Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, August 10, 2019

That Bread Mouse

My Mom. World's Best Bread Maker
I love bread.
Freshly baked or cooled. Whole wheat. White. Multi-grain. Potato. Sourdough. Soda. Banana. Rye. Leavened. Unleavened.
Have I mentioned that I love bread?
I could have lived on it.
Fortunately, my Mom made the best bread on the planet. And I knew this how . . .?
Okay, the best bread in my four-year-old world.
Twice a week, Mom would drag out her large, white ceramic bowl and start assembling the magical ingredients. She would add, then stir. Add, then stir. I especially loved it when she would make potato bread because it was so much fun watching her force the cooked, cooled potatoes through the colander.
Finally, the best part, when the mixture had turned into a ball of dough.
Then, Mom would punch and turn. Punch and turn.
And she would always give me a little piece to play with.
Dutifully, I would wash my hands, then reach, with eager fingers, for my piece.
I probably should mention that my little white ball of dough usually changed quite quickly to a little grey ball of dough. Obviously, four-year-old handwashing left much to be desired. And Mom must have noticed because my tiny, little loaf never went into the oven . . .
In no time, six huge, beautifully golden-brown, perfectly shaped loaves emerged magically from the oven. And took their place of honour on the cupboard to cool.
And they smelled like Heaven. And I knew that how...?
Alright. Alright. They smelled like my four-year-old version of Heaven.
Sigh.
And they were just asking to be sliced and eaten with some freshly-churned butter.
Impatiently, I would follow my Mom around the kitchen, begging for a piece.
Now. While it was still warm.
And always, she would say, patiently, “In a minute, Diane. They have to cool a bit so they don't make you sick.”
Mom had told me many times about the little boy who had eaten a whole loaf of hot bread and who had to go to the hospital because the bread turned to a hard lump in his stomach.
And I believed her.
I did.
My stomach didn't, though, and it had to be re-convinced every time. “But Mom . . .”
Finally, she would sigh and relent, grabbing the big bread knife and carefully cutting through the crusty outside and into the wondrous middle.
Soon, I was sitting at the big kitchen table, happily munching my way through a large slice of fresh bread and butter.
This had to be done right.
I had tried on numerous occasions, to convince my Mom that crusts were simply to keep the yummy centre from drying out. But she had a thing about 'wasting food'. So, the crust was removed and quickly eaten, to get it out of the way. Then I could eagerly dive into the best part. The wonderfully soft centre.
It isn't possible to be happier.
I would lick my fingers carefully and then stab at any crumbs that might have fallen, collecting them on one fingertip. More licking.
When I had eaten everything possible, I would get to my feet and start following my Mom around the kitchen again. “Mo-om . . .”
The most I ever conned her out of were two pieces. Even if I didn't believe the 'little boy' story, Mom did.
But I outsmarted her. Sort of.
One afternoon, Mom had given my siblings and I our quota of fresh bread.
Then she, and they, all headed for the garden.
I was alone in the kitchen. With half a loaf of fresh bread.
My day had come.
I should probably point out, here, that I had tried, on numerous occasions, to slice fresh bread properly. Each attempt was a dismal failure.
I would start out all right, then the knife would turn one way or the other and I would end up, not with a slice, but a wedge. Which still tasted fine, just looked funny.
And made my Mom mad . . .
So, slicing was out.
I glanced around. The coast was still clear. How could I get that yummy bread from the cupboard into me?
I reached up and touched the soft, white centre. Pressed it, slightly. Watched it spring back so invitingly.
I pinched at it and managed to pull off a small piece.
Hmmm.
I stuck it into my mouth.
Mmmm.
I pinched off another piece. Bigger this time.
Better.
I dug at the loaf.
A really big piece.
Perfect.
And, quite suddenly, I realized that all I needed to get at the wonderful, soft, white interior, were two little hands.
And ten handy little fingers which I just happened to bring along with me.
In the next few minutes, I scooped out every crumb of soft, white goodness, leaving just the crusty, outside shell.
Okay. Now. How to hide the evidence.
I stared at the shell of a loaf. Huh. Maybe if I just turn it.
I flipped it over on its face.
Perfect! Mom will never know!
Have I mentioned that Mom always . . .
Okay, I'll move on . . .
The first thing Mom did when she came into the kitchen was tip the loaf back up.
Rats. Moms do those things. What's with that?
“What happened here?”
I stared at her mutely. How could I get out of this one...?
“It looks like we have a little mouse.”
Genius! Why didn't I think of that? I smiled and nodded. Yep. Mouse. Moms are so smart.
“Diane. Don't eat all the bread.”
I stared at her. What about the mouse?
She put her hand on my head. “It's not good for you to eat so much bread, Honey.”
Oh, yeah. The hospital thing.
“Promise me you won't do it again.”
I nodded my eyes on the bread-shell on the cupboard.
“Good girl.”
I didn't get sick, like the little boy. But I also didn't ever dig at a loaf of bread again. I learned to eat the whole thing a slice at a time. By cutting it with a knife.
Like civilized people.
But there is a codicil . . .
Years later, after I married, I discovered that my husby came from a family of bread-lovers, just like me. Except that his family had fought, not for the soft, yummy centre, but for the crusty outside of his Mother's delicious bread.
Often, if one end crust had been taken, the other was cut off. If both ends were gone, the next logical choice was the top. Then the bottom. Then the sides.
It wasn't unusual for my Mother-in-law to find a bread centre, lying naked on the cutting board.
Why couldn't I have been raised in that family?
Everyone would have been happy.

