Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Being Santa

Husby and me. In our alter egos.
Picture by Ealanta Photography
It's the single best job anywhere. Ever.
And all it takes is a bit of red cloth. Some fur.
A beard.
And a big smile.
Seriously. Who wouldn't do this?
For several years, Husby and I have been appearing at parties and malls as Santa and Mrs.
There's nothing quite like the cheer that goes up when we step into a hall.
The rewards are immediate and long-lasting.
From the sweet:
"Santa, I love you!" from the little girl who just dropped her coat on the floor and dove into Santa's arms.
To the practical:
"Santa, I've been waiting all year for you!" from the little boy with the long list.
And the funny:
"Santa, that's my sister. She doesn't deserve anything because she always fights with me." from the little boy with the freckles and the cowlick.
To the touching:
"Santa, I need your help. My Dad's sick." from the little boy with the eyes that are too sad for this normally joyous time of year.
Husby takes a few moments for each of them. Gently and tenderly giving them their little bit of uninterrupted, precious and personal 'Santa Time'.
Acting as Santa to the kids is wonderful.
But the reaction from people when we are en-route is just as much fun.
Yesterday, kitted out in our red finery, we were stopped at a stop light.
In the time it took for the light to change, we heard that the man in the truck next to us had been a good boy.
That the woman on the other side really needed help with her mortgage payments.
And that the woman in front of us wanted a boyfriend. And also, where was our sleigh?
I can't think of a single other character who is as instantly recognizable and universally loved.
It's like being a rock star.
In fur and velvet.
Yep. Best. Job. Ever.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Parade of (Im)Possibilities: Conclusion

A time for . . . . busy-ness.
While Santa and Mrs. are out . . . Santa and Mrs-ing . . . I'm posting one of my favourite Christmas stories.
If you've just joined us, the first part is here.
The second, here.
And the third, here.
Go ahead and catch up. 
We'll wait . . . 


