Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, September 22, 2018

A Crime of Coffin

Husby getting into character for 'Arsenic and Old Lace'.
Husby has a scar on his chin.
A long scar from a large wound.
A wound that took several stitches to close.
And I gave it to him.
Well, me and a coffin.
You’re right. Maybe I should explain . . .
Husby and I have, for more years than I care to count, been involved in the theatre scene.
Writing, directing, producing, acting, building, equipping, costuming, makeup-ing.
An almost endless round of ‘ing’.
For one of those productions, Husby had constructed a coffin.
Okay, we can’t for the life of us remember which production – one of the hundreds – but it was built for the sole purpose of looking coffin-ish onstage.
After the production, it ended up residing (along with thousands of other props and set pieces), in the large storage space belonging to our theatre group. A space that needed to be periodically reshuffled to make room for more and newer.
At this particular point in time, the coffin, which until then had had a special spot on the floor, was going up on top of a cabinet.
Okay, I said this was a storage room, I never said anything about safety standards.
Back to my story . . .
Husby and I were, as per usual, the shufflers. We had shifted and sorted and made room. Cleared a path to facilitate.
Hefted the coffin.
And started in.
And that’s where the whole scenario came crashing down.
Husby, on the front end, tripped.
Me, on the back end, didn’t super-humanly grab the coffin and heft it into the air and out of damaging range.
Thus, with our forward momentum, exacerbated (Ooh! Good word!) by bulky coffin, Husby went to his knees.
And plowed headfirst into a wooden chair.
A chair that had been in the kitchen of several plays.
The bedroom of several more.
And at least ten living rooms.
A sturdy chair; built to last. I probably don’t have to tell you which - when wood met chin - lasted.
When I finally pulled the coffin off my man, he was holding a hand to his face.
And blood was dripping through his fingers.
Don’t you hate it when that happens?
After I had exclaimed and swabbed, we examined.
“I think it’s all right,” Husby said. But as he spoke, I watched the split in his lower lip puff and blow with each word.
A hospital and stitchery were indicated. I drove him there and he received prompt medical attention.
And a sexy scar.
Which he gladly shows to anyone even remotely interested. While he graces them with lurid tales of his wife’s ongoing abuse.
P.S. Don’t ask about the scar up on his cheek from - and I swear this is true - a ‘friendly’ little game of football.

Friday, September 21, 2018


Her Mama (Daughter #2) is a carpenter.
Has been for over a decade.
Soooo . . . since long before Granddaughter #6 (hereinafter known as GD6) was born.
Mama is remarkably talented at building stage sets. In the dark backstages of Edmonton Alberta’s theatrical world, she is considered a tech bright light.
So to speak.
Ahem . . .
Yes. That is a kitchen...
Her mother was building sets and props in their kitchen when GD6 was only a week old.
I have a picture of Mama painting the floor of a set with GD6 snug as a bug in a carrier.
At the age of five months, GD6 and Grandma took up residence in one of the change rooms at one of the theatres while Mama was building down the hall in the shop.
It was fairly entertaining to watch Mama blow the sawdust of herself when it was time to come and nurse the baby!
But I digress . . .
To say that GD6 has grown up with it is probably an understatement.
In her little world, Mama is a carpenter. The end.
A couple of days ago, GD6 got a bit of a shock.
Let me tell you about it . . .
They were out and about. Mama collecting materials for the building of a set for the soon-to-open Pinocchio by Alberta Opera.
Then working on said set in the bowels of yet another Edmonton theatre.
GD6 had been tagging along. Watching the fabrication.
Playing on her IPad.
Doing those things she has been doing for much of her six years.
As they drove home, they passed some building construction.
A fairly common sight in the always-growing city of Edmonton.
They had stopped for traffic. There outside the window was a house currently being assembled.
GD6 sat, looking at it. Then she noticed something. “Mama! There’s men carpenters!” She pointed.
Her Mama nodded. “Yep.”
“Huh! I didn’t know there could be men carpenters!”
Truly the world is a place of surprises.

