Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Just a Wee Bit Nippy

Just add boy . . .
Kids raised on a ranch grow into their jobs.
Quite literally.
For example, first, their job is to feed the chickens and gather the eggs.
Then, when a little older, they start cleaning the coop.
At the great age of seven, when his next older brother Bryce moved up into the milk cowman job, Dad graduated from the first to the second.
A heavy job for a seven-year-old.
But it did have its perks.
Or maybe 'jerk's.
Let me tell you the story . . .
Dad was taking care of his new Saturday chore. Cleaning the coop.
He had finally finished hauling out the old and dirty straw.
And had moved on to bringing in the new, clean and sweet-smelling.
As he was raking it into the coop, a litter of young pigs discovered him.
And his bounty of new, clean and sweet-smelling (see above).
Ahhh! Perfect for a group of small, pink-hided brothers and sisters in search of someplace nap-worthy.
They snuggled down and were instantly asleep.
Dad stared down at them.
They looked so comfortable.
And he had been working so hard.
Happily, the small boy snuggled in with the small pigs.
When he turned, they turned.
And when they turned . . . you get the point.
All was well.
Then, the decisive move.
Either he turned out of turn, or they did.
One of them was out of sync.
Because the little piggy next to him—his new ‘brother-in-straw’—took offence and bit him. 
On the ear.
With a gasp and a hand held to the offended member, Dad jumped up and glared at the offender.
Then rousted the whole crew out of his straw and finished his job.
I guess nothing says ‘get back to work’ quite like a sharp nip on the ear.
I’m going to remember that with my kids . . .

Friday, January 31, 2020

The High Cost of Freedom

Daddy. Fettered.
To the small boy from the ranching family, they were a sign of oppression.
And their absence?
Maybe I should explain . . .
During the 1930s, in Glenwood, Alberta, there were many families who did without.
Oh, they had food to eat and a roof over their heads, but there were things they simply did not have.
Things like shoes.
Their absence was a sure sign of the family’s poverty.
But to six-year old Mark (my Dad) those boys who got to come to school shoeless were free.
He dreamed of enjoying the same freedom.
Daily, he begged his mother to let him walk to school unhampered by his sturdy, leather shoes and hand-knitted socks. 
And daily, she told him he would be wearing said shoes and socks.
And Moms always win.
One warm, spring day, he got a brilliant idea. He would circumvent his local law enforcement.
A block from home, he sat down and pulled off the hated footwear with accompanying woolen socks.
And left them in a heap beside a post.
While he was at it, he decided to lose the equally oppressive jacket and cap.
Hanging the latter on the same post.
Happily, he skipped off barefoot and unfettered to school.
Later, after a day spent luxuriating in his freedom, he returned to the post.
Only to find it bare and rather shoeless.
Frantic, he looked around.
Nary a jacket, cap, shoe or sock in sight.
In a panic, he ran home, creating scenarios in his head to explain their absence.
But when he stepped inside the front door he discovered, to his relief, that all of his accoutrements were there. Shoes and socks neatly sitting where they should be and jacket and cap on their hook by the door.
All had been returned earlier by a helpful neighbour who had seen and recognized.
Relieved, he turned.
To see his mother, arms folded, standing beside him.
Dad learned that freedom comes at a cost.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Breaking the Bunnies

Dishes and I have a history.

