Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, March 10, 2018

Three Horses



Blair. BRH (Before his REAL horse)
Shamy. On the day she came into our lives.
Blair is the little guy in his sister's hand-me-down, red snowsuit.

 While growing up I was given 3 horses to take care of.  These noble steeds made a great impact on my life and even today I often think about them. 
The first horse was given to me on my third birthday.  I don’t remember much from that day except for the thrill to have a horse that I could call mine.
She was an extremely gentle and an extremely fat welsh pony named Shamy.
I don’t know who came up with the name. I suspect that my older “smarter” horse savvy sister.
At the time, I didn’t care what the horse’s name was.  I just cared that I had one and had risen to the lofty ranks of cowboy.

Shamy on the day she became Blair's.
Shamy was so fat that the birthday picture of me sitting on her was quite amusing.  Me, sitting on her back with my legs extended almost horizontal (that’s a word I learned in engineering school).
As I grew a little older I was able to sit more like a cowboy on my great white horse.
At the mature old age of 5, my sisters took me on a trail ride.
And it was this that illustrated what was most amazing about Shamy . . .
I found myself at one point getting pulled off her back by a broken fence post that I didn’t have the good sense to duck under.
Now some horses would be gone to the farthest points of the field if that happened.  Instead, Shamy just stood and waited.
I should probably mention that at the mature age of 5, I was very mad and carrying on (ok I was crying) until my sister pointed out that Shamy thought I was being silly.
I looked up at Shamy and she seemed to have a very annoyed expression on her face.  I don’t remember much more about Shamy. I expect she got old and went to the great horse pasture in the sky.

I road several horses through the years, but I didn’t really have one that I was responsible for until I was given an Arabian cross that we called Molly—an amazing horse with limitless energy. When I rode her, she was always moving.
I think she had a case of horsey ADHD.
I taught Molly how to open a barb wire gate while I sat on her back.
This is a little tricky. You ride up to the gate, lean off to the side of the horse and loosen the gate post. Then you pull the post back slightly and have the horse spin around in a tight circle while passing the lead post under the horse’s neck.
See? Tricky.

One thing that I couldn’t do is get piled (horse parlance for dumped. Bucked off. Catching air. Shot to the moon. You get the picture) by Molly. If that happened, she would head immediately for the farthest end of the field.
However, one day, Molly and I were trying to cut an ornery cow from the herd. The cow took off at a run for the nearest faraway place and Molly happily followed. The cow rounded a grove of trees with Molly and I in close pursuit. As we rounded the trees, Molly crossed a muddy cow trail and lost her footing.
She and I both hit the ground.
I twisted my ankle slightly but I think that it knocked the wind out of Molly because, though I lost the reins Molly stayed. I was able to grab the reins and we resumed our chase after the cow. 
A little more slowly and a lot more cautiously.

My third noble stead was a Yamaha 100.
Yes, I’m aware that my sister does not consider motorcycles equivalent to horses.
At the time that I got the bike I would have disagreed but now . . .
However, the Yamaha had several advantages:
It took less time to saddle (saddle/seat already attached).
You could cover large areas in a very short time.
They didn’t need to be fed hay every day.
And, more importantly (even though at times I thought so), they didn’t have a mind of their own.
The major disadvantage was that you could not enjoy a peaceful ride to check the cow herd.
As I get older I often think about Shamy and wish I could ride through the herd just one more time.
In the early morning. Smelling the sage. Listening to the early morning sounds. Watching the small calves get up from their evening sleep and stretch.

I miss the peace.

And yes, he occasionally shared her...

