Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Moose-tly Terrified

See? Scary!

Gramma Berg's house had a sunroom.

A wonderful spot.
All windows.
And one permanent tenant.
The sunroom was wonderful.
The tenant wasn't. At least to a very small girl.
It was large.
Dark brown.
With great, glassy eyes, a huge nose, a wooly beard.
And large ears.
Oh, yes, and an enormous pair of antlers.
Yes, I admit it - it wasn't your normal tenant.
It was a moose.
The quite obvious fact that it wasn't alive made no difference to its terror factor.
I was certain that, if I went into that room, the great creature would blink its eyes and 'get me'.
Okay, obviously I didn't think that through. The creature possessed no visible limbs, and for all of my life, had resided in the same place on the wall.
Just exactly how it was supposed to 'get' me, we'll never know.
But the truth remains, it terrified me.
And knowing this, my cousins made great sport of daring me to go into the sunroom.
Something which inevitably sent me screaming to some moose-less part of the house.
I loved Grammas house.
The moose and I tolerated each other.
So long as he kept his place, and I could see that place from a distance, we got along fine.
Kinda like a large spider.
But that is another story.
After Gramma passed, the moose was donated and hung where it could scare scores of other people.
Moving forward fifty years . . .
Several members of my family were holidaying in Banff, Alberta.
We spent a week scrambling about the mountains and wandering through the townsite.
We took the kids to see the 'stuffed animal place'.
Or Banff Museum, as it is officially named.
It houses hundreds of perfectly preserved birds and animals native to the Banff area.
Many of which were present when the museum opened.
In 1903.
On the second floor, it is quite possible to get up close and almost personal with the head of Sir Donald.
A bison.
Several of us were standing, looking at the great animal.
My six-year-old granddaughter peeked out from behind me.
“He scares me,” she whispered, shivering.
“But he's dead,” I said. “He can't hurt you.”
“He's scary,” she maintained.
Quite suddenly, I remembered Gramma's moose. And trembling in fear as my cousins dared me to go into his sunroom.
Yeah. It pretty much looks as though neither I (nor Sir Donald in point of fact) had a leg to stand on . . .

Friday, June 8, 2018

Beard or Blonde

My Father-in-Law (hereinafter known as FIL) was a tall, lean, man of few words.
Quiet, thoughtful and endlessly patient; when he spoke, you listened.
Usually what he had to say was of import.
But he had an aversion to blondes.
No one knew where this particular sensitivity came from. An unfortunate acquaintance.
A particular experience.
The true reason(s) passed when he did.
His wife, my Mother-in-Law (Ditto: MIL) was a small, dark-haired, bustling person of chatter and good humour.
Living for family and household.
The two of them, together, created a world of peace and calm.
Happy posterity and good food.
But there was one place where they differed.
Noticeably so.
Let me tell you about it . . .
FIL was a clean-shaven man. Never prone to going more than a day or two without face scrape-age. Even during harvest, a time in which many other rules and customs were sacrificed in favour of bringing in the all-important crop.
MIL preferred it that way. She liked to see the lines of one’s face.
But occasionally, FIL would tire of the ever-present razor and declare that he was going to grow a beard.
Anyone within hearing distance would suck in an astonished, slightly apprehensive breath and glance at MIL.
She would smile gently and announce, to no one in particular, “Hmmm . . . I think I’ll dye my hair blonde!”
FIL would silently lift his newspaper and go on with whatever had been interrupted.
MIL would go back to bustling.
And the conversation (so to speak) would die. Right there.
My In-Laws had an amazing rapport.
A friendship.
Truly loving relationship.
Even when they differed.
Interesting. Quietly heading off rebellion using one's partner's own aversions.
Only in the best of families . . .

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Cost of Integrity

A guest post by Little Brother, Blair.