Friday, August 9, 2019

1964

The summer I turned nine was supposed to be the most exciting of my life. And it was. 

For all of the wrong reasons . . .
1. The bridge.
Just a few yards down the road from our ranch gates, across the south fork of the Milk River, stood an aged iron bridge, painted black. It had great metal arches over it and many intricate bends and joints that invited exploration and/or concealment. On a hot summer afternoon, one could climb under the bridge, swing on the rope which dangled temptingly and drop down into the cool water below.
We kids on the ranch thought it was our playground.
Very early in the spring of 1964, great machines and earth-movers began to assemble next to our beloved bridge.
And a large crew of men accompanied them.
For days, we watched from what dad deemed a 'safe distance'. (Actually, to him, a safe distance was Del Bonita, fifteen miles away.)
Of course, if I'd realized then that this crew was actually there to replace our great and marvelous playground, I probably wouldn't have been quite so enthusiastic.
As it was, this was almost more excitement than my nine-year-old self could handle.
Life just didn't get any better.
2. The movie crew.
Dad announced that he had some really exciting news.
A movie crew was coming to the ranch to film. 
Movie crew?
Suddenly everyone began to act strangely. The hired men actually polished their boots. And availed themselves of the showers and laundry services.
My older sister spent hours in front of the mirror, trying new 'looks' and fashions.
My brothers practiced lines from westerns.
Mom, ever practical, began bringing in truckloads of food.
The ranch was suddenly antiseptically clean. (Well, not quite, but you get the picture . . .)
I got in everyone's way. Okay, this was normal, but I didn't want you to think I wasn't proactive. 
The expected day grew closer. And closer.
I stopped sleeping. Well, actually, Mom stopped sleeping, but I did feel sorry for her.
The anticipation was palpable.
The day arrived. 
The movie crew didn't. We never did find out exactly why . . .
But everyone's stretched nerves and feelings of anticipation were not wasted. The movie crew might not have shown up. 
But something else did.
3. The flood.
Dad had been keeping an eye on our river as it . . . grew.
Finally, it became clear that our quiet little trickle had officially turned into . . . something huge and brown and scary that threatened everything in its path.
Including us.
And several of the bridge-building machines that had been sitting placidly in the shallow river beneath the bridge.
But I didn't think about them.
My motto has always been 'panic first, think afterwards'. And it has served me well.
Banished to the balcony overlooking our back yard, I alternately cried or moaned as Dad, my two brothers and assorted hired men struggled with shovels and mud.
The normally milky, now chocolate-brown, river crept nearer and nearer.
It topped the high cliff bank.
It started flowing across the lower pasture.
Higher. Higher.
Finally, it reached our yard and began lapping at the tiny bulwark of sand bags. The barricade that had seemed so huge only moments before.
Dad and his crew worked frantically, trying to reinforce what now looked like a pathetic little mud pie, against all that water.
All day, they worked.
And finally, the waters peaked. Then slowly began to recede.
We lost part of our yard. A small part.
The bridge crew had some equipment damaged, but nothing that couldn't be repaired or replaced.
Unfortunately, the same wasn't true for the rest of Alberta and Montana, wherever the Milk River flowed. Communities suffered millions of dollars in damages and at least 30 people lost their lives. In fact, the June, 1964 flood remains in the history books as one of the greatest disasters ever to hit Montana.
But the waters receded.
Back on the ranch, everything wasn't as pristine as it had once been, but was soon put to rights.
Our new bridge was finished and the old one demolished and hauled away. The crew left.
We kids scampered around on the cement marvel for a short while, but soon discovered that its smooth surfaces provided few hiding places and absolutely nowhere to hang a rope.
It was abandoned.
Often, our family would stand on the house balcony and watch the river as it curved gently around the ranch.
Once more, it was the calm, quiet flow that watered our stock and our crops, cooled us on hot days, and supported us in our floundering efforts to swim. Once more, it was the color of the sediment that gave it its milky hue and its name.
Eventually, I even lost my fear of it.
Yes, for me, the summer of 1964 was an exciting, memorable time.
Sometimes, I wish I could forget it.
Our yard. And rubberneckers.

