Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Heir's Hairs

Don't let the
boy-scout outfit fool you.
By request: The further adventures of Uncle and Nephew . . .

Influencing the young and innocent. Even in families, it's not always a good thing . . .

My Dad is the youngest of eleven children. If anyone asks him if he is related to Owen (his eldest brother) he tells them: Distantly. He's at one end of the family and I'm at the other.

When my Dad was nine, said eldest brother lived close by with his family. A wife and their eldest son, two-year-old Brian.
Brian adored his much older uncle.
He toddled along after 'Unca Mark' whenever he could.
Usually a good thing.
Occasionally . . . not.
My Dad had the twice-daily chore of milking the cow.
Brian loved to go along.
Just because.
It was a fun, companionable time for the two boys.
All was well.
One day, Brian's mother sat him in a chair in the kitchen and prepared to give her small son a haircut.
She combed the unruly locks into submission.
"Ouch!" Brian  said.
"Sorry, dear, but you have some tangles."
"Ouch!" Brian said again. "Mo-om!"
"Almost through."
Brian glared at his mom. "If you do that again, I'm going to say 'Sunny Beach'!"
His mother stopped combing. "What?"
"I'm going to say 'Sunny Beach'."
"What?" she asked again.
"Suunnny Beeeach," he said slowly and patiently.
Light dawned an her mouth popped open in horror."You mean 'Son of a . . .'" She gripped his small shoulder. "Where did you hear that?!"
He stared at her, not understanding her panic.
She gave his shoulder a little shake. "Where did you hear that?!"
"That's what Unca Mark says when the cow kicks him!"
Two things resulted from that haircut.
1.  Brian actually did get his hair shortened.
2.  "Unca Mark' received a bistering lecture on language and its proper uses.
Oh! And . . .
3.  I just realized that, when it came to cursing and getting after . . . erm . . . someone (see here), my Dad didn't have a leg to stand on.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Saying No to the Cookie

Cookie Monsters
The ultimate in snack foods. 
That perfect balance of sugars, grains, fats, and deliciousness.
And the most unique and perfect forum for getting small, semi-disguised chunks of chocolate into your mouth.
Chocolate that you can savor, but dismiss as insignificant when tallying your calorie count at day's end.
Or at least I can.
I love cookies.
And I make the mistake of baking them on a regular basis.
Call me a glutton for punishment.
Or just a glutton.
My six children have been raised on my cookies. Mostly with some form of chocolate as a noteworthy ingredient. 
They love those small handfuls of pure perfection as much as I do.
But life, and reality, tend to sneak up on you and smack you soundly, just when you aren't paying attention. And so it was with my cookie consumption.
I was going merrily along, enjoying my cookie-filled life until, one day, I drug my favorite and freshly-laundered jeans out of the drawer . . . and couldn't do them up.
Now I know this has happened to many of us, and certainly is nothing new, but it was a first time for me.
And it made me . . . unhappy.
To make matters worse, which we all try to do far too often, I decided to step on the scale.
I should note here, that the person who invented the scale, and non-stretchy clothes, was a nasty, evil individual.
But I digress . . .
I had to make some changes.
Or buy a new wardrobe.
Finances won. Losing weight was in order. And the first thing to go was my mostly-cookie diet.
I baked one last batch . . . and started eating them as though they constituted my last meal on earth.
Finally, heroically, I put the lid on the still-half-full cookie jar and left the room.
But they . . . called to me.
Cookies do that.
Finally, I could stand it no longer. I answered that call.
I went back into the kitchen and discovered that my beloved cookie jar . . . was empty.
At first, dismay.
Then, relief.
"Who ate all the cookies?"
From somewhere in the house, my daughter, Tiana's voice, "Tristan!"
Then my son Tristan's voice, "Sorry!"
Me. "Thank you Tristan! I just couldn't leave the silly things alone!"
A pause, then my daughter's voice again, "Tiana!"
The cookie doesn't fall far from the tree.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


