Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

(S)now Day

I was raised on a ranch twenty miles from the nearest town.
It was a wonderful place in which to grow up.
I lived and worked and spent my days with family and farm animals.
A peaceful, beautiful sunlit life.
Except when it snowed.
And then it was something else entirely.
It became perfect.
Maybe I should explain . . .
To get to school each day, my siblings and I rode the school bus.
There were flaws in the system.
The bus driver of the day refused to make the entire trip to the ranch.
And instead, would meet us at Nine-Mile Corner.
Situated nine miles from the ranch.
Okay, so, creative name-ers, we weren't.
Moving on . . .
Every day, Mom, and occasionally Dad, would drive us to meet the bus.
So we would be driving a vehicle to the middle of nowhere to meet another vehicle.
We didn't always connect.
At which time, Mom, and occasionally Dad, would have to take us the remaining eleven miles into town.
And all of this was when the weather cooperated.
When it didn't, things were a tad different.
During the winter, when it stormed, driving to the school bus was very nearly impossible.
But our parents would gamely try unless told to do otherwise by someone in authority.
The announcer on the radio was just such an authority. 
When we awoke to howling winds and/or thickly falling snow, we would wait breathlessly to hear the magic words.
Which schools were being closed.
Inevitably, Milk River was on the list.
At which time, we would rejoice, loudly, and proceed to plan out a day of skating and/or sledding and/or playing in the snow. With fresh doughnuts and hot chocolate to follow.
The very best of days.
Because a Snow Day is a gift and isn't to be wasted.
Moving ahead . . .
When my own kids were growing up, schools were never closed due to snow.
But buses were often cancelled.
When that happened, even when our family was living in town, I kept my kids home.
Because a Snow Day is a gift and isn't to be wasted on going to school.
Moving ahead again . . .
A few days ago, a blizzard blew into Edmonton and area.
A large blizzard.
Preceded by freezing rain.
Which made the roads almost impassible.
The commute to work quickly became a snarled mess of broken automobiles and frustrated drivers.
I kept my Husby home.
Because a Snow Day is a gift and simply isn't to be wasted on going to work.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Paltry Sum

A few days ago, Husby and I went to a movie. 

We enjoyed it.
And we got in for the price of $25.00 for the two of us.
And that included two drinks, and a bag of popcorn to share.
And as he was swiping his debit card, I was remembering another theatre experience.
In another time.
For the paltry sum of fifty cents . . .

Fifty cents used to be a lot of money.

And gave you the ability to do amazing things.
Let me explain . . .
That wonderful day of the week when one didn't have to dive frantically from their beds, feverishly dash through a morning routine, and drive frantically to catch the school bus.
On Saturday, one could leisurely climb out of bed.
Enjoy a healthy breakfast.
And spend the morning . . . diverting.
Okay, well I don't know about the rest of the family (ie. Mom . . . and everyone else), but could.
And the best part of Saturday?
Talking Dad into taking me and my siblings into town for the movies.
Remember, we lived twenty miles away.
On sketchy 'gravelled' roads.
Sometimes, it took a great deal of talking.
On the days we were successful, he would pull up to the theatre, hand each of us fifty cents, and wave as we scrambled for the door.
The smell of freshly popped and popping corn would wash over me the instant I stepped inside. Clutching my money, I made a dash for the admissions counter and handed over half of my precious coins.
Then I took up a post in front of the all-important concession and eyed the limitless possibilities.
After several moments of tempting myself with mouth-watering indecision, I made my choice.
Inevitably, Grape Crush and a bag of popcorn.
With a nickle for a package of red licorice.
Then, clutching my booty and my ticket, I would approach that magical doorway to infinite worlds and possibilities.
The door-keeper would tear my precious ticket in half with a grin and an, “Enjoy the show!” and I was inside.
The curtains, deep green velvet, would be tightly closed, hiding the magic behind them.
Reverently, eyes glued to them, I would slowly make my way down the sloping, creaking wooden floor to my chosen seat.
Somewhere near the front.
Preferably in the first two rows.
Then, one hand stuffing popcorn into my mouth, and the other clutching my precious bottle of pop, I would settle back.
Waiting for the magic.
Waiting to be transported to another place and time.
Suddenly, the house lights would dim and a bright beam would shoot through the air and snare the green curtains in a noose of light.
They would slowly begin to part.
I should mention here that, for years, I thought that the thick, heavy curtains actually became opaque.
And that the beam of light was shining through them from the back.
Yeah. So, Einstein, I wasn't.
Moving on . . .
For the next two hours, I was somewhere else.
Watching the lives and/or exploits of someone else.
It was magic.
Occasionally, reality would intrude for precious seconds.
Especially if the projectionist was a bit slow in starting the second and/or third reels.
But mostly, my immersion was happy and complete.
Another world.
Another time.
Another life.
Complete with yummy snacks.
All opened to me for the paltry sum of fifty cents.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Scuba for Seniors

