Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, December 11, 2015

Mom Shopping

I was four. Going Christmas shopping with my Mom in the great city of Lethbridge.
And it was the most exciting time ever . . .
First, there was the anticipation heightened by each of the long seventy miles from the ranch.
And by older brothers and sister who were talking about all of the exciting stores we would visit and the amazing/stupendous/astounding things they would buy.
Then, there was the first spotting of the crèche, a sure sign Lethbridge was just around the corner.
And, finally, the Christmas lights.
I think the car window was permanently marked by my nose pressed against the glass.
True story.
Mom carefully navigated the crowded streets and found a parking space.
Everyone piled happily from the car.
All right so far.
My older siblings immediately separated and disappeared into the seething masses that churned up the snow on the sidewalks.
I stood, frozen beside my Mom, and stared.
In the anticipation of ‘Christmas Shopping’, I hadn't anticipated this part.
The sheer number of people.
Let’s face it. I lived on a ranch waaay out in the country.
Population less-than-twenty.
For a big-eyed five-year-old, this was like being on the set of a Cecil B. DeMille movie.
With no Cecil B. DeMille.
Mom picked up my baby brother, then turned back to me.
“Okay, Diane,” she said. “Now you hang onto my pocket.”
I immediately (and gratefully) reached for the large pocket of her thick, wool car coat and did what I was told.
In point of fact, I don’t think anything could have loosened my grip from that warm, comforting strip of fabric.
There may be crowds around. Big, scary, unknown people intent on their own errands, but I had hold of my Mom’s pocket. And by transference, my Mom.
Nothing could harm me.
Moving ahead several years . . .
I was Christmas shopping with my kids. The older three had disappeared on their own missions.
The younger three were with me.
I was holding my three-year-old’s hand and walking down the crowded mall.
Suddenly, I felt a tug on my coat.
My five-year old had grabbed my pocket.
I smiled as the memories flooded in.
I know she felt instantly safer.
And so did I.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Treasure(d) Chest

First of many.
Husby likes to build things.
And he’s good at it.
Tables, birdcages, pirate ships, houses.
He’s done them all.
And more.
I didn't realize, when I married him, that I was getting this added bonus.
But I’m very grateful for it.
Let me tell you about his first project . . .
He had bought me a vacuum.
A nice, new vacuum.
Which, because I’m a neat freak, I kept in its cardboard box.
Don’t ask.
Said box soon became . . . tattered.
Husby decided he would do something about it.
And take care of that year’s Christmas present at the same time.
He’s efficient like that.
Moving on . . .
We were spending the holiday with my parents.
Husby squirreled himself away in my father’s shop for several evenings working on my ‘top secret’ gift.
I knew only that a couple of sheets of ¾ inch mahogany plywood had gone into the shop with him.
And a  paper bag or two of stuff.
There was much sawing and pounding and assorted other creativesounds.
Then . . . Christmas morning.
The living room of my parent’s home had been transformed.
I took our (then) two sons into the room, sat down, put the baby on the floor and exclaimed with my two-year-old about the amazing sight of tree, lights and presents.
Gifts began to be distributed.
I helped both boys with the glorious task of unwrapping.
We were bent over, admiring the tractor Oldest Son had just received.
When I realized that I was sitting on something I had never seen before.
A beautiful, leather-topped bench. Carefully crafted and meticulously decorated.
“Oh,” I said. Okay, clever/original/observant, I’m not. I got to my feet and looked down at the piece of furniture I had been perched happily on for the past fifteen minutes. “Oh!” I said again.
I looked over at Husby, who was grinning widely. “Umm, Merry Christmas!” he said.
“Oh!” I said a third time.
Yeah. I’m pretty much hopeless.
But in my defense . . . okay, I have no defense.
It was/is a beautiful gift.
The first of many.
This is its 37th Christmas.
It’s battered and well-used.
Has gone from storing my vacuum to storing assorted children's toys.
Presently, it is the repository for all foam pirate swords.
Ahem . . .
And is still very much appreciated.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Sledding Day

