coming out to work?” he asked.
“Can't. Toik,” the man said.
Grampa stared at him. “Excuse me?”
“Can't. Toik,” the man repeated.
“Oh.” Grampa thought about that for a moment. Then, “What?” he asked again.
The hired man looked at him. “Toik,” he said carefully.
Grampa nodded. “That's what I thought you said.”
He turned and headed back to the barnyard.
For some time, he puzzled over the man's answer.
What on earth was a toik?
Finally, he found himself working alongside one of the other men.
“Smith not coming?” the man asked.
Grampa shook his head. “No. He said something about a toik.”
The hired man grinned. “And you had no idea what he was talking about?”
Again, Grampa shook his head. “None whatsoever,” he said.
The man laughed. “You can't guess what a toik is?”
“Maybe I should translate.”
Grampa looked at him. “Please,” he said.
“Toe ache,” the man said.
“Ahhh!” Grampa said.
Things suddenly made . . . sense. Sort of. “Toe ache.”
Now I'm sure you've heard the excuse of 'a cold coming on'.
The flu.
Sore throat.
Sinus infection.
Broken bones.
Even the occasional bout of 'explosive diarrhoea'.
But I'd venture to guess that you've never before heard of a toik.
Well, now you have.
Feel free to use it . . .

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ranch Naps

By Request: A Re-post
The Stringam Wagon Train
I love horses.
All horses.
So much that I ate, breathed and slept horses.
Let me paint you a picture . . .
On the ranch, everything ran like clockwork. Cows were milked. Cattle, horses, chickens and pigs fed, eggs gathered, meals served. One never had to look at a clock to know what time it was. You could tell merely by observing the natural rhythm of the operations that were an integral part of ranch life.
I loved the horses.
And I was a natural with them. I could climb on the back of the most dastardly villain the corral had to offer and handle him with ease.
I spent most of my waking hours with the horses.
And some of my sleeping ones, as I already mentioned.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
During the day, my four-year-old self was fairly useless. I wandered here and there, usually sticking close to the barn, but occasionally breaking with tradition and getting into trouble in some other area.
(Chickens and I also have a history, but that is another story.)
On this particular day, mealtime was fast approaching.
Now one thing on the ranch that could be counted on was my appearance at meals.
The huge ranch bell would ring and inform all and sundry – including total strangers living in Timbuktu – that it was time for everyone on the Stringam Ranch to head to the house because something truly wonderful was waiting there.
Mom was a terrific cook.
The bell rang.
People assembled.
No Diane.
How could this be? She was always underfoot. Particularly at mealtimes.
They began to eat. She’ll be here soon, they reasoned.
Dessert approached. Still no Diane.
Dad was beginning to worry. He began to question the men.
Had anyone seen her?
Bud had shooed her away from the cow he was milking by singing ‘Danny Boy’. A guaranteed ‘Diane repellent’.
Al thought he had seen her going into the shed behind the barn, where the horses were.
Dad got to his feet. This was serious.
He headed for the barn.
The horses could come and go at will on the Stringam ranch. Mostly they preferred go. But occasionally, when it was too hot or too cold, and because they were basically wussies - and lazy - they would hang around under the shed beside the barn and eat the hay that they didn't have to stalk and kill themselves.
It was to this intrepid group that Dad went.
He could see tails swishing as he approached. 
He approached quietly, careful not to spook them.
A spooked horse is a stupid horse . . . well, actually most horses are st . . . oh, never mind.
He slipped carefully in under the shade. He patted one horse and slid between two others, and stood for a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the gloom.
Then he saw it. Back in the corner.
Something peculiar.
A horse with . . . something on its back.
He patted another rump and moved a little closer.
The horses started to shift a bit.
They were beginning to sense something.
Mealtime? Pshaw, that’s all the time.
Maybe a slight breeze was coming up and it was time for everyone to spook and run around like idiots? Naw. That would take effort.
An intruder? Hmm . . . this needed considering . . .
Dad had finally moved far enough through the herd that he could see into the corner.
See the smallest pony, drooping in front of the manger, with a little girl turned backwards on his back, her head on the wide, soft rump.
The rest of her in dreamland.
He had found me, but now for the tricky part. How to wake me without spooking the herd, and my own personal bed. If he spoke, the horses would surely work out the fact that it was a man standing among them and use that excuse to start running.
Or dancing.
Or playing chess.
You never know with horses.
He would have to take the chance. “Diane,” he whispered.
“Diane,” he said again, a little louder.
My eyes opened.
“Diane.” A third time.
I sat up and frowned at him. “What.”
“Time for dinner.”
Who knew a four-year-old could move that fast?

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