Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Still Writing...

I have exciting news!
Well . . . exciting to me! :)
Announcment: My newest novel, Daughter of Ishmael is to be published on January 10, 2017 by Cedar Fort Publishing.
Editing is finished.
It is now in the hands of the copy-editing department.
The artwork is done.
Tell me what you think!

As the publication date nears, I will be holding contests for free books and/or author appearances.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Milk, Anyone?

Not for the shy or faint of heart . . .
Recently, there had been a lot of press about women nursing their babies.
Usually because it has been carried to extreme lengths.
I nursed my babies.
And loved doing it.
But this isn't a commentary about that.
Though it is about 'extremes'.
Maybe I should explain . . .
A veterinarian friend of my father's had stopped in for a chat.
An immigrant from the UK, he was very fond of his tea.
My father offered him a cup.
Uncharacteristically, he declined. With a slight shudder.
Dad stared at his friend. What could possibly have put Dr. Ilovemytea off his favourite beverage?
The friend realized that he had aroused Dad's curiosity and an explanation was in order. He told Dad that he had just come from a vet call to a farm at the furthest border of his practice. 'Out in the sticks', you might say. His veterinarian business had been concluded.
And successful.
Hoping to prolong what was, to her, the highlight of a normally solitary day, the woman of the household had invited Dad's friend into her front room for a visit. She had recently given birth to a fine son and was anxious to share her story with someone.
All was well.
She and baby were thriving. Baby was nursing well and growing rapidly.
The woman offered the doctor a quick cup of tea before he began the long trek back to town.
Happily, he accepted.
The tea was brewed.
The woman brought it in and set it in front of her guest. “Would you like milk?” she asked.
Dad's friend said that, indeed, yes, he would love milk.
Whereupon (good word) the woman flipped out a breast and squirted some milk into the doctor's tea.
He blinked. Well . . . at least it was fresh.
As the story unfolded, Dad burst into laughter.
“So, did you drink it?” he asked his friend.
“Of course,” the doctor said.
“How was it?”
“Well, it tasted just fine,” he said. “Tasted fine.  But put me off a bit.”
Tea, anyone?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Very Good Ship

Where memories are made...
It was just a routine trip to the local recreation centre.
Something we did often when our kids were small.
Who knew it would result in someone’s fondest memory . . .?
With six children and one income, Husby and I had to choose our family entertainment carefully.
We went to a lot of free things.
We did manage Adventure Food (any nationality other than Canadian) once a month. And for our big splurge, we bought an attractions pass. A valuable little tool that gave us admittance to any of Edmonton’s many parks and attractions as well as every one of the numerous swimming pools.
We went swimming every Saturday night.
That way, they were all entertained, played out, and bathed and clean for Sunday morning.
Yeah. I’m just clever that way . . .
Earlier one Saturday afternoon, we changed things up a bit and took the clan to the Kinsmen Recreation Centre instead of our usual Millwoods Wave Pool.
The kids were excited at the prospect of a new pool.
And their Dad and I were excited to have them excited.
Let me describe the swimming part of the centre as it looked then: There was the large tank, with swimming lanes, for the serious swimmer. The diving tank for the serious diver. (Note: this pool has been used for competition diving as well as for shooting movies. Interesting, right?) The warm-up tank--also used for lane swimming and family groups and toys. And the smallest tank. Shallow. Warm. For families with young children.
Our family instantly separated into three pools.
Husby had the youngest in the ‘baby’ pool, I had our middle two in the middle pool, and the two eldest disappeared to try out the diving boards.
The middle tank was the most interesting to me. It had large floating toys perfect for family fun.
I had my son in a ‘coracle’ (a small, circular boat) and was pushing him around.
And singing.
Because that’s what I do.
Did you know there’s a song for nearly every activity?
Well, it’s true.
In this case, the music of choice was “The Good Ship Lollipop”.
We swam/floated back and forth for much of the afternoon. He lying relaxed in the little boat. Me, pushing and singing.
Then we fished everyone out, showered them off and headed home.
It had been a pleasant afternoon, one that I was to tuck away with my memories of other pleasant afternoons.
Move forward nearly thirty years . . .
Husby and I were visiting with our middle son at his home on Vancouver Island. During our stay, we started telling stories.
And talking about favourite memories.
Our son told us his favourite memory of growing up was one day when we went to the Kinsmen pool and I sang ‘On the Good Ship Lollipop’ to him while I floated his little boat back and forth in the water.
His favourite memory.
I guess I need to remember that when we think we are providing simple entertainment for our children, we are also making memories.
And one of those memories is going to be their favourite.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Riding the Wave

