Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, September 14, 2018


I honestly didn’t see this one coming.
Okay I’m quite sure you’ve realized that, with Sally, you can’t always predict things.
But this really caught me off guard.
Let me explain . . .
Mom was away for the weekend. For any of you who know Sally and me, that fact alone should be an indication that things would not proceed normally for the duration of Mom’s absence. It’s kind of a given.
But her sister gifted her with a mini vacay to the city and an all-inclusive pass to the Mint Julep. Which, if I understood Mom’s jabbering as she perused the card, is the name of a spa. The posh-est of the posh if said card was to be believed. Mom babbled on about much-needed massages and hot stones and mudbaths.
All I heard was: You’ll be responsible for Sally 24/7 until I get back. Yikes.
Oh, mom hadn’t left us totally on our own. She’s smarter than that. She asked Mrs. Ames from down the street to look in on us from time to time. The Mrs. Ames of the cats. Who had regarded Sally--and by association me--with suspicion bordering on . . . suspicion since that day we (that is to say, Sally) purloined her big, yellow, savage, spitting fury for what turned out to be an unexpected reno job.
Sometime I'll tell you about it. Ahem . . .
Sooo . . . Mom.
For the first few minutes all went well. Sally was unexpectedly quiet. I was in the kitchen, whipping up one of my semi-famous fudge brownie cakes.
Sally was doing something in the front room.
Mrs. Ames showed up for her first check in, tapping authoritatively on the front door.
“Come in!” Sally shouted cheerfully.
I should have known.
The door swung open.
Mrs. Ames was met in the doorway with a faceful of water.
Shot from the garden hose.
That Sally had dragged in through the back door for that exact purpose.
I probably don’t have to tell you that that’s the last we saw of Mrs. Ames for the entire weekend.
On another note, who knew The Cat Lady could run that fast?
Moving on . . .
A couple of hours later, Sally, doing her best to look innocent, walked rather awkwardly through from the garage and headed up the stairs.
Yes, the alarm bells started ringing. But I was just about to beat the level I had been despairing over for a week and no way I was going to drop that controller just because my sister walked through looking innocent.
I know you see the flaws in that argument.
Something upstairs crashed loudly, but as there was no yell of pain and/or death, I ignored it. A short time later, Sally was back and moving fast.
She darted past me into the garage, emerging seconds later clutching the roll of duct tape. She held it up. “Is gray the only colour this comes in?”
I frowned. “Well, no. I think it comes in other colours. But gray is all we have.”
“Will it prevent . . . leakage?”
“Leakage? What . . .?” But I was talking to empty space. Sally, still grasping her tape, had darted into the stairwell.
I sighed, dropped my controller and bounded up the stairs behind her.
The twin sounds of water splashing and tape ripping drew me to the doorway of the bathroom.
A large and growing puddle, being blotted ineffectively by several thick towels was creeping toward me across the lino.
Sally, tongue held firmly between her teeth, was busily applying strips of tape to a large gap in the side of the full tub. A large gap.
Remember when I mentioned the ineffectiveness of the stack of towels?
Well that term would also apply to her efforts with the tape.
Water was pouring out unabated.
I splashed through it and pulled the plug.
Sally blinked. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Why, indeed.
The next few minutes were taken with soaking up water.
Then the two of us stood side-by-side, gazing down at the shattered tub.
“How . . .” I began.
“It was the stupid crowbar!” Sally said. She reached over behind the toilet and brought out the iron implement. “It slipped and . . .”
I help up a hand. “You had a crowbar in the bathroom.” It wasn’t a question.
“Of course.” Sally set it down and headed for the medicine chest over the sink. “Do we have any antiseptic cream. I think I may have cut my finger.”
“A crowbar. In the bathroom.” I couldn’t quite get past it.
“Yeah. For the tiles. I thought as long as I had some time, I may as well start . . .”
Again I help up a hand. “Tiles? But why fill the tub with water? And . . . You know what? I don’t want to know.”
Sally again came over to me, wrapping a Band-Aid around her finger. She handed me a vitamin pill. “Here this might help.”
I rolled my eyes, but took it and began to chew thoughtfully.
Sally looked from the tub to me. “So how are we gonna fix it?”
"We?!" I took a deep breath. “How much money do you have in your account?”
She looked at me again, and back at the tub. Then sighed. “Right.” She bent to retrieve the long, iron tool. “Huh. Look at that.”
“I bent the crowbar.” 

