Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Winning Trip

My first official household job when I became a newly minted teenager was the vacuuming.

Mom would drag out her antiquated upright vacuum, wheel it over to where I was sitting watching Saturday morning cartoons, and say, cheerfully, “Diane! You've just won a trip!”
There, she would pause significantly, smiling widely at me.
I knew what was coming.
Which made it distinctly un-funny.
Finally, she would add, “Around the house with the vacuum!”
I hated vacuuming.
And her vacuum, whatever it's glowing attributes in its younger days, was distinctly past its prime.
In fact, it hardly had any suction at all.
Vacuuming with a machine that hardly sucks really sucks.
So to speak.
Dutifully, and after a significant number of follow-up (and incrementally strong) 'encouragements', I would drag myself out of my comfy chair, grasp the handle of my nemesis, and start in.
Stupid vacuum.
Look at that! It won't even pick up that piece of lint.
Have I mentioned that I hate vacuuming?
And so it went.
Every Saturday, there was a half hour or so of my life that I'd never get back.
I learned a few things:
1.  Running an upright vacuum with a spinning brush over an area rug usually resulted in the disastrous ingestion of said rug.
2. Kind of funny to watch, but not so good for either the rug or the vacuum.
3. If you stood with a foot at either edge of said rug you could hold it down.
4. Genius. And,
Hmm. I think on that last point, I will elucidate:
One day, the wretched vacuum quit sucking altogether.
For several minutes, I ran it back and forth over the same piece of lint.
Without shutting it off, I tipped it up to see if the problem was something obvious.
It was! Right . . . there.
Now, just because a vacuum had quit sucking, doesn't necessarily mean that it has stopped working.
I poked one finger towards the problem.
Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!
I dropped the vacuum and did the dance of pain, clutching my injured right pointer finger in my left hand.
Finally, I spread my hand, palm up and gazed at it.
Looked okay from here.
I turned it over.
My fingernail was black.
I kid you not.
The spinning vacuum brush had ripped it free of my finger in one quick, easy movement. Leaving it attached only by the outer edges.
And it had filled instantly with blood.
And it hurt.
Sometime later, an incessant noise intruded upon my pain and I realized, belatedly, that the vacuum was still running.
Not that it was doing any good.
I switched it off and ran to find my mom.
My black fingernail was with me for a long time.
A long time.
A reminder that vacuuming was not to be taken lightly.
Or at least that vacuums were to be treated with respect.
After that, whenever I needed to see the inner workings, not only was the beast switched off.
But it was also unplugged.
A lesson harshly taught.
But a lesson nonetheless.

P.S. I still hate vacuuming.
Just FYI.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Life's Elixir

Cool, clear water.
The Stringam ranch had plenty of it.
There was only one thing distinctive about it.
And I do mean 'stinc'.
Let me illustrate with a little aside . . .
My Husby's Gramma used to give her kids a dose of 'spring tonic' every year.
It consisted of sulphur mixed in lard.
Eaten from a spoon.
But she maintained that it kept them healthy . . .
Well, on the Stringam ranch, we never had to be dosed with this old wives remedy.
Because we got it merely by living there.
Yes, our water was right full of sulphur.
I am not making this up.
Our water was plentiful and healthful.
But reeked like rotten eggs.
The smell of it permeated everything and everyone.
And, oddly enough, we loved it.
We drank it.
Bathed in it.
Cleaned with it.
Offered it, chilled, to anyone who happened to drop by.
And snickered silently when they would hold their noses to drink it.
Poor, unenlightened visitors.
Our animals happily drank it, too.
In fact, when we took our cattle to show, we always had to take time to get them accustomed to the water in the new place.
Most places added chlorine. Now THAT really stank (Stinked? Stunk?).
And tasted worse.
These days, I'm missing our good old sulphur water.
That elixir that kept us healthy and strong.
There is an addendum . . .
The people who bought the old ranch from us hauled their drinking water.
And finally drilled a new well.
I can only shake my head.
Strange, weird people.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

A Stick in the Mud

Spring is here! Spring is here! Spring is here!
And with it, mud . . .
Or something similar...

