Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Saturday, December 21, 2019

When You're the Answer

A true story.

1981.
Carol’s big suburban slid into the parking lot of the Native Friendship Centre in Slave Lake, Alberta.
Her boss met her in the foyer. “Can’t do it this year,” he said sadly.
Carol stared at him. “What?”
“The basket delivery to Trout Lake? Can’t do it. There’s a storm and our pilot says there’s no way he can land on the strip.”
Carol’s heart sank. There were people in Trout Lake who needed those hampers of food very much. Families who counted on them.
“I’m sorry,” her boss went on, starting to turn away.
“I’ll drive up there.”
He turned back. “What?”
“I’ll drive.”
“Carol, it’s three hours in good weather! And there’s a storm so bad we can’t land in it. Who knows what the roads will be like?”
“There’s someone who wants that food,” Carol said quietly. “I know it. I can feel it! Someone desperately needs their basket.”
He stared at her for a moment. “Well . . .”
“How many baskets have you got?”
“Twenty-nine.”
“Let’s load them in my truck. And I need one of your staff to come along. I don’t speak Cree.”
Soon, over her boss’ continued protests, the boxes of food were carefully loaded and she and young Theresa Cardinal seated in front.
They were off.
The trip went surprisingly well despite the near-white-out conditions in the blowing snow and the continuing cold. The only difficulty was one point when the two of them slid into a ‘T’ intersection with no idea of which way to turn.
Carol looked at her co-pilot. “Which way?”
Theresa shrugged. “We don’t use roads.”
Carol laughed. “I’m turning left.”
Her instincts were right. Four hours after they left the Centre in Slave Lake, they were pulling into the small hamlet of Trout Lake, Alberta.
On a usual year, there would be people and the horse-pulled school wagon available to help with deliveries.
This year, in the frigid temperatures and blowing snow, there was only Carol, Theresa, and Carol’s big suburban.
Still pressed by that sense of urgency, they started going from home to home where their offerings of food and gifts were received with smiles of gratitude.
Finally, they pulled up before a tiny, log cabin and Carol slid out of the truck.
The wind was blowing quite strongly, whistling around the little structure. For a community deep in the protection of the bush she knew that the storm around them must have grown mighty indeed.
Her long, fur-lined Cree coat kept out the worst of it and, grabbing the large box of food, she walked to the door.
Something was odd. The door, ice built up all along the edge, wasn't closed. Couldn't close.
And someone, in an effort to keep out the howling winds had stuffed an old quilt in the space.
Carol knocked. A soft voice inside, barely discernible over the sound of the storm, called out in Cree.
The two women entered.
The cabin consisted of one room. There was a tiny, elderly woman standing in the kitchen area to the left, looking unsure and frightened.
Across the room, seated on an old bus seat, were several children of various ages. They, too were staring at the two snow-covered, frost nipped women standing in the doorway.
Carol had a vague impression of a bed in the corner to her right and of someone in that bed.
Theresa began to talk to the woman as they deposited their burden on the table.
The woman stared at the box, then back at them.
“How many children live here?” Carol asked.
Her companion translated.
The woman held up six fingers.
Carol went back out to the truck to grab six brightly-wrapped packages.
When she got back, the woman was in conversation with Theresa.
Unable to understand them, Carol turned her attention to fixing the door. Picking up a hatchet, she began to carve away the icy build-up on the door until it could, once more, close.
As she was testing the door, the woman came over to her and tearfully thanked her. In Cree: "God will always remember you."
Carol and Theresa left the cabin and continued with their deliveries, but the dreadful sense of urgency that had been so much a part of their journey had melted away.
And that was when the story came out.
The elderly woman’s husband had been sick for over a week. The sole breadwinner for the household, he had been unable to get outside to find food.
The family, quite literally, had nothing to eat.
Nothing.
The woman had been praying for someone–anyone–to come to their aid.
In the nearly 40 years since that day, Carol can still see that small, Cree woman, huddled in almost complete despair with a sick husband, six hungry children and a door that wouldn't close in a Northern Alberta snowstorm.
And Carol is grateful to have been, for just an instant, the answer to someone’s prayer.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Warming Winter

