Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Top(per) This

Chico, not Topper. But you get the idea . . .
Topper. My eldest brother’s horse. The ultimate in challenges.
My world was small. I admit it.
By the age of seven, I had moved through the ‘pony’ stage was ready for something a bit . . . bigger. Certainly more challenging.
My brother’s sorrel gelding was the answer. 
If I could ride him, I would have achieved my greatest goal. By so doing, I would enter the world of the adults. I would finally be considered a grown-up.
Or so I thought.
We were selecting our mounts for yet another round-up. This one to include branding and all of the fun and high-jinks that went with that.
My brother, Jerry, stepped into the corral ahead of me. He lifted the halter he held and approached . . . Ranger. 
My day had come. Before anyone could think of stopping me, I moved to Topper’s side and slid my halter over his alert head. 
So far, so good.
Grooming and saddling took next to no time. A good thing as I was in a fever of impatience.
And then I was aboard.
Wow! The ground was so far away! This horse was a giant! Okay, he would have had to stand on tip hooves to reach 14 hands, but I had been riding a Shetland pony. My measuring stick was slightly skewed.
But I digress . . .
And we were off.
All went well to that point. In fact, all continued to go well as we received our assignments and separated to begin collecting the herds. I was given one of the smaller fields. A measly little quarter section. No problem. Topper and I started off at a brisk trot. I was amazed at how much more quickly he moved than my little Pinto.
I have to admit here that Pinto had one speed.
This was living! 
And then . . . that sun. 
In Southern Alberta, at least the corner where I was raised, the early summer days are . . . hot. There are no trees. The sun beats down on the hard-packed earth, turning it into a heat reflector of gigantic proportions. In no time, the heat waves are distorting every horizon. 
And the favourite little blue jean jacket so necessary when you first hit the barnyard is suddenly superfluous. And distinctly uncomfortable.
And really needing to be removed.
With slow, staid Pinto, a simple task. No sooner thought of, then accomplished. He wouldn't even have noticed.
With Topper, another story entirely.
I undid the buttons.
His ears flicked back. I’m almost sure his eyes narrowed. “What are you doing up there, Human?”
I slid one arm half-way out of the sleeve.
A jump. A little kick. “Whatever it is, I don’t like it!”
I stopped moving.
He settled.
I moved, he jumped.
This went on for some time. Then I finally tired of the theatrics and decided to show him who was boss.
I shed my coat entirely.
He decided to show me who was really boss and shed me.
I’m not sure whether I bailed off, or he planted me. It matters little because the results were the same.
My face took the brunt of the landing.
When I came to my senses a short time later, I struggled to my feet and discovered that Topper was actually waiting for me a little distance away.
I approached him slowly. The only speed I could muster.
He watched me, warily.
I drew closer.
He tensed.
Closer still.
He let fly with both back hoofs.
I really don’t know how I managed to survive life on the ranch. I must have a particularly hard head. 
The next thing I remember is one of our hired men, Bud. He had followed the trail of my belongings until he finally discovered me, lying in a very small heap and plucked me from the prairie floor, like flotsam off a beach.
I noticed, with some degree of satisfaction, that he had already rescued my beloved jacket.
Reunited. I may have smiled. I really couldn't feel my face.
Bud set me on the saddle in front of him and I looked down at the horse he was riding.
The delicious appaloosa.
The ultimate in challenges.
If I could ride him, I would have achieved my greatest goal . . .
You can see where this is heading.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leaving (and Arriving) on a Jet Plane

