Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Early Scamming

Ever been scammed?

I have.
It's a terrible feeling when you realize what has happened.
But it's nothing new.
Allow me to illustrate:
Gramma and Grampa Berg on their wedding day
My Maternal grandparents emigrated from Sweden.
Grampa came first and started farming/ranching in Idaho.
Gramma followed later and they were married.
A short time afterward, they headed north, enticed by offers of beautiful farm land in Alberta. They settled on a half-section they acquired in the Brooks area.
Soon afterward, they met another couple who had been farming unsuccessfully in the area for some time and were ready for a change.
The man had a scheme.
A sure-fire, can’t-miss scheme.
“Trapping is the answer,” he said knowledgeably  “I’ve done it before. Get yourself a trap line and, in one winter, you can make enough to pay cash for the equipment you will need to farm.”
Grampa was intrigued by the idea.
No stranger to hard work, he was excited by the idea of trading long winter hours for the chance to start his farming operation with such a leg-up. He and Gramma decided they’d do it.
They studied the maps and decided on a tract of land further north of their new home place. A spot near Lac La Biche. They staked out their claim and moved into a small cabin near the train tracks.
Originally, the cabin had been erected for the use of the crew when they were laying said tracks. Their new friends (Remember the guy with the idea? Him.) had used it before.
It was . . . cozy, but it had every amenity. Walls and a roof. And a window and door. It also had a little stone oven that Grampa built. Outside. Gramma would build up a fire, let it burn down, then bake bread by the heat that remained in the stones. Beautiful bread. It was the one perk of living in a tiny cabin at the back of beyond.
Gramma Berg and her bread
For many long winter months, they and their friends/partners lived there and ran the trap line. Gramma’s first son, my uncle Glen, was born there.
They had a measure of success. In fact, by March, they had an abundant supply of furs.
The winter drew to a close. Even in northern Alberta, it does happen . . .
Plans were discussed to take the winter’s catch to the city to trade.
The decision was made that Grampa would stay at the cabin for one more week to take whatever animals he could in those last few days.
His partner would haul their furs to the city to trade.
The partner left.
Grampa caught up with him a week later in the city.
And that’s when things fell apart.
The partner claimed that he had lost their entire catch in the river when his boat swamped.
Their entire catch.
There was nothing Grampa could do.
He loaded up his wife and new son and their few belongings and headed back to his land near Brooks. One wasted, useless winter behind him. And a new farming operation ahead to be started without the leg-up he had counted on.
He did make a success of it and he and Gramma raised eight sons and my mom.
I’m sure the pain of that first set-back was completely overcome in the ensuing years.
That’s what we all count on when the scammers hit.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Putting the 'Buff' in Buffet

