Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Watery Paradise

Paradise flowed right around the main Stringam Ranch buildings.

Siblings with cousins.
To the adult residents of the ranch, it was the South Fork of the Milk River.
To us, it was a muddy, murky playground. Our entertainment. Our recreation. Our playmate.
It provided a solid skating surface in the winter and a wonderful swimming pool in summer.
In spring through fall, it was an endless source of educational fun as we hunted snakes and frogs. Tried to trap unwary fish. And generally made life miserable for any denizen so unfortunate as to capture our attention.
I learned to skate there. What is that little dictum that states that the hardest part about learning to skate is the ice?
That would apply to me.
But I digress . . .
I learned to swim there.
And I wish I could swim there, still.
On a hot summer afternoon, my siblings and I would invariably be found in the milky depths of our river.
I can remember exactly how the water looked - billions of grains of fine sand hanging suspended as the rays of sunlight shone through it.
I can remember how it smelled. Wet mud and fresh water and things growing.
And I can remember how it felt. Cool and soft as it slid across one's nearly naked little body.
The current was slow and sluggish, but still strong enough to prove a challenge when swimming against it. In fact, only my eldest brother, Jerry could make any headway. The rest of us tried manfully, or girlfully (is that a word?) to keep up.
We couldn't.
But we did flail with purpose and finally, I was able to at least hold my position.
It was a time of peace. When one's siblings were truly one's best friends. We watched over each other, fishing the smaller siblings out if they got in over their heads and keeping our St. Bernard, Mike from drowning anyone as he tried desperately to save them.
From time to time, the chief lifeguard, Mom, would appear at the top of the cliff beside the house and survey the area, counting heads and noting the general state of her six offspring. Then she would wave and disappear.
And we would go back to whatever she had interrupted.
It was a blissful way to spend the summer.
Sure, there were chores that had to be done. Acres of garden to hoe. Cattle to drive. Calves to brand. Feeding. Milking. Haying. Fencing. Mowing. Harvesting.
But for those few hours every afternoon, we had no duties. No pressures.
Just Chris' radio blaring out whatever was considered the day's top hits. The soft sand. The sunlight on the milky water.
And each other.
We were right.
It was paradise.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Fort-ified Breakfast Cereal


The most – interesting – meal of the day.
Mom believed in beginning the day with a good, hot, hearty meal.
Bacon. Sausage. Eggs. Pancakes. Waffles. Ham. Fruit. Muffins. Fresh bread. Cinnamon buns. French toast.
A breakfast milkshake that included eggs and fruit. And occasionally, chocolate.
She mixed and matched.
And pure deliciousness emerged.
But sometimes, she allowed us kids to graze.
Okay, her version of grazing was to set out a plethora of cold cereal boxes and let us take our pick.
Funny how kids accustomed to ‘home-cooked’ can think ‘store-bought’ is a real treat.
But we did.
We happily selected and poured and sugared and crunched.
Except for big brother George.
He did all of that . . . and built a fort.
His breakfast fort.
And, because he did it, and made it look like fun, I had to do it too.
Did you know it’s possible to sit at the same table with someone and never even catch a glimpse of them?
Well, it is.
With a little ingenuity.
And a lot of cereal boxes.
George would set a large cereal box on either side of his bowl. Then add a third to connect the first two.
Cereal box fort.
Private and exclusive.
One could eat one’s bowl of awesomeness and never even know that one had breakfast companions.
Well, until Mom came, demolished one’s fort with her genius for quick and effective relocation and a, “Stop doing that, you two. We need to see each other’s bright and smiling faces in the morning!”
To which George would inevitably reply, "My face isn't bright and smiling!"
Yeah. Cereal boxes. They can hide so much.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Sharp and Nasty

Carefully, now . . .
By the early 1870's, smooth wire fences were fast being replaced by the new, and far more formidable and efficient barbed-wire.
Now, domestic (and no few wild) animals could be effectively contained.
Wars were fought by stock owners and free-range enthusiasts over this new invention and its perceived advantages and disadvantages.
And no few lives lost.
With the ending of the hostilities, barbed-wire became the accepted medium for fencing in the ranching and farming world.

Sometimes, I wish the outcome had been different . . .

