Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, August 31, 2019


Okay...somewhere, there are cables...
It’s once again our week in Banff National Park.
Our 29th year.
We’ve spent the time hiking. (Sulphur Mountain. Fenland Park. Cascade Pond. Etc….)
Getting a little too much sun.
Playing card games.
And sleeping in a wee bit too long and eating way too much.
In one word: Glorious.
Today, we were doing our family hike around Minnewanka Lake.
We had climbed rock formations.
Posed for pictures at the edge of the lake.
Dodged trees in a free flight game of ‘tag’.
Munched on nuts and granola bars.
Talked and laughed.
And chased toddlers and/or Grandpa. As a little aside, just guess who was easier to catch . . .
Moving on . . .
We were stopped beside one of the boat docks.
Several small, sleek craft were floating peacefully in the blue-green water.
On the other side of the barrier where we stood, several large rings were bolted securely to the rocky edge of the lake.
Rings which, themselves, were fastened to long cables that stretched into the water and out of our sight.
10-year-old grandson turned to his father, our eldest son. “Dad,” he asked. “What are those cables for?”
Now, I’m pretty sure I know what I would have said. Something along the lines of “anchors to boats” or similar. And boring.
This is what his dad said: “Those cables are what are keeping the lake there, Son. If they didn’t chain it down, who knows where it would end up. Why some lakes have even been known to climb the sides of the mountains. We just can’t have that. So we chain them down to keep everyone happy.”
His son stared at him for a long time.
I’m pretty sure the laughter of his Grandfather and I and all the other adults and sub-adults standing nearby pretty much gave things away.
But he nodded.
And changed the subject.
For just a moment, I was transported back to the days when his father was his age and asked his father a question.
Receiving an equally hilarious, albeit ludicrous answer.
What’s that saying about acorns and trees?
Oh, and if you’re wondering about those cables? Just keep wondering . . .

A lizard on a rock. A really, really cute lizard.

Our intrepid crew.

A tiny little pixie we caught scaling the mountain.
Again the crew...
The lake really was interesting. Really.

Friday, August 30, 2019

What a Gas

My Victim
I had my driver's license.
I was queen of the world!
I have to admit, here, that most ranch and farm kids are driving from the time that they can reach the gas pedal in the tractor.
But not officially. Not on an actual ... (Cue dramatic music: Dun! Dun! Duuuun!) ... public  road!
I was quivering with excitement.
And to make things even better, I had officially become my parents' 'errand boy'.
Life couldn't possibly offer anything more.
Okay, so I then proceeded to back my father's car into the tractor. (Another story.)
And run it into the garage. (Another, another story.)
And into the ditch. (Another . . . oh, never mind.)
But I was still on top of the world.
With all of the driving I was doing, inevitably, I would run through the gas. (At $.29 per gallon, one had to be a bit judicious . . .)
And Dad had a gasoline rule. Whoever was driving when the gas gauge reached 1/4, was responsible for filling the tank.
I should point out here that, on the ranch, we had our own bank of gasoline tanks, carefully monitored and filled periodically. There was one tank containing purple gas (for farm vehicles only), one for diesel (tractors and equipment) and one for regular (mine). Two of them were side-by-side on the same framework. The other a bit apart on its own stand.
Dad showed me how to 'fill 'er up'. First, you unlock the nozzle. Then you twist the valve. Then you put the nozzle into the tank and pull up on the lever.
Simplicity in itself.
As long as Dad was standing there.
He took me through the steps several times until he was satisfied that I could do it on my own. Then he left me.
I finished filling and locked everything up again. I was, once more, the master of my universe.
For several months, I enjoyed my new found freedom. No longer was the 20 miles into town such an insurmountable barrier.
But, during those first months, I never again had occasion to fill the tank. Whenever I got into the car, it had already been filled by the previous driver.
What a blissful existence. Driving around in a car that never, ever ran low on gas.
The best of all worlds.
Then, Mom asked me to drive into the city to do an errand.
The city.
70 miles away.
I was ecstatic. I hopped into the car and headed out.
The trip was uneventful, if one ignored the fact that I was DRIVING TO THE CITY! ON MY OWN!
Okay. It was an event.
But when I returned home, I noticed that the gas gauge was just kissing the 1/4 full line.
Oh-oh. Time for a fill up.
I pulled into the tanks.
Then stared up at them.
Which one had Dad used?
I couldn't remember.
Okay, so I know a lot of things. I just can't remember what they are . . .
Finally, after much wrinkle-browed concentration, I chose one and proceeded to run through the procedures in my head. Unlock. Twist. Insert. Fill.
I had it.
I did it.
But a little voice in my head, the one that tried, vainly, to keep me from my many terrible fates, told me to stop at 1/2 full.
For perhaps the first, and only, time in my life, I listened.
I capped the gas tank and locked up the nozzle. Then drove triumphantly into the driveway.
Where the car stopped.
What was wrong?
I tried to start it.
It made the appropriate noises. Coughed a couple of times.
And died.
Have I mentioned that my next older brother is a whizz with engines and anything mechanical?
He came running.
“What’s the matter?”
“I dunno. It just . . . stopped.”
“Let me have a look.”
All was well. George would figure it out . . .
“Ummm . . . did you just put gas in?”
“Yeah. Why?”
“Ummm . . . I think you filled it with diesel.”
“Is that bad?”
He pulled his head out from under the hood and gave me . . . the look.
Now, anyone who has been to a mechanic and asked a stupid question knows exactly what I am talking about.
The sun went out of my day.
“What's the matter?” My voice had suddenly gotten very tiny.
He sighed patiently. “Diane, this car runs on regular gasoline.”
“You put in diesel.”
“And that's bad?”
“You might as well have filled the tank with . . . oh, I don't know . . . mud? Pancake batter?”
“I think you might have wrecked the engine.”
Big oh.
“Let's talk to Dad.”
How about . . . you talk to Dad. I'll just go and join the Foreign Legion.
“Come on.”
As it turned out, that nagging little voice of reason in my head had given me good advice when it told me to only fill the tank half full. In reality, the tank was only 1/4 full of diesel.
Dad simply had us push the car . . . did I use the word 'simply'? . . . and fill it the rest of the way with normal gas.
Oh, the car gas is in the tank off by itself! How did I miss that?
Then, he told us . . . and I'm quoting here . . . to “go and burn it off”.
What? Really?
Never, in the history of the world, had punishment so closely resembled reward.
Happily, my brother and I headed into town. Tooled main. Hit the mean streets of Warner. Back to Milk River. More cruising main. Off to Coutts.
It was a glorious night.
Okay, so we smelled a bit like a bus and the engine ran a little rough, but it was worth it.
Of course, afterwards, I had to pay the piper, in the form of car lessons.
To quote George, “No sister of mine is going to drive without knowing how everything works.”
And he did mean everything.
In subsequent years, because of him, I could change a tire or belt and perform everything from an oil change to a major tune-up. Or I could pull into a shop and tell the mechanic exactly what I needed or what I thought was wrong.
In their language.
And all because of a few misplaced litres of diesel.

