Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Friday, November 23, 2018

Swimming Hole



I like to swim.
It’s the one exercise during which nothing hurts.
And at my age, that’s an enormous plus.
I don’t go as often as I used to, but still try to make it three times a week.
And work hard while I’m there.
It’s a matter of efficiency . . .
I also have a rather distinctive swimming suit. Made it myself.
It’s . . . modest. Something really, really necessary as I age and my body slowly succumbs to gravity and certain parts need more and more control to keep them . . . controlled.
A few days ago, I was working my hardest. Plowing through the water like a determined hippo. (And those things can move! Just FYI.)
I noticed the lifeguard, occasionally. Guarding life.
When I finished and showered, and was donning footwear and packing up in the front foyer, I noticed said lifeguard coming toward me at flank speed.
He obviously had something to say.
To me.
Immediately, my mind leaped to different scenarios: He wanted to hire me to teach swimming. He was so amazed at my prowess that he wanted to sign me up for the upcoming swim meet – senior’s class. He wanted me to take the job as coach and trainer for the local swim team. He . . .
“Um, Ma’am? Are you the one who was wearing the blue-striped swimsuit?”
He wanted me to make him one of my special, discloses nothing, swimsuits! I smiled. “Yes?”
“You have a big hole in the backside of your suit.”
Oh.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Giving Thanks

It's Thanksgiving for our brothers and sisters across the border.
What am I thankful for?
This will start you out. It started me out . . .
My hometown!
Southern Alberta small town life in the 50s.
Crime hadn't been invented yet.
It was, literally, a different world.
Our doors were never, ever locked.
Every house contained numerous children, who ran hither and yon (good term) all day long. In and out of each other's yards and homes and refrigerators.
Mom, like all of the other moms, worked in her home, cooking, polishing and cleaning and doing other 'Mom' stuff.
She would come to the door at meal times and call out into the street, whereupon (another good word) her various offspring would head home for home-cooked food.
Canned soup was something new and wonderful. Always served with yummy homemade bread sandwiches.
At some point during the day, one of us kids would be sent downtown with a pillowcase to the local post office to retrieve the mail.
Shopping inevitably meant going to one of the two (yes, we had two) grocery stores, or if clothing or dry goods were required, Robinson's.
The drug store ran a tab (a sheet of paper with our names written on it) for chocolate bars purchased.
At ten cents each.
Freshly-roasted nuts could be procured from the display in the center of the store.
Trips with Dad to see the insurance agent inevitably meant a Hershey chocolate bar because the bottom drawer of Mr. Hovan's desk was full of them.
We had our own cobbler, Mr. Szabo, and I loved to go with Dad to his shop because it was fascinating to watch him fashion great hunks of leather into real shoes with his little hammer.
A trip to one of the two local car dealers turned into an adventure when he showed us his brand new Polaroid camera that magically developed its own pictures while you waited.
Every Saturday, Dad would send us to the movies with fifty cents. Twenty-five for the movie. Ten for popcorn and ten for a bottle of Grape Crush with a straw.
With five cents left over.
Until I discovered that the five cents could be spent on a package of licorice. Whereupon (that word again), I started coming home empty-handed.
But happy.
The theatre also had 'cuddle seats'. Double sized seats at both ends of every other row. Perfect for two sweethearts to cuddle in together while they watched 'Santa and the Martians' or 'Sinbad' or 'Lassie'.
All candy contained sugar and natural flavours.
Most of it was made on this continent.
Our clothes were mostly cotton.
Easily wrinkled, but pressed into shape by Mom's ever-present iron.
Easter Sunday was an opportunity to wear one's new spring hat and matching outfit.
And absolutely everyone attended church.
Thanksgiving was a chance to gather, not only one's own enormous family but any and all extended family members and shoe-horn the entire mob into any available space.
At Christmas, an enormous, real tree was erected in the center of the intersection of Main and First streets.
The traffic happily drove around it for the entire season.
The arrival of Santa in Mr. Madge's special North Pole plane, a much-anticipated event.
And, once again, everyone went to church.
Midnight mass with one's Catholic friends was a special treat.
We rode our bikes down dirt - then gravel – roads.
One always held one's breath when a car went past until the dust cloud following it settled down.
Cars always drove slowly because the streets were inevitably teeming with children (or better known by their technical name - 'small fry').
There was only one channel on the black and white TV set, so if the program airing didn't appeal, there was literally nothing on TV.
In the evenings, when one wasn't involved in Cubs, Scouts, or CGIT, one was home with the family, watching the one TV channel or playing games together.
Mom always made treats.
Yummy ones.
We had whole neighbourhoods of Hungarians, Germans and Japanese.
And all of them were wonderful people and terrific cooks.
Funny how so many memories revolve around food . . .
Sports events were exactly that.
Events.
Ball games were played in a dirt lot and the crowd sat on the ground or brought their own chairs to enjoy the fun.
Basketball was huge.
The whole town would pack the high-school gym to cheer on our teams.
Winter sports were limited to home-style rinks or the town rink, and only when it was cold enough to support ice.
The curling rink, with its refrigeration unit, was always popular.
'Bonspiel-ing' was a sport in itself.
The town was founded on and supported by, farming and ranching.
Most of the vehicles that rumbled down the streets were dusty farm trucks, many containing a farm animal or two.
And everyone knew everyone else.
Their address, phone number (Jody's phone number was 6), family members.
Even pets.
It was a wonderful way to grow up.
Like an enormous, caring family . . .
I loved growing up in Milk River.
It was a perfect life.
But that 'small-town' life has largely vanished everywhere now.
Oh, one can catch glimpses of it.
Friendly neighbourhoods.
Caring neighbours.
So now it's your turn. What are you thankful for?