Each month, Karen's followers exchange words.
And craft stories.
This month, my words, antiseptic ~ cream ~ leakage ~ savage ~ vitamin, came from my good friend, Rena at: The Blogging 911 
Rena. This one's for you!

See what the others have done!
Southern Belle Charm

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Baby Trap

Plus this.

It was a pretty normal Saturday evening at the Tolley’s.
Parents and children seated on every available chair.
Spill-over . . . spilling over.
Onto cushions on the floor.
An old musical on the screen.
Several family members were singing along with the lyrics. “When I was a lad, I was gloomy and sad as I was since the day I was born . . .”
You get it.
One member of the company, 15 month-old Granddaughter #12 (hereinafter creatively known as GD12) wasn’t watching. Rather, she had discovered the box of baby toys conveniently placed in the very likely case of boredom. And/or  . . . yeah. Boredom.
One of the toys, a ball inside a ball, was especially intriguing. She carried it around for several minutes—a great period in babytime.
Sometime during these moments of discovery, GD12 realized that she could put her little hand inside the ball.

And grasp the second ball trapped there.
But there, her play came to an abrupt halt. She couldn’t extract that dratted second ball.
She could reach in a grasp it, but the holes in the outer ball weren’t large enough to allow for baby hand and grasped ball to emerge.
Stumped, she brought the whole thing--hand, balls and all.
To me.
Her dilemma was immediately apparent. How to get that second—and infinitely desirable—second ball . . . out.
Her little hand was still firmly grasping it. And no way was she going to let it go.
“Oh, look!” I said. “We caught a little monkey!”
Modern monkey/baby traps.
Colourful and effective.

With big sister.
Getting her hands into other mischief...

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Times Twenty

In our house, birthdays came and went
With regularity,
And though we tried, it was so hard,
To act with parity.

The cake was simple, ‘Mama’ made,
In chocolate or spice,
Then decorated more or less,
So it would look sooo ‘nice’.

But gifts! Oh, boy those were the test,
You wanted something great,
But fluctuating finance made kids
Happy or distrait.

As they grew older, Papa’d say,
In stentorian voice,
“All birthdays now are cancelled, kids!”
His kids did not rejoice!

But deep inside, his children knew
He really meant it not.
They really needn’t worry that
Their day’d be forgot.

The kids are grown and moving on,
Now their kids’ birthdays loom,
And once again we find that we,
Our duties we’ve resumed.

Instead of six, there’s twenty now,
And everything costs more,
Every other week we’re found,
Perusing. In the store.

This week my Husby tried that thing
That he had tried before,
Announcing that all birthdays
Would not be fĂȘted more.

But what a clamour then arose,
Each one outdid the next,
One didn’t have to look too hard,
To see that they were vexed.

But deep inside, his ‘grands’ all knew
He really meant it . . . not.
They really needn’t worry that
Their day’d be forgot.

And truth be told we love it when
They open up our gifts,
They may think it’s theirs alone,
It’s us that feel the lift.

So every other week you’ll find
With minimum of fuss,
That Husby and his loving wife,
Are there at Toys R Us.

Each month 'mid lives both old and new,
Our Karen gives us poems to do.
And now you see what we have writ',
Impressed, now, with our smarts and wit?
Karen of Baking In A Tornado: September Twelfth
Dawn of Cognitive Script: Another Year Has Passed
Sarah of My Brand of Crazy: 10 Years of a Lifetime
Lydia of Cluttered Genius: Unwanted Anniversary

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


Daddy and Me. And George. I'm the one with the curlers in her hair . . .

