Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Sleepytime Ride

Blair and Anita.
And me.
In my beautiful 'fur' coat.
Okay. I was six. Grade one is hard work! I was tired!
And we lived a million miles from town!
Enough background.
Living 20 miles from the local schools might be a blessing during ‘snow days’ in the winter when the buses didn’t run, but the rest of the time, it merely meant a very long ride. A very long, boring ride.
If one didn’t have someone to visit with, the trip was interminable. Especially to a six year old.
Which I was.
Seating was a highly organized, painstakingly structured fact of bus life.
The eldest kids got to sit in the back. The youngest directly behind the bus driver.
Okay, maybe not so organized . . .
Hijinks were restricted to the back two rows. Your progress through school and through life was largely measured by where you sat in the school bus.
I had never sat more than two sets behind the driver.
Until that fateful day.
The Lindemans weren’t on the bus. Will and Louise's seat in the second last row was empty and just waiting to be claimed. My day had come.
Happily, I perched in that heretofore inaccessible spot.
Our bus driver, a wonderfully kind and loving man named Dick Sabey was responsible for delivering us safely into the waiting arms of our mother, Enes Stringam, at Nine Mile Corner. It was a corner situated, interestingly enough, exactly nine miles from our ranch buildings.
Okay, so imaginative, we weren’t.
Day after day, our faithful friend dropped us off at the corner, waving to us cheerfully as we began the trek towards home.
Usually, we managed only a few yards before our mother’s car, trailing a cloud of dust on the country road, appeared around the turn. She would skid to a halt and load us in, questions and news being tossed back and forth before the doors had even closed.
Occasionally, when our amazingly busy Mom was late, we would manage to make it to the Sproade’s, an elderly couple who lived about ½ mile from the corner and whose house was always filled with the rich smell of wonderful German baking. Baking which needed to be eaten by ravenously hungry school children.
We prayed every day our Mom would be late.
But I digress . . .
It was chilly. I don’t remember if it was Spring or Fall, but the weather necessitated the wearing of fairly warm clothing. I had a golden faux fur parka. Purchased by my Dad specifically for a trip to cut our family’s Christmas tree. A coat that could easily have doubled as a bear disguise. But which was wonderfully warm . . . and cozy . . . and *yawn* comfortable . . .
When I awoke some time later, Dick and his dear wife, Scotty, were standing over me, shaking me gently. I sat up and looked around. It was dark. The lights of the Sabey home were shining dimly into the shadowy bus.
Nine Mile Corner was nowhere to be seen. Or my brothers and sister. Or my Mom.
That’s when the tears started.
Dick picked me up and carried me into the house, where Scotty calmed me and cuddled me. And fed me. (Amazing how so many of my stories revolve around food.)
Later, my relieved parents arrived to pick me up and the story was finally told.
The Stringam kids always left the bus in a group. The bus driver, watching alertly to make sure they were safely on their way, noticed that Diane wasn't with them.
But sometimes, kids stayed in town for some reason or another. The accepted practice in such an instance was to give the driver a note explaining their absence.
But it wasn't unusual for said note to be forgotten.
Dick surmised I had had piano lessons . . . or something.
And since I hadn’t been sitting in my usual spot, my brothers and sister had concluded the same thing and headed quickly toward the Sproade's. By the time our Mom arrived and my absence was noted, the bus was long gone.
The time for panic had truly arrived.
Cell phones existed only in the imaginations of science fiction writers. The only phone connection available was a single party line, installed by my father (and enormously entertaining, but that is another story).
Once she reached the ranch buildings, Mom wasted no time in calling the Sabey household and raising the alarm. Dick hadn’t yet returned from his route, so Scotty waited breathlessly at the front window for the bus. When he arrived, she met him and the two of them quickly searched the bus.
They soon discovered that a bulky coat, discarded on one of the last seats, actually contained a person. Not a very big person, to be sure, but a person just the same.
Some time later, with my Mom’s arms around me, I could see the humour of the situation.
Until I grew taller, about grade nine or so, I never again sat anywhere but directly behind the bus driver. It was safer there. And less forgetful.
And, oddly enough, I find it impossible to fall asleep in a moving vehicle.
Except when I’m driving.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Toddler Gardening

It seemed a good idea, I thought
                Some hours in the yard.
The winter months had been so long
                And I felt the need of working hard.