Ready to tour.
The Milk River 4H Beef Club was the brain-child of my Dad.
He lived in an agricultural area where most of the families earned their living either farming or ranching.
The training up of the next generation seemed like a good idea.
He approached the powers-that-be - convinced said powers-that-be.
And the club was formed.
With eleven new members.
Calves were purchased.
Things were underway.
A few months later, the man (power-that-be) who had given permission decided to make a visit to his newest club.
A tour was organized for his benefit.
But on a school day so the parents were delegated to show the official around.
Accompanied by my dad and Dad's two assistants.
It was a cold day in December.
They had visited several farms and were about to get into their vehicles after seeing one more.
The farmer, seeing that they were a bit chilled, reached behind the seat of his truck and pulled out a bottle of whiskey. "This'll warm you a bit!"
He handed the bottle, first, to Dad.
"Thanks, but I don't drink," Dad said, passing the bottle on to the next fellow.
Who happened to be the official.
"Well, we government officials aren't allowed to drink," the man said. "But since Mark doesn't drink, I'll drink his drink."
He took a sip.
Then handed the bottle to the next man.
Finally, the bottle made its way around the little group and back to the official.
"Oh. Does Mark take two?" the man asked, taking another sip. "Well, he is a glutton, isn't he?"
4-H.
Memorable, educational, satisfying,
And warming.
On so many levels.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Pocket Shopping

Not exactly. But close...
‘Twas Christmas. My Mom had us all in the car.
It was time for the shopping. We had to go far,
To Lethbridge ‘most seventy miles away.
We talked and we laughed—just enjoying the day.

My brothers and sister had done this before,
Gone shopping for Christmas with Mom at the stores.
But for four-year-old me, this time was the first,
I was way beyond eager, nigh ready to burst.

But when she had parked and I looked from the car,
From the ranch to the city was more than just far,
I had somehow moved on to a whole other sphere,
And I stared at the thousands of folks that were here.

I was used to my world, I’ll admit it. It’s true.
I was here, I must shop. What else could I do?
All my siblings had spread—in the crowd, disappeared,
I slowly climbed out, tried to swallow my fear.

Mother picked up my brother and gave me a grin,
As I stood there so anxious on trembling limbs.
“Let’s go shop for Christmas, Diane,” to me, said.
And I nodded and shivered and wished I was dead.

But then she said something that filled me with hope,
As she showed me the pocket attached to her coat,
“Now you hold on tight and we’ll wander along,
And no one can hurt you and nothing go wrong.”

So I did and I found that my mother was right,
Holding tight to her pocket, I let go of my fright.
I discovered that shopping for Christmas was fun!
If I held really tight till the shopping was done.

Years have passed, I forgot ‘pocket shopping’ with Mom,
Till one day, with my kids, we had errands to run,
And with my arms full with the baby and all,
We started our tour of the stores in the mall.

A tug on my coat and I looked down to see,
A toddler’s hand clutch my pocket. And me.
I knew how she felt—the security. Calm.
I’d felt it myself with a pocket. And Mom. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Gone

A long short story.
Just because...