The Stringam ranch was large.
Really large.
And, to keep its inmates (cattle) controlled, it was fenced with miles (and miles) of strands of barbed-wire.
Wire that had to be strung, stretched, looped, stapled, fastened, weighted and maintained.
And maintained. And maintained. And . . . you get the point . . .And all of this work had to be accomplished by weak, easily wounded human beings.
You can imagine the damage that two to four sharp points of wire, created to discourage even the most thick-skinned cow, could do so soft, very-not-tough skin.
I can count 13 scars on one finger alone.
Thank goodness for heavy, leather gloves and even heavier moosehide chaps.
Over the years, we thin-skinned humans had many differences of opinion with the barbed-wire which stretched across the ranch. Most trivial, requiring a Band-Aid or nothing at all.
But a few, fairly serious . . .
Once, my Dad and brother, George were stringing wire (A complicated procedure which required the paying out of four strings of wire from an apparatus on the back of the truck, closely supervised by said brother, George).
Dad hit a bump.
George was thrown into the tangle of wire, resulting in multiple deep gouges and cuts to his hands and arms.
Not good.
Or pleasant.
Band-Aids wouldn't do for that mishap.
He had to be sewn back together.
Like a quilt.
Only not as warm and cuddly.
But at least it was a mishap that could only be considered an accident.
My run-in with 'The Devil's Rope', could easily have been prevented.
If I'd been smarter.
Hmmm. So like most of my calamities . . .
I'd been out visiting the horses and was heading home.
There was a fence in the way.
Now a normal person would have employed the usual method for getting past a barbed-wire fence. Climb under or through. Climb up a post. Find a gate.
But not me. I was determined to simply climb over.
Now, I should mention here that climbing over a barbed-wire fence is entirely possible.
Just not very simple.
You have to do it carefully. Step on the bottom wire and bend the top wire down. Then lift your leg gingerly over the top wire and step to the ground. Then swing the other leg after the first.
Easy peasy.
As long as nothing gets caught. (Pant legs or crotches come to mind.) And as long as you can keep your balance.
I was only wearing a pair of shorts, so pant legs weren't even a consideration.
It never occurred to me that I should watch out for my actual leg.
The barbs entered my skin at mid thigh, and at the apex of my swing over the fence.
I lost my balance and fell over the fence.
The barbs raked two grooves down the entire length of my leg.
The good news? I was over the fence.
The bad news? I now sported two 18 inch furrows from mid thigh to mid calf on the inside of my right leg.
I got to my feet and looked around.
Good. Mom and Dad were away on a Hereford Tour. And no one had seen my folly.
I limped quickly to the house and made use of the first-aid kit that Mom always kept just inside the back door.
Smart woman, my Mom.
Then I stared at my injury. Visions of the rows and rows of stitches it had taken to sew my brother closed floated through my mind.
In Technicolor.
I definitely didn't want that.
But no Band-Aid could possibly cover this wound.
Finally, I twisted a clean cloth around my leg.
Then, belatedly, put on a pair of jeans.
A few days later, when my parents returned, Mom instantly noted my limp.
And made me show her my injury.
And then hauled me in to the doctor.
By that point, stitches couldn't have done any good. The doctor merely pasted my leg with goop. Applied some gi-normous bandages, and gave me a shot.
All better.
I still have the scars.
They remind me that, in a difference of opinion between me and barbed-wire, the wire is always going to win.
And always, always wear jeans.
Or armor.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

For The Beginner

Missing Daddy today.

Here is another of his favourite stories . . .

The rain poured down persistently,
For days he’d stared out wistfully.
A last, he stood with arms outspread,
“I’m bored,” he, to his mother, said.
She thought about it for a time,
(Impressed I say all this in rhyme?)
And then suggested to her son,
“If all your chores, indeed, are done,
The only thing I can suggest
For you, a hobby would be best.”
“A collection, maybe? Moths? Or stamps?
Now go – and to your room, encamp.”
The little boy gave it some thought,
Decided moths were what he sought.
Donned raingear, to the store betook,
To find himself a research book.
Then home amid the raindrops sped,
Threw coat, and landed on his bed.
He read for several hours there,
Then came to mom in clear despair.
“I’ve read that book from end to end,
But failure did the words portend.
For though I read so eagerly,
No single ‘moth’ word did I see!”
His mother frowned and asked to look,
Obediently, he fetched the book.
She turned it over, understood
Just why it did him little good.
‘Advice to the Beginning . . .’, true.
A wealth of facts from those who knew.
But the last word in the title there,
Had caused her fine, young son to err.
It stood out plain from all the others,
The last word there (you’ve guessed it) ‘Mothers’!
Advice to 
Beginning Mothers
You can see where he went wrong.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The ART of Construction

