Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Rum Running for Teetotalers

The Smuggler - and her get-away vehicle.
Before she . . . got away.
Mom was a teetotaler.
I thought I should mention that. It explains so much . . .
Dad had surprised Mom with the trip of a lifetime.
Okay, in the 60’s it was the trip of a lifetime.
Driving down along the scenic 101 through Washington, Oregon, California and into Mexico.
They were going to be gone for weeks.
She was just a bit excited.
They set out.
Visiting every landmark, great and small.
Every roadside exhibit.
Every tree, post and rock along the entire route.
Dad loved to see . . . things.
When they had finally finished with Sea World in San Diego, time was growing short.
They had one day to make a hop into Mexico.
Tijuana was all they would have time for.
They set out.
Crossed the border into Mexico.
And had a day of shopping the family-run stalls and businesses on the streets of Old Mexico.
Mom was in her element.
The sheer amount of purchasable ‘stuff’ was mind numbing.
She set to work with a will.
Picking up such treasures as: Velvet paintings.
Items of leather work.
And some lovely bottles, encased in clever, hand-woven reed containers.
Happily, she piled her purchases into the back seat of the car and the two of them set off on the long road back to Canada.
Crossing the border from Mexico to the US was a simple matter of declaring that, yes, they had done some shopping and spent ‘X’ amount of dollars/pesos, and no, they weren’t transporting any firearms, tobacco or alcohol.
They continued on.
Back through California, Oregon and Washington.
Seeing whatever sites Dad had missed on their first pass.
There weren’t many.
Finally, they reached the border, again declaring how much they had spent and that they weren’t carrying any firearms, tobacco or alcohol.
The last few miles to the ranch were covered quickly.
Mom had children to see.
And gifts to bestow.
Their homecoming was noisy and enthusiastic.
Mom handed out her purchases.
Brought all the way from Mexico.
Across two borders.
She had purchased one thing for herself.
The three little bottles in their fancy, hand-woven cases.
She arranged them proudly on the mantle above the fireplace.
One larger.
Two smaller.
For many months, they sat there.
In their place of honor.
Then one of my brothers happened to pick one up as he was dusting.
It was full of liquid.
“Mom! What’s in this bottle?”
“What kind of liquid?”
“Well . . . just water, I suppose.”
“Huh.” He twisted off the cap.
Let’s just say that, if it was water, the water in Mexico is vastly different than anything that flows in Canada.
“Mom. I hate to tell you this, but this isn’t water!”
Mom appeared. “It isn’t?”
“Umm . . . no.”
“Well what is it then?”
“I think you have three bottles of tequila here.”
Okay, remember the part where I mentioned ‘teetotaler’?
That would apply here.
 “What’s tequila?”
 “It’s a very strong alcoholic drink. From Mexico. With a worm in the bottom.”
The ‘liquid’ was duly poured out, worm and all, and good old 100 proof ranch sulphur water poured back in.
Mom went back to the kitchen and my brother went back to his dusting.
All was well.
But I can’t help but think about my teetotaling Mom bringing her three bottles of tequila across, not one, but two borders.
It’s always the ones you don’t suspect . . .

I'm visiting with Mom's family this weekend. The Bergs.
The most welcoming group of people ever to walk the earth.
I anticipate much story telling and a lot of love and support.
I may not be back tomorrow.
But know I will be happy, basking in the light of kith and kin!
Grandma and Grandpa Berg. About 1958 or 1959.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Singing While We Camp

