Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, October 5, 2019

A Snaky Tail

Look at this!
I caught a snake. Garter variety.
The banks of the river abounded with such things, as well as frogs, tadpoles, minnows and other slithery, slimy denizens of the milky water.
It wasn't unheard-of for my mother to be the calm recipient of a bullfrog, salamander, and cup full of minnows . . . all on the same day.
Okay, so, squeamish, I wasn't.
And my mother was a saint.
But snakes, we usually had a harder time catching. Actually laying hands on one was a treat. An achievement.
I know. We probably should have explored other hobbies . . .
I was understandably excited about my snake. I wanted to share.
I decided to take it to school.
I can't remember just how I managed this. Perhaps my Mom helped me by putting it in a shoebox. But it, and I somehow managed the long bus ride.
Then I was the center of attention as everyone on the playground crowded in for a peek. In fact, my snake was so popular that my teacher arranged for me to take it to every classroom to show the kids.
For the first time in my young life, I was the center of attention. I was popular. I was famous.
Yes, well, it rather went to my head . . .
To make my snake a bit more visible, the principal offered me his own glass fishbowl. Now it could be seen at all times.
I thought it was terrific. I don't suppose the snake was very impressed.
I walked into each of the six classrooms, filled with importance. While there,  I would talk about my snake . . . ummm . . . knowledgeably.
"This is a garter snake. I caught it by the river. It's kind of cold and . . . smooth. It can swim. It eats frogs and other stuff."
Hey, I was six. That was as knowledgeable as it gets.
Then I would reach in, grab my snake by the end of its tail and lift it out for everyone to see. The snake would, obligingly, stretch up and flick its tongue.
Ooohs.
This went on for the lower five grades.
Then, the last class. My oldest brother Jerry's. The grade sixes. The big guys.
I was more than a bit intimidated.
I carried my sideshow exhibit into the class and went into my spiel. Then I lifted my snake. And stared in horror as the last two inches of its tail . . . broke off.
The poor thing dropped to the floor and began a frantic slither towards somewhere else.
Several girls screamed.
I quickly pounced on it and scooped it up, dropping it back into the goldfish bowl.
Order was restored.
Then I realized that I was still holding the piece of the snake's tail. Flushing, I dropped it in with the snake, then quickly seized the bowl and scurried out of the room.
My 15 minutes of fame were over.
For the rest of the day, my snake sat on the shelf at the back of my grade one classroom.
After school, my Mom was waiting for me at the bus stop. She loaded my brothers, George and Jerry, my snake and I into the car.
On the way out of town, she pulled over into the campground beside the river.
"Okay, Diane," she said, "let the snake go."
I stared at her, horrified. Let him go? But he was mine! We'd been through so much together!
She nodded.
Heaving a sigh, I opened the car door and carried my prize to the riverbank.
I looked back at her.
She nodded again.
Now, I should point out here, that I could have simply taken my slithery friend out and laid him in the grass beside the river. Or even set the bowl down and let him crawl out there.
But no. Instead, I made my way down the very edge of the river and tipped up the fishbowl to drop my companion and friend into the milky water.
And unwittingly added an exciting postscript to the story.
Because I also dropped the fishbowl.
My principal's fishbowl.
I did try to make a grab for it, but it quickly slid out of my reach and disappeared. I stared at the place where it had last been seen.
I was in so much trouble.
I remember looking at my mom, horror written across my whole face. She just rolled her eyes and shook her head.
She must have sorted things out with my principal, the first of many such exchanges, because I never heard anything more.
But I often think of my little garter snake friend and wonder just what happened to him. Dropped into a foreign world, miles from his home. Part of his tail snapped off.
Did he survive? Even prosper?
I like to think so.
But more thought-provoking is the fact that I had absolutely no fear when catching and handling my snake.
Now if he had been a chicken?
Totally another story.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Cleaned

Okay. I admit it.