“Cross my palm with silver, young man and I shall tell you what I see in your future!”
Gerald scratched his head and stared into the blue face. Was this a face he could trust? Should he be—as Brother Martin cautioned when he gave him the day off—cautious?
“How do I know what you say is true?”
The man straightened huffily and his blue skin seemed to glow. “You question the Blue Haruspex?”
“Well . . . I . . .”
“If I may interject.” Frederick, Gerald’s friend, whispered loudly into Gerald’s ear, “You are right to question. I see not any entrails.”
Gerald nodded, then looked puzzled. “Entrails?”
“A true haruspex would have his tools of the trade, so to speak. His sacrificial animals and innards.”
“Right.” Gerald made a face and looked at the Blue Haruspex. “What he said.”
The blue face was looking rather confused. “You would hark to the voice of your manservant?”
Gerald waved a hand. “Well, actually he’s not . . . Yes. Usually. Sometimes . . . Anyways, he’s right. Where is your sacrificial animal?”
Again the man drew himself up, sticking his blue nose into the air. “I have no need for such puffery!”
“And I have no need of your services.” Gerald nodded decisively and turned away.
Good decision, Gerald.” Frederick followed him.
A blue hand shot out and grabbed Gerald’s small, rather unmuscular arm, just above the elbow. The long fingers encompassed it entirely. “Gerald? Gerald? Hear me, Master Gerald! For what I say will affect, not only your life but the lives of all who inhabit Lessor Tess.” His voice had gotten . . . weird.
Gerald stopped and turned. Then gasped. The blue face was definitely glowing. And the eyes had turned red. 
Not something one sees every day.
“Erm. O-kay.”
“I see anguish. Pain. Unbelievable suffering as all of humanity chokes and dies in the ashes and soot of an expired world.”
Gerald’s eyes slid to one side, then back. “Erm . . . I was rather hoping for a ‘turn the corner there, right now, and the woman of your dreams, carrying a big pink basket, will trip and fall into your arms.’ You know. That sort of thing.”
The blue fingers on his arm tightened and the man leaned nearer. His breath smelled rather like eggs. And cheese.
“Your world is doomed. Doooomed! And you are the one –the only one—chosen to save it. You must go on a great quest.”
Again, Gerald looked away, then back again. “Are you sure you have the right guy?” He lifted his imprisoned arm. “And this kind of hurts, by the way.”
The blue fingers tightened still more.
“Ouch!”
“Heed me, Master Gerald! There is none else who can do it. If you do not go on your quest to save humanity, then humanity is doooomed.”
“You keep saying that.”
“What?”
“Doooomed.”
“I like how it sounds. Doooooomed.”
“You’re right.” Gerald smiled. “It sounds kind of . . . mysterious. Dooooooomed.”
“Doooooooooomed.”
“Doooooooooooooomed.”
Frederick looked disgusted. “Could we get back to the point?”
The Blue Haruspex loosened his grip. “Oh and one more thing. If you do not go on this quest, you will not meet the woman of your dreams.”
Interestingly, now he had Gerald’s full attention. “My what now?”
“The woman of your dreams. The girl you are supposed to spend the rest of your life with. Your counterpart. The Lady Gerald . . .”
Gerald shuddered.
“Okay, that didn’t come out right, but hopefully, you get my drift.”
“So if I don’t go on this ‘quest’, I don’t meet the girl and I don’t get married?”
“Plus that little first part where I mentioned complete global annihilation. You do remember that right?”
“Right. But say again about the girl.”
The BH sighed. “Yes. If you go on this quest, you get the girl.”
“Yahoo!” Gerald hopped around a bit. “A girl! A girl! A girl!” He turned back. “So what do I need to do?”