Yes. That's me.
Just before I turned fifty, Husby took me and our two youngest children on a holiday.
To Italy. And, even more exciting, on a tall ship cruise through the blue Mediterranean waters surrounding Italy.
We met our second son there. He was stationed in Bosnia and was quite happy to make the short hop to meet us when he was on leave.
There are lots of stories.
The one I’m going to tell you about could easily be titled “Scuba Diving for the Direction-ally Challenged”.
Ahem . . .
Whilst Husby was topside, exploring such wonders as . . . Malta. Sicily. Corsica. The rest of his party was under the water - air canisters strapped to our backs and flippers and wet suits correctly and prudently donned – exploring the wonders of undersea ship wrecks. Fish schools. Sea life.
We still argue about who had the most fun.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
First we had to get in the water . . .
It was a perfect day.
Perfect as only a bright, sunny day in the Mediterranean can get. The tender, filled to the gunwales with happy, excited tourists all attractively clothed in black wetsuits, made its way out to the center of the bay immediately adjacent to the Island of Malta.
We had been given extensive instruction.
Do this.
Never, ever even attempt to do that.
We were ready.
Our first duty was to attach any and all tubes necessary to continued breathing and/or life, and fall backward into the warm, welcoming depths of the blue, blue water.
I emphasize the word ‘fall’.
It was a simple procedure.
All you had to do was fall.
And this is precisely where I came to grief.
I flipped over backwards, twisted around a bit.
And came up under the boat.
Under the boat.
It was about then that I got totally confused.
And forgot which way was up.
I was equally muddled about which way was down.
While I was thrashing around, trying to sort things out, my knowledgeable (and very attractive, but that is a different story) instructor, who fortunately had up and down . . . erm . . . down, reached in and extracted me.
We had an amazing time. We swam through great clouds of yellow fish. Past entire undersea gardens. And flew out over a cliff.
The best of all was the WW2 battleship wreck which we covered from stem to stern.
An entire new hemisphere opened to our eyes.
And me? The instructor kept me right by his side the entire time.
His reasoning was simple.
If I could get lost falling out of the boat, just imagine what I could do with a whole ocean.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

With Family Like This...

Don't blink! Blink and you're dead
Way, way too scary . . .
We had been visiting with our daughter.
Had a wonderful time.
Making puzzles.
Playing games.
And she had introduced us to the TV show, Dr. Who.
Yes I know that most of you will have seen this program.
I know I had certainly heard of it.
But I had never actually sat down and watched it.
Our daughter chose, for our first experience, an episode called, “Blink”.
A story of statues that come to life when you aren't looking at them.
And do terrible things to you.
It was, in a word, scary.
Truly frightening.
Chilling enough that I watched the entire thing snuggled close to my Husby.
And holding his hand.
Okay, so . . . brave, I'm not.
Through the last half of the episode, I had to visit the 'little girl's room', but was watching the screen so attentively that I . . . didn't.
Once the show had finished, I shivered, then turned on every light as I made my hasty way down the hall.
A few seconds later, much refreshed, I opened the door.
And this is what was sitting on the floor directly in my path.
I screamed.
And heard loud answering laughter from the family room.
I hate my family.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Santa's Secret