One of many.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Pocket Prizes

Mom (seated in the light-colored dress)
And her parents. And her eight brothers...
My Mom had eight brothers.
And each of them had a sister.
Most of the time, this was a good thing.
They played together.
Worked together.
And when someone put a banana peel down Mom's back at school, the boys 'protected' her.
It was a good balance.
Being the only other female on the farm meant work, however.
Besides helping with things outdoors, she had indoor chores.
Cooking, cleaning, dishes.
Those 'invisible' things that go unnoticed until they don't get done.
Of all of them, the most entertaining was always the laundry.
You never knew what you would find . . .
There was one very firm rule in the Berg household.
You cleaned your plate at mealtime.
Much of the food was produced on the farm and Grandpa Berg took a very dim view of any of it being wasted.
Each of the sons and the daughter had to show an empty plate before they were allowed to leave.
If they had been served something they didn't like, they had to eat it anyways.
Or get creative.
Uncle Leif, the youngest of the brothers, took the second option.
He knew that those vegetables and potatoes he had been staring at had to go somewhere.
Just not inside of him.
What to do?
No dog or pet was allowed inside the house so one couldn't slip food to them under the table and his parents would notice any significant quantity of food simply thrown on the floor.
His options were definitely limited.
But he would think of something . . .
When Mom and Grandma Berg were doing the laundry, it was Mom's responsibility to turn out the pockets on the boy's trousers.
Inevitably, it was an entertaining enterprise.
Especially when they got to Uncle Leif's.
Because that was when they discovered what had been done with those unwanted and totally unnecessary vegetables and potatoes and that while he had been sitting there, contemplating, he had come up with the most ingenious and inventive method of making them disappear. He was wearing trousers. And they had . . . pockets.
What followed was inevitable.
Back in the laundry, Mom turned out each pocket to discover little, dried up memories of yesterday's dinner.
And, as I said, entertaining.
And that was just the laundry.
Imagine what he could do with such things as chores.
But that is another story.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

More Than Talk

Because today is, in many parts of the world, Talk Like A Pirate Day, I am re-introducing the Tolley Pirate Ship!
From a post of July 2, 2012:

For several months, my Husby's health wasn't . . . very good. 
In fact, we were quite worried about him.
But, with excellent medical care and ongoing treatment, he has stepped back from the brink. I'll bless forever the Canadian Health Care system!
Ahem . . .
The conception and planning for a new project completed the cure.
I present his 'cure'.
The New Tolley Grandchildren Playhouse

We now have a pirate ship in our backyard.
Or as my Husby prefers to call it, a 'Pie-Rat' ship.
I won't mention the looks we have been getting from the neighbours.
Or the speculation over whether 'we know something they should know'.
And the watching of the sky for the threat of heavy rains.
Moving on . . .
Our ship is built completely out of recycled and scavenged materials.
It consists of three levels.
Spiral staircase.
Rope ladders.
A plank, ideal for walking into the family pool.
A slide.
And a flag picturing a pie and crossed forks.
I should probably mention that we rather like pie.
Hence the renaming of all grandchildren, 'Pie-Rats'.

Looking forward

The spiral

Looking back
Photos by: Kallie Tolley
We opened it to the grandchildren - ahem - Pie-Rats, on Saturday (June 30, 2012).
Following very brief speeches.
The tossing of a pie.
And the equipping of grandchildren with the necessities.
Pirate headscarves.
And lots and lots of food.
I think it is a hit.
Who says the Tolleys don't know how to party?!

P.S. This story was picked up and broadcast worldwide a few months after the 'launch'. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


Okay, they look a little funny, but we love them.
A couple of years ago, our youngest daughter and her daughter moved back to Edmonton from the west coast.
They had been away for far too long.
It was cause for celebration.
So everyone came over to . . .
I should probably explain here that, at that time, when all of our kids and their families gathered, we numbered twenty-five people.
Twelve of whom were under the age of ten.
Organized confusion.
Generally, the parents and very youngest members gathered in the front room upstairs to chat.
The oldest of the grandkids fled to the basement.
Where the toys were.
Now, these kids were used to being together.
And treated each other like siblings.treated
Getting along fabulously for the most part.
With occasional bouts of tears and irritation . . .
It was a fairly normal evening.
Adults – visiting.
Kids downstairs – playing.
Someone started to cry.
Our six-year-old came running up the stairs.
“Someone’s crying!” he announced. Needlessly, I might point out.
I looked at him. “Who is crying?”
Now, my daughter’s daughter hadn't been around for some time. And when she was here last, she had been a babe in arms. While the rest of his cousins were decidedly well known to this young man, this little girl was not.
He handled the confusion well.
“That baby, who I have no idea who she is!”
Ah. Identification complete.
Maybe we should put that on her passport.

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Baker


My blonde-haired son with eyes of brown,
Who rode his bike all over town,
He’d reached the grand old age of nine,
Had learned so much in all that time.

