Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, August 24, 2019


Husby is known for his hoard of treats. Maybe I should capitalize the word 'Hoard'. Because that would be more accurate.
Some time ago, when our chicks and chicklets were visiting, Grandpa brought out something he hadn't produced for a while. Dino-sours.
And no, that isn't a typo . . .
They proved to be a great favourite. Again.
Littlest man (LM) was quite captivated and proved that he could shove quite a number in his mouth before he was caught and emptied by his mother.
He hovered around that bowl of gummy, sweet and sour deliciousness until it was well and truly empty.
Then they went home.
A few days later, that same little family was shopping at Costco.
(Our favourite place on earth.)
While walking slowly up the fairly extensive candy aisle, a display of those delicious dinosaur treats appeared.
LM toddled over and pointed excitedly. "Grampa!" he said clearly.
How would you like to be remembered?

Friday, August 23, 2019

Spilt Milk

This post may or may not be described as 'icky'.

Yummy deliciousness. Not.
Milk. That commodity touted as one of the world’s most perfect foods. So important to growing bones and teeth. Or so it was described in the 50’s.
Like other ranching families, the Stringams had their own milk production system.
Not an original name, but at least it gave her a slight distinctive edge over 53. And 175. And 92. And . . . you get the picture.
Bossy was gentle. Quiet. Dependable. Everything a milk cow should be. Her milk production was high. Higher than most dairy cows. For that reason, she had been a family fixture for many years.
She also had a problem. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Every morning Dad, or one of the hired men, would carry home a galvanized steel pail filled with warm, rich, frothy milk, compliments of Bossy. This milk was then poured through a straining cloth into another pail and ‘purified’, then poured into sterilized jars.
The jars of still-warm milk were distributed to the various households on the ranch. Bossy was truly a remarkable cow to fill the needs of so many.
In the evening, the same procedure was repeated, only the captured milk was poured through the separator and the resultant thick, rich cream used for such remarkable things as ice cream, cream puffs, pastries, and many other treats aptly designed to satisfy the sweet tooth of every child - and most of the adults - living there.
The milk from which the cream had been removed, or ‘blue’ (skim) milk was given to the pigs, who thought they were in heaven.
It was a prefect system. Not a drop wasted.
Then the milk . . . changed.
At first, Dad thought the cow had gotten into a patch of weeds. Not an unknown thing on any ranch. The result of such a change in diet usually reflected, quickly but briefly, in the milk.
Onions make for a really . . . interesting . . . milk flavour. But I digress . . .
For some time, the milk continued to taste strange. But the processes remained the same. The milk was distributed. Separated. Consumed.
Then the rebellions started. Small at first.
“Mom, this milk tastes icky (real word)!”
“You’re imagining things, dear. Drink it.”
“Mom, it stinks!”
Then larger.
“Mom if I have to drink one more glass of that milk, I’m going to be sick!”
“You need the calcium! Now drink!”
Mom was not unaware that the milk was distinctly off. But she was very concerned about giving her growing family the nutrition they needed.
Occasionally, she would bring home a container of milk from the store.
Which disappeared. Magically.
And also coined another phrase. “I’m going to stop buying this milk! You kids just drink it!”
Ummmm . . .
Finally, Mom got to the point where, if anyone complained about the milk, she would taste it, smack her lips appreciatively and say, “What’s wrong with that milk? There’s nothing wrong with that milk! It tastes just fine!”
As time passed, she got more and more creative in trying to get the horrible stuff past our pre-adolescent taste buds. She put it into puddings. Soups. Desserts.
And still we whined.
Then that glorious day. Dad went out to milk . . . and found the cow dead.
Really dead.
Hardware disease. Not uncommon and distinctly nasty.
Poor Bossy.
Our celebrations could be heard in Lethbridge.
An autopsy revealed what the rest of us had suspected for three long years. That the cow had something seriously wrong.
She had, some time while grazing, ingested a piece of metal and it had become lodged in her system, affecting her milk production. Eventually, it had worked its way through something important internally, and had been the cause of her death. Now you have to know that my Dad was a vet and, through the years, had given her every available test to see just what was wrong. And she remained bright-eyed and shiny-coated right to the bitter (I use this word intentionally) end.
Some things you just can't see...
There was no grieving.
Dad bought a new cow. A healthy, young one. And the ‘milk distribution system’ resumed as though it had never been interrupted.
With one important change. Whenever any of us was given a glass of milk, we would sniff it suspiciously. Even forty-five years after the described events.
Old habits die hard.
Kind of like our cow.

