Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

I Know What You Did This Weekend

Two of our granddaughters stayed with us for the weekend.

While their mother, a professional face-painter, was facepaint-er-ing.
It was a wonderful weekend.
We learned:
  1. Little sisters shouldn't sit on big sisters when both are trying to go to sleep.
  2. Big sisters shouldn't sit on little sisters . . . ever.
  3. Play-dough doesn't taste very good. But keep eating.
  4. Whatever Sister is playing with is infinitely better than what I have.
  5. Clothes are for spreading all over the floor.
  6. Especially clean ones.
  7. Sigh.
  8. One can sit through any boring church meeting if there is food and/or things to colour.
  9. One should never, ever colour one's sister.
  10. Even if she would look better.
  11. Water in a bathtub is only the beginning.
  12. Fireplace ashes can make one's hands . . . and clothes . . . remarkably black.
  13. Hot dogs and ice cream make anything better.
  14. Especially ice cream.
  15. As long as Grampa doesn't try to steal it.
  16. Stories with Gramma must be followed by stories with Grampa.
  17. Because he can do the voices.
  18. Rocking mooses can buck you off.
  19. Rocking stools can do the same.
  20. When Grampa is holding the remote, we watch what he's watching.
  21. Even if it is boring.
  22. One can hide from Gramma for incredible amounts of time if one is quiet.
  23. Or falls asleep.
  24. If Grampa says something a two-year-old doesn't want to hear, one can just stare straight ahead.
  25. For hours.
  26. Almost six-year-olds know e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.
  27. And are happy to share it.
  28. Especially if it means they don't have to eat their supper.
  29. Toys are lots of fun to get out.
  30. But not so much fun to put away.
  31. Climbing is acceptable only if one doesn't fall.
  32. See #13.
  33. One should always know where one's head is in proximity to anything.
  34. Tables. Chairs. Walls. Doors. Sisters. 
  35. See #13.
  36. Again.
  37. One can do all the things in a pretty church dress that one can do in jeans and a T-shirt.
  38. Until Gramma catches you.
  39. If one kicks her foot just right, one can project one's shoe great distances.
  40. And even hit one's sister.
  41. In the eye.
  42. Gramma doesn't like it when one sneezes and then rubs one's hand across one's face.
  43. But do it anyway.
  44. Socks are made for hiding, especially when one is getting dressed for Church.
  45. Shoes, ditto.
  46. Grampas are good for playing ponies
  47. Or Troll-Under-The Bridge.
  48. Grammas are good for dancing.
  49. Both are good for cuddling.
  50. But they get tired fast.
Weekend's over. I'm going back to bed.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Any Boys?

Stringams. And one addition.
The boy, second from the right is Graham. The son of one of Dad's college buddies.
He was staying with us for the summer.
Poor kid.
The Stringam ranch was twenty miles from the town of Milk River.
And nine from the nearest neighbor.
Admittedly, it took many, many people to keep the homestead wheels turning.
People we associated with on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.
Many people employed there had families who lived with them on the ranch.
And these families had kids that we Stringam kids played with.
So none of us really lacked for company.
But when Dad received notice that someone, maybe one of his old classmates or a friend from his bachelor days, was stopping by with his family for a visit, it was a cause for some excitement.
My first question was, inevitably, “Are there any girls my age?”
Because we lived so far from civilization, visits usually lasted for days rather than hours. Thus, if there happened to be peers in the anticipated company, I was set for a very good time indeed.
Usually I was answered with a non-committal, “ I'm not sure. I think they have a couple of kids. They might be around your age.”
I would scoff quietly. How could my parents not know the most important fact, like whether there were any possible playmates in the crowd of eagerly awaited arrivals?
I've said it before. Parents are weird.
Inevitably the guests would arrive.
Most of the time, their kids were pretty close in age to at least some of us.
And after five minutes, it didn't matter. We all played together anyway.
Time moved forward and things . . . changed.
Oh, we still had guests stopping by the ranch and said guests still stayed for a few days with us.
And brought their kids with them.
But now that I was twelve, my interest in their children was slightly different.
Now, when a visit was announced, my question was, “Is there anyone my age?”
Notice the slight difference?
I’ll say it again. “Is there anyone my age?”
This is significant.
Because I was no longer looking for girls to play with. Now I was looking for boys to flirt with.
And I thought I was being subtle about it.
Mmmm. Boys.
But looking back, I remember Dad’s grin whenever he told me, “I think they have a couple of sons. Probably a little older than you.”
He could read me like a book.
Probably a good thing I was never a gambler.
Or that there were boys in the poker pot.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Future Father