Okay, yes, I use them at meals.
But we regard each other with deep suspicion.
I’ve recounted one experience here.
But the one I’m about to describe is the first I can remember . . .
On the Stringam ranch, mealtimes were an exciting gustatory trip down the trail to deliciousness.
When the meal ended, the work began.
Well, for the rest of us. Mom had obviously already been at . . . never mind.
I was five.
The work, for me, consisted of transporting non-breakables from the table to the sink.
Yep. The spoons, butter knives and forks were my special friends.
Occasionally, I also branched out and dealt with such things as: napkins. Salt and pepper. Toothpicks.
My work load was exhausting.
Leftovers were carefully covered and stored in the ‘fridge.
Anything left on the plates was scraped into one container and taken out to the dogs, who then thought they had been sent to doggie heaven.
It was 1960. Doggie nutrition and diet hadn’t been invented yet.
Back to my story . . .
On this particular day, the scraps had been placed in my little brother’s ‘bunny’ bowl.
A cute little china bowl with a bunny scene in the bottom and bunnies running all around the outside.
The favourite choice of the under-five group.
Which, at that time, consisted of my brother.
Moving on . . .
Everyone was busy.
I had finished my all-important silverware shuffle and was at a loose end.
Then I saw it. The bowl of dog scraps. Just sitting there, waiting for some grown-up person to transport it.
“Mom! I’m gonna take out the scraps!” I said, in my most authoritative voice.
“Mmm,” Mom said.
You have to understand that she was busy: effecting the organization of three other children, keeping a watch on the baby and talking to Dad.
“Yeah. I’m big enough!”
“Yes, dear.”
She said yes!
I grabbed the bowl and headed for the door.
I turned.
"Don't drop the bowl. It'll break!"
"I won't!" 
Feeding the dogs on the ranch consisted of carrying the scraps across the cement driveway to the far copse of trees beside the old garage and tipping said scraps into the large, metal hubcap waiting there.
Sound easy?
Now picture several dogs (who had appeared as soon as the door opened) leaping and jumping around like idiots.
I suddenly realized why the job of taking out the scraps usually fell to a . . . bigger person.
I didn’t even make it across the driveway.
Blair’s little bunny bowl was knocked from my hand, breaking in half on impact.
The dogs happily started in on the scraps (glass fragments hadn’t been invented, either) and I collected the two pieces and returned, in tears of defeat, to my Mom.
It would be some years before I was again trusted with anything breakable. (See above.) Our little bunny bowl was gone forever.
But the worst? Mom was right.
P.S. There is a happy ending to this story.
During a recent trip to Costco with my son, I saw something that . . . . well, I‘ll just let you see for yourself.
Deja Vu. 
Deja Casse.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Dousing the Fire(man)

See? Easy.
Our third son, Duff, worked with Special Needs adults.
An exhausting, trying, patience-testing, infinitely rewarding sort of job.
Which entailed certain daily routines in and around the home and community.
As well as occasional forays into uncharted waters . . .
As part of their ongoing safety training, Duff and his clients were at a local fire station, receiving instruction in the dousing of a fire.
The obliging firemen had a controlled, but fair-sized fire going.
And each of the observers were given the . . . opportunity . . . to take one of a selection of fire extinguishers and actually use it to put out the fire.
All had gone well.
Even Duff’s clients had taken a hand at pointing, shooting and dousing.
It was finally Duff’s turn. The very last of the spectators.
He listened to the instructor’s careful instructions, nodded, gripped the handle of the extinguisher, and squeezed.
There was a slight ‘snap’ as the triggering mechanism broke, turning the stream of fire-retardant powder on full.
They were standing in the rain, it being Vancouver Island, and the nozzle was rain-slick.
The unexpected pressure caused it to slip from Duff’s hand.
The hose flipped around like something gone mad, spraying, first him, then his instructor with thick, white powder.
Duff got off easy. He was white from his mouth down.
But his instructor took the blast full in the face.
Full. In. The. Face.
It was like a scene out of a Laurel and Hardy film. (Google it . . .)
The man's fellow firemen, while trying to suppress their snickers, asked if he was all right.
“Yeah,” he said. “I managed to close my eyes.” He turned slowly and, blindly, made his way to the eye-washing station.
Duff, meanwhile, managed to recapture the errant hose and gradually force the valve shut.
The stream of white powder slowed. Then stopped.
Everyone surveyed the mess.
The entire area was heavily coated in white powder.
The fire?
Still burning cheerfully.
I don’t want you to think that anyone Duff worked with was in any danger.
This experience proved that he could certainly handle any emergency that arose.
And also supply the entertainment.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020


