Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Language Lessons

Yumm. No matter what it's called . . .
We live in Canada.
French and English are spoken here.
Quite often in the same sentence.
But that doesn’t mean that all of us speak both languages fluently.
Or at all.
Oh, and my second son, Erik, worked at the local Sobey’s grocery store.
I realize that these facts seem to be irrelevant.
Wait for it . . .
It was a normal day at work.
Erik, one of the numerous stock boys, had spent the day uncrating merchandise.
Stocking shelves.
Packing groceries.
And helping customers find things.
Sometimes, this last duty was the most demanding. And amusing.
A woman had been wandering up and down the soft drink aisle for several minutes.
And had enlisted the aid of at least one other stock boy and, finally, the store manager.
She was growing impatient and a trifle red-faced.
Erik set down the box he was carrying and went over to see if he could help.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” the manager was saying. “We simply don’t carry that kind.”
“I got it here!” the woman burst out. “The last time I was in this store! Right in this aisle!”
The manager shook his head. “I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Ma’am,” he said quietly. “We’ve never carried that.”
“Young man! I took it right out of this aisle. Right here!” she pointed. “See? There with all of the grape juice.”
The manager followed the pointing finger. Then shook his head. “I’m sorry, Ma’am,” he said. “Grape juice is all we carry. We have no Raisin juice.”
The woman dropped her arm and frowned. “Are you telling me I’m stupid?”
“No, Ma’am, no!” the manager was quick to disagree. “I just think you may be mistaken. Something that happens to all of us. Me, in particular!” He smiled.
Erik stopped beside them. “Anything I can help with?”
The manager looked at him. “This customer is looking for some Raisin juice,” he said. “I’ve told her we don’t carry it.”
The woman glared at him, then turned to Erik. “And I’ve told him that I got it here,” she said stoutly. “Right here! Raisin juice!”
Erik looked at both of them for a moment. Then he reached out and turned around one of the Grape juice boxes.
‘Raisin’ was plainly visible on the label.
‘Raisin’ is French for ‘grape’. Just FYI.
Both of them stared at it.
“Oh,” the manager said.
“That’s it!” the customer said happily, grabbing the box and departing.
The manager looked at Erik and shrugged.
“Who knew?” he said.
Who indeed.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Being Honest

Okay, yes. We're a work in progress . . .
I taught my children the moral lessons my parents taught me.
Now my children are teaching their children.
Sometimes, their success is . . . uncertain . . .
We were leaving church.
Our daughter and her daughter (hereinafter called HD) were recapping lessons learned that day in Sunday School.
“We learned about honesty!” HD said in her three-year-old, glass-shattering, there’s-a-lot-of-noise-in-this-hall voice.
“And what is honesty?” her mother asked.
She looked at her mother. “Mom!” she said. “It’s when you don’t show your knees. And you don’t show these!” With that last, she pulled down the bodice of her dress, flashing everyone who may have been within eye shot of their little family.
Approximately fifty or so people.
“Aaaah!” Her mother quickly pulled HD’s dress back into its original position. “I think you’re talking about ‘modesty’.
“Oh. Right. Modesty is when you don’t show your knees and you don’t show . . .” This time, her mother was able to anticipate the action and keep her daughter covered.
“. . . these.”
We’re not yet sure about her whole take on honesty.
But at least she has modesty . . . down.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Artistic: fourth from the right, top row.
Un-artistic: fourth from the right, second row.
Grade three art class.
So much fun with so many things artistic.
None of them me.
I’m not sure, but I think when artistic ability was handed out in Heaven, I was outside.
Doing something else.
Or if I was there, my ability was poured in with a teaspoon and someone jiggled Heavenly Father’s elbow.
Moving on . . .
Others in my class were gifted with a bit more.
Quite a bit more.
One boy in particular was amazing.
And it was to Randy that I looked whenever a new assignment was handed out.
He never let me down.
We were in grade three, and had been given large pieces of paper and paints and instructed to paint a tree, I immediately turned to see what he did.
And how he did it.
He started with a graceful, fluid line of brown from the bottom of the page to the top.
I dipped my brush in my brown paint.
And made a streak.
That’s all. A streak. Heavy. Clumsy.
And distinctly un-graceful.
I tried to fix it.
It became an ungraceful streak that . . . thickened.
My teacher asked me, kindly, if I’d like to start again. I received my new piece of paper with relief bordering on giddiness.
And proceeded to do the same thing.
Oh, I did produce a tree.
But I had to label it so others would know.
Another time, we were given pictures to colour with our new pressed-wax crayons, and I fared better.
Again, I craned my neck to see what Randy would do.
His Santa picture was coloured heavily, completely filling in the spaces.
No white specks showing at all.
I tried to copy his technique.
But without his results.
Oh, I managed to stay within the lines. And it even turned out . . . acceptable.
But it just didn’t have the flare – the snap – that Randy’s did.
But I was nothing, if not persistent.
Every picture from then on was coloured with great intent. A lot of crayon.
And Randy’s technique.
But with equally disappointing results.
Then, a few months later, Randy changed things up.
For this newest colouring project, he outlined each space heavily, then proceeded to fill in lightly.
I could almost feel my mother’s relief as requests for new boxes of crayons . . . diminished. In fact, I think my current box and Randy’s new method actually lasted me through the end of the year.
I kept on trying. And sometimes, was actually satisfied with my efforts.
But, by the end of grade three, I had realized something.
When it comes to things artistic:
Some do.
Others appreciate.
I’m definitely in the second category.
And I’m happy there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Our Soldier's Letters Home

