Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, August 8, 2015

What's in a Name?

Mom and Dad, with Pimple Pants, Rusty, Jerry and Bert
Parents put a lot of thought and even prayer into the naming of their offspring.
Why, then, do they go to such lengths to never use those names?
My name is Diane. Mom loved that name, so, when I made my appearance, she was happy I was a girl. Now she could use it. Let's face it, 'Diane' for a boy just doesn't fit quite as well. But that's another story.
As a second name, she chose Louise, after my Aunt Louise. A really, really, sweet lady.
So, Diane Louise.
Works for me.
I called myself Tony. I'm not sure why.
My Mom's working name for me, however, was 'Pixie'.
Occasionally, she would vary it.
“Oh, here's my little Pixie-Girl.”
Or, “What do you want, Sweet-Little-Pixie?”
I think it might have had something to do with my size.
Okay I know that, looking at me now, one would find this hard to believe, but, at one time, I was under height. And definitely under-weight.
Those were the days.
Moving on . . .
Later, when I was nine, I got my hair cut. Really short.
I loved it.
So did my Dad.
He changed my name to 'Mike'. I'm almost sure it had nothing to do with our dog. He of the same name.
Mom was horrified. “Mark! She has a perfectly good name. Use it!”
I know he was as bewildered as me. Ummm . . . which name? Diane? Louise? Pixie? Tony?
Are you beginning to see why I'm such a confused person?
So, 'Louie' I became.
????? again.
Mom retaliated by calling me, 'Diane'. For the first time in my life.
Then, my brother, George, got into the game.
His name for me was Bert.
Coming from someone whom Dad called 'Dard', and Jerry called 'Pimple Pants', I wasn't worried.
Rusty, or Chris as she had been christened, had no opinion.
Neither did Blair . . . er, 'Bare Blue', or 'The Great Root Blair'. Of course he was only two, so he could be excused.
And Anita was a baby. She was 'Sweetheart' or 'Sister'. One day to be known as 'Nutty Nita'.
Jerome got off easy.
Actually, that's a story in itself. He was always, 'Jerry' to everyone. Except when Mom got angry.
Then, he became Jerome Allen, or worse, Jerome Allen Stringam.
All the 'angry' names, as they are truly known.
But I've wandered from the point.
Which was me.
So, I've been through Diane, Louise, Tony, Pixie, Mike, Louie and Bert.
Now, my Honeybunny (don't ask) calls me, Honey. And my kids call me Mom.
Or grandma.
I'm so blessed.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Missing the Link

Ahh, Sinbad. Hero. Heartthrob.
Movies are the greatest creation since . . . well . . . forever.
Needless to say, I'm hooked on them.
And have been since . . . well . . . forever.
In Milk River, we got movies twice a week.
First run movies.
Which was a real scoop for a town of 499.
My Dad told me it was because there were a limited number of prints and that the theatre owner in Milk River had been around longer than the bigwig in Lethbridge, so had seniority.
Yes. I’m sure ‘seniority’ is the word he used.
I only knew that we got all the cool movies first.
For example, when ‘Lassie Come Home’ was released, everyone in Southern Alberta came to Milk River to see it. I remember the theatre owner setting up rows of folding chairs all down the aisles and across the front.
Fire regulations were obviously in the conceptual stage in the late 50s and early 60s.
But the theatre was crammed full and everyone cried together when Lassie finally came home.
Lassie came to Lethbridge several days later.
But I digress . . .
Every Bonanza Day (Milk River’s fair day) the theatre owner would offer a free movie to everyone in the town.
Usually, it was the hit flick, ‘Santa Claus Meets the Martians’, but sometimes, he would get creative and offer, ‘The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad’.
I don’t have to tell you which I enjoyed the most.
Or which one inevitably gave me nightmares.
I think it was the scene when my hero Sinbad and his men had escaped from the giant Cyclops and had pressed themselves back into a tiny crevasse in a stone wall.The Cyclops, a little piqued that his lunch would have had the temerity to run, was hunting them.
Over and over, the giant hand would reach into the shallow cave, trying to grab Sinbad or one of his men, who would press themselves a bit tighter back against the wall.
This time, the creature would get him!
No. This time!
I was into it.
And it didn't seem to matter how many times I saw the picture, I still gasped and grabbed my Mom’s arm every time the huge hand reached.
At the end, with Sinbad safe once more and kissing the pretty girl, I would shiver with delight.
And that night and for the following several nights, I’d have another nightmare.
Now my nightmares never, ever starred a gorgeous, rippling-muscled Sinbad.
That would have been . . . not scary.
No, my dreams inevitably starred a huge gorilla.
And he was going to eat me.
Okay, yes, I know that they don’t eat little girls, but I was four.
And they had teeth.
Enough said.
My gorilla would chase me through our house and finally, corner me underneath the dining room table.
I would shrink back to the far side as that hairy, dark hand reached for me.
And missed.
He would move around the table and bend over, looking at me. Then he would stretch out his arm again.
I would slide to the other side of the table and stay just out of reach.
This would go on until I finally awoke, dripping with sweat and whimpering.
And still, I was the first in line when the theatre showed ‘The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad’.
I think the term ‘Glutton for Punishment’ was coined by someone who knew me.
Maybe the Gorilla.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Freezing Dracula

