Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Scary One

Me (red and white striped shirt).
And three of my cousins.
My head was learning stuff. Who knew?!
I learned a few things as I was growing up.
Okay, I know that comes as a surprise to many, but it's true.
Some lessons were fairly severe, but a few, and even some of the most life-changing were quite (for want of a better term) painless.
I was fifteen. And had been staying with my best friend and nearest neighbour at her parent's ranch, fifteen miles from my own.
It was a glorious week of riding, playing, getting into her father's hair.
Oh, yes, a glorious week.
It was time to go home. Her Dad needed the break.
It was a fairly easy trip when one was merely negotiating the fifteen miles of dirt roads between our ranches.
But my parents had moved, for the winter, to our town home in Milk River a further twenty miles away.
A trip of approximately an hour, if the road conditions were favourable. Which they often weren't.
Originally, my Dad had planned to pick me up when he came out to do a vet call.
His plans had changed.
And now, so had mine.
I would be riding with my best friend's uncle.
The scary one.
For an hour.
Just the two of us.
I suddenly didn't care if I ever saw my parents again. I wanted to stay with my friend.
Or die.
Neither choice was given to me, however.
Amidst much hugging and goodbye-ing, I was pushed out the door and parked in the uncle's truck.
I curled into a little ball in my corner and tried to pretend I didn't exist.
We started out, the silence thick about us.
After a while, the uncle reached out and turned on the radio. A short time later, he turned it up.
Now, at least, we had music to fill the emptiness.
But I found myself getting more and more uncomfortable. My parents always claimed that visiting made the time go by faster. I definitely wanted that to happen.
Finally, I thought of a question about his ranching. I asked it.
He answered. Quite politely, I might add.
I asked another.
Again, he answered. With even more detail than the last.
This went on for some time. He turned the radio down. Then down again.
Then finally shut it off completely.
And it was then I realized that we were . . . visiting. And that he was funny. And not nearly as scary as when we got into the truck.
Huh. Who knew?
The trip turned out to be infinitely shorter than I had anticipated. In fact, we got so animated in our conversation that we were parked in my family's driveway before I even realized that we had reached the town.
And I learned that all you need to do to get a conversation going is to ask a question about whoever you're with. If you are genuinely interested, they like to talk about themselves.
I also learned that, when you are visiting, no one is as scary as they first appear.
Even someone else's uncle.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

City Girls

City Kids!
My cousin was visiting.
For two whole weeks.
She was a city girl but the only difference between a city girl and a ranch girl was location.
I took her swimming in the river.
She got sand in her suit.
She taught me ballet.
I fell over a lot.
I taught her how to swing from a rope in the hay loft.
She got a rope burn on her hands.
She taught me how act out stories.
I . . . actually, I liked that. A lot.
I tried to get her to ride the pigs.
She stood outside the fence and made a face.
And held her nose.
She taught me gymnastics.
I fell and knocked the air out of me.
I decided it was time to teach her my most favourite thing.
Horseback riding.
I dragged her out to the corral and pushed her up to the top rail. Kicking and screaming.
Her, not me.
Looking back, I can see the differences between the two of us as we perched up on that fence.
The country and the city girl.
Me, in my inevitable shirt and jeans.
She in her white slacks and blouse and light blue sweater.
Even a fool would have found it obvious.
I wasn't a fool.
Well, actually . . . never mind.
The horses were drowsing in the corral.
She eyed them suspiciously.
“They're okay,” I reassured her. “C'mon.”
Trustingly, she followed me down and into the corral.
I picked out the nearest horse, Coco. “Here. This is a good one.”
“But she's so huge!” Her eyes got bigger as she drew closer.
“She's gentle!” I gave the large, coco-brown mare a reassuring pat. The horse reached out and lipped my hair. “See?”
My cousin moved beside me. “Okay. What do I do?”
I showed her how to stand beside the horse and grab a handful of mane. Then I cupped my hands, told her to step into them and boosted her up. At the proper time, she swung her leg.
She was aboard.
The excitement must be coursing through her! She must be palpitating with accomplishment and eagerness and a sense of 'the world is mine'!
I stepped back.
I must admit that everything my cousin did was graceful. Her walking. Her dancing.
Her falling off a horse.
It should have been all right. The horse wasn't even moving, after all.
But she didn't land on the ground.
Instead, she fell onto something much . . . softer.
I don't think she was pleased.
I guess some people have a problem with large, steaming piles of horse buns. Road apples. Horse puckies.
To the uninitiated, manure.
But then people are so weird.
She got to her feet. And looked down at her light blue sweater.
Her heretofore pristine light blue sweater.
Then she looked at me.
I never got my cousin back up on one of our horses.
Instead we spent the rest of her stay dancing. Doing plays and gymnastics.
While Mom got the marks out of her sweater.
Before her mom saw them.
City girls.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


I live in the past.
It's peaceful there...

The group. Husby is in the back row. With the whiskers.
Donny is directly in front of him.
Reunions are so much fun.
Spending hours - sometimes days - remembering the fun times.
Oh, and sometimes commiserating together over bad times, too. But even those, shared, become good memories.
Husby and I spent the last weekend immersed in his reminiscences. He and twenty or so of his schoolmates, as part of a grand twelve-class reunion, assembled for a wonderful couple of days.
Husby was speaking to his high school best friend, Donny MacLean. The conversation went something like this:
Husby: Remember our trips to the dump?
Donny: The TVs!!!
Maybe I should explain . . .
It was the sixties.
Two fourteen-year-old boys were looking for something to do.
They decided it was a good day to ride their bikes over to the dump. Just to see what amazing things they could discover.
In case you’re wondering, this was a favourite pastime. Forty years BE. (Before electronics.) And before the town dump was regulated. Or controlled.
And before the invention of germs.
Or good judgement.
Or danger.
Husby was carrying his twenty-two rifle. (All of the above.)
The two of them scrambled around for a while.
Then discovered a heap of old TVs dumped and forgotten by who-knows-who.
To me, such a thing would have suggested storage units.
Or display cabinets.
But these two boys were a little more knowledgeable.
And knew about vacuum tubes.
And, more specifically, what would happen when something disturbed or upset said tubes.
Gleefully, they lined up the TVs.
Then they backed away to a safe distance. Roughly a quarter-mile.
Carefully, the first shooter took aim.
Pulled the trigger.
And the two of them stared at the spot where the TV used to be.
The bullet had struck the screen (actually the front of the vacuum tube) and the entire thing had exploded.
I do mean exploded.
A sheen of shiny dust that used to be a glass object, and a few splinters of wood littered the area.
The two boys stared.
Then grinned.
And took aim at another TV . . .

The two grown men laughed together over this memory.
And their survival.

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