Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Water, Water Everywhere

Me and my first 4-H calf.
I'm the nerd in the glasses and cowboy hat.
Twelve was an important age in the Stringam family.
That anxiously awaited, feverishly anticipated time when one was finally considered a grown up.
And, at long last, able to join the 4-H Calf Club.
Well, it was a highlight in our family.
Moving on . . .
Yep. 4-H. No end of excitement.
First, there was the all-important choosing of the calf, which enlisted years and years of experience and an eye for perfection. ("Umm . . . I want the red and white one over there! Nooo . . . I mean the red and white one over there . . . Wait! I want that one! He's cute!")
Then there was the twice daily ritual of feeding said calf. (Accomplished for the first day by me, and thereafter by my brother, George. For the entire six calves and six years I was in 4-H.)
There were the monthly meetings where we were expected to hand in our record books. (A concise documentation of our calf's daily diet, inevitable weight gain, and any other pertinent information. Frantically estimated and scribbled before/during the meeting.)
Then, twice a year, there were the 'calf tours'. (Where we exclaimed, more or less knowledgeably over each other's calves. And then, more importantly, had a wonderful dinner at one of the homes. Usually one of the families of Hungarian descent. The best cooks in the entire world. Mmmmm.)
And finally, at the end of the year, we loaded our now-enormous darlings into trucks and headed into Lethbridge for the final show and sale.
The reward and culmination of a year of my brother's hard work.
Beyond exciting.
Three days of meeting new people (i.e. boys).
Walking along the midway and eating 'fair' food. (Taste - amazing. Nutrition - negligible.)
Attending the dance.
Sleeping in the dorms.
Oh, yes. And grooming and showing and selling our calves.
Waving good-bye.
And then, way beyond exciting, the annual club trip where the club members, together with their families, would embark on a journey to . . . somewhere wonderful.
And exciting.
We toured all over Alberta and into Montana and Washington and saw . . . stuff.
One trip, in particular, stands out.
And in my usual long-winded way, I've finally worked myself around to it . . .
We had travelled into Washington State, planning to camp at a brand-new and ultra modern campground, which, according to the pamphlet, was home to an enormous swimming pool and other amazing features.
It was the hottest day of the year.
And air conditioning hadn't been invented yet.
Our caravan of ten or so vehicles pulled into the campsite and ground to a dusty and exhausted halt.
There were trees.
And water hydrants.
But little else.
Apparently, the pictures in the brightly-coloured pamphlet had been artist's imaginative renderings of amenities that would 'some day' be part of the campground.
Us kids gathered around the giant hole that would one day be a swimming pool and said a silent farewell to the fun we could have had there.
Our parents started to set up camp.
It was hot.
One of the dads hooked a garden hose up to a hydrant and started to spray the dust off a table.
Another Dad filled a pitcher to add to the radiator of his over-heated truck.
They looked at each other.
Hose, squirting cool water.
Pitcher, filled with equally cool water.
Hottest day of the year. (I know. I already said that. But it really was.)
Pool that only existed on paper.
It was a no-brainer.
The fight was on.
By the time it ended, Every. Single. Person. in the campsite was soaked.
More than soaked.
If you were moving. You were a target.
Let me rephrase that.
If you were breathing, you were a target.
A group of moms were sitting in a safe (i.e. dry) place, watching the fun and laughing uproariously (real word - I looked it up) thinking that their age and authority made them exempt.
Oh, the folly.
My brother, George, spotted them and immediately noted two things:
1. They were dry.
2. This was unacceptable.
He filled a bucket with water and waited for them to notice him.
They saw him standing there and, staring in disbelief, slowly got to their feet.
"No, George!"
Begging availed them nothing.
In a moment, they were as soaked as the rest of us.
The fight lasted most of the afternoon, and, by the time it was finished, everyone was wet, cool, and happily exhausted.
Much the same condition we would have been in if the pool really had existed.
I don't remember much else about that particular trip.
Everything else paled when compared to "The Water Fight'.
Six years of experiences.
Of growing up.
I miss those times.

