Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Little Aggravations

Our oldest grandson had to have his tonsils out.
Poor little guy.
But they were so huge that they made it difficult for him to swallow and were constantly getting infected.
There were perks.
For a week, he got to live on freezies and fruit pops and jello and things cold and sweet and delicious.
He is feeling much better now.
And able to swallow, perhaps for the first time in his life.
Bless modern medicine.
It was day surgery. In and out.
The whole experience reminded me of my older brother, George.
Who had the same problem, fifty years ago.
Are we seeing a pattern, here?
George had a big appetite.
And a small throat.
He would chew and chew and chew on a piece of tender, wonderful roast beef.
Chew and chew and chew.
Then, finally, give up in despair and sit there, morosely, with a lump of meat in his mouth that he simply couldn't swallow.
My Dad took pity on him and told him to spit his mouthful into Dad's hand.
Which he did.
And which my Dad then disposed of.
Umm. Ick.
Then George would happily move on to the potatoes and gravy.
For a couple of years, the same scenario was played out at the Stringam dinner table.
George starting out with things chewy and delicious.
Then moving on to things mushy and easier to swallow.
Finally, it became so common that Dad didn't even get the chance to offer to help.
George would chew and chew and chew, then reach for Dad's hand and spit his mouthful into it.
Often without Dad realizing it.
Until it had happened.
Sort of hard to ignore then . . .
When he did it at a restaurant, my parents decided that something had to be done.
Diagnosis: large tonsils.
Solution: Removal.
Back then, though the operation was common, it meant several day's stay at the local hospital.
But with lots and lots of ice cream and jello and things cold and sweet and delicious.
Modern medicine has come so far.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Baby Sister

L'il Sis
I have a little sister.
She looks just like me.
Except that she has red hair.
And big blue eyes.
And a cute little chin.
And long eyelashes.
Okay, she doesn't look like me at all.
I love her anyways.
We grew up together, as often happens in families.
And had experiences.
Which also often happens in families.
When Anita was two, my mother asked us older kids to take her swimming with us.
Brave woman, my mother.
But I guess she thought that Chris, at 16, was responsible.
And she was.
Really, really responsible.
When she was awake.
A bit older. Just a bit
On this particular occasion, she had her radio. And her dreams of her current boyfriend.
And the warm sun. And the hot sand.
You're right. It wasn't her fault.
She dozed off.
The rest of us played happily for some time.
I was standing knee deep in the milky water, trying to catch a fish that insisted on swimming tantalizingly close.
Closer. Closer.
Then a strange sound intruded.
A sort of . . . gasping.
I looked up.
Five feet from me, little Anita had toddled off the sandy shelf where she had been sitting, playing, and fell into the river.
She was just coming up for the second time.
Nonchalantly (I like that word), I reached out and grabbed her swimsuit, pulled her out and plopped her onto the sand once more.
She gasped and coughed a couple of times, then went back to her toys.
I turned back to my hunting.
It wasn't until years later that I remembered the incident.
And shivered with 'what might have happened'.

*  *  *

When I was ten, my oldest sister, Chris, moved out.
I suddenly had that hitherto (real word) unheard of treat - my own bedroom.
It was wonderful.
During the day.
But, being alone at night for the first time, I made a discovery.
At night, things looked vastly different.
The darkness held many suspicious creaks and shadows.
And, unfortunately, my imagination was always awake.
I needed a companion.
Someone who would protect me from . . . whatever lay in wait in the dark.
My sister's room was right next door.
Okay, she was three, and who knew what she would be able to do if we truly were confronted with . . . whatever lay in wait . . . you understand.
But she was warm.
And breathing.
She was all I had.
Carefully, I would creep into her room, lift the sleeping little girl from her bed, and tuck her into Chris' side of the bed.
Then I would happily snuggle into my side and fall immediately asleep.
If Mom asked in the morning, I simply told her that Anita had crawled in with me in the night.
Everyone was happy.
And no one knew that Diane was afraid of the dark.
Until now.

