Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Friday, November 2, 2018

Steak en Colère


The skills he learned in France . . .

Plus cooking.












In his early twenties, my Husby spent two years living in Paris, France.
For a farm boy from southern Alberta, it was quite a culture shock.
But he loved it and grew to love the French people.
During his years there, he discovered that the French love their food.
Love. Their. Food.
And he found out first hand . . .
During his stay there, Husby became acquainted with a wealthy U.S. national and his family who made their home in Paris.
Wonderful people.
One evening, the father decided to take his family out to dine.
He invited Husby and his companions.
Remember the place where I said ‘wealthy’?
That would become important here.
They went to a five-star, French restaurant.
And when the French say five-star, they definitely mean it.
Our little farm boy found himself in the very heart and soul of Haute Cuisine.
He nervously sank into a chair at one of the luxurious tables and accepted the expertly-flourished menu.
Fortunately, his French was good, so ordering didn’t cause any complications.
The meal came out in courses.
Slow courses.
When I say that the French love their food, I mean it.
And they take time to worship every. Single. Bite.
Finally, the main course appeared.
Husby’s American friend had ordered steak.
Steak was delivered. Smothered in onions and other good things.
Said steak was also very, very rare.
Now, I don’t know about you, but that would have been just fine with me. (Rancher’s daughter.)
But for Husby’s friend, it was simply unacceptable. “Could you please take this back and cook it?” he asked.
The waiter’s impeccable manners did not allow for any outward show of surprise or even opinion. He simply said, “Oui, M’sieur,” and whisked the offending plate away.
A few minutes later, he reappeared, with the same steak on a fresh plate.
Still beautifully displayed.
Still rare.
The friend stared at it, then at the waiter. “Could you please take it back again?”
Now it’s no crime to like your meat well-done.
Most of my family members actually prefer it that way.
It’s just not acceptable when you are in a very fancy French restaurant.
A short time later, the steak re-appeared.
This time carried in with tongs.
By the chef, himself.
“M’sieur,” he said, slapping the steak down in disgust on a nearby plate, “you have murdered that steak!” The man then spun about and marched back to the kitchen, outrage and repugnance (good word) in every step.
For those of you planning on visiting France . . .
The people are wonderful.
The food divine.
The meat, rare.
That is all.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Topper(ed)

Now picture me astride. Or behind and on the ground. . .
Topper. My eldest brother’s horse. The ultimate in challenges.
My world was small. I admit it.
By the age of seven, I had moved through the ‘pony’ stage was ready for something a bit . . . bigger. Certainly more challenging.
My brother’s sorrel gelding was the answer. 
If I could ride him, I would have achieved my greatest goal. By so doing, I would enter the world of the adults. I would finally be considered a grown-up.
Or so I thought.
We were selecting our mounts for yet another round-up. This one to include branding and all of the fun and high-jinks that went with that.
My brother, Jerry, stepped into the corral ahead of me. He lifted the halter he held and approached . . . Ranger. 
Ranger?
My day had come. Before anyone could think of stopping me, I moved to Topper’s side and slid my halter over his alert head. 
So far, so good.
Grooming and saddling took next to no time. A good thing as I was in a fever of impatience.
And then I was aboard.
Wow! The ground was so far away! This horse was a giant! Okay, he would have had to stand on tip hooves to reach 14 hands, but I had been riding a Shetland pony. My measuring stick was slightly skewed.
But I digress . . .
And we were off.
All went well to that point. In fact, all continued to go well as we received our assignments and separated to begin collecting the herds. I was given one of the smaller fields. A measly little quarter section. No problem. Topper and I started off at a brisk trot. I was amazed at how much more quickly he moved than my little Pinto.
I have to admit here that Pinto had one speed.
Slow.
This was living! 
And then . . . that sun. 
In Southern Alberta, at least the corner where I was raised, the early summer days are . . . hot. There are no trees. The sun beats down on the hard-packed earth, turning it into a heat reflector of gigantic proportions. In no time, the heat waves are distorting every horizon. 
And the favourite little blue jean jacket so necessary when you first hit the barnyard is suddenly superfluous. And distinctly uncomfortable.
And really needing to be removed.
With slow, staid Pinto, a simple task. No sooner thought of, then accomplished. He wouldn't even have noticed.
With Topper, another story entirely.
I undid the buttons.
His ears flicked back. I’m almost sure his eyes narrowed. “What are you doing up there, Human?”
I slid one arm half-way out of the sleeve.
A jump. A little kick. “Whatever it is, I don’t like it!”
I stopped moving.
He settled.
I moved, he jumped.
This went on for some time. Then I finally tired of the theatrics and decided to show him who was boss.
I shed my coat entirely.
He decided to show me who was really boss and shed me.
Entirely.
I’m not sure whether I bailed off, or he planted me. It matters little because the results were the same.
My face took the brunt of the landing.
When I came to my senses a short time later, I struggled to my feet and discovered that Topper was actually waiting for me a little distance away.
I approached him slowly. The only speed I could muster.
He watched me, warily.
I drew closer.
He tensed.
Closer still.
He let fly with both back hoofs.
I really don’t know how I managed to survive life on the ranch. I must have a particularly hard head. 
The next thing I remember is one of our hired men, Bud. He had followed the trail of my belongings until he finally discovered me, lying in a very small heap and plucked me from the prairie floor, like flotsam off a beach.
I noticed, with some degree of satisfaction, that he had already rescued my beloved jacket.
Reunited. I may have smiled. I really couldn't feel my face.
Bud set me on the saddle in front of him and I looked down at the horse he was riding.
Eagle.
The delicious appaloosa.
The ultimate in challenges.
If I could ride him, I would have achieved my greatest goal . . .
You can see where this is heading.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Halloween Tipping