Enjoy it now. It'll be gone tomorrow!
In southern Alberta, where I was raised, snow seldom stayed very long.
Even though it was winter.
Oh, it snowed.
Sometimes a lot.
But then the famous Chinook would blow through, drastically raising temperatures.
And melting said snow.
Let’s face it. When the temperature goes from minus ten (14F) to plus twenty (68F), snow disappears fast.
In a few hours, any accumulation would be limited to the ditches and snowbanks.
So when it snowed, and if one wanted to enjoy it, one had to move quickly.
Just FYI.
On with my story . . .
Someone was out in the yard.
I looked out the window onto a scene of glistening white.
And my oldest brother, Jerry, holding the family toboggan.
Squealing (and I do mean squealing) with eight-year-old delight, I donned snow pants, parka, boots, mittens, scarf and toque (it's a Canadian thing).
Remember what I said about the snow lasting a short time?
I donned them quickly.
In no time I was out with my brother.
All of our siblings joined us.
Well, all but tiny baby, Anita.
She wasn't coming.
Jerry sat our youngest brother, two-year-old Blair, on the toboggan, then turned and started pulling the sled toward the river.
The Stringam ranch proper had been built in a bend of the south fork of the Milk River. Any sled-able hills were on the opposite bank.
We trudged along behind Jerry and his sled across the frozen river to the hills opposite.
Then, for the next couple of hours, we towed up and slid down.
The older kids choosing the steeper slopes.
The younger crew sticking with the gentle-er.
Our shouts and screams of sheer happiness echoing across the wide, open prairie.
Finally, it was time to head home. Dusk comes quickly in Southern Alberta and, trust me, you really don't want to try to walk home in the dark.
We crossed the river once more and climbed the hill to the house.
To be greeted by the warm, amazing smell of . . . baking.
In the entryway, we peeled off layer after layer, laughing excitedly and telling Mom about our adventure.
She just smiled and nodded.
Then surprised us with warm spudnuts (doughnuts made with mashed potatoes in the batter. Yum…) fresh from the oven, and gallons of hot chocolate.
The very best of days.

A little addendum:
I still go sledding. And there is still hot chocolate and doughnuts in the program.
But, as when I was eight, I choose the gentle-er slopes.
Full circle.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Kringle Envy

A guest post by Grant Tolley

 For all of our married life, my Beloved’s and my favourite Christmas story (other than the one in the Book of Luke) has been the movie Miracle on 34th Street (the original – we haven’t quite brought ourselves to see the recent version).  A perfect story, perfectly written and superbly presented on-screen by perfectly-cast actors and actresses.  I think we have worn out three or four different copies of the movie. I know that the story and character of Kris Kringle inspired Diane to write her three stories about Kris which have been published as novels (see the sidebar to this column if you haven’t noticed them before.  Read them.  I promise you won’t be sorry).

I myself have always identified with the Kris Kringle character, for some reason.  I have always been in awe of the perfect love that Kris held for everyone he met, but in particular for the kids.

All of this led me several years ago to ask my Beloved Diane – superb seamstress that she is – if she would make me a ‘really nice’ Santa Claus suit and herself a Mrs. Santa dress, so that we could be Santa and Mrs. Santa at Christmas.  I think I envied Kris Kringle.  I wanted to experience what Kris experienced in the movie when he so joyously put those children, totally unknown to him (but then again maybe not), on his knee in Macy’s Department Store and talked and sang with them, and hugged and loved them.

So, my Beloved complied and created the outfits you see above.  I told you she was talented, no? And some years ago, we began going out and about, visiting families and church halls and office parties and hotel ballrooms, as Santa and Mrs. Santa.

I thought I would share with you some special experiences that I feel we have stolen from Kris Kringle. I could write a book.  Literally.  But I will resist, in favour of reporting a few things that happened last weekend as Mrs. Santa and I went out in our 1979 Buick sleigh, into the delightful Christmas world.

I am in the habit of lifting the kids and putting them on whichever of my knees is aching the least that particular day.  I ask their names, their ages, about their school-work, their home, families, whether they fight with their siblings, and inquire about their love for their parents.  Eventually I get to: “What would you like for Christmas?”

