Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, May 26, 2018

Miss Woronoski

Miss Wornoski and her 31 little readers
That's me on the far right, second row.
With my eyes shut.
Sigh.
I love to read.
It started very early.
Grade one.
Miss Woronoski taught me.
I don't remember the mechanics of learning.
Only the sudden explosion of knowledge that came with recognizing series of letters strung together.
Miss Woronoski had a list of words on a large flip chart. And each of us in the class was taken, publicly, through it. I remember her pointing to each word with a long, slender stick and the victim participant having to then read it out.
A word about the stick. It was about three feet long, with a soft, squishy, plastic, cone-shaped tip. Tons of fun to play with when the teacher wasn't in the room.
Ahem . . .
Day by day, she worked her way around the room. Closer and closer to me.
Who would have guessed that panic was one of the subjects taught in the first grade?
Well, it was.
If I would have studied the chart, I would have realized that I could read every word on it.
But I didn't. I just glanced at it briefly with silent 'deer-in-the-headlights' terror.
Thus started a pattern in my life that has served me far too well.
But I digress . . .
Finally, it was my turn. Miss Woronoski looked at me. “Diane.”
Everything I had ever known simply . . . fled. Taking my blood and body temperature with it.
A now-frozen lump, I turned slowly and stared at her.
“Its your turn, dear,” she said softly.
Her words might as well have been: Ready! Aim! Fire!
I was about to die.
I swallowed.
And nodded.
The pointer was raised.
I watched as it moved.
Sooo slowly.
Tapped on the first word.
“And,” I said, shakily.
Next word.
“The.”
Next. Ooh, a toughie.
“Into.”
Next.
“For.”
And so it went.
Pointer . . . pointed.
I said the word.
Pointer moved on.
I was doing it!
The panic started to ebb.
With only one slight hesitation, on the unbelievably difficult word, 'house', I was done.
Faster than anyone.
Miss Woronoski smiled. “Very well done, Diane,” she said.
I had done it!
Celebrations were in order.
“Diane, sit down.”
Later.
She handed me my first. Real. Book. “Here, dear, read this,” she said.
And she moved on to the next student.
I stared at the book she had given me.
The Little White House.
There was a picture of a boy riding a horse on the cover.
We were instant friends.
I opened it and, for the first time began to read a story to myself.
Riveting tales of Tom, Betty and Susan as they:
  1. Helped their parents
  2. Got presents
  3. Rode Pony
  4. Played with Flip
The magic had begun.

There is a codicil . . .
My Husby and I were on a book-signing tour through the US.
We stopped at a tiny little restaurant in tiny-er Dell, Montana, called the Calf-A.
Exceptional food, especially the roast beef.
And pie to die for.
Sorry. Moving on . . .
The restaurant was housed in what had been the little country school.
The blackboards and even some of the pictures and furniture were still there.
On a shelf was a stack of old text books.
While waiting for my order, I wandered over and looked at them.
And there, right in the middle was my book.
My first book.
Just as I remembered it.
I dragged it out and hurried back to our table.
“Look!” I shoved it under my Husby's nose. “Look! It's my first book!
I sat down and opened the cover.
Instantly, I was transported back to my sunny classroom at Milk River Elementary.
To my seat beside the windows.
Right in front of the teacher's desk.
I could smell the chalk dust.
And see Miss Woronoski taking yet another student through her chart of words.
Paradise.
I had nearly read The Little White House through by the time our meal arrived.
Not a statement on how long it took to be served.
But rather on how quickly I could now read.
Thank you, Miss Woronoski.
You changed my life.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Punch Line

