Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Santa's Panties

A Guest Post by: Grant Tolley

In recent months I have taken to walking during my lunch hour.
Walking is my favourite form of just plain old exercise. A holdover, I guess, from my Boy Scout days when I always enjoyed hiking in the mountains and following a long trail through the forests and the trees.
But I digress already . . .
My noon-hour constitutionals take me most days to a shopping plaza that is about 2 ½ kilometres away from my office.
When I get to the plaza, I often visit the bank there.
I usually have to put some money in so that they can keep operating.
When I am not paying penance to the bankers, I sometimes wander through one or more of the commercial establishments.
Now I should say that I am not much of a shopper-for-the-sake-of-shopping. But in recent years – since the marriages of my children and the arrival of an increasing gaggle of grand-kids – I have taken to just wandering through stores, casually watching for a bargain on something that one or the other of them would like or could put to good use.
So I buy it, and salt it away in my joint-occupancy-with-my-Beloved closet, which holds most everything except what a closet is normally supposed to hold.
So the other day, I had found a small item or two, which I had cradled in my arms (having being either too short-sighted or just plain stupid enough not to have picked up a shopping basket) – and I headed to the cash register.
Now you must understand that this was the first really cold day of our winter, so I had on my bulky winter jacket, accompanied by dis-en-handed gloves which I held in one hand, holding the several items I needed to pay for, and then trying to fish my wallet out of a pants pocket that just happened to be underneath all of the above, and encumbered further by a set of keys and a blackberry, all not-so-neatly crammed into the same pocket.
I don’t have a clue who the idiot was who put all that stuff in there.
Needless to say, standing at the cash register, I was delayed somewhat on my wallet-fishing expedition, which held up the line of people behind me.
One of my own pet peeves! People who wait in line for 20 minutes to pay for their purchases, then wait until the cashier says “Twenty-eight dollars and two cents, please”, before they even start looking for their wallet or opening their purse.
And then inevitably not finding it.
Especially in a purse – in my Beloved’s purse, her cheque-book usually ends up hiding right underneath the kitchen sink.
But I digress again . . . .
I am sometimes annoyed by those persons – and now I find that I are one!
A woman behind me starts talking.
To me.
I keep fishing, more hurriedly, figuring that she is like me, and I am annoying her by delaying the line. I drop my gloves.
I stoop to pick them up – and drop one of my purchases out of my arms.
The woman laughs.
At me!
And keeps talking.
I’m not hearing much of what she says, because my eyes are on the floor – not literally, but almost -- and my ears can’t seem to work at the same time that my eyes do under duress.
I toss my gloves onto the counter, stoop to pick up the dropped item – oops, make that now “items” -- which I quickly scoop up and throw onto the counter.
Whereupon one skids to the other side of the counter and falls, again, at the feet of the cashier.
“I’m sorry,” I say generally, hoping to include both the cashier and chattering Mom-like lady behind me.
And then I notice: Chattering Mom-Lady is smiling -- and still laughing!
And then, with my eyes back in their sockets, I stop to listen.
Amidst chuckles, Mom-Lady is saying to me, “Don’t you just hate it when that happens! Every time I get into a rush, that happens! Why it happened to me just the other day, and I bent over to pick up the new underwear . . . . “
My mind starts racing . . . . Is this going to be one of those way-too-much-information-from-a-total-stranger type of stories?
“. . . and when I finally bent my back upright again – that floor is a looong ways down there, these days . . . ." – she points to her rumpled grey hair doing its best to escape from underneath a too-small-for-so-much-hair, Canadian-flag touque -- “I turned to the guy behind me and tried to give him the panties that I had just picked up off the floor, and I told him, 'You dropped your boxers, Sonny!' And he just about fell over laughing!”
I smile, as a jolly guffaw that reminds me of one of Santa Claus’ rolling belly-laughs rises up through Mom-Lady and shines out through her face.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” I mutter in an attempt at an apology.
“Oh my heavens!” says Mom-Lady, to me and the world in general. “I'm not in any hurry, Son! You just take your time.”
Fifty-nine years old, and she calls me “son”.
“Thanks,” I mutter again. “You’re very patient.”
By this time I have successfully completed my fishing expedition, the cashier has completed the transaction, and I am attempting to put on my gloves and retrieve all my shopping bags. There is one left on the cashier’s counter that I don’t quite know how I'm going to retrieve.
“Can I help you there?” Mom-Lady queries.
Having only two fingers left on which a shopping bag could be hung, I turn to Mom-Lady and, pointing with my last two fingers at the last bag on the counter, say to her, “Would you mind handing me my panties there?”
Mom-Lady guffaws, long and loud. I'm afraid we might have to call 9-1-1.
The cashier is laughing. As are two or three people in the line-up behind us.
Between rumbles of laughter, Mom-Lady hooks the last bag on my last two fingers, and says: “You have a great Christmas, son.”
Son. She called me “son”, and she couldn’t have been more than 5 years older than me. My hair was just as grey as hers. And even more rumpled.
“And you too, Mom” I reply through my smile.
As I think about Mom-Lady on my walk back to my office – arms loaded with shopping bags, for 2 ½ kilometres – I think, what a genuine human being! What a wonderful person!
Where so many others might have been consumed by Queue Rage – or Road Rage – or Airplane Rage, or so many other of the non-existent syndromes that we have invented as an excuse to be rude and impolite and impatient and unkind – how very nice it is to encounter whom and what I regard as a genuine, true, Gentle-Woman.
Might Santa Claus bring us many more – this year and every year.