Sometimes kids have a strange idea of what’s funny.
Let me explain . . .
My brother, George, and I loved watching TV.
Like millions of other baby-boomers before and after us.
And, between our beloved slices of Gunsmoke, Woody Woodpecker, Bonanza, Ed Sullivan and Disney we were electrified by the ads for snowier wash, whiter teeth, hot drinks good to the last drop, better cleansers, stickier bandages, fluffier pastries, softer bread, happier soft drinks and new, new, new contraptions.
We had the jingles - indeed most of the ads - memorized.
Often, putting them to our own distinct uses.
George had a beloved T-shirt.
One he insisted on wearing daily until it was forcibly (sometimes surgically) removed for cleaning.
When it was returned to him, clean and fresh, he would happily re-don it for yet another cycle.
Said shirt justifiably began to show the wear.
Tiny holes started to appear along the seams and in a couple of places on the front.
These were happily ignored until, inevitably, they grew to sizes where ignorance could not justifiably be bliss.
And this is where he and I thought things took on a whole new hilarious angle.
Mom had been agitating for George to retire his adored shirt.
George was resisting.
Their dialogue was ongoing.
Finally Mom took the shirt and held it up, pointing out the obvious wear and gradually widening holes.
George took it and he, too, held it up. “This shirt is not only clean,” he said. He placed his eye up to one of the larger holes. “It is clean clear through!”
Okay, the makers of Fab laundry detergent probably didn’t have holes in mind when they created their ads. But George and I thought it was totally apt.
And totally hilarious.
Mom? Not so much.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

In Heaven

The ranch cook. With Chris and Jerry.
Mom could make anything taste good.
And it didn't matter what she had going in her life, meals were always plentiful and on time.
She would serve a full, cooked breakfast of ham, eggs, pancakes and oatmeal, with lunch simmering on the stove and dinner baking in the oven so both meals could be produced quickly as soon as she got done gardening, cleaning, doing chores, driving us kids to school, picking up whatever was needed from the hardware/feed store/grocery, or attending one of her numerous Hereford club meetings/quilting/sewing bees.
Sometimes I contemplate the scheduling nightmare that her life must have been.
Thinking about it makes me tired.
But back to the food . . .
When Mom was 10 years old, she went with her dad and brothers up to the Berg family's 'other place' to cook while Grandpa and the boys brought in the hay crop.
She often described the little wood stove she used for her meals.
“It had the littlest oven,” she told me, “just big enough to fit in one pie.”
She was making pie???!
At ten years old???!
By herself???!
In a - gasp - wood stove???!
Okay, amazing just doesn't quite cover it.
By the time I was ten, I figured I was doing extremely well because I knew how to eat pie.
But I digress . . .
So, at the age of ten, she was doing all of the cooking for her father and three older brothers.
Well, she certainly learned how to cook.
Mom could open the fridge (that same fridge that one of us kids had just looked into and pronounced, 'empty'), and produce a hearty, rib-sticking meal.
In minutes.
And totally without the aid of a microwave.
Okay, she had all the modern conveniences. Electric stove. Running water.
Toaster.
Cheese Whiz.
But still, the meals she could produce!
Her roasts were works of gustatory art. Her pastries and pies had to be tasted to be believed.
Even her vegetables were unsurpassed by anything available in the vast dining world.
Mom could take cauliflower that she had grown and frozen. Cook and serve it in such a manner that not a scrap was left over.
I tried it with my kids.
Somehow, when I prepared frozen cauliflower, it just came out . . . soggy.
And disgusting.
I did learn how to make her pies. But that was all.
To this day, my siblings and I contact each other regularly, asking if anyone knows the recipe for . . .
No one does.
When I cross over to the other side, it will be with a pen and paper in hand.
The first thing I will ask Mom will be, “What the heck is your recipe for your angel food cake topping?”
Notice I said 'heck'. That's because you can't use anything stronger in Heaven.
Where I know Mom is.
Probably cooking.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Hot Time...

A repost for my birthday . . . because I can . . .

