Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Gift Horse

There’s an old saying, ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’.
Now you should know that horses, as they get older, show it mostly in their teeth.
The older the horse, the more outward sloped the teeth.
I’ll talk more about this later . . .
We once received a gift horse.
Okay, well, it was a yellow Chevette.
But it was a gift.
And had several 'horses'.
The car was . . . old.
Rust spots bloomed like a garden.
The doors hardly closed. Or if they did, hardly stayed closed.
Or you couldn't get them open.
The internal organs alternately belched or squealed.
There was, literally, no back floor on the driver’s side.
And pieces quite frequently dropped off, made scraping sounds on the pavement, or detached altogether, only to be run over by the vehicle that had lost them.
Case-in-point: The muffler. It dropped to the ground during an early-morning commute and the car lurched suddenly up on one side as the wheels ran over it.
The car had one thing going for it. It had a new engine – put there by our good friends, the former owners. People who then made the magnanimous gesture of presenting it to us.
I'm quite sure you are wondering why they would do such a thing. (Because they had finished school and had made the recent move to newer, or at least less rusty.)
And why we would go on driving our 'testament to rust'? (We were still poor college students with four kids and little means of support.Who needed all the help we could get.)
So ‘Rusty Yeller’ made the daily commute to college with my Husby.
Often, they would sit in traffic, cars around them humming or growling happily.
While this car made its convincing impression of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Without the cuteness.
Or magic.
This went on for several months.
Finally, my Husby neared graduation. He would soon have a Master’s degree under his belt.
It was time to move up a peg on the whole ‘commuter’ scale by selling the car.
We weren’t asking much.
Just pay for the ad and the car is yours . . .
No bites.
We tried to give it away.
Still no takers.
Finally, Husby took to leaving it parked at the college with the keys in it, hoping to entice some desperate, or at least near-sighted, student into taking it for a spin.
A long spin.
Oh, come on! Vehicle theft had reached near epidemic proportions on that campus!
Obviously, the students were a bit . . . judicious . . . with their choices. Choosing cars that were, oh I don't know . . . road-worthy? 
Not the car, but you get the idea . . .
We finally got rid of the car.
Traded it on a push, pull or drag sale.
I think we even got $500.00!
So, back to the gift-horse scenario.
And the looking of said horse in the mouth.
In the usual sense, it means that one shouldn’t start to find the faults in a gift.
In our case, we did look.
Saw the new engine. 
And ignored the rust spots and obvious problems which later proved . . . rather important.
My lesson? Don’t bother to look a gift horse in the mouth.
Let the rust and disease put you off right from the beginning.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Idiot Sundae

This . . .

Plus this . . .

Plus this . . .

Plus this . . .

And finally, this.
Dad loved telling this story. Of his first day as a father . . .
He had just left his newborn daughter and her mother sleeping happily at the hospital.
The newly-minted father stepped out into the sunshine and grinned.
He needed to celebrate.
He stood there for a moment.
Then it hit him. What better way to celebrate then with a dish of ice cream at the Spudnut Shop?
Soon he was standing in the familiar café, studying the menu on the wall.
Hmm . . . he’d always wanted to try the Idiot Sundae.
He took a deep breath and grinned.
He stepped to the counter and placed his order.
“Just take a seat, sir,” the soda jerk said. “We’ll bring it right out.”
He did.
And they did.
Now I should probably mention, here, that the Idiot Sundae was a concoction of twenty large scoops of various flavours of ice cream. With all of the fixings.
All. Of. The. Fixings.
And one spoon.
The . . . platter . . . was brought out.
And slid carefully onto the table in front of him.
Another grin as he picked up the spoon.
And started working his way through the melting mound of deliciousness.
He did well.
One scoop after another disappeared.
Finally, there were only three scoops left.
He stared at them.
Three scoops.
He groaned.
He dropped the spoon in defeat.
So close.
So very close.
And today, almost 65 years later, he remembers those three scoops left melting in the dish.
And wonders.
Was he an idiot for leaving them?
Or just an idiot for ordering in the first place.
You decide . . .