For the next several weeks, the town was abuzz with talk from both Jenna Grace's camp and from
F. Roddy's.
Floats were being assembled in nearly every available garage.
Both town bands, the high school marching and the veteran's brass were rehearsing nightly.
Not one, but two Town Sweetheart contests were held. (The town's one hair dresser worked straight out for two days solid, finally collapsing into her own wash chair after completing Mrs. Jasper's elaborate upsweep.)
And, strangely, two Santas had been engaged. Sleighs, reindeer and all.
Colorful posters from F. Roddy's group began to appear, proclaiming the date and route of the much-anticipated parade.
But before anyone could read them, they were quietly replaced by posters from Jenna Grace's camp.
Which were subsequently torn down and replaced themselves.
This went on until the very day of the parade.
But, as the date and time were consistent in both, the general populace didn't really take much notice of the details, other than that the route would, at some time or other, follow main street.
Thus it was with great anticipation, that the entire town, or at least those few who were not actually in the parade, lined the single main street on the chosen date.
The day was perfect.
Snow had fallen, but only enough to provide a white backdrop to the festivities.
The air was crisp, not too cold, but just enough to put a snap into the air and tint cheeks and noses pink.
The hot chocolate vendor in front of the city hall was doing a brisk business, as was the hot cider man across the street in front of the pool hall.
The smell of freshly-roasted nuts and popcorn filled the air and made smiling mouths water.
There was much talk and laughter and jostling for position.
Finally, the sound of drums.
Everyone stilled and necks craned as people tried to catch the first glimpse of the marching bands which would lead the way.
"They're coming from that way!" Mayor Mayor shouted, pointing to the north.
"No, I think I can hear them coming from this way," Kevin Rhymes said, pointing in the opposite direction.
People strained first one direction, then the other.
Surely the music was coming from both directions?
Sudden movement.
Ah. There, led by F. Roddy Digby enthusiastically swinging a long, gold Marshal's pole, were the town veterans, their brass instruments gleaming in the noon sun, as they blared out their own version of 'Jingle Bells'.
Behind them, colorful floats and decorated bicycles.
Wait. There was more music.
Different music.
Peoples' heads spun back as the High School marching band came into sight.
From the opposite direction.
Led by a smiling Jenna Grace Chappell, waving her own shining symbol of authority, and stepping brightly to the strains of 'Here Comes Santa Claus', they quickly closed the gap that separated the two bands.
Two bands?
Two parades!
The people clapped and cheered.
This was the best parade ever!
For a moment, anyway.
When the two groups were no more than twenty feet apart, Jenna Grace and F. Roddy suddenly came to a stop.
Facing each other.
In the very center of main street.
Each parade came to a halt behind them, stepping smartly in place as the bands continued their respective musical selections.
Narrow-eyed, Jenna Grace and F. Roddy glared at each other, still continuing to beat to the music with their Marshall's poles.
Then F. Roddy raised his eyebrows. "What are you going to do now, Chappell?" he shouted, grinning.
Jenna Grace's eyes flared and, without warning, she swung her Marshal's pole like a baseball bat.
F. Roddy let his pole slide through his fingers and turned to meet the blow.
A hollow 'clang' rang out over the combined music of both orchestras.
It acted like a signal.
Still marching in place, the bands immediately increased their volume.
Attempting to drown out their opposition.
The two Marshals in the center were doing a lively dance, swinging and ducking as they alternately tried to hit their opponent and avoid the other's pole.
The cacophony of sound increased.
Brasses versus brasses, drums against drums, and over it all, the hollow 'crash' and 'clang' of the two Marshal's poles.
The respective songs ended.
One of the tuba players collapsed against his fellows as he blasted out one final note.
There was a moment of comparative silence as each group drew breath to begin again.
Only the rat-tat-tat of the snare drums continued, along with the occasional sound of Marshal's pole meeting Marshal's pole and the grunt of the two protagonists.
Suddenly, Jenna Grace's pole found its way through F. Roddy's defense and hit him squarely in the solar plexus.
F. Roddy went down like a sack of potatoes.
But as he went, he lost his grip on his pole and it fell with evil precision, hitting the top of Jenna Grace's head, who summarily joined him on the pavement.
At that moment, a lone trumpeter began to play 'Let There be Peace on Earth'.
The rest of his orchestra took up the tune.
Then the players from the opposite group joined in.
For the first time, real music drifted from the assembled musicians.
Then the trumpets in the front row of the Veteran's band glanced towards First street open before all of them and looked back at their fellows in the other orchestra.
The front row trumpets of the High School band nodded and both groups turned, as one, and started down this new path.
Soon the rest of the two parades were following (adroitly avoiding their two erstwhile leaders now sitting up dazedly on the hard pavement), and weaving together to form one giant procession.
The assembled townspeople followed, clapping and laughing and also pointedly stepping around the two on the ground.
Soon Jenna Grace Chappell and F. Rodney Digby were alone in an empty street.
They stared at each other.
Finally, F. Roddy picked up his much abused Marshall's pole. He looked at it for a moment, then sighed softly and struggled to his feet. "May I assist you?" 
"Yes. Please," Jenna Grace replied, reaching for her own battered pole.
F. Roddy held out a hand and helped her up.
The two of them walked shakily over to the curb and sat down.
For several seconds they remained there, listening to the fading music.
F. Roddy frowned. "So, where did we go wrong?"
"I don't know," Jenna Grace replied. "But we did go wrong. Somewhere."
Again, they were silent.
"Care for a cup of hot chocolate?" F. Roddy asked.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Parade of (Im)Possibilities: Part Three

Christmas has gotten busy.
For these few days, I'm re-posting one of my Christmas stories.
I do hope you enjoy!

If you missed part one, wherein our antagonists (and I do mean antagonists!) were introduced, you can go here
Part Two (where their community fervor is ummm . . . fervored) is here.
Go ahead. I'll get a hot chocolate and be here when you get back . . .

Part Three.

Over tiny chicken sandwiches, the Ladies Aid discussed the certain disaster that was to befall their tiny town on December 3.
Mrs. Jasper got so animated that she spilled her tea.
Right into Mrs. Wayan's lap.
A portent of things to come . . .