We just got a new freezer. Upright because we're no long able to stand on our heads to reach for things in the bottom of the good old 38 year-old chest style. And also because said chest style no longer froze things. 
A technicality, but an important one. 
I was reminded of my first freezer. The one my parents had from the time I was small . . .
Admit it - this strikes terror into your heart!
Mom and dad had a freezer.
Chest style. 26 cubic feet.
Whatever that means.
To me, that just meant that it was large.
They had had this behemoth since they were married.
It had far outlived its 'best before' date.
Oh, it still froze anything and everything that was put into it.
It just didn't stay closed anymore.
Let me tell you about it . . .
Mom and Dad's freezer, aptly named 'Frigidaire', sat in solitary glory, in the downstairs bathroom.
In a space created especially for it.
Beside the shower cubicle. And across from the 'porcelain throne'.
For years, it had been humming busily along, doing . . . freezer stuff. Keeping cold things cold. And slowly filling with ice.
Every couple of years, Mom would take out whatever food was left in it, stack it all neatly aside, and attack the ice build up with an ice pick and a butter knife.
Then, she'd scrub it shiny, replace the food and start the whole cycle over again.
It was fun to watch.
Okay, yes, I probably should have helped, but why deprive Mom of something she so obviously enjoyed?
Well, that she appeared to enjoy . . .
Okay, I should have helped.
One thing of note: when one closed the freezer, one had to be very careful to push the handle in till it clicked, or in the middle of the night, or some other equally inconvenient time, the door would open. All by itself.
With scary amusing results.
One afternoon, the house was quiet.
Too quiet.
I was in the bathroom . . . minding my own business.
Without warning, the lid of the freezer opened.
With an appropriately eerie squeal.
Eeeeeeeeeeee . . .!
Now, my head knew that Dracula never really existed, except in the brilliant mind of Bram Stoker. And certainly, if he did exist, the last place he would appear would be in an old freezer.
In the middle of the bathroom of the Stringam ranch house.
By no stretch of the imagination would that be . . . romantic. (Does that word work here?)
But, no matter how frantically and reasonably my head was whispering all of this to my heart, my heart was still expecting Count Dracula to sit up, in all his dark majesty, maybe with a touch of real frost in his dark hair, and say, “Good evening!”
My business of the moment forgotten, I charged out of the bathroom, frantically zipping my pants as I flew.
Once in the family room, I stopped.
Sanity returned.
And I started to laugh.
And laugh.
I went upstairs and told my Mom.
She laughed.
One by one, we told it to every member of the family.
They all thought it was a huge joke.
Okay, we're weird.
I did remember to go back into the bathroom and latch the freezer properly.
And every time thereafter.
But now, years later, whenever I see a glistening white freezer, I half expect the door to open and to see Dracula sit up and smile menacingly at me.
It still makes me want to . . . mind my own business.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Though we lived at the back of beyond, the modern world did at times intrude.
Certainly it was there in the tools we used and, increasingly, in our entertainment.
Sometimes, miraculously, in both at the same time.
It was that way when we got our first ever television.
I remember it well. A large unit which stood on its own stubby legs and emitted a magical black and white picture. Mom would turn it on in the morning and I would sit and watch.
The Indian Head Test Pattern.
For hours.
That picture was amazing. It never occurred to me that it was unchanging.
It was there. I stared at it.
Okay, I was really waiting for ‘The Friendly Giant’ to come on.
But Mom would craftily switch on the set long before the program aired and I was caught. Snared by the light that flickered from the magical box. Her little 'dear' in the headlights.
It was the first ever electronic baby-sitter.
What genius!
As time went by, we discovered that, with an enormous antennae perched at the very top of the tall tower on the hill which rose to the north of us, we could miraculously get . . . two channels. The variety: endless. The choices: unlimited.
Sundays were the best.
On Sunday evening, after dinner, there was a whole line up of goodies. First was The Disney's Wonderful World of  Colour (in black and white), followed by Ed Sullivan Show, and finally, if I had been really good, Bonanza!
Surprisingly, I watched it often. It was amazing how a week’s worth of mischief could be erased by the advent of Sunday evening.
Peace filled the land, and flickering light filled our living room. We were glued to the set, as adventure after adventure unrolled before us.
But at some time during the week was the best program of all. The one I waited breathlessly for. The show with the best and biggest of heroes. And the nicest horses.
Sheriff Dillon was my hero.
But I loved Chester, with his limp. I just knew that, when I got older, I would marry Chester.
Okay, my knowledge was sadly lacking, but the spirit was there!
There was only one hitch to my love of this program.
My pronunciation.
I couldn’t say it.
If Mom made the mistake of telling me a wee bit too early in the day that it was a Gunsmoke night, I would walk around all day chanting, “Gunmoke! Gunmoke!”
And I do mean all day.
It probably got a little . . . irritating.
My Mom would try her ‘Mommy’ best to help me. She would kneel in front of me and say, and I quote, “GunSSSmoke. GunSSSmoke.”
I would stare at her and move my mouth with hers.
She would repeat. “GunSSSmoke. GunSSSmoke.”
She would smile at me encouragingly. “GunSSSmoke. GunSSSmoke.”
Expectant silence.
I would open my mouth.
Mom would nod.
“SSSgunmoke! SSSgunmoke!
I never really noticed her disappointment. I was too happily watching my hero of heroes.
Sheriff Dillon.
On Gunmoke.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Been Scammed?