Pretty. But . . .
Love had paid off and my cow that was once a sick heifer grew up and became part of the herd.
She had a bull calf that also grew up and sold for a sizable sum of money.
And that’s where this story starts . . .
Oh the things that I could do with that money!
A motorcycle.
Maybe a motorcycle and a stereo.
I bought two heifers from Dad’s herd.
Two words: Dad. Convincing.
Okay, that's three.
Moving on . . .
One of the heifers that I now owned was tall and growthy (Yeah, I know, but I have to use that word).  She appeared to be the picture of the perfect cow.  An orphan, she had been raised by a foster cow that had lots of milk. This meant that she had lots to eat and consequently became very big.
And fat.
She became part of the young cow herd on the ranch.
I took her to a couple of cattle shows and won first place trophies.
Eventually, my very fat, very big cow had a very big, growthy (yes, that word again) calf.  It was about then, we discovered why she was a very big, fat cow.
All the feed that she consumed maintained her large body. She had very little milk and her calf did not grow. 
Dad and I decided that she would have to go to market (Can you say Big Mac?). 
About that time, we had a visitor to the ranch. The kind of rancher that always had a good story to tell about his “prize” bull or cow at all of the cattle shows and sales.
The other ranchers would listen politely, all the while restraining the urge to roll up their pants and start ‘shoveling’. (A term used by ranchers when a fellow rancher tells stories that are a little hard to believe. I'd like to go into more detail but I am trying to be polite.)
Ahem . . .
The verbose rancher looked at all of dad’s cows, spotted my very fat, big cow and immediately offered a healthy sum of money for her.
Dad told him she was headed to market and gave him the details. 
The other rancher went pale.
I think he started to hyperventilate.
He wanted that cow.  He could get around the ‘no milk’ issue by having her calves raised by milk cows.
But dad (and I) had determined if a cow could not adequately feed her calf, she was not worthy of being a cow in our herd.
Or in anyone else’s. If a cow or its calves did not perform well, it would eventually reflect back to our herd.
The rancher was very upset and (once he started breathing normally), left dad’s place in a huff.
We continued with our plans and the very fat, big cow that had no milk went off to auction (burgers). 
And provided a healthy sum from which I bought my motorcycle one or two more calves.
Dad, again.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018


Mom and Dad.
Yes, they always dressed like that.

Today is dedicated to Mark and Enes Stringam, my parents.
Mom and Dad were married 70 years ago today at the United Church in Brooks Alberta.
Reverend Dixon performed the ceremony, which was attended by family and friends.
But that was only the beginning.

The young couple immediately moved to the Stringam Ranch on the Alberta/Montana border.
Mom knew she was marrying the youngest son of a notable Southern Alberta ranching family. But what she didn't know, but quickly discovered, was that she had also married a clown. A joker. Tease. And all around goof. 
The adventure had begun . . .

