Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Brain on Chocolate

Our boy. With niece . . .
It would probably be chalked down under the ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’ category.
Maybe I should explain . . .
Our son, Duff, lives out on Vancouver Island in a place called Courtenay.
It’s a pretty little city with spectacular views of both ocean and mountain. And green and growing things.
He works with special needs adults.
And loves his life.
Now Duff, you should probably know is the original ‘obey that impulse’ sort of person.
And some of his resulting experiments are . . . let’s just call it humorous.
Duff loves Halloween.
He lives on a quiet street inhabited mostly by adults.
But he has a great love for children and is the blessed favourite uncle of all of his nephews and nieces.
On a side note: he carries cash with him throughout the summer in hopes of running across an intrepid little peddler selling lemonade. He then vastly overpays for the treat in hopes that he can make someone’s day—as someone made his day so many years ago.
But I digress . . .
This year, Duff purchased his usual large boxes of mini chocolate bars in preparation for little ‘Trick or Treaters’.
And, as in years past, none arrived.
It is a quiet little street.
Thus Duff again found that, on November first, he had many, many little varied and assorted chocolate bars.
And only himself to eat them.
Now I should mention that Duff loves his food—mixed.
He will happy dish out whatever is being served, then mix it together with whatever else is being served.
And just as happily consume it.
Yeah. It’s a quirk.
Now our boy was busily consuming his little chocolate bars two at a time. To mix the flavours.
And his brain told him: Hmmm . . . why not mix ALL of the bars?
So he did.
Getting a large pan, he dumped in all 148 chocolate bars and warmed the whole thing, creating a large, not easily recognizable mass.
That, when it cooled, turned out to be . . . DELICIOUS!
Said brain then told him he SHOULD EAT ALL OF IT!!!
To spare you the resultant diabetic attack, I will jump to the end of the story and tell you that, this time, he didn’t obey. Rather, after that initial taste, he disposed of his experiment into the nearest trash receptacle.
We can learn something from this:
1.  Not every kitchen experiment—though it may be delicious—needs to be eaten.
2.  If you are in Courtenay, B.C. on or about next Halloween, please find Duff’s house and let him pour in the treats. He needs all the help he can get.

Friday, November 3, 2017

At the Top

You see trees. They see . . .
Being the eldest girl has its challenges.
And occasionally, its perks.
And Gerry was very clever.
And athletic.
These become important later.
Let me explain . . .
Gerry had six younger siblings.
Many of whom were boys. Competitive boys.
And there were 25 neighbourhood children, a large percentage of whom fell into the ‘boy’ and ‘all things competitive’ categories.
Keeping ahead of them took courage, forethought and ingenuity.
All of which Gerry had. In spades.
The Ackroyd family lived in the town of Raymond in southern Alberta in a grand old neighbourhood. A nieghbourhood with many mature trees.
There were fifteen trees on their family property alone.
Trees that offered shade and/or fruit and/or shelter and/or climbing apparatus in the seasons.
And it’s this last that finally brings me to the point of the story.
I know you knew I’d get there. Eventually. . .
These trees were tall. To the kids in the neighbourhood, mountain-climbing tall. Those ultra-competitive (see above) boys began to eye them as their next horizon. Their next ultimate challenge. The next rung on their road to manhood.
There was just one problem.
Remember when I mentioned that Gerry was courageous, forward thinking and ingenious?
Yeah, that comes into play here.
Because Gerry, seeing those giant trees, and knowing her brothers and neighbours well, decided there was something she had to do.
And she did it.
Before anyone else could try it, and unseen by the others, she climbed each of those trees.
But that’s not all.
To prove her feat, she carved her initials at the tip top of every. Single. Tree.
Forever after, when anyone would get the wondrous idea of conquering the great Ackroyd trees, they would know that ‘someone’ had already been there before them.
Well played, Gerry. Well played. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017


Us. In 1984. Without the parkas.
Why do I remember the winter of 1984 so vividly?
It was, in a word, COLD.
But that isn’t the only reason.
It was also the one time in my life I was able to do something simple (but extraordinary) for someone else.
Let me explain . . .
Winter hit with a vengeance on the 12 of September.
You heard me right. The 12 of September.
Thermometers everywhere hit the bottom of the glass.
And stayed there.
When everyone should have been waffling between long pants for the cool mornings and evenings, and shorts and T’s for the hot midday, we were frantically scrambling through the storage to find heavy coats, toques, boots and mittens.
Turning up the thermostat.
And piling on more quilts.
I sent my little eskimos off to school each morning, muffled to the eyebrows.
If one happened to be standing on the sidewalk outside the school at the appropriate time, one could witness the advance of hundreds of little, round, heavily-padded, slow-moving creatures, intent on one destination.
It was like a scene out of a futuristic, post-apocalyptic movie.
When Halloween time rolled around, we had already endured six weeks of the cold snap.
I use the word ‘snap’ judiciously.
Because we were ready to . . .
Then, Halloween day.
Intent on getting to school for the exciting afternoon party, one little boy ran out from between two parked cars.
And was hit by a passing motorist.
His leg was badly broken.
After we had seen him safely carted off in the ambulance, we parents milled about uncertainly.
And hugged our own children a little tighter.
Trick-or-treating that evening was a little more subdued.
A tragedy had been narrowly averted.
And the shadow of it still hung over all of us.
Hitting the streets with the old treat bag was also sadly curtailed because of the weather.
It was just so blessed cold!
My Husby took our kids around the townhouse complex where we lived.
And stopped at that.
It was as much as our little trick-or-treaters could handle.
But we had remembered to do one thing.
And this is where the extraordinary part comes in . . .
In a highly unusual move for our family, we remembered to take an extra bag around for our little friend.
People, thinking of the sad little guy, were happy to pile in the treats.
The next day, we went to the hospital for a visit.
Toting along that extra bag.
I’ll never forget the scene.
Little man in a hospital bed, his leg in a cast and suspended above him.
His mother and little brother seated on chairs beside him.
Sleepless night written in all three faces.
And how those same three faces lit up when we presented the bag of treats.
The cold continued until Boxing Day.
And when it finally broke, it stayed that way through until spring.
That little spot of warmth the day after Halloween kept us going.
The winter of ’84.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Up-ing and Down-ing

