Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Creative Excusing

Creative jobs require creative excuses
Everyone, at some point, calls in sick to work.
Well . . . most everyone.
Even those toughest of the tough. The weather-hardened cowboys. Their excuses are just a bit more . . . creative.
In my grandfather's day, his hired men were all experienced, life-hardened individuals.
And I do mean individual.
One morning, one of his cowboys failed to report with the others.
Grampa handed out the day's assignments, then went in search.
He found the man seated snugly in the bunkhouse, both feet comfortably propped up on a chair.
Grampa stopped in the doorway.
“Are you coming out to work?” he asked.
“Can't,” the man said.
"Why not?"
Grampa stared at him. “Excuse me?”
“Toik,” the man repeated.
“Oh.” Grampa thought about that for a moment. Then, “What?” he asked again.
The hired man looked at him. “Toik,” he said carefully.
Grampa nodded. “That's what I thought you said.”
He turned and headed back to the barnyard.
For some time, he puzzled over the man's answer.
What on earth was a toik?
Finally, he found himself working alongside one of the other men.
“Smith not coming?” the man asked.
Grampa shook his head. “No. He said something about a toik.”
The hired man grinned. “And you had no idea what he was talking about?”
Again, Grampa shook his head. “None whatsoever,” he said.
The man laughed. “You can't guess what a toik is?”
“Maybe I should translate.”
Grampa looked at him. “Please,” he said.
“Toe ache,” the man said.
“Ahhh!” Grampa said.
Things suddenly made . . . sense. Sort of. “Toe ache.”
Now I'm sure you've heard the excuse of 'a cold coming on'.
The flu.
Sore throat.
Sinus infection.
Broken bones.
Even the occasional bout of 'explosive diarrhoea'.
But I'd venture to guess that you've never before heard of a toik.
Well, now you have.
Feel free to use it . . .

Friday, August 25, 2017


If you think the outside is fantastic . . .
Edmonton, Alberta is a good-sized city. Not distressingly large, by the world's standards.
But a nice, comfortable million or so people.
It has many, many attractions.
Our family's favourite is the Telus World of Science.
When the kids were small, it was called the Space and Science Centre. We were there almost every week.
The kids would wander through their favourite displays. Interact with their favourite activities.
And go with us to see an Imax show.
If you've never seen Imax presentation, you should. It consists of a huge screen and crystal-clear photography.
And you feel as though you were part of the action.
When our Caitlin was three, we went to see a show - simply titled, Speed.
For forty minutes, we were part of car racing, flights, train rides, roller coasters, and anything in this world that went fast.
To say we enjoyed it would be a vast understatement. Our sons in particular were quite literally hanging onto the edge of their seats.
Finally, the show ended, as shows do.
The lights came up.
Caitlin, who had spent the entire time in the seat next to her father, looked up. “Daddy? Is it done?”
Her father nodded.
“Can I put my feet down now?”
It was then we realized that, when the action started, she had pulled her feet up to keep them from catching on anything as it 'flew' past. And held them up.
For forty minutes.
Now that's movie realism.
Edmonton is a wonderful place. There are tons of things to do.
But when you tire, stop at the Imax.
It's all about seeing.
Keep your feet up.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

An Onion Truth

Eat your onions!

I know that this statement seems to have nothing to do with what follows, but bear with me . . .

The 1918 flu pandemic (the Spanish Flu) was an influenza pandemic that spread widely across the world. Most victims were healthy young adults, in contrast to most influenza outbreaks which predominantly affect juvenile, elderly, or weakened patients. The pandemic lasted from March 1918 to June 1920, spreading even to the Arctic and remote Pacific islands. Between 50 and 100 million died, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. An estimated 50 million people, about 3% of the world's population (1.6 billion at the time), died of the disease. 500 million, or 1/3 were infected.
-                                                                                                                                   - World History Project