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Snow Forecast

George and Me.
One of us was smart . . . and the other has her hair in curlers.
I never was a particularly timid child.
In fact, if one were searching for words to describe me, 'timid' probably wouldn't have even been considered.
Boisterous. Cheerful. Loud. Noisy.
These all would have been correct.
But timid?
And yet, there were certain times when 'timid', even fearful could have been used with complete accuracy.
Let me explain . . .
It was the fifties.
We had a TV.
And one channel which came on the air at 10:00 in the morning and left the air at midnight.
I often watched as 'Oh, Canada' played in the morning. Because I had already been watching the Indian Head test pattern for half an hour, waiting for Friendly Giant.
I never got to hear the playing of 'God Save the Queen' at midnight. Because, let's face it, I was four. By that point in time, I had been in slumberland for hours.
Moving on . . .
When the TV station was off-the-air, we had 'snow'.
And not the good kind.
White, yes, but that is where all similarity ended.
It was static-y.
And, when your brother turned the volume up loud . . .
Said brother discovered this early. (He says he had been watching when I discovered it.
Let's just say I've erased that memory.)
And he used it often.
If he was playing in the living room and didn't want any Diane type company, he would turn on the TV, confirm quickly that there really was nothing on, and turn up the volume.
Whereupon (good word) I would run, shrieking, from the room.
Heh. Heh. Heh.
Mom couldn't get after him because he hadn't said or done anything to me, personally.
And the room was cleared for another half-hour of uninterrupted fun.
Until Diane forgot everything that had just happened and ventured, again, into the front room.
TV. Volume. Repeat.
So you see where the word 'timid' comes in.
Unfortunately, the word 'brainiac' never applied.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mother of the Year

The only surviving picture of Andrew
Ranching is wonderful.
Most of the time.
You get to spend your days outdoors, working in the pure, sage-stuffed air.
See the heat shimmer on the tops of hills.
Watch the prairie grass bend in the breeze.
You witness births and new life. See groups of calves, and sometimes their mothers, cavort and snort and play.
And see the milk cow try to run with the deer.
You can bury your face in your pony's thick, warm winter coat and just breathe in his 'horsey' smell.
You have long, wonderful talks with family members as you ride to or from.
And while you're working together.
It's a peaceful and serene existence.
And the scenery breath-taking.
But occasionally, it gets pretty gritty.
There are disasters.
But even these can result in something beautiful.
Let me explain . . .
As occasionally happens, a young heifer (cow that hasn't yet produced a calf) was inadvertantly 'exposed' to a bull.
She caught. (Became pregnant)
But something went wrong.
Perhaps because she was so young. Perhaps because she had some physical and undetected abnormality.
Whatever the reason, she was dying and there was nothing that could be done to save her.
And her calf was just days away from being born.
My Dad had to make a quick decision.
He decided to take the calf early and then put the suffering mother out of her misery.
Fortunately, in times like these, a trained veterinarian can work very, very quickly.
One life saved.
Another let go.
And we had a new little bull calf.
An extremely healthy and active little bull calf.
I called him Andrew.
But Andrew didn't have a mama.
Normally, this doesn't present too much of a problem.
You simply adopt the calf onto another mama.
It isn't easy, but it's worth the effort.
Unfortunately, there were no 'mamas' available.
Bottle feeding was indicated.
Now any of you who have bottle fed a puppy or kitten or other young animal know that it's a time-consuming and constant thing.
Not so with calves.
They only need to be fed three or four times a day.
Fairly simple to work around.
And fun for the kids.
So we dug out our bottle and formula and gave our little man his first feeding.
He sucked strongly. A good sign.
On to the next hurdle.
Finding him a place to bunk.
Firmly rejecting our son's offer of his room, we decided on the corral.
There was only one problem.
The corral already had an occupant.
Old Bluey.
Bluey was an older appaloosa mare, gentle and slow.
Her mottled black and grey hair gave her a distinct 'blue' colour.
Thus the name.
Okay, so creative, we weren't.
Back to the problem . . .
We decided that Bluey probably didn't propose much of a threat to our little Andrew.
We carried the calf into the pen and set him down.
He stood there for a moment.
Then he spied Bluey.
Bawling loudly, he headed towards her.
She stared at this little apparition.
And moved away.
He kept on coming.
Again she moved.
This went on for some time.
Finally, deciding that Andrew would be all right, we left them together.
A few hours later, I took a new bottle of formula to our little orphan.
And received the surprise of my life.
There stood Bluey, with the calf beside her nursing loudly.
I should point out here that a horse is generally considerably taller than a cow.
Certainly, Bluey was taller than Andrew's mother had been.
In fact, to simply reach the mare's udder Andrew had to stretch as far as he possibly could.
But he was doing it.
And Bluey was letting him.
It was a miracle.
Another thing I should mention is that a calf is a lot rougher while nursing than a colt. Calves get very 'enthusiastic'. And if the milk slows down, they butt their head into the cow's udder.
Not so with colts. They are quite gentle. Even mannerly about their feeding.
I probably needn't point out that Andrew was a calf.
And an extremely enthusiastic one.
I watched as he butted his head into Bluey's udder. I could almost feel her wince.
She raised her leg and closed her eyes for a moment.
Then she lowered her leg and let him nurse again.
It truly was an amazing sight.
Throughout the summer, between bottle feedings, Bluey nursed Andrew.
Once, we left the calf in the corral and took Bluey out to bring in the herd, intending to capture them in that same corral.
As we drew close with the herd, someone opened the gate.
Little Andrew came running out, searching for his 'mother'.
And bawling loudly.
Bluey nickered back at him anxiously and he quickly found her and took up a position at her side, following along happily.
Eventually, in the fall, all the calves were weaned, taken from their mothers and put into the feedlot together.
For a day or two, there was a lot of bawling and angst.
Then they discovered the feed troughs.
And discovered, too that they had very short memories.
Peace was restored.
Bluey, too, resumed her peaceful life as though it had never been interrupted.
There is an addendum . . .
I checked Bluey's udder once while she was with her little adopted boy.
She had no milk.
She had done all of that 'Mothering' with an empty udder.
The pain must have been exquisite.
But she did it.
Yep. Definitely a gold medal performance.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Work Hazards

Which is more hazardous to your health?
Or this?

