Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Old. And Adding

A poem. Because it's Saturday.
Our good friend Shirley. Gramma and her little beans.
Great Gramma and her Little Bean
Had the greatest day you’ve ever seen.
They’d talked and laughed, played games – all sorts,
Built puzzles and a blanket fort.

Played Lego, making things just right,
Baked treats and had a pillow fight.
Played knights and forts, read stories, too,
Dressed up, and sang. (To name a few.)

Then, happily exhausted, they
Decided to slow down the day.
Great Gramma’s Little Bean and she
Were nestled down quite snug-i-ly.

Then LB stroked Great Gramma’s hair,
And to her own, she did compare,
“Yours is white!” said the little girl,
Gently touching her own curls.

Then the soft, plump hand the lines did trace,
That clearly showed on Gramma’s face.
“You’re old,” she said, with honesty.
“You’re so much older, Gram, than me!”

Great Gramma smiled, as Grammas do,
And touched the lines she too well knew,
She said, “The things you say are true,
I’ve lived a lot more years than you!”

“I’m four,” said Little Bean with pride.
And a grin that went from side to side.
“I’m eighty-six,” Great Gramma said.
She sighed. “Somewhere ‘tween birth . . . and dead.”

Then LB tipped her head askew,
And grappled with this thought so new.
And then she said, when she was done,
“Great Gramma, did you start at one?”

Friday, April 8, 2016

Neighbour Haven

Supplier of kindliness. And food.
The Stringam ranch was a large spread situated some twenty miles from the town of Milk River, Alberta.
The land stretched for miles along the Alberta-Montana border.
The buildings were nestled in a picturesque prairie valley somewhere in the middle, surrounded by tall cliffs and the lazy sweep of the south fork of the Milk River itself.
It was nine miles to the nearest neighbour.
But we got there as often as we could.
Or, at least we kids did.
Maybe I should explain . . .
In my day, the school bus service ended at Nine-Mile corner, a triangle of crossroads exactly – you guessed it - nine miles from the ranch.
This necessitated the driving, twice a day, of a vehicle to intercept said bus.
Okay, it was something unheard-of in this day of school bus service to your door, but it was a fact in the sixties.
Mom was the driver of choice, with occasional relief work by Dad.
But that’s only a peripheral to my story . . .
Less than a mile from that corner, at the end of a long driveway, was the Sproad farm. Our nearest neighbours.
Ben and Clestia Sproad were an elderly couple who raised sheep and milk cows. Their daughter had married and moved away and they had settled into a routine of farm work, household duties, grandparenting and kindliness.
Their home was a haven of peace, cleanliness, love and fabulous German baking.
Every day, after the bus had deposited our little group beside the road, and if our intercept vehicle was not in sight, we would excitedly begin the long trek toward the promise of smiling faces and wonderful food.
We didn’t make it often.
Usually, the ranch station wagon would come skidding around the corner in a cloud of dust and slide to a halt beside us, before we had taken much more than a few steps.
But occasionally, if Mom had been delayed, we managed the ten-minute walk and actually grabbed the brass ring.
Or, in this case, the freshly-baked reward for our efforts.
Served happily by Mrs. Sproad, and accompanied by her soft, cheerful chatter.
“Oh, Di-ane! You are getting zo big. Zoon you’ll be taller than me! Here. Have another.” And she was right. By the time I was in sixth grade, I had passed her by.
On these special days, Mom would appear, rather red-faced and spilling apologies. “Oh, Clestia! I’m so sorry! I got tied up . . .”
It didn’t matter. Mrs. Sproad would laugh and offer something to Mom as well.
Soon we would be on the road back to the ranch.
Still tired from the day.
But with bellies filled with yumminess and hearts filled with cheer.
Nine-Mile corner no longer exists.
And the Sproads have long been gone.
But I can still taste that baking.
And feel the love.

Thursday, April 7, 2016


Also a Sister

In our church, everyone is addressed either as 'Brother' or 'Sister'.
It gives a fun, family feel to the congregation.
And to the whole 'attending church' scenario.
It was something I was raised with.
Women my Mom's age were Sisters.
Men were Brothers.
Life was simple.
Moving forward twenty years.
Still attending church.
Still addressing each other as either Brother or Sister.
But now, there was a new generation, calling me Sister.
I should point out, here, that when you work in the children's organization, or Primary, you instantly gain rock-star status if your class members meet you outside of church.
Hence, you can be wandering in the mall and a young voice will scream out, "Mom, look! It's Sister Tolley!"
And I do mean scream.
Back to my story . . .
One day, I was shopping with my children, plus a few.
Because who wants to go shopping with just your family?
A cry suddenly rattled the rafters of the local Safeway.
"Sister Tolley! I didn't know you shopped here, too! Look! Look! It's Sister Tolley!"
And then a chorus of "Hi, Sister Tolley!" "Sister Tolley, look what I'm wearing!" And the all-important, "Sister Tolley, look what I can do!"
It was adorable.
I oohed and aahed over their clothes and accomplishments and our two groups separated, intent once more on whatever it was that had originally brought us into the store.
One of the boys who had come along for the amazing experience of shopping with two parents and ten children turned to my son and whispered, loudly, "Wow! I didn't know your Mom was a nun!"
Okay. Not something you hear every day.
Or ever.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Round Tuit