Friday, March 9, 2018

Beast Mastered

My elder siblings. Before they were elder . . .
I was witnessing a miracle.
My brother, George, was on a horse.
Voluntarily.
The professed hater of horses. Astride one.
I was so proud of him.
And excited.
A whole new world was opening up for me. I could picture long rides together, exploring the ranch, picnics in our saddlebags.
Okay, so neither of us actually had saddlebags, but we did know how to tie a bread bag of food behind our saddles.
That was almost as good.
I also have to admit that we never had quite acquired the knack of packing said food so that it didn’t mix together. Once we had chocolate cake and cheese, that . . . 
But that is another (gulp) story.
Moving on . . .
George was riding. He was on his little pony, Star, doing circuits of the barnyard.
A slow start, but a start nonetheless.
I was on my way to the corral for my horse, Pinto. This amazing event simply had to be shared. I couldn’t pass up such an incredible opportunity.
Even as I approached the corral, however, I could see that destiny was working against us.
Destiny in the form of one of the hired men.
He was standing, motionless, next to the gate of said corral. In his posture I could detect . . . malevolence? Cunning? Creepy-ness?
No, just stupidity.
He reached out and . . . opened the gate.
Now the horses imprisoned there had been standing around for hours, heads hanging, trying their horsey best to look as unenergetic as possible. The hope being that, through their posture alone, they could discourage any potential riders from inflicting them with their frivolous plans for . . . work.
Or anything work-y.
Dynamite couldn’t have moved them.
Only one thing, in fact, could awaken them from their comatose state.
The promise of freedom.
Through that open gate, they could glimpse . . . far away-edness. 
And they made a straight line for it.
Right through my brother, George.
He was calm. He didn’t panic.
He had me for that.
I watched in horror as his little horse was scooped up by the rest and whisked off towards . . . wherever they were going.
With horses, you never know.
They don’t even know.
The entire group galloped as one, down the hill, along the river.
My brother’s blue coat was clearly visible in the melee as he clung desperately to the smallest horse.
Now one can only imagine the deadly possibilities.
The churning hoofs, flint hard and razor sharp.
Okay, I’m exaggerating.
But they still could cause some rather serious damage.
Even at four I knew that.
I spun around and headed for the house screaming at the top of my lungs, “My brother! My brother!”
Not really original, I’ll admit, but effective.
My Mom came on the run, white faced and breathless.
I pointed at the cloud of dust rapidly moving towards the nearest far-away place and continued to holler. 
The two of us stared at it.
And at the little cloud that was rapidly losing ground against the larger horses.
Star was falling behind.
It was then that we saw pony and blue jacket part company.
Sensing a safer moment, still not too far from the ranch buildings, George had decided to cut his losses, discard dignity, and bail off.
As his tiny figure began the long trek home, the two of us raced to meet him.
It was a joyous reunion.
Not.
George was bruised, both physically and emotionally.
And mad.
And no one can get mad quite like George.
Picture Dad.
But smaller and more concentrated.
Fortunately, he wasn’t mad at us.
Just at the hired man.
And every horse in the world.
A fact that (sigh) remains to this day.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Tiny Bubbles

See? Parents have the best parties.