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Under the Influence

It will always be ‘That Night’.

The night my friends and I learned first-hand that drinking and driving don’t go together.
It could have been so much worse . . .
Lethbridge, Alberta is a city of about 50,000. Forty-nine miles north of Milk River.
For the kids of my hometown, it was the ‘big city’.
The place for movies and fun on the evenings when two-movie-a-week Milk River had rolled up its sidewalks.
In the hands of a steady, careful driver, it took a good part of an hour to get there.
And some planning ahead if one wanted to get to a particular movie on time.
Me and a group of my friends had stuffed ourselves into a car belonging to a friend of a friend.
And I do mean ‘stuffed’.
I’m not sure how many people were in there.
Let’s just say that, if we’d had seatbelts, there would not have been a sufficient number.
Moving on . . .
We made the trip and arrived at our movie with plenty of time to spare.
Happily, we got in line for tickets.
It was then that our driver/car-owner announced he wasn’t interested in seeing, to quote him, “Some stupid movie”.
Instead, he would wait until we were finished.
In the bar across the street.
We watched him go.
Not really worried. Thinking he would be responsible and ensure he was in a condition to take us all safely back to Milk River on that long, dark highway home.
We enjoyed the movie and emerged into the cool evening air some two hours later.
One of the boys went into the bar and emerged with our driver.
One of them was not walking very steadily.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you which one.
Our driver had spent his time trying to drink everyone else in the bar ‘under the table’.
Whatever that means.
I think he had won.
“Rrrready t’go?” he slurred at us.
I don’t know about the others, but my little teen-aged heart stopped right there.
My date put his arm around our driver. “Buddy,” he said soothingly, “I’d better drive.”
“Wha’d’ya mean?! I can drive!!! SSS’MY car!!!”
“Bud, you’re drunk. You can’t even see the steering wheel!”
“SSS’MY car!!! Ssstealin’ my car!!!”
“No, Bud, we’re not stealing your car. You can sit right next to me and we’ll all get home safely.”
“SSS’MY car!!!”
“Yes, it’s your car, and you can sit next to me . . .”
“No onesdrivin’ MY CAR!!!”
This went on for some time.
I hurried to a nearby phone booth (google it) and called home.
Getting my sleepy father out of bed.
“Daddy! Our driver’s drunk!” I wailed over the phone.
He was awake immediately. “Don’t let him drive!”
“We’re trying not to, but he’s so angry!”
“Don’t let him drive! Do you think you can convince him? Do I need to come and get you?”
I looked over at my friends, grouped around my date, who was still trying to talk to his friend. My date was saying something and the driver was shaking his head forcibly, nearly sending himself tumbling with the simple action.
“I don’t knooow!”
As I stood there, my date propped up his friend and stood back. The friend/driver nearly fell over – saved at the last moment when someone grabbed his arm.
Finally, to everyone’s relief, he nodded.
“I think they’ve convinced him,” I said. “We’re on our way.”
Happily, everyone piled into the car, with my date behind the steering wheel and our would-be driver beside him.
We left the brightly-lighted city and started out along the dark highway.
We didn’t get far.
“I ssshould be drivin’! SSSS’MY car!!!”
My date looked over at his friend. “You’re too drunk, Buddy,” he said. “I’ll get us all home safely.”
“SSS’MY CAR!!!”
He grabbed the wheel.
The car swerved sharply and my date took his foot off the accelerator and finally regained control as the boy sitting on the other side of the ‘owner’ wrestled him back into the middle of the seat.
“SSS’MY CAR! SSSSTEALIN’ MY CAR!!!”
“No, we’re not stealing anything!”
“I’m Drivin’!” Again the driver reached for the wheel.
My date pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the engine, pocketing the key. “Let’s walk this off,” he suggested. He slid out of the car and pulled the ‘driver’ out behind him. “C’mon Buddy, let’s walk this off.”