So armed with gloves and rakes and things,
                I started out the door.
Trailed by two toddlers
                Who loved to help with Gramma’s chores.

Things went well for a tic or two,
                As Gramma started in,
The girls spun circles in the yard
                Till Linney fell and bumped her chin.

A kiss and cuddle, tears were gone
                It really wasn’t hard.
I set her down and looked to see
                That Hazel’d wandered from the yard.

She’d not gone far, I scooped her up
                And carried her back home.
Then penned them both behind the gate,
                And told them sternly ‘not to roam’.

While toddlers watched, I grabbed my rake,
                But got no further then,
‘Cause Hazel shrieked; I had to run
                She’d fallen in the mud . . . again.

I fished her out and cleaned her off,
                A kiss and all was well,
Then turned just as another shriek,
                Told me Lin was stuck as well.

I’m sure by now you’ve realized
                I didn’t manage much.
With Lin caught in the tramp’line springs
                And Hazel eating chalk and such.

Four trips to bathroom, ‘Pee, potty now!’
                And squabbles over things,
And pouring sand in someone’s hair,
                And all the angst that action brings.

Searching the yard from stem to stern
For Linney’s missing shoe,
Then doing the whole thing o'er again
                Cause Hazel’s hat was ‘somewhere’, too.

With helping up and helping down
                And watching in between.
It’s no wonder that my work just sat,
                With little progress to be seen.

Last night when all were sound asleep
                And peace had been restored,
I looked out the window there,
                And sang my praises to the Lord.

For though my tools were strewn about
And no sign of success,
My time was so well spent, because
                Two little girls, my day did bless.

If you enjoyed this, order my book: Words: Life in Rhyme.

You know you want to . . .

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Kitchen Clothes

Mom, with Chris and Jerry.
Mom's the goofy one in the middle.
Mom liked cleaning.
With six kids, one husband, assorted hired men and various other duties and hobbies, she did a lot of it.
A lot.
I think she did it in her sleep.
Certainly, she did it in ours. If we lay down on the carpet in the front room for a nap, we would be picked up and cleaned.
That's just how Mom was.
But, as with any demon cleaner, sometimes the clutter and rubble would get away from her.
Particularly if she was busy with a project and unable to follow us around, picking up and tidying after us.
I can remember two instances when this was brought hilariously to my attention.
The kids in the neighbourhood had been playing at my house.
I don't remember what we were doing, but it involved toys and games.
And mess.
After most of the kids had left, Mom came out of the kitchen and surveyed the detritus that can only be the result of many small bodies . . . having fun.
While she was standing there, Laurie, from next door, twitched her apron.
Mom looked down.
"You sure have a messy house, Mrs. Strin-gam!"
I don't know what Mom said in response.
Probably something tactful, knowing my Mom.
But the story lost nothing in the retelling.
Another time, George and I were playing under the kitchen table.
Yes. Under.
I know. Weird.
Mom was bustling around in the business area of the room.
She opened a cupboard.
And pulled out something . . . unexpected.
"What the . . . who put this underwear in my cupboard?!"
What she was holding was actually a pair of swim trunks.
Light grey.
With sharks printed on them.
But why quibble over details.
George and I stared at them.
Then laughed uproariously.
Mom snorted, folded them neatly, and carried them to their proper home.
We never found out who left them there.
Over the years, I've made up several scenarios that would account for it.
None practical.
Or believable.
But after that, at least once a week, George and I would hide something 'underwearish' (not a real word - I made it up) in Mom's cupboard and wait for her to find it.
Then laugh ourselves silly when she did.
Okay, we were little.
Things were funnier then.

There is an addendum.
I was busy in the kitchen, cooking, cleaning.
One of the myriad duties that accompany the care and feeding of six kids and one husband.
I set a pot in the sink and opened a cupboard door.
"What the . . . who put these dirty socks in my cupboard?!"
I had turned into my mother!
It's a good thing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


