Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Pointy and Sharp

He sees a work of art. I see a cutting  . . . thing.
My Husby plays with knives.
I guess you could call him a genuine aficionado.
When he sees a knife, he has to examine it.
Check out what steel it's made of.
Feel its balance.
Grade the overall quality of its construction.
Yep. Aficionado.
Several years ago, he and our second son, who inherited all of his father's love of knives, took a knife-making course.
This merely served to up the ante, so to speak.
Now the two of them are constantly examining and purchasing bits of steel that could be used in the creation process.
We have a forge in our back yard.
My garage is stacked with pieces of specialized woods and animal horns that would be 'absolutely perfect' for a particular knife handle.
And all the tools used in the cutting, grinding and polishing of fine steel sit where a normal person would park their car.
It keeps him happy.
And did I mention that we have very fine knives in our kitchen?
Well, we do.
Every shape and size imaginable.
They are S.H.A.R.P.
Each knife in my kitchen has a specific purpose.
My Husby would be happy to elucidate.
At great length.
I wouldn't be listening.
Because I use only two.
A small, paring knife that he purchased for me in Corsica . . .
I should point out, here, that most people buy souvenirs when they travel. My Husby is the same. Except that said souvenirs invariably consist of something sharp and pointy.
With excellent steel, good balance and a really, really interesting handle.
He bought the first on our honeymoon. 
And continued.
Moving on . . .
My second knife is an ordinary-looking blade.
Just the right size for me.
Both are wrong.
Oh, they are good knives.
Do an excellent job.
Look nice.
But as my Husby is so fond of pointing out, they are not the right knife for whatever job I am requiring of them.
Invariably, when he comes into the kitchen when I am cooking, the first words out of his mouth are, “You're using the wrong knife.”
To which he is rewarded with a heated glare.
Let's face it, he's a brave man to say such things when his wife has something razor sharp and very pointy in one hand.
I have often told him so.
He just laughs.
But I will have the last laugh.
And I tell him that on his gravestone, it will read, “She used the wrong knife!”
No jury would convict me.
Just FYI. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Demon of a Cleaner

See? Don't you wish you had one?
DMom’s kitchen and dining room floors were amazing.
Gleaming, shining clean.
Perfect for sliding about in one’s socks.
And the most exciting thing about her clean floors was the little demon that came out to clean them.
Let me tell you about it.
Once a week, Mom would move all of the kitchen and dining room chairs into the living room.
Which was an adventure itself. (See here. Go ahead. We’ll wait . . .)
And while my brother and I were thus engaged, she would get down on her hands and knees and scrub the floors.
And I do mean scrub.
Never, in the history of the world, were there cleaner floors.
I know, because I spent a lot of time down on them.
Ahem . . .
Following the scrubbing, Mom would bring out the wax.
And this was about the time that my brother and I would abandon our chair play and lay at the edge of the floor to watch.
Because after the wax was applied, the ‘demon’ came out.
It was green.
And had a rounded, wide head and a long, stiff tail.
And, if you looked carefully, little white eyes.
That stared at you.
It also had three sets of interchangeable little pads that snapped on and off.
Dark and ‘bristly’, Steel wooley, or white, soft and ‘puffy’.
It was the latter that created the longed-for shine.
Mom would turn the demon over, snap on the soft pads and then flip it back and hit the switch.
Instantly the wide, white pads would begin to spin.
This was the best part.
As she polished, Mom would move the demon closer and closer to George and I.
Bravely, we would hold our ground. Daring each other to be the last to head, shrieking, for the nearest couch.
I should point out, here, that I never won.
George has nerves of steel.
Brothers. Pfff . . .

There is a codicil:
Years later, when I was newly married with waxable floors, and my Mom had graduated to kitchen carpeting, I inherited the ‘demon’.
It still had the interchangeable pads.
And still achieved an amazing shine.
And still terrorized small children.
Full circle.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Neither a Borrower...

