Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

An Enduring Romance

From Grandma Stringam's journals
In her own words:
Grandpa. Taken shortly after this story.
 As I grew older, Mother would take us to what we called 'Dark Valley Ranch' for several weeks during the summer. The ranch was owned by one of her brothers, Alexander Coleman.
While we were there we would milk as many as 65 cows and make butter and cheese.
The cows did not belong to us.
They belonged to George W. Stringam [and his son, George L. Stringam] who pastured them on the mountain meadows next to the ranch.
George W. was willing for us to milk the cows if we would leave half of it for their calves. We would put the calves in a pen to keep them away from their mothers, and then we would tie the cow's legs and sit down on a one-legged stool and milk till we had about half. Then we'd let the calf out to finish the job.
There were always two or three of my brothers and sisters there to help.
The first time I remember seeing the man who was to be my future husband was at this Dark Valley Ranch.
This would have been in the summer of 1897, just a few months before he married [his first wife] May Snow.
He would come every two weeks to check on the cattle. He rode a white horse and led another white one which carried his camping gear.
He usually spent a night or two at the ranch when he made these trips. He was a good friend of my uncles and also my brother, Gus.
At the time, I was barely twelve, just a kid, and he was a man about to be married.
I can remember he liked to tease and gave me quite a time about a calf that was my special pet.
I can also remember seeing him ride over the hill at the ranch in the late summer, the next year, just after his wife died.
I thought to myself that he was a fine man who would make some girl a good husband.
I wished that I was a few years older and then I just might have a chance.
However, I put it out of my mind because I was sure he would marry again, long before I grew up.

Grandma and Grandpa Stringam were married in June of 1905. Their marriage lasted for over fifty years, until his death in 1959.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Sticking To It

I looked through the frosted glass of the front door. The silhouettes of two people could be plainly seen, thrown into sharp relief by the setting sun behind them.
One of them was speaking. “We’ll get to the bottom of this real quick, Inspector.”
I rolled my eyes. Officer Saggot was back. And by the looks of it, had brought reinforcements.
One of them put a finger on the bell and left it there.
I jerked the door open, startling the two men standing on the front step. “Officer?”
“Oh, erm . . . Mrs. Sputterling, I mean Kayser,” the officer said. He hitched his uniform up over his too, too solid midsection. “Yes . . . well . . . um . . . I'm back.”
I nodded. I mean, he was standing right there. Hard to miss. I leaned against the edge of the door. “Yes, Officer?”
He waggled a finger at me. “And to make sure there are no more shenanigans, I’ve brought Inspector Wilson with me.”
The way the title rolled off his tongue, I almost felt I should be bowing. I glanced at the man beside him. About retirement age. Short. Lean. With a gleaming bald head and thick, bushy eyebrows. “So?”
Now, I know you know I’m really not a rude person. But I’d been accused of nasty things by this officer and I wasn’t feeling charitable. Plus, I still hadn’t found my sister. Okay, yes, I had spoken to her, but you also know that speaking to Norma without benefit of visual aid is usually . . . unproductive. Or downright confusing.
“Mrs. Kayser.” The Inspector had decided to get into the conversation. “May we come in?”
I stood back and swung the door wide. “Of course. But I don’t know what you are going to be able to do.”
The two men stepped into the front hall.
“My colleague informs me that you have been uncooperative on this investigation.”
I frowned sharply. “I have not!” I snapped. “It’s just that he didn’t believe me!”
The inspector’s eyebrows went up. They looked like two big, fat caterpillars perched above his eyes.
“Did you know your eyebrows look like big, fuzzy caterpillars?” someone asked.
I suppressed a smile.
“I . . . erm . . . what?” The inspector looked around. “Who said that?”
“It’s her! The sister. I told you!” The officer leaned toward his colleague, looking smug. “Still up to their tricks!”
The inspector narrowed his eyes and looked at me. “Would you be so kind as to explain this, Ma’am?”
I shrugged. “I will but you won’t believe me.”
He merely waited.
I sighed. “This house is haunted.”
The Inspector sucked in a quick breath.
I paused, but when he said nothing, went on. “My sister has been quite friendly with the spirit or spirits who live here. Christmas, BBQ’s. Weekends at the lake. She invites them to everything. Yesterday, she disappeared in the middle of a conversation about going to the ‘other side’ for a visit.”
Officer Saggot snorted. “See? And she expects us to swallow this!”
But the Inspector was looking . . . interested. “Go on,” he said.
I blinked. “Well . . . there’s not much more to tell.” I scratched my head. “I’ve talked with her. She says she having fun. Norma never really was much into details.”
“So she’s on the other side right now?”
I nodded.
The eyebrows again as he tipped his head toward me. “Could I talk to her?”
His colleague looked at him, a sharp frown on his round face. “Sir, I . . .”
“If you aren’t interested, go wait in the car, Saggot!”
“No. No, I’m interested,” he said hurriedly.
“Well, we can try,” I told him. I looked up. “Norma? Are you here?”
“Well where else would I be!” Norma sounded a little testy. “I live here, don’t I?”
“The inspector wants to talk to you.”
“I heard!” There was a pause. “So? What do you want to talk about?”
“Well . . . maybe you’d like to describe to me . . . erm . . . where you are?”
“I’m right here!”
He looked around. “I don’t see you.”
“Well, on the other side of right here.”
“Could you describe it?”
A sigh. “Foyer. Stairway. Doors to the front room and the outside. Hallway to the back of the house. My sister and two policemen standing looking around. I don’t know. What do you want to hear?”
“That’ll do.” The inspector was looking more and more  . . . happy? Excited?
“Sir, I really think we should be . . .”
“Quiet, Saggot!”
The officer pressed his lips together and took a step back.
“So you don’t have to wait for night or the light of a full moon or anything like that to talk to us?” the Inspector asked.
“Nope.” Norma was sounding a little more cheerful. “The lines are always open.”
“Are there other . . . people there?”
“Oh, yeah. Lots of them.”
“Any . . . young people?”
I looked at him. His expression had just gotten very intense.
“Oh yeah!” I could hear the smile in Norma’s voice. “They keep things hopping!” Her voice lowered a bit in volume, almost as though she had turned away from us.” “Yeah. Yeah. Okay.”
“What?” the Inspector asked.
“Oh, I was just talking to someone. I’m supposed to give you this.”
A hockey stick appeared out of the air, narrowly missing Saggot as it clattered to the floor between the two officers.

