Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, August 31, 2018

Thwimming Therapy

Okay, it was scary.

But it turned out all right . . .
Our family have always been swimmers.
Our children are introduced to the water soon after they arrive.
And spend copious amounts of time there.
When we take a holiday, our choice of hotel is always based on whether or not it has a pool.
On to my story . . .
We were in Great Falls with my Husby's eldest brother and his family.
We had a favourite hotel there.
With *gasp* two pools.
The main pool was popular.
And usually busy.
We had decided to gather beside the smaller pool.
Adults, visiting.
Kids, playing.
Because we grown-ups hadn't planned on swimming, my Husby put on his suit under protest.
But I insisted.
At least one adult needed to be prepared.
We went down.
And spent a pleasant half-hour talking and laughing.
Now I should explain, here, that this smaller pool had one major draw-back.
It really wasn't made with children in mind.
It was roughly circular in shape.
And was shallow at the outer edges.
And deep in the middle.
I know. Weird.
Moving on . . .
Our oldest boy, aged four, was playing happily with his cousins in the shallows.
The kids were shouting and giggling and generally making 'happy' sounds and our oldest nephew, aged six, was keeping up a continuous dialogue of, “Mom! Dad! Look at this!”
His parents had tuned him out.
Something I simply couldn't do.
And for which I am eternally grateful.
“Mom!” he shouted.
I turned and looked at him.
“Mark's down there!” he said, pointing toward the centre of the pool.
My Husby looked at me.
“Get him!” I shouted.
He jumped in and an instant later, came up with our little boy.
For a few seconds, Mark coughed and gasped.
Then cried.
And just like that, our swim was over for the day.
We left the next morning, everyone well and happy, and completely unaware of the psychological damage that had been done.
A few days later, we took our family down to the river to our favourite swimming hole.
Though the water came no higher than his ankles, Mark refused to put one foot into the river.
Later, we went to the local swimming pool for what had always been our favourite Saturday evening activity.
Mark, our fish, clung to the ladder and screamed.
Okay, something was definitely wrong.
For the next few months, every time we tried to go swimming, it was the same.
People splashing around.
Mark sitting as far from the water as he could get.
A year passed.
Without much change.
Then our family moved to Edmonton.
Within hours of getting settled, my Husby discovered the local rec centre.
And their 'wave pool'.
Sounded intriguing.
What on earth was a wave pool?
We packed up the kids and went to investigate.
It turned out that a wave pool was just that.
A pool.
With waves.
For fifteen minutes, the water was calm.
Then a horn would blow and the waves would start.
Small, at first, then growing in size until they were . . . significant.
Mark had been paddling in the ankle-deep water at the shallow end.
A big step for him.
The horn sounded.
He looked up.
And stared at the wall of water coming toward him.
Okay, it wasn't a wall.
Maybe more of a . . . fence?
Well, maybe a median.
But it was definitely coming toward him.
We watched as he considered his options.
Then, to our surprise, he dropped to his knees and . . . let the wave roll over him.
And just like that, his fear was gone.
Our fish was back.

There is a codicil:
Mark is married now, and the father of five.
Several times a week, he takes his family swimming.
It is their favourite activity.
Every time they appear with wet hair and faces glowing with exercise and happiness, I give thanks for the disaster that wasn't.
And for the therapeutic properties of waves.

Aaahh! Therapy!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Just An Ordinary Insurance Agent