Living on a great Alberta cattle ranch has its ups and downs.
Maybe I should explain . . .
In Alberta, cattle are generally raised in one of two locations.
In a feedlot. This is for the ‘feeder’ cattle. Those animals one to two years old without offspring.
The upside of a feedlot operation is that when you have to check on your animals, you just walk out into the corral and . . . look. The downside is it’s rather smelly.
But the cattle are happy and healthy with regular feedings and good friends to stand around with, so all is well.
The other location most frequently used is the field. Now the field, as suggested by its name, is out in the field. As in . . . not close to the house.
Checking the cattle every day requires a good horse and rider. (ie. me and/or Chico or Bluey or Zee or Zephyr or Fancy or Peanuts or Pinto or Rebel or Lady or Topper or . . . you get the picture.)
Or Dad in the family car. (ie. Yikes!)
Now, for many fields, the second option wouldn’t be a problem. Those fields are flat. (Saskatchewan flat. Google it…)
In our part of Alberta, the fields aren’t.
Flat, that is.
Maneuvering around them on a horse is simplicity in itself.
And kinda fun.
In a car? Less so.
And still, Dad did it.
A suggestion of a Sunday drive inevitably ended up in one field or another, ‘just to have a look’.
I, in the back seat would white-knuckle the entire trip as the car went straight up.
Or straight down.
Or, the very worst. Straight sideways.
We kids would roll around in the back seat like dried peas (seatbelts were only something they used at Cape Canaveral).
Fortunately, the speeds were kept to a minimum as we crawled about the field.
But that allowed for me to imagine tipping over backwards. Or forwards. Or sideways.
In slow-motion.
Believe me, I would rather have been crawling. Quite literally. The smell of sage in my nostrils. The feel of the stiff, prairie grass under my palms.
The threat of some messy accident far away in the ‘never-going-to-happen’ realm.
One good thing came of our little trips through the fields.
I mastered the art of breathing only in short gasps.
P.S. I get sick on boats. Something about the up-ing and down-ing and sideways-ing. Hmmm . . . did I learn to be seasick living in the middle of the prairie? Wierd. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Breaking the Jail

Mischief-maker extraordinaire!
Halloween was a time of hijinks and high-spirited fun in Milk River in the 60s.
Much like it was everywhere.
My brother's stories always surpassed anything my friends and I could dream up, however . . .
Our lone constable tried hard to keep order in his town.
By different techniques . . .
1. Keeping a strong presence. Rather hard when you are the only cop in  town.  And the 'hooligans' (his word, not mine) know that as soon as you've driven past, you can't see them.
2. Locking everything up. Also only effective if one actually . . . locks . . .
But I am getting ahead of myself.
One group were especially rowdy.
My eldest brother's group.
Oh, they didn't do actual damage, unless you count the time they burned down a rickety old shed and, along with it, the power lines to the entire town.
But that is another story.
They just had fun.
One Halloween, our intrepid, lone policeman decided that the best defense was a good offence.
And the only way to do that was to round up the troublemakers before they actually . . . made . . . trouble.
No sooner thought than done.
My brother and his friends were escorted, under protest, to the local jail and locked into one of the cells.
Throughout the evening, many more were brought in.
The cell was getting crowded.
Our policeman was quite proud of himself. He had single-handedly stopped the mischief in our town.
What he hadn't considered was the imagination and daring of this particular group of young men.
And the security of his police station.
With its back door that was never locked.
Something that all of the kids in town knew.
Partway through the evening, one of the mayor's sons sneaked in by that door and gave the 'prisoners', which included his brother, a file.
An actual file.
I am not making this up.
Then he left.
The boys locked in the cell immediately went to work and, in short order, filed through one of the bars.
Turns out it can be done . . .
One by one, they sneaked through the opening and out the back door.
One of them, however, refused to leave. He wanted to see the face of the constable when he discovered the empty cell.
He got his wish.
The constable came in to collect one of the young men for delivery to a waiting parent.
He found, not a sound cell full of potential law-breakers; but instead, a cell minus one bar and most of his prisoners.
Consternation warred with chagrin in his expressive face. (Ooh! Good sentence!)
The lone young man was laying back on a bunk, both hands behind his head.
He sat up. "Sir! There's been a jail-break!"
And you thought Milk River was a sleepy little town!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Bittersweet Feet

Through the world of bric-a-brack, I roamed for half an hour,
Conducted by a man who was, at once, both stern and dour.