Friday, March 20, 2015

D and D

It will always be ‘That Night’.
The night my friends and I learned first-hand that drinking and driving don’t go together.
It could have been so much worse . . .
Lethbridge, Alberta is a city of about 50,000. Forty-nine miles north of Milk River.
For the kids of my home town, it was the ‘big city’.
The place for movies and fun on the evenings when two-movie-a-week Milk River had rolled up its sidewalks.
In the hands of a steady, careful driver, it took a good part of an hour to get there.
And some planning ahead if one wanted to get to a particular movie on time.
Me and a group of my friends had stuffed ourselves into a car belonging to a friend of a friend.
And I do mean ‘stuffed’.
I’m not sure how many people were in there.
Let’s just say that, if we’d had seatbelts, there would not have been a sufficient number.
Moving on . . .
We made the trip and arrived at our movie with plenty of time to spare.
Happily, we got in line for tickets.
It was then that our driver/car-owner announced he wasn’t interested in seeing, to quote him, “Some stupid movie”.
Instead, he would wait until we were finished.
In the bar across the street.
We watched him go.
Not really worried. Thinking he would be responsible and ensure he was in condition to take us all safely back to Milk River on that long, dark highway home.
We enjoyed the movie and emerged into the cool evening air some two hours later.
One of the boys went into the bar and emerged with our driver.
One of them was not walking very steadily.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you which one.
Our driver had spent his time trying to drink everyone else in the bar ‘under the table’.
Whatever that means.
I think he had won.
“Rrrready t’go?” he slurred at us.
I don’t know about the others, but my little teen-aged heart stopped right there.
My date put his arm around our driver. “Buddy,” he said soothingly, “I’d better drive.”
“Wha’d’ya mean?! I can drive!!! SSS’MY car!!!”
“Bud, you’re drunk. You can’t even see the steering wheel!”
“SSS’MY car!!! Ssstealin’ my car!!!”
“No, Bud, we’re not stealing your car. You can sit right next to me and we’ll all get home safely.”
“SSS’MY car!!!”
“Yes, it’s your car, and you can sit next to me . . .”
“No onesdrivin’ MY CAR!!!”
This went on for some time.
I hurried to a nearby phone booth (google it) and called home.
Getting my sleepy father out of bed.
“Daddy! Our driver’s drunk!” I wailed over the phone.
He was awake immediately. “Don’t let him drive!”
“We’re trying not to, but he’s so angry!”
“Don’t let him drive! Do you think you can convince him? Do I need to come and get you?”
I looked over at my friends, grouped around my date, who was still trying to talk to his friend. My date was saying something and the driver was shaking his head forcibly, nearly sending himself tumbling with the simply action.
“I don’t knooow!”
As I stood there, my date propped up his friend and stood back. The friend/driver nearly fell over – saved at the last moment when someone grabbed his arm.
Finally, to everyone’s relief, he nodded.
“I think they’ve convinced him,” I said. “We’re on our way.”
Happily, everyone piled into the car, with my date behind the steering wheel and our would-be driver beside him.
We left the brightly-lighted city and started out along the dark highway.
We didn’t get far.
“I ssshould be drivin’! SSSS’MY car!!!”
My date looked over at his friend. “You’re too drunk, Buddy,” he said. “I’ll get us all home safely.”
He grabbed the wheel.
The car swerved sharply and my date took his foot off the accelerator and finally regained control as the boy sitting on the other side of the ‘driver’ wrestled him back into the middle of the seat.
“No we’re not stealing anything!”
“I’m Drivin’!” Again the driver reached for the wheel.
My date pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine, pocketing the key. “Let’s walk this off,” he suggested. He slid out of the car and pulled the ‘driver’ out behind him. “C’mon Buddy, let’s walk this off.”
The two of them went around the car to the ditch and started walking up and down, my date talking quietly and the ‘driver’ shouting more and more incoherently.
Lights appeared behind us.
Grew brighter.
A pick-up truck.
One we all knew very well.
Another friend and his date pulled over in front of us.
“Trouble?” he asked.
I went over to them. “Our driver’s drunk,” I said.
“Do any of you want to come with us?” he asked.
Relief flooded over me. “Well, I do!” I said. I went back to the other car. My date was till walking up and down with his friend, talking softly and soothingly. “Does anyone want to catch a ride?” I asked.
One other person scrambled out of the car. “I do,” they said.
“I’m going with Dennis!” I called to my date.
He waved. “Do!” he said.
I climbed into the truck and made room for the other person.
For a few seconds, we watched my date continue to walk and talk, trying to convince our agitated ‘driver’ that he really was in no condition to drive.
Then we drove off, the car and my other friends disappearing into the darkness behind us.
I felt like I was abandoning them.
Half an hour later, I was walking through my front door.
My relieved parents met me as I came in.
“What happened?” Dad asked.
I told them.
They shook their heads. “Thank the Lord you had enough sense to keep him from driving,” Mom said.
“Well, they were still trying when I left,” I said. “I don’t know what happened after that.”
Later, one of my other friends called to say that they had all gotten home safely. My date had managed to calm the ‘driver’ enough to get him back into the car. And the rest of them were able to keep him from grabbing the wheel.
We learned two things that night:
1. If there’s any possibility you’re going to be the driver . . .
2. Don’t be stupid.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