With grandchildren
Our family was camping.
With our good friends, the Boyd family.
Something we have done every year.
For the past 28 years.
Rain or shine.
Usually rain.
It involves work.
Setting up trailers and tents for nearly thirty people inevitably includes some sort of exertion.
 1.  There is the usual ‘tarp wars’.
Won by whichever family can set up the best, tightest, most wrinkle-free campsite covering.
 2.  The leveling of the tents/trailers.
Highly important if some members of the tribe are susceptible to the headache inevitably brought on by sleeping with one’s head tilted below one’s feet.
 3.  And the choosing of the ‘Boydolley’ camp song.
This is very important. It has to be the most aggravating, annoying, ‘stick in your head’ song imaginable.
We’ve had such treasures as: ‘Oh, How I Love to Stand’.
And: ‘Hi! My Name is Joe!’
Plus the ever-popular: ‘Ninety-Nine Bottles of Non-Alcoholic Beverage on the Wall’.
And who can forget: ‘Jon Jonson’?
Seriously, who can forget it . . .?
And then there was the year that the Grandkids were finally old enough to get involved.
And vote.
What did they choose?
What classic would take its rightful place in history?
Was it something momentous?
It was ‘Slithery Dee’.
The classic song featuring a monster that comes out of the sea and eats everyone.
Perfect camp fare.
For a family camped beside a lake.
Moving on . . .
There were various versions.
Depending largely on the age and capability of the singer.
Megan, the eldest could sing it quite well, “Oh, Slithery-Dee!”
Right behind her was Kyra, “Oh, Swivery-Dee!”
And then there was the youngest talker, Odin, “Oh, Dee-Dee-Dee-Dee!”
They sang it by the hour.
And I do mean By. The. Hour.
Until . . . THE EVENT.
It was early afternoon.
Lunch had just finished.
Grandma (me) was lying on the bed in our tent trailer, telling stories to as many of the grandkids as would lie there and listen.
At nearest count – several.
Then they asked to sing ‘Slithery-Dee’.
I complied.
We were just getting through the first verse, wherein (good word) Megan had been eaten, when we were interrupted.
I should tell you, here, that our little tent trailer consists of a central square block.
With three wings/beds.
Each wing is covered by the main canvas, which hooks under said wing.
Canvas that can be . . . un-hooked.
Without the person, or persons, on the wing knowing anything about it.
Back to my story . . .
Where were we?
Oh, yes.
End of the first verse.
Unbeknownst (another good word!) to us, my Husby had unhooked the canvas immediately below us.
Just as we started to sing, “Oh, Slithery-Dee!”, a hand and arm reached up through the wall of the trailer and grabbed the nearest grandchild.
Who promptly screamed.
Inciting an immediate riot.
Grandma and grandchildren boiled out of the trailer like angry bees.
Realizing what had happened, we started to laugh.
Then we fed Grandpa.
To Slithery Dee.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Books in the Pants

You have your solutions.
Best Friend (hereinafter known as BF) has hers . . .
BF likes books.
And/or music.
Both of which she has downloaded to her iPad.
Good so far.
She also has household chores and duties.
Which take little or no actual—you know—thinking.
The one could definitely go with the other.
How to combine the two—books/tunes, together with mindless household chores.
Hmmm . . .
I should mention, here, that BF is also frugal.
Yes, there are other gadgets she could purchase.
But they cost.
Back to her dilemma.
Wait! She has pants! And a trusty little set of plug-in headphones!
Slip the ol’ iPad into the front of said pants, plug in the headphones and voila! Instant holder/deliverer of words/music.
Okay, yes, it looked a little funny.
And one or two people who called at the house notably had to keep their eyes from below her belt line.
But that was all to the good anyways . . .
Happily, this went on for some time.
Well, happily for her.
Her Husby was—less than enthusiastic. 
Finally, in an attempt to curb iPad-in-the-pants-itis (real term) he bought her a set of cordless headphones.
Now books and/or tunes get listened to.
And no one is walking around with a large square stuck in the front of their jodhpurs. 
It’s a good thing.
P.S. Could it have been called a 'Chastity Pad'? Just wondering . . .

