Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Dadstory: Part Four

Two performances of the Elves and the Shoemaker down and two to go.
Having such a lot of fun!
Wish you were here . . .

Dad (left). Mom (right).
Part Four:
As most parents, I am sure, are wont to do, my folks tried to get us kids to eat our vegetables. Now you must understand that (and this is something that medical science has yet to discover) the vegetable thermostat doesn't kick in on most people until they are about 18 or 20 years old or so I don't remember not liking vegetables particularly, but I do remember the encouragement that we would get to eat them. Of course, there were all of the regular reasons that parents everywhere use: "eat your vegetables, they are good for you"; or, "eat your peas and potatoes or your ears will fall off" (you know, all the 'scare' tactics).  But I think the most novel reason that I have ever heard from anyone for eating a vegetable came from Dad. Now most parents know, from some deep intuitive sense, that eating carrots is good for the eyesight (have you ever seen a rabbit with glasses?), and never fail to let their kids know that if they want to able to see well, they should be sure to eat their carrots. But Dad's took the cake (so to speak). Dad wasn't content stop there - I distinctly remember him telling me one evening that if I ate all of my carrots, I would be able to see THROUGH hills in the dark, that's how much eating carrots would improve my eyesight. I remember the odd variation on the theme, like the time when I challenged the claim (I must have been maybe 6 or 7 at the time), so Dad relented and admitted that it wasn't really true - I would only be able to see OVER hills in the dark if I would eat my carrots. It worked. I still like carrots. And I am still trying to see either over or through hills. No luck. At least not yet.
Dad could not resist a joke - and the drier the humour, the better, to his mind. I remember two jokes in particular that really epitomize, I think, Dad's brand of humour. The first joke went something like this: What is grey, stands on the top of cliffs, has four legs and is furry, howls at the moon, and is full of cement? Answer: A coyote. The cement was to make it harder. The second joke shows his wry sense of humour, and goes something like this: A hog farmer started feeding saw-dust to his hogs, and found that he could save all sorts of money on hog feed by doing this. One day a neighbor stopped by at feeding time and noticed that the farmer was spreading out saw-dust for his  hogs to eat. "Hey", says the neighbor, "is that saw-dust that you are feeding your hogs there?"  "Sure is", replies the farmer. "Well, that's really strange", says the neighbor; "Doesn't it take an awfully long time to fatten a hog on saw-dust?"  "Sure does", replies the farmer; "But what's time to a hog?"

Speaking of animals, Dad had a favourite bit of humour that he had concocted from an animal disinfectant. Each fall, when the calves were branded, doctored and de-horned, Dad would always use a very strong disinfectant or antiseptic known as 'Creolin' to treat the wounds and prevent infection. As Dad was wont to do (poisonous though the stuff was, and we knew it), he would inevitably offer a swig to whoever was closest, which was alternatively all who were present. The offer was usually accompanied by the assurance: "It'll cure whatever ails you."  And then Dad would snicker and grin his silly grin that always accompanied his joking. Now Mom really didn't like the smell of Creolin at all; like all disinfectants, it had a sharp, pungent smell that was not really pleasant, although not totally unpleasant. Dad ordered to the shower, post haste, whenever he came in the house smelling of the stuff. But it didn't stop there. Even when we weren't doctoring calves or anywhere near a bottle of Creolin, and someone would complain of a sore throat or some other such minor ailment, Dad's solution was always to "gargle with a bit of Creolin", or "soak it in some Creolin". For Dad - or at least for his joking - Creolin was the panacea that could cure all ills. 
To be Continued . . .

Friday, March 10, 2017

Dadstory: Part Three

Opening night was amazing!
I'm so proud of my little elves and my shoemakers.
Three more performances to go.
Wish us luck!

Dadstory: Part Three 
Foreground: Two little grandsons.
Background: Dad and his dancing doll