My Crutch(es)

Gramma and Grampa Berg
It was a magical time. 
Gramma Berg was staying over. 
For days and days. 
And she could always be counted on for a snuggle, or a story, or a song, or a treat.
In that order.
Gramma moved slowly. The result of having a shattered kneecap. I only knew that she couldn't get away from me.
Oh, and that she had crutches.
I loved those crutches. It didn't occur to my four-year-old intellect that they were a necessary part of Gramma’s mobility. I saw only that they were just right for me. 
I would put the little bar (intended as a hand hold) under my arms and, with the top half of each crutch weaving far over my head, hop from one end of the house to the other. Then back. Then back again.
All day.
Sometimes I would mix it up a little and hold up the left leg instead of the right. Either was exciting. 
And daring.
Okay, I was four. My life to date hadn't been filled with momentous events. 
But I digress . . .
There was one problem with my fascination for Gramma’s crutches. She needed them. And I usually had them.
Somewhere else.
Something had to be done.
My Dad, always excited at the prospect of a new engineering task, saw an opportunity. He would make new crutches. My size. Happily, he spent many hours in the blacksmith shop, designing, measuring, cutting. Crafting. Finally, voila! Crutches. Perfect four-year-old size. 
Excited, he brought them to the house. 
Unfortunately, it was nap time and I was blotto on the couch.
Not one to let such a minor thing as a sleeping child thwart him, Dad stood me up and thrust the crutches under my arms.
I can picture it now. Small, skinny, white-haired child – literally - asleep on her feet. Head lolling to one side. A tiny snore. (Okay, my imagination’s good. I admit it.) Her dad holds her up with one hand while trying to brace the crutches under her arms with the other. For this story, a Dad with three hands would probably be advisable. She folds like cooked spaghetti. He tries again. Same result. Finally, defeated, he lays her back on the couch and braces the crutches against it for her to find when she is a bit more . . . conscious.
Which she does.

From then on, my crutches and me were inseparable. They were even tied behind when I went riding. I almost forgot how to walk. Strangers to the ranch would shake their heads sadly at the little crippled child making her way across the barnyard. Then nod and acknowledge that she sure had learned how to move quickly, poor little mite. I felt guilty for the deception. 
Well, a little. 
A real little.
Okay, not at all.
I certainly learned to manoeuvre those little crutches. The only thing I never mastered was walking while lifting both feet at the same time. And, believe me, I tried.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch house, Gramma was delighted to have her crutches back. She could get around once more. She could be portable, helpful, useful. All the qualities she found so satisfying. 
She could even challenge me to a race.
I won.
Me. Age four. With some friends.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Pioneer Stock

My mom was a writer.
A prolific writer.
She passed away nearly 14 years ago and I'm just scratching the surface of all she left us.
Here is a poem I discovered yesterday tucked away in one of her journals . . .
Thank you, Mom!