Spring had finally arrived at the ranch.
Let me describe it to you . . .
The snow has melted away. Even the drifts which filled the ditches have finally succumbed to the encroaching sun.
Everywhere on the prairie one can see the signs of spring. New green in the prairie grasses and in the occasional and solitary trees. An infrequent blossom. The smells, in the prairie wind, of things growing . Scurrying animals. Birdsong.
And knee-deep mud in the barnyard.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
It is a wonderful time. A time of anticipation. Of wonder.
For a four-year-old who had been cooped up in the house since time immemorial (ie. hours), it is a wondrous opportunity for freedom.
And I took it . . .
Anxious to put a new accomplishment (that Mom and I had been labouring over) into practice, I disdained my ugly, black gumboots and stuck my feet into my brand new running shoes and triumphantly tied the laces.
I was free!
I dashed out of the house and into the spring sunshine.
The day was filled with endless possibilities for exploring. There was the ice-house. The riverbank. The blacksmith shop. The feed sheds. Hayloft. Pig sty. Chicken coop.
Okay, maybe not the chicken coop.
All my usual haunts.
But today, my first day of freedom, I chose . . . where else would a horse nut go? . . . the horse barn.
Where I would find the . . . ummm . . . horses.
It started out all right. I walked down the hard-packed driveway to the grass of the foreman's house.
So far, so good.
From there, I crossed to the fence. Still fine. I climbed the fence and looked across the barnyard to the tempting building just over there . . .
I jumped down.
And that is where everything fell apart. I watched my feet disappear into the morass that the barnyard had become.
Right up to my knees.
For a stunned moment, I stared down. What had happened?
I tried to lift one foot. It didn't move.
I tried again. Same result.
Panic threatened. Was I going to be stuck here for the rest of my life? I was perilously close to tears.
Then I saw my dad. He of the strong arms and wisely gum booted feet.
He worked his way over to me. I can still remember the sucking sound of his boots as he pulled them from the mud. Ssss-thook. Ssss-thook.
My saviour.
He plucked me from the mud and set me back on the fence.
Then he frowned and looked at my feet. “Where are your boots?”
I, too, looked down. Muddy socks and pants, but no shoes. Huh. Maybe my lace-tying wasn't as good as I thought.
I looked at the mud.
Dad sighed and felt down into the mud that had so recently held me, and found, first one, then the other shoe. He stood up and held them out. “Are these your new shoes?”
I gave him my best 'deer-in-the-headlights' look.
“Where are your boots?” Boots that would have been vastly easier to clean, by the way.
I looked towards the house.
Dad sighed. “You take these and head to the house. I'm going to come later and give you a spanking.”
My eyes got big as I stared at him. A spanking?!
I should point out here that I had never had a spanking from my dad. But I could imagine it. Unspeakable pain and torment.
I grabbed my shoes, jumped down from the fence and lit out for the house at my best 'I'm-in-trouble' pace.
Throwing my shoes down in the aptly-named mud room, I headed for my closet . . .
Dad never gave me my spanking. I guess he thought that I'd been punished enough when I spent the entire morning in my closet, hiding from the possibility.
Or maybe he simply forgot.
And I never again tried to wear anything but my gumboots into the barnyard.
I may be a slow learner, but I do learn.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

A Little Bit of Magic

My own ballerina.
Notice the dress.
Ignore the ketchup.

It was pretty.
It was playful.
It was elegant.
It was magic.
And when I wore it, I was all of the above . . .
I had reached the excellent and grown-up age of four.
One day, Mom, who was shopping with Dad in the big city of Lethbridge, came home with a gift for me.
A white, esthetically (and ecstatically) pleasing crinoline.
Okay, I will admit it was intended to be worn with my new ‘Aunties-Wedding/Church’ dress.
To make it fuller and ‘froufy’. (Real four-year-old word.)
But let’s face it. Who wants to wear a dress in the first place?
Am I right?
So I wore it by itself.
With my little, sleeveless undershirt and white panties, it made me look like a ballerina. So what else could I do?
I ballerina-ed.
I dipped and hopped and twirled.
I soon discovered that said twirling made my new garment fly out in the most magical way.
I danced all over the house and, when I could escape the watchful eye of my mother (who foolishly insisted I was dressed solely in underwear) out in the yard.
It also looked quite smart over my jeans, snap shirt and little red boots. Lending my outfit an elegance it struggled to achieve on its own.
And flying gracefully in the breeze caused by the fat, churning legs of my running pony, it made me feel as though I had somehow managed to sprout wings.
Yep. Magic.
Of course, Mom had a lot to say about me wearing my now-formerly-white crinoline out in the barnyard.
And separated us decisively. Laundering my beautiful garment carefully and then hanging it in her closet ‘out of reach’.
Which actions failed entirely in their objective.
Oh, the cleaning worked.
Just not the enforced separation.
A chair and a couple of stacked boxes later, my crinoline and I were reunited and dancing once more around the dining room table.
The reason I bring this whole topic up is because I was shopping with Husby over the weekend.
And there, in the aisle of a store selling such prosaic items as: washers. Baling twine.
Was a little ballerina. In jeans, a snap shirt and little cowboy boots.
As her mother hunted for chicken feed, the tiny girl was twirling.
It made the crinoline she had pulled on over her ensemble stand out in the most magical way.
I admit it. It made me cry happy tears.
And isn’t that what a beautiful ballerina is supposed to do?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018


