Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, November 4, 2016

Potato Posterity

Okay . . . well . . . it's tougher than it looks.
My Mom could peel potatoes.
I mean, really peel potatoes.
She did it so fast, that, for years, I thought each potato had two peels.
Because there was always peel where I thought she had already . . .
Okay, so brilliant, I wasn't.
When I was ten, she decided the time had come for me to take my place in the 'potato peeling' scheme of things.
I have to point out that I had been totally fine in the whole 'watching' scenario. And really fine with the 'eating'.
But moms are never satisfied with the status quo.
And to top things off, she wasn't even there. She had put a roast in the oven, vegetables on the stove, ready to turn on.
I did know how to do that . . .
And a pan of potatoes to wash, peel and cook.
She even gave me a schedule.
At four o'clock, I reluctantly set down my book and headed into the kitchen.
I stared at the mound of potatoes and sighed. Surely there was a better way.
But this was the sixties. Instant anything was in its infancy.
And TV dinners were something other families ate.
I picked up a knife and started.
In my mind, I could picture Mom's sure, steady stroke, denuding each potato in seconds.
And in one long peel.
Reality was a bit . . . trickier. Little chunks of potato began to rain down into the bowl.
My potato skins seemed to be a lot thicker than Mom's.
Must be a different kind of potato.
Slowly . . . very slowly . . . the white potato began to emerge. Somewhat smaller than the original.
Okay, a lot smaller.
But finally it was finished.
I glanced at the clock. Suddenly, Mom's strict starting time instructions began to make sense.
This wasn't her first rodeo. Three older siblings has stood right where I was standing. Risking life and fingers in an effort to provide the family with dinner.
I picked up the second potato.
Half-an-hour later, I looked down, proudly, at my pristine bowl of newly-peeled potatoes.
What had once filled the bowl now . . . didn't.
I shrugged and put a pot on the stove. Filled it to the instructed depth with water. Added my potatoes.
And turned on the burner.
A few minutes later, Mom came home.
I proudly pointed to the now bubbling pots of potatoes and vegetables and waited for her praise.
She didn't disappoint. “Good job, Diane,” she said, smiling.
Happily, I went to set the table. A job I was comfortable with.
That was over forty years ago.
I did learn to peel potatoes. In a lot less time. And with a lot thinner peels.
I have never been able to match my Mom's lightning fast, and amazingly efficient knife, but I can make a fairly credible showing.
Or so I thought.
At a recent family dinner, two of my granddaughters, ages six and nine, peeled all of the potatoes for the meal.
And when you are feeding some twenty people, that is a mound.
They were quicker than I am.
I was suddenly reminded of my mom.
Sometimes excellence skips a generation. Or two.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Donkey Communication

One technique . . .
The neighbours shook on the agreement,
Both pleased with the ample outcome.
One had a small bag of money.
The other a helper/chum.

“Treat him gently,” the past owner cautioned.
“He’ll work hard if you’re quiet and nice.”
“That’s the method I find beneficial,
I do hope you’ll employ my advice.”

His neighbour and friend merely nodded.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “That I’ll do!”
Then he smiled at the beast’s former owner,
And happily bade him adieu.

Then he picked up the small donkey’s lead rope.
And started to lead him away.
But his new beast had other ideas,
All the creature would manage was, “Braaay!”

Through the day, that new owner tried coaxing,
With gaits from advance to reverse.
Till as the day aged and got darker,
Pleasantries got increasingly . . . worse.

As the last of the warm sunlight vanished.
His frustration had swelled to the brim.
He called his dear friend to inquire.
“What on earth can I do now? With him?!”

“I’ve tried coaxing and pleading and charming.
And patting and offering treats.
My gentility’s swiftly declining.
I am quickly approaching defeat!”

“I will come,” said his good friend and neighbour.
“For there’s something you clearly have missed.”
In a flash, the two friends stood together.
The past owner had come to assist.

“Now tell me ‘bout all you’ve attempted,”
He asked of his tired, red-faced friend.
“I won’t insinuate that you’re hopeless!
Though your schemes have not worked in the end!”

The new owner quickly apprised him.
Outlining the things he had tried.
The coaxings and pleadings and charmings,
The hands full of oats he applied.

The past owner was listening closely.
Then grabbed up a board near the shed.
And calmly approaching the donkey.
Whacked the beast once in the head.

