Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Poop Deck




I’m almost sure it couldn’t have been a group effort.
Maybe I should explain . . .
For over thirty years, our family loved, trained and raised Old English Sheepdogs. Emphasis on loved.
The OES is a breed known for its protective nature. Its intelligence, loyalty, gentleness, energy, fun and for just being downright cute. From puppyhood right into old age.
Okay, yes, in full coat, it can be rather blind.
Let’s see how well you do with your hair hanging in your eyes!
And said coat takes hours to keep up.
Unless you do what we did (a lot of the time) and simply shave them in the spring with the other sheep!
Another drawback/perk is that this breed is large and requires an equally large amount of exercise. Which, in turn, necessitates someone actually making an effort to give them that exercise.
Enough. On with my story. Which may or may not have anything to do with what I’ve already said . . .
One bright summer morning, after the first of their three daily walks, and because they were bothering me with their insistence on taking their second walk (which was still hours away); I put all three of our adult OES’s on the deck.
It was a lovely, large deck and they roamed around the enclosed area, sniffing the air and generally acting like dogs.
Then flopped out in the center in the warm sunshine.
A short time later, I went to call them back inside.
No dogs were evident at my first glance through the window.
Alarmed, I ran to the door and threw it open.
To see, residing in lonely glory in the very center of the deck, a pile of . . . leavings? excrement? dung? muck? feces? poop?
You get the picture.
Now I probably don’t have to tell you that this sort of thing was very fiercely frowned upon.
I mean, that is one of the major reasons the cretins had three walks a day!
And our dogs were extremely well trained. And knew such a mistake was one of the few times when the boom was going to definitely be lowered.
With force.
Right. Remember when I said I couldn’t see any of the dogs when I looked out the window?
Well, that is because all three had wedged themselves under the built-in benches that ringed the edges of the deck.
Wedged.
As in—so tightly stuffed that nothing protruded past the 12-inch bench seats.
And I probably don’t have to remind you that these were large dogs.
I stepped out onto the deck.
Silence. One would never know they were even out there.
I moved over to the scene of the crime. “Who did this?!” I demanded.
The silence remained unbroken.
Oh, they were good.
“Come out here!”
Three large dog bodies slowly crept out from under the benches.
Again, I demanded, “Who did this?!”
I don’t know what I was expecting. Someone to throw their furry self on my mercy?
Two loud voices denouncing their fellow?
That’s what my kids would have done.
If . . . one of them had had an accident on the deck.
I mean . . .
Never mind. This doesn’t apply at all.
I probably don’t have to tell you that I never did discover the culprit. Although, if I try I can almost picture it: One dog doing the dirty. And two others running about, screaming, "Oh, my word!!! Look what Aldo did!!! Everybody flee for your lives!!!"
Ahem.
All three received the standard punishment, the swat on their furry backside and ‘don’t do it again!’ that had proven so effective in the past.
But still I wonder . . . I mean, it couldn’t have been a group effort.
Could it?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

In the Blizzard

Winter is finally over.
So let's talk about it . . .
On the prairies, winter storms can blow up very fast.
Obliterating the countryside and bringing visibility to zero.
One can lose one’s way walking between the house and the barn.
The best thing to do is to get inside where it’s warm and stay put.
If one has warning, one can get to the nearest safe place.
If one doesn’t . . .
A storm was coming. The local school had been emptied of children, sent home with strict instructions to get there as quickly as possible.
Most of them made it.
One little girl did not.
As the storm closed over the area, frantic searchers were sent out, fanning the countryside for one tiny figure in the vast, freezing blizzard.
A hopeless search.
It was many hours before my Uncle Owen found her, nearly frozen solid.
He hefted her on his back and began to make his way toward the Stringam home. Partway there, he met his father and the two of them managed to carry the poor, frozen figure the rest of the way.
My Dad remembers the scene well as they carried the still and silent girl into the house. As he told us, her feet ‘clopped together like two wooden blocks’.
She was handed over to my Grandma Stringam, who was largely accepted as the ‘doctor’ in the area.
Grandma took the little frozen body and laid her on the bed. Then, throughout the night, she tended her, rubbing her extremities with coal oil.
By the next morning, the girl was awake and improving.
She survived - her only damage the loss of the nail from one little finger - largely due to the knowledge and care of my grandma.
Pictures of the prairies show a soft, gently-folded landscape. Largely treeless, but covered in waving grass and sagebrush. The occasional stream or river flows through and the sky is clear and endless.
A perfect world.
But, in winter, it is a place to be respected.
Anything can happen.
And when it does, thank goodness for people like my Grandma.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Church Panties

Okay, yes, I’m on a ‘panty’ kick.
As this is my second post on the theme in a week . . .
Emily. With a booboo. And a friend.

