Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

A Girl's Life

Just plain busy...
Immersed in Mom's journal today.
We're born into the era we can handle, I'm convinced of it. I never would have survived in my mom's!

In her words:
As I grew older, I sometimes felt a lonely girl in a family with eight brothers.
It wasn’t enough to be able to do the things they did, work or play, as well as they.
You were still a girl with responsibilities that the brothers didn’t have. You had to be Mama’s helper.
Mama and I, being the only females in a family of eleven, were responsible for the household chores as well as the outdoor chores—the chickens and the garden at harvest time, milking cows, feeding pigs, carrying water and chopping wood.
There were also emergencies like chasing pigs out of the garden and running after stray cattle.
We also killed and plucked chickens for dinner.
We had to have meals on time, clothes washed and mended, errands run, the home tidy and clean, and to know where everything was, from shoes to letters, and hammers to halters.
We did not sit with the men at the table but ate after they were finished.
Mama was completely dedicated to her role in life. She never complained but got her satisfaction from seeing members of her family develop and achieve at work, at school, at play and ultimately reach their goals in life.
To her, her family was her life.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Twice Hit. Many Times Shy.

It's snowing. Again. I'm already nostalgic about summer.
Almost . . .

Blair in a less threatening situation. A bit less . . .
The calving field (aka: the tree field), was a half mile from the ranch buildings.
Not so great a distance if you wanted a good walk, or a short ride.
But a marathon when you were pushing sick, weary stock.
Dad, always the thinker, came up with plan 'B'. Metal corral panels that could be instantly set up anywhere.
In the corner, next to the road and immediately adjacent (good word) to the main gate, he assembled his new acquisition. Shiny green panels of tubular, green-painted steel.
Heavy-duty. Solid.
And set up at a moment's notice.
The answer to all of our prayers.
Okay, we hadn't been praying about it, but you get the picture.
Moving on . . .
We rounded up the herd and pushed them into the corrals which had magically appeared in their own field.
I can't tell you how easy it was.
Okay, I probably could, but . . .
All was going well.
Never say that when ranching. Because the God of Ranching, immediately begins to get creative.
And sends all sorts of 'challenges'.
On this particular day, he sent Nature.
Capital 'N'.
Now, ordinarily, I love storms. The bigger and noisier, the better.
But this storm was a bit different.
There wasn't any wind. A miracle where we lived.
Or rain.
There was only lightning.
And we were standing immediately adjacent (that word again) to metal corrals.
I needn't tell you that lightning likes metal.
My Dad, my younger brother, Blair, and I were busily engaged in . . . cattle stuff.
We really didn't notice the approaching storm until it broke, quite literally, over our heads.
The air suddenly turned a sort of greenish colour.
Then a deafening ZZZZZZZZZZST!
There was a transformer on a tall power pole immediately outside the main gate of the field, not 30 feet from where we were working.
It exploded.
No, really. It was there one moment. Then gone the next.
A curl of smoke rose from the place it had been. Rather hard to ignore.
We all froze in our various positions. Dad and I outside the corral.
Blair stuck in the middle.
With several head of cattle.
Instinctively, he started towards the corral fence.
“Freeze!” Dad barked.
Blair did.
The cattle weren't as obedient.
Now that I think about it, cattle never are.
Obedient, I mean.
But I digress . . .
Let's just say that they were nervous, shall we?
They immediately began to move around, jostling Blair and each other.
“Blair! Don't move!” Dad said. “The next strike will be close!”
Sometimes I hate it when people are right.
Again, the greenish colour.
Again the loud ZZZZZZZZZZST!
Again the exploding.
But what I can remember most is Blair, staring at me from inside that metal corral. That green lightning magnet.
Completely helpless.
I know I did do some praying then.
That second strike hit the next power pole, just down the road from the first one. And then the storm moved away from us.
We started breathing again.
I probably don't need to describe Blair's sprint across the corral. And vaulting of the fence.
Let's just say that the Olympics committee would have been impressed.
For several minutes, we just stood there. Breathing.
Outside the corrals.
Thankful to be alive and safe.
It was some time before Dad could convince us to get back to work.
Not an unusual challenge.
But this time we had a good excuse.
You get the idea...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Relative Age