I like dogs.
If I had to state a preference, I would have to admit that I favour big, hairy ones.
Even if they slobber.
But, truth to tell, I like all kinds. Pointy. Fuzzy. Smooth. Dreadlocked. Naked. Huge. Tiny. Rat-sized. Medium. Purebred. Heinz 57.
If it resembles a dog in any way, I’m well on the way to being smitten.
And I’ve always been this way.
Dad can tell you.
In the past, if any member of the ‘doggy’ fraternity crossed my path, I was ready to welcome it with open arms.
And therein lies a tale . . .
I was playing with my friends on the school playground.
I’m not sure what we were playing, probably something noisy.
And dangerous.
But I digress . . .
A dog wandered into our sphere.
A black and tan dog. Thin and wasted, with the worst case of ‘post nasal drip’ I had ever seen.
But with longish, silky black and tan and white hair and beautiful, but sad, teary brown eyes.
I loved him.
He would be mine.
And, my dad was a vet. He could fix my new best friend!
I clutched a handful of hair, just behind the dog’s head, and led him to my house, two blocks away.
The rest of the kids followed.
We were an ‘in the moment’ crowd. What can I say . . .?
It took a long time, with frequent stops for my new friend to rest, but finally, we arrived. My Dad met my dog and me as we came up the drive, followed by the rest of the neighbourhood.
“Umm, Diane? What’s going on?”
Dad was used to me. If I detected a trace of hesitancy, that’s probably because he had learned to view anything I did with . . . hesitancy.
Smart man.
I looked up at him expectantly. “Daddy! This nice doggy is sick!”
“Umm, yes, I can see that . . .”
“Fix him!”
Dad glanced at the dog. Then he looked at me.
I put on my most endearing face.
At least, that’s what I was going for.
He knelt down.
He looked the dog over. “I’m afraid he’s really sick, Honey,” he said.
“I know. Fix him!”
He sighed and stood up. “Wait here a moment.”
I turned and grinned at the other kids. See? My Dad could do anything.
Dad came back with a syringe filled with something . . . fixy. Injected the dog and patted it on its droopy head. “There. That’s the best I can do.”
I looked at the dog. It wagged its tail slightly. See? It was better already.
“Can it come and play with us?”
“I think the best thing would be for it to rest here in the garage.”
“Umm. Okay.”
He helped me lay out a blanket and settle my doggie on it comfortably. Then he closed the garage door and told us to let him rest.
We did.
I peeked in through the garage window a couple of times.
It was easy enough if I dangled from the clothesline just outside.
But my little friend just lay there on the blanket.
Getting better.
The next morning, I leaped out of bed and charged down the hallway, on my way to see my new friend.
My Dad met me at the door.
“Oh, Diane, your doggy is gone.”
“Gone? Where?”
“His family came and got him.”
I was sad, but I knew that Dad had injected him with just the magic elixir (yes, we used that in the 50’s) that would heal him entirely. And thoughts of my doggy running and playing with his family cheered me.
All was well.

There is an addendum . . .
53 years later:
I was visiting with my Dad and he recalled the story of my little short-term friend.
I smiled in memory. “Oh, yes. The one with distemper. The one you saved.”
Dad looked at me and shook his head. “Actually, I didn’t save him,” he said. “The shot I gave him was to lessen his pain. He died that night.”
I hadn’t thought about that little dog for over fifty years, but suddenly, I could picture the soft, brown eyes. The silky hair and funny, tan ‘eyebrows’. The skinny body.
I felt unaccountably sad for the little fellow.
But, just as suddenly, I was grateful to my Dad.
For his skill. For his compassion.
He did manage to fix him after all. 
Or someone similar...

Monday, September 10, 2018

My 'Teddy'

When I was young, the dark I feared,
My brothers teased and thought me weird,
I sighed and recognized my lot,
Imagination’s what I’d got.