Now you can probably imagine the wide range of answers that Santa gets to that particular question.  Answers have ranged all the way from “I don’t know yet, Santa”, to “a candy-red Lamborghini”, to “a billion dollars”.  Last weekend, a young mother put a precious 5-year-old boy on my knee, Bobby.  Next to Mom was Husband-Dad, on crutches and sporting a large cast on his right leg. “What would you like for Christmas, Bobby?”  “I want my Dad’s leg to get better.” Some inquiries indicated that Dad had been badly injured in a work accident.  While I was trying to swallow the lump in my throat, Bobby continued.  “So he can wrestle with me some more.”  Two lumps later, Santa did his best to grant Bobby’s wish with guarantees of good doctors and nurses and medicine to help Dad’s leg to heal, and abundant best wishes for good health and many future wrestling matches – which (just whispered between Bobby and me) I guaranteed Bobby would win. I wish I had a picture of Bobby’s smile.

A little later came Ava, a precious 8-year-old.  As I propped her on my knee and inquired about her life in Grade Three, I noticed that she was not very exuberant about much of anything.  “What would you like for Christmas, Ava?”  “I’d like for my Daddy to get better.”  “Is your Daddy not feeling well?” I inquired.  “No,” said Ava, dropping her eyes and her heart. “He’s got cancer.”

Now I know that I paused for a very long time there; I lost count of the number of lumps I swallowed, to try to carry on.  Ava was very forgiving of the long silence, and snuggled into my furry red coat.  I know that I eventually said a few words of encouragement to her, but I don’t really remember what they were.  But what has stuck with me ever since, and will for the rest of my life, is the pure love that emanated from little Ava as she snuggled into my red coat.  In a time and a season where commercialism and self-interest and greed try to overtake us, Ava had thoughts only for someone else.  I learned much in those few moments.  From an 8-year-old.

My Beloved will tell you that I have always been a pushover when it comes to 3-year-old princesses. (Diane was a little older than that when she first pushed me over, but that’s another story).  As I sat in my Santa chair on the weekend, a 3-year-old whose name I have forgotten saw Santa at the other end of the hall.  She literally peeled her coat off and threw it over her shoulder in the general direction of a mother, yelled “Santa!!!” and then sprinted across the room and threw herself into my arms.  I got one of the firmest, warmest, longest, loving-est hugs from a very small someone I did not know, but who knew me.  And loved me. 

I do not envy Kris Kringle any longer.  But I fully intend to keep encroaching on his turf.  He’s got a really good thing going.

Merry Christmas, everyone.  Peace on earth, good will, and love to you all.
From Santa Claus.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Puppy Presents

Don't you just want one?!
For over thirty years, our family raised Old English Sheepdogs.
Smart, dependable, protective, gentle and very hairy.
In our opinion, the best breed in the world.
In that time, we placed little balls of fur into many, many homes.
Some stories . . . . stick out in our memories . . .
Our very good friends, a wonderful family of four, were fellow OES aficionados.
They, in particular the father of the family, had unselfishly come to our aid on many occasions.
And we wanted to do something nice for him/them.
Knowing his/their love for ‘sheepies’, I consulted with his sweet wife about the possibility of surprising him with one of our puppies as a Christmas present.   
She was totally on board.
Christmas approached.
The puppies grew.
Finally, they reached the golden age of eight weeks.
It was time.
We loaded our family – and puppy – into the van and headed into the city.
Now, the actual formula . . .
We would present ourselves as a group to the front door of the home and proceed to ‘carol’ them.
Someone in back would hide the puppy until the climactic moment.
You know how, in movies, puppies are given and things turn out perfectly?
Well, sometimes it happens in real life.
We assembled.
Rang the doorbell.
And, when it opened, launched into our specially-adapted version of We Wish You a Merry Christmas:
We wish you a merry Christmas!
We wish you a merry Christmas!
We wish you a merry Christmaaaaas!
And here’s your sheepdog!
The puppy was produced on cue.
Smiles and tears.
Lots of hugs.
And our family faded into the soft, Christmas night.
It was a beautiful, perfect experience.
Sometimes, you have those . . .
The puppy, Alonzo, served and loved his family for a great many years.
But there is one more thing to add.
I’ve been asking my children about their favourite Christmas memories.
And this one tops the list.
Christmas and children and puppies.
They just go together.

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