Enjoying this episode of the Sputterling Sisters?
Catch up with them here:

From Over There
Today’s post is a writing challenge. This is how it works: participating bloggers picked 4 – 6 words or short phrases for someone else to craft into a post. All words must be used at least once and all the posts will be unique as each writer has received their own set of words. That’s the challenge, here’s a fun twist; no one who’s participating knows who got their words and in what direction the writer will take them. Until now.  
At the end of this post you’ll find links to the other blogs featuring this challenge. Check them all out, see what words they got and how they used them. 

My words for September: bell ~ moon ~ hockey stick ~ real ~ car

They were submitted by: Karen at   

Now go and see what the others have done with the challenge!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Behind the Apron

Mom being Mom
My Mom was amazing.
She was the force behind:
Meals appearing at clockwork intervals.
Soiled clothes in hampers being replaced by clean, folded clothes in neat stacks in drawers.
Floors scoured to a mirror finish.
Dirty dishes disappearing from the table.
Clean dishes appearing.
Yummy snacks, (ie. Puddings, cakes, pies, pastries) showing up with amazing regularity.
Gardens stretching, lush and weed-free for miles.
Lawns being mowed.
Pets fed and cared for.
Kids travelling to and from school.
Deadlines met.
Bills paid on time.
New, hand-made outfits appearing.
Hired men cared for.
Doctor's appointments kept.
Sewing and other women's clubs attended.
Bedtime routines honoured.
Sicknesses nursed.
Arguments refereed.
Church attended.
In fact, she was the driving force behind every facet of our daily life.
Always there.
To me . . . just Mom.
When I was four, she bought me a pair of skates.
Sat me on our front step and strapped them on my feet.
Then took me across the yard to the ice-covered street and taught me how to skate.
Once I got my balance, she skated along behind me for a while.
Encouraging, instructing and safe-guarding.
Finally, when she was sure of me, she struck out on her own.
Swooping and spinning across the ice like a bird.
I stopped and watched.
This was the woman who spent her days 'looking after'.
For the first time in my four years, I realized that there was more to my Mom than what I had always seen.
Here was a woman who had been talented enough to skate competitively.
I later discovered that she had also been invited to play ball professionally.
Offered a scholarship to university.
And many other opportunities.
All of which she set aside for my Dad.
My siblings.
And me.
I watched her as she spun in a tight circle.
Going faster and faster.
Coming to a final, breathless halt.
And skating smoothly away.
My Mom.
She skated past me.
She spun and looked at me.
“I'm hungry.”
She smiled. “Time to go in, dear?”
I nodded.
Immediately, she stopped and reached for my hand, helping me carefully back across the yard to our front step.
Mom was just 'Mom' again.
But for an instant, I had caught sight of something else.
Someone else.
The woman inside.
That day.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

