Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Lady Killer

I seem to have a way with turkeys.
If you missed yesterday’s post, see it here.
Go ahead. We’ll wait . . .
He was handsome.
He was fit.
He was attractive.
He had the moves.
And he had eyes only for me.
Oh, and he was covered in feathers.
Maybe I should explain . . .
In the town of Coaldale, Alberta is the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre. A centre dedicated to the rehabilitation of injured raptors. The stories of the hundreds of birds already helped back to the wild is inspiring. Visiting the place is an experience.
There are demonstrations and education stations throughout the site. Majestic birds with various injuries are glimpsed during their rehabilitation exercises. One, a golden eagle named Spirit, blinded by a shot from a careless hunter, is particularly exciting. 
Especially up close.
Visitors can walk along the pathways and watch the antics of owls, hawks and eagles.
And one Turkey Vulture.
Snoopy, unable to fly or survive in the wild due to various injuries, has been a happy attraction of the centre for several years.
When my family arrived, he was contentedly staked out with a long tether, enjoying the sun.
As I approached, he fanned out his tail, ruffled his feathers, clicked his beak and spread his not-unimpressive wings. Then he hopped toward me and . . . strutted. Hey, hey, hey lady! Like what you see? Huh? Do you? Huh?
Reaching the end of his tether, he continued to swivel back and forth, allowing every feather its opportunity to (quite literally) shine.
I called Husby over. “Look at this guy!”
Husby moved closer.
And that’s when the show ended. Every feather was slicked flat. Wings folded and tail snapped shut.
Snoopy just sat there. The very picture of indignant male. Oh, I see! You’ve already made your choice. Well, sucks to be you, lady!
Husby smiled and moved on.
“No!” I said. “He was different! He was all . . . ruffled!”
But Husby had already moved ahead to one of the hawk exhibits.
I looked back at Snoopy.
And received a shock. 
Once more, his feathers stood on end. His wings and tail were spread. He was again looking at me. He shook his wings invitingly. How about now, lady? That guy is gone. All of this could be yours! Last chance . . .
One of the attendants moved past. “Oh, I see you’ve discovered Snoopy,” she said. “He likes the ladies!”
Snoopy the lady killer.
An appropriate title for a bird from a raptor centre.
With a totally different meaning . . .
Mr. Sexy.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Turkey Talk

I am bilingual.
Oh, not in the way you imagine.
My second language really isn't that practical.
Truth be told, I don't even know what I'm saying.
But the fact remains that I can speak another language.
Maybe I should explain . . .
My kids and I loved spending time at Fort Edmonton Park.
It's a stroll through Edmonton's history.
There's a bona fide re-creation of an 1846 fort.
And a small town.
Comprised of 'dated' streets.
1885 Street, devoted to life in Edmonton when dust and mud were king and electricity was something only Jules Verne imagined.
1905 Street, when modern dreams were beginning.
And 1920 Street, where modern conveniences and votes for women have become reality.
There are shops and residences with actors portraying very real Edmontonians of the past.
It was (and is) fun.
And we loved it.
We spent nearly every Thursday there throughout the summer.
Walking on stilts.
Playing games.
Eating baking fresh from the ovens.
Visiting the shops.
Inter'acting' with the actors.
It was a great way to spend a day.
Then we found the flock of turkeys behind one of the residences.
And that's when I discovered that I could speak a second language.
Turkeys make a distinct 'mmmmbladladladladladladladladl' sound.
And I could mimic it.
You want to talk talent?
We stood at the side of their large pen and I 'talked' to them.
The male got quite animated.
He ruffled his feathers and puffed up his facial dangly bits and marched around importantly.
It was very entertaining.
The kids would urge me on. “Come on Mom! Say something else!”
And I'd do my mmmmbladladladladladladladladl.
And the turkey would get apoplectic.
We even drew a crowd.
“Look! That woman can talk to the turkeys.”
Okay. Sometimes, you have to look for your entertainment.
And you have to admit that not everyone can talk turkey.
P.S. Guinea Pigs and I also have a history.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Bus To Imagination