I love ancestor stories . . .
The Council House was being built in Manti, Utah, using volunteer labour.
And borrowed tools.
My GGGrandfather Stringam was one of those labourers.
With one of those borrowed tools.
In this instance, a hammer, lent to him by his friend, Augustus Dodge.
GGGrandfather, together with the rest of the crew, was busily laying flooring on the upper level of the mostly-finished building when the call came for lunch.
Setting the hammer down, he happily answered said call.
When he returned, he discovered that everyone had not left when he did, but had continued working.
And the entire floor had been finished.
In dismay, he looked over the beautiful job, knowing that, somewhere under those boards, was the hammer he had borrowed.
Yeah. I know. That happens to things I borrow, too.
Back to my story . . .
He found Augustus and told him his dilemma. He added, “If you’re around when that building is demolished, I guess you can claim your hammer.”
Moving ahead . . .
In 1910, fifty-plus years and a new century later, the Council House was scheduled for removal to make way for a spanking new library.
GGGrandfather, now an elderly man, heard the exciting announcement and went to observe the proceedings.
When the time came for the floor in the upper story to be removed, he was on hand to personally examine the space under every board as it was pulled up.
And finally, there it was.
Augustus Dodge’s borrowed hammer. Safe and sound.
There's a lesson in this.
Always return what you borrow.
Even it it's centuries later.

P.S. I wonder what the fine would be on that 'library book'?!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Heaven, Gustatory

 “‘Tis feasible,” my mother said,
“One day you won’t approach with dread,
The culinary preparation needed.”
“To keep your family fine and strong,
Health’s maintenance. And life prolong!”
I sighed and knew, this once, she should be heeded.

And so she set the gadgets up,
She showed me teaspoon, timer, cup,
And joyfully, she started my instruction.
And while I watched in blank dismay,
Components hybrid on display,
I feared I’d never manage reproduction.

My poor family ached long-term
Gelatinous stews that made them squirm,
And casseroles known only by their toppings.
But still my mother laboured on,
Her lines of duty, clearly drawn,
From morn till night. Without. Ever. Stopping.

Her daughter must be well prepared,
No defeat would be declared.
And suitors would not ever find her wanting.
From soup to nuts and all between,
She taught me her divine cuisine,
And introduced aromas rich and haunting.

And I learned to cook, I truly did.
Discovered secrets ever hid,
Explored the states of ‘Heaven, Gustatory’,
And though I’ll never famous be,
My friends and all my family
Are satisfied. And that, to me, is glory.

With praise and glory to her name,
Issues challenges all great and mighty.
With glee writ large upon her face,
She takes us to her happy place
And tasks her minions, aged from nine to ninety.

This weeks challenge? 
Go ahead. Try it. It's fun!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Chalkboard Aftermath

Well, it was fun for me . . .
My friend, Cathy's dad had a wonderful job.
He got to sneak into the schools after everyone had left.
Wander at will through the empty hallways and classrooms.
And clean.
Oh, man, it was the coolest!
And sometimes, wonder of wonders, he let Cathy and I and some of his other kids (12 in all ) . . . help.
There were times when we got to race the huge, soft dry-mops up and down the hallways.
And I do mean race.
Empty the garbage cans.
Did you know that the teacher's lounge of the sixties smelled like cigarette smoke?
Just FYI.
Moving on . . .
And, best of all, he let us clean the brushes.
In the sixties, whiteboards were black.
And pieces of chalk were used instead of today's dry-erase felts.
These pieces of chalk marked the blackboards very effectively.
There were only a couple of drawbacks.
They had the ability to squeak against the board at decibels that could shatter glass.
And they left a lot of chalk dust.
A lot.
Especially when someone tried to clean said chalk from said blackboard.
The thick, black-felt erasers used to accomplish this quickly became saturated with the fine, white dust.
Then they had to be cleaned.
Now a normal person would simply take the vacuum to them.
A normal person.
Cathy and I were ten.
I should point out here that there is nothing normal about a 10-year-old.
Back to my story . . .
Cathy and I would collect the brushes.
Cart them outside.
And bang them together.
Imagine, if you will, a cloud of fine, white dust.
With two little girls somewhere near the center of it.
You get it, right?!
What on earth could be more fun?
The fact that the dust merely got relocated and that the two little girls then had to, themselves, be cleaned, never even entered our minds.
For a brief, wonderful while, we were the center of our very own little dust storm.
I can still remember how it smelled.
And, as it collected on our tongues, just how it tasted.

There is an unexpected codicil: Fifteen years later, I was expecting my third child. Another boy.
I craved something. In fact, I could almost taste it. It took forever to figure out what that taste was.
Then it hit me.
I was craving chalk.
And not the light, cheap stuff that had become common.
I was craving the good stuff.
The stuff that Cathy and I used to clean out of those brushes and catch in our mouths all those years ago.
The doctor told me I was lacking in minerals and gave me some pills to swallow.
I wish he would have simply given me some brushes to clean . . .