Friday, December 4, 2015

10 Tricks to Surviving the Family

Grandma’s House Rules
by Grandpa

The holiday season is fast approaching. A time of family get-togethers and, hopefully, fun family times.
We'll start with a . . . 
Parents are responsible for their own children while at Grandma’s house. Grandpa and Grandma used to be responsible – but they’re not anymore.

1.  All toy trucks with sirens are forbidden – alarmed neighbours keep running out to see if Grandpa has run over their cat.
2.  All musical toys are also forbidden. The national anthem of the Tolley house is not “Turkey in the Straw.”
3.  “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is not on the list either.

4.  All treats for grandchildren are under Grandpa’s control. He’ll share with you as soon as the release him from the psyche ward, which will be when he stops humming “Turkey in the Straw.”
5.  Food prepared at Grandma’s house is made with TLC. Despite what Grandpa puts in it.
6.  At Grandma’s house the “best before” date on her food expires in two hours. Food ingested but not swallowed before this time will not be recycled.

7.  Soiled diapers cause leprosy. All carriers shall be banished immediately to the leper colony at the end of the hallway.
8.  All soiled diapers shall immediately be wrapped securely in a plastic bag and placed on the front porch for eventual transport to the garbage can. Most grandchildren should be removed from the diaper first.
9.  Reusable cloth diapers soiled for longer than one day before washing shall be sold as fuel to the nearest nuclear power plant or placed in a rocket and shot into the sun.
10.  No pooping under the dining room table, even if you are wearing a diaper. This means you, too, Grandpa.

You can thank us after the holidays.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Half-Baked Christmas