It was supposed to be a quiet dinner, just the three of us.
It didn’t turn out that way.
Maybe I should explain . . .
Sally, Mom and me had had a rough week.
Let me start again . . .
Mom and me had had a rough week.
Because . . . Sally.
I know I don’t have to explain . . .
Mom decided it would be a nice change to have someone else cook and clean up.
A dinner out was indicated.
We had a bit of a ‘discussion’ over where we should go.
Our choice was made by the least decisive—but loudest—person in the group.
I’ll give you a hint. Not Mom. Or me.
Soooo Sally wanted to go to Rocky’s Buffet.
And that’s where we all went.
I will admit I like it. The food is replenished often and is fresh, hot and plentiful.
And we can eat at our leisure.
At first, all was well.
There had been minimal fuss and NO damage.
You have to know that this, in itself, is cause for celebration.
Mom and I had just returned to our table with a second stage plate of deliciousness each and Sally was standing in line for her third shot at the amazing pork dumplings.
Suddenly, there was a . . . scuffle . . . at the cash register.
Okay, you’ll probably understand why my first thought was, “Oh, no! Sally?!”
But then I spotted her. Standing peacefully beside the dumpling display, plate at the ready, deftly spooning up a mountain of little globules of tastiness.
And yes, that doesn’t happen often.
The ‘standing peacefully’ part, I mean.
I’ve seen her consume a mountain of dumplings many times . . .
Ahem . . .
I remember frowning, then turning to look over at the check-out again.
A young man was there and, for a moment, I thought he was just paying for his food. Loudly. Wearing a ski mask.
Then I saw the gun. And the tears on the hostess’ face as she scooped cash out of the register and dumped it into a Rocky’s Buffet take-out bag.
The young man swung the pistol around and someone in the restaurant screamed. If I know people (and, hey, I have been Sally’s sister for most of my 16 years), panic was not far behind.
Mom shrieked at Sally, then grabbed me and tried to haul me to the floor under our table.
I resisted, my eyes on my sister.
Sally, calm as ever, had her head cocked to one side, studying the young man.
As he turned back to the weeping hostess, Sally, carrying her filled plate, walked quickly over and upended her mountain of dumplings. On him. Then she grabbed the heavy plate in both hands and broke it over his head.
Now I don’t know about the protective qualities of your average ski-mask. Certainly they are designed to protect one from cold and other uncomfortable-ness.
But I think their effectiveness vis-à-vis—say, a blunt object, is vastly . . . less.
Needless to say, the young man went down like a sack of hammers.
Possibly he was thinking he’d just been hit by one.
As he fell, Sally swooped in and wrenched the gun from his hand. Then held it up triumphantly.
Which was nearly as scary for me as when the young bandit was holding it.
A couple of very large men dove for the guy on the floor and sat on him.
Mom ran for Sally, taking the gun from her hand and laying it carefully on the counter.
I started breathing again.
Mom put her arms around Sally. As I joined them, I could see that Sally was totally unruffled and unconcerned by the whole experience.
While Mom was trembling so hard I thought she would fall. “Sally! Sally! Sally!” she was saying over and over.
“I’m okay, Mom,” Sally assured her, giving her a quick pat on the back.
“You did well, Sis,” I said. “But please don’t ever do that again!”
Sally just shrugged.
Flashing lights lit up the windows and moments later, several police officers burst through the front doors, guns at the ready.
"Hey, guys!" Sally called out. 
“Sally?” they all said in unison. “Is that you?”
She grinned and nodded. “There is your prisoner, guys. Under those two.” She pointed and they all turned to look. “I grabbed the gun!”
“This gun?” One of them pointed to the weapon on the counter.
She nodded.
With the would-be weapon sitting innocently on the counter, and their alleged perpetrator helplessly pinned beneath two . . . . erm . . . buffet patrons, the officers holstered (is that the right word?) their guns.
One looked at Sally, then at the weapon, rolled his eyes and shook his head. Muttering something that could have been ‘crazy dame’, he donned gloves, produced a plastic bag and tucked the gun into it.
Another officer grabbed his handset. “Cancel the helicopter, Mac,” he said. “It looks like everything is wrapped here.”
The other policemen proceeded to free, then cuff and remove their prisoner. And gather statements.
Sally moved off, her goal obviously the dumpling table.
Taking a fresh plate and humming happily to herself, she started dishing.

Use Your Words is a challenge. Each month, Karen of Baking in a Tornado collects and re-distributes words. And we have the fun of doing something with what we receive!
This month, my words: damage ~ replenish ~ helicopter ~ panic ~ goal ~ stage, came to me from my amazing friend, Jenniy at Climaxed