*  *  *

Who wouldn't trust that little face!
A few years later, we were in the river.
And Anita was with me.
This time, it was my turn to be in charge.
And think about boyfriends.
Because my boyfriend was with us.
He and I were sitting in the sand at the edge of the water, visiting, when a sound intruded.
Only this time, it had just a bit more volume behind it.
"Diane!" someone shrieked.
I looked up.
Anita, who had been floating quite happily close to the shore in an old inner tube, had strayed too far out into the river.
She was now in the grip of the current.
Nonchalantly (that word again), I waded out. Then swam that last few feet towards her.
This time, however, when I grabbed her, she grabbed back.
And nearly drowned me.
Finally, I managed to turn her and her inner tube away from me, then kicked the both of us to the shore.
Then really shivered with 'what might have happened'.
Why do so many of our near-misses happen in water?

*  *  *
Almost a Teen!
Today, Anita is a wife and mother. She is a flight attendant and cub leader and community organizer.
And still has time to run and keep fit.
But when I think of her, I still see the little girl who broke the lamp for which Blair took the blame.
Who was bright and cute and smart.
And who gave Mom the last of her grey hairs.
The little girl who loved to organize.
And wrap packages.
And get into my things.
And who's middle name, though she would claim it's Faye, is really Trouble (notice the capital 'T').
Huh. In some ways, she hasn't changed.
But now, she lives most of a continent away.
I miss her.
I love her.
Today. Or at least not many days ago . . .

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Daughter of Ishmael has sold, in its first week, 1500 copies! A new record for my publisher!
I'm so excited I can't speak. (Another first!)
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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Cool Place

Quick - pick out the cool kids . . .
At the bottom of the hill, at the edge of the playground, halfway between the elementary and junior/senior high schools was a rock.
A big rock.
It didn't belong to anyone.
It was just there.
Doing rock stuff.
It had 'sit' down pretty well. And 'stay'.
It was the gathering place for the 'cool' kids in grade five.
I was in grade five.
I wasn't cool.
Every recess, the group of boys and girls who were the most popular would scurry down and claim the rock. For the entire 15 minutes, they would clamber (real word) about, or sit and talk.
And look cool.
I wanted to be with them more than anything.
I wanted to be cool.
I, too, had a group of friends.
Like me, my friends were not considered the 'popular' group.
But they were good friends. Loyal. Fun.
Often I would catch them casting longing looks towards the rock.
And the cool kids thereon.
I knew what they were thinking.
Sometimes, our disappointment and frustration would boil over into something more proactive.
One occasion stands out . . .
We 'seconds' as we had begun to think of ourselves, were grouped around the monkey bars.
Okay, we called it talking.
We were making great sport of tearing the distant cool kids apart.
Everything was fodder for our nasty little grist mill. Their looks, their clothes, their personalities, their classroom standing, even their pets.
Yep. We were grinding at a pretty feverish pace.
I said, in a loud voice, "Well, I wouldn't go with them, even if they begged me."
The others nodded in agreement.
Than another voice broke in. "Diane?"
We all turned. Two of the popular girls were standing there.
"Um . . . yeah?"
"We wanted to invite you to join us. Lloyd really likes you."
I'd like to tell you that I simply smiled and refused. Or that I turned a slightly disdainful shoulder and stuck with my friends.
I did neither.
Faster than you can blink, I was one of them. They put their arms around my waist and I did the same and the three of us headed off to the rock.
I didn't even look back.
For many weeks, I lived as a cool kid.
Hung out at Danny's like everyone else but, because I did it, it was cool. Wore the same clothes as everyone else, purchased at Robinson's or Woolco, but because I did it . . . you get the picture.
And I loved it.
Every minute of it.
No longer did I have to worry about what I said.
Because I was cool, everyone laughed and forgave me.
I didn't have to worry about what I did.
I was in heaven.
Then . . .
Lloyd decided he liked someone else.
And, just like that, I wasn't cool anymore.
The rest of them dropped me like a hot . . . rock.
It was my very first lesson in relationships.
It wouldn't be the last.
But it was the most painful. Because when I tried to go back to my old circle of friends, I found that they were afraid of me.
Afraid to trust me.
Now, I was truly alone.
Oh, my solitary state didn't last long.
Only the eternity of about a week.
Fifth graders have short memories.
But I did a lot of growing in that week.
I realized that I had learned four things:
            1. True friends are important.
            2. Don't burn your bridges.
            3. The rock is really hard and uncomfortable to sit on.
            4. Even if you're a cool kid.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Whose Line is it