Husby and me
The very early days of marriage, of most marriages in fact, are days of exploration and discovery.
Of the combination of ideas and ideals. 
Of the solidifying of the ties binding the couple together.
So it was in our house. The happiness that goes with simply being together. 
One imagines that it will last forever. And it does. 
Until . . . The First Conflict.
I use this term lightly, because it really wasn’t a conflict, but more of a steady pull in two different directions. 
He wanted us to spend Christmas with his family. I wanted to spend it with mine.
I won.
Mostly, I admit because he's nicer than me and I painted a rosier picture than he did. I snared him with magical words like . . . food, fresh baking, treats, candy, chocolate, sugar, sugar, sugar. 
Okay, I exaggerated. 
But my family really did have fun on Christmas Eve. I wasn’t ready, yet, to miss it.
And my Mom was a really good cook.
He gave in. And so, Christmas Eve found us nestled snugly in the bosom of my family, preparing to enjoy. 
Unfortunately, the preparing part went on a little too long.
My eldest sister was home for the holiday and she and Mom, demon bakers both, were lost in their own fragrant world. 
Admittedly a pleasant place to be, albeit rather ‘calorific’. 
The rest of us floated by periodically, sniffing, staring hungrily at the stacks . . . and stacks . . . of pies, cookies, cakes, butterhorns, brownies, fudge, cookies, lemon squares, butter tarts, cookies.
There really were a lot of cookies.
Dinner was forgotten as more and more goodies emerged from the cavernous depths of the great ovens. 
Cries from hungry tummies grew more and more insistent. 
Also, the younger set was getting impatient. It was time for that games of games, anticipated for a whole year. 
The annual Stringam bloodbath. 
The Christmas game of Rummoli.
With real poker chips.
Okay, so it wasn’t a bloodbath. Not even particularly violent. But it was as close to gambling as the Stringam gang ever got. 
And we really did anticipate it feverishly. 
Well . . . some of us looked forward to it with excitement. 
Okay, I really liked it. 
By 10:30 pm, many had given up the thought of getting ‘Christmas Eve’ started. 
Baking was still being pulled from the ovens, dinner still hadn’t materialized and even the faint hope of a Rummoli game had long since vanished. 
Husby looked at me. 
He was too kind to put it into words, but I was getting fairly good at reading him, and his expression said, “For this, we gave up an eight-course meal with my family?” I shrugged my shoulders and tried to laugh.
It was a weak attempt.
He decided to take matters into his own hands. 
He got up and wandered nonchalantly past the stack of baking which completely covered the counter and nearly filled the space between the upper and lower cupboards.
Seriously, we’re talking an area eight feet long and somewhere between 18 and 24 inches deep. Covered. With. Fresh. Baking.
His hand snaked out, nabbing a butter tart. 
Quicker than the eye can blink, it was in his mouth. All of it. 
The heavenly combination of flavours poured through his soul like celestial honey. His knees grew weak. He brought his teeth together to begin chewing this small slice of perfection. 
Mom straightened from pulling yet another pan out of the oven, her face flushed with heat and effort.
He was caught. 
He suspended all chewing movements and tried to look innocent, but Mom could spot sneaky at 1000 paces. 
Certainly she could recognize it standing across the counter.
That counter filled with mouth-watering . . . but I digress.
She set the hot pan on the cupboard, placed both hands on her hips and levelled a glare at him. “Don’t eat that!” she said. “It’s for Christmas!”
He stared at her. 
Then at the mounds of baking that couldn’t possibly be eaten in the next 24 hours. 
In the next 24 days. 
He put up one hand to cover his mouth. And the precious contraband that now had a home there. No way was he removing it from his mouth. All sorts of places in his body would have rebelled if he had tried. “Sorry,” he mumbled, slowly backing away, his hands spread apologetically.
We never did get our Rummoli game.
Or supper.
After that, my husband and I saved Christmas Eve for his family. And Christmas morning for mine. 
It was easier on our relationship.
Oh, and the statement, “Don’t eat that, it’s for Christmas!”
Quoted every time someone pops something into their mouth. 
Year round.
Just FYI.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Mystery Meat Blessings