And now we'll tie it together . . .
My Husby’s maternal grandparents, Artie J. and Ovedia Seely and their children, weren’t affected by the disease. One of few families that managed to avoid it. Even though every other family in the sleepy town of Stirling, Alberta, like the rest of the world, had one or more (or all) members sick with the deadly disease.
For months during the worst of the outbreak in their small community, Artie and one other unaffected man tended the farms and fed the animals for all of the other farmers.
Before daybreak every day, the two men were feeding animals, milking cows, cleaning, tending . . . performing all of the myriad tasks that constituted farming.
At every farm.
Every day.
It took the whole day.
Artie would return to his home and gulp down a hasty lunch, then head out once more.
Grandma Ovedia Fawns Seely
Onion cooker extraordinaire!
Returning only after sunset to snatch a few hours of sleep before he starting over again.
And still, with all of the work and worry, he and his wife remained unaffected.
The reason?
Earlier that year, the two of them, Artie and Ovedia, had harvested a bumper crop of onions.
Every meal featured some incarnation of the remarkable vegetable.
Both of them believe that that fact alone kept them from succumbing.
I will give them the benefit of any doubt.
They . . . lived . . . through it.

P.S. My Husby has spoken with two other ‘old-timers’ who also lived through the great and terrible influenza pandemic. They, too, maintain that their families survived due largely to the fact that they ate onions with every meal.
You heard it here first.
Oh, and see that onion on your plate? Eat it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Motivational Music

My Mom, age 20. Looks AND talent!

Mom loved music.
I'm thinking about her today . . .
This is another entry from her journal.

There was much music in our house.
Mama had a beautiful voice, singing us to sleep with lilting Swedish tunes.
Papa was quite proficient on the accordion, playing schottisches, polkas and old-time waltzes for dances at the school house, and at home, especially when we had visitors.
Early on, Papa bought an organ at a sale.
I loved music and tried to play that organ.
Later, Papa purchased a piano to which I became attached as to a loving friend.
Tommy Mair, a musician friend of our teacher, arranged to give music lessons after school in Millicent.
I was thrilled to be enrolled and Tommy became my teacher, maestro and hero.
He could play anything without a sheet of music.
As he rippled through my lessons with a magic touch, I was enthralled, floating on a cloud of notes so sweet and heavenly, I wanted the rhapsody to go on forever.
For eight wonderful lessons, I wafted in ecstasy.
Tommy would play a tune and I would copy him.
Then he would improvise with many delightful trills so that the simple little single notes became a whole orchestra of sound.
As his nimble fingers raced over the keyboard, I was transfixed into a fantasy world beyond my fondest dreams.
In that moment, I yearned to be a maestro like Tommy Mair.
But after eight lessons, I was on my own.
At every opportunity, whether at home or at a community dance, I was at the piano watching the artistic mastery of every pianist.
Fascinated by the variety of piano improvisations.
Then, at home, I would spend every available moment trying to replicate what I had seen.
I was drawn to the piano like a moth to light, picking out tunes in a painful process of matching notes to keys until I had memorized them so I could play them by ear.
The piano became my best friend and companion.
It became an outlet for self-expression.
I learned that if we express ourselves well, others will listen, understand, and believe in us.
They will be buoyed up and motivated by our message and inspiration and we, ourselves will also be inspired with a feeling of accomplishment.
Music has helped me to greatly raise my self worth, to feel good about myself.
For this, I am thankful to my first inspirational music teacher, Tommy Mair.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Season of the Buffalo

