Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Cow Speak

At least one of us was a lady . . .
It was hot!
I was tired!
Give me a minute, I'm sure I can think of better excuses . . .
The milk cow had been quartered in the east pasture, waiting for her to 'freshen'. (A cowboy term for 'give birth'.)
I know.
Cowboys are weird.
Moving on . . .
Her moment was getting close and it was time for her move into closer quarters.
I was elected to do it.
On foot.
Dad dropped me off at the gate with specific instructions. "Just chase her along the ditch, past the ranch and into the near-west pasture." I nodded. Instructions received and understood.
He drove off.
Things went well at first.
Right up until we reached the ranch entrance.
Madame Cow (I use this term lightly) couldn't quite get into her head the part of our instructions that said, "PAST the ranch."
I should explain here that the entrance to the ranch was on the north side of the road. The ditch we were following toward the west was also on the north side of the road.
And, when the breach in the fence appeared, Madame Cow insisted on turning . . . north. Towards the buildings. I had to sprint around her (remember I was on foot) and turn her back towards the road.
At which time she took the corner and headed east up the ditch we had just come down.
Another sigh. A little more forceful this time. And accompanied by a "Stupid cow!"
I got around her (feet, again) and turned her back west.
She followed the fence and again turned towards the ranch.
Way wrong!
"Stupid, dumb cow!"
Back towards the road.
Please head west. Please?!
Nope. East.
*#$! Cow!
Just a little swear.
This went on for some time, and my language, I'm ashamed to say . . . worsened.
Or got more colorful. That would be the 'PC' term.
Remember, I was raised around hired men. Experts at the English language. Or at least a colorful part of it.
Not an excuse, just a reason.
Again and again, I got round her and tried to head her in the correct direction.
Again and again, she . . . didn't.
And my language got more and more peppered with, shall we say, 'colorful metaphors'?
None of which explained to said cow exactly what I expected of her.
I have to admit that the poor animal was probably quite confused by this time.
There were the buildings. With hay and comfort.
Why were we going the other way?
Okay, strange human, I'll just go back where I came from.
Except that it would have probably sounded more like this:
In 'cow' of course.
Finally, after what seemed hours of chasing back and forth, and turning the air blue with . . . ahem . . . profanities (me, not her), the cow skipped past the ranch entrance and, wonder of wonders, walked right over to the proper field.
Okay, I'd rather go here, too . . .
Eureka! (real word)
I opened the gate and she stepped sedately through.
Then turned and looked at me.
Stupid human!
At least one of us had retained her gentility.
I closed the gate and started back towards the ranch, humming happily. All that had gone on before conveniently forgotten.
Dad's truck slid to a stop beside me. "Need a ride?"
I climbed in, still humming.
Dad drove for a moment. Then he said, not looking at me, "I got a real education this morning."
I looked at him, innocently, "Oh?"
"Yes. I discovered that my middle daughter knew words I didn't think she had even heard of."
"Oh." Very tiny voice, "You heard me?"
"Heard you! They heard you in town!"
That was all that was said.
It was never brought up again.
But I knew that Dad knew.
And he knew that I knew that he . . . never mind.
I'd like to say that I never used 'foul' language again, but I'd be lying.
For some reason, working with cows brings out the lowest form of expression.
Probably a good thing I don't work with them any more.
And I should probably point out that swearing isn't an easy habit to get rid of.
Even now, years later, a very strange word will pop into my head.
I'm happy to report that it never makes it past my lips, but I feel some dismay in the fact that it appears at all.
I'm a work in progress.
I should have taken lessons from the cow.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Wrong Knife

Husby is a knife connoisseur.
A bona fide expert in all things sharp.
He and our son have a forge in the back yard and create their own.
Give lessons.
He could tell you the quality of the steel just by holding it. Could explain what the ‘tang’ is. (And no, it’s not a drink for astronauts.)
Soooo . . . Connoisseur and expert.
Usually, it’s a good thing.
Except when I’m cooking and using my favorite knife-for-all-occasions. The knife that fits my hand. And is sharp and pointy.
And does the job.
Inevitably as I'm working, Husby will enter the room and announce, to any who may want to hear (no one), that I am once again using the wrong knife.
The fact that he is still alive is testament to my restraint and/or his ability to stay just out of reach.
I can see the headstone now: Here Lies Husby. Stabbed With The Wrong Knife.
Moving on . . .
Today, the planets aligned.
The ‘I’s’ were dotted. The ‘T’s’ crossed.
My ducks were finally in a row.
My ship had come in.
Because Husby, he of the infinite knife wisdom, used a small paring knife to slice the block of cheese.
Eschewing the handy-dandy cheese knife sitting nearby.
His excuse? The paring knife was already dirty and he didn't want to dirty another.
The consequence? The knife broke. Just behind the stubby little tang that cheap knives are known for. (See? I was paying attention.)
But the best part - the very best part – is this:
For the first time ever, I was finally able to say, “You used the wrong knife!”
You’ll have to picture the glee and handsprings.

My day has come.
I'm buying a lottery ticket . . .