On Being Late

They liked the old retiree, though he was a little gruff,
They had hired him ‘cause he seemed smart and surely knew enough.
And they were right. He mastered all the work they gave to do,
And it wasn’t long till he became “the one who follows through”.
He did so well at all his work, for a while, they just ignored
His penchant for arriving late. ‘Cause he always kept his word.
One day, the boss had had enough and called him in to talk.
The man said, “I know why you’ve called, it’s really not a shock.”
“I know I’m late, I’m trying, but it’s harder than you think,
“I’ll do my best and I’ll improve, I’d rather swim than sink!”
His boss just shook his head and frowned. “What did they do before?”
“Did your boss just look the other way when you came in the door?”
The man just smiled. His grizzled face had turned a little pink.
“They said, “Morning, Admiral. What would you like to drink?”

Today is a poetry challenge from Karen of Baking in a Tornado.
The topic? Be Late for Something Day. Okay, yes, the official date was September 5.
We're late.
See what the other challengers had wrought!

Karen of Baking In A Tornado: White Rabbit and Me
Dawn of Cognitive Script: Better Late Than Never, Right?
Lydia of Cluttered Genius: Better Late than Never

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Drinks and a Show

Or you could do it that way . . .
There was no lawnmower in the early days on the Berg Ranch.
When the grass got long, the hay-mower could be used, but in smaller areas, this proved impossible.
One had to get creative.
The four-footed lawnmowers were brought out.
Usually, the well-trained saddlehorses would take care of the problem—filling their bellies and tidying the area at the same time.
But one year, three angus bulls were given the job. They spent their days tethered out among the trees, contentedly munching the long grass and growing fat in the cool shade.
For water, someone would untie them, lead them across the yard to the trough by the barn, then take them back to continue their ‘work’.
It worked well. Till the ‘incident’.
Anyone who has lived on (or near) a farm can tell you that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ day.
Usually the dust-ups and uh-ohs are just something to laugh at.
And that was the case here.
One evening, several of my Berg uncles were leading the three members of their lawn maintenance crew to water. Grampa Berg happened to be standing there beside the trough as they approached.
Meanwhile, across the barnyard, two salesmen in a car slid to a stop. Seeing Grampa out in the yard, they started toward him.
All went well to this point. Bulls. Uncles. Grampa. Salesmen.
Now the bulls were used to their Berg attendants. And knew all of them by sight.
But these salesmen were new.
The bulls decided they were worth investigating.
At a run.
Towing the boys.
The salesmen were understandably alarmed. And decided, individually and collectively, that their best course was to run.
Which they did.
Right into each other.
Resulting in two stunned salesmen trying to crawl away along the ground.
The bulls stopped short and stared. Yep. Here was definitely something new . . .
I know you'll agree with me that there is all sorts of entertainment for us humans at our local ‘watering holes’.
Turns out it’s the same for the four-footed variety as well.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Unexpected Nature

Our family took a nature hike.
The famed Banff Fenlands was our goal.
The ancient forest, shady trails
And ‘Pooh-sticks’ bridges. Lovely stroll.

We’d quite an age range, I’ll agree,
From newborn babe to Gramma, old.
Saw ravens, squirrels, chipmunks, elk,
Nine burrows, nests and lichen mold.

Two had fallen, skinned their knees.
One got moss/bugs in her hair.
Three had roamed, chased back by me.
One rammed a tree, his eyes . . . elsewhere.

Two slipped and soaked at least one shoe.
One needed nursing. Mom! Right now!
Our favourite sort of family fun,
While jumping roots and dodging boughs.

Beside the trail, a rotted tree.
‘Twas taller than the other plants,
Was struck by lightning long ago,
Then finished by car-pen-ter ants.

