Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, February 7, 2020


Mark. Keeping watch.
1945. Mandatory military training in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia.
To the young man attending college in Guelph, Ontario, it was a two-week adventure . . .
Canada is a big country.
Mark had never been past Guelph, Ontario. Actually, before college, he had never been east of Alberta.
Like millions of other servicemen, the military life was his first glimpse of a wider world.
The highlight was a stint on the disabled destroyer, HMCS Saguenay, on permanent anchor in the harbour at Cornwallis.
While on the destroyer, one of the duties of the young would-be sailors was a turn on anchor watch.
A fairly mundane exercise.
All one had to do was ‘watch’.
You’d think it would be easy.
Two things you need to know:
1.  There was a strong wind blowing and
2.  Mark's friend, Bill, had very poor eyesight.
Back to my story . . .
It was 2 AM and Bill was just coming on watch.
As he stepped up onto the deck, he realized that there was quite a stiff breeze coming in off the water. Quickly, he grabbed the strap of his hat to pull it under his chin and behind his ears.
The wind was quicker.
It took his hat—and incidentally his glasses—out to sea.
As his watch was only two hours in length, he assumed he could get along without the extra paraphernalia and didn’t bother to report the problem.
He was wrong.
Remember what I said about Bill’s poor eyesight?
That comes into play here.
Being on anchor watch consisted of keeping track of certain lights on the shore.
If the lights were out of position, the boat was out of position.
Bill couldn’t see the lights.
And when the ship broke loose from its anchor (because of course that would happen now), Bill couldn’t tell.
Until the ship ran aground near the shore.
The men were jolted from their bunks and the call for ‘All Hands on Deck’ brought them topside.
The tide was high and the ship had to be refloated before it went out.
Fortunately, there was a tug nearby and the job was accomplished quickly and with little problem.
Still, to the land-bound sailors, it was an adventure.
And they learned something:
Turns out, if someone is on watch, they need to be able know...'watch'.
Sooo, if for some reason one can’t do a job, even for a short time, one can’t do a job.
Good advice.
Another picture of Mark. Also keeping watch. Ahem.

Thursday, February 6, 2020


1940. Lethbridge Alberta. The Safeway meat department.
A whopping $.25 an hour.
A fifteen-year-old new employee had just gotten his first glimpse of Heaven . . .
Moving into the big city had been an adventure. For a boy used to chores and hard work, it was a reprieve. For someone accustomed to few people, it was an education.
For a lad whose only source of income to date had been an allowance, it was admittance into the world of high finance.
Mark loved working at the meat counter. He soon got through the basics of sorting, assisting and wrapping and was working on learning to cut—first with knives and then with the machines.
Nothing says ‘you’re a man’ quite like a job that involves things sharp and deadly.
And/or power tools...
And to add to the perks of the job, he got along well with his co-workers.
Life was perfect.
However, like most work places, there soon proved to be a joker in the midst.
Garth, one of the younger cutters, sent Mark on an errand.
Back to the storeroom for a ‘sky hook’.
Obediently, Mark disappeared.
For some time, he searched the orderly shelves and office, growing more and more alarmed when what he sought simply couldn’t be found.
Finally deciding he would have to return to Garth to report failure, he started for the door.
Another cutter was standing there. He asked Mark what he was searching for.
When the young man told him, the cutter smiled. “You’ve been duped, son,” he said.
Huh. Mark turned this over in his mind.
Remember, this is a boy from the ranch. One who had been the butt of pranks by professionals.
He smiled and hurried back to Garth. “We were out of those hooks,” Mark told him. “So I went next door to the hardware and ordered one.”
Then he went back to his duties, but kept an eye on the young cutter.
He didn’t have to wait long.
As soon as he turned away, Garth was out the door like a shot and headed to the hardware store.
Oddly enough, Mark never heard the term ‘sky hook’ used again.
There was a joker among the staff at the meat counter in the Lethbridge Safeway.
Just not the one everyone knew.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Three Goats. And a Troll