Erik, right and a colleague, Larry.
 On the back of the picture, it says: 'I'm the one in green'.
Remembrance Day.
A day set aside to think about all of the people who have served us by laying down their lives.
And who are risking their lives today.
The ultimate sacrifice.
My thoughts are turned to the times when my husband and I have toured memorials around the world.
The military cemetery in Cambridge, England, where we had to leave because I was crying.
The Vietnam memorial in Washington. DC, when we watched a worker do a 'rubbing' for the brother of a fallen soldier, before we had to leave because I was crying.
The bunkers on the beach in Normandy, before we had to leave because I was crying.
The tiny military museum in the English countryside that we had to leave because . . . I think I'm beginning to see a pattern.
My second son served for eight years as an engineer/mine specialist in the Canadian army.
Including a peace-keeping mission in Bosnia. (When he returned home, he walked over to the lawn and just stood there. When asked why, he said, "I haven't been able to simply walk over and stand on grass for 10 months. This feels wonderful!)
I thought it particularly appropriate to include excerpts from some of his letters home . . .
Be warned, he was a soldier and had a very wicked sense of humour and . . . opinions . . .

14 June
Greetings, Earth Dwellers,
The average temperature is currently hovering around +34C, which it has been all week. My secretary, Aida, was translating the radio for me and told me that these temperatures are the hottest in 68 years. Boy, are we lucky. The humidity is about 10000000% on top of that, so as you towel off from your freezing shower, the water droplets are replaced by sweat droplets as fast as you can wipe them off. I'm drinking 10 litres of water a day. 4 of them during my workout alone. Just crazy.
*  *  *
I forget what the date is, July something.
Hi, everybody!
I hope you all had fun at camp this last week, You'd better have. I had a lot of fun diving on the island of Vis. Even without the diving, the scenery was unbelievable. Except for the old ladies on the beach without tops on. Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!! That sort of thing could scar me for life. It should be illegal. Fortunately, I spent lots of time under water. I even held an octopus. He wasn't impressed. His suction cups felt really neat, though. The laser vision burns, though. Who knew octopus could cook their own food? National Geographic had taught me nothing!
Calm now.
*  *  *
I'm doing well, since you asked. I just drove here for the first time yesterday, and I had a lot of fun. The road signs are just a vague suggestion to the motorists here, so I had to adjust my driving doctrine to suit the conditions. Basically, we speed everywhere, and pass when we want to. Even driving like a maniac, my boss, Major Thelwell, says that I'm the safest driver she's seen here. I can't wait to drive around with her at the helm. Apparently I'm in for an exciting trip.
Later this week, I get to drive to Banja Luka on Tuesday, Zgon on Wednesday (it's right beside Kluc on the map, if you're looking for it), and then we go to Sarajevo by way of Tuzla on Thursday, returning on Friday by going through Kakanj. Basically, I get to see the whole country in a week. Sarajevo will be fun, I think.
Please send pictures of the dogs. I told my assistant, Aida about them and she wants to see them. There are a lot of dogs around here, but most are the end result of decades of hasty, unplanned dog sex. There was a cute little puppy who lives in the entrance bunker at the camp in Zgon, though. He was there with all the guards who were dressed in their fighting gear, and he was inspecting our vehicle while we talked to the guards. What a little cutie. I think he was a little Doberman without a docked tail, and no doubt he gets away with murder at the guard bunker. Fortunately, everyone seems to like Canadians.
*  *  *
The Book of Bosnia
Chapter One
1. And it came to pass that the soldiers of the Queen did go forth into the land of Bosnia, to bring a lasting peace unto the land.
2. And the soldiers did look about them and did see many peoples throughout the land, and behold, the land was bountiful, and beautiful to be seen.
3. And it came to pass that there was a spirit of contention throughout the land, causing much death and destruction.
4. And the soldiers dwelt in a tent.
5. Now the soldiers went forth unto the people, saying:
6. What is wrong with you people?
7. Lo, these words were heard by many, and the people did listen. But the people did not speak English, so they did continue to fight, and ignored the Queen's soldiers.
8. And there was no air-conditioning to be had.
9. Now the soldiers were angry, because the people were fighting among themselves, and many people had died. Plus one leg had fallen off their fooseball table, which did enrage them.
10. Therefore, the soldiers did cry out to their Lord:
11. "Oh, Lord, why hast thou forsaken this land?"
12. And the Lord did hear the cry of the soldiers, and did pity them, and did say unto them:
13. "Quit whining! For crying out loud. You sound like a bunch of little girls!"
14. And many great and glorious things did the Lord speak unto the disgruntled soldiers in this manner, until the soldier's hearts were softened and they did fall to the earth in amazement.
15. Lo, their parachutes had not opened.
16. Now the soldiers were of the mind that the Lord had played a rotten trick on them, what with the parachutes and all, so therefore the soldiers did decide to bring peace unto the land of Bosnia by circumventing Him.
12. And it came to pass that the soldiers did cry unto a false god.
18. And this false god was called Chrétien, the father of lies, the ancient enemy of all men.
19. And Chrétien did speak words unto the soldiers, but the soldiers were deceived, and did misunderstand his words, since Chrétien cannot speak any mortal language.
20. And it came to pass that the soldiers began to wander aimlessly throughout the land, and their faith did diminish, and they forsook the false god Chrétien, and did end their days as wanderers, eating berries and kittens and other nasty stuff.
21. And peace was brought by Superman, and there was much rejoicing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Pressing Pause

