Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, January 8, 2016

Broken Bunnies

Dishes and I have a history.
Okay, yes, I use them at meals.
But we regard each other with deep suspicion.
I’ve recounted one experience here.
But the one I’m about to describe is the first I can remember . . .
On the Stringam ranch, mealtimes were an exciting gustatory trip down the trail to deliciousness.
When the meal ended, the work began.
Well, for the rest of us. Mom had obviously already been at . . . never mind.
I was five.
The work, for me, consisted of transporting non-breakables from the table to the sink.
Yep. The spoons, butter knives and forks were my special friends.
Occasionally, I also branched out and dealt with such things as: napkins. Salt and pepper. Toothpicks.
My work load was exhausting.
Leftovers were carefully covered and stored in the ‘fridge.
Anything left on the plates was scraped into one container and taken out to the dogs, who then thought they had been sent to doggie heaven.
It was 1960. Doggie nutrition and diet hadn’t been invented yet.
Back to my story . . .
On this particular day, the scraps had been placed in my little brother’s ‘bunny’ bowl.
A cute little china bowl with a bunny scene in the bottom and bunnies running all around the outside.
The favourite choice of the under-five group.
Which, at that time, consisted of my brother.
Moving on . . .
Everyone was busy.
I had finished my all-important silverware shuffle and was at a loose end.
Then I saw it. The bowl of dog scraps. Just sitting there, waiting for some grown-up person to transport it.
“Mom! I’m gonna take out the scraps!” I said, in my most authoritative voice.
“Mmm,” Mom said.
You have to understand that she was busy: effecting the organization of three other children, keeping a watch on the baby and talking to Dad.
“Yeah. I’m big enough!”
“Yes, dear.”
She said yes!
I grabbed the bowl and headed for the door.
I turned.
"Don't drop the bowl. It'll break!"
"I won't!" 
Feeding the dogs on the ranch consisted of carrying the scraps across the cement driveway to the far copse of trees beside the old garage and tipping said scraps into the large, metal hubcap waiting there.
Sound easy?
Now picture several dogs (who had appeared as soon as the door opened) leaping and jumping around like idiots.
I suddenly realized why the job of taking out the scraps usually fell to a . . . bigger person.
I didn’t even make it across the driveway.
Blair’s little bunny bowl was knocked from my hand, breaking in half on impact.
The dogs happily started in on the scraps (glass fragments hadn’t been invented, either) and I collected the two pieces and returned, in tears of defeat, to my Mom.
It would be some years before I was again trusted with anything breakable. (See above.) Our little bunny bowl was gone forever.
But the worst? Mom was right.
P.S. There is a happy ending to this story.
During a recent trip to Costco with my son, I saw something that . . . . well, I‘ll just let you see for yourself.
Deja Vu. 
Deja Casse.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Putting out the Fire(man)

See? Easy.
Our third son, Duff, works with Special Needs adults.
An exhausting, trying, patience-testing, infinitely rewarding sort of job.
Which entails certain daily routines in and around the home and community.
As well as occasional forays into uncharted waters . . .
As part of their ongoing safety training, Duff and his clients were at a local fire station, receiving instruction in the dousing of a fire.
The obliging firemen had a controlled, but fair-sized fire going.
And each of the observers were given the . . . opportunity . . . to take one of a selection of fire extinguishers and actually use it to put out the fire.
All had gone well.
Even Duff’s clients had taken a hand at pointing, shooting and dousing.
It was finally Duff’s turn. The very last of the spectators.
He listened to the instructor’s careful instructions, nodded, gripped the handle of the extinguisher, and squeezed.
There was a slight ‘snap’ as the triggering mechanism broke, turning the stream of fire-retardant powder on full.
They were standing in the rain, it being Vancouver Island, and the nozzle was rain-slick.
The unexpected pressure caused it to slip from Duff’s hand.
The hose flipped around like something gone mad, spraying, first him, then his instructor with thick, white powder.
Duff got off easy. He was white from his mouth down.
But his instructor took the blast full in the face.
Full. In. The. Face.
It was like a scene out of a Laurel and Hardy film. (Google it . . .)
The man's fellow firemen, while trying to suppress their snickers, asked if he was all right.
“Yeah,” he said. “I managed to close my eyes.” He turned slowly and, blindly, made his way to the eye-washing station.
Duff, meanwhile, managed to recapture the errant hose and gradually force the valve shut.
The stream of white powder slowed. Then stopped.
Everyone surveyed the mess.
The entire area was heavily coated in white powder.
The fire?
Still burning cheerfully.
I don’t want you to think that anyone Duff works with is in any danger.
This experience proved that he can certainly handle any emergency that arises.
And also supply the entertainment.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


