Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, March 4, 2017

An Angel Boost

You get the picture . . .
On the ranch, riding horses was pretty much a daily activity.
When I was a wee lad, whenever I would walk up to the barn, I always found horses there.
My father had 2 or 3 that were quiet and safe enough for children to bridle, saddle, and adventure on.
Coco was one of these. She was a beautiful Chocolate color, tall and long.
On to my story . . .
My friend Ian and I wanted to ride a horse out in the pasture. Of the horses that were ‘in’, Coco was the only one I could bridle and saddle. Fortunately, her nice long back worked well for riding double.
However, we had a problem. Cocoa was tall so putting on a saddle was difficult for my seven-year-old body. Besides, a saddle didn’t work well for riding together.
After getting a bridle on her, we needed to get up on her back.  Remember when I said she was tall? With no saddle, we weren’t able to step into a stirrup. So we walked Coco to the pole fence and climbed from there onto her back.
One has to be resourceful when one is seven and height challenged.
Once we were on Coco’s back we headed off for adventure, crossing the river into the pasture.
It was a beautiful afternoon in Southern Alberta. A very good day until some partridge suddenly jumped out of the grass in front of us.
Coco started and because we were not in a saddle, we slid off of her back, *wump* right onto the Prairie floor—a long fall for two seven-year-old boys.
We picked ourselves up and I grabbed the reins.
Now we had a problem.
There was no fence close by to help us climb onto Coco’s back.
Now this may not be a big deal even considering we were about a mile from the horse barn.  However, we needed to cross the river and the water was a little too deep to wade through.
I boosted Ian onto the horse, then found the largest rock and brought Coco alongside. I stood on the rock, grabbed Coco’s mane and pulled as hard as I could.
But I could not get up onto her back.
I decided I would have to lead Coco—with Ian on her back—across the river.
I started out but the water soon got high enough that I was afraid of going any further.
We turned around and tried to consider our options.
Now I suppose that I could have had Ian ride back to the barn and get help but that didn’t cross my mind. Maybe I was afraid that I would get into trouble for riding out where we were.
What to do?
We decided to pray.
Ian got off the horse and we said a little prayer out on there on the Prairie. That somehow we would both be able to get on Coco and ride home.
Once we finished praying, I boosted Ian up onto Coco. 
Then I tried to find the biggest rock that I could. (I think it was the same one I used before or one that was much the same size.)
I pulled Coco up beside the rock. Then I stood on the rock, grabbed onto her mane and pulled for all I was worth.
I got part way but couldn’t seem to manage the Last. Little. Bit.
Just as I was about to give up, I suddenly slid up the rest of the way onto Coco.
I was so relieved.

Happily, Ian and I rode back to the barn and turned Coco out into the coral.
I have thought about this from time to time. Did I really have my prayers answered?
Some may claim that I determined I had no choice but to pull myself up onto her back.
As I put myself back into that situation, I remember the frustration of having such a small body that did not seem to have the strength to get up on Coco.
I remember thinking as I tried to pull myself up onto her back: I just can’t do it. I just don’t have the strength.
Then suddenly I slid up the rest of the way.
You know what I think?
I think my guardian angel was there to give me a little boost.

This story is courtesy of  Little brother Blair.
I love his view of things! :)

Friday, March 3, 2017

Roasted History

A repost from two years ago. By request . . .

