Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Little Furry Critters

Blair in winter. Just add mouse...

Guest post by Little Brother, Blair.

We had little fury critters that were common around the ranch.
They seemed to be everywhere.
When a grain bin door was opened they scampered away to safety. When we pulled bales from hay stacks, ditto.
A little background . . .
Every summer I had the pleasure of baling and stacking hay.
Every late fall and winter I had the pleasure of feeding hay.
Most of the time we baled an alfalfa grass mix but on some occasions we baled green-feed (an oat crop that is cut when green and just headed out.) Creative name, eh?
Cows really like green-feed and so do little furry critters.  Consequently, you see lots of them when you feed green-feed bales. 
On with my story . . .
One day in the middle of winter, dad and I were loading green-feed bales.
The snow had just fallen and we had a lovely white blanket everywhere.
I was pulling bales from the stack and throwing them into the back of the truck where dad was stacking them for the trip to the field. When each bale lifted, critters would skitter to the safety of another bale.
Suddenly, I got a funny feeling.
A little warm furry critter had somehow found his way up my pant leg.
Umm . . . yikes.
As the critter was slowly making his way up, I managed to grab him.
Now I had a predicament.
It was inside my pants leg. Which were inside my coveralls.
I could only stop the critter by grabbing it from the outside of said pants and coveralls.
I didn’t want it to bite me so I grabbed and squeezed.
Then I tried to shake it down my pant leg.
It wouldn’t shake. 
I turned to Dad. He of the years of experience and endless knowledge.
Surely he had some wise method to take care of this very unwanted predicament.
His advice? “I guess you’ll have to take off your pants.”
I had only this to say:
Stack yard!
In the winter!
In the snow!
In my underwear!
Yeah. Dad had a good laugh.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Happy Barn Burning

A repost for my birthday . . .
What was left of the barn
October second. My birthday. A time of reflection and renewal. Time to reminisce.
It was exactly 60 years ago today that I made my way into the world.
Feet first.
Fourth of six children and second daughter for Mark and Enes Stringam. A pretty exciting time for everyone. Well, for me at any rate.
I grew, healthy and strong in a loving, ordered world. My birthdays approached, were celebrated with varying degrees of success, and then left behind. First. Second. Third. For my fourth, something special was planned. Very special. And very secret. No one knew what was coming.
No one.
Early on the morning of my fourth birthday, a frantic phone call jolted my Dad out of his bed.
“There is a rather major emergency at the ranch. Would you possibly be able to come out?”
“Erm, yes. The barn is on fire.”
“On my way.”
Or at lest that is how I picture the conversation. It was probably something more in the way of . . . “EEEEEEE (high pitched screaming)!”
And Dad, “AAAAAAAAAH (Not quite so high pitched)!”
And that was the total exchange. But I digress . . .
So dad jumped into his truck and drove the twenty miles to the ranch in record time.
Really record time.
The only other occasion that would warrant such reckless driving and high speeds was the imminent arrival of yet another small Stringam . . . but that event was months away.
He arrived just after the fire department.
By then, the barn was well on its way to being a memory. Flames had consumed most of it and the remainder was burning purposefully . . . and cheerfully . . . in the early morning light.
Acrid smoke coiled across the barnyard, obscuring the crowd gathered to watch.
Tears filled most eyes. Some because of said smoke. Others due to the fact that their most precious possessions had – literally – gone up in it.
One hired man stood there, in his longhandles, shaking his head helplessly. It took some time, and the appearance of the attractive ranch cook, for him to realize that his attire was . . . less than conventional. He beat a hasty retreat to find something a little more . . . conservative . . . to wear.
And not just the humans were concerned.
The smaller denizens of the barn had been rudely awakened and forced to – quickly – find new lodgings.
One mouse, intent on that very errand, scampered from the mass of smoking debris that had been his home, and into the pale morning light.
He stopped. Something was very wrong. There were two humans standing directly in his path. He worked it through his little mouse brain, then darted back into the smouldering pile.
Better the evil you know . . .
There was great loss. Two litters of pigs - with sows, several horses, calves. Not to mention saddles, tack and equipment. None irreplaceable, but all valuable.
Oh, and my birthday.
Somehow, in all the melee, that was lost as well. Not that I cared. I was happily perched on the fence, just within toasting distance of the glowing fire, watching the spectacle. Not really understanding what was going on. Knowing only that, in four years of mischief, I’d never been able to come close to this excitement. Never.
The barn was rebuilt. Bigger. Better. More modern. And my . . . birthday was never forgotten again. Every year, Dad called on this date to wish me a . . . Happy Barn Burning.
With music.
And the dance.
There is a codicil. Twenty years ago, my barn burned down. Our losses were not as enormous as the ‘original’ barn fire. We lost two little pigs and some equipment. But the most important fact was the date. April first. My father’s seventieth birthday. I had to phone to wish him . . . Happy Barn Burning.
Payback is so sweet.