The truth behind the beard...
Husby and I come from a long line of designated drivers.
Generations of teetotalers.
It works for us . . .
Husby also spends the month leading up to Christmas dressed in red and sounding jolly.
These two facts go together.
Perhaps I should explain . . .
Santa lives at the North Pole.
Where it’s cold.
His wearing of red velvet and fur is out of necessity.
Here in Edmonton, Alberta, though it gets bone-snappingly cold outside, Santa’s helpers – like my husby - inevitably end up sitting in a warm room. Surrounded by hundreds of overheated people. And in very close contact with those people’s kiddies.
Let’s put it this way: The red suit absorbs more than ambiance.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Simply throw it into the nearest washing machine!
And that would be a great idea.
Except for the fur.
Fur and/or water and/or detergent don’t do well together. Just FYI.
And sometimes there is a long drought between dry-cleanings.
Now the need for some sort of odor-eater is most apparent just after Santa finishes a ‘gig’, when Santa and Mrs. are stuck in a warm car together for the entire ride home.
Sometimes it is a long ride.
On one such ride, our daughter (also closely closeted with us) mentioned a solution that the theatre costume authorities here in Edmonton use. They call it ‘French Dry-Cleaning’.
1 part Vodka and 1 part Water. Mix the two and spray all nasty odours away. "And it works!" she said, holding her nose. "It de-scents the unwashable!"
There was only one problem.
Our household did not have any vodka. (See above.)
Being people of the moment, we stopped in to the nearest liquor store and Santa girded up his suspenders and headed inside.
A quick question to the proprietor and he was walking down an aisle and procuring the cheapest bottle of vodka in the store.
Happily, he joined the queue at the checkout.
Let me describe: Man in an overcoat, paying for two bottles of whiskey.
Another, younger man, buying a couple of cases of beer.
A woman purchasing wine.
And Santa, clutching his bottle of vodka.
He looked up.
And realized that all eyes were on him.
Smiling, rather self-consciously, he said, “I know how this looks . . .”
The man at the front of the queue promptly responded, “No. Looks pretty natural to me!”
Ha! Ever wondered how Santa makes it through the holidays?
You heard it here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Santa and Mrs.

Husby and me. In our alter egos.
Picture by Bonnie-Jean McAllister at Ealanta Photography
It's the single best job anywhere. Ever.
And all it takes is a bit of red cloth. Some fur.
A beard.
And a big smile.
Seriously. Who wouldn't do this?
For several years, Husby and I have been appearing at parties and malls as Santa and Mrs.
There's nothing quite like the cheer that goes up when we step into a hall.
The rewards are immediate and long-lasting.
From the sweet:
"Santa, I love you!" from the little girl who just dropped her coat on the floor and dove into Santa's arms.
To the practical:
"Santa, I've been waiting all year for you!" from the little boy with the long list.
And the funny:
"Santa, that's my sister. She doesn't deserve anything because she always fights with me." from the little boy with the freckles and the cowlick.
To the touching:
"Santa, I need your help. My Dad's sick." from the little boy with the eyes that are too sad for this normally joyous time of year.
Husby takes a few moments for each of them. Gently and tenderly giving them their little bit of uninterrupted, precious and personal 'Santa Time'.
Acting as Santa to the kids is wonderful.
But the reaction from people when we are en-route is just as much fun.
Yesterday, kitted out in our red finery, we were stopped at a stop light.
In the time it took for the light to change, we heard that the man in the truck next to us had been a good boy.
That the woman on the other side really needed help with her mortgage payments.
And that the woman in front of us wanted a boyfriend. And also, where was our sleigh?
I can't think of a single other character who is as instantly recognizable and universally loved.
It's like being a rock star.
In fur and velvet.
Yep. Best. Job. Ever.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Hole in the Ice


Mom was in a panic.

She had looked away for an instant.
An instant.
And her toddler had disappeared.
Twenty-month-old Christine, dressed in her warm, little woolen snowsuit had been playing happily in the front yard.
Mom had zipped into the house to check on her new baby. Happily, rosily asleep in his cradle.
And now, seconds later, her eldest child was gone.
Frantically, Mom called and cast about for her little daughter's footprints in the snow.
Leading . . . toward the river.
Mom was off at a run.
A few seconds later, she was standing on the bank.
The little tracks meandered out onto the snow-covered ice.
To a large, black hole.
Mom stared at the patch of dark, swiftly-moving water.
Her entire life crashing about her ears.
Feeling suddenly, completely numb, she stepped out . . .
Then she realized that the little footprints didn't end there.
The trail turned and continued back to the bank.
Her heart beginning to beat again, Mom scrambled to follow.
And there was her little daughter, heading toward the barnyard.
Mom scooped up her baby and carried her back to the house.
Then spent the rest of the day alternately crying and hugging Christine.
Infinitely grateful for the divine intervention that had protected her daughter.
Mom raised all of her six children to adulthood on that ranch.
Rescuing them from such things as:
Altercations with the local livestock.
Wrangles with barbed-wire.
Numerous falls.
Differences of opinion with power tools.
An infinite number of scrapes and bruises.
And, yes, plucking them from the muddy jaws of death in a capricious river.
But she never forgot that moment of stark and frozen terror.
Standing on the bank of the river, looking at the trail of little tracks that ended at the great hole in the ice.
And how differently it could have ended.
Her very worst . . . and very best of moments.

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