The BH shrugged. “Well, you need to . . . go.”
“Yeah. But go where?”
“Somewhere . . . not here.” The BH pointed down the road. “My guess would be to follow the road. Things will happen as they should.”
Gerald sobered and stared in the indicated direction. “Ummm . . . what things?”
“You’ll know.”
“But how will I know? What if monsters and/or trolls come out of the landscape.”
“You’ll definitely know if monsters and/or trolls come out of the landscape.”
“Know what?”
“That’s it’s time for something to happen.”
Now Gerald had come to a complete standstill. He tapped a finger on his lips thoughtfully. “So being torn limb from limb is a distinct possibility.”
“Nothing great was ever gained without great sacrifice.”
“But does that mean I have to sacrifice a limb or two?”
“Maybe.”
Gerald went a little pale. “I’m not sure I want this assignment.”
“It is not an assignment, Master Gerald. It is your destiny.”
“Nevertheless . . .”
“You cannot not want your destiny!”
“Yes, I can.” Gerald folded his arms. “It’s my destiny. I can choose whether or not I take it.”
“What? No, you can’t!”
“Says who?”
“Says . . . everyone.”
“Well, they’re wrong.”
“What!!” By this point the BH was getting a bit . . . perturbed. “You cannot decide to ignore your destiny!”
Gerald stuck out his chin. “I can too!”
The BH threw up his hands. “I give up.”
Gerald grinned. “I was just funning with you. I’ll go.” He peered down the road. “How long before I get to meet the girl?”
The BH shrugged. “How should I know? It is your quest.”
“And my girl!”
“Yes.”
Gerald nodded decisively and, hitching his small, leather pack over one shoulder, started down the road. “Come on, Frederick. Let’s go.”
The BH looked surprised. “Perhaps you should prepare? Maybe pack something? Quit your job? Say goodbye to loved ones?”
Gerald thought about that for a moment. “Nope. Frederick is all I have. I guess I could kiss Brother Martin’s sheep good-bye or something, but they’re sheep. I expect they’re pretty sloppy kissers. So we’re off!”
“Just like that? Just a thought, but what about taking along—oh, I do not know—perhaps a weapon?”
“Hmmm. That is a good idea.” Gerald picked up a long stick. “Here. This’ll do!”
The BH looked more confused. “A stick.”
“It’s pointed. See?”
“A pointed stick. You are going out on your life-changing, possibly dangerous quest, with a pointed stick?” The BH rolled his eyes. “That may protect you . . . if the bad guy comes at you with a banana!”
Gerald put his hands on his hips. “Are you trying to talk me out of this now? After talking me into it?”
The BH looked a little embarrassed. “No.”
“Well, then. See ya in a week or two!” Gerald saluted jauntily with his stick and started down the road, with Frederick close behind him.
The BH watched them until they were out of sight. Then turned as a tall, strapping, well-armed young man and his companions stopped beside his little booth.
“A fortune-teller! Yo-ho, my good man! How about a fortune for me and my friends?”
“Cross my palm with silver, and I shall tell you what I see.”
“I’ll do it.” The young man held up a coin, then made a show of placing it in the blue palm. “Make it good, my man!”
One of his companions laughed. “How could it be anything but, Gerald? You are the village champion at . . . everything.”
Gerald tried to look embarrassed, but failed miserably.
“Gerald?” the BH stared. “You say your name is Gerald?”
“How can you not know him?” another companion said. “He’s been the chief defender of this village since he could hold a sword!”
“Erm. I’m not from this village.” The BH looked down the road after the first Gerald and his companion. “Oh, dear.”

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

One Seventy-one

On her wedding day.

It’s Christmas. I’m missing Mom...
Our Christmas house had just been decorated, but now, my perennially-busy mother was nowhere to be seen.
I entered the front room, lit only by the lights on the tree.
There she was, just sitting quietly, looking at it.
I remember those lights bathing her in a soft glow.
A different, more heavenly light is shining on her now.
How I wish I could see it!

Today is a word challenge.
Each of Karen’s followers submit a number between 12 and 74.
Those numbers are then re-distributed by our intrepid leader to each of us.
My number this month? 71
And it came from my good friend Mimi at Messymimi



Here's everyone else.
Visit them. It'll be fun!

Monday, December 16, 2019

On Time


Time moves at different speeds, it is an actual fact,
Faster when your happy and your day is packed,
But slower when you’re stuck through something tedious,
Like when your babe won’t sleep and making quite a fuss.

As a child, time seemed to move at sluggish speeds,
The time ‘tween Christmas seasons left me rather keyed
Up about the time it took in getting there,
It took FOREVER and it simply wasn’t fair!

And when we sat in church to listen faithfully,
I was astonished at how slow the time would be,
 I’m sure that wretched clock was ticking different,
And time moved on like it was swimming through cement.

At school too, the time, it hung and didn’t move,
It really didn’t care how much I disapproved,
But ticked along the minutes at a snail’s pace,
And I was stuck there in my stupid desk’s embrace!

But strangely, when my friends and I were on the run,
Moving through the day (and games) and having fun,
It seemed an eye blink. Time was, in an instant, gone,
And Mom was shouting from the back door, “Supper’s on!”

But now I find all time seems to just disappear,
I barely start my day and then the evening’s here,
And even things that drag are, in a moment, done,
And projects finished that I’ve only just begun.

But, you know, it doesn’t matter if it’s fast or slow,
Time, that flighty spirit with its ebb and flow,
Cause I’ve been blessed to have it whether good or bad,
Forever grateful for all that I have. And had.

 Cause Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we all besought
To try to make the week begin,
With gentle thoughts, perhaps a grin?
So all of us, together, we
Have crafted poems for you to see,
And now you read what we have wrought...
Did we help?
Or did we not?
Jenny
Mother Owl
Messymimi
Merry Mae

Next week, because the time is here,
We'll talk about this time of year!

Third in the series

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A House Divided is now available at all fine bookstores and on Amazon.com and .ca!

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