Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Trading Cockroaches for Cold

I love Alberta. 
It's beautiful.
Wide, grassy prairies.
High, majestic mountains.
Blue skies.
Clear air.
Warm temperatures.
Okay, I know that it gets cold in Alberta.
And yes, -40 (C or F) is not uncommon.
But, probably because of the extreme temperatures, Alberta is missing a couple of very important things.
And I'm not complaining.
1. Alberta is the only place on earth that has no rats.
None. They are stopped at the borders, asked to produce a current passport, then turned away.
Let's face it, have you ever seen a rat with any passport, let alone a current one?
There is even a designated rat un-welcome committee stationed at every border.
An effective one.
Equipped with guns and traps.
And lots of cheese.
I don't know about you, but that would certainly indicate to me that I wasn't wanted.
Moving on . . .
So . . . no rats.
2. Alberta also has no big bugs.
Okay, we have bugs.
Just not big ones.
I've seen the pictures of people holding cockroaches that reach to their elbows and spiders that could easily carry off small children.
I know what big bugs look like.
And we don't have them.
That makes me happy.
We know how blessed we are.
Case in point:
Our son was preparing to go out to milk.
It was cold.
Alberta cold.
He was layering up at the back door.
Long johns.
Cotton socks.
Wool socks over cotton ones.
Heavy shirt.
Heavy coat.
Touque. (Warm Canadian winter hat)
Yep. In Canada, we pretty much invented layering.
And going outside isn't something you do at the spur of the moment.
It takes thought.
And time.
I was preparing breakfast and I could hear my son moving around at the back door.
And mumbling to himself.
I dried my hands and walked over to him.
What I heard was, " . . . cockroaches."
I moved closer.
"We don't get cockroaches," he said.
As he pulled on one sock.
"We don't get cockroaches."
Second sock.
"We don't get cockroches."
"We don't get cockroaches."
And so it went.
The same refrain with each and every layer.
Psyching himself up to open that door and get the blast of cold air in the face.
We live in Alberta.
It is beautiful.
And cold.
But we don't have rats.
Or get big bugs.
Sometimes it takes the one to appreciate the other.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Small Town Summer Night

Milk River, Alberta. My Home Town.
A summer sunset.
For a short time, a hush falls over the town.
Then the Summer Evening starts.
The rumble as the teen-aged drivers in Dad’s car (or one resurrected and maintained by their own hands) start cruising Main from the Catholic church to the hotel. Most of them watching for ‘that’ vehicle. The one containing their person of the moment.
Listening to CJOC or CHEC, or, if you had a good radio, CKXL in Calgary.
Rat races (hide and seek with cars) through the back alleys and sidestreets.
The dust hanging in the still air, most noticeable around the street lights. Giant water bugs, ditto.
Glancing in the lighted windows of Charlie’s to see who is hanging out there, listening to the jukebox.
Checking out the dance in the high school gym and trying to avoid the chaperones, all of whom know one’s parents.
Going to one of a half-dozen parties at someone’s barn/gravel pit/cabin/shack complete with bonfire and/or some form of alcohol.
Stopping for milk shakes, mushroom burgers and/or popcorn twists at the Milky Way and visiting/flirting with whichever of your friends currently works there…
Cruising main again.
And finally, as the cars thinned out and your friends find other places to be . . .
Sitting by the slow-moving ribbon of silver that gives your town its name. Drinking one last milk shake and eating popcorn twists by the bagful with your big sister. The sixteen-year-old who just gave you a glimpse of what you will be doing when you become teenager in a few short years.
And the words over the radio you’ve been waiting all night for: On McKenzie’s Instant Top 12, THIS is Number One!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Moose Parked...

A repost for birthday number five!