It started with a bridge.
Okay, maybe not with a bridge, but with the troll that lived under it.
Or maybe with the three goats that simply wanted to get across.
Let me start again . . .
There were once three goats.
Brothers (or Billys) by the name of Gruff.
They lived in a meadow at the foot of Cold Mountain. Beside the Whispering Woods.
Near Clearwater Stream.
You know the spot.
It was lovely there. Plenty to eat.
Shelter from the occasional storms.
Really fresh, cold water.
Yep. Lovely.
All fall and winter, the three of them ate the lush grass and did goat stuff.
Finally, as summer was just starting peep out along the branches of the trees and creep up into the crevices of Cold Mountain, Big Billy Goat Gruff, hereinafter known as BB, made a momentous proposal.
“Hey, bros! Why don’t we go up the mountain and eat the new, green grass that is sure to be growing there!”
Now, you have to know that, for three goats who hardly—okay, never—went anywhere, this truly was an ‘out-there’ suggestion.
The other two thought about it for .68 seconds.
“I’m for it!” Little Billy (LB) said excitedly.
Middle Billy (MB) shrugged. “Why not? I probably won’t be getting any calls from my publisher any time soon, so what have I got to lose?”
“Let’s do it!” LB took off at a run.
Little brothers. Am I right?
The other two followed at a more sedate pace. Well, MB did.
I think it was BB’s turn to do the dishes, so he was a bit behind the other two.
It should come as no surprise that LB reached the stout, stone bridge crossing Clearwater Stream quite a bit ahead of the others. Without even pausing to consider the possible ramifications involved in crossing an unknown—albeit local—landmark, he started across.
Trip-trap! Trip-trap! Trip-trap!
Okay, that probably doesn’t accurately describe the sound made by four small goat hooves on the aged wooden decking of a local landmark.
Go with me on this . . .
LB had just reached the center of the bridge when something happened.
Something big and loud and scary.
And no, it wasn’t a broadcast of the most recent out-of-control political discussion.
Although that would be equally frightening . . .
No. It was a troll.
One who had taken up residence beneath that very bridge.
And we all know that, in a troll world, possession is 9/10s of the law.
Actually more like 35/36s.
“Who’s trip-trapping on my bridge?!” the troll shouted, leaping onto the bridge.
Do you think this comment suggests another sound may have been acceptable?
What are your thoughts . . .
“Eek!” LB replied. Then, in a shaky ‘little-goat-brother’ voice, “It is I. Little Tinesy Billy Goat Gruff. The littlest, tiniest, not-much-meat-on-him goat in the Gruff family of fine goats.”
The troll blinked. “Umm . . .”
LB rolled his eyes and decided to simplify. “Don’t eat me!”
“But you’re on my bridge. And anyone caught trip-trapping over my bridge gets eaten!”
See? There’s that ‘trip-trapping’ again. Am I right in thinking LB would have done just fine if he’d—I don’t know—salsa danced across?
“Oh, but I’m just so wee,” LB said in his tiniest, squeakiest voice. “There’s not much to eat. You’d lose more calories than you gained. Like eating celery. All work. Small reward.”
The troll stared at him.
LB sighed. “My bigger, fatter, tastier brother is right behind me. Why don’t you wait for him? Much better meat-to-bone ratio.”
The troll thought about this for a moment, then finally shrugged. Why not? “Fine,” he said. “But stick around, just in case.”
LB didn’t wait for the troll to clarify, but trip-trapped the rest of the way across and out of sight.
The troll ducked back beneath the bridge.
A few minutes later, MB appeared. Seeing no one and nothing untoward, he started across. Trip-trap! Trip-trap! Trip-trap!
Notice how it’s a little louder? That’s called Bigger Font.
“Who’s that trip-trapping over my bridge?!” the troll shouted. He leaped onto the bridge in his finest ‘I’m-a-troll-and-I’m-awesomely-scary’ fashion.
MB and the troll regarded each other. “It is I. Middle Billy Goat Gruff,” MB said in his most polite voice. “Is there something I can do for you?” 
“You can bring me lunch!” The troll laughed his most troll-like laugh. Which, you have to admit is pretty rough and creaky and . . . okay, yes . . . scary.
“I’d be happy to,” said MB, still in his ‘I-don’t-know-you-but-why-can’t-we-be-friends?’ voice. What is it I can get you?”
“YOU!” The troll shouted gleefully and started forward.
“Oh you don’t want to eat me!” MB put up a hoof to ward the large, and decidedly over-eager troll off.
“I don’t?”
“Oh, no! I’m much too small and puny.”
The troll frowned. “You look pretty good to me.”
“Well, trust me, I’m not. I’m in terrible shape and I never eat a proper diet. My BMI is through the roof! You can do much better.”
The troll looked around. “How?”
MB leaned closer. “Okay, I probably shouldn’t tell you this,” he said conspiratorially, “but there is another goat right behind me who is MUCH bigger than I am. And he works out. Totally eats right. Low fat. Low sodium. If you eat him, not only will there be more, but it will be much better for you!”
The troll pursed his huge troll-lips thoughtfully. “Okay,” he said finally. “But stick around, just in case.”
MB nodded and completely ignoring what the troll asked, skedaddled.
Once more, the troll took up his patented ‘troll’ position beneath the bridge.
This may be a good time to explore the whole ‘troll-beneath-the-bridge’ thing. I mean, why on earth would one choose to live beneath a bridge? Damp to wet conditions pretty much constantly. Noisy, as the whole ‘trip-trapping’ would suggest. Subject to the whims of the weather. Fishermen.
I mean, really?!
And another thing, what makes him think it is HIS bridge? Does he have title?
Did he, you know, pay someone for it?
These are questions that need explanation.
Back to our story . . .
BB arrived. Assuming his brothers were trip-trapping happily further ahead, he leaped onto the bridge and started across.
Trip-trap! Trip-trap! Trip-trap!
Yow! He certainly is a big fellow.
Once again, the troll shouted, “Who’s that trip-trapping over my bridge!” And made a truly spectacular appearance on the mountain side of the bridge.
I don’t know about you, but I’m scared . . .
“It is I! The Big Billy Goat Gruff. And what makes it your bridge?”
See? I’m not the only one who is wondering.
“Ummm . . .” said the troll.
“Never mind. What do you want?”
“Lunch!” the troll shouted, pouncing.
But BB was very large indeed. And had a fine, large pair of horns to go with his enormous size.
Quicker than you can blink, he had used those horns to toss that old troll right over the side.
Okay, you’re right, the chances of the old guy getting hurt were probably quite slim.
Truth to tell, it was his ego that took the brunt of everything. First of all, he’d been soundly defeated by a goat. And secondly, as he was going over, he screamed like a little girl.
I’m not lying. He did.
He hit the stream with an enormous splash, then waded to the bank and pulled himself out. He stood there for a moment, turned and looked up at BB, silhouetted against the afternoon sky, then sighed and started walking. Down the stream and out of sight.
BB nodded and finished crossing the bridge.
The three brothers spent a happy, lovely summer on the slopes of Cold Mountain. Growing fat on the rich grasses and just generally enjoying themselves.
As the weather began to cool, they once more made their way back down the mountain to their old meadows.
They did exhibit some caution when crossing the little bridge, but the troll hadn’t returned.
He was happily ensconced under another bridge further downstream. Finding new goats to annoy.
Some trolls never learn.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Half-Way Home