Big Brother
Our third son, Duffy, was two-and-a-half when our first daughter was born.
He stuck to the baby and I like glue.
That doesn't mean he learned anything . . .
At the tender age of three, Duffy was enrolled in the Sunbeam class in our church.
With eight little girls.
Boys were obviously something new.
Moving on . . .
The scheduled lesson was all about babies.
A precious gift from God.
It was a beautiful lesson.
My four-month-old baby, Caitlin was invited into the class.
I came with her.
Sort of like show-and-tell.
But interactive.
And noisy.
Okay, just like show-and-tell.
After the little girls got tired of cooing over the real baby, their teacher (the mother of five girls, herself) brought out a large basket.
Filled with everything 'baby'.
There were dolls by the dozen.
Instantaneous heaven for the budding little mothers in the class.
Duffy was a boy.
And, though his older brother liked cuddling dolls, Duffy was more comfortable with trucks and things 'boy'.
He was handed a baby doll.
And a blanket.
He dangled his doll by one foot and looked at the little girls around him.
All had at least one (some had purloined two) little babies wrapped warmly and tucked tenderly into their arms.
Most were singing softly.
And rocking.
Duffy stared at them, then held up his baby.
Still by one foot.
Okay. He could handle this.
He spread his blanket out on the floor.
Then dropped the doll onto one corner and proceeded to roll it up like a sausage in a piece of burlap.
He then jammed the resulting package under one arm like a satchel.
The teacher handed him a bottle.
There's more?
He took the bottle and looked at it.
I should mention here that I nursed my babies.
Duffy had never seen a bottle before.
I can still see his little aggrieved face.
What an earth was he supposed to do with this?
Finally, he pulled out his little, blanket-wrapped bundle, grabbed a corner of said blanket and gave it a pull.
The doll flipped out, spun in the air for a moment, then clattered to the floor.
Duffy again grabbed it by the foot.
This time, he examined it minutely.
Ah. There was a tiny hole in one butt cheek.
Perfect for the strange little bottle he had been handed.
He stuck the nozzle of the bottle into the little hole and beamed happily at me.
All was well.
My son, father to future generations . . .

There is a codicil.
Despite this obviously rocky start, Duffy has proved to be an excellent and loving father.
Gifted with working with children of special needs.
I guess he was watching after all.

Delores of Under the Porch Light has issued her challenge.
Six little words: Minute, aggrieved, instantaneous, burlap, satchel, purloined
Use them or lose them.
I chose use.
Join us!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

When Things Start Out Bad . . .