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Our Blacksmith Playground

The small, green roof?
Blacksmith Shop aka Playground
To one side of the barnyard, squatting amid neatly-stacked barrels and other ranch paraphernalia, stood our blacksmith shop.
Constructed of timbers and rough-sawn boards, it consisted of one large room with small windows on two sides and large double doors on the third.
Benches lined the walls, littered with the tools and detritus of thousands of past projects.
In one corner, silently dominating the scene, stood the solid stone forge. I had no idea what it was for. I had never seen it in action, though the mounds of ashes and the soot of countless fires which still marked it, and the old horseshoes and other iron hung about the rafters surrounding it, should have borne mute testimony to its purpose.
I was four.
No explanation needed . . . or understood.
The rest of the room was dotted with more modern behemoth machines. Machines with incomprehensible names like: drill press, belt-sander, and air compressor, and which stood about, mutely awaiting the command to perform.
The blacksmith shop was an icon representing bygone days. A testament to the permanence of man's creativity and ingenuity.
And a great place to play though it was, we were informed, dangerous, and not to be entered unless accompanied by Dad or some other adult..
Case in point - my little brother, Blair, then two, was with my dad, who was using the air compressor. Blair was watching the wheel of the compressor go around. He tried to touch it and nipped the very end off his tiny finger. It healed. The lesson remained.
But I digress . . .
One could crawl around the dirt floor beneath the drill press and find the little curlicues that had been shaved off some piece of metal and use them like little springs.
But carefully. They're sharp.
Or, if one were truly adventurous, one could actually turn on the huge drill, put a plate of metal under the bit, turn the gear, forcing the bit down through the plate . . .
And, voila! Create your own little curlicues!
But a bit of a warning - if Dad turned around while you were thus engaged, heaven help you.
There were also the little bits and shavings of wood strewn about. Those were especially fun for building little corrals - with equally tiny stick horses inside. Quite often, though, that particular brand of play would induce one to head out to the 'actual' corral, to play with the 'actual' horses . . .
Against he fourth side of the shop was a lean-to, or small, doorless shed. It was full of barrels of grease and oil, so necessary to the proper function of the various ranch vehicles and machines.
It also held smaller containers of the same, which were vastly easier to work with, or in my case, to play with.
Little side note here - those small squirt-cans of oil could shoot an amazing distance. Something I especially noticed when my brother, George was there with me. Our accuracy left much to be desired, however, which was probably a good thing.
You should know that oil can play was inevitably brought to a halt when Dad would holler, "You kids stop wasting the oil!"
The larger barrels of grease were every bit as entertaining. One could push down on the handle and a long, skinny 'worm' of grease would be pressed out.
Which one could then play with. Rolling it in the dirt. Squishing it with your fingers . . .
"You kids stop wasting the grease!"
Geeze. That man was everywhere!
Around the back of the shop was another little shed. This one with it's own door. It smelled quite different. More like salt.
And it contained - guess what! - salt. Large blocks of the stuff in blues, reds and whites.
Cattle grazing in the arid pastures of Southern Alberta need salt, and quite a few extra nutrients for continued good health. Thus, in addition to their prime ingredient, the blue salt blocks also contain cobalt. The reds - minerals.
The white blocks are just salt. Boring.
It was great fun to chip a small piece off one of the large blocks and suck on it for a while.
And Dad never got after us for getting into the salt.
I know. Weird.
The blacksmith shop was one of our favorite playgrounds. It was old - one of the oldest buildings on the ranch. Originally built by Colonel A.T. Mackie sometime before 1900, it had survived through countless decades and several owners.
It burned to the ground some years after our family sold the ranch.
Its loss must surely be felt by the kids who live there now.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Singing As We Go

Dad. He of the wondrous voice.
My Dad loved to sing.
Fortunately, for the rest of us, he had a very nice voice.
And great rhythm.
It's just his timing that needed work.
Let me explain . . .
When one lived as far from civilization as we did, 'going somewhere' inevitably involved . . . well . . . travelling.
For extended periods of time.
I'd like to point out here, that wonderful inventions like DS's, cell phones , IPads and the all-important DVD players existed only in science fiction. Our entertainment consisted of visiting, looking out the window, and books.
Or, in my case, just visiting or looking out the window. Reading in a car, though perhaps my favourite diversion, unavoidably made me carsick.
Whenever we travelled, there was always that stretch of road (I know you've been there), usually somewhere in the middle, where we ran out of conversation and the scenery got boring.
And everyone in the car, driver included, got sleepy.
That's when Dad would start to sing.
At full volume.
He really only had one.
See what I mean about timing . . .?
His family was treated to such classics as, "Who Put the Overalls in Mrs. Murphy's Chowder". Or, "My Diane" (my personal favorite), "Two Little Boys" (which always made me cry), "Daisy", or the ever popular, "The Doors Swing In and the Doors Swing Out".
Usually, Mom would also join in.
Suffice it to say that, before us kids could carry on a lucid conversation, we could sing. We didn't always know what we were singing, and our school teachers sometimes questioned the suitability of a song that took place almost entirely within a saloon ("The Doors Swing In . . ." - see above.)
But that's beside the point . . .
We were in tune and definitely had the words right.
Or at least as right as Dad did.
It wasn't until some years later that I realized my Dad used . . . poetic license.
One day, I was singing "Two Little Boys" while I cleaned out a pen in the barn. Unbeknownst (real word!) to me, Dad was leaning on the fence in the far corner, listening.I got to one line and just did what he had always done. "Da Da Da Da Da Da Dum Dee."
He burst out laughing.
When I spun around and glared at him accusingly, he told me that he'd been waiting for me to get to that line so he could finally hear what the real words were. He had never been able to remember and had just put in 'placer' lyrics.
I had memorized them accordingly.
Scary, isn't it that we pick up what we are taught . . . mistakes and all?
I've wandered from the point...
Now, whenever I drive along a road that Dad took us down, or even a road that resembles a road that . . .
I remember. Feeling happily sleepy. And that beautiful baritone voice, suddenly belting out the lyrics to some song that probably only Dad remembered.
Or possibly that Dad made up.
But so soothing to us denizens of the back seat.
I think I can hear him still . . .
If you'd like to hear Mrs. Murphy's Chowder...