Further news:
Huge grass fires in Southern Alberta in 2012 consumed all of the outbuildings on the old ranch.
Including the 'new' barn.
It was a landmark.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Toungled Tangs

Coy-Bow. Sans guns . . . 
My Dad had a speech impediment.
Sometimes, he said things backwards.
Oh, he could control it.
He just chose not to.
An odd trait for someone who was such a stickler for proper pronunciation at all other times.
And don't try to tell me that doesn't have any effect on a young child learning to talk.
For years, I thought the song, Rock-a-Bye Baby went like this:
Rock a bay bybee
On the tee trop.
When the blind woes,
The radle will crock.
When the brough bakes,
The fadle will crawl.
And down will bum caby
Adle and crawl.

You're right. That's not even English. But that's how I thought it went. And Dad said it made just as much sense his way.
I heard some kids singing it the right way and totally confronted them. Our conversation was as follows:
Me: What are you singing?
Them: Rock a Bye Baby.
Me: That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.
Them: Let's play somewhere else.
As years went by, I realized that we really didn't put the dirty dishes in the washdisher.
Or that salt didn't come out of a shakesalter.
And that my favourite ice cream wasn't scutterbotch.
Others had to find out for themselves.
My nephew, two-year-old Michael was staying with us while his parents prepared to receive his little brother. The imminent arrival scheduled for, at most two weeks, stretched to six, leaving little, impressionable, just-learning-to-speak Michael at the mercy of his grandfather.
It was a happy six weeks . . .
Michael was playing cowboys. And had dressed accordingly.
He had his gun and holster.
His boots.
His overlarge hat.
And his training pants.
He was ready.
Grandpa had just come in from outside and was sitting in his easy chair, waiting for lunch.
Michael stalked up to him in his best 'gunman' style. "Stick 'em up!"
Oh, he was good.
Dad looked at him. "What are you? A coy-bow?"
Okay, for years, I thought that was how it was said . . .
"No, Crumpa, gow-boy!"
"Gow-boy!" He stuck to his guns, so to speak. And his pronunciation.
Dad, one last time. "Coy-bow."
Michael was starting to get a little confused, however. "Gow-pot!"
That's when I broke in. "Michael, do you have to go potty?"
"No! No! Gow-boy!"
Dad laughed. "You're right, Michael, Gow-boy."
Michael had outlasted his grandfather.
A noble feat.
I don't want you to think that my Dad bombarded us with twisted talk all of the time. It was the exception rather than the rule.
And he always correct us afterwards.
But it was fun while it lasted.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Almost Parenting

Mark, right and Erik, with Grampa Tolley in the background
To complete his master's degree, my husband moved our (then) little family to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
Also know as Winter-peg or Windy-peg - either one is apt.
And I found myself, for the first time, living in a large city.
There was the usual adjustment period.
Okay, I'm lying, there was no adjustment 'period'.
I never did adjust.
For eight months, my (then) two sons and I hardly left the apartment, unless accompanied by my husband.
Funny how grocery shopping can start looking like a 'date'.
I was homesick for my prairies and open spaces.
I did get a lot of reading and sewing and cleaning done. And my boys discovered the wonder of 'cable TV'. I soon learned just how much they watched . . .
Grant had taken us for a drive. He had an errand to run and his family was suffering from 'cabin-fever', a common enough ailment in Canada in the winter.
No, really. You can look it up . . .
Grant was making a quick dash into the mall.
Now those of you who know my husband know that a quick dash anywhere, isn't.
Quick, I mean.
The boys and I were sitting in the fire lane in front of the Zellers store long enough to celebrate birthdays.
Yes, I'm exaggerating, but you get the picture. It was quite a while.
Erik was buckled into his car seat directly behind me, happily blowing bubbles and Mark, his older brother by eighteen months was opposite him, with the clearest view of the storefront.
I was reading.
Mark was chanting something, just loud enough to be heard.
It took a couple of repetitions before I noticed.
I put down my book.
"Mark, what are you saying?"
He repeated it.
"What?" Sometimes, deciphering almost-three-year-old speech takes a Master's degree. And where was the one person in our family with such a degree???!
"Say it once more."
What on earth was he talking about?
I looked where he was looking.
The front of the Zellers store.
Suddenly, it hit me.
He was reading the letters over the front doors.
Zed. E. Eleven. E. R. S.
Well, almost.
It made perfect sense! If you were two.
What a clever boy!
And I had raised him.
Okay, for a very few seconds, I did a bit of back patting.
Very few.
Then reality set in.
The only reason he knew all of those letters was because of his copious amounts of time spent watching Sesame Street. On a good day, he could catch the program twice!
Funny that my son's showing me how advanced he was, showed me, at the same time, what a neglectful parent I had been.
I'd like to say that things changed.
And they did.
Afterwards, when Sesame Street came on, I was watching with him.
Before long, we were nearly on the same reading level.
A few more months in Winnipeg and I might have caught up to him!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

School With Frogs

Cute. Or slimy. You decide.