Mom and Dad were having a bridge party.
Bridge is a card game.
Now you know as much as I do.
Moving on . . .
The cards tables were being set out.
Lacy, white cloths arranged.
Bowls of nuts and fancy dishes of bridge mix placed.
(Note: Pertaining to the bridge mix . . . some of those little balls of chocolate delicious-ness aren’t. Delicious, that is. The chocolate is there to fool unsuspecting children who may or may not be snitching. True story.)
Adults had the best parties.
Daddy was arranging the bar.
Now you have to know that my parents were teetotalers. But most of their friends weren’t. So they (my parents) got very creative with the drinks they served their guests so they (the guests) wouldn’t miss their normal imbibe-age-ness (Sigh. Okay, you’re right, I don’t know what to call it. Sheesh.).
Usually, their beverages of choice were fruit juices mixed with an assortment of fizzy soft drinks.
And all were kid approved.
I know because I was the kid.
And I approved.
“What’s that?” I’d ask Daddy.
“That is orange juice mixed with Cream Soda.”
“Can I have a sip?”
“Yes. Just a little sip.” Pours some into my glass.
Sippage. “Mmmm. I like that one!”
“Good.”
“Daddy. What’s that one?”
“That one is lemonade.”
“Can I have a sip?”
“Yes. Just a little sip.” Pours some into my glass.
Sippage. “Mmmm. I like that one.”
“Good.”
“Daddy . . .”
You can see where this is going.
So did my dad.
And we’ve come to the point of my story . . .
Now there were always guests that didn’t want their drinks so sweet. And for these, my parents stocked something called ‘Soda Water’.
And cut up lemons and limes.
Which looked intriguing.
Till Daddy let me suck on one.
Suckage. “Yuck! I don’t like that one!”
“Good.”
“What’s that?” I asked, pointing to another drink he was preparing.
“That’s Soda Water.”
“Can I have a sip?”
“Sure.” Pours some into my glass.
Sippage. “Blah! Daddy that’s yucky stuff!”
Quiet laughter as Diane disappears.
The memory of that awful stuff stayed with me for decades. Yes, I have a very long memory. For anything unimportant.
This Christmas, Husby bought me a soda machine. Now I pour clear water into a bottle and attach it to the spigot. Push the button allowing lovely bubbles to be shot through the water, resulting in . . . soda water.
Sippage. Mmmm. I like that one!
How far I’ve come . . .

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Legs of Winter

Daddy at Work: Winter
Daddy at work: Summer
Daddy at church.

Daddy at leisure
Daddy at play.
 I know this is going to be hard to believe, but I just spent six whole weeks dressed in shorts.
In the middle of the Great Canadian Winter.
I wouldn’t believe it myself if I hadn’t experienced it.
Of course I was nowhere near Canada when it happened.
Still . . .
On the last day of our holiday I was lamenting to Husby about having to put on long pants to go home. And it reminded me suddenly of my dad . . .
Daddy dressed pretty much the same every work day.
Neatly creased blue jeans. Tough but tidy work shirt.
Laced up work boots.
Gloves. Hat.
On Sundays, he wore neatly pressed dress pants and crisp, white shirt and tie. Or a full suit.
Polished boots.
No gloves. Dress Sunday cowboy hat.
When the rest of us swam, he watched and guarded, fully clothed.
My point in telling you this is: I saw Daddy’s bare legs maybe half-a-dozen times in my life.
In. My. Life.
Daddy didn’t go for shorts.
Even in the towering heat (it does happen) of a three-week Canadian summer.
Maybe he was self-conscious about the colour of his legs? Glistening white, as would be expected of the skin of a redhead that never, ever sees the light of day.
Skinny? Oh, they were well-muscled. But riding horseback all day, every day, makes wiry muscles as opposed to massive ones.
Hairy. Okay, this one goes without saying. Everyone’s legs are hairy.
Ahem . . .
Whatever the reason, he was never seen in shorts.
Until that day . . . (cue music: Dun Dun Duuuuun!)
Daddy was living in a senior’s apartment complex in Taber, Alberta.
It had been near his sweetheart when she was confined to a nursing home in her last years.
He stayed on after she was called Home.
He liked it there.
Enjoyed the activities. The amenities.
The peace and quiet.
Liked the people.
His neighbours were affable, social people. He and they got along well.
Mostly.
On that day, he and his neighbour stepped into the hallway at the same time.
His neighbour stopped. Stared.
Daddy was wearing shorts.
Exposed were about 16 inches of unnaturally white skinny-ness.
The neighbour grinned. “Mark!” he said. “Are those your legs? Or are you riding a chicken?”
Yeah, I’m pretty sure those shorts went right back into hibernation.
P.S. Those skinny ‘Stringam’ legs have been passed down. My youngest sister got them. And the other day, I was watching a group of my grandkids running along, draped in a sheet that covered all but their lower legs and feet.
There, in the middle was a pair of skinny, white legs.
When we pulled off the sheet and matched legs with owners, I realized that my #3 grandson is all his grandfather ever was.
And more.