Mmmmmm . . .
Every family has traditions at Christmas.
Some are fun.
Some funny.
Some weird.
Our family has several that fit into this last category.
One is Christmas stockings.
Okay, yes, I know that many, many families enjoy the custom of stuffing a stocking for each family member.
It's what goes into said stockings that sets our family apart.
Maybe I should explain . . .
On Christmas, after the kids have been shuttled off to bed, Mom and Dad (Spoiler Alert: Alias Santa) bring out the loot.
Erm . . . gifts.
Each stocking is laid out and stuffed full.
I look after the common, everyday, run-of-the-mill gifts:
2. Socks.
3. Underwear.
4. The orange in the toe.
My Husby looks after the strange and bizarre:
1. Various styles of catapults.
2. Magnets.
3. Quirky -- ie. strange – books, puzzles and games.
4. Expanding T-shirts. Just add water.
5. And little tins of meat.
I know what you're thinking.
Why on earth would someone give his kids catapults?
You weren't?
My mistake.
Sooo . . . tinned meats.
Every year, each of our children finds a tin of . . . something . . . stuffed into the inner reaches of his or her stocking.
And I'm not talking tuna fish here.
These are tins of something fancifully called: Vienna sausage.
In various flavours.
All neatly and brightly and attractively packaged.
And yes, I realize that there may be people around the world who love Vienna sausage.
My kids were raised on the prairie.
And served beef three meals a day.
With the occasional foray into the world of chicken or pork.
If the animal didn't originally bellow, oink or cluck, they regarded it with deep suspicion.
Or outright revulsion.
Okay, the ingredients listed on the Vienna sausage tins said: beef and/or chicken and/or pork and/or meat.
But it was mechanically de-boned and mixed with . . . other stuff.
So in the words of my kids, mystery meat.
Need I say that my Husby's gifts weren't received with gladness?
Probably not.
Oh, they tried it.
The very first year.
It . . . wasn't popular.
No tin was every willingly opened again.
And when the detritus had been cleared from the front room after the all-important opening of the gifts, the only things remaining were several tins of meat.
Left where they had been dropped upon being discovered.
Husby immediately scooped them up and stowed them carefully away.
Only to bring them out and drop them into another stocking the next year.
One particular tin of sausage re-appeared six years in a row. The last a few years ago. In Argentina (where our youngest son was living at the time).
His roommate ate it.
Something we didn't think was possible.
One of our kids asked their father why he kept putting those little tins of -to them- inedible meat in the stockings.
His answer surprised all of us. “Because I want you to appreciate that we live in a place where we have plenty. That tiny tins of mystery meat can be laughed over and disregarded. We are very blessed.”
We truly are.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Decidedly Different Decorating

Wraith - His usual location
We are a theatrical family.
And by that, I mean that we are deeply involved in theatre.
Not that we are prone to theatrics in the home.
That would just be silly . . .
The Tolleys are known for things like – bursting into song spontaneously.
And everyone knowing the words.
Launching into long quotes at the mention of a single phrase.
Dressing up.
Our family was, quite literally, raised on the stage.
To anyone not so inclined, we're weird.
We do weird things.
We direct/perform in/produce plays.
We host Medieval feasts for no reason.
We dress up on a theme and invite the neighbourhood to come in and eat pie to celebrate . . . whatever.
To our neighbours, we are that family who doesn't do anything normally.
Even our Christmas decorating is a bit . . . I'm going to go with the PC term and call it . . . different.
We don't do lights.
We did, but we've gotten lazy.
Now our Christmas decorating consists of our Halloween decorating, plus a small addition.
I know. Weird.
Wraith at Christmas
And, yes, that's a Humbug hat.
Don't ask . . .
Years ago, for her graduating project, our youngest daughter sculpted a wraith.
You heard correctly.
A wraith.
Nine feet tall and rather spooky looking.
We love it.
It comes out of our back yard every Halloween and is prominently displayed next to the front door.
Where it can scare the cookies out of the little 'trick-or-treaters'.
And where it usually freezes so solidly to the grass that it must remain through Christmas and into the spring thaw.
How do you hide a nine-foot-tall behemoth?
In plain sight.
You can see what I mean.
Yep. Christmas at the Tolleys.
Everyone welcome!

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