Then Mama gave me something warm,
Just to protect me from the storm,
And from the creatures of the dark,
That under my small bed were parked.

‘Twas plump and cuddly, soft and sweet,
It blotted tears, caressed my cheeks,
When monsters came (at close of day),
I cuddled hard—they went away.

I called it ‘Teddy’, ‘cause it was,
A Teddy Bear with furry paws,
And so together he and me,
We grew as close as friends could be.

And time went on and then I grew
And married a boy that I knew,
But though much older, I’d not outgrown,
That fear of darkness that I'd known,

I had no bear to cuddle with,
Protect me from my monster myths,
But then I found I’d something more,
To stop those monsters at the door.

My marriage gave me someone warm,
Just to protect me from the storm,
And from the creatures of the dark,
That under my large bed were parked.

He’s not fuzzy, but he's sweet,
He blots my tears, caresses cheeks,
When monsters come (at close of day),
I cuddle hard—they go away.

So though I don’t have Teddy now,
It doesn’t matter anyhow,
‘Cause what I have is far more 'good',
Than what I had in childhood!

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 own way,
We'll celebrate those baking days.                      

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sobering Truth

And deadly.
Branding time was an opportunity to celebrate.
The calf crop – the ranch’s major source of income - had mostly passed the first difficult months and was growing well.
The warm, summer months had arrived.
One got the chance to spend a day or two in company with one’s friends and peers. For the mostly solitary riders, a rare treat. On many ranches, it was a time to kick up one’s heels.
So to speak.
Now the Stringam Ranch, where I was raised, was a liquor-free zone.
But on many ranches, the alcohol was flowing even before the last animal was branded.
Happy cowboys.
Semi-tame animals.
Sharp knives.
An open fire.
Red-hot irons.
And liquor.
Who doesn’t see any sources of concern here?
One particular tale of woe, told to us by our dad, stayed with me forever.
Let me tell you about it . . .
The branding was nearly finished for the day.
One of the hands had produced a bottle of something code-named ‘Hair of the Dog’.
It was . . . strong. And its effects pretty much instantaneous.
Said bottle made a couple of rounds.
By the end of the second pass, the boys were (to quote something ‘ranch-y’) feeling their oats.
The rest of the afternoon passed in a literal blur.
The last animal was branded.
Who, what or where, by this point no one really knew.
Or cared.
Someone shouted, “Let ‘em go!”
The corral gate was swung open.
I should probably mention that these cows and calves had been cooped up all day.
They were hungry, tired, stressed and sore.
The great outdoors looked just like that. Great.
En masse, they poured through that opening, heedless of anything that may be in the way.
The boss of the outfit suddenly remembered, through a slight haze, that there had been a cow noticed earlier. A cow with a horn that had curved the wrong way and was now threatening to actually grow into the animal’s head.
Easily fixed with a couple of lassos and a small saw.
But now that cow, along with her fellows, was making her way as quickly as possible toward the G.O. (see above).
He leaped aboard his trusty steed (which immediately proved itself to be anything but trusty) and gave it the spurs.
The animal, lacking somewhat in dignified communicative skills, resorted to the less dignified.
It began to buck.
Now, normally, this would have resulted in a few strong words with maybe a dusting in the prairie soil. But in this particular instance, location was everything.
Because the animal chose to express itself under the crossbar of the corral gate.
That first leap mortally injured the rancher.
Now the man had lived a rough life. Worked rough. Played rough. And drank rough.
And now he had a rough death.
A sadly sobering truth.
I don’t know what the effect was on those boys who witnessed the event.
But for me, even listening to it third-hand made me vow never to mix alcohol and any form of ranch work.
I know most of you probably won’t be toting a branding iron any time soon.
So, this is for everyone else . . .
When branding?
Leave the liquor in the bunkhouse. 

Sundays are for Ancestors. I know that none of my forebears were actually involved in this story. But it was told to me by Daddy.
I think that counts!

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