Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

One Hot Fire

It’s the Christmas break and I’m enjoying the break from teaching.
So, what could be better than a story about teaching . . .
Grandma Stringam. A few years after this story . . .

It was 1903 and my Grandma Stringam, just turned eighteen, was asked to teach school in Aldrich, Utah, forty-five miles from her home town of Teasdale.
Possessing only a grade eight education, she felt ill-equipped for such a task and hesitated to accept, but the family who had approached her were insistent, even going so far as to secure a special teaching permit.
Suddenly, she was a teacher.
Her fourteen students from grades one to six - some of whom were even taller than she was - gave her numerous experiences in her little one-room school house.
This is one . . .
In March, the weather was still quite chilly and she had a lively little fire going in the fireplace. Class had just been called to order and she was busily putting work on the board.
Suddenly a shot rang out.
The bullet took the corners of fourteen pages off the reader held by her first-grader, then ricocheted and parted the teacher’s hair before burying itself in the blackboard behind her head.
For a few moments, all was quiet in the room. Then, realizing that someone had to have tossed a bullet into the fire, she scanned the rows of children until she spotted the one with the most frightened look on his face.
She glared at him. “Arthur! Come up here!”
“I didn’t do that!” he said, refusing to get out of his chair.
Again, she asked him to come up.
Again, he refused. “I had fourteen bullets in my pockets when I came to school this morning and I can show you all fourteen!”
She had him turn out his pockets. Sure enough, there were only thirteen.
“That’s all right,” she said. “Give me those bullets and come with me. I’m going to take you home to your parents.”
She told the rest of the class to keep on with their work and she took Arthur home. Handing the bullets to his mother, she said, “I want to see the school board before this boy comes back to school. He can’t come back until I do.”
Arthur never returned.
A few days later, she spotted him out on the hillside, cleaning out a ditch. Punishment meted out by his father for a boy who wouldn’t behave in class.
Grandma wasn't tall. 
But she certainly had, for want of a better term, control.
When I grow up, I want to be just like her!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Waiting for Santa

He came!!!
The Stringam ranch was far out in the country.
Far out.
But Santa still managed to find it.
In fact, it was probably one of his first stops because he showed up even before the kids had gone to bed.
All of this happened several years BD (Before Diane), but fortunately my Dad still remembers it . . .
Christmas Eve. The sun had long since set and a sparkling winter evening had closed over the old two-storey farmhouse.
Two big-eyed children, ages four and two were listening to stories about the magical Santa and his gift-bearing sleigh and reindeer.
Suddenly, mid-story, their father stood up, apparently hearing noises outside.
“Oh! I think he’s here!” He grinned at the kids, then put on his coat and headed outside, into the blackness.
Both children crowded close to the kitchen door, trying hard to peer into the night and catch a glimpse of this mysterious ‘Santa’.
They didn’t have long to wait.
Or far to peer.
Because the door swung open and Santa stepped right into their kitchen.
Following some general ‘ho-ho-hos’ and some pats on the head, he carried his sack of toys into the front room and proceeded to arrange brightly-coloured packages under the Christmas tree.
The two wide-eyed children drifted dazedly in his wake, observing everything closely.
Finally, the little girl could stand it no longer. “Santa? Did you see Daddy out there?” She glanced toward the kitchen door.
Some general affirmative grunting from the man in red.
“Oh.” A long pause. Then, “Is he holding your reindeer?”
Myth comes up smack against the practical four-year-old brain.
Myth wins.

The Stockings are hung.

The Bears are made.

The PJ's are finished.
Santa? We're ready.

Merry Christmas to all and a very happy holiday with family and friends!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Santa's Speedo

I know many of you have read this before.