And you thought she was protective of her moose!
Our second youngest granddaughter, Baby Girl (hereinafter known as BG) was a tiny little thing.
Not walking yet, she scurried using the time-honored technique perfected by infants and babies since earth started.
Hands and knees.
At eleven months old, she could sure get around.
Her favourite toy/workout apparatus was her rocking moose - one of many made by my Dad, BG’s great-granddad.
(Yes, I said moose. We live in Canada, it seems apropos.)
If BG wasn’t busily exploring somewhere she shouldn’t, she could be found on that moose. Rocking wildly.
And she was more than a little possessive.
Something that had only recently discovered.
Allow me to illustrate . . .
BG, the youngest of four siblings, was underfoot in the kitchen.
Her oldest sister, nine years her senior, saw an opportunity to take a ride on the currently unoccupied moose. (Hmm. There’s a statement you don’t see often!)
I should mention here that said older sister had waist-length hair.
This will be important later.
Moving on . . .
BG looked over and spotted her sibling on her moose.
She motored over and, latching onto the moose’s tail, levered herself to her feet.
Balancing there, she reached out and grabbed a hank of her sister’s hair.
Then she pulled.
“Ahh! Mom!” eldest sister squawked.
BG pulled again.
“Mom! She’s got me!”
BG tugged and tugged and finally, eldest sister disentangled herself and dismounted.
Her youngest sibling lost no time in climbing aboard.
Then she turned and grinned at her sister.
A knowing, ‘Nya-nya-nya-nya’ sort of grin, complete with wrinkled nose and sparkling eyes.
Did I mention that she was eleven months old?!
I predicted she’d be CEO of a major company by the time she’s five.
That's today!
Stay tuned . . .
The innocent bystander/cause-of-it-all.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

So Hair We Are

Okay. See? Here she looks like a girl!
Sometimes, being thrifty has its limits.
When I was eighteen, my Mom taught me to cut hair.
She thought it was a skill I would need as I contemplated starting my own family.
The brave lady used herself as my working model.
Let's just say that, for several months, my Mom's hair was . . . interesting.
And leave it at that.
Her bravery was rewarded.
I learned to cut hair.
In one style.
And short.
Moving forward several years.
My Husby and I were blessed with three sons.
All of whom had the same barber.
I got quite proficient at boy's haircuts.
And fairly proud of myself.
We all know about pride, right.
After three sons, our family increased in size once more.
By a daughter.
A girl?
I should mention, here, that my sisters both knew how to do hair and fussy, 'pretty' stuff.
I had been raised in the barn.
With the horses.
And, for some reason, missed out on that talent.
Or interest.
I didn't realize my lack until the doctor laid my new daughter in my arms.
Holy Smoke!
My exact words.
It was then I realized that being born in the center of the family, with the boys, and spending all of my waking hours and no few of my sleeping ones in the barn, had ill-equipped me to deal with a girl.
I muddled through.
Fortunately, she mixed in with the boys as easily as her mother had.
And was gleaming bald till she was two.
That gave me time to work through some of my other inadequacies before I had to tackle the whole 'hair' problem.
But, finally, inevitably, the hair grew to a length that required either styling.
Or cutting.
I opted for what I knew and fetched my scissors.
All was well.
Or so I thought.
One evening at an activity, several young boys ran up to her father and I and informed us, loudly, that our son had just gone into the girl's bathroom.
I stared at them.
We didn't have any of our sons with us.
And our daughter was . . .
I learned to do hair.
And also to dress my daughter as a girl.
But that is another story.

There is a codicil:
That same daughter, when asked by her daughter for a haircut, did exactly the same thing.
Now her little girl, shorn of her locks, is . . . happy.
Full circle.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Rest-ing on a Sunday

 From Mom's journals.

How did this . . .
 . . . become this?