The two of them went around the car to the ditch and started walking up and down, my date talking quietly and the ‘driver’ shouting more and more incoherently.
Lights appeared behind us.
Grew brighter.
A pick-up truck.
One we all knew very well.
Another friend and his date pulled over in front of us.
“Trouble?” he asked.
I went over to them. “Our driver’s drunk,” I said.
“Do any of you want to come with us?” he asked.
Relief flooded over me. “Well, I do!” I said. I went back to the other car. My date was still walking up and down with his friend, talking softly and soothingly. “Does anyone want to catch a ride?” I asked.
One other person scrambled out of the car. “I do,” they said.
“I’m going with Dennis!” I called to my date.
He waved. “Do!” he said.
I climbed into the truck and made room for the other person.
For a few seconds, we watched my date continue to walk and talk, trying to convince our agitated car owner that he really was in no condition to drive.
Then we drove off, the car and my other friends disappearing into the darkness behind us.
I felt like I was abandoning them.
Half an hour later, I was walking through my front door.
My relieved parents met me as I came in.
“What happened?” Dad asked.
I told them.
They shook their heads. “Thank the Lord you had enough sense to keep him from driving,” Mom said.
“Well, they were still trying when I left,” I said. “I don’t know what happened after that.”
Later, one of my other friends called to say that they had all gotten home safely. My date had managed to calm the ‘owner’ enough to get him back into the car. And the rest of them were able to keep him from grabbing the wheel.
We learned two things that night:
1. If there’s any possibility you’re going to be the driver . . .
2. Don’t be stupid.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

My Crutch(es)

Gramma and Grampa Berg
It was a magical time. 
Gramma Berg was staying over. 
For days and days. 
And she could always be counted on for a snuggle, or a story, or a song, or a treat.
In that order.
Gramma moved slowly. The result of having a shattered kneecap. I only knew that she couldn't get away from me.
Oh, and that she had crutches.
I loved those crutches. It didn't occur to my four-year-old intellect that they were a necessary part of Gramma’s mobility. I saw only that they were just right for me. 
I would put the little bar (intended as a handhold) under my arms and, with the top half of each crutch weaving far over my head, hop from one end of the house to the other. Then back. Then back again.
All day.
Sometimes I would mix it up a little and hold up the left leg instead of the right. Either was exciting. 
And daring.
Okay, I was four. My life to date hadn't been filled with momentous events. 
But I digress . . .
There was one problem with my fascination for Gramma’s crutches. She needed them. And I usually had them.
Somewhere else.
Something had to be done.
My Dad, always excited at the prospect of a new engineering task, saw an opportunity. He would make new crutches. My size. Happily, he spent many hours in the blacksmith shop, designing, measuring, cutting. Crafting. Finally, voila! Crutches. Perfect four-year-old size. 
Excited, he brought them to the house. 
Unfortunately, it was nap time and I was blotto on the couch.
Not one to let such a minor thing as a sleeping child thwart him, Dad stood me up and thrust the crutches under my arms.
I can picture it now. Small, skinny, white-haired child – literally - asleep on her feet. Head lolling to one side. Her dad holds her up with one hand while trying to brace the crutches under her arms with the other. For this story, a Dad with three hands would probably be advisable. She folds like cooked spaghetti. He tries again. Same result. Finally, defeated, he lays her back on the couch and braces the crutches against it for her to find when she is a bit more . . . conscious.
Which she does.