But it's my favourite Christmas story. :)

In the Tolley household, Christmas . . . the actual ‘business portion’ which includes frantic tearing of colourful papers and scrabbling through mounds of discarded wrapping, was an event on hold until the father of the house finally succumbed to the pleadings of his numerous children and crawled out of bed.
Once he hit the front room, it was every man for himself.
Or every woman . . . or child . . .
You get the picture.
To facilitate the introduction of said father to the ‘action room’, the children, over the years, had graduated from begging to more . . . proactive methods.
As their size and strength increased, they finally achieved the impossible.
Plucking their sire from his warm downy and carrying him, bodily, to his place of honour.
In an attempt to thwart their . . . growing . . . expertise, their father began to incorporate thought into the proceedings.
He resorted to sneakiness.
With varying degrees of success.
Allow me to illustrate . . .
Christmas, 2001, began like many others.
Tiny noises in the bowels of the house which told us that the natives were stirring. And time for any needed preparation was short.
Husby leaped from the bed and, under cover of darkness, began to shed his pajamas.
Not unusual.
However, considering that our children would soon be bounding up the stairs demanding to open presents . . . well . . . okay, unusual.
Sleepily, I noted the sound of fabric sliding over flesh.
He was pulling something else on.
Then, he crawled back into the bed and snuggled close.
Suspicious, I asked him what he was wearing and he chuckled.
“Not much,” he said.
Then the pounding started. “Mom, Dad! Time to open presents!”
“Okay,” he called, cheerfully.
Another sign that all was not as it should be.
The door swung open.
Several suspicious noses poked into the room, the light from the hallway throwing their shadows across the bed. Remember, these children had been exposed to many different devices in an attempt to discourage them from their desired goal.
Duct tape, catapults, booby traps, duct tape, air horns, chains with padlocks, duct tape, yards of medical gauze, mustard, duct tape.
Okay, I admit it. He likes duct tape.
Back to my story . . .
The group stayed huddled for a moment, afraid to pierce the unknown blackness that pervaded our room.
We remained still.
Finally one brave soul reached for the switch, flooding the scene with light and everyone moved slowly forward, still tightly packed.
A group makes a harder target.
Okay the reasoning needs a bit of work, but there is safety in numbers.
They approached the bed.
Still cautious.
Still peering anxiously into the shadows and flinching at every sound.
Finally, they reached their father.
Grant’s eyes were closed, a small, blissful smile creasing his face.
Not a good sign.
One of the older boys grabbed the covers, then paused, gaining courage.
The silence stretched.
He threw them back.
And disclosed his portly father clad in a ‘speedo’.
I am not making this up.
It was a bright blue one.
Oh, and a bow-tie. Red. With sequins.
Now I would like to take this opportunity to state that the ‘speedo’ swimsuit was created with speed in mind, hence the name. Comfort is secondary, and looks a far distant third.
Certainly they look . . . ummm . . . delicious on a trim, incredibly fit man.
On a middle aged, fairly Santa-esque male?
Not as good.
But certainly effective.
The kids scattered.
We could hear one of them moaning in the hall. “I don’t want to open presents, do you want to open presents?”
Another, “I can’t un-see it! I can’t un-see it!”
Still another, “Presents? What are those? I’m going back to bed!”
My husband chuckled. “I should have thought of this years ago!” he said.
Mission accomplished.
Okay, you'll have to use your imagination regarding  clothing.
This is the best I can do.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Spectacle (Part Four of Four)

A time for . . . . busy-ness.
While I'm decorating, baking, sewing and playing with grandkids, I'm posting a Christmas story.
If you've just joined us, the first part is here.
The second, here.
And the third, here.
Go ahead and catch up. 
We'll wait . . . 