I like to swim.
It’s the one exercise during which nothing hurts.
And at my age, that’s an enormous plus.
I don’t go as often as I used to, but still try to make it three times a week.
And work hard while I’m there.
It’s a matter of efficiency . . .
I also have a rather distinctive swimming suit. Made it myself.
It’s . . . modest. Something really, really necessary as I age and my body slowly succumbs to gravity and certain parts need more and more control to keep them . . . controlled.
A few days ago, I was working my hardest. Plowing through the water like a determined hippo. (And those things can move! Just FYI.)
I noticed the lifeguard, occasionally. Guarding life.
When I finished and showered, and was donning footwear and packing up in the front foyer, I noticed said lifeguard coming toward me at flank speed.
He obviously had something to say.
To me.
Immediately, my mind leapt to different scenarios: He wanted to hire me to teach swimming. He was so amazed at my prowess that he wanted to sign me up for the upcoming swim meet – senior’s class. He wanted me to take the job as coach and trainer for the local swim team. He . . .
“Um, Ma’am? Are you the one who was wearing the blue-striped swimsuit?”
He wanted me to make him one of my special, discloses nothing, swimsuits! I smiled. “Yes?”
“You have a big hole in the backside of your suit.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Farm kids have all the fun.
Except when they don’t.
Maybe I should explain.
In my day, hay on the farm was cut by machine. Bound into bales – also by machine. Gathered into neat stacks in the hay loft or hay shed.
And left there smelling warm and fragrant.
For some reason, it always made me think of baled sunshine.
We kids would spend hours lugging said bales around and constructing intricate forts and ‘hidy-holes’.
Many a day was passed dreaming dreams from inside a dark, sweet-smelling stronghold.
In my Dad’s day, hay on the farm was cut by horse-powered mower. Gathered using a horse-drawn rake. Moved using a great hay sling. And piled into massive mounds of loose, fragrant wonderfulness.
Sheds on either side of the large barn housed the farm animals. But much of the barn itself was given over to an immense pile of newly-gathered hay. A perfect place for a young boy to spend hours working . . . on his imagination.
Building a fort was quite a different prospect in these circumstances. All one had to do was put one’s head against the wall of the hay pile and . . . push. The soft, loose hay gave way and one could burrow through much like Bugs Bunny on his way to Miami Beach (See here).
Ten-year-old Dad made a positive warren of the place.
When a boy finds something really, really fun, he generally wants to share it with a friend or companion.
Or, barring either of those, a young nephew will serve almost as well.
Enter four-year-old Brian, son of Dad’s eldest brother. Sweet, malleable, totally trusting, eager. A perfect companion for an adventurous devil-may-care farm kid.
Dad drew him into the barn and showed the small boy how to push his way into the hay. Brian thought it was greatest trick ever and started in with enthusiasm.
And that’s when the whole plan came to grief.
Because little Brian suffered from asthma and was allergic to the timothy in the hay.
Within seconds, his eyes were swollen nearly shut, he was coughing and sneezing and – well, let’s just say it - was one thoroughly miserable little adventurer.
Fortunately Dad recognized that all was not as it should be and managed to drag his companion from the hay and hurry him to his mother where Brian was soon made comfortable somewhere far, far from the nasty old timothy.
Dad felt bad. Bad enough that he never again invited Brian back to his magical little hay-strewn world in the barn.
But not bad enough that he didn’t get him into trouble in other ways.
Remind me to tell you about it . .  .

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Putting the 'Bat' in Bathtime

plus this

equals this.

For the youngest member of a family of 11 and in the year 1931, this meant much heating of water at the kitchen stove.
Hauling of said water to the washroom.
Filling of the washtub.
Then relaxing in deliciously hot water.
The best part of the week for my dad.
On this particular occasion, though, Dad’s bathtime would include something unexpected.
And definitely unwanted.
A visitor.
As he was sitting back, enjoying his few moments of bliss, something small flew in through the open transom over the door.
It did a couple of circuits around the room as the little boy in the bathtub watched, wide-eyed.
Finally, it lit on the sheer curtains on the small window high up on the outside wall and folded its wings.
Resolving into something small . . . and furry.
A bat.
The two regarded each other for a few breathless moments.
Then, eyes glued to his visitor, dad did the “quickest washing job of my life”, wrapped a towel around his little, naked body and found the nearest far-away place.
One of his older brothers went back in to take care of the unusual – and totally unwanted – bathtime visitor, and all was well.
From then on, however, when Dad took his bath, his preparations included filling the tub.
And closing the transom.
Then keeping his eyes carefully trained upward as he performed a quick wash.
And got out of the room.
I wonder if the introduction of a bat into bathtime would shorten the length of some of my teenagers’ showers.
Just a thought . . .

Monday, March 23, 2015


Two small boys were patients in the same hospital room.
One of them was my Dad, Mark.
Age: eight.
He had been admitted to hospital for the sole purpose of having his appendix removed. He wasn’t particularly uncomfortable at the time, but the doctor had so decreed.
And removed it must be.
The day of his surgery arrived.
In those days, a folder containing a chart and/or other pertinent information was hung at the foot of every bed in the hospital. Doctor’s orders and observations were recorded there. Nurse’s actions and observations, ditto.
As of that morning, Mark’s folder contained a singly-worded sign.
Yikes. Mark, the active and usually well-fed small boy was being denied food.
Don’t you wonder why it’s called fasting?
At no other interval does time move more slowly.
Just a thought . . .
Mark knew what the word meant. But his appetite wasn’t about to be denied that easily.
Grabbing a pen, he made a tiny, little change.
Then, satisfied with his ingenuity, he sat back on his bed and waited for lunch to arrive.
Promptly at noon, an attendant appeared with Mark’s roommate’s tray.
She set it down and started back toward the doorway.
Mark sat up. “Wait! Where’s mine?”
She looked at him. “You’re fasting.”
“No, I’m not. Look!” Mark slid down to the end of the bed and held up his chart.
The woman took it and peered closely.
At the ‘FASTING’ sign.
The one which now read ‘FeASTING’.
She levelled a look at the grinning boy, then turned on one squeaky rubber-soled white shoe and left.
Mark didn’t get his lunch and he duly reported to the operation theatre for his little procedure.
Without anyone acknowledging his inventiveness.
But the story doesn’t end there.
Some days later, his mother received the bill for his hospital stay.
Itemized carefully in the list was a charge for $3.25 for ‘One Sign’.
I guess someone noticed after all . . . 

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