There is a codicil.
Years later, when my family and I were attending my parents 40th wedding anniversary, my children and I performed a skit. They were seated around a picnic table and I poured each of them an imaginary glass of milk, which they then ‘drank’.
Clutching their throats, each then succumbed to the terrible poison that had been ingested. Gasping out their last breaths, one by one, they collapsed onto the grass beneath the table, twitched a few times, then lay still. I picked up one of the imaginary glasses, pretended to take a drink, smacked my lips and said, “What’s wrong with that milk? There’s nothing wrong with that milk! It tastes just fine!”
At which point my eldest brother leaped to his feet and shouted, “IT DID! IT TASTED THAT BAD!!!”
Spill this milk. Please.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Planting Panties

Mom, Chris and Jerry
Mom was a gardener. 
One of those . . . mmmajor gardeners. 
I’m almost certain that her garden produced enough to feed the entire country of England . . . or Russia . . . or the entire southern hemisphere . . . or . . . someone stop me! 
And because Mom was a gardener, her kids were gardeners, albeit reluctant ones. On any given day, you could find one bonneted head and several younger heads bent over the various plants, being more or less productive. 
We all had our assignments.
I was four. My job was to lose interest and wander aimlessly about.
Oh, and eat peas.
Our family produce patch covered about 2 acres, give or take. The rows were probably about 40 feet long, but to a four-year-old, they stretched to Argentina. (I didn’t exactly know where that was, but it had a sort of far away-ish sound to it.) The patch was surrounded by pine trees. Tall, lush, they had been planted by my father in his youth – now that is a story – and now provided perfect shade for a small body who wanted to be out with the others but suffered from a short attention span.
So there I sat, whiling away the hours. Mostly, I lay on the cool grass and made life miserable for the ants and other small, harmless creatures. But deep beneath the overhanging branches of the towering pines were patches of dirt. And I discovered that it was fun to dig in that dirt and – don’t tell my mother – plant things.
But what would a four-year-old have to plant? All pea seeds had gone into the mouth. Hmmm. The pods were there. No sooner thought than done. 
What else? Shoes? Those had been kicked off when I had first hit the garden and were now lying abandoned in one of the rows, waiting to be discovered by the roto-tiller. 
Taking stock, I discovered that my feet were at least partially covered by . . . ahem . . . formerly white socks. They slipped off easily. A little furrow in the dirt and voila! A perfect place for a future ‘sock tree’. What else. The gardening bug had hit. I just had to plant! I just had to plant!
My mother had tried to instill in me the need for modesty, so removing anything obvious, like blouse or skirt was not even considered. What else did I have that I really didn’t need? I had it! Panties. 
Now I probably don't have to tell you that panties and me already had a history.
But I'll save that for another day.
These panties were the cute, blue ones, with little darker blue flowers. They would produce something lovely, I was sure! Off they came, and into the little trench dug specifically for them. I patted the dirt into place. Perfect. Job completed, I crawled out from under the tree. Mom was down the row of beans just in front of me, sitting back on her heels and waving her bonnet in front of a flushed face. She turned and smiled at me. Obviously, she had noticed nothing.
Feeling giddy with a sense of accomplishment, I joined her, offering to help pick the beans. She nodded gratefully and I squatted in my abbreviated skirts to begin.
I remember a gasp followed by a short period of 'question and answer'. Then strong hands propelling me unceremoniously back to my ‘garden’. 
I was ordered to dig up every article buried there. I stared up at her, aghast. The whole garden? Socks AND panties?
With an aggrieved air, I began to half-heartedly push at the dirt, only to uncover . . . nothing. I dug deeper. Still nothing. Where could they be? 
I crawled out from under the tree and stared up at it. Was I in the right place? I looked at the tree next to it. Surely. How could I be mistaken? 
Back into my ‘hidden garden’ which, incidentally, was becoming more hidden by the minute. 
We never did recover the things I had buried, though my mother turned up the dirt beneath every tree surrounding the garden. Where could they have gone? We’ll never know, now, but if being a successful gardener means planting things, I am an expert. 
If it also means that something is supposed to grow? 
I’m not.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Barnyard Lull-aby