Tenting was my favorite thing in the world.
I could happily sit for hours in my soft, quiet shelter. Immersed in my own little world. Miles away from the business and bustle of life.
Or at least inches away.
On the other side of my blanket.
And my chair.
Oh, and the all-important pillow.
Okay, so tent-making wasn't an art with me. In fact, you could probably say that it was . . . fairly inexpert, invariably consisting, as it did, of a blanket tossed over a chair and held in place by a pillow.
Frank Lloyd Wright, I wasn't.
But I still loved it. Hiding in a shelter erected solely by my own two little hands.
For a short while, I was the queen of my world.
Then, one day, I was introduced to a whole new world. My brother, George, deigned to join me.
Something, I might point out, that rarely happened . . .
And instructed me in the creation of a complex, blanket draped wonder.
George set up chairs and draped them with covers, connecting them to each other and holding each in place by different items, drawing heavily from the various 'objets d'art' that Mom had strewn about the room.
The blankets were pulled over to the couches, secured, and then drawn to the tables. There, they were again weighted into place.
Slowly, our little 'club house' grew until it covered the entire front room.
The two of us stood back and surveyed it proudly.
It had an entrance. And a back door. It had twisting tunnels and little rooms.
It was perfect.
I was quivering with excitement. I couldn't wait any longer. I dove in.
"Careful, Diane!" George said.
But he was too late.
My rash action pulled on one of the blankets.
In fact, the blanket that was being held in place by a large, ornate, plaster vase.
Both slid from the table.
The blanket survived.
The vase didn't.
George and I stared, aghast, at the mass of wreckage.
And then, like a figure of doom, Mom appeared in the doorway.
"What are you two . . . my vase!"
There was no hiding it.
There was our intricate web of blankets, furniture and bric-a-brac.
To one side, a limply hanging corner.
And, beside it, the broken vase.
Even a fool could have figured out what had happened. And Mom certainly wasn't a fool.
"Did you kids use my vase for your fort?"
How did one answer that? I mean, couldn't she see it?
George was braver than me. "It was Diane's idea."
I stared at him. "It was not!" I said, hotly.
"Was too."
"Was not!"
Okay, so our arguments could never have been classified as intelligent.
"Okay, enough!" Mom had worked her way gingerly across the sea of blankets, plucking up breakables as she went.
Finally, she reached the vase.
She set down the other objects she was carrying and stared down at it.
Then she looked at us.
"Ummm. Sorry, Mom," I said. Not entirely original, but it was all I could think of.
Mom picked up the vase. Then the pieces.
She looked . . . sad.
Mom never really had to discipline me. I could do it all by myself. I burst into tears. "Sssooorrry!"
She turned and looked at us once more. "I don't ever want you two playing with my things again."
"Oookaaay!" More tears.
I should have been on the stage.
Mom carried the pieces of her vase out of the room without looking at us again.
And just like that, our fort was no long the wonder it had been. George and I 'folded' the blankets and put things back.
Mom kept the vase, carefully gluing the numerous pieces back together.
To our 'waste not, want not' Mom, it was totally in character.
But it haunted us for years, in fact, it sat atop a cupboard at my Dad's apartment.
I still like to tent.
But fortunately, my husby introduced me to such marvels as . . . tent poles. Pegs. Guy lines.
What it lacks in ingenuity, it certainly makes up for in convenience.
And unbreakable-ness.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Summer FUN

Okay, picture us four just a couple of years older...

One summer Daddy bought a ranch
He thought it’d give us kids a chance
To prove that we could ‘git ‘er done’,
And maybe e’en fit in some fun!

My oldest sis was seven-and-ten,
She ruled the household, fed the men,
By which I mean, our brothers, two,
And 10-year me to round the crew.

We four rode horses, tended cows,
Learned of mowers, rakes and plows,
Then hunted rattlesnakes in pens,
And made them into sculptures then.

Each evening when the work was done,
And supper gorged by everyone,
Over card games, laughed and cried,
‘Till morning brought us back outside.

That summer passed, as summers do,
Dad sold the ranch. We said ‘Adieu!’,
I happily packed my small suitcase,
And we returned to the home place.

But through the years, as I look back,
At ‘work-all-day’ then ‘hit-the-sack’,
The things we learned while we were young?
It was the best of ‘Summer Fun’!

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, our Jenny is in charge.
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