Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Friday, July 20, 2018

Chicken

Still on holiday! And exploring my memories...
Me. (Missing from the photo: the Chicken)
Harvest.
A mellow time.
A time to catch one’s breath and simply appreciate the bounty and euphoria of the season.
When the tireless efforts of every farmer in Alberta culminates finally in the production of golden streams of wheat, barley, canola and corn. Truckloads of peas, potatoes and sugar beets.
When sheds and storage buildings are full of the warm, sweet smell of new-mown hay and grasses, carefully dried.
On the Stringam Ranch, we, too had our harvest.
There was the bounty of endless (and I do mean endless, but that is another story) rows of garden produce to be brought in. Carrots, peas, beans, corn, turnips, potatoes, parsnips, beets, cucumbers. And many other things that a four-year-old simply couldn't name, though they did taste good.
Oh, and chickens.
Chickens?
The slaughtering of the chickens on the Ranch was a huge production. I can picture even now the great tubs of scalding hot water to loosen the feathers. The teams of choppers, pickers, and . . . innards removers. Everyone with a sharp knife or axe. Or with rubber-gloved hands working in the scalding water.
It was every parent’s dream for their small child.
Not.
But there I was. Bouncing from group to group. Being forcibly removed from the more dangerous situations.
Slowly getting covered in feathers.
Most probably looking like a large chicken myself.
When some of the more stringent voices hollering at me to keep away had finally effected obedience, and my initial fascination with viewing the death throes of the chickens had worn off, I was at a loose end.
Not a good thing for a four-year-old.
Mischief happens.
Not my fault.
The bodies of the chickens were systematically hauled away, so a closer study of them had proven impossible, but the heads . . .! Those were still there, lying forgotten near the chopping stump. They were piling up, obviously needing to be disposed of.
Please remember – I was a child of the Country.
Capital ‘C’.
One by one, I began picking them up and throwing them, unceremoniously, into the river, only a few feet away.
Hmmm. This was fun!
They would bob for a few seconds, then sink into the milky depths, perhaps to be eaten by some unseen fish, or maybe one of the monsters that our dog, Mike, was sure lived there.
I found a paint can lid. Great! Now I could throw the heads out four at a time. Much more efficient.
For some time, this obviously essential errand kept me occupied – to the vast relief of those who mistakenly thought they had more important jobs. I would collect the heads on my little ‘plate’, walk over to the river and . . . give them the Alberta version of a sea burial.
It was genius.
To a four-year-old.
Then the fateful, life altering event. I picked up a head, deposited it on my plate . . .
AND. THE. BEAK. OPENED!
No word of a lie. It opened! It was possessed! It was going to get me!
Straight into the air, the plate went.
By the time it and its contents had hit the ground, I was already halfway to the house screaming, and I quote, “THE CHICKEN HEAD! THE CHICKEN HEAD!”
Not very inventive, true, but effective.
It stopped the entire production line for several seconds. Mostly, I admit, so the people could laugh, but why haggle over details?
Mom consoled me, between chuckles, and all was smoothed over.
Except for one thing. From then on, I was afraid of chickens. I learned to wrestle 2000 pound bulls without turning a hair, but tell me to collect eggs from under a 3 pound pile of feathers and I was a quivering mass of . . . something soggy and cowardly.
My family still laughs.
There is an addendum to all of this. When my husband and I were on our honeymoon, we decided to make a day trip to the Calgary Zoo.
Fun!
There was a display of emus. And a machine that dispensed grain to feed them.
Put in a quarter, get a handful of feed. All went well to that point. I approached the emu with my little handful of grain.
It moved closer.
I moved closer.
It looked over the fence.
I looked at it.
Its beak opened.
And my new husband was suddenly staring at the handful of grain that magically appeared in his hand.
I was halfway to the car screaming . . .
You get the picture.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Claustrophobedience

Mom and I were visiting at my Auntie's house.
An innocent enough activity.
And from it, I got claustrophobia.
Maybe I should explain . . .
Mom and Auntie were in the kitchen chatting over cups of tea and home baked goodies.
My cousin and I had already done the rounds of the dessert tray.
Several times.
And had retired upstairs to more important matters.
Play.
One of the bedrooms upstairs had no furniture in it.
Or at least, I can't remember any.
But it did hold a large carpet.
Rolled into a neat bundle.
It looked like a hot dog.
Let's face it. In my world, everything resembled food.
Moving on . . .
Suddenly, I got a marvellous idea.
“Let's play 'Hot Dog'!” I told my cousin.
“Okay,” she said enthusiastically, as though she knew exactly what I was talking about.
Which she didn't.
I unrolled the carpet and lay down at the edge.
“Okay. Now roll me up,” I commanded.
She did.
Cool!
Fun!
Neat!
Wait . . . I can't breathe!!!
I began to scream.
Okay, I could probably still breathe.
The ability to scream would indicate this.
My cousin, understandably concerned, stared at me.
Or at the rug that contained me.
I struggled mightily (I should probably point out that it didn't occur to me to simply - unroll) and finally, managed to extricate myself.
I headed for the nearest safe place.
My Mom.
I burst into the kitchen, every white-blonde hair standing on end and eyes like saucers.
“Mom! I nearly died!!!”
Okay, so melodrama and me were close, personal friends.
Mom set down her teacup and looked at me. “What?”
“I nearly died! I couldn't breathe!”
Mom frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“We were playing 'Hot Dog',” I told her.
She stared at me. “Hot Dog?”
“Yeah with the carpet. And I was the hot dog. And I rolled up . . .”
Suddenly, Mom understood. “Oh.” She gave me a stern look. “Diane, don't do that again!”
I admit that I often disobeyed my Mom.
Often quite deliberately.
But this time, I listened.
I like to think it was because I discovered the joy of obedience.
But, actually, I think it's because I discovered claustrophobia.
Obedience would have been more fun.