The Stringam Wagon Train
I suppose it will come as no surprise that I love horses.
All horses.
And therein hangs a tail. (Did you see what I did there?)
On the ranch, everything ran like clockwork. Cows were milked. Cattle, horses, chickens and pigs fed, eggs gathered, meals served. One never had to look at a clock to know what time it was. You could tell merely by observing the natural rhythm of the operations that were an integral part of ranch life.
But that has only a peripheral connection to this story.
I loved horses. And I was a natural with them. I could climb on the back of the most dastardly villain the corral had to offer and handle him with ease.
I spent most of my waking hours with the horses.
And some of my sleeping ones, as you will learn . . .
During the day, my four-year-old self was fairly useless. I wandered here and there, usually sticking close to the barn, but occasionally breaking with tradition and getting into trouble in some other area.
(Chickens and I have a history, but that is another story.)
On this particular day, mealtime was fast approaching.
Okay, we're back to that 'rhythm' thingy.
Now I could always be counted on to appear for meals.
The bell (from a genuine for-reals steam engine) would ring and inform all and sundry – including total strangers living in Timbuktu – that it was time for everyone on the Stringam Ranch to head to the house because something truly wonderful was waiting there.
My Mom was a terrific cook.
The bell rang.
People assembled.
No Diane.
How could this be? She was always underfoot. Particularly at mealtimes.
Dad began to worry. He questioned the men.
Had any of them seen her?
Bud had shooed her away from the cow he was milking by singing ‘Danny Boy’. A guaranteed ‘Diane repellent’.
Al thought he had seen her going into the shed behind the barn, where the horses were.
Dad got to his feet. This was serious.
He headed for the barn.
The horses could come and go at will on the Stringam ranch. Mostly they preferred 'go'. But occasionally, when it was too hot or too cold, and because they were--basically--wussies, and lazy, they would hang around under the shed beside the barn and eat the hay that they didn’t have to stalk and kill themselves.
It was to this intrepid group that Dad went. He could see tails swishing as he approached. Usually, that meant that they were there.
He approached quietly, careful not to spook them.
A spooked horse is a stupid horse . . . well, actually most horses are st . . . oh, never mind.
He slipped carefully in under the shade. He patted one horse and slid between two others, and stood for a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the gloom.
Then he saw it. Back in the corner.
Something peculiar.
A horse with . . . something on its back.
He patted another rump and moved a little closer.
The horses started to shift a bit.
Dad had finally moved far enough through the herd that he could see into the corner.
See the smallest pony, drooping in front of the manger, with a little girl turned backward on his back, her head on the wide, soft rump.
The rest of her in dreamland.
He had found me, but now for the tricky part. How to wake me without spooking the herd. If he spoke, the horses would surely work out the fact that it was a man standing among them and use that excuse to start running.
Or dancing.
Or playing chess.
You never know with horses.
He would have to take the chance. “Diane,” he whispered.
“Diane,” he said again, a little louder.
My eyes opened.
“Diane.” A third time.
I sat up and frowned at him. “What.”
“Time for dinner.”
Success. And who knew a four-year-old could move that fast?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019