Pfff . . . kids!
Men really don’t pay much attention to age.
At least the men in my life.
Not like women do.
Cases in point:
I had just turned twelve.
An important milestone in my world.
I could now go to 4-H.
And youth activities in our church.
Of course, there were drawbacks.
The price of admission to any of our local movies doubled.
From twenty-five cents.
To fifty.
But I was twelve.
It had taken me twelve long years to get here.
And I wanted the whole world to know it.
Dad was taking us kids to the movies.
And was in the process of buying tickets.
“One adult, three youth and three children, please,” he said.
“Da-ad!” I said. Loudly.
All eyes in the theatre foyer turned to us.
“I’m twelve now!”
“Oh. Are you?” I’m sure he was embarrassed, but he covered it well. “When did that happen?”
Kids aren’t tactful.
Even when they’re twelve.
Moving ahead several years . . .
My Husby and I were at the home of some friends.
Dinner was over.
The visiting had begun.
The conversation had turned to the inevitable - and painful - progression of old age.
My Husby and I were speaking from the advanced ages of twenty-nine and twenty-eight, respectively.
But our friends had both rounded the corner and were into their thirties.
Elderly indeed.
My Husby was teasing the wife. “Well, speaking from the advanced age of thirty-six, you would . . .”
I don’t remember the rest of his statement.
But I do recall that the wife turning an instant and remarkable shade of red. “Thirty-six!!” she said. “Thirty-six?!” She got up and looked in the mirror. “I just turned thirty-four!”
Later I asked him what on earth he was thinking.
“Well,” he said. “I thought I was really exaggerating. You know? Over-estimating?”
Oh. Note to Husby. When over-estimating, REALLY over-estimate.
Missing by a couple of years is . . . dangerous.
Because as it turns out, age, to women, is important.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Holiday Lunch

Guest Post by Little Brother, Blair

Blair on Holiday.
There was never a lack for work on the ranch.  I emphasize the word “never”.  Whenever there was a school holiday, I would initially think, 'Oh great then I can go biking with my friends or go hiking or tinker in the shop!' 
Then I would get home and dad would have a list of things that we needed to get done that day.  In my final years of high school I really didn’t care if there was a holiday, it was just  another work day for me. 

It seemed that many of these “holiday work” days were windy and cold.  Hey, it was Canada.  Most school holidays were in the fall, winter and spring.  We had lots of blustery days in the fall, winter, and spring.

Our school holiday would usually begin with getting up early and doing chores.  No sleeping in even on a holiday.  Then we would eat breakfast and talk with dad about what he wanted to do that day.  We would then go out to deal with whatever needed to be done.  If we were lucky, we got to work in the barn. Or the corrals where we had the fence to shelter us from the wind. 

The tasks were not usually difficult, just time consuming and cold.  We would work for a few hours in the morning. I learned to wear heavy coats and coveralls becausehe wind would blow dust into our eyes, ears, nose, down our backs.  

When it felt like I could not take any more cold, dad would say that it was time for lunch.  That was a very welcome part of the day.  

We would walk down to the house where mom had created many delicious things to eat. Usually it was a stew or something similar with other yummy stuff.  Whatever the delicious meal was, it had three important components.  It was warm, it tasted good and there was plenty to eat.  However we had to wash first (see above).  Mom made sure we washed before she fed us.  I didn’t argue, I just wanted to fill the void that was called a stomach. 

Mom also served plenty of homemade bread.  This was a wonderful complement to the tasty meal.  It seemed to make the main course taste so much better.  There was usually some homemade treat as well such as cinnamon buns or tarts or pie.  I realize that the cold weather and hard work enhanced the tastiness of the meal.