Oh, the places we went . . .
Mom was washing the floor.
Something she did often.
I should mention also that, when Mom washed the floor, she WASHED the floor.
Everything portable was carried into the next room.
She got down on her knees with a pail of hot, soapy water and scrubbed.
Then she applied wax.
Then she ran the polisher. Which looked like a big, green bug on a long stick.
Just FYI.
The floor shone like a mirror. Perfect for sliding on with stocking feet.
But this story isn't about that.
This story starts where she carted the portable stuff into the next room . . .
As soon as the chairs appeared in the living room, George and I would materialize from what ever places we had disappeared into when Mom announced that she needed helpers to wash the floors.
Ahem . . .
We would line the chairs up, one behind the other.
Voila! Bus.
George would be the bus driver and I would be the lady with the 400 children riding in the back.
Okay, you're right. I didn't have 400 children.
But I did have 400 stuffed animals. Sheesh. You're such a stickler for details.
Moving on . . .
Happily, we played until Mom finished with the floors and came out to dismantle our playground.
Actually, it was the one time in the week that George and I did play happily together.
A thing of note.
Oh, the places we went.
The children we dropped out of the windows and off benches.
Good times.
An aside: the couch worked well for a bus, too. (But there was just something about articles of furniture sitting where they usually . . . didn't . . . that inspired play.)
Moving ahead many, many years.
Some of our grandchildren were over for a visit.
Two of the kids had lined up several of grandma's stools.
I was holding granddaughter number five.
So I was instructed that I could be the mommy in the back with the baby.
Number three grandson, announced that he would drive.
It was then that I realized - they were playing bus.
I sat in the back as I had been told and I had to smile.
Suddenly, I was four years old again.
It was a good feeling.
P.S. Just FYI, the baby I was holding was neither dropped out of a window or off the bench. I know you were worried...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Does a Bear **** in the Woods?

You see a fence post. We see . . . 
Okay, I’m apologizing up front for this story.
It’s . . . gritty. So to speak.
Ahem . . .
I’ve always wondered about toilet paper ads.
Softer. Stronger. More effective.
I mean, why advertise this stuff?
Are there people who are not buying it?
Actually . . . yes.
Think of the people who live in places where dropping over to the local grocery store is really not a possibility. Like those in the deepest, darkest part of the jungle.
And their banana leaves.
Okay, I understand. Soft. Strong. Effective.
Now think of the cowboys on the wide, wide prairie.
Where there are no trees at all and leaves simply aren’t an option.
What are they going to do when nature . . . hollers?
Case in point . . .
Dad was out with his dad doing . . . cowboy stuff. Fencing and exploring the joys of barbed wire.
They were far from the ranch house and even farther from the miracle of indoor plumbing and its accoutrements.
Grandpa had to go.
You know what I mean.
He turned to Dad. “I’ll be right back,” he said.
Dad nodded and continued with what he was doing.
Grandpa set down his fencing pliers and pulled out his pocket knife.
Dad stared at him, confused. Didn’t he just say . . .?
Grandpa walked over to one of the cedar fence posts and, using said knife, shaved off several pieces of wood.
Then he smiled at Dad and disappeared over the nearest hill.
Can anyone say ‘ouch’?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

To Jerry. On His Birthday.

