Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, February 21, 2015


Aerial view.

The day after.
Not far from Calgary, Alberta, and just east of the Crowsnest Pass, lies the small, bustling town of Frank, Alberta, nestled on the floor of a deeply-glaciated valley.
Looming menacingly nearby is Turtle Mountain.
Also nearby is a scene of a destruction of such magnitude that it has never been equalled!
In the early morning hours of April 29, 1903, Turtle Mountain collapsed, resulting in the greatest landslide in North American history.
In 100 seconds: at least 76 people were buried alive under tons of massive limestone boulders; three-quarters of the homes in Frank were crushed like balsa wood; over a mile of the Canadian Pacific Railroad was completely destroyed; and a river became a lake.
Yet, few people have ever heard about it.    - Neil Simpson                                                                        
My parents were driving out to the coast and travelling through Frank Slide was a necessity.
In the years after the tragedy, not much of the rubble had been disturbed. The giant boulders and pieces of mountain lay where they had fallen, a silent testament to those trapped forever beneath.
The road had been cut through and the railway reconnected.
Little else had been touched.
Driving through, one's car dwarfed by the massive chunks of rock, one could easily imagine the horror and heartbreak of that fateful morning.
Unless one was four.
Which I was.
I should mention here that, when our family travelled, the scenery or anything else flying past us outside the car never interested me. Because when I was in a car I was either:
  1. Sick
  2. Oblivious
  3. Sick and oblivious
  4. Asleep
The only thing that could rouse me were the words, “Look! Horses!”
I would leap up instantly, despite being heretofore (real word) comatose and press my nose against the nearest window. “Where!? Where!?”
One or the other of my parents would point out the eagerly anticipated animals.
I would stare at them for as long as time permitted, then collapse back onto the seat with a sigh and return to whatever I had been doing.
I was fairly easily entertained.
But I digress . . .
The road had been long. We had already been travelling for an hour.
I was drowsing on the back seat.
Suddenly, Dad spoke up, “Here we are kids! Frank Slide!”
At almost the same time, my Mom said, “Look at all the rock!”
The tone of voice was the same as what my parents used whenever they pointed out something interesting.
Like horses.
But because the word 'horse' had not actually been used, I was slow to respond.
I must admit that I never even heard my Mom's comment.
I sat up and pressed my face against the window.
I don't know what I was expecting. Dad had said something about a 'slide'.
To me that meant something 'playground-y'.
All I could see were huge rocks.
What kind of playground was this?
Finally, I turned to my parents and said, “Can't see it!”
They burst out laughing.
What was that all about?
Mom pointed out the window. “Can't you see all the rock?”
I glanced outside. “Yeah.”
“Well that's it!”
I looked again. “But I can't see it!”
I don't think they ever figured out that I was talking about the 'slide'.
The real slide. The one Dad had seen.
All they wanted was to look at the stupid rocks.
Parents are so weird.

Friday, February 20, 2015


He looked at me. “So? What’s your wish?”
I scrunched up my face into my most impressive I’m-thinking-about-it form and . . . thought about it. So many options. So much to choose from. I opened my mouth, expecting something of import to emerge.
What came out was, “Ummmm . . .”
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.
He sighed heavily and started tapping on the palm of one hand with a . . . Rats! I knew what it was, but the word ducked around the corner before I could bring it forward. I finally settled for calling it a wand. He tapped on one hand with a wand. “C’mon, lady. Make a wish. I really don’t have all day!”
I blinked and gulped and nodded. Maybe I could try . . . or . . . no . . . what I really wanted . . . Suddenly a brilliant suggestion presented itself. “Could I have a combination? A mixture?” I whispered hopefully.
He shrugged. “Please keep in mind I’m not a wizard,” he said. He scratched his ear and glanced toward the window.
Not a wizard? But I thought . . . I looked toward the window, too. The streetlights had come on and were casting pools of gold on a black street; shining bravely in a dark and moonless night. It appeared that a wind was starting to kick up. I could see bits of litter being blown around. I shivered and turned back.
He was watching me. “Well . . .?”
I took a deep breath. “I’ll have a Double Magic Burger with everything on it except the cheese. And a side order of Onion O’s and . . .” - I again glanced outside - “. . . a Wizard-size mug of chocolate.”
He dropped the spurtle (I finally remembered the name of it!) he had been fiddling with to the counter and punched some buttons in the cash register. “Fine. You’re order number 16.” He took the ten from me, efficiently made change and then nodded and looked past me.
I stuffed my change into my purse and quickly shuffled to one side.
“Welcome to Magic Burger,” he said to the person in line behind me. “What's your wish?”