There really aren't 20 mule teams inside. I looked.
On the Stringam Ranch, electronic media was in its infancy.
We had one TV channel.
And that only came on for a limited number of hours per day.
Mom would park me in front of the TV just shortly before 10 AM, and I would stare at the 'Indian head' test pattern until the National Anthem.
And then, magically, The Friendly Giant would appear.
He read stories and played music.
Just for me.
Of course there were other programs. The Jack Benny Show. Leave it to Beaver. Lassie. The Wonderful World of Disney. Bonanza. Ed Sullivan.
And Woody Woodpecker, that always came on when I was supposed to be gathering the eggs. (But that is another story.)
Each memorable by itself. And each enhanced by the ads woven skilfully between and throughout.
I loved the ads. Those wonderful, amazing ads that, in 30 seconds or less, could convince me that now, thanks to the additive of the month, I could have cleaner wash.
Or whiter teeth.
Or better coffee.
We weren't actually coffee drinkers, but I was sold by the ad that asked, “How do you like your coffee?” and then answered by, “Why, I like my coffee . . . Crisp!”
How convincing were such ditties as, “You'll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent!”
Or, “J-E-L-L-O!”
I was mesmerized (and yes, I meant to use that word) by the ad featuring several pickles dancing around, singing, “You can tell a Heinz pickle, by its crunch!” and ignoring the jar, who implored them to get back inside before they got eaten up. And, after all of them were eaten, that same jar lamenting, “You can't tell a Heinz pickle nothin'!”
That was hilarious. And if something made me laugh, I had to have it.
We simply couldn't do without it.
Mom had to buy it.
Or make it. Or do it.
The Kraft ads with the smooth-voiced narrator and the wonderful scenes from the perfect Kraft kitchens?
Mmmmm. Mom could do that.
The housewives in the pretty dresses, pearls, pumps and a miniscule apron demonstrating everything from floor wax to cookware?
Well . . . my Mom always wore a dress, and an apron. And I had seen her in pumps and pearls whenever she and Dad went out.
But for some reason, I couldn't get her to combine them when doing housework.
“No, Mom, you have to do it this way! Like on TV!”
Moms are weird.
She did buy boxes of Kellogg's frosted flakes because Tony the Tiger said they were “Grrrrreat!”
She didn't have to worry about Esso, though.
I had a bit of a problem with putting a 'Tiger in my Tank'.
I wasn't quite sure how Tony would feel about that.
She never bought me the tiny, little chuckwagon I so desperately wanted, that drove through the house carrying . . . ummm . . . whatever it carried. I confess, I never really got past watching the minuscule driver and team.
I begged and begged my Mom for the 'Five Pounds Thinner Girdle' or the 'Cross Your Heart Bra' from Playtex.And I couldn't understand why that made her laugh.
Every time.
I also tried to convince her that she needed to be using Ivory Snow for all things 'baby'. And to add the power of the Borax 20-mule team to everything else.
Actually, I just wanted the mule team. I can't tell you how many boxes I opened looking for them.
Mom probably can.
Moving on . . .
We ate Campbell's soup on occasion and I tried to look plump cheeked and shiny like the Campbell's kids.
I also wanted the bowls they ate from.
She baulked at that.
She did buy me Kraft Peanut Butter.
Oh, occasionally, she tried to substitute some inferior brand that was on sale, but, inevitably that jar of lowly second-rate peanut butter went stale on the shelf.
I had seen the ads.
I chewed Wrigley's Juicy Fruit Gum because it had better flavour and wanted only Chiquita bananas because the girl had a neat hat and I liked the song.
'Carnation hot chocolate was frothy great – and – so easy to make'. And it went so well with 'Jiffy pop, Jiffy pop the magic treat. As much fun to make as it is to eat!'
Okay, I have to admit it.
Ads worked for me.
It's probably a good thing that we didn't have more channels.
Mom - and me - never would have survived.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Phun With Phones