Dad was famous for betting banana splits, whenever the occasion arose for a wager. I lost several thousand banana splits on the Belt Trick, I am sure, and I don't think I ever paid many, if any, of them. But I come by that rightly - Dad never paid up on his banana splits either. Dad still owes my Beloved a banana split for a bet they held on 1977 World Series. I can think of several that I was never able to collect on, too. And Dad was sneaky. Everytime that you managed to corner him (and that was only way that you could collect, was to corner him), he always spent the entire consumption time explaining at great lengths how this banana split ran concurrent with all other outstanding banana splits, and the debt was now paid. We always tried to tell him that no, they didn't run concurrent, and that really there should be interest paid on un-collected banana splits. (Our idea of interest ran usually into 200-300% range - per banana split, per unpaid week. Hence his protests and lectures on concurrency, I am sure).
I really only got the better of Dad once in my life that I can remember. There were six of us in his new car, about 2 years before his death, and we were headed to the city to do some shopping. Dad really didn't care to drive, so he let me take the wheel. We had had a good chat all the way to the city, and when we reached the outskirts, I intimated that we were early, and that I thought a banana split would fill both the extra time and the extra space in the stomach - and besides, I added, Dad owed each of us several banana splits, so he could pay for them. Well, Dad immediately began his protestations, because he could see that this one was going to cost him a bundle. He kept on insisting that all debts were long ago paid, concurrently, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Well, before he had finished explaining (for the tenth or twelfth time on that particular trip) how all banana split debts ran concurrently, I had driven to the nearest Dairy Queen and wheeled into parking lot. "Well, I'll be corn-swaggled!", Dad exclaimed. And he was. It cost him twelve dollars for banana splits that day!  I'll bet he still swans when he thinks of that. And if there are banana splits in Heaven, Dad had better be saving up. He owes a lot of us, big-time . . .

Some of Dad's most sage advice over the years came from his time-honored sayings that many times I took for granted until I was more-or-less forced to stop and think about what they really meant. I think that anyone who knew Dad well would agree his hallmark saying was: "Wherever there is an advantage, there is a disadvantage". Many times when we were weighing the pros and cons of a particular course of action, whether in our individual or collective lives, Dad would come out with this particular saying, to help us all stop and think things through. (I am not so sure that sometimes he didn't do it just to aggravate us all a little bit more, but his gentle prodding nonetheless provided a good training ground for thought. Cogitation, really.) The phrase became such a trademark in the family that, of course, the rest of us soon learned to use it to our own advantage as well - always with great delight when we could turn the tables and use it on Dad!  After Dad passed away, Mom seriously considered putting the phrase on his headstone in the cemetery. I think she still wishes sometimes she had.
To be continued . . .

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dadstory: Part Two

Opening Night for the Elves and the Shoemaker is tonight!

The following days will be--hectic.

So for the next few days, Husby will be taking over this blog.
With stories of his dad.
And I'll see you soon with stories of my Elves.
And Shoemakers.
Part One was here.
Today, Part Two:

Continued from yesterday . . .
Paddles: Dad was a master tormentor, a genius at little so-called 'Chinese torture' games that you didn't really realize he was using on you until all of a sudden you would notice something terribly annoying and wish it would go away - and then you would realize that it was Dad that was pestering you in some way, and had been doing it for ten minutes or so. One of his favorite things was to lean on you, ever so gently, and gradually increase his angle of incline until you felt totally uncomfortable but couldn't figure out the reason for it. And when you finally did figure out that you had the weight of the world leaning on you, so to speak, and ask him to move, he would just snicker and grin his mischievous grin, and would comply with your request - until about ten minutes later, when he would commence the whole process all over again. Anyway, we all inherited a goodly portion of Dad's ability to torment each other - and justice claimed its own when we were able to turn the tide by discovering something that really annoyed Dad. One such little trick was to sneak your feet up in front of his face while he was lying on the floor (he had a bad back; the floor made it feel better), trying to watch television, rest, or just plain relax. He would often lie there with his eyes closed, and you could see the discomfort on his face when your feet, usually
not in the most sanitary state, approached his sensitive nose. He would open his eyes, take a swat at your feet, and declare: "Move those paddles!", or            "Get those smelly paddles out of here". We, of course, always complied - for a few minutes.
Pnoggin: pronounced just as it looks, without a silent ‘p'. This was a word in the same category as 'phizzog', and was used to mean 'the head'. Example: "I fell off my bicycle and now I have a goose-egg on my pnoggin."  Or, to really keep it colloquial: "Cogitate that one in your pnoggin for a while - but be careful your phizzog doesn't fall off".
Dad some favorite phrases that always tickled our funny bones when he used them: "Well, if that's supper, I guess I've had it!"
Whenever we would go out for dinner where a bean salad was served, Dad never failed to ask someone (if not everyone!): "Well if it's bean [been] salad, what is it now?"
Dad had a favorite riddle he always liked to ask any poor unsuspecting soul that he knew he could get the best of. It went something like this: “Would you rather be dumber than you look, or look dumber than you are?" Invariably, the poor unsuspecting soul would agonize over which would be worse - to be dumber than one looks, or to look dumber than one is. After what was usually a valiant struggle with one's very inner being, an answer was given. It really didn't matter to Dad which answer was given - his reply was the same no matter what the poor unsuspecting soul said: "How could you be?"  (followed by a grin and a snicker)
Think about it.
Dad also had a favorite trick or two that he liked to pull on his kids. One was his famous hat trick, which is difficult to imagine without seeing it done, so I won't attempt to describe it here. The other, however, was his belt trick, and as I write this I can't believe how many times he suckered me on that one before I caught on that he was actually cheating! The belt trick used - oddly enough - a belt. Dad would take the belt, double it in half so that the two ends were together, and then start rolling it from the other closed end. Try it. You will find that as the belt rolls, there are two definite 'holes' in the middle of the belt. Dad would then issue the unsuspecting sucker with a nail or a pencil or some other such thin instrument, with instructions that the object of the game was to stick the nail through the loop that you thought would be the 'inside'loop, or the loop that the nail would catch as the doubled belt unrolled (since one loop is 'inside' the doubled belt, and the other is a false loop created only by rolling the doubled belt.) For literally YEARS, I was unable to get the right loop. Dad would just laugh his dry laugh, and then usually tell you that you played like a sausage, or you were a dumb ezzle, or something else that was equally appropriate under the circumstances. Oh, his remarks were always kind and made lovingly - but he delighted to no end in knowing that he had gotten another one over on you. Well, as time went on, and I grew somewhat older and a little bit wiser, I began to notice that sometimes when Dad unrolled the belt, the inside leather (which was usually a different color or texture) of the belt sometimes ended up on the OUTSIDE when he unrolled it. It took me another year or two to figure out not only what he had done, but HOW he had done it - after all, you can only unroll a belt one way when it is    doubled and rolled up, can't you? Or can you??  Finally, one day I got smart and watched his other hand, the one pulling the two belt ends. Here all these years, the old smartie would watch to see which loop you chose. If you chose the wrong one, well, no problem - he would simply unroll the belt normally and then give you his snicker and grin since you were playing like a sausage. But! If you chose the RIGHT loop, there were dark dealings going on in that other hand!  Dad would very quietly, in this instance, let one of the belt ends slip around the circle of rolled belt, which has the ultimate effect of making the RIGHT loop the WRONG one. Try it. It isn't easy to do, but Dad had it down to an art. He had his laugh down to an art, too. But I was and still am glad that I had been suckered by my Dad.
Now it's my turn with MY kids . . .

More tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Dadstory by Grant Tolley

Photo by: Kristi Milner Pfeiffer

Dress rehearsal for the Elves and the Shoemaker is tonight!

The following days will be--hectic.
So for the next few days, Husby will be taking over this blog.
With stories of his dad.
And I'll see you soon with stories of my Elves.
And Shoemakers.

In Honour of Ray Lovell Tolley  

           My mother and father were elegant folks
           They both had a liking for practical jokes
           So when I was born they made up their mind
           That I should possess all the names they could find:

           Jonathan Joseph Jeremie, Timothy Titus Obadie,
           William Henry Walter Sim, Reuben Rufus Solomon Jim,
           Nathaniel Daniel Abraham, Foderick Federick Peter Sam,
           Simon Timon Nicholas Pat, Christopher Dick Jehosaphat!
As long ago as I can remember, Dad used to sing this little ditty. I am sure that it was indicative of how he liked a play on words. He had many of his own that he used with great relish. Some we know he got from his mother, others we are sure he made up by himself. Many of them defy definition, but I will try:
Cornswaggle: a word to describe a friendly swindle. Example: "He really got cornswaggled on that one". Also used as an exclamation: "Well, I'll be cornswaggled!" Sometimes he was, too.
Congeal: a real word, I have since discovered, that is used to describe a thickening process in anything from ice cream to backsides. Example: "I have sat here so long I think I've congealed."      
Phizzog: a synonym for 'face', but more in the sense of 'mug' than anything else. Example: "He had a phizzog that would stop a runaway locomotive".
"Well I'll Swan": an exclamation to be used just about anywhere an exclamation is needed. Example: Question: "Did you hear that Fred got hit by a bus?" Answer: "Well I'll Swan!"
Rambunctious: a regular word, much used by Dad to describe what we kids usually were.
Gourmandize: until I was 19 years old, I swore that this word was not real, a pure invention of Dad's active mind. It was used to describe what we usually did to any form of food left out, i.e. immediate and complete consumption. Dad would say: "Where's the apple cobbler? Did you kids gourmandize it all again?" A little side note: When I was 19 and went to France, I discovered that there really is a word in French, 'la gourmandise', which translates as 'gluttony' or 'piggishness'. In French, the colloquial phrase was ‘la gourmadise est un villain default’, roughly translated as ‘gluttony is a villainous fault.’  Dad knew what he was talking about. I think.
Blasted Apes: Now you must understand that Dad was not one to use profanity - except, that is, when the situation demanded it, which, fortunately, was rare. Dad's worst words usually emerged when we were trying to make some unwilling animals go where they were supposed to go, but the animals were not prepared to co-operate in the least degree. It would take some time to get Dad's dander up, and after about the fifth attempt at getting the pig to go in a gate that you could have driven a convoy of Mack trucks through, side by side, Dad would usually fling whatever it was he was holding at the pig and exclaim "Blasted apes!" It usually stopped there, though, especially if the apes saw the light and made it through the gate. If not, however, the only real profane word that I ever heard Dad use would follow, which is a four letter word synonymous with much of the stuff that lies about the barnyard. When it got to that, you knew that the pig was in trouble - the next step was that Dad usually resorted to throwing hammers, two-by-fours, or whatever else AT the animal, in hopes of sending it into the next world. Dad never called us kids "blasted apes" - at least not that I remember. And he never threw hammers at us, either.
Buggered: a word that Dad used to mean something was "really messed up", as in almost beyond help. Now don't be too shocked at my inclusion of this word here. Please realize that Dad never regarded it as profanity, in spite of the constant assurances by Mom every time he used it that it was indeed not a 'proper' term. Dad's reply was simply: "Well, there is no other word that will do; when something is ‘buggered', it's 'buggered'. It's not broken, it's    not wrecked, it's just plain buggered." Case closed. Many times. Except for Mom.
"You play like a sausage": Dad enjoyed playing games, especially when he was winning, and never failed to rub it in when you were either losing, or playing as his partner and not doing too well. If you made a particularly dumb move, or were really being trounced by him, he never let the opportunity pass to let you know that you were "playing like a sausage".
"The saccharinity of the striatus muscular tissue varies proportionately according to the proximity of the osseous framework": Now we are not really sure where or when Dad picked this one up, nor am I even sure whether it is true or not; I have never checked with a physician to see if it holds true. But Dad would use this whenever he didn't have an answer - a serious one - for some question; or, whenever, out of the blue, he needed something to say. His grin that accompanied this statement always belied his real intent - to poke gentle fun.
Cogitate: to think about something, as in: "I'll have to cogitate on that one for a while."  See "Pnoggin".
"Shadscale, greasewood, & sagebrush: Where snakes have to carry lunch and the rabbits carry drinking water": this phrase was used, in varying combinations, to describe any type of barren land and sparse vegetation. I was never sure if Dad used it simply because he didn't know the names of the various types of vegetation, or if he used it out of his inborn farmer's disgust at land that was marginally useful or neglected by man. We never did see any snakes carrying lunch, by the way.
A Dumb Ezzle: this is a phrase used to refer to anyone who really was not very quick of mind. It could also be used on you if you happened to be playing like a sausage.
A Brainy Think: as it implies, a good idea.
Naked Guinea: this is a phrase used to describe anyone, usually children, who tend to appear in public in less than full dress. Mom tells me that Grandma T., Dad's mom, used it too, so I am sure that that is where Dad picked it up. I seem to remember an explanation once that when Grandma used to raise guinea hens, they would sometimes lose most of their feathers when they were in a moult, resulting in a 'naked guinea'.
Full of Malarkey: a common phrase used to describe someone who really doesn't know what he is talking about, or someone who is trying to 'cornswaggle' you. Example: "You are full of malarkey". I still call my oldest son Mark, 'Markie Malarkey', just to keep the family tradition alive.
Go Soak Your Head: this was a phrase Dad used if he was trying to get rid of you, for whatever reason. Dad was an infinitely patient man; even when he was SERIOUSLY wishing you would go away and leave him alone, he would never have been rude or impolite to make you do so. More often than not, he would simply tell you to 'go soak your head' until you got the message.

To be continued . . .