The Stringam kids loved a scary story.
Okay, yes, it usually meant that one of us (ie. me) couldn't sleep afterwards.
And needed to leave a light on.
Or, better yet, crawl in with my parents.
But still, I loved to be scared . . .
My older sister, Chris was a master at it.
Scaring, that is.
She knew dozens of deliciously frightening tales.
It was a perfect partnership.
The scare-er and the easily - and very vocally - scared.
Chris would gather whatever siblings were near by.
And, with them cuddled close, launch into her current favourite.
Her soft voice would wind through the story, slowly spiralling up in volume and suspense . . .
Or suspenders, as my dad used to call it.
. . . to the end.
Her reward? Several squeaks of alarm as she loudly barked out the climactic line.
“I've got you!”
Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!
“Bloody boots!”
Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!
“Ivory soap floats!”
“Eeeeeeeeeeeee!”
Okay. I admit it. She had it down . . .
My parents were building a cabin on St. Mary's Lake.
The fact that it wasn't quite finished didn't deter us from actually using it.
In fact, our summer was usually spent . . . finishing.
We had finally gotten to the painting. Had actually spent most of yet another glorious summer morning doing just that.
Lunch was finished.
Chris had gathered my younger brother and I on our parent's bed.
For a few delightfully shivery minutes, we could have story time.
I should mention that, unbeknownst (Oooh, good word!) to us, Mom had finished the lunch dishes and returned to her painting.
Right outside the window of the room we were gathered in.
Chris was building to her usual grand finish.
Bloody boots!”
Blair and I were completely absorbed.
Bloody boots!”
We barely breathed.
Bloody boots!”
Hands started twisting.
"Bloody Boots!"
Hearts were starting to pound.
Mom stuck her head through the window. Bloody boots!
Her timing and delivery were perfect.
Our story teller proved that she was as capable as any of us of being startled.
And Mom was rewarded with three squeaks of alarm.
Eeeeeeeeeeeeee!
Yep. Mom got it.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Gazebo Geezer

And yes, he built one of his own.
My Husby loves the movie, “The Sound of Music”.
In fact, if favourites were discussed, that title would probably be the first to come up.
Most particularly, he loves the gazebo scene.
And its accompanying song, “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”.
Really loves it.
To the point that, if ever a gazebo is sighted, he has to run inside and sing.
Badly.
Really badly.
Badly on purpose.
Just to embarrass his kids.
He's very, very good at it.
Inevitably, after he has run joyfully to the gazebo and danced around inside for a few minutes, singing at the top of his lungs, his children have disappeared.
Totally.
Completely.
You thought children could disappear quickly in a shopping mall?
That doesn't even come close to how quickly they can vanish when their father-figure is embarrassing them.
Suddenly they have, quite literally, ceased to exist.
And they only reappear some time later.
When anyone – anyone – who might have witnessed their father's performance has defected and/or suffered an aneurysm.
As my Husby has aged, the suitability of the words of the famous song have . . . lessened.
With his usual creativity, he has managed to 'age' the words to suit.
Both parts.
Because you never know when some old lady will want to sing along . . .

[him]
You wait, old girl, on an empty stage
For fate to turn the light off
Your life, old girl, is a filled up page
About which you should not scoff.

Should not scoff.

You are sixty, going on seventy
Baby it's time to think
Better beware, be canny and careful
It's hard to be old, I think.

You are sixty, going on seventy
Old goats will get in line;
Eager old dads and nimble old cads
Will be wanting all of your time.

Totally unprepared are you
To face the world of time.
Timid and shy and scared are you
Of geritol and lime.

You need someone older and wiser
Telling you what to do!
I am seventy going on eighty -
I'll take care of you.

[her]
I am sixty going on seventy
I know that I'm naive
Old goats I meet may tell me I'm sweet
And willingly I believe.

I am sixty going on seventy
Beautiful as a rose
Widower dandies, wheelchair bandies
What do I want with those?

Totally unprepared am I
To take a man again.
Timid and shy and scared am I
Of geezers who call themselves men!

I need someone older and wiser
Telling me what to do.
You are seventy going on eighty,
I'll depend on you!

*  *  *

A word?
If you're walking with us out in public and a gazebo appears in the distance?
Distance yourself.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

An Evening's X-Citement

Would you put these two together?
Yeah. Me neither.








Growing up in the great outdoors gave me an appreciation for all things . . . outdoors-y.