Hair is a renewable resource.
Dyed. Cut. Whatever.
Within a few weeks, whatever outrageous style had been conceived and achieved, is vastly changed.
For these reasons, I never balked when my kids wanted something new. Hair-wise. I dyed my son's hair blue when he asked. And I gave my sons Mohawks--ditto.
When we arrived at Daddy's apartment for a visit, he was less than...enthusiastic about their choice of style.
Until I dragged out the ol' photo album and pointed to the above picture. Taken when Daddy was sixteen. (He's the one on the right.) And leaving him without the proverbial ‘leg to stand on’.
Now I'll let my dear cousin, Anne Stringam Tingle take over the story...
Diane -
I knew enough when I was a little girl to find this story funny. I was a little scared of Grandpa - he was quite stern, but I knew that what Mark had done was hilarious to everyone, except probably Grandpa. Certainly, Mark thought it was a huge kick.
I loved your Dad very much.

I was a little girl living on the Milk River Ranch with my parents when my Uncle Mark was a cool cocky college student working on the ranch for the summer.
Grandpa and Grandma Stringam spent a lot of time at the ranch: Grandpa teaching my dad how to run a complex ranch operation and Grandma teaching my mum how to be a ranch wife and how to cook for hay and harvest crews as well as a bunkhouse full of hungry cowboys.
One lunchtime, after Mark had been sent into town for some baler parts, he trooped into the kitchen with the other ranch hands. They all knew the routine - wash hands and hang up your hat on the hooks in the entrance.
Mark swept off his hat to reveal a sassy, fresh mohawk hair cut.
There was complete silence as Grandpa slowly surveyed the desecrated cranium. Finally, he spoke: “The house rule and common courtesy requires that men remove their hats at the table. Mark, in your case, we will make an exception. Go get your hat.”
Later that summer, after the mohawk grew out, it wasn’t quite as sensational when Mark got a reverse mohawk (with the middle strip shaved and sides left long).
However, Grandpa reinstated the hat rule at the table - every man bare-headed, except Mark.
There is a codicil: Dad told my brother that the reason he and Roule Gilchrist (in the picture with Dad) got a Mohawk in the first place was because Aunt Mary (Anne's mom) bet Dad 5 bucks that he wouldn't.

Monday, August 19, 2019

In the Trees

I'm cheating a little for this week's Poetry Monday.

The topic is camping.
And I'm reusing a poem I published a couple of years ago.
It's even more poignant to me today . . .
Each summer, since the dawn of time,
We’d pack our kids and dogs and gear
With plans to spend a week, sublime
And frolic with the bears and deer.

For camping was our family ‘thing’,
Anticipated through the year,
And, oh, what praises they would sing
When finally, the time was here.

We parents’d sit beside the fire
And eat and laugh and shoot the breeze,
While younger legs who’d never tire
Would charge together through the trees.

With shouts and laughter as they ran,
Or giggles, hopefully suppressed.
‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘Kick the Can’
And ‘Find the Flag’ and all the rest.

When daylight waned, called back to camp
To spend a moment round the flames.
And crown the glowing, happy champs,
Then plan for the Tomorrow's games.

What fun to hear those voices shout,
And watch their progress through the trees.
To see them scurrying about
On fleetest feet; or hands and knees.

Time’s gone by. It’s what it does.
And still, we’re camping in the trees.
But something’s missing now, because
There’s silence floating on the breeze.

We parent’s camp, as we have done,
With tales to tell and wood to hew,
But in the trees, there is no one,
No voices yelling, “I’ve found you!”

We tell ourselves it’s peaceful, true,
As restful as someone could wish,
We do the things we want to do,
Like eat and nap and swim and fish.

At night, we stare into the flames
And talk about the times long past.
When woods would ring with noisy games
And summer days forever last.

But now our kids are raising theirs.
And time’s a thing that’s hard to find,
And spending days with deer and bear’s
A priority that’s far behind.

Oh, what I’d give for one more day,
When simple fun brought endless joy,
When games would pass the time away,
And woods would echo with the noise.

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?

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