Thursday, August 29, 2019


YD. Not in a Time Out...

Shopping With Toddlers. A condition frequently and affectionately known by its acronym of SWT is a one-way ticket to adventure.
Via the crazy train.
And that’s just the beginning…
DIL (another popular acronym!) had spent much of her day shopping. Mother of soon-to-be-six, suffice it to say she had her hands—and her day—full.
Between finding the items she had ventured hesitantly from home to find, chasing down fugitives and side-tracking frequent requests/out-and-out-begging, she was on the downward slide toward exhaustion and distinct done-ness.
You’ve all been there.
Just turned two-year-old Youngest Daughter (hereinafter known as YD) was also past finished.
Hungry. Tired. Irritable. All were rolled up into one neat, efficient—explosive—little package.
After a loud bout of screech and flail on the floor of the department store, her mother asked, “Do you need a time out?”
YD looked up at her. “Yes, pease.”
“Fine. Go and sit on that chair.”
YD got to her feet and crossed over to the nearby chair, where she took up a perch.
Once settled, she looked at her mother and sighed. “Sanks,” she said.
If any of you reading this feel the need for some SWT, she’s available to rent ...
And yes, Gramma is babysitting in Banff this week.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Finding 'Food'

Admit it, they would fool anyone!
First, a little insight into the 'Diane' thought process . . .
But they look like peas!
They open, like peas.
And they have little pea-type things in them.
And if they look like peas, and open like peas and have little pea things in them, they must be peas.
I'm eating them . . .