A whole new meaning to 'roasted grains'.
May 9, 1969. 6:45 am.
When most of the world still sleeps, or is just beginning to stir, the ranching families of Southern Alberta are already up and out.
Stock to feed, cows to milk.
Diving into the day’s first chores with unfettered enthusiasm. A smile - brought by the pure joy of work most satisfying - firmly fixed on weather-beaten faces.
“Spring!” Dad’s first words of the day, spoken with that aforementioned ‘unfettered enthusiasm’.
There he would be, the light from the hall behind him making him into the shadowy cut-out of some avenging God of Mischief, dressed in a white terry-cloth bathrobe and sent to ruin the final minutes of a good night’s sleep.
“Spring!” he would say again, in case we didn’t hear it the first time.
Then, in a puff of smoke, he would disappear. Evil summons completed.
Actually, I just made up that ‘puff of smoke bit’.
The evil summons?
This morning began like any other.
A new spring sun just peeping over the horizon filling the clear, blue sky with breathtaking slices of pink and orange.
We humans blissfully ignorant.
Dad’s unfailingly cheerful, completely irritating voice calling happily down the stairs.
The summoned moaning and complaining and beginning to twitch in their beds.
The call came again.
The summoned were throwing off the heavy bonds of sleep by degrees.
Some were actually finding their voices. “Yeah, yeah.”
And yet a third time.
The responses growing equally louder and more understandable, “Yeah, yeah!”
And then the final call. The one sure to either freeze the faithful in their beds, or galvanize them into movement.
“The elevators are on fire!”
I should mention here that the town of Milk River’s elevators stood directly behind us, across our pasture. A short few hundred yards away.
Within toasting distance.
The mere thought of them engulfed in flames struck terror into the hearts of every member of the Stringam family.
Certainly it did that day.
“Yeah, Dad, good one!” A pause. Then, “Dad’ll say anything to get us up!” Laughter.
Perhaps I was a bit more trusting than my brothers.
Perhaps the idea of something exciting happening in our sleepy little town was enough to draw me from my bed.
I scurried into my parent’s room, bounded across their bed and joined my mother at the window.
The entire horizon was a blaze of light.
Two of the six elevators were already burning and, as we watched, a third began to smoke.
Dad was out on the deck, his face a mixture of disbelief, excitement and dismay.
It was an interesting face.
By this time, our cries of . . . disbelief, excitement and dismay . . . had finally drawn my brothers to their window.
“Holy Smoke!”
Truer words were never spoken.
For a moment, fear washed over me.
Were we in any danger from the flames? Those elevators were awfully close.
Dad was quick to reassure.
The wind was favourable for us, pushing the fire, and its attendant sparks to the South, away from the Stringams.
Towards the Garbers, actually. And their barn.
But that is another story.
Chores were given a lick and a promise.
School was . . . poorly attended.
The time was spent watching the fire.
And the fire-fighters.
The entire population of town stood across the street, eyes locked on the incredible sight.
I found my Mom there and went to stand beside her.
“Good thing it’s spring,” I told her. “Harvest hasn’t started.”
My ignorance of the whole ‘grain storage’ thing was woeful.
“They’re right full of grain!” my Mom exclaimed.
As though to prove her statement, a long split appeared in one corner of the elevator nearest us. Followed immediately by a golden stream.
Then pieces of flaming elevator began to rain down.
The crowd gasped and stepped backwards.
Our Sheriff tried his best to keep us away.
Keep us safe.
He even went so far as to order all of the kids back to school.
We scampered to obey.
I'll let you believe that for a moment . . .
He couldn’t have driven us away with a stick. Maybe if he had pulled his gun . . . no not even then.
The elevators burned for days.
When the glow was finally out, the ruined grain was raked into piles and sold for a pittance, for cattle feed or whatever.
But to those of us who witnessed it, the fire would never be extinguished.
Even after the smell of roasting wood and grain finally washed away.
Even after new, modern elevators were built.
All one would have to say was, “Remember the elevator fire?”.
It was the most excitement our town has ever had. Before or since.
Okay, so ‘Thrill Central’ wasn't our town’s middle name.
Meanwhile, the Stringams were back to hearing, “Spring!” every morning.
Once or twice, Dad would try to inject a little excitement by shouting, “The elevators are on fire!”
But he was never believed.
Kind of like that first time.

Thursday, March 2, 2017


Charlie's. The dive formerly known as Danny's.
But, in reality, the Canadian Cafe.
All the teenagers in Milk River went there. The little, dark, hole-in-the-wall storefront with the half-dozen booths, a couple of pinball machines, dusty dingy floors, dim lighting and the long glass-fronted counter on the north wall.
It was the 'after-school and sometimes Saturdays' place to be.
To just hang out and be cool.
Maybe get a snack. A bottle of pop. Fudgecicle. Chocolate bar.
Play pinball. I should mention here that this was where I learned there is a fine line between 'encouraging' the pinball game and making it 'tilt'. There's a dime I'll never get back.
Moving on . . .
One could listen to the latest hits on the giant jukebox that greeted you as you stepped in the front door. Those fresh and new and those that instigated a store-wide groan because they had been played a little too much. *cough-Honey!*
It was to Charlie's I went to meet my friends whenever I had a loose nickel.
Or--more often--when I didn't have any money at all.
Of course, at those times, we were at the mercy of the moneyed because they got to choose all the music. *cough-Honey!*
Charlie's was the place to let it all hang out.
The first place I saw someone my age smoking.
Where you snuggled into one of the booths on a vinyl-covered bench with your sweetie-of-the-moment.
Okay, I never got to do that, but I dreamed . . .
It was also the place my friends and I discovered that one could actually square dance to 'Ode To Joy'.
True story.
Also my brother tells me it was the place for the finest chop suey known to man.
Who knew?
What was your Charlie's?

One more time. Honey:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Elves and the Shoemaker

It's play time again!
And by that I mean that my little group of Thespians are nearing performance for this year's show: The Elves and the Shoemaker.
And what fun we've had putting this little musical together!
Late Tuesday evenings.
Early Saturday mornings.
Sleepy little elves.
Sleepier shoemakers.
I'll keep you posted on how it goes . . .

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Pulling Off Memories

Dad and some of his many slaves . . .