Seated: Grandma and Grandpa Berg and 'She Who Holds the Horses'
Surrounding them: The Instigators
Halloween.
Ghosts and goblins.
Witches, black cats and scary pumpkins.
Pirates, vampires and mummies.
An evening of treats, tricks and mischief.
And it has been this way for many, many years.
My Mom often talked of mischief perpetrated by her and her eight (yes, I said eight) brothers.
They were in a rural community, with all of the families around them involved in some sort of agriculture, so the opportunities for tricks were almost as endless as the imaginations that enacted them.
Pigs in the hen house.
Harnesses on the cows.
Wagons hauled to the roofs of the barns.
Tires and assorted junk piled in the roadways.
But the favourite, the real king of the pranks was outhouse tipping.
Though indoor plumbing was quite common in the cities and larger communities in the mid-1930s, on the farms and ranches surrounding Millicent, Alberta, most families still made use of the outdoor privy.
Cold in the winter, hot in the summer, but necessary the whole year through, the outhouse was an accepted and integral part of family life.
And very few of them were fastened down.
All it took was a concerted effort by two or more strong lads and . . . over it would go.
Followed by much laughter and hilarity as the perpetrators fled.
To the next farm.
Where their adventure would start all over.
Mom held the horses, or so she contends.
But I digress . . .
One Halloween, she and her eight brothers were making the rounds.
One farm, in particular, was their destination.
The husband and wife who ran it were 'feisty'.
And protective.
And fun to pit wits with.
The Berg kids crept along in the darkness, trying desperately to be silent.
Finally, they left my Mom holding the horse's reins and crept closer.
All was quiet.
Light was pouring from the farmhouse.
The couple was likely eating dinner.
The boys picked their target out of the gloom.
It stood in lonely glory (can one use the word 'glory' in describing an outhouse?) to one side of the yard.
Closer.
Finally, they reached the little structure.
Ahh. Now just a little push to set things going . . .
Now, unbeknownst (good word) to them, the farmer had decided, this year, to outwit his antagonists.
By hiding inside the outhouse.
At the climactic moment, he would burst from the building and give his shotgun a blast into the air.
That would scare those little scamps into next week!
His plan was brilliant.
Genius.
Right up to the point where the boys tipped the outhouse over . . . on its door.
Trapping their would-be assailant inside.
Hampered but unbowed, he stuck his head through one of the holes and shouted, "Ye blimey little rats! I'll get ye!"
Then followed with the planned shotgun blast at the sky.
Admittedly, completed as it was through the hole of an outhouse, the action lost some of its 'punch'.
And the boys, by this time, were already over the hill, laughing at their cleverness.
But the farmer's actions did achieve one thing.
Made doubly sure that his farm was on the 'trick' list for a long as the boys lived at home.
Or until he got indoor plumbing.
Whichever came first.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