Dad was making a trip into town to see Mr. Hovan.
His insurance agent.
My brother, George, and I fought over who would be the first in the car.
Now, I'm sure you're wondering what there could possibly be at an insurance agent's office that would interest two children, aged six and four, respectively.
It would be a legitimate question.
Maybe I should explain . . .
Mr. Hovan had an office in the old railroad station in Milk River.
It was an unremarkable place.
Slat-covered windows.
Certificate and picture-hung walls.
Creaky, wood floors.
Heavy, smooth oak chairs with arms.
Tall, wooden filing cabinets.
Stacks of folders and papers.
And in one corner, a very serviceable desk, piled high with paperwork.
It smelled of old building. Dust, books and paper.
On the surface, there really was nothing that would entrance and amaze anyone.
But Mr. Hovan's office held a secret.
A very special secret hidden deep in the very bottom drawer of that oh, so serviceable desk and accessible only upon reports/illustrations of exemplary behaviour.
A whole heap of magic.
In shiny, brown wrappers.
Hershey bars.
But we couldn't ask for them.
Oh, no.
We had to wait patiently and quietly, seated in those hard wooden chairs, while Dad conducted his business.
Trying hard to look anywhere but at that drawer.
Then, if we had been 'good', we would be invited over.
The much-anticipated drawer opened.
And the treasure revealed.
Only then could we avail ourselves of the treat.
Between you and I, Dad didn't visit his insurance agent nearly enough.

Well worth the wait.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Cow Wisdom

My Dad always told me that when I wanted to know what the weather was intending, to look and see what the cows were doing.
True story.
Well, it turns out that cows can tell you much more than that. If you listen . . .
Chore time.
When so many things can be revealed . . .
Eldest son, Mark was doing the milking in our small milking barn. Our two placid little Jersey cows, Kitty and Bunny (real names) were happy to cooperate.
Kitty was doing the honours.
Bunny was waiting in the wings.
All was going according to custom.
Our boarder (hereinafter known as Our Boarder) wandered in for a chat, lit cigarette in hand.
Now you have to know that cows are intensely curious. If anything unusual wanders into their sphere, they have to give it a sniff. Then, if circumstances (and inclination) allow, a taste.
Our Boarder was standing in the alleyway of the barn. Where Bunny was waiting for her turn in the milking parlour.
Hmmm . . . unusual.
Bunny wandered over.
And gave the lit cigarette a sniff.
You have to know that cows never really do anything in a hurry.
Picture it. Small, light-brown-with-black-points cow wanders slowly over to the intruder, and, with equal speed, reaches out her head to sniff the strange object in the woman’s hand. Then, without speeding up an iota, turns her head away.
And wheeze-coughs.
No tasting followed. She simply moved slowly and deliberately to the far side of the alleyway.
And stayed there.
It was pretty clear to the rest of us.
Yeah. Whatever that woman has in her hand . . . Avoid it.
Dad was right. You can learn a  lot of things by watching the cows.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Failing Grade

Quick! Take a picture!
 In Southern Alberta, in the sixties, the country roads were more a suggestion than an actual fact.
Sketchy at best.
When conditions were dry, they stretched, bare and passable for miles.
And miles.
When conditions were wet, Heaven help you.
Gravel was non-existent.
Drivers used such words to describe them as: Greasy. Slick. A blooming nightmare.
And *&*()+}|?@#$%^&!!!
The county employed men and machinery to maintain said roads.
Actually catching sight of one was right up there with spotting a unicorn.
Definitely something to pass on to your children.
“Kids, there was a time when I saw . . . the road grader!!!”
But occasionally, their presence (rather than the lack of it), would be felt.
Let me explain . . .
My next older brother, George was driving our Dad’s late-model truck.
I used to know the make, model and year.
Now all I can remember is: It was yellow.
Moving on . . .
He was heading out to see friends.
Or just coming back from seeing some friends.
Both activities took him along the same stretch of road.
He topped a rise.
And there, completely blocking the entire road, was a pile of gravel.
A large pile of gravel.
Pushed there by the road grader.
Or dropped there by a passing gravel truck.
Then abandoned while the mastermind took a much-needed coffee break.
Or nap.
Stopping was out of the question.
George was left with two choices.
And two seconds in which to make one.
Hit the gravel.
Or hit the ditch.
He chose the gravel.
The truck engine instantly began to make loud, distinctly un-muffled noises.
Remember “*&*()+}|?@#$%^&!!!”?
Well, that would apply here.
He stopped and got out.
The manifold had been neatly and surgically separated from the rest of the muffler system.
“*&*()+}|?@#$%^&!!!” again.
Fortunately, that was the extent of the damage and George was able to drive home without further incident.
To face the Wrath of Dad.
There were a few minutes in which:
1. George’s driving was severely called into question.
2. A diatribe against the roads and road maintenance in general.
 Then an appointment was made to get the muffler replaced. I went with Dad to facilitate this final decision.
We were driving down the main street of Milk River.
Now, normally, Milk River was a quiet place.
Conversations while standing on the street corner were entirely possible.
And frequent . . .
There was one going on as we passed.
Between, believe it or not, several of George’s friends.
Dad and I smiled and waved.
Then Dad shifted the truck into neutral and floored the gas pedal.
The truck made a loud, distinctive and courageous ‘BLAAAAAT’ that echoed off the buildings and shattered glass.
Okay, I’m making up the ‘shattered glass’ thing, but the rest is true.
The whole street turned to look.
Dad grinned.
Put the truck back into gear.
And proceeded.
I stared at him.
This was the Dad who, very recently, had been berating my brother for - and I quote - ‘horsing around causing vehicular damage’.
Dad obviously knew what he was talking about.
The acorn definitely hadn't fallen very far from that tree.