What was left of the barn
October second. My birthday. A time of reflection and renewal. Time to reminisce.
It was exactly 64 years ago today that I made my way into the world.
Feet first.
Fourth of six children and second daughter for Mark and Enes Stringam. A pretty exciting time for everyone. Well, for me at any rate.
I grew, healthy and strong in a loving, ordered world. My birthdays approached, were celebrated with varying degrees of success, and then left behind. First. Second. Third. For my fourth, something special was planned. Very special. And very secret. No one knew what was coming.
No one.
Early on the morning of my fourth birthday, a frantic phone call jolted my Dad out of his bed.
“There is a rather major emergency at the ranch. Would you possibly be able to come out?”
“Emergency?”
“Erm, yes. The barn is on fire.”
“On my way.”
Or at lest that is how I picture the conversation. It was probably something more in the way of . . . “EEEEEEE (high pitched screaming)!”
And Dad, “AAAAAAAAAH (Not quite so high pitched)!”
And that was the total exchange. But I digress . . .
So dad jumped into his truck and drove the twenty miles to the ranch in record time.
Really record time.
He arrived just after the fire department.
By then, the barn was well on its way to being a memory. Flames had consumed most of it and the remainder was burning purposefully . . . even cheerfully . . . in the early morning light.
Acrid smoke coiled across the barnyard, obscuring the crowd gathered to watch.
Tears filled most eyes. Some because of said smoke. Others due to the fact that their most precious possessions had – literally – gone up in it.
One hired man stood there, in his longhandles, shaking his head helplessly. It took some time, and the appearance of the ranch cook, for him to realize that his attire was . . . less than conventional. He beat a hasty retreat to find something a little more . . . conservative . . . to wear.
And not just the humans were concerned.
The smaller denizens of the barn had been rudely awakened and forced to – quickly – find new lodgings.
One mouse, intent on that very errand, scampered from the mass of smoking debris that had been his home, and into the pale morning light.
He stopped. There were two humans standing directly in his path. He worked it through his little mouse brain, then darted back into the smouldering pile.
Better the evil you know . . .
There was great loss. Two litters of pigs and sows, several horses, calves. Not to mention saddles, tack and equipment. None irreplaceable, but all valuable.
Oh, and my birthday.
Somehow, in all the melee, that was lost as well. Not that I cared. I was happily perched on the fence, just within toasting distance of the glowing fire, watching the spectacle. Not really understanding what was going on. Knowing only that, in four years of mischief, I’d never been able to come close to this excitement. Never.
The barn was rebuilt. Bigger. Better. More modern. And my . . . birthday was never forgotten again. Every year, Dad called on this date to wish me a . . . Happy Barn Burning.
With music.
And the dance.
There is a codicil. Twenty years ago, my barn burned down. Our losses were not as enormous as the ‘original’ barn fire. We lost two little pigs and some equipment. But the most important fact was the date. April first. My father’s seventieth birthday. I had to phone to wish him . . . Happy Barn Burning.
Payback is so sweet.

Further news:
Huge grass fires in Southern Alberta in 2012 consumed all of the outbuildings on the old ranch.
Including the 'new' barn.
Gone. Again.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Bus to Sleepytown

Blair and Anita.
And me.
In my beautiful 'fur' coat.
Okay. I was six. Grade one is hard work! I was tired!
And we lived a million miles from town.
Enough background.
Living 20 miles from the local schools might be a blessing during ‘snow days’ in the winter when the buses didn’t run, but the rest of the time, it merely meant a very long ride. A very long, boring ride.
If one didn’t have someone to visit with, the trip was interminable. Especially to a six year old.
Which I was.
Seating was a highly organized, painstakingly structured fact of bus life.
The eldest kids got to sit in the back. The youngest directly behind the bus driver.
Okay, maybe not so organized . . .
Hijinks were restricted to the back two rows. Your progress through school and through life was largely measured by where you sat in the school bus.
I had never sat more than two seats behind the driver.
Until that fateful day.
The Lindemans weren’t on the bus. Will and Louise's seat in the second last row was empty and just waiting to be claimed. My day had come.
Happily, I perched in that heretofore inaccessible spot.
Our bus driver, a wonderfully kind and loving man named Dick Sabey was responsible for delivering us safely into the waiting arms of our mother, Enes Stringam, at Nine Mile Corner. It was a corner situated, interestingly enough, exactly nine miles from our ranch buildings.
Okay, so imaginative, we weren’t.
Day after day, our faithful friend dropped us off at the corner, waving to us cheerfully as we began the trek towards home.
Usually, we managed only a few yards before our mother’s car, trailing a cloud of dust on the country road, appeared around the turn. She would skid to a halt and load us in, questions and news being tossed back and forth before the doors had even closed.
Now that day...
It was chilly. I don’t remember if it was Spring or Fall, but the weather necessitated the wearing of fairly warm clothing. I had a golden faux fur parka. Purchased by my Dad specifically for a trip to cut our family’s Christmas tree. A coat that could easily have doubled as a bear disguise. But which was wonderfully warm . . . and cozy . . . and *yawn* comfortable . . . When I awoke some time later, Dick and his dear wife, Scotty, were standing over me, shaking me gently. I sat up and looked around. It was dark. The lights of the Sabey home were shining dimly into the shadowy bus. Nine Mile Corner was nowhere to be seen. Or my brothers and sister. Or my Mom.
That’s when the tears started.
Dick picked me up and carried me into the house, where Scotty calmed me and cuddled me. And fed me. (Amazing how so many of my stories revolve around food.)
Later, my relieved parents arrived to pick me up and the story was finally told.
The Stringam kids always left the bus in a group. The bus driver, watching alertly to make sure they were safely on their way, noticed that Diane wasn't with them.
But sometimes, kids stayed in town for some reason or another. The accepted practice in such an instance was to give the driver a note explaining their absence.
But it wasn't unusual for said note to be forgotten.
Dick surmised I had had piano lessons . . . or something.
And since I hadn’t been sitting in my usual spot, my brothers and sister had concluded the same thing and headed quickly down the road. By the time our Mom arrived and my absence was noted, the bus was long gone.
The time for panic had truly arrived.
Cell phones existed only in the imaginations of science fiction writers. The only phone connection available was a single party line, installed by my father (and enormously entertaining, but that is another story).
Once she reached the ranch buildings, Mom wasted no time in calling the Sabey household and raising the alarm. Dick hadn’t yet returned from his route, so Scotty waited breathlessly at the front window for the bus. When he arrived, she met him and the two of them quickly searched the bus.
They soon discovered that a bulky coat, discarded on one of the last seats, actually contained a person. Not a very big person, to be sure, but a person just the same.
Me.
Some time later, with my Mom’s arms around me, I could see the humour of the situation.
Almost.
Until I grew taller, about grade nine or so, I never again sat anywhere but directly behind the bus driver. It was safer there. And less forgetful.
And, oddly enough, I find it impossible to fall asleep in a moving vehicle.
Except when I’m driving.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Bungaload