One More Day

Any Excuse

Countdown to Halloween . . .
Tristan - acting evil.
Our family loves to dress up.
Maybe that's the reason we love theatre so much.
It's legal there . . .
For my husby and I, it started in our respective childhoods.
We carried it, happily, into our own family.
Through the years, any excuse to dress up was instantly seized.
Halloween.
NewYear's.
St. Patrick's Day.
Thursday.
As I said, any excuse.
Our costume collection grew apace (real word).
In no time, it outgrew the large cardboard box that I had originally stuffed things into and into its own room.
The kids spent many, many happy hours in that room, playing dress-up.
As they grew, so did their costumes, becoming more elaborate and detailed.
Bunnies, ladybugs and clowns became Elizabethan gowns and chain mail.
And I mean real chain mail.
With gauntlets.
The room that holds the costumes now is bigger than our first living room.
Our neighbourhood has grown accustomed to seeing our family traipsing around, dressed . . . unusually.
It's fun.
And now our grandchildren have caught the spirit.
Sometimes, good things are passed down through the generations . . .
Queen of Hearts


And yes, that's real chain mail. He knits it . . .
Expecting their/our first child/grandchild


A night in Bethlehem

Notice the backpack. Authentic in every way! Not!
Husby as Teddy Roosevelt
Passing it on to the next generation . . .
Yes. They are PJ's

Monday, October 29, 2018

Crowing Closer

Okay. I have to admit that crows aren't my favourite feathered creature.
But they are fun to put in a rhyme and as Halloween draws closer, an apt topic!
Here we go . . .

A crow emerges from the mist,
Its blazing eyes can’t be dismissed,
I wonder as I have before,
What did he get his bad rap for?

Did he miss eating all his greens?
And then quit cawlege in his teens?
Drink too much cawfee in his life?
Forget to caw his loving wife?

Perhaps his drinking went too far,
Spent too much time at his crow bar.
No visits from ol’ Santa Caws,
For frequent and diverse faux pas?

Did his cawstume-wearing e’er portend
An inclination to offend?
And did his friends all scream ‘foul play!’
When they met to play crowquet?

The cawking did our bird eschew,
When fixing plumbing old and new?
And did he horrify his Folks
With cawnstant telling of bad Jokes?

When meeting his albino friend,
Call him cawcasion to the end?
And did he stomp the crowcus flat?
When angry, crowcuss like a brat?

For such a shiny, pretty bird,
His reputation seems absurd!
So, for the record, I dispute
The rapid loss of his repute!

‘Tis evening of a crisp fall day,
And shrouded figures come our way,
Please be kind-hearted, don’t demean
Our slandered crows this Halloween.

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 the world's so tense,
We'll try to speak of common sense.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

We Put the 'Bat' in Bathtime!

This
plus this


                                                                                                           
equals this.
Bathtime.
For the youngest member of a family of 11 and in the year 1931, this meant much heating of water at the kitchen stove.
Hauling of said water to the washroom.
Filling of the washtub.
Then relaxing in deliciously hot water.
The best part of the week for my dad.
On this particular occasion, though, Dad’s bathtime would include something unexpected.
And definitely unwanted.
A visitor.
As he was sitting back, enjoying his few moments of bliss, something small flew in through the open transom over the door.
It did a couple of circuits around the room as the little boy in the bathtub watched, wide-eyed.
Finally, it lit on the sheer curtains on the small window high up on the outside wall and folded its wings.
Resolving into something small . . . and furry.
A bat.
The two regarded each other for a few breathless moments.
Then, eyes glued to his visitor, dad did the “quickest washing job of my life”, wrapped a towel around his little, naked body and found the nearest far-away place.
One of his older brothers went back in to take care of the unusual – and totally unwanted – bathtime visitor, and all was well.
From then on, however, when Dad took his bath, his preparations included filling the tub.
And closing the transom.
Then keeping his eyes carefully trained upward as he performed a quick wash.
And got out of the room.
Hmmm.
I wonder if the introduction of a bat into bathtime would shorten the length of some of my teenagers’ showers.
Just a thought . . .

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