When a man says he’ll do something, he’ll do it.
There’s no reason to remind him every six months or so.
My son is a great husband and father. Hard-working. Attentive.
He doesn't always get to things right away.
But he does get to them . . .
His wife had taken a package of pork chops out of the freezer and set them to thaw in the fridge to prepare for dinner.
Plans changed.
The chops were shoved toward the back.
One morning, she opened the door and a slight ‘off’ odour wafted out.
The pork chops had ripened.
It wasn't a good thing.
She asked her husby to take the package out to the compost.
He agreed to do so.
Two days later, the chops were still there.
And the smell was getting stronger.
Finally, tired of waiting, she grabbed the package and marched it out herself.
Muttering imprecations under her breath.
Okay, that’s how I imagine it . . .
Then she got out a fresh package of chops and put them in the fridge to prepare for dinner.
Déjà vu.
As dinner approached, she went to the fridge to retrieve the package.
It was gone.
Puzzled, she looked again through the fridge.
No chops.
And no one else in the house knew anything about them.
Finally, she called her husby at work.
“Did you touch those chops I had in the fridge?”
“You told me to take them out. So I did.”
Yep. He doesn't always get around to it on your time line.
But he does get it done.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Mark. With his friend.
Our family loves root beer.
And our eldest son can sleep through anything.
These two facts are related.
Maybe I'd better explain . . .
My Husby loves to make root beer.
And he's very good at it.
I got my first taste of his homemade brew on our wedding night.
Neither of us drink alcohol, so he had brought several bottles of the magical elixir in his suitcase so we could toast each other.
It was . . . fun.
And thus began a family tradition.
I should explain here that root beer making is an exact science requiring skill and knowledge.
And large containers.
Grant used a garbage pail. A new one, purchased for that exact reason.
Just so you don't get the wrong idea.
Moving on . . .
He would add the precise amount of water, then the elixir, then the sugar.
And finally, the yeast, the vitally important 'makes everything else work' ingredient.
Then the stirring.
And finally, the fun part, the bottling.
One important aspect of root beer making is the two to three weeks of 'construction' time.
It must sit quietly in a warm spot during that all-important period.
That's where our son, Mark, comes into the picture.
Mark was our first-born. He was little.
We kept his room warm.
Perfect for a couple of cases of root beer bottles waiting to 'become'.
Now, the biggest problem with home-brew is that, as the brew ages, the pressure inside the bottle builds. And after a few uses, some of said bottles may become weak.
And you can't tell, by looking, which are so affected.
You can probably guess what happens then.
Pop! Fizz!
It was very early morning. Grant and I were still soundly asleep.
The glorious rosy sun was just rising on another perfect prairie morning.
It's my story, I can remember is how I want.
Suddenly, there was a dull 'popping' sound.
Then another.
We were instantly awake. And knew, just as instantly, and with the instinct of new parents, what those sounds meant.
Our root beer was ready.
And we had a couple of weak bottles.
And, more importantly, they were posing a very real threat to our baby, sleeping mere inches away in his crib.
Imagining projectiles of glass flying everywhere, we scrambled from our bed, threw open the baby's room door and charged inside.
Before you get too excited, I should explain that things weren't as bad as we had imagined.
The bottles had obviously become weak at the base of the neck.
They looked as though they had been neatly beheaded.
The neck and lid were sitting right beside each bottle.
Our sleeping baby was fine.
Visions of flying glass faded from our minds and we immediately turned to the next problem.
Clean up.
Jabbering excitedly, we gingerly disposed of the broken pieces and hauled the remaining cases from the room.
Then proceeded with the scrubbing and vacuuming.
Finally satisfied with our efforts, we prepared to leave the room.
It was then I realized that Mark hadn't made a sound throughout the entire . . . loud . . . process.
I peeped into the crib.
He was still rosily, happily, soundly asleep.
Snoring slightly in that cute 'baby' way.
My Husby and I learned several things that day:
1. Re-use your root beer bottles judiciously.
2. And don't ferment your root beer
3. In the baby's room
4. Unless he's a great sleeper

Monday, April 4, 2016

Accidental Discovery

For once, he’d listened to his wife,

How to ameliorate her life,
And he went without delay,
To take her on a holiday.

But as he hastened to comply,
In proving he was one sweet guy,
He left his glistening lab in less
Than pristine order, I confess.

While those two hurried who knows where,
One petri dish abandoned there,
A part of his criteria,
Was moistened with bacteria.

When they returned, that fateful dish,
Was not as clean as they could wish.
Bacteria, possession had,
And things were looking rather bad.

Except one place had not been ‘got’,
No icky growth upon that spot.
Instead, a little bit of mold
Had landed there and taken hold.

Beating off the icky stuff,
And proving it had strength enough,
Its presence brought discovery,
And new ways for recovery.

I guess you’ve guessed by now that guy
Was christened Fleming from on high.
And penicillin, started small
S’the best discovery of all!

After that, we note that he
Made no startling discoveries.
His wife, by his chaos dismayed
Decided she would hire a maid.

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