Now wave! It might be someone we know.
The Stringam Ranch was twenty miles from the Town of Milk River.
For the first ten miles out of town, you were passing through other ranch properties.
So your chances of meeting another motorist were pretty good.
After that, there was just one destination.
The Stringam Ranch.
Any traffic that came out that far needed emergency veterinarian assistance.
Or knew the family and my mom's cooking.
This is a long-winded way of telling you that, on any given trip into town, Dad knew every single driver that we passed.
A cloud of dust would appear on the horizon, growing larger. Finally a small dark spot could be detected, right at the base of said cloud.
The speck grew larger.
And larger.
Finally became recognizable as a vehicle.
Dad would slow down and pull over to the right side of the road.
Because lines hadn’t been introduced into our part of the country. And who could paint a line on dirt anyway?
The other driver would also slow and pull to his right.
The two would give each other a friendly wave.
And continue on.
Whereupon (good word) I would bob up out of wherever.
“Dad! Who was that?”
“That was Mr. Angel.”
I would disappear again.
Another vehicle.
Another wave.
Me bobbing up.
“Dad! Who was that?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Lindeman.”
As we grew closer to town, the vehicles were more numerous.
“Dad! Who was that?”
“Mrs. Swanson.”
I should mention that there was one vehicle that recognized. Even as a four-year-old.
It was an old car, driven very, very slowly.
I don’t remember what year or model though my brother, George, will.
It was driven by a hat.
I am not kidding.
A hat.
A nice men’s hat.
I would stare in astonishment as this particular, peculiar vehicle drove past.
Just a hat.
It was the one time during our entire trip that I wouldn’t bother my dad.
Because I knew who that hat was.
It was Grampa Balog.
After it passed, I would slump down on the seat.
Why couldn’t have a hat for a Grampa?
A hat that could drive cars.
Some kids have all the luck.
Moving ahead many years . . .
Yesterday, I was driving with one of my grandkids.
One of the hundred-or-so cars that we passed was driven by someone I knew.
I waved.
“Gramma! Who was that?”
And I was instantly transported back fifty-plus years.
I was four years old again.
And my Dad knew everyone on the road.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Word master. 

I know you’ve done it.

I know I have.
Blurted out something that sounded a whole lot different in your head.
It’s true.
Your brain coughs up a thought.
And hits ‘send’.
Then, somehow, during transition, it gets . . . mixed up.
Maybe exposure to the air changes it.
And it ends up sounding like . . . nothing you intended.
My mom was a master at this.
Example one:
Picture Christmas Eve.
Every available surface in the kitchen groaning beneath seven layers of freshly-baked Christmas delicious-ness.
No supper in sight.
A starving son-in-law, passing the piles of goodies.
Hunger overcomes discretion.
He pops a butter tart into his mouth.
Mom, emerging from the point of action in front of the oven, red-faced and carrying yet another pan of treats, “Don’t eat that! It’s for Christmas!”
Example two:
Mom brings home the good peanut better.
Not the cheap un-homogenized stuff which allows all of the oil to rise to the top so that the upper layers are too creamy and the bottom layers need to be chiseled out with a hammer then passed through the meat grinder to make them of a consistency to spread.
Which tin, I should mention, is still on the shelf 3/4 full and gathering dust.
Sooo . . . the good peanut butter.
Which is immediately set upon by the ‘finickily-starved’ (I just made that up) peanut butter fiends that inhabit the house.
“I’m going to stop buying that peanut butter. You kids just eat it!”
Mom taught her daughters well.
I, too have had my share of ‘things-said-that-didn’t-come-out-just-right’.
We were discussing a young man of our acquaintance who had been born with weak joints in his hips.
My mother-in-law was cautioning my kids not to jump off the retaining wall in her back garden, citing this young man as an example of ‘damage that could follow’.
I knew that his condition was genetic.
Or congenital.
Which mean the same thing.
What came out was, “Oh, but I thought his condition was genital!”
Wait. Everybody un-hear that!
Just let me suck those words back into my mouth!
Admit it.
It’s happened to you . . .

Monday, September 5, 2016

Carrying On

I love the stories about my Dad’s mother, Grandma Stringam . . .