The Anderson family lived in a great barn of a house at the very top of the hill in Milk River. It was my favourite place to visit. And to play.
Not only did my best friend, Kathy, live there, but there were lots of other kids to play with (12 in all) and they had this amazing house with an infinite number of rooms and hallways and balconies and little, hidden cupboards. We could play pretend for an entire day and never run out of spaces or scenarios.
And to make things even better, across the road on the north and east, was farmland. With barley crops taller than we were, ripening in the sun.
I should probably mention here that Milk River has produced at least three Barley Kings. An award given for producing the best that the barley world had to offer.
But to me, barley simply made an excellent hiding place.
Moving on . . .
Along the road, on the East, screening the Ellert farm from the Anderson's back yard, was a high hedge of caragana. (Google it!)
That, in late summer, was hung with thousands of . . . peas.
. . . Well, it made sense to me.
We had been playing hard most of the day and it was nearly time to go home for supper.
We were hungry.
Kathy did the smart thing. She ran to her house to find food.
Her sister, Laurie, and I decided to forage for ourselves. After all, there were all of these peas that no one else was picking. We simply couldn't let them go to waste.
Have I mentioned that I love peas?
I grabbed a big one and opened it.
Huh. Well, they weren't quite the right colour, but they were approximately the right shape and size.
I ate one.
Yuck. Not great. Well, the next one will be better.
Okay, it wasn't.
Maybe the next one.
Okay, all of those were pretty much awful.
The next pod will be sweet and tasty.
Well, maybe the next one.
And so it went.
I can't tell you how many of the awful things Laurie and I ate. It must have been quite a few. Because we certainly got sick.
I don't remember much about that part. Mostly because I was unconscious at the time.
Who knew that peas could do that?
But I learned my lesson. 
Which I would like to share with you.
Don't eat peas that grow, temptingly, on trees.
Stick to things like . . . buffalo beans.
Adult aspirin.
Dust bunnies.
All of which have been tried and tested by me!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Seventeen Seventeens

August 27th is National Just Because Day, celebrated by doing something without rhyme or reason.
Each participant has given another participant a number between 10 and 50.
Then we wrote something using the exact number of words given to us.
My number was 17. And given to me by my very helpful friend, Dawn of Spatulas on Parade.
I decided to write 17 stories using 17 words each.

Husby and Me
1. In case you hadn’t heard: in the beginning, there was man and woman. Woman won. Now you know.
2. Long before I met my Husby, I picked his picture out of a group. He’d no say.
3. Preparing to propose, Husby dropped the engagement ring. It rolled to the sewer. It was almost sewercide.
4. Daddy offered us $2000.00 and a ladder to elope. Ha! My room was on the ground floor.
5. I wanted a baseball team. We almost made it. We stopped just before reaching left field. Sigh.
6. Husby built me a home. From a chicken coop. Great till he called me an Old Hen.
7. Husby cleaned out the stove, parking the ‘dead’ ashes on the picnic table. Yeah. Almost a disaster.
8. Husby built museums all his life. 19 of them. Toured museums on vacations. Kids now hate them.
9. Husby loved long road trips. Several offspring suffered motion sickness. All time winners of the Up-chuck Olympics.
10. Vacation to Vancouver Island. We left the undercarriage of our trailer there. Probably not our best holiday.
11. Family on a single income. Still managed to ‘travel’ once a month (to restaurants for ‘adventure food’).
12. Went camping every year. Kids. Dogs. Canoes. Best times ever. Miss camping, but not the hard ground.
13. Opening of Husby’s new museum. Politicians yammering. Finally—his turn. His family gave him a standing ovation.
14. Theatre was our life. Raised our kids there. Remember saying, “Put your homework down! You're on stage!”
15. Once, on a holiday, I overturned a canoe. With Husby inside. He wasn’t happy. News at eleven.
16. Husby’s retired now. So glad I don’t have to see the back of his head every morning.
17. Husby uprooted this rancher’s daughter, replanting her in the city. Where he gave her a wonderful life.

Meet the other participants!
Karen of Baking In A Tornado: Counting Words, Just Because
Sarah Nolan: A Little Diddy
Dawn of Spatulas on Parade: Short Sweet And To The Point

Monday, August 26, 2019


I gave my kids some marbles
On a sunny, summer day,
I showed them how to scratch a ring
And taught them how to play.

And for a while, they practiced hard,
(And some became quite good!)
They soon outdid their parents
And tore up the neighbourhood.

But as with any fad, you know,
They all began to tire,
And by the time the winter came,
They’d quit the game, entire.

Then for the next few months, I found,
Those wretched ‘rounded’ toys
Were everywhere and when I stepped,
Oh, man, I made some noise.

They finally were gathered up,
Tucked with the ‘toys all past’,
No more marbles underfoot,
And peace restored at last.

Now it’s been years since marble games
Back in those times of yore,
And quite a while since marbles
Lay forgotten on the floor.

When one could step out any time
And tromp upon a few,
Then throw those little beggars out,
While language would ensue.

Now what I’d give to find a couple,
(One or two would do),
Cause I’ve lost ALL my marbles,
And I sure could use a few.

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?

Next week, we’re going to get’er done,
And talk about some Summer Fun!

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