Kids are observant.
If you don’t believe me, try spending an hour with a three-year-old.
They just don’t always understand what they are seeing . . .
Our goodfriend, Shirley, though a medium plane trip away, spends as much time as she can with her young granddaughters.
She (and they) love it.
She flies into the local airport and her son and his family meet her at Arrivals. Hugs and kisses are exchanged.
And she and her luggage are scooped up and transported to her son’s house.
Everyone enjoys time together.
Then, at the end of her visit, she and her baggage are returned to the airport, where more kisses and hugs are exchanged and she disappears through to Departures.
A fairly mundane – and not infrequent – chain of events.
And one that everyone thought the little granddaughters understood.
During Shirley’s last visit, the topic of transportation came up. Specifically the astounding revelation that “Grandma can drive?!”
Her youngest granddaughter was particularly amazed.
“I didn’t know you could drive, Grandma!”
“Well, I can. I even have a car of my own!”
“Huh. I didn’t know you had a car.” A short pause. Then, “I thought you had a jet.”
Our little ones are observing.
They’re just not always putting things together in the right configuration.
Be warned.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Ha! Parked.
Driving is important.
At least when you live on a ranch a million miles from anywhere.
And it happened early.
Driving, I mean.
As soon as I was able to reach the pedals on the tractor and still hold onto the steering wheel,  I was driving. Mowing. Baling. Stacking. There were lots of reasons to perch me up on 'the beast' and start the engine.
But on a tractor, I had the entire field to turn around in. And on the Stringam ranch, the fields were . . . large.
Just FYI.
At the age of twelve, I graduated to the pickup.
Again, I was limited to travelling in the fields and doing ranch work but I was still driving.
And in control . . . more or less, as I made wide turns about the fields.
On to my story . . .
One morning, bright and early, I decided to go for a ride.
I don't know why.
It was spring.
I'm an idiot.
Take your pick.
Anyways . . .
Because I was still a fairly new driver and driving was still a treat, and because I was basically  lazy, I decided to take the pickup to the far corral where my horse, Peanuts was currently residing.
All went well.
I drove there and parked, spent an hour or so riding in the early morning sunshine, and drove back to the ranch house.
And that's where it all went so very wrong.
I should probably mention that I had gone riding really early. By the time I returned, everyone was still in dreamland.
And remember where I said that I was only accustomed to maneuvering in large spaces?
Well, that would apply here.
I drove carefully up to the carport situated, by the by, directly beneath my parent's bedroom.
And very, very carefully drove into it.
And I do mean 'into'.
Frantically, I backed up.
And clipped the pillar again.
I tried to straighten out and hit it a third time.
The truck just kept getting more and more . . . crooked.
Stupid machine. This was going nowhere fast.
And suddenly, standing there in a shaft of early morning light looking like the avenging God of Sleep(lessness), was my father.
Now I should explain to you that my Dad always wears pajamas. Nicely pressed, matching, button-up top with trousers (that Mom cuts off just below the knee and neatly hems).
They are quite a sight.
But I digress . . .
At this time, I only vaguely noted his light green PJ's.
Because Dad. Wasn't. Happy.
I let the engine die.
We stared at each other.
"What the hell is going on here?!" Okay, he's a rancher. Sometimes they say 'hell'.
But only when really perturbed. Oddly enough, it's usually when I'm around.
"It's okay. I can fix it!"
"Diane, get out of the truck!"
"I can fix it, Dad!"
He just looked at me. I knew that look. I'd seen it before.
A few times.
I climbed sheepishly out of the truck and moved towards him.
"What on earth are you doing? You almost shook me right out of my bed!"
"Umm . . . I went for a ride."
"In the truck?"
"Well, Peanuts is clear over . . ."
"I know where Peanuts is."
"Well, I drove over there and went for a ride."
"At five o'clock in the morning?"
"Well, yes."
"Get in the house."
One never moves faster than when avoiding fallout. I knew this from past experience. I disappeared in a heartbeat.
Dad surveyed the damage. There were a couple of 'bruises' on one of the carport supports and a dent in the truck door. (Which popped out later when Dad went to get the mail and slammed the door.)
So the damage was relatively minor if you don't count lost sleep.
Which Dad does.
I want you to know that I did learn to drive.
For real.
But I'll always remember that first time. And my Dad in his PJ's.
Some things you just never forget. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