Delores of Under the Porch Light comes up with a challenge once a week. A word challenge. One never knows what it will be, except that it will be fun! Tricky, tricky Delores.
This week's challenge?
a wisha wanda wizarda dark and moonless night
This is what I did with it. Go to Delores' and see what her other minions have created!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pie a la Mud


I've used many, many recipes in my life.

Starting with simple: crackers and cheese.
And, believe me, you have to get that one just right . . .
To more complicated: hot dogs.
And I'm sure I don't have to explain the vital importance of the meat to bun ratio. And I won’t even go into the selection and/or serving size of condiments.
But my very first recipe was not nutritious.
Or even edible.
In fact, though it smelled rather good, I wouldn't have fed it to the dog.
Well, actually I did try.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
I was staying with my friend/cousin, Jean.
It was summer.
We had been playing in Aunt Grace's kitchen. Under Aunt Grace's feet.
Aunt Grace had finally had enough and had kicked us outside to play.
Dutifully, we had played.
 Now we were looking for something a little more . . . constructive.
“Let’s make mud pies!” Jean suggested.
Mmm. I like pie. “Okay.”
She found an old pot and we started adding ingredients.
I should mention here that, as we didn't have all of the ingredients for pie, and really weren't completely sure what those ingredients were, we . . . erm . . . substituted.
Back to my story . . .
Dirt. (For flour)
Water. (For water) And I should tell you that you have to get this ingredient just right. Too much and your mud pies are sloppy. Not enough and you can’t do a thing with them.  Just FYI.
Rocks. (Those were the raisins)
Two eggs that we stole from the hen house. (For eggs)
Grass. (For coconut)
We didn't mix any awful things into it, though I did find some dog doo that I was tempted to add.
For flavour.
Jean stopped me. “Diane! If you put that in, no one could eat it!”
Important point.
Finally, we mixed our wondrous concoction and formed it carefully into little blobs on the wall of her mother’s flower garden. Right in the sunlight where our pies could cook and get nice and toasty.
Mmmm. They even smelled good.
I never got to taste our pies.
We were called in to dinner and my Mom picked me up just after that.
But I remember them. And how they would have tasted . . .
Last night, our good friend, Shirley was over visiting.
And told us about her ‘mud pie’ story.
She and her sister had found an old pail.
Added their ingredients.
Stirred well.
Now they were ready for the ‘cooking’ part. But here, Shirley’s story takes a different turn from mine.
When she was young, her family had a chicken coop.
With a little wood stove inside to keep their feathered friends warm in the cooler months of the year.
Why bother to set their mud concoction into the sun, where the actual ‘baking’ would be iffy, at best.
They would set their creation on the little wood stove.
And boil it.
No sooner said than . . .
I probably don’t have to tell you that the flaws in their technique were almost immediately apparent.
In Shirley’s words . . . “It really stank!”
So, a note to all mud-pie enthusiasts out there.
Don’t boil.
You heard it here first.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Have I Reached the Party to Whom I'm Speaking?

Call me!
My Dad is the last surviving member of a family of thirteen, the youngest of eleven children.
He has been reminiscing . . .

One of Dad’s elder brothers, Alonzo (hereinafter known as Uncle Lonnie), became a wealthy man by the simple practices of thrift, caution and wise investment.
Besides being brothers, he and Dad were good friends and often ranched together.
Which necessitated good communication.
Living fifty miles apart, this meant telephoning.
I should explain here that, in the late sixties, phone plans had not yet been invented.
You had two options.
You dialled a number directly and paid.
Or, if you weren't certain that the person you wanted was home, you could dial ‘person-to-person’ and have an operator facilitate the call. This was more expensive if your party was there, but cost you nothing if they weren't.
Moving on . . .
Uncle Lonnie, he of the sound mind and thrifty practices, needed to talk to Dad.
But it was the middle of the day, a time when phone calls were at their most expensive. Uncertain if he would find Dad at home, he opted to have an operator place the call.
Dad answered the phone. The call went something like this . . .
Dad: “Hello?”
Operator: “I have a person-to-person call for Dr. Mark Stringam.”
Dad: “This is Dr. Stringam.”
Operator: “Go ahead, sir!”
Uncle Lonnie: “If I’d known you were actually there, I’d have dialled directly!”
Dad: “Well, I'm here!” And he hung up the phone.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


My 1300th post.
My daughter says I should do something . . . important.
But I don’t know anything important.
You’re getting the old and usual . . .