I think he did just fine!
Many men take a very active role in child-rearing in this modern day.
There are baby-change-stations in public men's rooms.
And I've even seen a ‘Father’s Room’, complete with rocking chairs, for feeding and caring for babies and children.
It’s a good thing.
When I was growing up, it was not so.
Men were not only not encouraged to take part in the care of children.
At times, they were actually discouraged.
My dad started child-raising in the 40s. I don’t think he changed a diaper in his whole life.
Husby started fatherhood in the late 70s. He changed plenty of them.
And my sons rearing children in the present day? Even more.
But it’s not really the diaper-changing that I'm talking about. It’s what it represents.
A chance to take a more active role, and be closer to, their children.
My dad had observed this shift in the parenting paradigm.
With regret.
Let me tell you about it . . .
In the earlier days of our marriage, Husby and I lived in a small home that he had built. A very small home. 306 square feet.
In that tiny space, we still managed all of the amenities. I had my washer and drier. And even my dishwasher.
There was a minuscule front room, carpeted with tacked-down rug samples from our local carpet store.
One day, my dad stopped by for a chat.
I happily sat down with him in the front room.
There, between us on an otherwise tidy floor, lay a broom.
Two things stand out in the aforementioned (Oooh, good word!) statement.
One, that the room was tidy.
And two . . . hmmm . . .
Okay, just one.
Dad noticed the broom. “Um, Diane,” he said. “Why do you have a broom in the middle of your carpeted front room floor?”
I looked at it. “Oh.” Then, “Erik!”
My two-year-old bounced into the room.
“Your steed!” I said.
Erik grinned and, picking up the broom, he straddled it and ‘rode’ it out of the room.
Then I turned back to Dad.
He was shaking his head and had tears in his eyes.
“Dad! What’s wrong?”
“I never enjoyed you kids when you were little,” he said. “Never spent enough time with you. I should have.”
Dad was a product of his time. A time when men weren't expected to take that more proactive role.
It’s a great pity.
P.S. Dad made up for his perceived lack of involvement with his own kids by being very proactive in his grandkids. 
It was a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Parental Prevarication

See the guy in the background? That's Dad. Entertaining the troops.
Foreground, the troops. 
My Father-In-Law (hereinafter known as ‘Dad’) was a farmer.
A good farmer. In over fifty years of dry land farming, he only failed to bring in a crop once.
And that was during a great drought year, when no one brought in anything.
He was careful and meticulous.
Smart and efficient.
With a great sense of humour.
And prevarication. (real word)
These last two weren’t always appreciated by the next generation.
Let me offer a couple of examples . . .
The drive from Fort Macleod to the largest nearby city, Lethbridge, was a distance of about thirty miles.
Not a great distance, but an uneventful, rather boring, ride.
At least it was for the boys who had tagged along.
Halfway between the two destinations was the small hamlet of Monarch.
And there, at the side of the road in Monarch, was a gas station.
With a pop machine.
On really good days . . . really, really good days . . . Dad would pull in to the station and purchase–at the great price of seven cents–a bottle of pop for each of the boys.
Would it be a great surprise if I mentioned that said boys wanted every trip to Lethbridge to be a really good day? And end with a stop for pop?
Probably not.
On the days when the gas station appeared . . . and then disappeared just as quickly, a small head would bob up from the back seat. “Da-ad! I wanted a pop!”
To which Dad would reply, “The well at home is brimming with pop!”
At first, this stumped the boys. Their well had pop? How had they missed that?!
Then they realized that he was simply ‘putting them off’.
“Da-ad! The well’s full of water!!!”
*  *  *
Dad was also known for his store of treats. Something saved for a rainy day.
And called, interestingly enough, ‘Rainy Days’ (told here.).
Usually when his kids clamoured for a treat, he could slip into his bedroom and come out with a bag of candies. Or chocolates. Or, on a good day, licorice.
But sometimes, he would be caught somewhere other than home, without a treat in the landscape.
On those occasions, he improvised.
Picking up a small rock, he would hand it to whichever kid was making the most noise and say, “Here, suck on this. The flavour will come.”
My Husby hasn’t told me how many times Dad did this.
And the kids actually tried.
At least once.
Yep. A sense of humour (and prevarication).
Some Dads just have it.