Now there was another benefit to having plenty to eat.  I could take a little longer and delay going back out to the cold blustery day.  However, all good things need to come to an end and we would put on our coat, coveralls, gloves, and hat and head back to complete our task.  Finally, we would finish, complete our evening chores then go back to the house where mom would have another wonderful meal.  Usually, I could go tinker in the shop after supper.

At least I was able to spend a little time and do something that I liked on my “school holiday”.

The following day, I would be back at school where I would hear about all of the fun things that my friends had done on the “holiday”.  I didn’t have much to say about my day.  If I tried to tell them what I did, they would look at me strangely.  

But hey, I got the fed the best.

Monday, November 20, 2017


We drove along, my folks and me,
And siblings, categorically,
I don’t know where we all had been,
Now we were heading home again.

Along the road, its twists and curves,
Dad drove along with care. And swerves.
And I, with nose against the glass
Was watching small poles that we passed.

Each one lit up when we drove by,
When passed, went dark. I wondered why,
And how they knew just when to light,
To keep us safe, when out at night.

Then all at once, there in my brain,
I had an im-pres-sion, again.
Quite suddenly, for sure, I knew,
What lit the poles there in my view.

Each pole was lighted just for me,
By little ‘pole men’ I can’t see.
Their lighting was a perfect mix,
Of strength, agility, and sticks.

‘Twas kind of them, I’m sure you know,
To flip that little switch below.
And light the pole for us to see,
So we could navigate safely.

I thanked them, each and every one,
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” Done.
My mom looked back inquiringly,
“What are you doing, Dear?” asked me.

“I’m thanking all the pole guys, Mom.”
Confused, she frowned at me, said, “Ummm…
Okay. If that’s what makes you glad.”
Then turned and shook her head at dad.

All this was many years ago,
And I learned fast. (And sometimes slow.)
And whether old, or youngest waif,
That life has lights. They keep you safe.

And when you've safely passed on through,
Please thank your little pole men, too.

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, cause we've seen the light, 
We tackle 'PEOPLE' with our might!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A World of Creation

You see food. I see . . . possibilities.
The headquarters/chief residence of the Stringam ranch, like most ranch houses then and now, was centred around a large, family kitchen.
Everything important happened in that room.
Eating, visiting, business, playing. More eating.
It was, quite literally, the soul of the house.
Mom reigned supreme over its scrubbed surfaces and gleaming appliances.
All traffic came through it, stopping either briefly, or of longer duration.
I lived there.
Whenever Mom was in residence (and Mom was always in residence), I could be found.
Dragging out stacks of plastic ware or pots and pans.
Or, even more exciting, the dozens of Jello packages that Mom kept in a corner cupboard.
Just for me.
It was amazing what one could construct out of those small, cardboard boxes.
Castles. Forts. Corrals. Houses. Barns. Apartment buildings. Stores.
Even schools.
Infinite hours of fun and creativity. Infinite possibilities.
I should mention, here, that Lego hadn't reached my little world.
But it would.
Moving on . . .
And my Mom, moving about the kitchen, had to step carefully to avoid disaster.
To both of us.
How lightly she moved, dancing and weaving around the complicated constructs that, to me, were edifices of genius and creativity.
Occasionally, we came to grief. Something I had made would have meandered a little too far across the floor and Mom would trip over . . . it.
But not often.
Mom should have been a professional terpsichorean (real word – I looked it up).
Or Superman. She could certainly leap any building I made with a single bound.
Looking back, though, I have to wonder why Mom kept so many Jello packages in that cupboard.
Certainly, we ate a lot of it.
But that still didn't justify the number of boxes stored there.
Maybe, like Moms everywhere, she knew . . .
Just how much fun assembling castles out of sweet-smelling boxes could be.

There is a codicil . . .
My grandchildren were playing on the floor of the kitchen as their mother and I were preparing supper. They had a complicated construction of Tupperware, old yogurt containers, pots . . . and Jello packages.
I stepped over it.
“Careful, Gramma! You'll knock down the princess' castle!”
And suddenly, I was four years old again.
Creating worlds on the kitchen floor.

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