Monday, November 3, 2014

First Romance

Grade Twelve English 30.
My favourite class of all time.
What could possibly be better than reading books and stories and then talking about them?
Or of writing your own?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Our teacher was a veteran of many, many years. She had taught each of my three elder siblings and survived.
And now it was my turn.
Most of the time, I was fairly quiet in her class - choosing mostly to listen as the conversations went on around me. Keeping my opinions to myself, except when they could be submitted in a written format.
My grades were good.
We were working our way through a thick volume of short stories. Some exciting. Some bizarre. Some sweet and romantic.
It was during this last that I came to grief.
Let me explain . . .
We were reading a story about a man who saw a beautiful hand-made doll in the window of a local shop.
The doll affected him greatly.
It seemed to 'speak' to him.
He purchased it and tried to find out more about it and the person who had made it.
He discovered that the doll and others like it were made locally and that a woman usually brought them in to the shop a few at a time.
He tracked down the woman.
She was not the artist.
Instead, she kept the real doll-maker a virtual prisoner, and forced her to keep making dolls, which were then sold.
The imprisoned doll-maker was justifiably sad and put all of the love she would have given her unborn children into her dolls. Which was why they were so beautiful.
The man fell in love with the captive doll-maker, stole her away and married her.
And they lived happily ever after.
Okay, I admit it, when I read this story, I discovered that I'm a romantic.
I loved it.
Loved the 'happily ever after' ending.
I was excited for the discussion to start . . .
“How many of you liked this story?” the teacher asked.
My hand shot up.
Then slowly lowered as I realized that I was the only person in the class who had raised one.
“This story was drivel!” the teacher said. “Absolute tripe!” She stomped around the front of the class. “Stupid romantic nonsense! Waste of good print! Waste of time!”
She added several more derisive comments, then stopped and stared at me.
My hand was back on my desk.
“Well, I thought it was romantic!” One of the other girls tried to come to my aid.
The teacher snorted. “Hmph! Don't know why it was included in this book! Maybe as an example of lousy writing!”
The class was silent.
“Asinine garbage! Should be torn out of the book!” She glared around. “Any other thoughts?”
Let me put it this way . . . the discussion following this story didn't take up much time.
The story was given a brief technical reckoning, then dismissed.
And the class moved on to the next story.
I moved with them, reading and responding to my assignments.
But I never forgot my first romantic story.
I read and re-read it.
Loving it more each time.
I still think I was right.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Times Table Trouncing

Me: Bottom right.
My Nemesis: Top Left.
I tried.
I really did.
I just wasn't . . . quite/ever . . . good enough.
Maybe I should explain.
Our grade five teacher, Mrs. Herbst, she of the blue hair, was a stickler for math.
And math facts.
Actually, she was a stickler for most school work, but especially for anything to do with numbers.
She devised many and various methods for teaching said facts.
Quizzes. (Not to be confused with tests. Quizzes were shorter in length and supposedly carried less weight. And were jumped on you without notice. Yikes! Just FYI.)
Games . . .
And this is where our story starts . . .
Our class sat in desks in several long rows.
Mrs. Herbst would call the names of the front students in the two outside rows.
“Kathy and Margaret, please pay attention.”
Actually, I must confess that I don't know if those two girls were ever actually pitted against each other in Mrs. Herbst's devious little exercise, but they were two of the smartest girls in the class and I thought this sounded good.
Moving on . . .
The girls would take a deep breath and sit up, ready for what was coming.
“Seven times six!” Mrs. Herbst would bark out crisply.
“Forty-two!” Both girls would shout out together, nearly in unison.
The teacher would nod and smile.
And call out the names of the students seated just behind the first two.
“Five times nine!”
Slowly, she would work her way around the room.
Getting closer and closer to me.
And Kenny.
“Six times eight!”
“Four times nine!”
“Five times six!”
Finally, she would be looking at the students seated directly in front of her in the two center rows.
One of whom was almost purple with anticipation.
Okay. Me. I was almost purple with  . . . you get the picture.
The other was Kenny.
Mrs. Herbst would inhale.
My heart would stop.
“Nine times nine!”
“Eighty one!” Kenny would say, softly, before she had even finished the last word.
And just as I was drawing a breath, ready to shout.
“Rats!” I would say.
I knew the answer! I did!
That rotten Kenny beat me again!
I would sit back in my chair and glare, narrow-eyed, at the tall young man seated just opposite.
Next time, Kenny. Next time.

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