Posted this a few years ago as a tribute to my eldest brother on his birthday.
And guess what? It's his birthday again!
Jerry. My Hero. Age two.
Jerry is my oldest brother. The one, chosen by the rest of us, most likely to be just like Dad. In my earliest memories of him, he is working. Hoeing the garden, mending fence, riding, milking cows. Always busy. Always cheerful. Always teasing. 
He could put just the right inflection on the most innocent of phrases and it was enough to send his middle sister into paroxysms of anger. 
His favourite? “Oh, Diane!” Pronounced more like, “Oh, Di-Anne!” 
With the buffer of many years, it doesn’t seem so bad. Rather cute, really. But at the time, it was enough to set me off like a miniature Mount Vesuvius. 
The old phrase, “If we hated you, we’d ignore you,” certainly applied to Jerry. He must have truly loved us. He’d take us everywhere. Riding. Sledding. Swimming. Exploring. 
You’d just have to be prepared to put up with the teasing.
Jerry was the most amazing swimmer. He was the only one of us kids who could make headway against the current of the river. The rest of us were pretty proud when we could hold our own. That wasn’t good enough for Jerry. He would dive in and battle the current. And win. Races against him were moot. 
The one good thing about the constant competition, however, was that when we were given swimming lessons, we could out swim all of the other kids. We weren’t weak swimmers.
Just weak against Jerry.
Dad had purchased a small ranch in the Coaldale area. Over an hour from the Milk River spread. A logistical nightmare for one man to run. But an adventure if said man put his four eldest kids on one of the ranches for the summer.Which he did.
Soon after we took possession, however, we discovered an entirely unexpected crop which our new ranch produced in abundance.
Big ones.
Jerry and George were hauling in the hay. Jerry on top of the stack . . . ummm . . . stacking. George tossing bales up to him. Jerry sat down on a bale, waiting for George to bring in the next stook. Just as his butt touched the bale, he heard the unmistakable, ‘tell-tail’sound of a rattler. Sure enough, curled there at his feet was a small rattler, poised to strike.
Without conscious thought, Jerry pitched sideways off the stack, neatly avoiding being bitten. Then, boys being boys, the two of them closed in for the kill.
Sometime later, I was interrupted from my morning chore of . . . doing nothing . . . by the ring of the doorbell. Excited at the prospect of company, I raced for the door, only to discover – no one. 
I opened the door for a better view. Maybe someone was . . . you know . . . pressed up tightly against the wall so they couldn’t be seen from the doorway.
There, coiled neatly on the front step was a rattler. I never really noticed that it was rather . . . lifeless. 
Panic first, think after. That’s my motto. 
I screamed. And almost pitched backwards down the stairs. Then I heard laughter. And saw two brothers’ sunburned faces peeking around the door. “Did it scare you?”
No, this is my usual slap-dash method of pitching down stairs, but thanks for thinking of me. 
My friends wanted to walk into town and visit Charley’s. The soda shop hang-out.
But I needed money. And neither of my parents were anywhere around. In disgust, I kicked at the dusty road and resigned myself to sitting and watching everyone else consume floats or shakes. Maybe, out of pity, offer me a sip.
Suddenly, Jerry emerged from the feed lot. The answer to my prayers. Maybe he would lend me a dime, or if I was really lucky, a quarter.
Okay, so my expectations weren’t very high.
I asked him. He grinned. One of two things was going to happen. Either he’d lend me money. 
Or tease me. 
And then lend me money. The day was mine.
“You can have all the money that’s in my pocket,” he said.
Uh-oh. A trick. He must be a broke as I. He reached into his pocket and pulled out . . . a handful of change. 
Pennies, dimes, nickels, quarters. I felt as though I had hit the jackpot. 
And he poured the glittering contents – all of it – into my waiting hands. I had enough for . . . anything . . . everything. He just smiled. And went to start chores.
Jerry was out in the feedlot, feeding the yearling bulls.Now let me point out here that yearling bulls are just like puppies. They love to play. And chase each other. And play. The major difference is that they weigh in the neighbourhood of 1000 pounds. A bit larger than your average pooch.

I had decided that I wanted to be where Jerry was. Maybe I could help. 
Or get in the way. 
I was equally good at both. I climbed the heavy board fence and sat on the top rail, watching. Jerry was pouring buckets of feed into the troughs and the bulls were delicately picking at it. Politely allowing everyone his own space. Not.
When feeding cattle, pushing and shoving is the norm. Reaching over or under your neighbour to get that tasty morsel directly in front of him - equally common. Manners flee when a bucket of grain comes into sight. 
For some time, this supper brawl fascinated me. I watched as these overly-muscled and underly-intelligent ‘adolescents’ bickered and fought over their evening meal. But as with anything, watching soon became boredom and I wanted to be in there. Ummm . . . helping. I scrambled down off the fence and started towards my brother. One young ‘Four-Footed Apollo’ spotted me. Someone to play with! He bounced towards me in his finest ‘let’s play!’ mode. The invitation on his part was misunderstood on mine.
All I saw was a mass of solid muscle, encased in a red hide, coming at me, death in his soft brown eyes. 
I screamed. 
And ran. 
Which was exactly what the bull was looking for. He followed. Still bouncing. This was fun!
I reached the fence just as my brother entered the fray. 
With a 5-gallon pail in one hand and an aluminum grain shovel in the other, he went for my attacker.
He swung the empty bucket at one side of the bull’s rump. That got his attention. Then, with the same accuracy and effectiveness, he bounced the shovel off the other side. The bull immediately forgot his erstwhile game with me and started back across the corral with Jerry in hot pursuit. Swinging the bucket, then the shovel, my brother chased the thoroughly frightened young bull, shouting with each blow, “Leave. My. Sister. Alone!”
My hero.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Tummy Yummies