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Gone Home

Four years ago already...

On our way to the ranch. Five siblings, three nephews and one niece.
During our travels earlier this summer, my Husby, siblings and I took the opportunity of visiting the 'Old Ranch'.
The ranch, nestled in a crook of the south fork of the Milk River that is the basis and background to so many of my memories.
Most of what was there before is gone - lost in a terrible grass fire that swept much of the area three years ago.
The barn, scene of so many adventures has been reduced to a cracked sheet of cement.
The only reminder of the extensive corrals are the slabs that held waterers and feed troughs.
Outbuildings - feed storage, small barns, tool sheds - all have disappeared.
We wandered about - even climbing to the top of the 'old machinery hill' - so named because that's where we parked the old machinery.
Okay, so creative, we weren't.
Someone else's machinery was parked there.
We did find a great old gate - a friend that we had all swung on whenever Dad couldn't see us . . .
We paced around, remembering stories and experiences that were generated by what had once stood there.
Then we walked over to the ranch house. The lone survivor of the conflagration.
And received a true shock. The house is sound. Sturdy.
And in most respects, exactly as it was when I last set foot in it over forty years ago.
The fixtures, walls, ceilings, even the arborite in the bathrooms were the same.
The very same.
When my parents built the house, they had installed fine mahogany panelling in the front room and Dad's office.
Light switches were modern, gold coloured, wedge-shaped marvels.
And the bathroom was equipped with green fixtures. Not the olive green of the seventies, but a mint green of the early sixties.
And still there.
We wandered through, exclaiming over new discoveries in every room.
The words, "Oh, I remember this!" echoed continually.
One could almost picture Mom taking something out of the oven and Dad sitting in his easy chair, boots off, waiting for dinner. Or the family gathered in the front room, eagerly anticipating the Sunday night lineup of TV programs. Or the sound of the milk separator signalling that outside chores had been finished for the day.
Oh, there were some changes. The floor coverings had gone to laminate from carpet and lino and the great mantel and fireplace that had dominated that front room had vanished.
But, after witnessing the devastation in the barn yard, seeing the sameness indoors was a great joy.
And a relief.
Some things still do exist.
Reminders of that childhood from which my siblings and I sprang.
It really happened.

The river today.
Nephew, Josh on the fence that surrounds the house and yard. Needs paint, but still the same.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Up the Creek

The scene of the crime.
The spring was fast receding and the summertime drew nigh.
With promises of summer warmth and summer bright blue skies,
Our city friends cajoled us, “Come with us to Waskesiu!
“The lake and beaches all are sweet, the hikes and rambles, too.”

And so we did! Yes, everything was much as they had said,
We settled in our cabin and surveyed the cozy bed.
Then stepping to the private deck, we looked out on the lake,
Seems nothing could be so serene. We’d not made a mistake!

The following two days were spent on hiking trails and such,
And visiting and napping. (Maybe eating way too much!)  
Then Hubsy came up with a thought—Canoe! Just him and me,
A paddle swift around the lake to see what we could see.

No sooner said, then it was done, we’d grabbed the oars and stuff,
With one trip, laden, to the lake, and yes, it was enough.
Then he donned jacket, paddle too, and jumped into the boat,
Certain in his knowledge how to keep us both afloat.

I thought he brought my oar and jacket, so I’d no concern,
When I leaped (lightly) from the shore and perched upon the stern.
But as I stood there, I could see (the knowledge blew my mind),
For both my jacket and my oar, yes, they’d been left behind.

Leapt lightly once (or so I thought), and I could do it more,
I turned a bit and then pushed off. Was headed for the shore,
But had not reckoned that my push, though quicker than a wink,
Would overturn the boat and send my ‘Hon’ into the drink.

T’was fortune that the shore was close, and death was not a threat,
But I imagine he was just as mad as he could get.
I couldn’t stifle laughter as I helped to fish him out,
Though he’d been dry, poor Husby now was wetter than a trout.

But gamely he went with me and we paddled our canoe,
And partly rowed around the lake as we’d seen others do.
But fresh lake breezes, though they are as sweet as they can get,
Are not conducive to someone who sits there soaking wet.

Our trip was shortened, soon we both were back on shore. With friends,
In Technicolor we described our trip from start to end,
But now if he suggests a row to see the birds that quack,
I think that I’ll be cautious just in case he pays me back!

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 topic's mine, for all you folks,
I think I'll tell a funny joke!

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