But mostly, how he loved to eat,
My cookies were a special treat,
He’d lick a beater, taste the dough,
Then grab a handful, off he’d go.

But soon, my boy just wanted to
Find out how he could make them. True.
And so he watched and so discovered,
His baking soon surpassed his mothers.

Tonight he joined us in our home,
He brought his wife and kids along,
We sat and talked and had such fun,
‘Twas hard to think it'd soon be done.

The grandkids said they had a yen
Our boy went in the kitchen then,
And set the oven, got some ‘stuff’,
Then added till he had enough.

It only took a moment, till,
He, all his kids’ dreams, he’d fulfilled,
And cookies warm were on the tray,
Enough to last till end of day.

And now, it was his mom. T’was so!
Who licked the beaters, tasted dough,
Then, as the cookies, warm, emerged
Stole a few, by hunger urged.

We gathered them (Just one more bite!),
To send with folks into the night,
I watched him pack up kids and then,
I thought of ‘now’ and thought of ‘when’.

It’s not so long since he was nine,
And still so young and still all mine,
Where did the years all pass away?
Did this not happen yesterday?

Today is his, it’s his turn now,
I wouldn’t change things anyhow,
I wave to them from on the porch.
I’m happy now. I’ve passed the torch.


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, us three, both me and they,
We'll talk of games we liked to play!           

Sunday, September 16, 2018


The work is getting done. Guess who's in charge.
Husby is retired now.
As am I.
He had been at the same organization for over thirty years.
He knew the business inside and out.
Wrote most of its policies.
And conceived and implemented nearly every one of its processes.
Yep. Inside and out.
But in his organization, a new wave of up-and-comers were . . . up and coming.
They’d not changed any of the policies. Yet.
But they were beginning to tinker with the procedures.
Don’t get me wrong. That’s fine.
There are always new and improved ways to do things. I have no problem with that.
What I do have a problem with was the way they regarded my Husby.
Suddenly this man who has been a main cog in the great machine was being regarded as a bit rusty.
Out of date.
The fact that he had personally schooled and guided every single one of these young people meant nothing once they’d gotten their momentum.
And they’d definitely gotten their momentum.
Our story is not unique.
I see it happening all around me. Older people who were once at the forefront of their fields of expertise are being sidelined. Disregarded.
Those who, though they may have fallen a bit behind in the technological side, could still be viewed (and utilized) as a source of wisdom and knowledge.
And experience.
Husby and I were speaking of it one morning. The lack of . . . respect.
Is it something the new generation has not been taught?
All of this is my long-winded way of telling a story.
Which I’m ready to begin. Finally . . .
During its heyday, the Stringam ranch was a hub of activity and a great source of employment.
Cowhands came and went. Learned a little or a lot.
But left better than when they had ridden in.
And a large part of that was due to my Dad’s example.
He led, choosing to work with the men rather than give orders and watch from the sidelines. He counselled. Disciplined. Instructed. Corrected. Instructed again.
And the men respectfully listened.
Oh, there was the occasional man who didn’t like the discipline that the Stringam ranch demanded. But even they learned to show respect during their short stay.
Most of the men went on to lives of industry. Some to direct their own enterprises.
All spoke of my Dad with respect and affection.
One man came to my parents fresh out of high school and had then stayed a number of years under the tutelage of my Dad. In his quiet way, he soaked up everything he could learn.
Then he married and finally left to begin his own ranching enterprise.
The bond of friendship remained strong.
One day, he called my Dad at Dad’s room in the local senior’s lodge. The man, and his son who was now running their family ranch, had a difficulty and needed some advice.
Who did they turn to?
My dad was nearly ninety.
His days of directing the affairs of a large ranch, riding the range and commanding crews of hired men were long behind him.
But the respect for his knowledge and expertise and the genuine affection went on.
Is this being taught today?
Do we look at the elderly people around us (and they are growing in number) and see someone who is merely old? Redundant? Stupid?
Or do we see the person they were? A person full of life and new ideas. Contender and driving force and world changer of their generation. A person who could still be a fund of knowledge and experience.
A person upon whose shoulders the newest generation is standing.
I hope so.
If not, it’s a great waste.
And a pity.

P.S. About the picture. The guy in charge is the one kneeling on the ground, holding the calf.

Sundays are for my Ancestors. Okay, yes it was about my dad again.
What did your ancestors do? I’d love to hear!

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