Monday, January 4, 2016

World Peace Bubbles

I spent part of my Sunday helping in the Nursery at our church.
It was an experience.
Twenty little kids, ages 1 ½ to 3 years.
What do you call a group of toddlers?
A tantrum of toddlers?
A teeter?
It would be worth exploring.
I know what you call a group of parents/grandparents who have spent two hours with the little cretins. A tired.
But I digress . . .
This little group of boys and girls had been playing happily.
Reading books. (I use this term lightly.)
Playing with puzzles. (Again used lightly.)
Throwing balls and other toys at each other.
‘Cooking’ such gourmet specialties as . . . trucks. Shoes. At least one book. And two of the puzzle pieces we had been hunting for for over twenty minutes.
Playing with dollies.
Fighting/tug-o-warring with said dollies.
Crying when dollies were put away in a safe place and other toys introduced.
Falling off the slide.
Devouring snacks.
Devouring their neighbour’s snacks.
Before you think any of them were in any real danger, let me disabuse you.
No one was in any real danger.
There were few tears (mostly at losing their tug-o-war prop) and no injuries.
But I discovered something.
When a group of toddlers is running madly and the room is started to resemble the streets of Edmonton after the Stanley Cup, all one has to do is turn on the bubble machine.
It’s true. I watched it happen.
The bubbles instantly attracted (and held) the entire group of toddlers.
They (the bubbles, I mean) floated gently into the air and every child in the room stopped what they were doing and exclaimed, as one, “Oooooh!” Then they ran to the blanket/blotter beside the machine and jumped and hopped, trying to catch the little, dripping, glistening balls of wonder and amazement.
It was incredible. Magical.
I’m getting a machine like that!
P.S. I wonder if this would work on the mobs that form after sporting events or political rallies? It's worth thinking about . . . 
Who's with me?!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Chili Beans

It’s been a roller-coaster of a winter, weather-wise, here in Edmonton.
Okay, I know that, calendar-ally, we are only two weeks into it.
But in reality it’s been winter here since Halloween.
Temperatures rising and falling.
And rising and falling.
Yesterday, it was -3. (26.6 F)
Balmy for the first part of January.
This morning, it’s -23. (-9.4 F).
A teeth-chattering, crackling cold that penetrates everything.
Frosts your windows over.
And is (in the words of Gus Pike) 'cold enough to freeze your nose hairs stiff.'
Perfect for some short-lived, vigorous outdoor activities (emphasis of both ‘short-lived’ and ‘vigorous’).
Or for staying indoors beside a snapping fire with a cup of rich hot-chocolate in one hand and a good book in the other.
We Tolleys have a term to describe this type of weather.
And therein hangs a tale.
If you would indulge me . . .
Husby and I had taken our (then) three boys in to Gramma’s house for the evening.
It was c-c-cold.
Each of us, had been padded and wadded with layer after layer of life-preserving warmth.
We had gotten to Gramma’s.
Enjoyed the warmth of a good dinner, good conversation and a couple of rousing games of ‘Probe’ (great game – Google it . . .).
It was time to head home.
Husby had gone out and started the car while I began the process of padding and wadding . . . again.
He came in to transport the first child.
He picked up the little fat-sausage shaped figure and opened the door.
A blast of cold air shot through the entryway.
“Oooh!” our son said, his voice slightly muffled, coming, as it was, through the thick scarf wound around his head. “It’s chili beans out here!”
And just like that, our family had its term for ‘very cold’.
So there you have it.
In Edmonton, our weather ranges from ‘Oh-my-word-it’s-hot-let’s-hide-in-the-basement’ through ‘gah-I’m-soaked-to-the-skin’ and ‘balmy-for-this-time-of-year’ all the way down to ‘chili-beans’.
We call it the new weather.
Grab your parkas!

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