My Dad didn't have children.
He had slaves.
At least that is how his children saw it . . .
Dad worked hard doing . . . ranch stuff.
It took him most of the day.
Every day.
When he came in, his recliner looked really, really good and it took great motivation to entice him to leave it.
Great motivation.
Silly little things like removing one's work boots or tossing things in the garbage weren't nearly big enough. Thus it was necessary to find other ways to accomplish these things.
That's where we came in.
His six little, willing slaves.
Every evening, one of us would be chosen for the distinct honour (his words) of helping Dad remove his boots.
Fortunately, this was a fairly simple operation, easily accomplished by a pair of small, eager hands, a backside and a large foot.
Don't get the wrong idea. There was no kicking involved . . .
The large person seated in the chair would lift his booted foot.
The standing smaller person would turn their back, straddle said foot and grasp the boot.
That's where the large foot came in.
While the small hands gripped the boot, the large foot would apply pressure to the small backside.
Small person would be pressed away from the large person and the boot would slide slowly from the foot.
Until, at last it would drop to the floor.
The boot, not the foot.
Surgery completed.
The second boot would follow the first and much toe-wiggling comfort would be achieved.
And, more importantly, no one who had been working hard all day would have had to move out of his chair.
Utopia. (That's another word for Paradise, I looked it up . . .)
Moving on . . .
Dad was also reluctant to leave his chair for such frivolities as throwing things in the garbage.
Call in the slaves once more.
Dad always finished the evening meal with a toothpick.
I know, I know, the rest of the world would infinitely prefer ice cream, but what can I say? Dad even followed his ice cream with a toothpick.
That's just Dad.
He even had a preference.
For toothpicks, I mean.
He liked the wooden ones.
Which he would then proceed to chew into a little ball of pulp.
Umm . . . ick.
Now in our earlier years, we kids could always be counted on to receive the little ball of 'ick' and drop it into the proper receptacle.
As we grew older, we got, for want of a better term, smarter.
We found other places to be when Dad got to the end of his little splinter of wood.
Dad had to get . . . creative.
My Mom had a plant. A beautiful pineapple plant. She had grown it from the cut off top of a pineapple imported from her and Dad's trip to Hawaii.
I think the rules for bringing fruit across the border were different then.
But I digress . . .
It was large.
Really large.
And it sat in a tub on the floor right beside Dad's chair.
He's only human, he can't be blamed for what happened next.
He finished with his toothpick and called out for a child.
Any child.
We were all hidden in the family room.
He sighed and briefly considered getting up. Then looked for someplace to deposit his little, wooden offering.
Huh. A large, leafy plant right beside him.
If Mom hadn't wanted it tampered with, she should have found somewhere else to put it.
He hid his little lump of sawdust in the pot under the convenient leaves.
Mission accomplished.
Hey, that worked great! And there wasn't a sign of anything!
He had discovered something new and wonderful. Especially when one was blessed with slacker children.
Like us . . .
He did it the next night.
And the next.
And for many, many nights afterwards.
Then, one day, when Mom was taking care of her beloved plant, she noticed that it wasn't looking very healthy. She pulled out the pot to investigate.
I don't have to tell you what she found. At this point, the layer of chewed up bits of toothpick was a couple of inches deep.
The plant was obviously as fond of them as we kids were.
And protesting in the only way it could.
By dying.
Okay, yes, that is a bit extreme, but it was a plant. You have to admit it really didn't have many options.
Huffily (real word), Mom moved the plant somewhere . . . not close to Dad.
And put a garbage container beside his chair.

We all moved away from home.
Dad still had the garbage can conveniently beside his chair for his recycled toothpicks.
But he started wearing shoes that he could remove by himself.
One time, when we were visiting, he initiated our oldest granddaughter in the fine art of helping Great-Grandpa remove said shoes.
For the rest of us, it was a short stroll down memory lane.
All that was missing were the work boots.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Dimming the Bright Lights

Mondays are for poetry!
Can you think of a better way to start the week?
And what subject could be more fun than one of Dad's favourite stories?!

The movie flashed and flickered on the silver picture screen,
The movie-goers hoped it’d be the best they’d ever seen.
But one cowboy seemed determined on disturbing one and all,
And laying out across three seats in a mean and thoughtless sprawl.

When Usher—with his usher’s light—was directed to him there,
He said, “My man, you’ll have to move! You cannot have three chairs!”
“And I really do not care if you are drunk, or stoned, or ill.”
“This ain’t the way that things are done, even here in ol’ Hicksville.”

His light showed him a quiet face, with cowboy hat askew,
He said, “You understand, my man? You’ll simply have to move.”
But the cowboy just ignored him, clearly would not be dethroned.
And though the usher gave him time, he didn’t talk, he groaned.

The usher straightened with a huff, and management, he sought,
Returning with his boss would give that cowboy food for thought!
When Usher and his boss came back, primed and prepared to teach.
The cowboy still used up three chairs and groaned in lieu of speech.

The manager reached out and tapped the cowboy on the arm,
He said, “Young man, we are not bad and don’t mean any harm.”
“But what the usher said is true. You must vacate this place.”
“He wasn’t being foul, it’s just: We simply need the space!”

If he thought that his proposals, soon the cowboy would apply,
He must admit the end result did not quite satisfy.
For though he spoke with kindly mien and quiet, gentle tone,
The cowboy did not move and only answered in a groan.

The cowboy did exasperate, t’was not their sought outcome.
Said Usher, “What’s your name, my man, and where did you come from?”
“I’m Joe,” the cowboy said to them, with next to no esprit.
Then he raised a hand and pointed. “I came from the balcony!” 

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