I think he did just fine!
Many men take a very active role in child-rearing in this modern day.
There are baby-change-stations in public men's rooms.
And I've even seen a ‘Father’s Room’, complete with rocking chairs, for feeding and caring for babies and children.
It’s a good thing.
When I was growing up, it was not so.
Men were not only not encouraged to take part in the care of children.
At times, they were actually discouraged.
My dad started child-raising in the 40s. I don’t think he changed a diaper in his whole life.
Husby started fatherhood in the late 70s. He changed plenty of them.
And my sons rearing children in the present day? Even more.
But it’s not really the diaper-changing that I'm talking about. It’s what it represents.
A chance to take a more active role, and be closer to, their children.
My dad had observed this shift in the parenting paradigm.
With regret.
Let me tell you about it . . .
In the earlier days of our marriage, Husby and I lived in a small home that he had built. A very small home. 306 square feet.
In that tiny space, we still managed all of the amenities. I had my washer and drier. And even my dishwasher.
There was a minuscule front room, carpeted with tacked-down rug samples from our local carpet store.
One day, my dad stopped by for a chat.
I happily sat down with him in the front room.
There, between us on an otherwise tidy floor, lay a broom.
Two things stand out in the aforementioned (Oooh, good word!) statement.
One, that the room was tidy.
And two . . . hmmm . . .
Okay, just one.
Dad noticed the broom. “Um, Diane,” he said. “Why do you have a broom in the middle of your carpeted front room floor?”
I looked at it. “Oh.” Then, “Erik!”
My two-year-old bounced into the room.
“Your steed!” I said.
Erik grinned and, picking up the broom, he straddled it and ‘rode’ it out of the room.
Then I turned back to Dad.
He was shaking his head and had tears in his eyes.
“Dad! What’s wrong?”
“I never enjoyed you kids when you were little,” he said. “Never spent enough time with you. I should have.”
Dad was a product of his time. A time when men weren't expected to take that more proactive role.
It’s a great pity.
P.S. Dad made up for his perceived lack of involvement with his own kids by being very proactive in his grandkids. 
It was a beautiful thing.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Done Duty

We, all of us, have duties that we like to take to heart,
Some take lots of brains, a certain modicum of ‘smart’,
While others need some passion and a sprinkling of skill,
And a third group, well, let’s face it—everything is just downhill…

Now Harold was a good ol’ boy. A friend to everyone,
And pitched right in if there’s a job that needed to be done,
He answered everybody’s call, was first to volunteer,
That’s how he was right there to help to unload Bob’s new steer.

Now Bob was driving. Harold’s job was shouting ‘BACK!’ or ‘WOAH!’
So Harold took his place, then raised his hands and hollered, “Go!”
And Bob, he backed the trailer up, as neat as neat could be,
With Harold acting bravely as Bob’s ‘Back-Up’ appointee.

“Now back and back and back some more!” old Harold shouted, clear,
His words were heard quite easily by folks both far and near,
“Back and back.” And then a CRuNCh! And then a “WOAH!” was heard,
Then Bob, he sighed, and yes, he may have said a nasty word.

Confronting Harold, he inquired just what it was he knew,
And did he know to holler ‘WOAH!’ before the CruNCh! came through?
Then Harold nodded eagerly. For sure he’d get it right.
And they’d unload the steer this time sans incident or blight.

Then “Back and back and back some more!” the helpful fellow cried,
Then, CruNCh! Then “WOAH!” (Not helpful, no. What would you decide?)
And Bob hopped from his pickup, gave his friend a nasty look,
Said, “Harold you’re an imbecile in anybody’s book!”

“You’re going to wreck my trailer, maybe cripple my new steer!
“Not to mention, this unload is taking half-a-year!”
So Harold reassured his friend, said, “This time I’ll be true,
“Just give me one more chance and you will see what I can do!”

So once again he took his place and Bob slid ‘neath the wheel,
Bob put the truck into reverse, his friend began his spiel,
“Back and back! And back some more!” Yep. Harold’d learned a bunch,
Cause this time it was after “WOAH!” that Bob would hear the CruNCh!

Cause 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 crafted poems for you to see!
And now you’ve seen what we have wrought...
Did we help?
Or did we not?

Merry Mae

Next week, we’re going to have a time,
With ‘Water’ in the subject line!

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