Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Thursday, November 8, 2018

All Hail Summer!

The day had begun like any other that summer.
Cloudless blue skies.
Soaring temperatures.
Plans to spend a few hours near or in the river.
Dad had taken my brothers, Jerry and George out to the field, haying.
Chris and I were helping Mom do 'Mom' things in the kitchen.
Well, Chris helped.
I tasted . . .
Hey, it's an important job!
Shortly after lunch, Chris and I got decked out in our fancy swimwear, ready to head to the river.
Mom walked with us as far as the lawn. She glanced up at the sky.
"Oh, my!"
I tilted my head back.
Much of my blue sky was no longer blue.
Instead, it was rapidly being obscured by really ominous-looking clouds.
Black clouds.
A storm!
I loved storms.
And we certainly hadn't seen enough of them in Milk River in the early 60's.
Our trip to the river was forgotten as Chris and I followed Mom back into the house and took up positions in the living room.
One window each.
Then we waited.
The clouds boiled up, obscuring the sun. The remainder of the sky.
The lightning started.
Flash.
Crash.
I should point out here that I had learned to count by timing the interval between the flash and crash of lightning.
One. Two. Three.
With each flash, there was a shorter and shorter interval.
The excitement level increased. 
Well, my excitement level increased.
Mom was darting back and forth from one window to another, anxiously watching for her husband and sons return from the hay field.
I was little. I lived in a 'never worried, always happy' world.
Occasionally, I glanced at my worried mother curiously.
But that was the extent of my sympathy.
Moving on . . .
Finally, we heard a weird sound from outside.
A rising wind howling across the chimney.
And then we saw the wall of . . . something . . . coming towards us across the yard.
Some really white-looking rain.
I moved to the couch beside my sister.
Her window had a better view.
Mom scurried into her bedroom and emerged with several pillows. "Here, girls," she instructed, "hold these up against the windows!"
I stared at her. But if I held the pillow up against the window, I wouldn't be able to see the storm!
We all heard the shattering of glass from the kitchen.
Instantly, Chris pressed her pillow against the window.
Sighing, I copied her example.
I don't know how long the storm lasted.
Too long, according to my mother.
Not long enough, according to me.
After it passed, we stepped outside to see the damage/amazing-ness. It all depended on your point of view. 
The yard was four inches deep in snow.
Snow?
Not bad for the middle of July.
I stepped out into it.
It was funny snow. Crunchy. More like pebbles than soft, white fluffiness.
I stomped around in it. Gathered a handful. Carried it back to my Mom.
She was standing where I had left her, just staring.
"Look, Mom. This snow is weird!" I tried to hand it to her.
"It's not snow, darling," she said. "It's hail."
"Huh." Yep. I was always on top of things.
As we were standing there, Dad's truck pulled into the yard and skidded to a stop on the slippery road.
He and my two older brothers got out.
At least I think it was Dad and my brothers.
Certainly, they had the right size and shape.
But there, all resemblance ended.
They were caked with mud. Straws of hay and grass sprouted all over them.
They really looked like . . . monsters.
I was prepared to run.
Before I could react, however, Mom moved forward and wrapped her arms around the taller one, mud and all. Then she moved on to the shorter pair.
Okay. Not monsters.
We all moved back into the house.
While Mom swept up the glass from a broken window in the kitchen, she and Dad told their stories.
His was far more exciting.
He and my brothers had been baling hay, with Dad and Jerry on the stooker behind George driving tractor.
When Dad had seen the clouds, he had tried to signal George to stop.
But George couldn't hear him over the noise of the tractor.
Finally, in his best Superman style, Dad leaped off the stooker, ran forward, scaled the tractor and turned off the key. Then he grabbed George, made another heroic leap, and shoved him and Jerry under the tractor.
Okay, it's always so much better in my imagination . . .
The three of them had gotten a very close up and personal view of the storm from beneath this rather sketchy shelter.
Fortunately, though the hail had splashed them with mud and debris, it hadn't caused them any permanent damage.
Not so the rest of the ranch.
Chickens and other birds, not quick enough to get under shelter lay in small heaps in the barnyard.
Fences had been smashed to the ground and the entire garden lay in ruins.
Appendages had been hammered off vehicles and other machines standing unprotected in the barnyard and many windows were broken.
And the grand new house being constructed behind the old ranch house where we currently lived was especially hard hit.
Besides other damage, the newly-installed siding had been hammered to bits.
Pockmarks had been knocked clean through the painted boards.
Ruined.
And we hadn't even moved in yet.
There were two hail storms that summer.
The second just as nasty as the first.
Mom finally gave up all hope of getting any peas out of her garden.
Or much else, either.
The hay crop had been ruined.
And there was a lot of repairing and clean up.
Most of which I . . . umm . . . supervised.
But we survived.
To tell the stories.

19 comments:

  1. Storms like that can be terrifying! So glad no one was hurt.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can still remember my Dad and Brothers standing there all covered in mud and straw. It was a very near thing!

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  2. oh jeeze, what a story. Amazing, your dad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was my first experience with a 'killer' hail. Dad was a quick thinker! We were still coming upon small, unfortunate animals days later.

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  3. I sure do remember that storm, and the one a week later. It was a record, both for total damage and for the number of square miles that were wiped out. From Cutbank, MT to just north of New Dayton and east past Manyberries, almost to Medicine Hat. Anyone caught in the middle of that got wiped out 100%. I remember a farmer talking about 1961. He said that was the only year he didn't have to pay income tax. "I don't ever want to have another year like that again," he said...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The one time when not paying taxes tells a whole different story! :(

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  4. Scary, scary times. I am glad you were able to bounce back, but suspect many farms and businesses went under.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're so right, EC. The summer of '61 and the spring of '67. Did in a number of ranchers in our area! Heartbreaking!

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  5. Wow. The power of Mother Nature is so frightening. Everything is normal one moment, and in tatters the next. So happy your family was safe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a little humbling, isn't it, Laurie? That we're so helpless against it! It was years before I realized our danger. And especially that of my dad and brothers. Ah, the innocence of childhood!

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  6. I've seen hailstorms when I lived in Kansas, but nothing like that. I do know what it is like to have a garden seriously damaged but we didn't depend on the garden the way you did. That was a scary time indeed, with food, animals, and equipment wiped out. People who have only seem the small pea sized hail have no idea. I was right there with you, on the edge of my sofa.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was many years later before I realized what the stunned look on my mother's face meant. I just remember her . . . standing there . . .

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  7. I've never seen hail like that; how frightening for all of you (even if you had to get a bit older to realize it!) How did the bigger livestock fare? Amazing to think it could kill small animals and damage equipment and siding.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The cows were okay as I recall. Of course, they are so hard-headed, there's not much that can get through. The horses react by running around crazily. I think one or two charged the barbed-wire fences and came out second. But I don't remember losing any of them. Of course we all know how reliable I am at the big things! ;)

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  8. I like watching hail falling and pounding the ground, but I really hate the damage it does to other things, alive or otherwise.

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    Replies
    1. I still love storms, River! And the fiercer the better, as long as I'm somewhere safe!

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  9. Holy cow that was one mother of a hail storm! We don't get snow, but we do get occasional hail - but not to the point of it smashing windows or wiping out sidings. You are certainly in the more extreme weather zone!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Every place seems to have its own special 'scary' facet, doesn't it?

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  10. Your blog is very nice,Thanks for sharing good blog.
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