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Perfect Dog

Look at that cute, fuzzy face!
For over thirty years, we raised Old English Sheepdogs.
To us, they are amazing.
Friendly. Energetic. Smart. Teachable. Protective. Gentle. Loyal.
And really, really fuzzy cute!
Our last breeding pair passed away several years ago.
Now, the house that used to be overrun with large, hairy, four-legged beauties, is home to one.
The last puppy from our last litter.
Who just turned the grand old age of thirteen.
When Aldo was just starting to eat solids, we noticed that he wasn't developing like his brothers and sisters. Something was definitely wrong. Concerned, we took him to the vet, who promptly announced that he had Parvovirus and should be put down – along with the rest of the puppies in the litter.
But I’m a veterinarian’s daughter. And his symptom - diarrhea - just didn’t convince me that such was the case.
I put him in the bathroom in the care of my fifteen year old daughter.
For two days, she made sure the tiny puppy ate and drank – especially drank.
And then we discovered that he did just fine if he was fed adult dog food. That the puppy formula was simply too rich for those sensitive puppy innards.
We changed his diet. He began to thrive.
But the time spent together in that small room created a bond that we simply didn’t have the heart to try to break.
So Aldo stayed.
He has been an amazing companion to all of us. And boasts a higher vocabulary than many people.
My daughter has him very, very well-trained.
We didn’t realize how well-trained until yesterday.
My daughter’s theatre job necessitates some late nights. Yesterday was one of them as, following her production, she and her husband and co-workers struck the set.
It was very late indeed before they opened the front door of home.
Aldo, who usually waits quietly on the front hall carpet until his mistress gets home, was nowhere to be seen.
There was evidence that he had been there. A few crumbs from a Dentabone were visible.
My daughter called him.
I should mention here that Aldo is in perfect health. He just can’t hear any more.
Unsruprisingly, there was no answering scramble of dog feet.
She went to the back door – which had been left open into the sunroom.
There she noticed something else. The screen door of the sunroom was slightly open.
When Husby installed that door, he put brightly-coloured strips of hard plastic at intervals across the screen so Aldo wouldn’t run into it and harm himself – or anything else.
Ironically, Aldo figured out how to open the door – using those handy strips of plastic. And his all-purpose doggie nose.
There is only one drawback. He hasn’t yet figured out how to close the door afterward.
She went into the yard, still calling, and stopped at his doggie run. Aldo’s run is cleaned after each use, but she found evidence that someone had walked him.
She went back into the house and finally to her room and Aldo’s bed.
There he was, in blissful doggie-dreamland.
He noticed her, happily welcomed her, then flopped down and went immediately back to what he had been doing.
Obviously not needing a quick trip out back because someone’s mistress was doing who knows what instead of tending to him.
It took a moment, but she finally figured out what had happened.
When his mistress didn’t appear at the usual time, he got himself a treat. Walked himself. And put himself to bed.
The prefect dog.
His DNA is available on request . . . 
Yep. Tired of waiting.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Flimsy Fish

When Husby's family took a trip to the ocean, they had all sorts of . . . experiences.

As told by Grant Tolley

Grant, age 3.  Jelly Fish rescuer.  And cutie.
It looked like a blob.
It was a blob.
A blob of jelly-like substance, trailing long streamers and lying inert on the dark, sandy shore.
We stared at it. Walked around it. One of my brothers touched it with a tentative toe.
Yep. Blob.
The rest of my family soon lost interest and walked away. I squatted down and continued to study the strange . . . thing.
We were children of the prairies and knew, intimately, the frogs, snakes, minnows and other creatures that inhabited our little river. But here, facing the great and awesome expanse labeled 'ocean', we were . . . out of our depth (pun intended).
And this? This was something new. Something unheard of. Something mysterious.
I think it was a jelly fish, but, somehow, admitting that takes away the magic.
I continued to study it.
It didn't move. Probably a good thing, considering that it was roughly the size of a chicken.
I narrowed my eyes. Something about the creature was wrong.
Oh, I might be from the prairies, but, believe me, I know when something is out of place. And that jelly fish was definitely out of place.
Somehow, in my mind, I could picture it . . . floating happily.
That's it! Floating!
I was a genius!
All I needed to do was to somehow get this creature back into the water where it belonged.
I walked around it again. Maybe I could pick it up . . .
I reached out. Then stopped and looked at my hands. Then back at it.
No. That didn't seem right.
Another circuit.
I had it!
I would find something to lift it as unobtrusively (and yes, that is a word) as possible and send it home.
I ran up and down the beach, and finally spotted a worthy tool for the job at hand. A long plank, weathered and beaten by the waves.
I drug it across the sand and carefully maneuvered one end of it underneath my . . . erm . . . blob.
Gently, I slid it further and further, careful not to jar or disturb my stranded friend.
Finally, I had pushed it completely underneath.
I was ready.
Carefully, I lifted the plank.
With . . . most . . . of the jelly fish aboard.
In horror, I watched the strange creature disintegrate.
I mean, I've heard of going to pieces, but this thing really did.
Imagine trying to lift a blob of jello with a board.
Soft jello, like my Mom makes. Not the concrete kind that they serve in restaurants.
You get the picture.
This was worse.
It left it's legs and arms and a good portion of the rest of it on the sand.
Umm . . . Ick.
Panicked, I swung my board and threw the portion I had managed to collect into the water.
The rest, I abandoned.
What would be the point?
I'm pretty sure both halves were dead.
Or at least very, very ill.
Who is it that says that no good deed goes unpunished?
They were right.

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