Closer view. Our yard.
Usually there is a road (and a cliff)
between us and the river.


Brooder House. It survived.
Old bridge, new bridge
and very, very wet equipment

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Four-Footed Miracle

I recently purchased an Old English Sheepdog puppy. Her name is Pandora, but we all call her Pandy. It seems to suit.
I’d been two years without an OES and it was time.
Once again, our home is filled with dog toys and treats and equipment conducive to happy healthy dog ownership. 
A 'Cute' of puppies
For over 35 years, we have raised Old English Sheepdogs.
I love them.
To me, they are the perfect breed.
Happy, loyal, smart, easily trained, friendly, protective, gentle.
All of the best qualities of DOG writ large.
And hairy.
We have had many, many experiences with our puppies and dogs over the years, but one stands out . . .
A family came to look at our newest batch of puppies.
Now, I should explain here that a litter of OES puppies is called a 'cute' of puppies.
True story.
Moving on . . .
This family had a six-year-old boy and a fifteen-month-old girl.
The dog was for the boy, who was suffering from a severe illness.
A puppy was chosen.
By the very scientific method of sitting in the 'cute' and seeing which puppy climbed up into his lap.
Everyone was happy.
They left.
I thought of them from time to time, as I did all of my puppy families.
Then I got a phone call.
From the tearful, almost incoherent mother.
My heart stopped.
Until I realized that what she was crying were tears of joy.
Here is how she told it to me, with a little background added . . .
The family lived on the shore of one of the small lakes that are so plentiful here in northern Alberta. Their house was nestled in the thick trees surrounding the water.
Their yard opened directly out onto the beach.
A beautiful, picturesque spot.
But also dangerous to small children who might wander out into the cold (Canada has no other kind) water or become lost in the thick forest.
They were very careful.
Gates were kept locked at all times.
Back to the mother's story . . .
Originally purchased for their son, the little pup bonded, quickly and completely, with the little girl.
The two of them became inseparable.
Four months passed.
One summer day (we do get them in Canada, occasionally), the mother was in the front yard, filling the wading pool for her daughter who was playing in the back yard with the puppy, now six months old.
And already huge.
The puppy, that is.
Suddenly, the mother was startled by a loud scream.
She dropped the hose and broke records running to the back yard.
As she turned the corner, she skidded to a stop.
Someone had left the back gate - the entrance to all things dangerous - open.
And her baby was standing in that opening.
Or more accurately, struggling-to-move-forward, in that opening.
And screaming at the top of her lungs.
Directly behind her, teeth locked into her diaper and backside planted firmly on the ground, was the puppy.
Those teeth and that diaper were all that was stopping her from heading where she wanted.
Into the great unknown.
She wasn't happy.
The mother quickly ran to her daughter and picked her up, relieving the puppy of his self-appointed task.
The dog wiggled happily (normal OES behaviour) and, when the mother set her baby down once more, the two of them trotted off to another corner of the yard to play.
Crisis over.
Everything forgotten.
By the two most active participants, anyway.
It took the mother a bit longer. For some seconds, she stood there in the open gate, thinking about what she had just witnessed.
For one thing, how had the gate, so assiduously (real word) kept locked, been left open?
And, more importantly, how had that six-month-old puppy known that his friend should not, ever, leave the yard alone?
And how had he figured out what to do, just in time?
That's when the tears started.
Later, when she had calmed some and her baby was napping, she called me.
It was a wonderful story.
After we had stopped crying.
Needless to say, that puppy became the pride and joy of their family.
He already was of ours.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Phone Phun