It's all about BEAUTY, right?
“I’m shopping for my wife,” said he.
“For things she needs immediately.
And while I’m here, I thought I’d get
A special something for my Pet.”

 He wandered round the store a while,
And saw things staid. Or infantile.
Then found that he had ambled to
The women’s clothes all starched and new.

His eyes lit up as he assessed
New ways to help his wife get dressed.
In gowns of rough or slinky mein,
In shades from black to tangerine.

He wandered further through the store
Seeking something she’d adore,
High or low or bourgeoisie,
He fin-al-ly came o’er to me.

“It seemed so simple,” he declared.
“But now I’ve looked, and now I’m scared.
The clothes selection’s vast and mixed,
And I can’t seem to choose betwixt.”

“There’s something that she needed, though,
To wear around the bungalow.
So help me please, I do implore.
There must be something in your store!”

“There’s much to choose from, sir,” I said.
“That’s sure to please your thoroughbred.
But there's one thing I need to know,
Just how big is her bungalow?”























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.
Please go. See what my friends have done.
I'm sure it will be lots of fun!
So now you've seen what we have brought.
Did we help?
Or did we not?

Third in the series

Third in the series
Deborah. Fugitive of Faith

The Long-Awaited Sequel to Daughter of Ishmael

The Long-Awaited Sequel to Daughter of Ishmael
A House Divided is now available at all fine bookstores and on Amazon.com and .ca!

Daughter of Ishmael

Daughter of Ishmael
Now available at Amazon.com and .ca and Chapters.ca and other fine bookstores.

Romance still wins!

Romance still wins!
First romance in a decade!

Hosts: Your Room's Ready

Hosts: Your Room's Ready
A fun romp through the world's most haunted hotel!

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My Granddaughter is Carrying on the Legacy!

My Granddaughter is Carrying on the Legacy!
New Tween Novel!

Gnome for Christmas

Gnome for Christmas
The newest in my Christmas Series

SnowMan

SnowMan
A heart warming story of love and sacrifice.

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My novel, Carving Angels

My novel, Carving Angels
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My Second Novel: Kris Kringle's Magic

My Second Novel: Kris Kringle's Magic
What could be better than a second Christmas story?!

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Essence

Essence
A scientist and his son struggle to keep their earth-shattering discovery out of the wrong hands.

Essence: A Second Dose

Essence: A Second Dose
Captured and imprisoned, a scientist and his son use their amazing discovery to foil evil plans.

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E-Books by Diane Stringam Tolley
Available from Smashwords.com

The Babysitter

The Babysitter
A baby-kidnapping ring has its eye on J'Aime and her tiny niece.

Melissa

Melissa
Haunted by her past, Melissa must carve a future. Without Cain.

Devon

Devon
Following tragedy, Devon retreats to the solitude of the prairie. Until a girl is dropped in his lap.

Pearl, Why You Little...

Pearl, Why You Little...
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