Stringam Ranch.
Everything . . . except a phone
“I want to talk to Jody.”
“Number, please.”
Electric ringing.
“May I talk to Jody?”
“Yes, one moment.”
“Jody! We got our phone!”
It was the most exciting day of my life.
The Stringams. That weird family who lived at the back of beyond, had joined the twentieth century. The modern world had finally found its way to our door.
But therein lies a story.
The Stringam ranch was twenty miles from the bustling metropolis of Milk River (pop. 499). The phone lines went as far as Nine Mile Corner, a bend in the road situated, astonishingly, just nine miles from the ranch buildings.
The phone company refused to take the phone lines any further. Why would people living that far from civilization need the convenience of modern communication?
Why indeed.
But Dad wanted a phone.
As the only veterinarian in the area, Dad needed a phone.
Dad was determined to have a phone.
Finally, he bought all of the poles and cable to run his own phone line.
He and the hired men spent several weeks installing said poles and cable the nine long miles to the ranch.
The magical day dawned.
The phone company unbent enough to hook up our line to theirs. (And then proceeded to run many, many lines off of it, but that is another story.)
The family gathered around the large, wooden box.
It shrilled. Twice.
Two longs.
We stared at it.
Then looked at each other.
We had arrived.
From that moment on, the peace of the Stringam home was often shattered by the shrilling of the magical box in the hallway.
And the pounding of numerous feet as various denizens of the house sprinted to answer.
It was a whole new, and very exciting, experience.
Followed, soon after, by the discovery that, if one was careful, one could gently lift the receiver and . . . wonder of wonders . . . listen in on other conversations on the 'party' line that had nothing to do with you.
I'm sure I don't need to tell you why it was called a 'party' line.
My sister and I became the masters of it . . .
“Well, I'm sure she meant well. But I can tell you that Gloria wasn't very flattered.”
“Well, I can imagine. Poor Gloria!”
“Yes. I mean, I can only guess, but I would well imagine that being told that one was as big as a whale, albeit a pretty whale, wouldn't go over too well.”
“Well, I wish I'd been there. I would have given her a piece of my mind!”
“Well, Dorothy brought a yellow jellied salad with bananas in it that was just divine. I got her recipe!”
“That reminds me. I wanted to get Dorothy's recipe for her devil's food cake.”
“Oh, I have it, just wait a moment.”
“Umm, yes?”
“Sorry to interrupt, but I really need to use the 'phone.”
“Oh, sorry, Hank. Problems?”
“Yeah. I need to talk to Joe at the feed store.”
“Go right ahead. Grace? I'll get that recipe and get back to you.”
“Thanks, Mabel.”
This was fun!
Another conversation . . .
“Well, she was out half the night!”
“Yes! Until midnight! And when she got home, Papa could smell . . . liquor on her breath!”
A sucked in breath. “Oh! What did he do?”
“Well, he wasn't happy, I can tell you! She's grounded for a month!”
“A month!?”
“Yes! And that includes prom and everything.”
“She might as well die right now!”
And another . . .
“Well, Doc, my poop looks like . . .”
We ended that conversation before it was begun.
And . . .
“Okay, don't spread it around . . . yet . . . but the Larsons are going to be away next weekend.”
“Yes. Jeff says his folks should leave about 6.”
“So what time does the party start?”
“Well, he has to do chores and tidy up the dishes, so 8:00 should about do it. He will beep the phone line twice when he's ready.”
“We'll be waiting.”
Finally . . .
“You have to be careful what you say on this line. Uncle Bob may be listening in.”
“I am not!”
It was the most fun we had ever had.
Until we were introduced to . . . The Prank Call.
Dun, dun, duuuun!
“Is your 'fridge running?”
“Just a moment, I'll check.”
A pause.
Then, “Yes. Yes it is.”
“Well, you'd better go catch it!” Click.
Ah. the memories.
I don't remember the last conversation I had on the old party line.
I should.
Because now, phone lines are private.
And boring.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Cut-Throat I-Spy

We live a ten-minute drive from a large city.
A city that has more stores than our bustling little town.
Stores we occasionally need to shop at when we need something more than groceries.
Enough background . . .
We (Husby, Daughter, Granddaughter and me) were heading ‘into town’.
For a three-year-old, it is a long, exhausting trip.
A game of I-Spy was indicated.
For the first few turns, all went well.
Granddaughter would pose, “I spy with my teensy-tinesy little eye, something that is . . .”
You know the game.
She posed. We guessed.
We posed. Everyone guessed.
Then it was Husby’s turn.
He started out all right. “I spy with my little eye . . .”
But then it all fell apart, because he ended with: “. . . something that is red but not red like Mommy’s bicycle.”
There was a momentary silence in the back seat as this riddle was digested.
Then a high little three-year-old voice said, decisively, “That’s not right Grandpa!”
I want to emphasize the word ‘decisively’. Because nothing else better describes a little three-year-old playing a favourite game.
This statement was immediately followed by: “You’re out.”
What? No warning? No yellow card?
Straight to the red (but not red like Mommy's bicycle) card?
Did you know it’s possible to be immediately ejected from a game of I-Spy?
By a three-year-old?
Well, it is.
Take note.
Oh, sure. They look sweet and innocent.
But give them a striped sweater and a whistle . . .

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