The first meeting of the Christmas parade committee was held on October 13.
Chairs had been set up in a non-committal and unbiased circle in the center of the high school gym.
Jenna Grace and F. Roddy were among the first to arrive.
Pointedly ignoring each other, they took seats at polar opposite sides of the circle.
Then they spent the remaining few minutes alternately ignoring or glaring at the other.
Reba wheeled in a coffee/tea cart and parked it beside a waiting table. She pulled out several pans of bars and divided her time between slicing and setting out and hovered anxiously over a fat tea kettle.
The room began to fill with chatting, happy people.
They drifted over to the refreshments and filled plates and cups. Then they found seats in the circle.
The two already seated said nothing.
Slowly, the chatter died out and people uncomfortably concentrated on eating and drinking.
Jenna Grace cleared her throat. "Well, now that we have finished with the 'party' part of the meeting, maybe we can get down to business."
"Exactly what I was going to say," F. Roddy said. "If you hadn't ignored decorum and jumped in."
"Decorum?" Jenna Grace's eyebrows went up. "I just thought someone with a brain should take charge."
"And you just assumed that could be you?" F. Roddy looked at his fingernails.
Jenna Grace puffed up like a toad. "What are you saying, Froddy?" she said. "That you should be in charge?"
"Well you got something right," F. Roddy said, ignoring her mocking use of his name.
The crowd had gone completely silent by this time and were watching the two carefully, their heads swiveling back and forth from one to the other.
Jenna Grace calmed herself with obvious effort. "I think we should put the person in charge who has already proved their leadership skills," she said, smoothing one hand over her immaculate hair.
Jenna Grace always wore her grey-streaked hair scraped tightly into a bun at the back of her head. The thought of even one lock escaping was unthinkable.
"And just what have you organized?" F. Roddy demanded. "I know they were looking for someone to run the cock-fighting out at Cowells. Is it your fine hand we see in that?"
Jenna Grace puffed up again. "How dare you!" she hissed.
"Oh. Sorry. Was there something else?"
"You know dam - darn well, Froddy, that I've organized and directed the Ice Cream Festival for the past eight years!" she shouted.
"Maybe one day there'll be actual ice cream there," F. Roddy said.
Jenna Grace surged to her feet. "I refuse to sit here and be insulted!" she said, and turning smartly, marched towards the door.
"Good. Now you can go somewhere else to be insulted," F. Roddy said.
A sharp "Harrumph" was his only response.
The door banged shut.
"Well, now maybe we can get down to business," F. Roddy said.
An uncomfortable silence met him.
"I'm sorry, F. Roddy," Dennis said, getting to his feet. "I agreed to work with Jenna Grace and I'd better honor that."
F. Roddy nodded. "Anyone else?"
Several other people stood up and followed Dennis out the door.
"Well, that's that," F. Roddy said. "Now shall we get down to work?"
Surprisingly, they managed to plan the basic framework for the entire celebration.
"See what you can accomplish when you have the right people?" F. Roddy asked.
Meanwhile, Jenna Grace had circled her wagons on the far side of town.
"Well," she said, tapping several sheets of paper together. "I think that's enough for our first evening. You have all been remarkably efficient and cooperative. Our basic plan is complete. Now all that's left is to flesh it out."

Stay with us. Tomorrow is the shocking conclusion Bow River will never forget!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Parade of (Im)Possibilities: Part Two

Christmas. The busy time has started and Santa and Mrs. are in high demand.
(It's a good thing!)
Santa and Me.
Over the next four days, I'm reprinting one of my most popular Christmas short stories.
I hope you enjoy it!
If you missed Part One, it's here.
Go ahead. We'll wait . . .

Part Two.

During the weekly town council meeting on October 11, Councilor Makepeace proposed that a Parade Marshal be appointed for the fast approaching Christmas Parade, a highlight of the town's year.
Several names were put forward.
But two people seated impatiently in the crowd surged to their feet.
"I would like to propose my own name," Jenna Grace said loudly.
"And I would like to propose mine," F. Roddy was a breath behind her.
They turned and glared at each other, then, facing the council once more, reiterated their proposals.
With a bit more volume.
"I would like to volunteer!" they said together.
Another glare.
"Me! Me!"
Mayor Mayor stood up and waved two pudgy hands. "We'd like to thank our two volunteers," he said, soothingly. "We appreciate your willingness to give of yourselves and your time," He chuckled. "The council will consider your proposals and get back to you tomorrow."
Mumbling to themselves, Jenna Grace and F. Roddy resumed their seats.
Each shot one last heated glare in the other's direction, then finally subsided.
The meeting concluded and the room emptied, leaving only the council members.
"Well, what do you think we should do?" Karen asked Mayor Mayor.
"I don't have the foggiest idea," he said, smiling at her.
"I have an idea," another councilor, Kevin Rhymes, said.
"Please, Kevin. We welcome any and all suggestions," the mayor said.
"Well, why don't we have the two of them work together?"
"Well, let's face it," Kevin said. "The two of them are trying to drum up votes for the by-election in January, right?"
"I'm sure that's what's behind this sudden surge of community spirit," Karen said.
"Well, let's let them," Kevin said. "See how well they work with each other."
"How well the children play together in the sandbox?" Mayor Mayor said.
The councilors laughed.
"What do you think?" Kevin glanced around at the group.
"Well," the mayor said slowly, "it certainly might prove interesting."
"To say the least," Karen said quietly.
"I think we should let them," another councilor spoke up.
"I agree," said another.
"Shall we hold a little ad hoc vote?" the mayor asked.
"I'm in favor," Kevin said.
"You're the one who proposed it," Karen made a face at him.
He grinned. "So that's one vote."
"What about the rest of you?" the mayor asked.
"I think it's a great idea!"
"I'm in favor."
Finally he turned to Karen. "Things seem to be unanimous, Karen," he said. "Except for you."
Karen shrugged. "Who am I to stand in the way of progress," she said. "I agree."
"Okay, who wants to let them know?"