Ever been scammed?
I have.
It's a terrible feeling when you realize what has happened.
But it's nothing new.
Allow me to illustrate:
Gramma and Grampa Berg on their wedding day
My Maternal grandparents emigrated from Sweden.
Grampa came first and started farming/ranching in Idaho.
Gramma followed later and they were married.
A short time afterward, they headed north, enticed by offers of beautiful farm land in Alberta. They settled on a half-section they acquired in the Brooks area.
Soon afterward, they met another couple who had been farming unsuccessfully in the area for some time and were ready for a change.
The man had a scheme.
A sure-fire, can’t-miss scheme.
“Trapping is the answer,” he said knowledgeably  “I’ve done it before. Get yourself a trap line and, in one winter, you can make enough to pay cash for the equipment you will need to farm.”
Grampa was intrigued by the idea.
No stranger to hard work, he was excited by the idea of trading long winter hours for the chance to start his farming operation with such a leg-up. He and Gramma decided they’d do it.
They studied the maps and decided on a tract of land further north of their new home place. A spot near Lac La Biche. They staked out their claim and moved into a small cabin near the train tracks.
Originally, the cabin had been erected for the use of the crew when they were laying said tracks. Their new friends (Remember the guy with the idea? Him.) had used it before.
It was . . . cozy, but it had every amenity. Walls and a roof. And a window and door. It also had a little stone oven that Grampa built. Outside. Gramma would build up a fire, let it burn down, then bake bread by the heat that remained in the stones. Beautiful bread. It was the one perk of living in a tiny cabin at the back of beyond.
Gramma Berg and her bread
For many long winter months, they and their friends/partners lived there and ran the trap line. Gramma’s first son, my uncle Glen, was born there.
They had a measure of success. In fact, by March, they had an abundant supply of furs.
The winter drew to a close. Even in northern Alberta, it does happen . . .
Plans were discussed to take the winter’s catch to the city to trade.
The decision was made that Grampa would stay at the cabin for one more week to take whatever animals he could in those last few days.
His partner would haul their furs to the city to trade.
The partner left.
Grampa caught up with him a week later in the city.
And that’s when things fell apart.
The partner claimed that he had lost their entire catch in the river when his boat swamped.
Their entire catch.
There was nothing Grampa could do.
He loaded up his wife and new son and their few belongings and headed back to his land near Brooks. One wasted, useless winter behind him. And a new farming operation ahead to be started without the leg-up he had counted on.
He did make a success of it and he and Gramma raised eight sons and my mom.
I’m sure the pain of that first set-back was completely overcome in the ensuing years.
That’s what we all count on when the scammers hit.

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