It is buffalo season.
I know this may come as a surprise to you. Certainly it did to our granddaughter.
Maybe I should explain . . .
We were driving to Banff, Alberta. It is time for our annual week at the Banff Rocky Mountain Resort. The place that has been our summer home for nearly 30 years.
This year, it is our eldest granddaughter’s turn to spend the week with Grandma and Grandpa, a privilege that is hotly contested among several of the grandchildren. Okay . . . well . . . among two of them.
The drive was perfect. Slightly cloudy but not raining or stormy. So the sun wasn’t a problem, but neither were the road surfaces.
Now, I should explain that our route takes us invariably through farm country. Some of the richest in Alberta. Long stretches of rolling hills heavy with nearly-ripe grains. Swaths of luxurious green, newly-mown hay, drying in the late summer sun until it’s ready for baling.
Fields of cocoons.
And finally, we’re to the point of our story . . .
In many of these fields, there are dozens—even hundreds—of buffalo cocoons. Great cylindrical shapes of uniform size, some covered in plastic or mesh, and all simply sitting there in the fields, waiting to hatch.
Yeah, my granddaughter didn’t believe her grandfather, either.
And he described the day of hatching to her so well. When the long-dormant cocoons burst apart and fully-grown buffalo appear.
“It is quite a sight.  The great, shaggy beasts, hungry from their developmental slumber move off in a herd, grazing, Running in the sun. Happy to be alive . . .”
I’m quoting her grandfather, of course.
Our 14-year-old granddaughter stared at him, skeptically. Obviously she wasn’t about to swallow her grandfather’s ‘this-is-how-things-happen’ story whole like the rest of her siblings and cousins.
Skepticism turned vocal. “Grampa, that’s not right. That isn’t how buffalo are made!”
Her grandfather looked at her in the rear-view mirror. “It totally is! The mother buffalo weaves her cocoons out of grasses, then tenderly inserts a seed into each one. You should have paid attention in Biology class.”
She gave him a disgusted look. “I did.”
Oops. They’re on to us . . .
Newly-hatched. Isn't he magnificent?!

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Meeting in the Meeting

- from a story Daddy liked to tell . . .

His wife was tired, she looked a ‘fright’,
With babies, she’d been up all night.
“He said, “Hun, right here, you’ll stay.”
“I’ll go, myself, to church today.”

She smiled at him with gratitude,
Grateful for the interlude.
He happ’ly went, dressed in his best.
And prayed his wife would get some rest.

‘Twas sometime later. He returned,
His face with discomfort burned.
For two big shiners did he sport,
With one aleft and one athwart.

His wife, her eyebrows she did raise,
He reddened at her doubtful gaze,
“I went to church," he said. "I did!
I wasn’t bad there, God forbid!”

“I sat there good as gold. It’s true!
And others sat around me, too.
We listened. All was calm and peace.
The Spirit flowed and fear did cease.”

“But when the congregation rose,
To sing a hymn (and sleep dispose),
The dame in front of me this week?
Her dress was stuck between her cheeks.”

“Supposing I’d do something kind,
I pulled it, thinking she’d not mind.
But she did! She turned about,
And with her fist, gave me a clout.”

“Well, that explains the first one, dear,”
The second one is still unclear.”
He shrugged, “Well, she made such a fuss,
I thought she must desire it thus.”

With wardrobes, to avoid a smack,
Do not put untucked things back.

Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we three besought,
To try to make the week begin,
With gentle thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So Jenny and Delores, we,
Now post our poems for you to see.
And when you’ve read what we have brought,
Did we help? Or did we not . . .

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Gram and Gramp . . . And Me

Gram and Gramp. And two of my siblings . . .

Gram was in the kitchen, cooking so efficiently,
Gramp was in his easy chair and I was on his knee.
Their kindly ways and gentle spirits touched so tenderly,
Way back in the early days of Gram and Gramp . . . and me.

He was a rancher, cattleman; and honest to a 'T'.
She helped and worked right by his side and served so faithfully.
The two of them raised children strong and loved their family,
E'en before those early days of Gram and Gramp . . . and me.

When I was four, my Grampa died; he passed on peacefully,
Gram carried on as best she could, preserved his legacy.
But when I stop and think at bit, I cannot help but see,
There weren't enough of those early days of Gram and Gramp . . . and me.

My own Gram and Gramp` Stringam on their 50th wedding anniversary

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