From then on, my crutches and I were inseparable. They were even tied behind when I went riding. I almost forgot how to walk. Strangers to the ranch would shake their heads sadly at the little, crippled child making her way across the barnyard. Then nod and acknowledge that she sure had learned how to move quickly, poor little mite. I felt guilty for the deception. 
Well, a little. 
A real little.
Okay, not at all.
I certainly learned to manoeuvre those little crutches. The only thing I never mastered was walking while lifting both feet at the same time. And, believe me, I tried.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch house, Gramma was delighted to have her crutches back. She could get around once more. She could be portable, helpful, useful. All the qualities she found so satisfying. 
She could even challenge me to a race.
I won.
Me. Age four. With some friends.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Things We Build

Our Poetry Monday theme this week is "Things we Build"
Now I know I posted this only a year ago, but it is the best example I've seen!
Created by my son, Mark, to gift to his wife, Barb . . .

First, the poem:

The Builder
If you’ll ask any builder what
It takes to raise a wall –
They’ll say, “A firm foundation
Will help them to stand tall.

“Some days the effort seems in vain,
Stones crack, or break, or fall,
Some days it might seem there's been
No progress made at all.

“But nothing great was ever built
Within a single day,
Press on, endure, and what is built
Will never fade away.

“And bit by bit the building grows
From one stone to the next,
And many things might come about
That you did not expect.

“It takes so many years to build
A house of wood and stone,
The daily toil and strife and hurt
Seems worth it when it’s done.

“Though 50 years to build, and then
500 it may stand,
The building is a monument
To the builder’s blessed hand.”

Note: They're not finished yet,
But someday they'll be masterpieces!

Then, the pictures:
Architect: Barb Tolley
Structures: Megan: Erected 2003
Kyra: Erected 2005
Jarom: Erected 2009
Leah : Erected 2012
Emma: Erected 2017 (To be added)



See? How can I top that?!
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:
This day in 1922,
King Tut's room was brought to view!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

For Those Who Sleep

My Dad was big on responsibility . . .

Like lots of dads.
And he tried to teach it to his kids . . .
Like lots of dads.
With more or less success . . .
Like lots of . . . you get the picture.
From my earliest memories, my Dad has been a finisher. Any task he was given or that he assigned himself was always completed with exactness.
It was a good example for us to follow.
Most of the time.
At one point, when I was little, Dad had been assigned to teach a class in our church congregation.
He took it very seriously.
Not only did it give him the opportunity to share his thoughts and beliefs with a group of young people, but it also provided a captive audience.
Something else he loved.
Moving on . . .
Every Sunday, one could find my Dad.
Perched on a too-small folding chair, expounding to his group of enthusiastic excited present youngsters.
He was always well-prepared and ready. Eager to share what he had learned.
But my Dad was also the county's only veterinarian.
At certain times of the year, he was the epitome (great word, right?) of busy.
Still, he would show up for his class on Sunday morning, ready to instruct . . .
It was spring.
Calving season.
Dad hadn't seen his bed for days.
Mom drove to church because he didn't trust his blurred vision and slow reflexes.
But he could still teach!
He collected his manual and scriptures and took his seat, facing his little congregation.
He began.
A few minutes later, he jumped.
And . . . woke himself up.
Not a good sign.
He peeked at his audience.
For the first time, ever, they were looking at him.
All of them.
And paying attention.
In fact, one could probably say they were riveted.
Dad felt his face grow hot.
He glanced down at his lesson.
What on earth had he been saying? He had no idea.
Dad taught us two things that day.
  1. Neither wind, snow, sleet, or lack of sleep should keep anyone from carrying through with their responsibilities.
  2. Lessons are much more interesting when the teacher is asleep.
Don't you dare fall asleep in my class! That's my job . . .

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The Long-Awaited Sequel to Daughter of Ishmael
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