Stringam Ranch.
Everything . . . except a phone
"Operator."
“I want to talk to Jody.”
“Number, please.”
“Six.”
Electric ringing.
“Hello?”
“May I talk to Jody?”
“Yes, one moment.”
“Hello?”
“Jody! We got our phone!”
It was the most exciting day of my life.
The Stringams. That weird family who lived at the back of beyond, had joined the twentieth century. The modern world had finally found its way to our door.
But therein lies a story.
The Stringam ranch was twenty miles from the bustling metropolis of Milk River (pop. 499). The phone lines went as far as Nine Mile Corner, a bend in the road situated, astonishingly, just nine miles from the ranch buildings.
The phone company refused to take the phone lines any further. Why would people living that far from civilization need the convenience of modern communication?
Why indeed.
But Dad wanted a phone.
As the only veterinarian in the area, Dad needed a phone.
Dad was determined to have a phone.
Finally, he bought all of the poles and cable to run his own phone line.
He and the hired men spent several weeks installing said poles and cable the nine long miles to the ranch.
Voila! The magical day dawned.
The phone company unbent enough to hook up our line to theirs. (And then proceeded to run many, many lines off of it, but that is another story.)
The family gathered around the large, wooden box.
It shrilled. Twice.
Two longs.
We stared at it.
Then looked at each other.
We had arrived.
From that moment on, the peace of the Stringam home was often shattered by the shrilling of the magical box in the hallway.
And the pounding of numerous feet as various denizens of the house sprinted to answer.
It was a whole new, and very exciting, experience.
Followed, soon after, by the discovery that, if one was careful, one could gently lift the receiver and . . . wonder of wonders . . . listen in on other conversations on the 'party' line that had nothing to do with you.
I'm sure I don't need to tell you why it was called a 'party' line.
My sister and I became the masters of it . . .
“Well, I'm sure she meant well. But I can tell you that Gloria wasn't very flattered.”
“Well, I can imagine. Poor Gloria!”
“Yes. I mean, I can only guess, but I would well imagine that being told that one was as big as a whale, albeit a pretty whale, wouldn't go over too well.”
“Well, I wish I'd been there. I would have given her a piece of my mind!”
“Well, Dorothy brought a yellow jellied salad with bananas in it that was just divine. I got her recipe!”
“That reminds me. I wanted to get Dorothy's recipe for her devil's food cake.”
“Oh, I have it, just wait a moment.”
“Ladies?”
“Umm, yes?”
“Sorry to interrupt, but I really need to use the 'phone.”
“Oh, sorry, Hank. Problems?”
“Yeah. I need to talk to Joe at the feed store.”
“Go right ahead. Grace? I'll get that recipe and get back to you.”
“Thanks, Mabel.”
This was fun!
Another conversation . . .
“Well, she was out half the night!”
“No!”
“Yes! Until midnight! And when she got home, Papa could smell . . . liquor on her breath!”
A sucked in breath. “Oh! What did he do?”
“Well, he wasn't happy, I can tell you! She's grounded for a month!”
“A month!?”
“Yes! And that includes prom and everything.”
“She might as well die right now!”
“Exactly!”
And another . . .
“Well, Doc, my poop looks like . . .”
We ended that conversation before it was begun.
And . . .
“Okay, don't spread it around . . . yet . . . but the Larsons are going to be away next weekend.”
“Really?”
“Yes. Jeff says his folks should leave about 6.”
“So what time does the party start?”
“Well, he has to do chores and tidy up the dishes, so 8:00 should about do it. He will beep the phone line twice when he's ready.”
“We'll be waiting.”
Finally . . .
“You have to be careful what you say on this line. Uncle Bob may be listening in.”
“I am not!”
It was the most fun we had ever had.
Until we were introduced to . . . The Prank Call.
Dun, dun, duuuun!
“Hello?”
“Is your 'fridge running?”
“Just a moment, I'll check.”
A pause.
Then, “Yes. Yes it is.”
“Well, you'd better go catch it!” Click.
Ah. the memories.
I don't remember the last conversation I had on the old party line.
I wish I did.
Because now, phone lines are private.
And boring.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Summer Paving