From the Other Side

They watched as the family picked its way reverently through the cemetery, stopping to exclaim over one headstone or another.
“Look at this one!” the mother exclaimed. “This man served as a soldier in the First World War!”
Her three kids gathered around her and stared down at the marker.
“Ooh!” the oldest boy said. “A soldier!”
The three-year-old looked at his brother. Ooh!” he echoed.
Their sister simply stared, then reached for her mother’s hand.
“Come over here and look at this one!” The father had worked his way to the oldest part of the cemetery.
The family moved toward him . . .
The man snorted. “Look at them! Ooh-ing and ah-ing over the epitaphs!”
His companion smiled gently. “I think it’s charming!”
He looked at her. “Charming?! To wander among the dead, exclaiming over what their relatives thought appropriate to carve on their expensive headstones?”
“In a word? Yes.”
“Pfff.” He turned back to the family. “Look at them, wandering around in their hideously mundane existence! Just look!” He pointed to the youngest son. “He’s picking his nose. How charming is that?”
His companion laughed. “He’s a child!”
“Oh, and now he’s . . .!” The man shuddered. “You know what the difference is between broccoli and snot, don’t you?”
She shook her head. “Maybe I don’t want to . . .”
“Kids won’t eat broccoli!”
“James! That’s revolting!” She made a face.
“Yes. Revolting!” He turned a slightly nasty smile toward the wandering family.
“Well I, in probably what is a lone opinion, think they are precious! I hope they enjoy their time here today. And I dispense with any formalities and give them franchise to make a thorough and enlightening tour of the entire grounds!”
“Hmph! Like they need your permission!”
“Nevertheless, they have it!” She nodded decisively. Her face softened. “We who sleep, dream; wait 'neath marble slabs and blowing grass . . .”
James stared at her. “What are you talking about, Anne?! You didn’t wait fifteen seconds ‘neath marble slabs and waving grass!”
She laughed, rather self-consciously. “Well, I am a bit claustrophobic.”
“Claustrophobic?! How can you be claustrophobic when you’re dead?!”
“Well, you're dead too!” Anne shot back.
“Yes, I am!” James glanced at the family once more. “And here are these awful people stomping around without the least respect for the people they are tramping heedlessly over!”
“They’re not awful!” Anne said. “They’re . . .” She paused, then pointed. “Look!”
James spun around.
The little family had reached the furthest corner of the grounds. A small, slightly overgrown area, rough with tree roots from the encroaching forest growth. The father had knelt down and was pulling carefully at some grass and weeds. “Look at this!” he said softly.
“What is it dear?” The mother and her children crowded close.
“These must be the oldest graves in the cemetery! See this one?!” The man leaned closer. “Sixteen . . . something.”
The mother knelt beside him and bent over, pulling her glasses to her nose and peering over them. “I think it’s a seventy-four.” She nodded. “Yes. I’m sure it is. 1674.”
The father traced the faded carving gently. “James Marion. . . Coville? Goville?”
“I think it’s Coville. See, there has been a part chipped off to make it look like a ‘G’.”
He nodded, then pulled out a small, obviously well-used notebook and scribbled something. “James Coville.” He said. “1674.” He touched the small slab gently. “Well, that’s as good a place to start as any!”
“Wait, Dad!” The oldest boy had moved to one side. “Look! Here’s another beside it, but it has tipped over and is almost covered.”
The man got to his feet and joined him. “Huh. You’re right, son.” He knelt again and pulled away the overgrowth, then brushed off the stone. “This one has been more exposed and is more worn.”
“I can’t make out a date,” the mother said. She traced the stone with reverent fingers. “It looks like . . . Anne?”
“That’s about all I can see, too,” the father said. He stood up and studied the two stones. “They are the only two over here, so I’m going to assume that they are connected somehow and go from there.” Again, he made a note in his book.
The mother nodded. “Good idea.”
The father pocketed his notebook and reached for his smallest son’s hand. “Well, shall we go? I have a feeling that there is a lot of work to do.”
The mother nodded. “Come on kids.”
The family began to pick their way to the entrance.
Anne watched them go, then turned and elbowed her companion. “A penny for your thoughts?”
For the first time in over 400 years, James was silent.

Every week, Delores of Under the Porch Light stands atop her mountain . . . . well, sits at her computer and issues a challenge to those foolhardy courageous enough to accept it.
This week's words?
Expensive, Thorough, Franchise, Dispense, Broccoli, Mundane
we who sleep
'neath marble slabs
and blowing grass
 What could this suggest but genealogy? :)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