For the next several weeks, the town was abuzz with talk from both Jenna Grace's camp and from
F. Roddy's.
Floats were being assembled in nearly every available garage.
Both town bands, the high school marching and the veteran's brass were rehearsing nightly.
Not one, but two Town Sweetheart contests were held. (The town's one hair dresser worked straight out for two days solid, finally collapsing into her own wash chair after completing Mrs. Jasper's elaborate upsweep.)
And, strangely, two Santas had been engaged. Sleighs, reindeer and all.
Colorful posters from F. Roddy's group began to appear, proclaiming the date and route of the much-anticipated parade.
But before anyone could read them, they were quietly replaced by posters from Jenna Grace's camp.
Which were subsequently torn down and replaced themselves.
This went on until the very day of the parade.
But, as the date and time were consistent in both, the general populace didn't really take much notice of the details, other than that the route would, at some time or other, follow main street.
Thus it was with great anticipation, that the entire town, or at least those few who were not actually in the parade, lined the single main street on the chosen date.
The day was perfect.
Snow had fallen, but only enough to provide a white backdrop to the festivities.
The air was crisp, not too cold, but just enough to put a snap into the air and tint cheeks and noses pink.
The hot chocolate vendor in front of the city hall was doing a brisk business, as was the hot cider man across the street in front of the pool hall.
The smell of freshly-roasted nuts and popcorn filled the air and made smiling mouths water.
There was much talk and laughter and jostling for position.
Finally, the sound of drums.
Everyone stilled and necks craned as people tried to catch the first glimpse of the marching bands which would lead the way.
"They're coming from that way!" Mayor Mayor shouted, pointing to the north.
"No, I think I can hear them coming from this way," Kevin Rhymes said, pointing in the opposite direction.
People strained first one direction, then the other.
Surely the music was coming from both directions?
Sudden movement.
Ah. There, led by F. Roddy Digby enthusiastically swinging a long, gold Marshal's pole, were the town veterans, their brass instruments gleaming in the noon sun, as they blared out their own version of 'Jingle Bells'.
Behind them, colorful floats and decorated bicycles.
Wait. There was more music.
Different music.
Peoples' heads spun back as the High School marching band came into sight.
From the opposite direction.
Led by a smiling Jenna Grace Chappell, waving her own shining symbol of authority, and stepping brightly to the strains of 'Here Comes Santa Claus', they quickly closed the gap that separated the two bands.
Two bands?
Two parades!
The people clapped and cheered.
This was the best parade ever!
For a moment, anyway.
When the two groups were no more than twenty feet apart, Jenna Grace and F. Roddy suddenly came to a stop.
Facing each other.
In the very center of main street.
Each parade came to a halt behind them, stepping smartly in place as the bands continued their respective musical selections.
Narrow-eyed, Jenna Grace and F. Roddy glared at each other, still continuing to beat to the music with their Marshall's poles.
Then F. Roddy raised his eyebrows. "What are you going to do now, Chappell?" he shouted, grinning.
Jenna Grace's eyes flared and, without warning, she swung her Marshal's pole like a baseball bat.
F. Roddy let his pole slide through his fingers and turned to meet the blow.
A hollow 'clang' rang out over the combined music of both orchestras.
It acted like a signal.
Still marching in place, the bands immediately increased their volume.
Attempting to drown out their opposition.
The two Marshals in the center were doing a lively dance, swinging and ducking as they alternately tried to hit their opponent and avoid the other's pole.
The cacophony of sound increased.
Brasses versus brasses, drums against drums, and over it all, the hollow 'crash' and 'clang' of the two Marshal's poles.
The respective songs ended.
One of the tuba players collapsed against his fellows as he blasted out one final note.
There was a moment of comparative silence as each group drew breath to begin again.
Only the rat-tat-tat of the snare drums continued, along with the occasional sound of Marshal's pole meeting Marshal's pole and the grunt of the two protagonists.
Suddenly, Jenna Grace's pole found its way through F. Roddy's defense and hit him squarely in the solar plexus.
F. Roddy went down like a sack of potatoes.
But as he went, he lost his grip on his pole and it fell with evil precision, hitting the top of Jenna Grace's head, who summarily joined him on the pavement.
At that moment, a lone trumpeter began to play 'Let There be Peace on Earth'.
The rest of his orchestra took up the tune.
Then the players from the opposite group joined in.
For the first time, real music drifted from the assembled musicians.
Then the trumpets in the front row of the Veteran's band glanced towards the side street open before all of them and looked back at their fellows in the other orchestra.
The front row trumpets of the High School band nodded and both groups turned, as one, and started down this new path.
Soon the rest of the two parades were following (adroitly avoiding their two erstwhile leaders now sitting up dazedly on the hard pavement), and weaving together to form one giant procession.
The assembled townspeople followed, clapping and laughing and also pointedly stepping around the two on the ground.
Soon Jenna Grace Chappell and F. Rodney Digby were alone in an empty street.
They stared at each other.
Finally, F. Roddy picked up his much abused Marshall's pole. He stared at it for a moment, then sighed softly and struggled to his feet. "May I assist you?" he said.
"Yes. Please," Jenna Grace replied, reaching for her own battered pole.
F. Roddy held out a hand and helped her up.
The two of them walked shakily over to the curb and sat down.
For several seconds they remained there, listening to the fading music.
"So, where did we go wrong?" F. Roddy said.
"I don't know," Jenna Grace replied. "But we did go wrong. Somewhere."
Again, they were silent.
"Care for a cup of hot chocolate?" F. Roddy asked.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Spectacle (Part Three of Four)

Christmas has gotten busy.
For these few days, I'm re-posting one of my Christmas stories.
I do hope you enjoy!