My family and I go for a morning bike ride around the paths in our town.
Almost daily all summer.
Except for this year.
Because . . . rain.
So, as we were riding around this morning on the first ride of our summer (yes, you heard that right--first), I was reminded of something . . .
I invented the paving machine.
And I did it with the power of my mind.
Maybe I should explain . . .
In 1964-1965, our family moved to the great metropolis of Lethbridge.
My father was running two ranching operations at the time and he thought it would be easier from a central location.
So, for one glorious year, us kids discovered the joys--and differences--of city living.
Milk no longer had to be sought from the source, Bossy, but was delivered right to the door in handy-dandy little bottles.
Ditto cream, cheese, etc.
Weird-tasting water. Let’s face it, who in their right mind would choose chlorine over good old ranch sulphur?!
Riding the city bus.
Neighbours near enough to hear/see everything your family said/did.
Ahem...
And a whole new crop of friends.
It was a fun year.
Educational.
And over too soon.
Oddly enough, with all of this ‘new stuff’ what I struggled most with were the streets.
Yeah, I know. Strange.
The streets around our new house were gravel.
I was used to good old dirt.
Dirt that didn’t flip you and your bicycle sideways unexpectedly. Scraping flesh off of knees and legs and nether regions.
I learned to curse trying to stay upright in that gravel.
Okay, I will admit that said cursing consisted of ‘stupid gravel!’ and ‘Moooom!’, but that was getting out there. For me.
And then, the day I changed everything.
I was sitting on my bike on the sidewalk, having just pulled myself and said bike onto terra firma from the stupid, rotten (it had been a rough day) gravel street. I was glaring at said street.
Then, in my mind, I pictured a great machine that would simply drive across the treacherous coating of rocks and dirt and death, and coat it in a hard, delightfully smooth, totally bike-welcoming surface.
One a little friendlier to life and limb.
Imagine my surprise when, the very next day, such a machine was spotted one street over from mine.
DOING EXACTLY WHAT I HAD PICTURED IN MY MIND!!!
All of the kids in the neighbourhood pulled their bikes as close as possible to the behemoth and just watched.
It was a miracle!
As soon as the machine and the accompanying out-rollers had moved on, we were riding our bikes on the fabulous new, delightfully smooth road.
I can still remember the heat rising up from the black surface.
The machine continued around the block until it had completely covered all of the streets with the same impermeable, biking-conducive material.
Paradise!
I know you’ve probably witnessed the same miracle yourself.
So, when you are driving on smooth, seamless roads.
You can thank me.
Send money . . .