IE: horses.
But sadly, instilled in me a complete ignorance of the finer points of creating a beautiful home.
IE: embroidery.
My Mom ran a very efficient home.
She cooked, cleaned and organized.
Gardened.
And even, on occasion, helped in the barnyard when the need arose.
With all of that, somehow, she also found time for the pretty things in life.
She embroidered pillowcases and tablecloths.
Runners and handkerchiefs.
Even tea towels.
And did them beautifully.
Unfortunately, the urge to 'pretty' things up had been left out of my makeup.
Or so I thought.
It was merely dormant.
After the birth of my first baby, I was suddenly bitten by the sewing bug.
I had to sew.
A lot.
I started out simply: overalls, pants and shirts for my boy.
Then moved on to more complex: dresses for me.
And blue jeans.
But that is not what this story is about . . .
From sewing practical, functional garments, my next logical progression was to the finer stitching.
My Mom would be so proud.
I got hooked, quite literally, on counted cross stitch.
Pictures.
Wall hangings.
I loved it.
Whenever there was a break in the day's routine . . . and even when there wasn't . . . I was back on the couch.
Stitching.
I should point out, here, that I had always been a 'night owl'.
Preferring the hours after my kids were in bed, to indulge in whatever pursuit was currently consuming me.
Usually reading.
Occasionally watching TV.
Now, my staying-up-in-the-evening time was taken up with those fine little needles and yards and yards of cotton floss.
I made dozens of beautiful pictures and hangings.
Working far into the night to complete some intricate piece.
It was a peaceful moment in time.
Until one evening.
Allow me to describe . . .
It was quiet there in the night.
Everyone in the household was asleep.
All the lights - save the one that snared me and my comfy armchair in a noose of gold - were off.
I worked silently away.
Consulted my pattern.
Switched colours.
Continued on.
Then I started to feel . . . creepy. Like someone was watching me.
I lifted my head. Peered intently into the shadows of the kitchen and hallway.
No one.
Weird.
I went back to my stitching.
Again, that feeling came over me.
Eyes.
Again, I looked.
Nothing.
I was really starting to get spooked.
I tried to concentrate on my work.
I had only put in one stitch when I was nearly overwhelmed by the feeling that someone, somewhere, was silently watching.
I dropped my sewing into my lap and peered toward the kitchen.
Then I turned and looked the other way, into the living room.
And nearly died.
Two eyes were indeed staring at me.
From about two inches away.
I screamed and pressed one hand to my suddenly hammering heart.
It was then I realized that the two large, staring eyes belonged to my son's Bopo the Clown which was standing directly behind my chair.
The eyes didn't blink or move.
They didn't have to.
Just the sight of them staring at me out of the dim light was enough to totally shatter my night.
I did what any normal person would have done.
I 'bopped' Bopo in his large bulbous, red nose.
“Honk.”
I hit him again.
“Honk.”
Sigh. I felt marginally better.
But it was definitely time for bed . . .
The next evening found me back in my chair.
Needle firmly in hand.
And with Bopo turned forcefully to the wall.
Beauty definitely doesn't need a beast.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Butt for Baseball...

Take me out . . .
I love baseball.
In fact, if I was to think about it, baseball is probably my favourite sport.
My mom was a helluva  heckofa player.
I don't know if I ever equalled her ability.
Though I sure enjoyed trying.
But did you know that baseball and self-image go together?
Well, they do.
In my grade twelve year, I boarded for a few months with my best friend Debbie's family while attending school in Magrath, Alberta.
I should mention that her family were . . . characters.
Moving on . . .
During that time I played, along with Debbie, for the Del Bonita team.
It was a blast.
And we made a respectable showing in the league.
One afternoon, we were back at Debbie's house.
Celebrating a win.
I was euphoric (Oooh! Good word!) because I had hit a three-bagger and brought in two runs.
The team hero.
Well, in my eyes, at least.
Debbie's parents had watched the game and were enjoying re-hashing it with us.
Her dad sat back and took a deep, satisfied breath. “Yep. That was a good game,” he said. He looked at me. “It's a good thing you joined the team.”
I smiled, feeling quite happy with myself.
He looked at his daughter and grinned. “Yep. Until you came, Debbie had the biggest . . .”
He paused.
I waited. Was he going to say hit? Arm? Throw?
Hero ability?
“ . . . butt on the team.” He looked back at me. The grin widened. 
“Hey!” I said, my euphoric bubble bursting abruptly.
He laughed. “What makes you think I was talking about you?”
“Hmph!”
“But it was a good game,” he said.
I stared at him, narrow-eyed. Did he really mean it? Did I have a big butt?
I looked down at my 28 inch waist men's jeans. Did they hide a monstrous backside?
He laughed again, got up and left the room. “Yep. Good game.”
“You don't, Diane,” Debbie said.
“What?” I looked at her.
“You can stop checking. You don't have a big butt. In fact, you don't have a butt.”
“Oh. Ummm . . . okay.”
“And you played a good game. That's just Dad's way of telling you.”
“Oh.”
Did I mention that her family was quirky?
To this day, when I see a well-played baseball game, I think of . . . good plays.
You thought I was going to say big butts, didn't you?
Nope. That I save for when I'm playing.
Sigh.