Sunday at the Ranch was a day of rest.
We slept in!
Instead of getting up at the uncivilized hour of 5:30 AM, we got up at the uncivilized hour of 6:30 AM.
The Wrangler assigned for the day saddled up Slow Poke and rode out to bring in the horses.
The other cowboys swept out the barn, fed the animals in the feed lots and milked the cow.
The man who drew the short straw got cow-milking duty.
Not a favourite chore.
Especially on Sunday.
And a cause for real irritation to whoever got stuck with it.
'Horse Play' usually erupted around or near.
Let me explain . . .
Hans, an animal lover came down the stairs from the hay loft, Cyclone (the aptly-named barn cat) purring in his arms.
Seeing Joe seated beside the milk cow, grouchily taking his irritation out on poor Jenny-the-cow, Hans got an idea.
Okay, not a great one, as it turns out, but an idea none the less.
He set the cat on Jenny's back and pulled his tail.
The cat's, I mean.
Cyclone's claws instantly contracted into the innocent old cow's hide.
Bellowing in pain, Jenny lunged forward, kicking wildly to free herself.
The milk bucket flew into the air, spilling its contents all over Joe as he scrambled for the door, desperate to get away from the flying hooves.
Cyclone flew through the air like a rocket. Five feet off the ground. He shot through the door with legs spinning, all of his nine lives in jeopardy.
With Jenny, intent only on finding the nearest far-away place, right behind him.
Just as the Wrangler arrived on Slow Poke.
Horse, cow, cat and cowboys met.
Completely out of character, Slow Poke erupted. With great heaves and grunts, he flung himself into the air.
Switching ends.
Pounding the ground.
The Wrangler catapulted into the sky in a beautiful arc.
Over the corral gate.
Everyone stood mesmerized in a total state of shock.
The dust settled.
Then the casualties began to moan and move.
This shook everyone out of their trance.
Mark grabbed his vet bag and began to check for cuts, broken bones and heart beats, prodding gently at each limp form. He swabbed and bandaged and dispensed pain killers.
Then Joe sat up, rubbed his eyes and lay back down. "Wake me in the morning," he said, "I just had a nightmare!" He opened one eye. "I should have gone to church!"
The boys carried Joe to the bunkhouse.
All of the other casualties limped or dragged themselves away to the nearest safe place.
Where they collapsed into a heap.
Everyone survived.
But it was some time before Jenny, Joe, Slow Poke, Cyclone, or any others involved in the spin off would approach the barn without apprehension.
Sundays. Truly a day of rest.

Monday, July 3, 2017


A bit of a departure for today's Poetry Monday (the best day of the week!)
This is 'verse' written by my mother so many, many years ago.
But it is so perfect, it needs to be shared.
And again . . .

My Mom.
She of the wicked pen . . .
and wonderful cooking.
From my Mom . . .

Blessed art thou, woman.
For thou shalt be called 'Mother'.
Yea, and thy tasks and thy chores shall follow thee all the days of thy life.
And thou shalt eat the bread of thine own baking.
And thou shalt dwell forever in a dirty house, if thou dost not choose to clean it thyself.
Thou shalt arise before the cock croweth.
And thou shalt say unto thyself, "Where are the offspring which were given me? Yea, the sun has risen high in the sky and the hour grows late, wherefore I have been long at my labours."
And thou shalt go and find thine offspring prostrate in their cot.
And thou shalt say unto them, "Haste, arise and shine, for I have many labours for thee to perform; wherefore I have been many hours preparing the way."
And thine offspring linger in sleep and shall say unto thee, "Thou didst not watch the late, late, late show as I did last night and mine eyes are heavy and mine bones acheth."
And thou shalt say unto thy offspring, "Get thee up from thy cot; ere I lay a hand upon thee, and go ye hither and scrub a sparkling tub, for thou hast left black rings upon its sides."
And thy offspring shalt say unto thee, "I will go and do thy bidding - in a minute."
And thy rage shall know no end.
And thou shalt weep and wail and gnash thy teeth mightily.
Never-the-less, thou shalt scrub a sparkling tub thyself and glory shall be added unto thee, for thou didst not strike the lazy beast.
Thou are blessed above all others and thy descendants shall call thee 'Blessed', for thou preparest a table before them. Thou cookest meat and all manner of tasty vittles and they shall sit at thy table with thee and partake with thee.
And they shall add glory unto thy crown for they shall let thee also wash the dishes, if thou wilt.
And when the night falleth thou shalt be deflated, and thy offspring shall say unto thee, "She is an old woman, wherefore she neither goes dancing, nor does she watch the late, late, late show."
Thy art and thy craft shall make thee called upon and thou shalt labour at many tasks in thy kingdom for whosoever asketh.
Thou doest his bidding.
Thy back shall acheth with arthritis; thy cane and thy husband shall be thy support.
Thy veins shall be varicose in thine aching legs, but thou shalt do thy duty with a smile; neither shalt thou complain.
Thou are blessed with a crown every second Sunday in May.
Wherefore, thou art blessed above all others for thou are 'Mother' and thou shalt find joy in thy offspring forever.
If thou endureth to the end!
Thanks, Mom.
Now go to and see what Jenny has to say about cat hair and Delores about a rather large birthday celebration! Hooray for Poetry Monday!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Muffy the Two