Monday, August 27, 2018

T'aint Free

The topic of free time, I thought,
Well, how hard could that be?
I thought of things I’d like to do
If Free Time came to me . . .

Spend lots of it with family,
All those who mean the most to me.
I write. I’d read. I’d sit and sew,
There’s lots of places that I’d go.
To restaurants both far and near,
Attend good plays of which I hear,
Then further, still, I’d up and fly,
To foreign countries with my guy.

Well now you see with staying put
Or being on the run,
I’d need all time to be free time
To get these matters done.

I'd have to work to pay for them,
Cause nothing comes for free
And so 'Free Time' is not a whit,
Of what it seems to be.

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, because our summer's done,
We'll talk of Fall! This should be fun...

Sunday, August 26, 2018

100 Years

Eat your onions!

I know that this statement seems to have nothing to do with what follows, but bear with me . . .

The 1918 flu pandemic (the Spanish Flu) was an influenza pandemic that spread widely across the world. Most victims were healthy young adults, in contrast to most influenza outbreaks which predominantly affect juvenile, elderly, or weakened patients. The pandemic lasted from March 1918 to June 1920, spreading even to the Arctic and remote Pacific islands. Between 50 and 100 million died, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. An estimated 50 million people, about 3% of the world's population (1.6 billion at the time), died of the disease. 500 million, or 1/3 were infected.
-                                                                                                                                   - World History Project

And now we'll tie it together . . .
My Husby’s maternal grandparents, Artie J. and Ovedia Seely and their children, weren’t affected by the disease. One of few families that managed to avoid it. Even though every other family in the sleepy town of Stirling, Alberta, like the rest of the world, had one or more (or all) members sick with the deadly disease.
For months during the worst of the outbreak in their small community, Artie and one other unaffected man tended the farms and fed the animals for all of the other farmers.
Before daybreak every day, the two men were feeding animals, milking cows, cleaning, tending . . . performing all of the myriad tasks that constituted farming.
At every farm.
Every day.
It took the whole day.
Artie would return to his home and gulp down a hasty lunch, then head out once more.
Grandma Ovedia Fawns Seely
Onion cooker extraordinaire!
Returning only after sunset to snatch a few hours of sleep before starting over again.
And still, with all of the work and worry, he, his wife, and their children remained unaffected.
The reason?
Earlier that year, the two of them, Artie and Ovedia, had harvested a bumper crop of onions.
Every meal featured some incarnation of the remarkable vegetable.
Both of them believe that that fact alone kept them from succumbing.
I will give them the benefit of any doubt.
They . . . lived . . . through it.

P.S. My Husby has spoken with two other ‘old-timers’ who also lived through the great and terrible influenza pandemic. They, too, maintain that their families survived due largely to the fact that they ate onions with every meal.
You heard it here first.
Oh, and see that onion on your plate? Eat it.

This story is a repost from a year ago, but it's been exactly 100 years since Artie J. Seely, Husby's Maternal Grandfather helped an entire community through the 1918 'flu. I thought it was worth repeating...

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