Monday, May 21, 2018

My Best Friend


I have a friend. I call her best.
For she stands out from all the rest,
She’s fiercely loyal, caring, kind,
Encouraging and quite refined.
She believes in me, is fun and smart,
But I almost missed this friendship’s start.

Wounded, aching, recovering slow,
Husby and me, we’d had a blow,
That rocked our family to the core,
Our hearts were broken, tattered, torn.
T’was when this single mom asked me,
To watch her girls. She’d pay a fee.

But I was hurting, my heart sore,
I really couldn’t handle more,
And so I let her down that day,
Turned her little girls away,
But she was patient. Just one year,
Had passed. And she again appeared.

Once more she asked, and I agreed,
 Her girls joined mine in thought and deed,
But it’s not there the story ends,
Their mom became my lifelong friend.
Through good and bad, we two stayed close,
And helped with things that matter most.

Years of friendship we have had,
She supported me through good and bad,
Through marriages and births and more,
And grandkids, whom we both adore.
And coasting toward that Old Age ‘Hill’,
I find that we are best friends still. 

I think about it quite a bit,
And her request to babysit.
When I was feeling sorry for
Myself. And what had gone before.
And somehow, I just can’t dismiss
You know, I might have missed all this.



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. Our monograph, 
Will talk about what makes us laugh!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Ancestor Sunday

Grandma Sarah and Grandpa Prime

You know how much I love writing the stories of family members gone before?
Well, I’ve decided to make it official and institute Ancestor Sundays!
Here we go . . .
For today’s story, first a little background . . .
My Grandma Stringam’s Paternal Great-Grandmother was Sarah Thornton. Sarah was born in Little Paxton, Huntingshire, England on June 11, 1806.
So my great, great, great grandmother, if I’m doing this right.
Am I doing this right?
Moving on . . .
Sarah died in Utah, USA on March 1, 1892 at the age of 85.
What a treasury of stories her life would be!
I only have a tiny portion, from family journals:
At the age of 10, Sarah was left motherless.
Her grieving father sent her and her older sister Jane to boarding school. A common enough practice.
But this was no ordinary school.
Nope.
This was a school that emphasized ‘discipline’.
Oh, they were quite progressive in a lot of ways: no beating or whippings were allowed.
But to make up for that ‘lack’ the powers-that-be got a bit creative.
They weren’t allowed capital punishments, so they resorted to other cruel and unusual reprimands.
Going without food was a biggie.
Or being forced to undress and go to bed in the day time.
Separation from playmates was another first response.
But the cruelest punishment was saved for any child found sleeping with their knees up.
Each child was expected to sleep perfectly straight. If anyone was discovered curled up in a comfortable position, their legs were roughly jerked straight. Abruptly waking the child.
They couldn’t even escape these people in their dreams!
Sarah survived at this school for ten years.
Finally, at the age of 20, she married Prime Coleman.
Prime’s father was against their union. He told his son that he was making a colossal mistake. In his own words, “Son, a girl who has spent most of her life in a boarding school could not hope to be a helpmate to a cattleman and farmer.”
But the two persisted and married.
Years later, Prime Coleman’s dad had to admit he had been wrong. Sarah had turned out to be a wonderful wife and mother.
Strong Sarah obviously left her rough ‘boarding school’ years in her past.
At least those horrifying punishments never made it the five or six generations forward to my childhood . . .
I don’t know if I’d have survived . . .

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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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