If you missed part one, wherein our antagonists (and I do mean antagonists!) were introduced, you can go here
Part Two (where their community fervor is ummm . . . fervored) is here.
Go ahead. I'll get a hot chocolate and be here when you get back . . .

Part Three.
Over tiny chicken sandwiches, the Ladies Aid discussed the certain disaster that was to befall their tiny town on December 3.
Mrs. Jasper got so animated that she spilled her tea.
Right into Mrs. Wayan's lap.
A portent of things to come . . .

The first meeting of the Christmas parade committee was held on October 13.
Chairs had been set up in a non-committal and unbiased circle in the center of the high school gym.
Jenna Grace and F. Roddy were among the first to arrive.
Pointedly ignoring each other, they took seats at polar opposite sides of the circle.
Then they spent the remaining few minutes alternately ignoring or glaring at the other.
Reba wheeled in a coffee/tea cart and parked it beside a waiting table. She pulled out several pans of bars and divided her time between slicing and setting out and hovered anxiously over a fat tea kettle.
The room began to fill with chatting, happy people.
They drifted over to the refreshments and filled plates and cups. Then they found seats in the circle.
The two already seated said nothing.
Slowly, the chatter died out and people uncomfortably concentrated on eating and drinking.
Jenna Grace cleared her throat. "Well, now that we have finished with the 'party' part of the meeting, maybe we can get down to business."
"Exactly what I was going to say," F. Roddy said. "If you hadn't ignored decorum and jumped in."
"Decorum?" Jenna Grace's eyebrows went up. "I just thought someone with a brain should take charge."
"And you just assumed that could be you?" F. Roddy looked at his fingernails.
Jenna Grace puffed up like a toad. "What are you saying, Froddy?" she said. "That you should be in charge?"
"Well you got something right," F. Roddy said, ignoring her mocking use of his name.
The crowd had gone completely silent by this time and were watching the two carefully, their heads swiveling back and forth from one to the other.
Jenna Grace calmed herself with obvious effort. "I think we should put the person in charge who has already proved their leadership skills," she said, smoothing one hand over her immaculate hair.
Jenna Grace always wore her grey-streaked hair scraped tightly into a bun at the back of her head. The thought of even one lock escaping was unthinkable.
"And just what have you organized?" F. Roddy demanded. "I know they were looking for someone to run the cock-fighting out at Cowells. Is it your fine hand we see in that?"
Jenna Grace puffed up again. "How dare you!" she hissed.
"Oh. Sorry. Was there something else?"
"You know dam - darn well, Froddy, that I've organized and directed the Ice Cream Festival for the past eight years!" she shouted.
"Maybe one day there'll be actual ice cream there," F. Roddy said.
Jenna Grace surged to her feet. "I refuse to sit here and be insulted!" she said, and turning smartly, marched towards the door.
"Good. Now you can go somewhere else to be insulted," F. Roddy said.
A sharp "Harrumph" was his only response.
The door banged shut.
"Well, now maybe we can get down to business," F. Roddy said.
An uncomfortable silence met him.
"I'm sorry, F. Roddy," Dennis said, getting to his feet. "I agreed to work with Jenna Grace and I'd better honor that."
F. Roddy nodded. "Anyone else?"
Several other people stood up and followed Dennis out the door.
"Well, that's that," F. Roddy said. "Now shall we get down to work?"
Surprisingly, they managed to plan the basic framework for the entire celebration.
"See what you can accomplish when you have the right people?" F. Roddy asked.
Meanwhile, Jenna Grace had circled her wagons on the far side of town.
"Well," she said, tapping several sheets of paper together. "I think that's enough for our first evening. You have all been remarkably efficient and cooperative. Our basic plan is complete. Now all that's left is to flesh it out."

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