Our son, Erik, explained it thus,
To cousins ages five and six.
He reached and grabbed the ancient trunk.
The four kids simply stared, transfixed.

“This happened once the tree was killed.”
He pulled on it to illustrate.
The tree split down the middle then,
A giant felled by its own weight.

Our son stared at the crushed remains.
A wee bit stunned by what he’d done.
The kids were happy, they’d not foreseen
Such a show when they’d begun.

Your Dad just ripped that tree in half!”
They said in their vernacular.
His young son grinned and “Yup” he said.
“My Dad, you know’s spectacular!”

There’s lots of things for you to see,
With all your family. In the woods.
Not all of them about nature,
But each and every one is good.

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 . . .

And next week in our neighbourhood,
We'll tackle 'working'. It'll be good!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pig Problems

The Berg farm, in its heyday, was a truly ‘mixed’ operation, with pigs, horses, chickens, turkeys, geese and cattle.
From 10 to 30 sows (female pigs) generally had the run of the farm for most of the year, causing no problems unless they got into the garden.
Which then generated a whole chain of corresponding (and exciting) proceedings.
But that is another story.
One of these sows was a prolific red (Tamworth), hereinafter known unimaginatively as Old Red. Every year she produced a littler of healthy, vigorous piglets. Piglets that, due to their ultra-attentive mother, were seldom approached by beast. Or man.
Enough background . . .
Old Red’s newest litter was due. Eschewing the man-made comforts of warm pen and clean straw, she headed out in her best piggy fashion across the railroad tracks into a nearby pasture to hunt out a place to farrow (give birth).
All went well to this point.
Now one of the biggest problems vis-à-vis being out by yourself and away from the farm buildings is the fact that you are out by yourself and away from the farm buildings.
All sort of shenanigans can take place.
In this case, a wandering coyote smelled those newly-born, helpless babies.
You should  know that piglet is probably a coyote’s favourite meal and this coyote wasn’t about to pass up on something so . . . available.
Before you start to panic, remember that those piglets all had a mother.
A 300 pound, snorting, stomping, whirlwind of a mother.
Who instantly began her snorting, stomping and whirlwind-ing.
The Berg family was alerted to the fact that Old Red had disappeared and, assuming what had taken place had actually taken place, Uncle Bern and Uncle Roy were sent to bring Old Red and her babies home.
Having dealt with the cranky old sow before, they wisely took a team and hay rack to aid them.
When they arrived, the sow was on the fight and charging after the coyote, who kept out-maneuvering her and heading back toward her babies.
I probably don’t have to tell you that, by this point, the sow was somewhat irate—champing and foaming at the mouth—and not about to tolerate any interference by . . . anything.
Accomplishing their design was going to take some strategy.
When the sow charged off on another attempt to rid herself of her coyote invader, Uncle Bern scooped the 10 piglets into a burlap sack.
I don’t know if you know this, but pigs squeal. Even newborns.
A lot. 
The resultant noise brought Mama frothing back.
Did you ever have one of those days?
She immediately went after this new interloper.
Uncle Bern took off. As he was hot-footing it around the wagon, bagged piglets in hand, he turned his head and realized he was looking past a row of sharp teeth right down into the sow’s gullet.
Understandably, this sight added an incentive that spurred him into high gear.
Rounding the hay rack, he tossed the bag of squealing piglets into the back, but with the sow hot on his heels, he had no time to jump in himself, so continued high-stepping.
The two, man and sow, continued to circle the wagon until Old Red realized, by the aforementioned squealing, that her babies were no long in the hands of this human.
She turned her attention in the direction of the wagon and Uncle Bern used her momentary distraction to gain the wagon himself. Uncle Roy stirred up the team and they all headed toward home.
Men and babies safely inside the wagon.
Disapproving mother snorting and grunting along behind.
Using her piglets as a decoy, the two brothers managed to entice the still-irate Old Red into a warm, dry stall. One remarkably free of coyote menaces.
In moments, the sow was laid out in the stall, grunting happily as her ten piglets nursed contentedly.
Calming the two brothers took a tad longer . . .
But I just had an idea.
Being chased by an angry sow spurred Uncle Bern to new land speed records. What if we unleashed something similar during the Olympics or other foot races.
No steroids or other enhancements to help the athletes reach new heights.
Just sheer terror.
I think it’s worth a thought . . .

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