Mom was right about the cake . . .
My Baby Sister, aged two, had crawled up on my Mom’s lap.
It was cuddling time.
I should probably mention that this didn’t happen often.
Cuddling, I mean.
Oh, not because Mom didn’t wish it.
It was because we couldn’t get Baby Sister to slow down long enough to stay in one place.
She was one of those children who are always as bit blurry around the edges.
Because they are moving so fast.
Where was I?
Oh, yes.
Cuddling time.
Mom held her close.
Then counted her tiny, pink toes.
And all of her fingers.
And finally poked her round little tummy.
“What’s in there?” she asked.
Baby Sister looked at her and shrugged.
“Are there yummy things in there?”
Baby Sister looked at her tummy, lifting her little dress to see better. Then she looked back at Mom.
Mom went on. “Maybe there’s some cake and ice cream.”
Baby Sister’s eyes got wide.
“And some cookies. Maybe some pie and candy and pudding.”
With each new treat mentioned, Baby Sister’s blue eyes got wider and wider.
“And chocolate.”
Baby Sister could stand it no longer.
She pulled her dress up as far as she could. “Open it!” she said, pointing to her tummy. “Open it, Mommy!”
Enough talk. Let's get to the good stuff . . .

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Junk Collections of the Future

I had saved forever!
It was mine!
It's not fair!
Maybe I should explain . . .
In the early sixties, exciting things came in the mail.
Okay, yes, they still do.
But somehow, getting stuff in the mail is just a bit more exciting when you are eight.
Isn't it a beauty?
At least it was for me.
Probably because it didn't happen often.
Dad would stop at the post office and come out with the usual bushel basket of ranch mail.
Whereupon (good word) I would pounce.
“Dad! Is there anything for me?”
He would look at me, smile and say,” What's your name?”
“Sorry. Nope.”
I got smarter. Or at least more efficient. “Dad! Is there anything for me? My name's Diane.”
But the answer seldom changed.
“Sorry. Nope.”
But when I was eight, I discovered that you could 'order' stuff.
Free stuff. Lots and lots of it. The back pages of literally every magazine had rows and rows of ads from companies who were just aching to mail it to you.
It was a whole new world.
I scoured every magazine, gleaning offers of free stuff and sent out dozens of requests.
Then started receiving packages in the mail.
Games and puzzles.
It was like Christmas every time Dad went for the mail.
Now he no longer asked what my name was, he simply handed me packages.
Ahhhh. Valhalla.
Then I discovered something else.
First a little sidenote: Dad always kept a stock of ice cream and ice cream treats in the freezer.
For special times.
We weren't allowed to eat them without permission, though.
But that was all right because we received permission a lot.
I'm sure you're wondering what this has to do with ordering stuff.
That part comes now . . .
The ice cream treats had wrappers. Normally, we would simply throw them away when they had fulfilled their purpose. Then I discovered that there were offers printed on them.
From 'Popsicle Pete', whoever that was.
Offers for 'free' stuff.
Okay, I realize that they weren't strictly free, being as you had to buy the ice cream.
But I digress . . .
If you collected 'X' number of wrappers, you could order 'Y'.
I studied the selection.
I made my choice.
And hoarded my wrappers.
Eons later, I finally had enough. I could order that super amazing, extra special . . . knife.
Just what every eight-year-old needs, right?
Oh it wasn't just any knife. There was a picture of a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman on it.
And it cost me every one of my 14 wrappers.
It was to become the heart of my collection.
Of stuff.
I sent out my wrappers.
And waited.
And waited.
Finally, Dad handed me that extra special package.
I tore into the paper and triumphantly held up my knife.
Whereupon (Oooh. Twice in one post.) Mom grabbed it.
“Diane! What are you doing with this?”
I stared at her. “It's mine. I ordered it.”
“You can't play with a knife!”
“I wasn't going to play with it!”
“What were you going to do with it?”
“Ummm . . . cut stuff?”
“Right. Your fingers, probably.” Mom carried my special treasure to the cupboard.
The one above the fridge. Incidentally, the only one in the whole house that I couldn't get to.
“Mom! I bought that!”
“I know, dear,” she said. “And I will give it back to you. After you turn ten.”
I stared at her in disbelief. “Ten?!”
“Yes. By that time, you will be old enough to own a knife.”
Ten?! That was forever!
I stared up at the cupboard.
Then at my Mom.
She couldn't possibly mean it.
“But . . . I bought it,” I said again, weakly. Maybe it would have more impact this time.
“I know, dear,” Mom said.
“But . . .” I could think of nothing else to say.
That's when the tears started.
Even those failed to move her.
For years, my knife had its home in that cupboard. Not to be discovered until we moved.
“Huh,” she said. “Look, Diane. Here's your knife.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot,” I said. I took it from her and looked at it. “Cute.”
“Diane! Can I have the knife?” It was my little brother, Blair.
Age? Ten.
I handed it to him.
One should never have to wait for their fun.

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