Kids . . .
It's been forty-two years since my Husby and I said "I do."
It was eight o'clock in the morning when we exchanged our vows.
The first hot, sunny day of the year.
I forgot his ring.
And tossed the bouquet so high that it hit the ceiling and dropped directly behind me.
But it was there that the adventure started.
Maybe I should explain . . .
My Husby and his brother-in-law (hereinafter known as BIL) worked as civilian guards for the RCMP.
A job that entailed long nights spent watching the prisoners.
And visiting with the 'on shift' RCMP officers.
They became friends.
The guards and the officers.
Not the prisoners.
I thought I should point that out.
Ahem . . .
When my new Husby and I were set to leave on our honeymoon, we were very careful to leave a get-away vehicle safely hidden.
In the next town.
Let's face it, with this BIL, getting away was not only difficult. It was very nearly impossible.
He had been known to fill honeymooners vehicles with balloons or crumpled newspaper. Saran-wrap them shut. Apply Vaseline to each and every surface. Stick Oreo cookies to every window. Wrap them in toilet paper.
He had a fund of new and clever ideas.
But new Husby was crafty.
He and a trusted friend had gone days before and stashed the get-away vehicle in a garage of a friend of a friend of a  friend.
No one was finding it.
Oddly enough, his BIL asked only one thing. "In what direction are you headed?"
Husby told him. "North."
He merely smiled and nodded.
Okay, yes. It seemed too easy.
Our friend sneaked us out of the reception and into his car.
Then he took us to our truck.
It was undamaged.
We piled in and started out.
Just as we were about to turn onto the main highway to Calgary, Husby stopped.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"It's too easy," he replied.
I stared at him.
"Too easy," he repeated. He put the truck into gear and turned it around.
"Umm . . . so . . . what are we going to do?" I asked. I mean, going back to my parents' was sort of out of the question . . .
"We're still going to Calgary," Husby said. "But we're going by a different route!"
And we did. We followed every secondary, gravel and/or dirt road all the way from Fort Macleod to the great metropolis.
It took a bit longer.
But we arrived safely.
We checked into our hotel.
Stayed there for a couple of days.
Then headed out on our real honeymoon.
We were gone two weeks.
Two wonderful, enjoyable, surprising, educational weeks.
When we arrived back home, we were met by the BIL, who welcomed us home warmly.
And with a wide grin.
Husby could stand it no longer. "What did you do?" he demanded.
The grin widened. "I had the boys put an APB out on your vehicle," he said.
"You . . . what?"
"Yeah. They put an APB out on your vehicle. I'm amazed they didn't pick you up!"
An APB is an 'All Points Bulletin' which alerts every police station - and I do mean EVERY - that such-and-such a vehicle is wanted. If spotted, approach, detain and apprehend.
I mean, the police in other areas didn't know why our vehicle had been flagged. They only knew it had been.
The results may have been disastrous.
I still shiver.
And glare at the BIL.
Forty-two years later.
I love you, Honey.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Garden Treasure

A tray of nasturtiums, a little pink hoe,
The widest of smiles, almost ready to go!
She grabbed tiny gloves, in red boots, she was clad,
And three-year-old May went to garden with Dad.

Both daughter and Pop. In the dirt. On their knees.
Teased by a squirrel and mischievous breeze,
They spent most an hour in the bright springtime sun,
Mom could tell by their glee, they were having such fun!

Soon the squeak of the latch and a “Mom!” at the door,
And the sound as her gloves and small boots hit the floor,
Then the tiptoe of sweet, round and little pink feet,
‘Twas her small daughter trying to be so discrete.

She slipped up to Mom, and then peered all around,
“Mama!” she whispered, with hardly a sound,
“I was out helping Dad and watched all that he did!
“Dad buried the flowers. But I know where they‘re hid!”

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 . . .

Come back next week, we'll strain our brain,
And we three will discuss the rain!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Full Contact Art

Chalk dust can provide an astonishing medium for creating art.
True story.
Maybe I should explain . . .
The years of formal education were finally behind Shayne.
His dream of teaching art to children was being realized.
And his group of avid eight-year-olds were loving today’s assignment.
The “Go-to-the-front-of-the-room-and-strike-a-pose-so-the-rest-of-the-class-can-sketch-you” assignment.
One by one, the students were moving to the front of the class, striking a—to them—classic pose.
And being sketched.
One shy young man was holding back. But it was obvious to his attentive teacher that he desperately wanted to participate.
Shayne called the boy up.
He came. Slowly. Then, said quietly to his teacher, “I don’t know what to do!”
Shayne smiled. “How about I do a pose and you react to it!”
I should probably mention, here, that Shayne is not a martial arts expert.
And his student already had several years of training under his belt.
So to speak.
Which will be evident shortly . . .
Shayne struck an ‘as seen on TV’ karate move.
To which the boy reacted.
Spinning around, the boy laid out a level back kick.
Which caught his teacher directly in the groin.
Knocking him both to the floor and out of the exercise in one move.
The class went silent.
Perhaps they were wondering which figure they should sketch.
The young boy who had just executed (I use that word deliberately) a perfect back kick.
Or the teacher crumpled into a heap on the floor and moaning in pain.
Ahem . . .
Shayne climbed back to his feet and gingerly continued the class.
Remember when I mentioned the chalk dust?
Well, that comes into the story here.
Only later did Shayne discover that the student’s perfect back kick had been faultlessly etched for all time—or at least till laundry day—in the front of Shayne’s trousers. Right at the point of contact.
Full contact art.
Probably not coming to a classroom near you.

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