Quoting Quirks

We watch movies.
Old movies.
A lot.
Our family was raised on the crazy antics of Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood and Jack Lemmon in The Great Race.
The hilarity of Danny Kaye in The Court Jester.
The magical song and dance of  Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in Brigadoon.
The comic timing of Red Skelton in The Fuller Brush Man.
And these are only four of the hundreds we sat through together as a family as they were growing up.
Inevitably, these movies had a great influence on our lives.
When the characters made mistakes and paid dearly for them, my family suffered alongside. When a story ended, inevitably, in triumph, we celebrated.
We lived their lives. Learned their lessons. Grieved and cheered with them.
The stories became very real to us.
We discussed them endlessly.
The lessons learned. The principles taught.
And our conversation became peppered with noteworthy lines.
I do mean peppered.
Our youngest son, three-year-old Tristan, was playing with a small, battery-powered railroad with a friend. "Push the button, Max!" (The Great Race)
Friend, "My name's not Max."
People visiting our household would often gape in confusion as quotes cropped up in the conversation.
We knew what was being said.
They didn't.
Occasionally, someone would join us who knew that the answer to, "And there was much rejoicing" was a subdued, "Yay!" (with appropriate hand movements) from Search for the Holy Grail.
Or that, when asked to do something specific, would know to quip, "I'm smokin' a salmon!" from Oscar.
And that, with the end of a meal, the appropriate gratitude was voiced by the words, "The meal was good. The wine was excellent. I must send the Cardinal a note." (Again, with appropriate hand gesture, this time, hand kissing.) A noteworthy quote, though we weren't wine-drinkers, from The Three Musketeers.
We were the family who would break, unexpectedly, into song.
And everyone would know the words.
Occasionally, outside of our home, others would take note of our unique (note that I'm using the PC term) customs.
For good or bad . . .
Our daughter, Tiana, was in kindergarten.
Almost five.
Her teacher heard her singing, "Goin' Courtin'. Goin' Courtin'." (From Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.)
She pulled her aside and asked her to repeat it.
Tiana obliged.
The teacher frowned and asked her where she had heard that.
Tiana stared at her.
This was probably her first experience with someone who didn't eat, breathe and sleep movies.
So, not like her family at all.
"It's from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers." she said finally. "Just before they learn how to dance."
Her teacher was puzzled. "Do you know what it means?"
Tiana smiled at her. "Oh, yes, it means 'dating'."
"Ah." Still puzzled, her teacher let her go.
But brought up the subject at our next parent-teacher conference.
I have to point out that it wasn't the only time I had heard from confused elementary school teachers.
Moving on . . .
But as the kids grew into junior and senior high school, our family quirk became more acknowledged.
Even occasionally appreciated.
Especially when a teacher would pose a question or repeat a quote from an old movie or program and our child was the only one in the class who knew the answer.
Or who laughed.
They became the universally-acknowledged 'experts' on old movies.
And, more importantly, quotes from movies.
It was a fun way to raise a family. And now I see my kids doing the same with their kids.
It is a fun way to live.
I think its time for another one.
"Push the button, Max!"

Monday, January 16, 2017


I think the Person who receives evening prayers must look forward to those being offered by the children.
You want to talk entertainment?!
Last night, following a day that included church attendance, swimming at West Edmonton Mall, the eating of assorted junk and the wind-down of puzzlemaking with family, five-year-old (hereinafter known as 5YO) disappeared into the bathroom to ‘take care of some business’.
She came out a few minutes later with a strange look on her face.
“What’s the matter?” her mother asked.
“It looked really strange,” 5YO said.
“Strange, how?”
There followed a short conversation of strange-appearances-from-the-past.
I’m editing because—yuck.
“But this was different,” 5YO said.
“Well next time you see something different, please tell me before you flush.”
5YO happily went back to puzzlemaking.
And the subject was, thankfully, dropped.
The evening wound down.
Bedtime approached.
Routines were adhered to, even though the day had been anything but normal.
Teeth brushed, hair braided, hands and face washed, pj’s donned, journal updated, story read, song—sung.
5YO was on her knees to say her evening prayer.
Now you have to know that this is often the highlight of the day for whoever is putting her to bed.
Usually momma.
The prayer rambled around for a while. Thank you for my mommy and daddy. Grampa and Gramma. Thank you for cousins and pets and toys.
Then the unexpected. “Please don’t let any more yellow stuff come out of me. Amen.”
Ummm . . .
All I’m saying is: I wouldn’t mind being on duty when those prayers start to arrive.
I’ve got my notebook.

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