Our second son, he of the six foot eight inches in height, has been a pillar (pun totally intended) of the local city police force for most of a decade.
But, the experiences he has gathered over all of those years, serving as one of Edmonton's finest, still haven't been able to erase the experiences of his early days of training.
Case in point:
Each new officer must demonstrate his ability to continue to work under the most trying and difficult of circumstances.
Scenarios are crafted especially to create such a premise.
One of these is designed to demonstrate how well the new officer can function after being sprayed in the face with pepper spray.
The recruit stands to one side of the exercise yard and receives, directly in the face, a full dose of pepper spray.
That would be where a lessor man, ie. me, would just lay down and die.
But this is only the beginning.
Once sprayed, the officer, nearly blind and almost incapable of breathing, must call for backup and subdue and handcuff not one, but two suspects. Then finally, he may find his way to the sink at the far side of the yard to receive the blessed spray of water to clear eyes and air passages.
It is a gruelling, trying five minutes.
And ends with said recruits silent and contemplative as they sit blinking brilliantly reddened eyes, and breathing blessed pure air.
Fortunately for them, with the completion of this test, that particular day of training is over.
Family members are allowed to come and pick them up.
My son performed well.
He thinks.
Certainly he received a passing grade.
One can only assume what must happen if a recruit receives a failing grade . . .
Moving on . . .
As he sat there, blinking and sniffing, his new wife (of less than a month) arrived to take him home.
With much sympathetic cooing, she tucked him into a corner of the couch.
With a cool compress for his poor eyes.
And a warm, snuggly blanket.
Then she made him a batch of her famous cookies.
Remember where I said that his more recent experiences haven't erased those of his early training?
Well, I didn't say they were all bad.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Those Who Mourn

The peace and freedom we enjoy in our country comes at great cost.
Paid by the precious few who place themselves in harm’s way so that we don’t have to.
But all of the sacrifices aren’t made solely by those on the front lines of the world’s conflicts.
Their families who stand firmly behind them - missing them, praying for them - pay just as high a price . . .
One of my dad’s best friends growing up was a boy named Bernard.
He was a good boy, though rather heedless and daring.
Often the instigator of mischievous deeds and pranks.
As Bernard grew older, his independent, free-spirited view of life wasn’t always understood by everyone.
In particular his father.
When Bernard was sixteen, he and his father weren’t quite seeing eye-to-eye.
That fact, coupled with the additional incentive of a country fighting a righteous war, sent young Bernard to the recruitment center.
He was a tall lad. Easily passing for the eighteen he claimed.
When his father discovered what he had done, he had the option (and the power) to march in, relate a few home truths, and bring his underage boy home. But, after some thought, Bernard’s father decided that his boy needed some discipline. And what better way to get it than by enlisting in the forces?
Bernard went through his training with little trouble. In no time, he was on his way to the battle front, eager to get into the fray.
He charged into battle with the same heedless enthusiasm that had marked his life so far.
But this wasn’t the schoolyard games he was used to.
This was war.
And on his third day, like so many others, he paid the ultimate sacrifice.
His father never recovered from the blow.
Blaming himself for failing to retrieve an underage boy, he mourned his son throughout the remainder of his life.
A tragedy in so many ways.

On this Remembrance Day, let us honour all of the men and women who made and are making our lives possible.
 Let us remember the sacrifice of those who fought and fight still.
And those who mourn them.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Make Do

Mom and Aunt Grace. Even on holidays...