Two little girls were playing.
Had been for most of the day.
Their electronics – Ipads, television programs, movies – were lying forgotten.
They had spread pillows across the living room floor and played ‘stay-out-of-the-lava’. Arranged the dozens of little ponies into regimental order and enacted several scenarios. Dressed in pirate togs and created suitable situations. With appropriate pirate-y talk. Built a fortress and other grand structures out of Lego and then destroyed them – several times. Ransacked the toybox for forgotten treasures, then pressed them back into service. Climbed Mount Sofa. Read books. Sang. Had a dance party.
And trekked to the kitchen numerous times for ongoing nutritious sustenance. Those little engines needed a lot of refuelling with such a busy schedule.
It had been a full day.
And it wasn’t over yet.
Engaged in yet another grand and complex enactment, they charged through the living room.
Then, one of them stopped and announced – loudly – “I have to go potty!”
She turned toward the hallway. But before she left, she looked back at her cousin. “Pause the game, okay? I’ll be right back!”
Her cousin obligingly stopped where she was and simply stood there.
A few minutes later, needs met, play resumed.
Remember when I mentioned they had left their electronics behind while they played?
Well, some aspects simply cross over . . .

Monday, November 9, 2015

Little Heroes

For Sharron. Because she asked . . .
A 'Cute' of puppies
For over 35 years, we have raised Old English Sheepdogs.
I love them.
To me, they are the perfect breed.
Happy, loyal, smart, easily trained, friendly, protective, gentle.
All of the best qualities of DOG writ large.
And hairy.
We have had many, many experiences with our puppies and dogs over the years, but one stands out . . .
A family came to look at our newest batch of puppies.
Now, I should explain here that a litter of OES puppies is called a 'cute' of puppies.
True story.
Moving on . . .
This family had a six-year-old boy and a fifteen-month-old girl.
The dog was for the boy, who was suffering from a severe illness.
A puppy was chosen.
By the very scientific method of sitting in the 'cute' and seeing which puppy climbed up into his lap.
Everyone was happy.
They left.
I thought of them from time to time, as I did all of my puppy families.
Then I got a phone call.
From the tearful, almost incoherent mother.
My heart stopped.
Until I realized that what she was crying were tears of joy.
Here is how she told it to me, with a little background added . . .
The family lived on the shore of one of the small lakes that are so plentiful here in northern Alberta. Their house was nestled in the thick trees surrounding the water.
Their yard opened directly out onto the beach.
A beautiful, picturesque spot.
But also dangerous to small children who might wander out into the cold (Canada has no other kind) water or become lost in the thick forest.
They were very careful.
Gates were kept locked at all times.
Back to the mother's story . . .
Originally purchased for their son, the little pup bonded, quickly and completely, with the little girl.
The two of them became inseparable.
Four months passed.
One summer day (we do get them in Canada, occasionally), the mother was in the front yard, filling the wading pool for her daughter who was playing in the back yard with the puppy, now six months old.
And already huge.
The puppy, that is.
Suddenly, the mother was startled by a loud scream.
She dropped the hose and broke records running to the back yard.
As she turned the corner, she skidded to a stop.
Someone had left the back gate - the entrance to all things dangerous - open.
And her baby was standing in that opening.
Or more accurately, struggling-to-move-forward, in that opening.
And screaming at the top of her lungs.
Directly behind her, teeth locked into her diaper and backside planted firmly on the ground, was the puppy.
Those teeth and that diaper were all that was stopping her from heading where she wanted.
Into the great unknown.
She wasn't happy.
The mother quickly ran to her daughter and picked her up, relieving the puppy of his self-appointed task.
The dog wiggled happily (normal OES behaviour) and, when the mother set her baby down once more, the two of them trotted off to another corner of the yard to play.
Crisis over.
Everything forgotten.
By the two most active participants, anyway.
It took the mother a bit longer. For some seconds, she stood there in the open gate, thinking about what she had just witnessed.
For one thing, how had the gate, so assiduously (real word) kept locked, been left open?
And, more importantly, how had that six-month-old puppy known that his friend should not, ever, leave the yard alone?
And how had he figured out what to do, just in time?
That's when the tears started.
Later, when she had calmed some and her baby was napping, she called me.
It was a wonderful story.
After we had stopped crying.
Needless to say, that puppy became the pride and joy of his family.
And ours.

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