On their honeymoon, they chose to camp. Rustic. Earthy. Isolated.
All the perfect ingredients for a newly-married couple.
Then it rained.
And got cold.
Whatever clothing dad took off, mom put on.
Then they moved their tent into a nearby shelter, along with all of the other campers in the area.
Okay, so intimate, it wasn't.
Just at dawn, Dad, always an early riser, got up and made a beeline for the showers.
Mom awoke some time later to the loudly-belted strains of "'Cause some dirty dog put glue on the saddle!" (Still a family favorite.) Shaking her head, she turned over to complain to Dad about the rude person singing in the showers.
But Dad wasn't there.
It was about then that Mom realized just who was making all the noise.
And still she stayed married to him.
* * *
Once she was settled on the vast Stringam ranch, Mom quickly discovered that life wasn't so different from what she had known on the Berg Ranch near Brooks. There, she and her mother had the care and feeding of Mom's father and eight brothers.
Now, she had the similar responsibility for Dad (this new goofball husband), and six hired men.
It was a toss-up as to which group could eat more.
Fortunately, Mom soon proved that she was more than capable of satisfying any hungry person, or persons, who strayed into her kitchen.
She spent a lot of time in that kitchen.
And in her vast gardens, which supplied food for that kitchen.
* * *
There was a bell on the ranch.
A large bell, rung only at meal times and in case of dire emergency. A bell that could be heard, on clear days, at a distance of five miles.
Only authorized people were allowed to ring this bell.
And Mom wasn't, yet, authorized.
But she wanted to be.
The bell's cord draped temptingly through her kitchen window and over her sink. Teasing her with its proximity and, at the same time, its inaccessibility.
She glanced at it. Right there. Just a little pull. Only a tiny ring. No one would even notice . . .
Sometime later, while maneuvering a stack of dirty dishes towards the sink, she inadvertently caught the forbidden cord.
A loud 'clang' made her freeze instantly.
Moments later, the kitchen door burst open, revealing a very concerned Dad. "What is it? What's the matter?"
Mom looked at him, red-faced. "Nothing, dear. I just happened to catch the cord . . ."
"What's happened?" One of the hired men had come in just behind Dad.
"Is there a problem?" Someone hollered from the front door.
"Everyone okay in there?" Mom didn't even know where that voice came from.
Two more men bumped into those already assembled in the kitchen. "Someone need help?"
Mom could now hear the pounding of hoofs coming up the driveway.
Could she possibly just sink into the floor?
"False alarm, boys," Dad said, grinning at Mom's red face. "Let's get back to work."
The kitchen emptied out and Mom could hear Dad making explanations out in the yard.
Soon she was alone again.
Well, at least she knew that the bell worked. Sometimes a little excitement was a good thing.
She stared at the cord.
* * *
Dad spent a lot of time out riding. And when he wasn't riding, he was working somewhere in the barns or corrals. Or moving irrigation pipe. Or hauling hay or feed. Or doing one of the million or so things that went into ranching. And when he wasn't doing that, he was, as the area's only veterinarian, making vet calls.
To say that he was busy is a distinct understatement.
We kids saw him at mealtimes, or when we went out to the barnyard to get in his way help.
Often, his duties would call him from the supper table and he wouldn't return until long after we were tucked in for the night.
He would quietly enter the house and tip-toe to his bedroom.
Then he would empty his pockets onto the carved-leather organizer on his dresser, before getting ready for bed. Coins, his jackknife, keys, instruments. Everything contained in those pockets would be dropped into the various different compartments.
They made a 'thumping' sound as they hit the leather. A soft but very distinct sound.
And it vibrated into every corner of the house.
Inevitably, I would wake to the sound of the creaking floor as Dad crept down the hall.
Then I would hear the tell-tale thump of his pockets' contents, hitting the organizer.
I would sigh happily and turn over.
Daddy was home. All was well.
* * *
I don't know how they did it.
Mom and Dad had six children and numerous hired hands. Together, they still managed to organize and direct the various operations that went into running a ranch and household. Feeding, milking, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting, cleaning, sewing, repairing, overhauling, riding, fencing, driving, having babies, parenting, reading, cooking, canning, church responsibilities, veterinarian calls, Hereford club duties, neighborly visits and on and on and on. The only way they could have accomplished it all was to never sleep.
To say that I'm proud of them would be a vast understatement.
To say that I'm grateful, even more so.
Today is their day.
I love them.
I miss them.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Rules

Our travels continue . . .
Recently Husby and I stopped at the beautiful Stage Stop Inn in picturesque and cute-as-a-button (can one say that about a town?) Choteau, Montana.
The food was delicious.
The company, entertaining and delightful.
And the rules . . .
Yep. On the back of the menus the owners had reproduced the rules that, for anyone wishing to be a passenger on one of the famous Wells-Fargo stagecoaches, had been law.
In the 1800's.
For your enlightenment, I have reproduced their reproduction:
1. Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink, share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighbourly.
2. If ladies are present, Gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of same is repugnant to the Gentle Sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted but spit with the wind, not against it.
3. Gentlemen must refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.
4. Buffalo robes are provided for your comfort during cold weather. Hogging robes will not be tolerated, and the offender will be made to ride with the driver.
5. Don't snore loudly while sleeping, or use your fellow passenger's shoulder for a pillow. He or she may not understand and friction may result.
6. firearms may be kept on your person for use in emergencies. Do not fire them for pleasure or shoot at wild animals as the sound riles the horses.
7. In the event of runaway horses, remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will leave you injured, at the mercy of the elements, hostile Natives and/or hungry coyotes.
8. Forbidden topics of discussion are stagecoach robberies and Native uprisings.
9. Gents guilty of unchivalrous behaviour toward lady passengers will be put off the stage. It's a long walk back. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Yep. From the 1800's.
Amazing how many are applicabale today.
I guess manners never go out of style.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Trees. Beautiful Trees.