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Three little boys were playing around the cul-de-sac here in Camper’s Village.
All three were armed with swords—or variations on a theme.
Their play had ranged through the trees, behind the neighbour’s RV, past the water spigot, through the bathrooms, over the garbage receptacles and ‘not too far now, Amos!’ into the woods that surrounded us.
Over gravelled street, flagged guy rope, thickly-needled path and grassy knoll.
It was this last in which they came to grief.
The three had just achieved their goal—the very tiptop of the evil king’s castle—and were ready to proclaim their justly-deserved triumph when one bumped the other (who knows how these things start?) and the smallest one fell backward onto his little sturdily-covered bottom.
He landed on the ground with a thump and a gasped out ‘****!’.
His startled mother provided comfort and then hurried instruction pertaining to appropriate language for appropriate moments.
A short time later, three small squirrels, brother or sisters or a combination of the two were playing in the trees in the cul-de-sac here in Camper’s Village.
All three were armed with shrill voices—or variations on a theme.
Their play ranged through said trees, our campsite, the neighbour’s campsite, the common area, and at least one stand of thick forest grass.
Over outhouse, parked cars, two sleeping dogs, three picnic tables, one startled camper and up the largest tree.
It was this last in which they came to grief.
The three had just achieved their goal—the very tiptop of the greatest tree—and were loudly proclaiming their triumph when one bumped the other (who knows how these things start?) and the smallest one fell backward onto his furry tail.
He landed on the ground with a thump and a gasped out ‘****!’.
His mother appeared in a nearby tree and chittered at him loudly, noises we campers assumed were words of comfort and hurried instruction pertaining to appropriate language for appropriate moments.

This happened exactly as presented here. Both stories.
Doesn’t it just prove the point: In some ways, we’re—all of us—exactly alike?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Night Terror

This post is a departure for me.
I don't often make political statements or comment on world situations.
I choose instead to dwell in the past.
It's peaceful there.
But last night, I had an experience . . .

I’ve always thought that I lived in a safe, peaceful world.
As much as anyone could at a time when acts of terror are delivered up with our morning coffee.
Let’s face it, when one lives miles from the nearest town and many more miles from the nearest city, the chances of world-attention-grabbing incidents are few.
But last night, I had a soup├žon of what the rest of the world is enduring . . .
We are on holiday.
Suffice it to say we are deep in the Canadian north woods.
A place of few ‘civilized’ comforts.
Where an early-morning discussion of a group of Ravens or the scramble and squabble of a family of squirrels through the trees is much more likely than the reality of a newspaper or an early-morning commute.
We have been here over a week.
And in that period have witnessed—several times—the glorious and awe-inspiring fury of a summer storm, but only caught the barest whiff of the latest heinous world-wide assaults.
It has been wonderful to be able, just for a time, to let the world and its pain pass by us.
Last night, we said good-night to our neighbors and ducked inside our dependable little tent.
The usual night sounds lulled us and we settled peacefully into sleep.
Then, at 3:00 AM, I was jerked suddenly from my slumber.
Someone was screaming.
A hoarse male voice.
Then I heard the sounds of others.
Also shouting.
At one point, they began to chant.
Then more screaming.
And, the most terrifying of all, the pounding of dozens—could it be hundreds?— of feet on the ground.
Were they growing closer?
Okay, in this morning light, I know now that it was probably a drunken group of holidayers, maybe watching a drinking game or contest of some sort.
But at the time, in the dark of a moonless night, when one is snatched from a deep sleep to unfamiliar surroundings, the sound was terrifying.
Maybe it was because of the real and constant danger that seems to be closing in on us in these dark days.
Maybe it was my own vivid imagination.
But for a while, I felt what millions of people the world over feel every single day.
Waiting for the inevitable juggernaut of twisted power to overtake and crush us.
Unlike those peoples, I awoke in my peaceful little world.
But, just for a moment, I had a glimpse.
And my heart is now truly theirs.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Hat Trick

