Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, April 3, 2015

Little Ears

It hadn’t been a good day.
For the normally organized and industrious mother of the family, a frustrating and unproductive day.
Impatience was bubbling perilously close to the surface.
She dropped a plate.
Which then shattered into a quadrillion pieces.
Spreading itself over the entire kitchen floor.
It was at that moment that the frustration finally broke through.
“Oh, damn it all anyway!”
Her husband looked up from the paper he was reading at the dining room table and blinked in surprise.
Maybe I should explain that this really wasn’t her usual form of expression.
Back to my story . . .
He glanced meaningfully at the little three-year-old girl playing happily on the floor at his feet, seemingly oblivious to the conversation. “Ummm . . .” he said, “. . . darn it?! Dang it?!”
The little girl looked up. “No, Daddy,” she said. “Damn it!”
Little ears.
Always turned on when you least want them to be.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


It's my Dad's 90th birthday today!
We're off to celebrate.
But first, a memory from eighty years ago exactly . . .

Grandpa Stringam and his seven sons. Dad is the little guy in the front.
My Grandma Stringam had a great sense of humour.
It didn’t emerge often.
But when it did . . .
It was my Dad’s 10th birthday.
Preparations had been ongoing in the family kitchen for most of the day and for Dad, forbidden the hallowed hall, the anticipation was palpable.
Finally, he was called in and settled in the place of honour at the family table.
The meal commenced.
Amid much laughter and badinage, it continued.
And the much-anticipated cake was finally brought out.
It was one of Grandma Stringam’s triumphs. A great, tall, beautifully-frosted tower of perfection.
Grandma set it in front of Dad and, for the first time in his life, handed him the knife.
Ooh, the excitement! The responsibility! The trepidation . . .
Dad carefully poked the blade of the knife into the mound of frosting. Slid it down to the surface of the cake itself. Watched as the blade bit into the soft deliciousness.
And it was there that things came to a sudden, inexplicable halt.
The knife simply wouldn’t go any further.
It  . . . stopped.
Dad pushed a bit harder. No progress.
Cakes were harder to cut than he had anticipated. He exerted all the pressure of his ten-year-old arm.
His mother, standing beside him, said, “Maybe you need to try another knife.” She duly handed him a long knife with a serrated edge.
Dad set the first one down and reached for the second.
Tentatively, he poked the blade through the frosting and into the cake. Again the knife stopped just past the surface.
This time, though, as he sawed the blade back toward himself, something unexpected came with it.
A tiny strand of something white and . . . fluffy.
Dad reached for it. Rolled it between his fingers.
He frowned. What was cotton doing in his cake?
He sawed the blade once more. More cotton.
He glanced suspiciously at his mother.
Who was grinning hugely.
Grandma had baked his perfect cake, then cut the top off, hollowed it out and filled it with cotton. Carefully reassembling it, she had frosted it and set it before her brand-new ten-year-old.
Now, laughing heartily, she went back into the kitchen and returned with the inside. Just as carefully frosted and decorated.
Fortunately, this one cut – and ate – easily.
Ten-year-old birthdays.
So exciting. So memorable.
For so many reasons . . .

P.S. Happy Birthday, Daddy! I love you!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Changing Channels

My granddaughter (hereinafter known as Little One, or LO, for short) has the occasional use of her mother’s Ipad.
On long trips or when she has been particularly active and needs some quiet time.
Said Ipad has several movies installed. Good movies. Deemed by her mother and/or me to be suitable for a child her age.
Those of us closeted with her regularly hear most of The Princess and the Frog, Wreck It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero Six, Toy Story (1,2,and 3), Up, WallE, Brave, Monsters, Inc., and many others.
And I do mean ‘most of’.
Because LO will watch a movie closely from the opening credits through to . . . well, let me illustrate.
On a recent trip to take care of errands, she was absorbed in the colourful antics of a little, dark-haired girl with ‘race car driver’ in her genetic code; and a large, lovable troll of a man whose job was to wreck things. The movie was rolling rapidly toward its usual conclusion.
Okay, I admit it, I was absorbed as well.
And, quite suddenly, I was transported to the Deep South as Louisiana jazz filled the car.
I looked at her. “Why did you change it?”
She lifted her head and said, matter-of-factly, “It was getting scary.”
“Oh.” I said nothing more and let myself get carried into the current story: Young woman with dreams and grit and young man with charm and a penchant to idleness on a course toward things life-changing and dark and . . .
“Oooh. Scary.” And once again the program changed. This time to a couple of current enemies and future best friends on their first day of college.
See? ‘Most of’.
But she was happily engrossed and I have a strict policy of ‘never disturb a happily engrossed child’, so I left her alone.
That evening, Husby and I were watching the news just before turning in for the night. And I can think of nothing more likely to induce nightmares than a recap of yet another day in our often-scary global situation.
And, just for a moment, I found myself wishing I could just change the program.
Okay, I know that nothing is accomplished if one simply turns away from unpleasant situations or tasks.
And that if the good stop trying, the bad have free rein.
But, just for a time I wished I could do what LO does. Turn to another program when things get scary. Or better yet, make the scary things disappear entirely.
The children obviously have the right idea.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Prairie Cannon

Oh, the treasures one can discover on a ranch first settled by a Colonel from the Boer War . . .
The Stringam ranch lies in a crook of the south fork of the Milk River, near the Alberta/Montana border. A spot of ground dominated by towering cliffs, a large hill and a (usually) meandering stream. To Colonel Mackie, the man who first settled it, a patch of waving grass and peace after a season of bloody turmoil in Southern Africa.
Years later, it became home to the Stringams, a family of eleven.
Of which my Dad was the youngest.
Enough background . . .
A favourite diversion during the hot summer days for a young boy growing up on the prairies was a swim in the ‘milky’ water of the river. And that’s what he and a friend were doing on the day they discovered the cannon.
Yes. You hear me correctly. A cannon.
One minute, they were splashing around happily. The next, staring at a long chunk of iron sticking out of the water at the edge of the stream.
Oh, they weren’t entirely sure that that was what they had discovered. In fact, after they lugged the thirty-five pounds of iron home, no one could agree with their excited assumption. Most sided with Grampa, who stated that it must have been something used to drill wells.
I mean, how on earth would cannon from the Boer war end up in the middle of the Alberta prairies?
The interesting artifact ended up sitting next to the garage. Neatly nestled with the rest of the ‘we-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-it’ junk.
For some time, it sat there.
Then Grampa, intent on installing a new door in the garage, decided it was just what he needed as a counterweight. Wired up and tied, it worked perfectly.
And then someone happened onto the ranch who knew about firearms and things ‘army’. Seeing Grampa’s counterweight, he became very excited.
It was then the family discovered that the remarkable hunk of iron was indeed, as Dad and his friend had first thought, a cannon.
The man had the cannon cut down and proceeded to examine it eagerly. And closely. He found, after he had cleaned out the silt, that it still contained pieces of metal and black powder.
All ready for business.
Yes. The Stringams had a loaded cannon serving as a door prop.
There’s something you don’t see every day . . .
The friend took the cannon home, cleaned it up properly and constructed a base for it.
It served as a feature in his home for a number of years, but finally found its way back to my Dad.
Who donated it to The Fort Museum in Fort Macleod, Alberta.
Where it sits to this day.
A little piece of history toted from Southern Africa to Southern Alberta.
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