Fresh, clear air from East to West
And room to come and go,
To watch the prairie grasses wave,
And feel the cool winds blow.

To hear the Whisper through the trees,
And watch the morning light,
The little prairie creatures stir,
The ducks and geese take flight.

To see the lazy shadows play
Across the hills at dawn,
And watch the golden sun rays touch
A mother and her fawn.

To look out o’er the rolling hills,
As far as the eye can see.
And not a thing to mar the view,
Not road, nor fence, nor tree.

And far across the plains we find
At the edge of the prairie.
A ridge of snow-capped mountains rise
In Splendid majesty.

When winter sheds his frosty coat,
And north winds cease to blow,
We see the fragile prairie flowers
Peek through the melting snow.

When all the lights of the Milky Way
Play eternal melodies,
A million winking stars above
Join the Heavenly Symphony.

And, stealing ‘cross the rolling land,
A whispering, gentle breeze,
A haunting, trembling Rhapsody,
Stirs leaves in all the trees.

When the moon begins to float,
Across the balmy night,
Caressing all the troubled world,
With it’s glorious, heavenly light.

We see the prairie antelope
Crest the hill at night,
A silhouette against the sky,
As he pauses in his flight.

As the frogs croak out a lullaby,
And all the Prairie sleeps,
A purple Shadow treads the Trail
Where the Wiley Coyote creeps.

The tattoo of the horses’ feet,
As the stage coach rolls along,
The sweat and grime and clouds of dust,
The crack of the whip at dawn.

And bounding o’er a craggy ridge,
The mocking laugh of Raiders,
We hear the loaded wagons roll,
Stinging, cursing Whiskey traders.

When a fevered child cries out,
There is no way to go,
To drive the faithful horses through
The shocking drifts of snow.

Sit anxiously throughout the night,
Clutched ln fear and dread.
No way to call a Doctor, or
Take the infant in the sled.

To rise with the sun and milk the cow,
And tend the nervous teams,
To pause a bit and watch the flocks
Fly on to other streams.

To eat a slice of thick, dark bread,
Rich butter and some jam,
Bowls of steaming porridge, and,
A slice of home-cured ham.

Hitch the team up to the plow,
And with the help of God,
Glean a frugal living from
The brown unwilling Sod.

O’er Silver Willow, Sage, and, Brush,
We hear the prairie call,
The pioneers of this land are there,
Their silent footsteps fall.

We share so much with those who’ve passed
Their hope, their faith, their tears,
The courage to rise again and again,
Our parent pioneers.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Depths of Winter

A poem (Based on a joke my Dad likes to tell).
For Tuesday.
Because . . .

He went out as the morning sun,
Made new snow glisten bright.
The world was still, the air was cold
The storm passed with the night.

He carefully prepared his mount
With blankets and with tack,
The snow had stopped, the wind had died
He had cattle now to check.

The two of them moved carefully
Into the world of white.
Their breath streamed out behind them
Making clouds in morning light.

But it wasn’t long before he stopped
And looked about him there.
Then pulled his ‘cell phone from his coat
And dialled his wife with care.

“Hi, Hon!” he said with chatt’ring teeth,
Just thought I’d give a call,
To let you know I’m heading back,
Things don’t look good at all.”

“The snow out here’s too deep,” he said.
“It’s cold and wet, I’ve found.
It’s reached the tops of both my boots
It’s hard to get around.”

His puzzled wife said to her man.
“Your boot tops aren’t tall.
“I don’t see how a drift that deep
Could hamper you at all.”

Her husband frowned, “They don’t,” he said.
“Well, they don’t bother me.
But this poor horse I’m sitting on.
He simply cannot see.”
Dad in winter . . .