For four years, I had the assignment to lead the music in the children’s organization in our church.
My dream job.
Every Sunday, I got up in front of a group of children, age three to eleven and sang with them.
Have you ever heard a group of three-year-olds singing “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam”?
If you can do it without tears, you are super . . . person.
There is nothing cuter in the world.
And I got to do this every Sunday!
For four years!
Sigh.
Inevitably, there were extra perks.
Because what dream job doesn't come with unexpected bonuses?
Each week, we invited the child or children who was/were celebrating a birthday, to come to the front so the rest of the group could wish them well.
Musically.
Everyone enjoyed it.
The singers.
And the sing-ee.
Afterwards, I always asked the birthday child what their favourite song was.
And then all of us would sing it.
Normally, this was fairly routine.
They would pick a current favourite.
The pianist would launch in.
The children would follow.
Occasionally, we would encounter a hitch.
Perhaps a song that was a current favourite.
But somewhere other than the church . . .
Let’s face it, launching into ‘Stairway to Heaven’, though it sounds appropriate, would be anything but.
Ahem . . .
Sometimes, they merely got the name wrong.
Case in point:
We invited little Emily to the front of the room.
Everyone wished her a happy fourth birthday.
At the top of their voices.
She was smiling broadly by the end.
I leaned down. “Emily, what is your favourite song?”
She looked up at me. “Little Purple Panties!” she said excitedly.
“Oh, I said. “Umm . . . yes.” I looked at the pianist, who was staring back, wide-eyed.
“I think what she means is “Little Purple Pansies,” I said.
The woman’s face cleared. “Ah!” She nodded in relief.
We made it through.
Though I must confess that the temptation to sing the wrong words was very strong indeed.
And who knows, maybe a song, ‘Little Purple Panties’ is just what is needed when things get a bit . . . boring . . . in church.
Thank you, Emily!

The real words:
Little purple pansies touched with yellow gold,
Growing on one corner of the garden old.
We are very tiny, but must try, try, try,
Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Growing Toddlers

It seemed a good idea, I thought
                Some hours in the yard.
The winter months had been so long
                And I felt the need of working hard.

So armed with gloves and rakes and things,
                I started out the door.
Trailed by two toddlers
                Who loved to help with Gramma’s chores.

Things went well for a tic or two,
                As Gramma started in,
The girls spun circles in the yard
                Till Linney fell and bumped her chin.

A kiss and cuddle, tears were gone
                It really wasn’t hard.
I set her down and looked to see
                That Hazel’d wandered from the yard.

She’d not gone far, I scooped her up
                And carried her back home.
Then penned them both behind the gate,
                And told them sternly ‘not to roam’.

While toddlers watched, I grabbed my rake,
                But got no further then,
‘Cause Hazel shrieked; I had to run
                She’d fallen in the mud . . . again.

I fished her out and cleaned her off,
                A kiss, a tale to tell,
Then turned just as another shriek,
                Told me Lin was stuck as well.

I’m sure by now you’ve realized
                I didn’t manage much.
With Lin caught in the tramp’line springs
                And Hazel eating chalk and such.

Four bathroom breaks, ‘Pee, potty now!’
                And squabbles over things,
And pouring sand in someone’s hair,
                And all the angst that action brings.

Searching the yard from stem to stern
For Linney’s missing shoe,
Then doing the whole thing o'er again
                Cause Hazel’s hat was ‘somewhere’, too.

With helping up and helping down
                And watching in between.
It’s no wonder that my work just sat,
                With little progress to be seen.

Last night when all were sound asleep
                And peace had been restored,
I looked out the window there,
                And sang my praises to the Lord.

For though my tools were strewn about
With no sign of success,
My time was quite well spent, because
                I'm growing Toddlers in the mess.


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 when we three 'tweens' (between 50 and 100), 
Will talk about what friendship means!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mothering

I Miss You, Mom

Daughter. Wife. Mother. Friend. Parent. Confident.
Co-conspirator.
I have lots of stories about my Mom.
Favourite stories.
And in my mind, the woman at the center of each of them is still vibrantly alive and busy.
If I walk into the next room, I will hear her tell me, "I'm going to stop buying that peanut butter. You kids just eat it!"
Or if I open the fridge, "What's wrong with that milk?! There's nothing wrong with that milk! It tastes just fine!"
Or better yet, "Don't eat that! It's for Christmas!"
When I look out the window, she'll be out there in the garden, hoeing or harvesting. Hauling around her paint sprayer to put on just 'one more coat'. Sprinting to the top of a corral fence because some bull objected to her presence there.
Hauling feed to cattle, pigs, chickens and dogs.
Turning around, I'll see her seated at the kitchen table, writing a short story or poem. Or occasionally snatching a few minutes to read an article in the Reader's Digest.
Or studying the scriptures and preparing Sunday School lessons.
I can see her cooking and baking endlessly in her scrupulously clean kitchen as she prepares feasts for an endless stream of children and hired men.
Or straining the socially acceptable language barriers as she copes with a recalcitrant sewing machine while making yet another article of clothing for one of her six children.
'Accidentally' ringing the ranch bell.
Hitting a home run to the delight of some and the dismay of others.
I can see her skating across the ice, spinning and dipping and coming to a breathless halt.
Kissing countless booboos and rescuing heedless children from hair-raising escapades.
Taking smiles and meals to someone who needs exactly those things. In that order.
Knitting and crocheting for everyone except herself.
In fact, spending every moment of every day in service to others.
And happy to do it.
All I have to do is turn around - or pick up the phone - and she'll be there.
Then reality pays a short visit.

She's there.
In my mind.
Busy. Happy. Healthy.
Someday, I'll see her again. Someday.
I miss you, Mom.
To all the mothers in my life, those who mothered me, and now those who are mothering the next generation, I love you!
Happy Mother's Day!

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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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