A friend told me a story.
A true one.
About his grandfather during the food rationing days of the Second World War.
The friend's grandmother had been to the grocery store and purchased, among other things, a new tin of pepper.
Which she set on the table.
Her husband picked it up and studied it for a moment. He looked at her and said, “This pepper is half peas!”
“Oh, for heaven's sake!” she said. “I thought I looked at it!”
I should explain, here, that, during the war, creative ways of extending food were discovered and explored. They called it ersatz. I'm not sure where the name came from, but it was expressive. Many different readily available foodstuffs were dried and powdered and added to other foods not so easily come by. Corn meal, for example, was widely used.
The use of dried peas, though not as usual, was not unheard of.
Back to my friend's story . . .
Another can of pepper was procured the next day.
Again, the grandfather picked up the little tin.
“Huh,” he said. “This one is half peas, too.”
His wife snorted in disgust. “Well, there's only one kind left,” she said. “I'll try that one tomorrow.”
She did.
She proudly set the third little tin on the table in front of her husband and proceeded to get his dinner.
He picked up the tin and peered at it closely. “Yep,” he said. “Half peas.”
“What?! I looked at it! Where does it say . . .” her voice trailed off.
Her husband was pointing at the 'Pepper' part of the label. “Here,” he said. “See? P-E-P-P-E-R. Half of the letters are p's.”
Oh. P's. Not peas.
She didn't upend the tin over him or anything drastic like that.
I know I would have been tempted.
But I'm sure they had pepper to last until the turn of the century.
This story reminded me of my Mom.
She was raised during the Depression years and knew very well the days of rationing and going without.
She learned very early to 'make do”.
And to purchase things quickly, when they became available.
Her parents bought a large, twenty-five pound tin of peanut butter, for example. Oil on peanut butter rises. The first two-thirds of the container were edible. The last third had to be run through a meat grinder to make it spreadable.
But they ate it.
Several large cans of cherry jam appeared at the local grocery.
Her Dad quickly snapped one up.
At first, cherry jam was a treat.
Served at every meal, it became a bit tiresome.
Still, it disappeared.
In her own home, Mom tried to practise what she had been taught throughout her life.
Waste not want not, she often told us.
Some of her attempts were successful.
Others . . . not so much.
When there was no milk cow on the place, she tried to extend the life of the milk container in the fridge by added powdered milk to it.
Fooling no one.
She tried purchasing the cheapest brand of peanut butter.
Unfortunately, her children hadn't been raised during the Depression and were finer-mouthed than their parents.
The cheaper peanut butter languished on the shelf.
Finally, in desperation, she bought the favourite kind. Which disappeared in a flash.
Coining the phrase, “I'm going to stop buying that peanut butter. You kids just eat it!”
She made her own roast beef sandwich spread by running cold roast beef through the meat grinder, along with some pickles. Then mixing in some mayonnaise.
That one was a hit. We kids loved sandwiches spread with beef and pickle hash.
I'm sure that, through the years, Mom saved our family a boatload of money with her careful ways.
Unfortunately, my children were even finer-mouthed than we had been.
One day, one of my kids saw her adding water to the ketchup.
I had seen her do that before. It made the ketchup a bit runnier, but still tasted okay.
The child was horrified and told all of his siblings.
And she became, forever, the grandma who put water in the ketchup.
The lesson in frugality and making do was completely lost.

P.S. I've been known to put water in the ketchup, too. Don' tell my kids . . .

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Clock Watcher

I have a thing about time.

I am a clock-watcher.
I have to know the time at any given moment.
Day or night.
I didn't realize just how bad I was until I was in hospital after the birth of our third son.
He was born at 9:30 in the evening and I was so keyed up that I couldn't sleep.
All night long.
I'm sure you've heard people say, “It was the longest night of my life.”
Well, that night was.
I kept listening for stirrings that would indicate the coming of day.
But in a hospital, in a maternity ward, there are constant stirrings.
From that day to this, I have made sure that I have some sort of time-keeper handy.
Moving on . . .
For all of his life, Dad was a rancher.
He was good at it.
After retirement, he poured his energy and meticulous nature into the making of clocks.
Beautiful, inlaid, hand-crafted, gently-chiming clocks.
Which he then sold.
Usually to me.
At one time, I had six of them.
They, together with my tall grandfather's clock, adorned various parts of my living room.
Even their ticking was noticeable.
When they collectively chimed the quarter hours and then the hours, it was pretty nearly deafening.
I loved it.
Had gotten so accustomed to it that I often don't even notice.
Sort of like living next to a set of very busy train tracks.
Sort of.
Oh, I had comments.
“It sounds like a clock shop in here!”
“I feel like I'm in some sort of creepy movie!”
Okay, I'm not sure that the person who made that last statement was totally talking about the clocks.
Ahem . . .
And my favourite, “Could someone please tell me the correct time. I think it just chimed forty-two in here!”
Hey. Love me, love my clocks.
Get over it.
My first purchase in walnut and purple heart

One of the newest in walnut and maple
More details in Rocky Mountain Juniper

There is a codicil:
Daddy is now 89. Over the past year, failing health has forced many changes. The first was the giving up of his beloved workroom. There will be no more clocks from those gifted hands.
Suddenly, my collection has taken on a whole new meaning.

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