Muffy the First. With our eldest son, Mark
For over thirty years, our family raised Old English Sheepdogs.
We loved them.
They came as little, furry puppies.
And turned into big, furry dogs.
Gentle. Affectionate. Protective.
Have I mentioned that we loved them?
Several of our dogs stand out in my memory.
One is Muffy the Second.
Not to be confused with Muffy the First.
Okay, so imaginative, we weren't.
Muffy lived to eat. And receive affection.
But mostly to eat.
Our youngest son, Tristan had an ice cream cone.
And an audience.
Muffy was sitting nearby, keeping what she hoped was anunobtrusive eye on his actions.
I should point out that in our house, the dogs weren't allowed anywhere near the dining room.
Tristan was in the living room.
The rules were a bit more blurry there . . .
He had taken a couple of licks.
With the third lick, his little scoop of ice cream vacated the cone and headed for the floor.
It never landed.
In a blur of motion, Muffy was across the room. She had that ice cream downed before Tristan had even realized he had lost it.
Tears ensued.
Tristan, not Muffy.
Another scoop, and all was well.
After Muffy had also been banned from the living room.
Sigh. People, make up your minds . . .
Another time, rawhide bones had been issued to all three dogs currently residing in the house.
They retreated to favourite corners to chew.
Or so it seemed.
Muffy was again keeping an unobtrusive (she was getting good at it) eye on the other two.
Biding her time.
When one of them got distracted, she would sneak in and snatch their bone.
Whereupon (good word) the offended party would look around in confusion, sigh and close their eyes for a nap.
Have I mentioned that they weren't always the brightest bulb in the chandelier?
Finally, Muffy had cornered all of the bones. Happily, she cradled them between her front legs and proceeded to chew, first one, then another.
But that is where her bliss ended.
Oh, not because the other two figured it out.
No. Because the kids came home from school.
Now it was the usual scenario in the Tolley household, that the kids be met at the door by All. Three. Dogs.
They would jump around and make general nuisances of themselves in their excitement and enthusiasm.
The dogs, that is.
Ahem . . .
We heard the bus.
Panda and Chief headed for the door, wiggling happily. I should also mention that an Old English Sheepdog has no tail. Thus, when excited, they wag their entire rear end.
Just FYI . . .
There was much wiggling and snuffling and vying for attention as eight kids came through the door.
And Muffy was missing it.
She whined and cried and fidgeted as she stood over her ill gotten gains, not wanting to leave them for fear of losing them, but sad to be missing all of the excitement.
Finally, it was too much for her.
In a flurry of movement, she joined the others.
Whereupon (that word again) the other two left the melee and dashed over to the bones, each snatching one and heading to their respective corners to resume their interrupted afternoon chew.
Maybe that was their plot all along.
Muffy finished greeting the kids and ran back to her spot.
To find just one bone.
The price of enthusiasm.
We just said good-bye to our beloved Aldo. The last of the last.

May you romp and play happily in Heaven, our boy. We'll be along some time . . .

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