The new owner stood in amazement,
Staring aghast at his pal,
“You said kindness was just what was needed.
I was using your own rationale!”

His friend merely smiled and nodded.
“There’s something you haven’t got yet.
Though gentle’s the much-preferred method.
His attention, at first, you must get!”

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Puppy Love

What's not to love, right?
I was in grade four.
Nine years old.
At the dawn of a new age.
I had discovered boys. Or more specifically, boy.
KS was smart.
Taller than me.
And my neighbor.
He had everything important going for him.
At first, I didn’t know what to do with my newfound crush. I really didn’t know what it was. I had had plenty of boy friends in the past.
Boys that I competed against at every opportunity.
But none that I just wanted to . . . be near.
Puzzled, I did all the normal things.
Followed him around at a discrete distance.
Hid behind cars and buildings if he looked in my direction.
Stared across the room at him in class.
Avoided him at recess.
What was this weird attraction?
I had suddenly developed mental ‘global positioning’. I could tell you the precise location of KS at any time of the day.
Without ever seeming to look at him.
I’m sure I was pretty obvious in my interest. But when you’re nine - and you wish it - you’re invisible.
And then . . . that day . . .
First, our class had a Box Social.
Okay, I know that dates me, but the fact remains.
All of the boys brought a box lunch for two and then shared it with his assigned ‘girl’ partner.
We lined up and the teacher numbered us off.
I tried to position myself so that I would match KS.
But my counting was off.
I ended up with a boy who brought peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
Peanut butter and banana? I had never heard of such a thing.
Nor had my stomach.
And the two of us agreed that we'd be happier with our mutual ignorance.
I looked longingly across the playground at KS and his partner.
Happily munching on whatever KS had brought.
Later that day, tired of listening to my bleating, my friends cornered KS and his friends and wrung a confession out of him.
He liked me!
It was the happiest day of my life!
So what did we do then?
We were nine.
Oh, occasionally, we would . . . you know . . . talk. I called him on the phone once, to beg a ride to church. And once, I sat next to him in Sunday School class.
But that’s about it.
My family moved. And soon another crush filled my life.
Moving ahead.
I hadn’t seen or thought about KS for nearly fifty years.
Then, one day, there he was in my church congregation.
Now, until that moment, I couldn’t remember what the nine-year-old boy had looked like.
But I knew him as soon as I saw him.
Strangely, he hadn’t changed much at all.
And definitely older.
But still that boy.
My first crush.
It made me smile.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Those Bodily Functions

For those of you who associate with them, you know that little boys find bodily functions hilarious.
Screamingly so. 
If someone passes, in the course of living, a bit of air – either up or down – the little boys in the room are rolling on the floor laughing (Or ROFL in text-speak).
The subtleties that may be a by-product of such occurrences, they might be missing.
Maybe I should explain . . .
My eldest granddaughter had just finished eating.
Things were processing nicely.
In the course of said processing, a bit of air was released.
Resulting in an explosion commonly known as a ‘belch’.
She smiled and said:
“Excuse me for my rudeness. 
It wasn’t very smart.
But if it'd gone the other way,
It would have been a . . .”
She judiciously paused there.
Her little brother bobbed up from whatever he had been doing and shouted, “Strawberry!”
Sometimes, they get it.
And sometimes . . . they don’t.
Burpee. With ice cream mustache.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Doing What They See

Grandma was babysitting.
Cousins, the two-year-old (H) and the three-year-old (B) had been playing in the front room.
Occasional outbursts over the train.
The doll.
The stroller.
The spot on the couch.
Whose turn it was to breathe the surrounding air . . .
Had been painstakingly and endlessly sorted out.
Silence had descended.
There’s nothing quite as suspicious as two toddlers who have gone quiet. 
Grandma hurried to investigate, skidding to a stop in the entry to the living room.
The two little girls were still playing. But had changed things up a bit . . .
B held a tiny water paint set in one hand. In the other, the dry miniscule brush. “Look at me, please,” she said.
H was seated, facing her older cousin.
B was ‘painting’ H’s face. “Look at me, please,” she said again. She applied a couple of strokes. “Look at me, please.” A couple more.
Grandma smiled and stood quietly watching.
Have I mentioned that B’s mom is a face-painter? Well, she is.
A good one.
It doesn’t matter what we try to teach them, kids do what they see us do.
 Actions definitely speak louder than words.
Although in this case, the words are nice, too . . .
The novice
The professional

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