Monday, March 16, 2015

Just Because You Loved Him

Okay, he's cute!
Our family was at the movies.
We had popcorn and treats.
Soft drinks.
And the quickest route to the bathroom mapped into our heads.
We were ready.
Erik was four and a little more than eager.
The theater darkened slowly.
Expectation grew.
They don't do this any more, but in times past, every step to the opening of a movie served to heighten the anticipation to a fever pitch.
Slowly lowered lights.
Projector springing to life.
Train of white light beamed on the still-closed curtains.
Said curtains slowly drawing back.
Pictures suddenly appearing.
It was inspired.
Everyone in the theater was transfixed.
Hands which only recently had been scrabbling (Grandpa's word) through the popcorn hung suspended, unmoving.
The audience waited, barely breathing, for the first signs of Movie.
And then it finally came, restoring breath and life to those watching.
And they were truly prepared to be entertained. Even bewitched.
Our movie that night was ET. The story about the little Extra Terrestrial.
It began . . .
Cute little kids and family interaction.
ET was introduced.
Erik crawled into my lap and announced in what he fondly believed was a whisper, “I don't like him. He's scary!”
Not scary enough that he wanted to leave, however.
He watched as the children in the movie befriended the helpless, stranded little alien.
Adopted him.
Loved him.
(Spoiler alert . . .)
He cried when ET 'died'.
And cried, again, when he came back to life.
At the end of the movie, he sighed happily and followed the rest of us out of the theater.
On the way home, as usual, we talked about the film and Erik posed the question, “Why was ET so much cuter at the end of the movie than at the beginning?”
I stared at him. “He was just the same, sweetie.”
“No. He was cuter at the end.”
We thought about it. How could something that really never changed in looks get 'better' looking?
And then it hit me. “Because, at the end, you loved him, sweetie.”
“Oh. Right.”
And it was true. The ugly little alien remained ugly until we got to know him.
Loved him.
And then we saw his beauty.
Truth comes best from a four-year-old.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Wreaking Hammock

From this . . .
But everyone had one!
Well, almost everyone.
Okay, he had seen one.
And wanted it . . .
It was summertime on the ranch. The perfect season of cloudless blue skies, soft, sage-soaked breezes, warm, golden sunshine and scented, star-studded nights.
And what better way to enjoy one’s occasional leisure hours than by swinging – relaxed, semi-conscious and blissful - in one’s very own hammock.
To ten-year-old Mark, the concept seemed heaven-sent.
There was just one catch.
He didn’t possess a hammock.
And his parents did not appear to be forthcoming with one.
But Mark was a kid of the prairies. What he didn’t possess, he made.
Or made do.
His dad was changing out the old canvas on the binder. Hmmm . . .
Mark studied the discarded heap of coarse material carefully. Then he scooped it up and carted it to the trees. Specifically to the two tall trees he had picked as being the biggest and most hammock-support-like.
Sometime later, following a maximum of grunting, sweating and words sometimes thought but seldom said, Mark was looking at a brand new hammock.
His brand new hammock.
His pride of accomplishment over spilled its banks.
Handsprings anyone?
A party was called for.
A celebration.
A . . .
Mark would have to settle for talking his mother into allowing him to sleep out on his new acquisition.
It took some doing, but he was finally able to convince her.
Happily, he gathered blankets and gear for his amazing outdoor adventure and in short order was perched atop his newest and best acquisition.
Snuggled down and shivering with delight, he waited for the sun to go down.
Then to come up again.
Which it did.
Mark blinked sleepily at the newly-risen sun. It was then he realized that his mouth felt . . . funny.
Sliding out of his hammock, he ran to the house and the nearest mirror.
Where he received a distinct shock. His upper lip was swollen like a balloon.
With no idea what could possibly have happened, he ran for his mother. Who took one look at his face and said, calmly, “Looks like a bug bit you, son.”
A bug bit him?! His face was three times its normal size and ‘a bug bit him’?!
Frantically, he raced back to the mirror and minutely studied his poor abused outside. How was he going to go through life looking like this?!
In case you're worried, I'll tell you that the swelling did go down. Fairly quickly in fact. With only one side effect. Mark now regarded hammocks with a degree of suspicion.
I mean – no one ever told him that they could come with uninvited and totally unexpected ‘guests’.
Overly friendly guests.
His was a hammock for one.
Maybe someone should have explained that to the bug.
. . . to this.

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