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Rain, The Storms and Other Things



I like storms, you know I do,
Even when they’re scary, true!
But just as much, I like to joke,
So here’s a few for all you folks . . .

What’s a king's preferred deluge?
I’ll tell you: It is ‘Hail’!
While a queen’s fav-ou-rite would be ‘reign’.
She measures on a scale.

I knew it’d rain some money now,
They forecast weather ‘changes’,
A horse reins up or sleet rains down
Though both are on the ranges.

When it’s raining ducks and chicks,
You know the weather’s ‘fowl’!
A dangerous deluge is called?
‘Rain’ o’ terror. Grab a towel!

How’s Santa work in thunderstorms?
He has a ‘rain’deer team,
What’s a wet bear called, you know?
A ‘drizzly’ bear, it seems.

What’s worse than raining buckets? Well,
It’s ‘hailing taxis’. Yes.
And what do you call a month of rain?
Umm…England, I would guess.

Said one drop to his buddy:
Two’s comp’ny, three's a cloud,
Before it starts raining candy, well,
It ‘sprinkles’. Bet it’s loud.

What goes up when rain comes down?
A parasol. Oh, brother!
How do lightning bolts flirt—Ha!
They electro-cute each other.

In Seattle, two straight days of rain?
A weekend. (What a flop!)
One drop to the other? My plop’s
Bigger than your plop.

I’ll not inflict you further, friends,
(My grandkids thought these fun,)
Before I start some more

I think you all had better run!

Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we all besought,
To try to make the week begin
With pleasant thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So all of us together, we,
Have posted poems for you to see.
Now go and see what they have done
I'm sure it will be lots of fun!
And now you've seen what we have brought . . .
Did we help?
Or did we not?

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Life on the Ranch

I'm back!
I've missed you. And I've missed this.
Maybe a little explanation is in order . . .
For six years, I've been plagued by headaches. And, sadly, sitting and working on the computer compounded them terribly.
My solution? Spend less and less time before the screen. It didn't eliminate the wretched, blinding headaches, but it did reduce them somewhat.
Enter a friend.
And a bottle of magic pills.
Now you have to know that, by this time, skepticism was my middle name.
I had tried every pain-relieving drug I could find.
I dutifully opened the bottle and swallowed what would probably be the next in a long line of nexts.
Imagine my surprise. The first one . . . worked!
And the next day, the second. Then, the third. And so on.
Headache free for three weeks now, I am cautiously optimistic.
And very, very excited!
And very, very happy to be back on my blog . . . typing madly.
So today, I'll start where I started ten years ago. With my very first blog post/introduction to me.
I love you all! Thank you for standing by me!
Diane

The new barn
My big brother and me.
I'm the one in the dress...
I was privileged to grow up on one of the last of the large old ranches in Southern Alberta. Situated halfway between the towns of Milk River and Del Bonita, it covered two-and-a-half townships, close to 92 square miles. 
Our closest neighbour was over nine miles away. 
A little far to drop by to borrow a cup of sugar, but close enough to help in the case of a real emergency, which was not uncommon on the large spread we ran, and with the number of people involved in the daily workings.
The ranch buildings themselves were nestled snugly in a bend of the South Fork of the Milk River. 
Towering cliffs surrounded us. Cliffs which were home, at times, to a pair of blue herons, and at all others, to marmots, badgers, porcupines, and a very prolific flock of mud swallows. 
We learned to swim in that river. 
We tobogganed down the gentler slopes of those cliffs. 
We built dams and caught frogs and snakes. 
I even trapped a full-grown jackrabbit – almost.
It was an unusual life, as I have now come to know. 
At the time, it was normal. 
We thought everyone lived like we did. Far from any outside influences. Relying on each other. Immersed in the needs of the family and the ranch. 
For a child growing up, it was peace itself.
The Ranch
P.S. Most of the buildings are gone now, burned in the terrible grass fires of 2012. But they remain solid and real in my memories.

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