The heaps of ancient artifacts had yielded naught of note,
For certain nothing I could find about which, I could gloat.

Then, just as I despaired of finding anything unique,
A tiny foot engendered both charisma and mystique.

What seemed just brass or porcelain, was desiccated flesh!
Preserved with natron, bitumen, and myrrh to keep it fresh.

Five golden coins, I gave the man, and bore it home with glee,
For certain there was no one else as fortunate as me.

I tenderly emplaced it on my desk with honour. True.
Then retired to my bed. From consciousness withdrew.

‘Twas sometime later just as night had turned from grey to black,
Something hopped across my floor and snatched my curtains back.

A maiden waited there--her face of sad and solemn mien,
But still, she was more beautiful than any I had seen.

“You have my foot,” she said to me. And with her lady’s hand,
Pointed where my new prize did in lonely glory stand.

“Three thousand years I’ve been without. Please give it, I implore!”
I smiled and said, “Just take it. I don’t want it anymore!”

She took the foot, adjusted it, and finally stood there. Whole.
She smiled at me. “At last I will not limp whene’er I stroll!”

She took a locket from her neck and gently laid it down,
Exactly where my prize had rested, when I came from town.

She offered me her tiny hand and placed a kiss on mine,
“Whatever can I offer you, when you have been so kind?”

 “I’ll ask your father for assent. If you and I could wed.”
She nodded. “Come! I’ll take you where all others fear to tread.”

She led me down past moldering graves and interstices deep,
Through moribund and silent tombs, both she and I did creep.

And when, at last, we stood before her father on his throne,
With withered fingers grasped my arm. He chilled me to the bone!

“You’re far too young for her,” he said. “You’ve just begun to live.
Come back when you’ve three thousand years, and my consent, I’ll give.”

He gave my arm a mighty shake, I thought I’d met my end . . .
And sudden, I was in my bed and staring at my friend.

He had a grip upon my arm, had shaken me awake.
“You’ve slept in!” he hollered. “Our appointment we won’t make!”

I threw the covers back, began to dress in record time,
Trying not to think of my sweet princess so sublime.

Then, just as I’d achieved, at last, a state of modest dress,
I saw something on my desk that caused me great distress.

For there, in lonely glory, lay a locket. Yes. It’s fact.
That same laid there by gentle hand and in her final act.

And now I leave it all with you. Please give my tale some thought.
And then come back and tell me: If it happened. Or did not?

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 . . .

Next week because our snow has come,
We tackle 'cold'. And we'll be numb!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Not Quite a Party

Okay. Picture us in costumes. And masks. 
It was the most exciting two months of my life!
And it just kept getting better!
Maybe I should explain . . .
I was five, turning six.
And, finally, that day of days arrived.
That day I’d been looking forward to since . . . I had learned to look forward to . . . things.
I got to go to school with my older brothers and sister.
Surely the best of times.
First school supplies and lunch box.
First bus ride.
First time walking into the new school. (And it was new. We were the first grade one class to actually start there . . .)
First teacher.
First friends.
First enemies.
First lessons.
First mistakes.
First heart-stopping successes.
And then, first time planning a Halloween party.
School just kept getting better and better.
We would have treats and games and more treats and more games.
And be able to dress up.
Mom was right. School was the best place on earth to be.
And to make things even better, our class was going to have a second party.
At our teacher’s home!
Okay, I should probably explain, here, that there was no second party at Miss Woronoski’s home. I really don’t know where I got that idea.
And it was mine alone.
Mom dropped us kids off to go trick-or-treating (Moms did that in 1960) and we happily started in.
After a few minutes of knocking on doors and collecting treats, we got to my teacher’s boarding house. Bursting with excitement, I knocked on the door. The lady there was nice and gave us some treats. Then I explained that I was there for the party with Miss Woronoski. She looked rather puzzled, but shrugged and nodded and let me in.
Miss Woronoski wasn’t there. She was out with friends.
But I was welcome to wait.
So I did.
For hours.
Okay, I was six, so it was probably only a few minutes.
When Miss Woronoski finally arrived, she was, justifiably, confused to find one of her students waiting in her sitting room for a party that existed only in the child’s mind.
But she was sweet about it.
And did her best to entertain me until my Mom showed up.
Then she ushered me out the door, whispering words of comfort and sympathy and encouragement in my little ears.
Lest you feel sorry for me, please know I really didn’t miss out on anything that night.
I collected plenty of treats, as well as a couple of hugs from a wonderful teacher.
And isn’t that what Halloween is all about?
Almost ready to go. 

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