Twenty Froggies

Twenty froggies went to school
Down beside a rushy pool,
Twenty little coats of green,
Twenty vests all white and clean.

"We must be in time," said they.
"First we study, then we play.
That is how we keep the rule,
When we froggies go to school."

Master Bull-frog, brave and stern,
Called his classes in their turn,
Taught them how to nobly strive,
Also how to leap and dive.

Taught them how to dodge a blow,
From the sticks that bad boys throw.
Twenty froggies grew up fast
Bull-frogs they became at last.

Polished in a high degree,
As each froggie ought to be.
Now they sit on other logs, 
Teaching other little frogs.                             
                                  by George Cooper

I realize that this sounds like a children's poem.
Because it is.
But I didn't learn it until grade twelve.
Biology class . . .
We were in the 'dissection' part of our school year. The part that I, the daughter of a veterinarian, found most fascinating.
But that many of the other girls (and even some of the boys) . . . didn't.
We were scheduled, as part of the class, to walk down to the 'Fish Pond' and catch our own frogs.
Great! Field trip!
But first, our teacher, Mr. Meldrum, handed each of us a copy of the aforementioned poem.
We thought it was cute.
And clever.
And easily folded into paper planes. Okay, not everyone thought it was as cute as I did.
Then we set out.
The walk down was enjoyable. Beautiful late-spring day. Warm sun.
And boys. (We were speaking of biology . . .)
It didn't take long for us to reach the pond. We spread out and began to pounce on the dozens of frogs who made the peaceful waters their home.
Well, most of us did. There were the inevitable few who couldn't bear to touch the 'slimy' little things.
In no time, we had collected enough of the little squirming bodies to have a frog each.
One strong lad (yes, I meant to use the word 'lad') was elected to carry the precious bucket. The rest of us enjoyed the short walk back.
Then, to work.
We spent the rest of the morning performing various operations on our hapless little victims.
Fortunately, our teacher knew very well what he was doing and instructed us in the proper methods of 'painless' observation.
It was an interesting morning. And far too short.
When it was done, I was the only student who took the poem home.
Or so I thought.
Some months later, when our school yearbook was handed out, I realized that other students in my class were actually paying attention. Closer attention, even, than I was.
There, in the 'Last Will and Testament' page, beside one young man's name, were the words: "Being of sound mind and beautiful body, leaves said body to be dissected by twenty froggies who go to school."
And a fitting tribute.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The 'S' Word

She of the foul mouth . . .
There are creative ways of making one's anger and frustration known.
Even when one is little . . .
My friend's two eldest children were having 'one of those days'. When arguments erupted at regular intervals. And no one was happy.
Periodically, one of them would go to their mother and say, “Sister said the 'S' word!”
Now their mother was an adult.
I probably don't need to point that out.
She knew what the 'S' word was. But had no idea how her children had learned it.
Appropriate punishment was carried out.
A few minutes later, the other child was at her side. “Brother said the 'S' word!”
This went on for some time.
Finally, totally exasperated, their mother pulled both of them aside and asked them where they had learned the 'S' word.
“Well you and Dad say it!”
Now my friend lived in a non-cursing home. Expletives were kept strictly within certain bounds. She knew she had never, in her entire life, said the 'S' word.
She shook her head. “When did I say it?”
“Mom, you say it all of the time!”
“All the time!”
Finally, she realized that there was one question she had not asked.
“Kids, what is the 'S' word?”
Together they chorused, “Stupid!”
Ah. Okay. Not a desirable word, but not quite what she was thinking, either . . .

We, too had our forbidden family curse words.
Mom and Dad had a problem with children abusing each other verbally.
Stupid was a no-no.
But we were raised on a ranch.
With hired men.
Whose language was, how shall I say it? . . . colourful. And it was inevitable that we should pick some of it up.
I remember the first time we heard our little sister curse. It shocked my younger brother and I to our toes.
That's a lot of shock.
We stared at our tiny sister in disbelief. Had we heard what we had just heard?
Mom was gonna have something to say about this!
We ran to tell her. Let's face it, getting each other into trouble was the thing we liked doing the most.
“Mom! Mom! Anita said something bad!”
Mom stopped what she was doing and followed us to where the guilty party stood.
Feet planted.
Chin out.
Bristling with anger and defiance.
Mom knelt next to her.
“Anita, what did you say?”
“Anita, Diane and Blair told me you said a bad word. What was it?”
“I didn't say anything!”
Finally she sighed. "Stupid Poop,” she said.
Her two-year-old ears had heard what the hired men had spouted and processed it to this?
There was hope for the world after all.

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