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Errs Above the Ground

My victim. 
Dad had bought a new tractor.
Painted bright yellow, it was a thing of real beauty.
Or so the men in my family thought.
Pffff. Men.
It was parked proudly between the shop (formerly our home - see here) and the pasture, wherein my horse was . . . erm . . . pastured.
The tractor stood there in lonely glory, awaiting the delivery of two more back wheels.
Now it was unheard of, at that time, for a tractor to have more than the requisite two.
Back wheels, that is.
But this one did.
Or soon would have.
Each of the existing wheels had three feet of extra axle sticking out in happy anticipation.
This is important.
And I didn't care. I was getting my horse ready for a show.
I needed to load up my tack.
This entailed maneuvering the car between the pasture fence and the shed door.
Easily done.
I could see the tractor.
I could see the fence.
I could see the shed.
All was well.
What on earth had I hit?
There was the shed.
There was the tractor.
There was the fence.
All in perfect sight.
 I pulled forward and got out to inspect the damage.
I should point out here that this was the same car that I had only recently filled with diesel fuel. My stock had dropped considerably over that event and hadn't had the chance to rise very far. This new stunt guaranteed that it would never rise again.
I walked to the back of the car.
To see six inches of extra axle poking into the rear car fender.
The extra axle.
That would, one day, support extra wheels.
In all of my careful looking, I had forgotten to look up.
To the stupid axle hanging in the air three and a half feet above the ground.
Once more, in high dudgeon, I drove to the house to show my dad.
Who labeled me a driving menace.
He was right.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Watch Your Step

It's Monday again!
You probably don't need the reminder.
But now there is something that makes Monday a day to look forward to.
I know you're as excited as I am . . .

The cop was told, “Domestic—umm—commotion.”
What he found was surely wrought with strong emotion.
There lying on the floor,
All gross and specked with gore,
Was something that would not be termed ‘devotion’!

The body, cold and dead, was lying prostrate,
A single slug had issued him his checkmate,
His wife had been the one,
She’d shot him with her gun,
Then called the cops. She'd just increased the crime rate.

When the cop arrived and sadly judged the scene,
It was so much worse than any place he’d been,
Near the body was a mess,
But when you saw the rest,
You’d have to swear the floor was fresh and clean.

When he tried to cross that floor, the gun she raised,
On the stand, he’d testify her eyes were crazed.
“Please don’t take another step!”
She said with force and pep.
All he thought to do was stare at her, amazed.

Then later, from his car, he called his Sarge,
He said, “I know that you put me in charge.”
“But I can’t arrest her yet,
Her permission, I can’t get,
And I have to tell you, man, her gun is large!”

His Sergeant told him, “Son, you mean to say
That a single woman stopped your work today?"
Then he added, “If that's true,
Then it makes me very blue,
When I think she’ll get away with her foul play."

The cop said, "S'not defeat and not goodbye,
I’ll be able to arrest her by and by.
I just can’t repeat the sin
That did her husband in,
I cannot cross her floor till it is dry."

I have some wonderful friends who are joining in!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Name That Movie!

Our electronic magic-maker.
It was time.
1982. Our (then) family consisted of three boys ages 4, 3 and 1.
We finally purchased our first VCR.
We had hesitated a long time to get one.
After all, the first unit came out in 1976.
Husby had delayed until the prices came down and the ‘bells and whistles’ increased.
Finally, when a unit was introduced featuring a remote, he could wait no longer.
Okay, yes, the remote was attached to the unit by a long cord. But still . . .
Now on to my real story . . .
We purchased our VCR at Smith’s Electric in Lethbridge, Alberta.
But that isn’t the most important part of this story.
What is most important was found in a little cardboard box at the back of the tidy Smith’s store. A selection of pre-recorded VHS tapes.
Available to be borrowed by the lucky new owners of the store’s electronic marvels.
One of those tapes was Disney’s The Black Hole.
A great, rather dark, space adventure featuring rogue captains, murderous robots, missing spaceships, a vegetative crew, a beautiful mind-reading heroine and, interestingly, a Black Hole.
I won’t tell you how many times we borrowed that tape.
Let me put it in another way.
My four-year old (now 40-year-old) watched it so many times, I had the entire thing memorized. Including pre and post advertisements.
How do I know this?
A few days ago, our family thought it would be fun to watch, for old time’s sake, The Black Hole.
And I could still quote the entire thing.
The. Entire. Thing.
With sound effects and pauses for theatrical emphasis.

Now if I could just remember where I put my wretched car keys . . .

Don't forget! Tomorrow is Poetry Monday!
See you there!

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