We’ve been on Guadeloupe for a little over a month.
For the first two weeks, we struggled with a plethora (real word) of set-backs vis-a-vis housing.
But have really enjoyed the island itself. 
Warm waters. 
Soft sands. 
Lush vegetation.
It really is quite a prosperous island. Certainly anything ‘government-related’ (museums, gardens, aquarium) has been uber well done!
We are living in Deshaies.
Interestingly enough, where they shot (or continue to shoot-I’m rather fuzzy on the whole ‘next season’ info) Death in Paradise. One of Husby’s and my favourite programs.
It’s fun. There are pictures all over the town of the actors...acting.
We’ve seen the building that ‘houses’ the Honore Police.
Eaten at the restaurant that doubles as ‘Chez Catharine’.
They even do Death in Paradise tours.
Which we haven’t taken...
So here’s where I show you what we HAVE done!
Little critter we found at the Botanical Gardens.
And no, he wasn’t friendly...

Also at the Botanical Gardens.


Sunset over Deshaies.
If you look closely, the Star Clipper is on the horizon.
We’ve sailed on it several times!

Fort Delgris 

More Fort Delgris

The view from...

Getting ready to climb Soufrier

Breakfast in January on Guadeloupe.
Yep. I could get used to this!

The first ‘wetting of the feet’!

Commanding the waves...

And That brings us to today.
It’s sunny and warm. The island breezes are blowing.
I see snorkelling in our future!
Wish you were here!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Sweet Water

For today’s Poetry Monday challenge, we chose the topic of ‘Water’.
And oh, the directions that water will flow today...
Now the Milk River flowed right around the ranch buildings on the old Stringam Ranch.
And in it or on it, we kids spent our childhood days.
The best memories...

When I was wee, a sound I’d hear,
That could be heard, both far and near,
Was water.
It flowed around the ranch. And me.
In its flight toward the sea,
That water.
In summer—in it, I was found,
With siblings gathered all around,
Pure water.
In winter, frozen it would be,
The skating good, (though hard on knees),
Cold water.
And now in mem’ry it must stay,
Though it flows still unto this day,
Sweet water.

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 read what we have wrought...
Did we help?
Or did we not? 

See what directions the water flows for my friends...

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