See? No trees...
It's been a busy time for Husby. And by association, me.
He retired last summer and is now busier than ever with new and greater projects.
One of which requires (a lot of) travel.
As travelling companion of choice, this means I get to go as well.
Presently, in a combination of family gatherings and work, we are in beautiful, green Montana.
Today, travelling from Bozeman to Choteau, we passed some of the most beautiful trees I have ever seen.
And I finally get to the topic of today's Poetry Monday: Trees.
On the ranch, the only naturally-occurring tree was found in the field aptly known as: The Tree Field. Meaning THE TREE field.
We practically worshiped that tree.
From these humble origins came my love of all things tall and green and growing.
In a bit of a departure, instead of crafting my own 'Tree' poem, I'm going to give you my favourite.

By Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Daddy also had a favourite 'Tree' poem.
And this is the second (poem-that-I-didn't-write) that I shall share with you today.
Partly because we are travelling, partly because I always loved it.
And partly because . . . tired.
I think the original was by Odgen Nash, but I credit Daddy for teaching it to me.
I know you've probably heard it already, but here goes.

Daddy's Trees

I think that I shall never see
A Billboard lovely as a tree.
Indeed, unless some billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Neighbour's Chickens

It's Ancestor Sunday!
Time for another little step backward into the past.
This week, we're not going quite as far. Just eighty years or so . . .

Call it tomfooleries.
Maybe shenanigans.
Mischiefs. Trickeries. Pranks?
I’m trying to find words other than the obvious—creative borrowing.
Would it help if I told you that many of the participants survived?
You’re right. I should probably explain . . .
Husby’s father was out with his friends enjoying an unusual and far-too-infrequent few hours with nothing to do.
All of them were sons of the country—raised by farming parents in a rural community.
Each fairly familiar with the nearby farms. And farm families.
Who was likely to be home.
Who probably . . . . was not.
A nearby neighbor was one of the ‘was nots’.
Does that make sense?
Moving on . . .
The boys were hungry.
And said neighbour’s chicken yard was full of fat, relatively dim-witted, probably tasty chickens.
Hmmm. What could possibly be done?
Do I need to tell you?
Fine. Remember when I said they were all sons of the country? Well, that becomes pretty obvious here.
They snagged a couple of plump chickens, quickly dispatched them.
Plucked, gutted and sectioned them.
Then cast about to find the best way to cook them.
Wait. The nearby home was empty. The owners gone for a while if not for the whole day.
The neighbour's chickens. The neighbour's kitchen.
It just made sense. Well . . . to them.
They would simply step inside and use the kitchen and supplies.
Clean up.
And be gone.
With no one any the wiser.
You have to know that no one ever locked their doors. That has a lot to do with the success of this caper.
Heading into the kitchen, they hunted out a pan and began to fry up their ill-gotten gains.
Just as things were sizzling nicely, sending the marvelous aroma of frying and deliciousness into the air, they heard the unmistakable sound of the side door.
Opening and closing.
All of them looked up from their preparing/place-setting duties to see the farm’s owner standing there. Looking, quite justifiably, a little surprised.
The quickest thinker moved toward him. “We had these chickens and decided we needed to prepare them. And your house was right here. And your kitchen was handy and . . .”
The young man left it there.
The farmer said nothing.
Another of the chicken-pilferers spoke up. “Would you like to join us? They’re nearly ready.”
“Sure.” The farmer sat down with the young men and, when the golden-browned chicken was served, he ate his fill with the rest of them.
Then, feast finished, they all got up and began to tidy the kitchen.
Finally, when everything was gleaming clean once more, the ring-leader turned to the farmer. “They weren’t really our chickens,” he said, in a low voice. “They were yours.”
“I knew that,” the farmer said cheerfully. “But I thought I might as well get something out of it.”
Sometimes it’s not just the mischief-makers who are looking for a free lunch.

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