Two little ten-year-old girls had been given an assignment.
Then left alone to do it.
Mischief happens . . .
My family was raised on a large cattle ranch.
Dealing with cows (and the myriad tasks that follow them) was our daily life.
And when our annual sale/production day approached, work increased as not only the cattle, but the entire ranch must be presented in their best light.
My little sister, hereinafter called ‘Anita’, and her friend, Jo-Ellen, had been given the assignment to sweep out the sale barn - a large building built for the sole purpose of exhibiting cattle, one-by-one, to scores of people seated in the bleachers.
Said people were then expected to ‘bid’ on said animals.
On sale day, that building was the hub of all activity.
And, incidentally, sale day was the most exciting day of our entire year.
Moving on . . .
These two little girls had already had a busy morning. You have to know that we were a family of firm non-smokers. The only cigarettes and/or other smoking paraphernalia that ever came onto the ranch, came in visitor’s vehicles. These two little girls had spotted a packet of cigars in a prospective buyer’s car.  They had stolen borrowed liberated two cigars from it.
I know. What were they thinking?
And now, in sole possession of the sale barn, they neglected their duties to take turns pretending to be either ‘auctioneer’ or ‘buyer’. The one would take a seat at the high auctioneer’s booth while the other would light her cigar, sit on the bleachers, and ‘bid’.
Anita was the first ‘buyer’. She puffed at her cigar in her best ‘I’ve-watched-them-and-I-know-how-it’s-done’ manner, and nodded at the auctioneer at salient times. Then they switched places and Jo-Ellen assumed the buyer’s duties, cigar and all.
After a while, the two of them decided they had better get to work. Sweeping.
They pushed a load of straw and dirt out into the barnyard.
And that’s when Anita lost what little remained of her breakfast.
Oh, man she was sick.
And then the same thing happened to Jo-Ellen.
The two of them crawled up into the bleachers and collapsed. For several minutes, they sat there, wondering what on earth had happened that both of them became so sick.
So suddenly.
They concluded, finally, that it must have something to do with sweeping.
And/or buying/selling.
Either activity is obviously hazardous to one’s health.
Just FYI.
The ring-leader . . .

Monday, March 21, 2016

Eating Snake

It'll get you!
I like snakes.
And it's because of my Mom's cooking.
Hmmm. Maybe I'd better explain . . .
I loved to watch my Mom when she was in the kitchen.
I would sit on the cupboard, more or less out of the way.
And follow her movements closely.
She peeled potatoes so fast that I thought every potato had two skins.
I had watched.
Two skins.
Because there was always a skin where she had just peeled.
At other times, she could take her large ceramic bowl and dump in this and that and come out with something delicious.
Every time.
I once told her she was a 'dump cook'.
"I'm a good cook!" she protested.
I tried to explain that that was what I meant, but I don't know if I got through.
But I digress . . .
Sometimes, she would start her trusty Sunbeam mixer.
A sure Diane magnet.
Within seconds, I was standing beside her.
"Mom! Can I have a taste?"
"Honey, it's just butter and sugar."
"But it looks so good!"
"Well, if you want . . ."
Did you know that butter and sugar can actually taste really good?
Well, if dispensed by Mom on a large cake spoon.
But the best of all was when Mom would bake buns.
Or rolls, for anyone who doesn't feel comfortable calling them 'buns'.
She would dump in (see above) bits of this and that and make a large, sticky mass.
Then she would start punching with her hands, adding little bits of flour.
I should point out, here, that if you see a great tub of something powdery and white in Mom's kitchen, icing sugar tastes infinitely better on the end of a wet finger than flour.
Just saying . . .
She would punch and punch until she had her dough to just the right consistency.
And yes, I did know what consistency meant.
For a four-year-old, I was a brainiac.
Mom would pinch off a portion of the larger mass and work it into a long roll, ready to cut into smaller pieces.
Then would come the exciting part.
She would chase me around the kitchen, wiggling this long roll of dough, and saying, "Sssssss!"
That was my cue to run around and shriek loudly.
I was good at it.
The dough snake was going to get me!
The dough snake was going to get me!
Finally, when Mom had had enough, she would set the 'snake' back on the counter and proceed to chop it into bits.
One of which she gave to me.
Snake really tastes delicious.
Remember the part when I said 'brainiac'?
I lied.

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