I was helping out in my grandson’s first-grade class.
An active bunch. (If any of you have seen the movie, The Lion King, you will recognize the row of monkeys in the ‘future-king-presentation scene’. They were modelled after any first grade class you find.)
Ahem . . .
The activity I was there to help with was an exercise in caring for animals. Each student chose an animal, then was given materials to build a little compound specifically suited for said animal’s needs. Food, water, sleeping arrangements, toys, entertainment.
Because what animal doesn't need its big-screen TV, right?
Moving on . . .
As co-ordinator of my little group of four boys, I was entrusted with the bag ‘o treats. The feathers, popsicle sticks, foam sheets, paper cups, string, sticks, tape, glue and scores of other building materials.
It was a large bag.
And everyone was having a large time.
One of them asked for sticks and I dove into the mass of materials and dug out a small container of bundles of sticks. Colourful little bundles of sticks.
And just like that, I was transported back fifty-five years to my grade one class.
And no, it wasn't held in a cave . . .
Our teacher, Miss Woronoski had laid out multi-coloured sticks. Some singles. Some in bundles of five and ten.
And with a combination of those singles and bundles, we were learning to count and add.
I loved it.
I especially loved saying the word ‘bundles’.
I would manipulate little packs of sticks, laying them out in regimental order, and add them. Then re-arrange and add again.
Sometimes I would concentrate so hard, I would completely miss what was going on around me . . .
“Your Gramma isn’t listening to me!”
“Gramma! Gramma!”
Like now.

Monday, February 16, 2015


In honour of Family Day, I present . . . my family . . .
I’m sure it was a normal, every-year, run-of-the-mill holiday.
Everywhere but at the Tolley home.
Maybe I should explain . . .
My Husby and I have six children.
Originally, we were going for a baseball team, but we ran out of steam somewhere around short stop.
Sooo . . . six kids. Ages five to seventeen.
It was Christmas time and we had to do something with them. Hmmm . . .What if we put them all on the stage? Had our own theatre company?
Well, it made sense to us.
Moving on . . .
For that one magical Christmas, we had just that.
The Tolley Troubadours. Specializing in Dinner Theatre Who-done-its.
Our most famous play? The Demise of Santa Claus.
Okay, Broadway, we weren’t. But we sure had fun.
The players:
The Grinch. Our Seventeen-year-old. Self-proclaimed hater of Santa Claus and everything he stood for. And possessor of many and varied instruments of death and destruction whose sole purpose was the final end of the aforementioned and hapless Claus.
Scrooge. Our sixteen-year-old. Hater of everyone equally. And not above threatening anyone who interfered with him (i.e. tried to engage him in conversation. Or smiled/looked at him.)
Alfie the Elf. Our thirteen-year-old. Mobile-mouthed purveyor of all things ‘cookie’. Not averse to a little bribery when the mood took him.
Mrs. Claus. Our eleven-year-old. Heavily made up, padded and hunched over model of sweetness and light. Until someone questioned her honesty. Then watch the rolling pin come out.
Angel Sweetface. Our eight-year-old. Wealthy, angelic example of life lived well. A little too well. Heaven forbid that anything should interfere with her rather skewed view of the world.
Elfie the Elf. Our five-year-old. Son of Alfie. And mute. Until moments of stress/surprise/revelation when he became remarkably conversant and effusive. Strange.
Inspector Clueso. My Husby. Bumbling, inept investigator of all things mysterious. Namely every person on the playbill.
Bambi. Me. Feather-brained mistress of ceremonies. Woefully type-cast.
And there it is. The line up.
Before, during and after a good dinner, based on the clues gleaned from presented scenes, the guests had to figure out who ‘done it’.
Most guessed a Tolley.
Surprisingly, they were right. Just not right enough.
It was hard to figure out who had the most fun.
The guests.
Or the players.
Yep. The best of holidays.

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