One Quarter Thief

Me. Sigh.
What you are about to read may be shocking. You may even want to re-think continuing your friendship with me.
I’m a thief.
Well . . . a would-be thief. If I’d gotten away with it, who knows where I’d be now.
Maybe I should explain . . .
I was nine.
Mom was chatting in the front room with one of her friends. Their discussion had turned to something that said friend was interested in purchasing from Mom.
Goods were produced and delivered.
Exclamations of surprise and delight. (Okay, I’m assuming here.)
Friend’s handbag appeared.
Was opened.
And a coin purse came into view.
A number of quarters were counted out and cradled in friend’s hand.
To this point, all was above board, friendly and honest.
But this is where bright-eyed, slightly avaricious Diane came into the picture.
Mom turned to me. “Diane, could you please bring me the money?”
I nodded, my eyes already on the gleaming silver in the woman’s hand. I moved closer and held out my hand. She tipped hers and poured the pile of coins into mine.
And that’s when my heinous plan was hatched.
There were a lot of coins. Surely Mom wouldn’t notice if just one went missing?
Deftly (?), I sneaked one quarter into my other pocket as I turned and walked over to Mom - duly delivering the treasure.
Then, task completed, I dashed upstairs with my booty (ie. Ill-gotten gains), already planning how I was going to spend it.
A few minutes later, I vaguely heard the front door close.
And then my Mom was standing in my bedroom doorway.
“Diane, we need to talk.”
She sat on my bed and held out her hand with the quarters in it.
I looked at them. Then at my Mom. “Ummm . . . yeah?”
“Diane, one of the quarters is missing.”
“Really?” My brain started turning frantically. “A quarter?”
“Diane, did you steal a quarter?”
“Umm . . .”
“Maybe it dropped. You know, when I took the change? On the floor? I’ll go look.” And I escaped out of the door and into the front room where I quickly (before my Mom could get there and see what I was doing) flipped the coin under our recent guest’s chair.
Then, dropping to my hands and knees, I miraculously, ‘found’ it moments later. Holding it out proudly in my hand, I presented it to Mom. “It was there! See?”
Mom nodded and took the coin. Then looked at me.
With a ‘Mom’ look.
“Don’t ever take anything that doesn’t belong to you, Diane.”
“But I dropped . . .”
I nodded unhappily. How had she seen through my clever subterfuge?
My career as a thief ended that day.
I obviously didn’t have the ‘knack’.
Mom saw to that.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Saying Amen

You'd better be thankful for that!
Just sayin . . .
Suppertime at the Stringam Ranch.
Wonderful food.
Great company.
The best part of everyone’s day.
Well . . . most everyone.
Mealtimes on a spread the size of ours inevitably meant the mixing of people of vastly different lives and lifestyles.
There was the family. Mom, Dad, children, babies.
Hired men. Ranging in age from the world-weary, leather-faced, taciturn individual who had spent a lifetime squinting into the sun, to the young, smooth-cheeked, ready-for-anything boy, away from home for the very first time.
And assorted people who simply found themselves in the vicinity when the dinner bell rang; and happily joined the queue heading into the dining room.
A fairly eclectic mix.
All knew they would be treated to the very best of good, ranch cooking.
And that the traditional meal would begin with another, more important tradition.
Thanking the Lord.
Regardless of race, creed or colour, the people gathered around my father’s table to eat my mother’s food, would patiently and solemnly bow their heads as Grace was said.
Further participation was optional.
Case in point:
My eldest sister had just turned four.
And had taken on all the heavy duties and responsibilities associated with that venerable age.
Seated happily among the people gathered around the table for the evening meal, she folded her hands tightly, bowed her curly red-haired head, and squeezed her eyes shut when the prayer was said.
There was a chorus of ‘Amens’.
Chris’ head swivelled around and she pinned the hired man seated next to her with a blue-eyed glare.
“You didn’t say ‘Amen’!” she said loudly.
The man turned slightly red and squirmed in his chair as he reached for the stack of still-warm, freshly-sliced bread.
Chris turned to her father. “Daddy! He didn’t say ‘Amen’!” she said, even more loudly.
Dad paused in the passing of a large bowl of potatoes. “Ummm . . .” he said.
She turned to the other end of the table. “Mom . . .!”
“That’s okay, dear,” Mom soothed.
The now red-faced man managed to make it through the rest of a meal punctuated by the side-long glances from a tiny girl with strong convictions.
I’m sure he had had more uncomfortable meals in his lifetime.
I’m also sure he was wishing he was at one of them.

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