Stay tuned tomorrow for part three of four!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Parade of (Im)Possibilities

Christmas.The busy time has started and Santa and Mrs. are in high demand.
(It's a good thing!)
Santa and Me.
Over the next four days, I'm reprinting one of my most popular Christmas short stories.
I hope you enjoy it!

Part One:

It was the most exciting Christmas Parade in our town's history.
Just not for the right reasons.
Maybe I should explain.
Our town, Bow Bank, Alberta, lies nestled in the crook of a branch of the Milk River. It's a quiet, sleepy little place that really hasn't changed much in the past 50 years.
Families live here. Worship here. Grow here.
The current mayor, Hector Mayor, is a happy fellow, with a large heart and an equally large girth.
And endowed with a great sense of humor. Well let's face it, with a title like Mayor Mayor, a sense of humor is rather important. He's been in office for over fifteen years and rules our town with a fatherly and liberal hand.
His council has followed him in every decision he's ever made.
Well, until recently, that is.
In October, rumors started swirling through the Ladies Aid that things were not as they should be among the place holders on council.
And the rumors proved to be true.
It turned out that Rand Digby, he of the sweet wife and seven children, had eyes for another of the council members.
First timer, Karen Makepeace.
Fortunately, she was not like-minded and stopped him in his tracks.
So to speak.
But the scandal hit the airwaves, becoming the hottest topic of discussion at the Ladies Aid over the latest charity quilt and accompanying cups of herbal tea and tiny petits fours.
The result was that Mrs. Digby and her brood abruptly pulled up stakes and fled to her mother's.
Rand followed shortly, apologies spilling forth, but the damage was done.
His wife refused to return to the scene of her humiliation and the now-repentant Rand refused to return without her.
When the dust had finally settled, a council seat was vacant.
A by-election was called and two people threw their hats into the ring. Jenna Grace Chappell (Not like the church, mind! Two 'l's' and two 'p's', thank you very much!), the local librarian.
And F. Rodney Digby (or F. Roddy, as he preferred) the elementary school principal and younger brother to Rand, he of the slippery morals and newly-repentant spirit.
The by-election was set for January.
The contest was on.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Rising Without Shining

Go ahead! Sing!
How do you 'rise and shine'?
Throughout my life, I have been summoned from sleep in various ways.
Some gentle.
Some strident.
All annoying.
My mom, a member of the 'never wake a sleeping child' sorority, let me sleep in till I woke up on my own.
Well, until I went to school, that is.
Then, her usual wake up call consisted of, “Diane! Get up! The bus will be here in ten minutes!”
Okay, I will admit that she usually called me much earlier than that.
I just wasn't listening.
Dad's form of summoning consisted of one word. “Spring!” And it was always obeyed instantly.
Mom, you could coax and cajole, but dad?
You moved.
Often, I found myself standing beside my bed with no idea of how I got there.
My Husby took a more creative, albeit (Oooh! Good word!) equally annoying route.
He would sing.
And loudly.
In our house, 'Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!', the usually bright, happy, uplifting anthem from Oklahoma, sounded more like . . . honking. Or ball-bearings rolling around in a hubcap. (Don't ask me how I know what that sounds like.)
His 'singing' brought instant . . . let me put it this way: No one slept through it.
“Dad! Aarrgghh!”
Moving ahead . . .
Our oldest son had recently become engaged.
To a beautiful girl.
Our entire family had traveled to Fort Macleod to a reunion.
Our future daughter-in-law was bunking with our other daughters.
It was morning and there was far too much sleeping going on.
My Husby decided he needed to do something proactive.
He went to the door of the girls' room.
Cleared his throat.
And started singing.
You really haven't heard 'Oh What a Beautiful Morning' sung quite like he sings it.
Our future daughter-in-law looked at her future-sister-in-law. “Does he always do this?”
FSIL's answer was muffled by the pillow over her head. “Yes.”
“Oh. Maybe I'll have to rethink my joining this family.”
She did join. She comes from hardy stock.
I thought I'd tell you that in case you were worried.
Back to my story . . .
This morning, my alarm woke me.
“Bla-Bla-Bla-Bla-Bla-Bla . . .”
Suddenly I missed my Mom's repeated time updates, my Dad's single word warnings and my Husby's singing.
It's all a matter of perspective.

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