My paternal grandmother, Sarah Lovina Williams Stringam and her husband, George Lewis Stringam, homesteaded and raised their family in Glenwood, Alberta.
While Grandpa ranched and served in the legislature, Grandma worked in the home and community and as the accepted nurse/doctor in the rural area.
She is credited with saving many lives.
A little girl who was nearly frozen to death. Her own sister with diphtheria.
Several during the 1918 flu epidemic. Subjects of future posts.
But this story is about babies.
The Wood twins had been born four and a half months before to Mr. and Mrs. Glen Wood. The little ones were frail and sickly and still near their birth weight.
And now both of them had contracted pneumonia.
When Grandma arrived, their father was sitting in the kitchen with one of them.
He looked at Grandma and said, “Sister Stringam, I’m afraid you’re too late.”
Grandma told him not to speak that way. “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” she said.
Just then, the little one quit breathing. His father blew in his face and he revived.
Grandma told him to hold the baby for just a moment and she would get a mustard plaster to put on his chest.
The father just looked at her, so she stirred up a weak plaster, warmed it in the oven, and put it on the baby’s little chest until it turned pink.
Then she rubbed in oil and wrapped it in cotton batting. This seemed to make the baby breathe easier and it slept.
Both babies were coughing and Grandma called the nearest doctor half an hour away for instructions, but he told her he had done all he could for the babies and figured there was not much of a chance for them.
Grandma asked him, “Do you think I could give them mustard plasters?”
“Do you think they could stand them?”
“Oh, yes, if I’m careful.”
Then, the fateful words: “I don’t think they have a chance in the world. I’ve done all I can. Now it is up to you and the Lord. Do whatever seems best to you, Sister Stringam.”
So Grandma did. She and the babies’ parents took turns through the next days and nights caring for the two little ones.
By the end of a week, they had ‘improved greatly’ and Grandma was finally free to go home and care for her own family.
Though she didn’t agree, their parents insisted that Grandma had saved her babies.
When everyone else had given up, she carried on.
Sometimes, that makes all the difference.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Whatd'ja Get?

When one lives in the country, and rides the bus to school, one learns to take lunch.
I did.
Live in the country, take the bus and pack a lunch, I mean.
Lunch time was the high point of my school day.
The bell would ring.
The scramble for our various lunch boxes would be completed.
The inevitable question, "Whatd'ja get?" would be asked.
And serious eating would begin.
My Mom took extra pains to make our lunches varied and delicious.
With mixed results.
There was always the sandwich.
Which was the mainstay of ninety percent of our lunches.
Thick slices of homemade bread containing one of the following:
Tinned tuna salad. Yum.
Chicken Salad. Yum.
Ground Beef and pickle. Yum.
Peanut butter and honey. Double yum, as long as peanut butter had been liberally smeared on both slices of bread before the honey was added, because otherwise, the honey seeped into the bread and made a sort of . . . crust.
Not yum.
Peanut butter and jam. Easily exchanged for my neighbour's cold hamburger patty and mayo stuffed into a homemade bun. Yum.
Tinned salmon salad. Not in my lifetime. And not easily traded, either.
Hot dogs. The best. The very best.
I should mention, here, that microwaves existed only on Star Trek. And pre-packaged meals, like Lunchables, hadn't even been thought of.
Mom's hot dogs were an amazing feat.
She would cook the hot dogs while we were eating breakfast, then put two of them into our thermoses with a small quantity of the hot water.
Then seal it up.
Add a couple of hot dog buns wrapped in waxed paper, and a packet or two of ketchup and mustard and lunchtime couldn't come fast enough.
She always included some extras as well.
There was the inevitable sadly-bruised banana.
Which had looked perfectly good when it was put in.
Or the un-eat-able apple.
I've decided that the idea of gifting a teacher with an apple came from a student who simply didn't want to eat theirs. And had been taught that wasting food was unacceptable.
But I digress . . .
Mom also included a treat.
Usually something homemade and yummy.
Like squares.
Or her famous butterhorns.
Mmmm . . .
Occasionally, she would change things up a little.
When my thermos wasn't filled with hot dog deliciousness, she would usually put in chocolate milk or hot chocolate.
Either of which just nicely rounded out a lovely lunch.
Once, she put in something different.
But didn't tell me.
I saw the sandwiches, so I knew that hot dogs were out of the question.
So I did what I always did. Grabbed my thermos and shook up what was supposed to be milk and chocolate in some form.
Then I unscrewed the lid.
It hit the ceiling hard enough to bounce clear over to the door.
And brought students from every room down the hall to see who was opening champagne in the grade nine classroom.
I looked up from my fizzing-over thermos and grinned.
Umm . . . Mom had filled it with Seven-Up.
The first and only time.
Another attempt at variety.
A good one, but wasted on me.
Later, when I started making my own lunches, they included fresh tomato sandwiches.
Made from tomatoes that I sliced at school so the bread wouldn't get soggy.
And packages of cellophane-wrapped goodies.
The sandwiches were good.
Though they were made with store-bought bread.
But the treats never quite measured up.
To this day, when I hear someone mention lunch, I think of my Mom's homemade bread sandwiches, home-baked goodies, hot chocolate and my one experience with Seven-Up.
I miss those days.

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