Husby and I are touring Beautiful British Columbia with our two eldest granddaughters.
We're having a marvelous time.
But WiFi is spotty.
Visiting you when I can.
Pictures to follow!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Music to Remember


Early mornings on a ranch
all started like an avalanche,
A tottering pile of chores to do
and food to cook and life renew.
All those days began with Dad,
all freshly cleaned, in robe of plaid,
Standing in your bedroom door,
to tell you sleeping time was o’er…
The sun was rising, up you’d get,
the time had come to toil and sweat,
But Sundays always started slow,
no need to really jump. And go,
One could lay in bed and dream,
               you were in Heaven, it would seem,
Soft music flowed around you there,
               starting low, just like a prayer,
Then rising, swirling, every note,
               by horns and strings would love emote,
One knew that Dad had placed a stack
               of music on the player’s rack,
Cause that’s how Sundays started out,
               With soft notes swirling all about.
O’er forty years have slipped on by,
               all in the blinking of an eye,
But still my childhood lingers on,
               though many who were there are gone,
Cause when I hear those flowing strains,              
               ‘tis Sunday morning, once again.



Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we three besought,
To try to make the week begin
With pleasant thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So Jenny and Delores, we,
Have posted poems for you to see.
And now you've seen what we have brought . . .
Did we help?
Or did we not?

Next week, in our neighbourhood,
We'll talk of toys and childhood!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Going to Gramma's

Many of you will have heard this before.
But for those who haven't . . .

Gramma and Grampa Stringam
In 1912, ‘going to visit the family’ took on a whole new meaning.
Let me tell you about it . . .
My Gramma and Grampa Stringam, with their (then) three children, moved to southern Alberta in 1910, leaving their extended family behind them in Utah.
They settled in Glenwood and started to farm.
Outwardly, all was well.
Inwardly, one of them missed her mother.
Finally, after two years of pining and tears, the decision was made for an extended visit.
Gramma and her (by then) four children packed up and, kissing Grampa goodbye, boarded the train for Salt Lake.
The trip there was fairly uneventful, the highlight - seeing the sprinkler system in the Salt Lake depot.
But what came afterward . . . wasn’t.
Uneventful, that is.
Gramma and the kids climbed aboard another train for Salina and then the mail stagecoach from there over the mountain to Thurber and Teasdale.
A short hop by today’s automobile.
But a considerable prospect for the white-top mail buggy of the early 1900’s.
In the rain.
On one particularly steep pass, soaked through and tired, the team of horses gave out. Despite considerable encouragement, they refused to move one more step up the mountain, choosing, in typical balky-horse fashion, to back up instead.
They succeeded in backing the coach until they, quite literally, ran out of mountain. When the driver finally got them stopped, the vehicle was dangling right out over the edge of the canyon with the wagon tree tipped up and the horses' hind feet barely on the ground.
Gramma and the kids were frantically extricated, followed by their baggage and the mail bags. They gratefully took shelter under a large spruce, where they turned, as they had been taught, to prayer.
While they were thus engaged, the driver tried--unsuccessfully--to remedy the situation. The wagon remained hanging over the edge of the cliff.
Can anyone say,"precarious?"
Meanwhile the little family under the tree had finished praying. And it was as that exact moment that a second white-topped buggy came up over the hill.
A buggy that was empty, save for the driver, a local real estate agent. Who, to the little family huddled under the tree, suddenly took on the aspect of a saviour.
The man stopped and surveyed the situation, then climbed down and, using a knife, cut the traces holding the horses to the buggy (allowing the wagon to drop into the canyon several hundreds of feet below) and led the animals to safety.
The mail man thanked him, threw his mail bags over one horse and mounted the other, and rode on over the mountain, abandoning his little group of paying passengers without a backward look.
On the side of a mountain. In the rain.
Don’t you hate days like that?
Fortunately, the real estate man was very kind and loaded Gramma and her kids into his buggy and delivered them safely to the nearest village.
The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful.
Let’s face it. After this experience, most events would pale by comparison.
Gramma and her brood got their visit.
And, for generations to come, a story to tell.

Sundays are for my ancestors.
Their stories are fascinating. Sometimes fun. Sometimes downright scary.
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