Tuesday, March 6, 2018

A Dicey Situation

A group of dice. Also know as a 'Gamble' of Dice.

Our family was playing a dice game.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this concept, it is a game.
Played with dice.
Okay. Now that we’re all on the same page . . .
It seemed like a good Sunday afternoon activity. Cold outside. Family inside. Warm. Fed.
Yep. Time for a dice game.
I wasn’t doing well.
That’s the thing about dice. They’re fickle. There’s really no planning.
Okay, I know it’s possible for experienced dice-players to cheat.
But in our family something is missing from that scenario. Two somethings, actually.
First, experience. (No explanation needed.)
And second, the desire to win.
We don’t keep score.
Ever.
We just play.
No one gets mad. No thrown knives or nasty looks.
Perfect.
So, back to what I was saying . . .
Dice game.
Doing poorly.
Now my SIL was seated next to me. And he was doing well.
A little too well.
I accused him of using up all the dice’s luck before he handed said dice on to me.
Not my finest hour, but I still think he was draining them somehow.
It was then we came up with a creative and possibly effective scenario for those reluctant dice.
Threats.
My daughter suggested buying some cheap dice. Then, in plain sight of our actual dice, smashing one of the cheap ones with a hammer.
Brilliant, you say?
I agree.
The actual dice would be so horrified at the possibility of being next, they would flood me with their good luck.
Genius.
My other daughter also offered this. “If that doesn’t work, we take some little dice, hold them up and say, ‘The kids are next!’”
You might want to think twice about playing games with our family.
Just FYI.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Ernest's Winter

The walks were nearly bare! Then, this morning . . .
 November 8th. They squealed with glee,
They ran outside, both he and she.
For glistening, glorious, flakes of snow,
Upon the ground in drifts did go.

Almost too lovely to believe,
They praised the Lord that they did leave
The desert dry for such a place,
With snow-wet cheeks, they did embrace.

Our Ernest went to shovel, then,
And soon their walks were clean again,
Till the snowplow trundled through,
And on their sidewalk, snow did strew.

He laughed. “I get to shovel more!”
And finished this delightful chore.
Then back inside watch it all,
The white snow unrelenting, fall.

Next day the sun arose and shone,
Soon all their precious snow was gone,
They sadly groused to neighbour, Bill,
“Don’t fret,” he said. “You’ll get your fill!”

And he was right. A week or so
Would scurry past, then winds would blow,
And with them came eight inches more,
All piled so nicely there. Outdoors.

With scoop in hand, he headed out,
And finished just in time to scout,
The snowplow coming up the road,
And dumping, once again, his load.

He shook his head. “That goofy guy!”
“He must not see as he goes by.”
Then, with a grimace, he did bend,
And shoveled up the snow again.

Next day another foot or so,
Upon their neighbourhood, did go,
It took two hours before he saw,
The sidewalk bare, the snow withdrawn.

Until the driver of the truck,
Deposited his load of muck.
He shook his fist and nearly swore,
Then sighing, started in once more.

I probably don’t have to say,
The snow fell day by day by day,
Poor Ernest and his mighty scoop,
Understandably, were pooped.

Then came that day and the last straw,
Another foot or so he saw,
His shovel broke, he nearly cried,
He threw it at the snowplow guy.

He stomped inside and told his wife,
That he no longer liked this life.
He said, “It’s May. For Heaven’s sake!
Who knows how much more I can take.”

“Before I have a heart attack.
Or I beat someone blue and black!
Go grab your bags and pack your things,
We’re moving back to Desert Springs!”

So If you’re thinking of the snow,
How jolly and how fun to go,
It is as sweet as you perceive,
But in Canada, it never leaves!
Sigh.
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, we three will write for you, 
A story that is 'mostly' true!

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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