Horse trading.
A term that doesn’t necessarily include horses.
My Father-In-Law, Ray Tolley, hereinafter known as FIL, was a master at the Art.
How do you get to be a master?
Continue and see my young apprentice . . .
FIL, when he left the farm, always wore a fedora. A smart, jaunty fedora.
His old one was getting . . . less than smart.
And a degree off jaunty.
He was in need of a new hat.
A fact that coincided with a 1960 trip into Montana with his wife and kids.
While they shopped elsewhere, FIL went into the local millinery (hat shop) and looked around.
Several possibilities immediately presented themselves.
And quickly narrowed to one.
Choice made, FIL happily carted it over to the salesman.
“This is the one I’d like,” he said.
Or words to that effect.
I wan’t there, so I’m Making It Up As I Go.
Back to my story . . .
“That’s is a fine hat, sir.” (More MIUAIG.)
“Yes. Can we make a deal?”
The salesman looked at the hat and went into his spiel. “This is one of our finest Field hats, sir. Brushed fur felt with a silk-like finish. Notice the new, open telescope shape with narrow sport brim and upper welt edge.” He pointed to the hatband. “Included is the rayon and cotton grosgrain band, with single-wing side bow and feather.” He turned the hat over. “A reeded, roan leather, cushioned sweatband and rayon, acetate lining.” He looked at FIL. “It comes in the two-tone iodeon green, and two-tone brown as well as this gray.”
See how good my imagination is? And how much you can find out on Google?
Ahem . . .
“No, I’m just interested in the grey. How much?”
“Ah. You can see that it is marked with today’s special price of $7.64.”
“Okay. Let me ask you something.” FIL took off his well-cared-for but distinctly used hat. “How much would you give me on a trade?”
A few minutes later, FIL emerged from the store wearing his smart and jaunty new hat.
MIL looked at it. “Nice. How much?”
“Well, here’s the thing. The original price was over seven dollars.”
She sucked in a breath. “Seven?!”
“Yes. But I didn’t pay that.”
She stared at him. She was used to Dad. “Okay. How much.”
“Well, you see, I traded him my old hat for this one.”
“Yeah. He gave me $2.00 for it.”
MIL shook her head. “Why on earth would he give you $2.00 for that old hat?”
“Well, I told him that was how we did it in Canada. And he didn’t want to be outdone by some milliner in Canada. So he sold the new hat to me for $5.00 and took my old hat in trade.”
Horse trading.
It doesn’t always include horses.
But it is always entertaining.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Building Dreams


Shortly after we were married, Husby took a job as foreman at a housing plant.
Building pre-fabricated homes.
He was good at it.
And it was two minutes from where we lived.
He was home for lunch every day.
As well as for breakfast and dinner.
For his new bride, life was perfect.
For the man actually going out to work . . .
The job was very stressful.
Many bosses - several without any knowledge of building.
Any knowledge.
He carried on.
For two years.
He had a family to feed.
But the stress started to tell.
He developed health issues.
And stopped sleeping.
That's when he started making noises about going to school.
Husby had been in school when we started dating, but felt he had to quit to take a job after we were married.
Now, he realized that he had made a mistake and wanted to correct it.
I was unconvinced.
How would we provide for ourselves if we had no income?
So he continued working.
Growing more and more unhappy.
And sleeping less and less.
One time, he suddenly snorted, sat up on the edge of the bed and started getting dressed.
“Honey, where are you going?” I asked. “It's 4 AM.”
He jumped and looked around. “Oh,” he said. “Oh.”
He pulled off his shirt, lay back down, and was instantly snoring.
Is there a term for sleep-dressing?
Probably . . . sleep-dressing.
Moving on . . .
One night, around 3 AM, I was sleeping quietly.
Suddenly, Husby shot up in bed, grabbed me by the collar of my pyjamas, pulled me to a sitting position in the bed and shouted, “You hold the ladder! I'll nail the soffit!”
My sleep-fogged brain vaguely discerned that these were 'house-building' terms.
“Honey, you're dreaming,” I said, rather shakily. “Go back to sleep.”
He wasn't to be deterred.
He shook me slightly. “Okay?!”
“Okay!” I said.
“Good.” He dropped me and flopped back onto the bed.
Seconds later, I could hear his soft snore.
He had been asleep the whole time.
I, however, would probably never sleep again.
I was finally convinced. Stark, heart-racing trauma will do that to you.
Husby went back to school.
He studied History, Arts and Anthropology.
Finally achieving a doctorate.
His health instantly improved.
As did his sleeping habits.
Going back to school was a good decision.
Though with two tiny babies and a wife to feed, it had seemed anything but.
He no longer sleep-dressed.
Or roughed up his wife.
And you can bet that the installation of any soffit was in broad daylight.
With a much more willing assistant.
Oh, and real soffit.

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