Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, August 7, 2020

Berry Good Pies

It's that time again! Berry season!

The sweetest part of the summer.
And it brings back so many memories...

On the prairies, pies come in two forms.
The edible.
And the inedible.
One kind is made from prairie fruit.
The other comes from cows.
One smells wonderful.
The other . . . doesn't.
You must choose carefully.
Just FYI.
Sooo . . . prairie fruit.
This comes in the form of raspberries, strawberries, some apples, chokecherries and saskatoons.
The first three are grown mostly in gardens.
The latter two, in the creases and folds of the landscape near water.
The first three can be picked at any time during the summer, as they ripen.
The last two need planning.
Especially the saskatoons.
Their picking requires a family adventure.
And that's where the fun comes in.
Sometime in the summer, Mom's stack of pails would magically appear.
It was the signal for all of us kids to quickly get into our swimming suits because we were making a trip to the river to pick berries and go for a swim.
The best of times.
Mom had several favourite berry-picking spots.
All of them thick with bushes.
And none of them near our house.
She would load us, our pails and our towels, into the car.
And in a cloud of dust, we were off.
The saskatoon bushes started at the top of the cliff.
And grew downward.
Toward the river.
You had to move carefully.
And hang on.
Like little goats, we would scamper all over those bushes.
And . . . well, let's just stick with picking.
Mom's plan was always to have each of us fill a bucket.
Simple enough.
If kids hadn't also come equipped with mouths.
One handful into the bucket.
One handful into the mouth.
And so it went.
After a while, each of us would have half a bucket of berries.
A blue mouth.
And full tummy.
With the hot, summer sun shining down, the smell of baking sage and grass in ones nostrils, and one's family gathered around, it was pure heaven.
Then we would swim.
And to top it off, fresh saskatoon pie when we got home.
Did I mention the best of days?

P.S. Picking chokecherries wasn't nearly as much fun.
For one thing, they are SOUR.
But they make the nicest syrup.
And that is another story...

And now, my berry pickers!

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Dramatically Wounded

My little soldier.
My kids belong on a stage.
Case in point:
It was a hot, sunny, summer afternoon.
We sometimes get those in Edmonton.
Seven-year-old Erik was riding his bike on the sidewalk.
Along a street that closely resembled the frenetic scramble of frantic ants when someone has stirred up their nest.
Dozens of neighbourhood kids of every size and variety screamed/shouted/laughed.
Scenarios were being enacted.
Dares carried out.
Counter-dares being proposed.
And through it all, Erik rode his bike serenely up and down.
Up and down.
Up and . . . oops.
Right at the foot of our neighbour’s lawn, in an effort to avoid a collision, he turned.
And toppled off his bike.
I had just come to the door, carrying a bowl of freshly-washed raspberries to offer as a mid-afternoon snack. I watched him go down.
In slow-motion.
Scraping one knee.
He rolled onto his back and, for several seconds, lay there. Then he looked up at me. “Mom!” he shouted. “I fell!”
“I saw you!” I called back. “Come on! Let’s get you fixed up!”
Slowly, he rolled over onto his stomach. Then, with kids running back and forth and even leaping over him, started crawling--crawling--up the lawn toward me.
Dragging his wounded leg.
He looked like a soldier crossing a battlefield.
I shook my head and watched him.
Finally, he reached the steps and flung himself onto his back.
“Mom! I hurt my knee! I think I have gangrene!”
I handed him the raspberries and went to get the band-aids.
Two minutes later, he was back on his bike.
Dangerously-wounded-obviously-going-to-fall-right-off knee pumping madly as he rode.
Yep. Kids belong on a stage.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

All Gummed Up

Or something similar . . .
We were driving to town.
Maybe that doesn't sound like earth-shattering news to you, but we lived a half-hour away.
When the roads were good.
This was an event.
Mom piled us six kids into the car.
Inquired as to bathroom status.
And started out.
I should mention, here, that the roads into Milk River were never great.
In dry conditions, they were a narrow, dusty, dirty track between two deep ditches.
In wet weather, they were a narrow, greasy, slippery amusement-park ride.
That was anything but amusing.
And they had to be navigated with utmost care and caution.
Picture my Mom's 1964 Envoy hurtling along at 65 MPH.
With six kids rolling about like dried peas.
But we were safe.
Mom had both hands on the wheel.
She would put out her arm if she was applying the brakes.
All was well.
Suddenly, we reached a stretch of road that had been 'graveled'.
I use this term lightly, because said gravel was uncrushed.
Fist to shoe-size. It would probably be more accurate to say it had been 'rocked'. Or 'bouldered'.
Not good.
Mom slowed down, but rocks still spun and bounced, hurtling off into the ditch or hitting the underside of the car with deadly accuracy and vicious intent.
Finally one rock, a little larger than the others, hit with a metal 'clang' that shook the entire car.
Mom applied the brakes.
And deployed her patented arm gesture.
We all got out.
The smell of gasoline was strong in the dusty air.
We leaned down.
The last rock had put a hole in our gas tank.
Precious fuel was escaping, even as we looked.
Mom straightened. What to do? What to do?
My oldest brother's jaws were moving, rhythmically.
For a moment, Mom stared at him.
Then she pounced. "Jerry! Are you chewing gum?"
My brother froze.
In our family, one wasn't allowed to chew gum in the car.
"Is anyone else chewing gum?"
We all stared at her.
She turned back to my brother. "Spit it out!"
"Um . . . why?"
"We can stuff it in the hole and fix the tank!"
But Jerry complied. Spitting a large wad of pink gum into his hand, he wriggled under the car and applied it.
We all bent down and looked.
It seemed to be working.
"Everybody in!" Mom said.
We lost no time, but scrambled back into the car and resumed our journey.
When we reached town, the car slid to a stop and we all piled out and bent over to look.
The gum had worked!
No more leak!
"We patched our gas tank with gum!" I proudly told curious passers-by.
They glanced at Mom's red face for confirmation.
She nodded.
Gum saves the day!

There is a codicil.
The shop that could have repaired our tank was closed for the weekend.
They used to do that in the early 60s.
Mom had to drive home with her gum-patched tank.
Then drive back into town the next day for Church.
And back to the ranch again.
Then into town on Monday to finally effect repairs.
That gum not only got us into town, but it got us back home, back in, back home and back in.
I defy duct tape to perform as well.
Or taste better.

Monday, August 3, 2020


I wear a mask when I go out,
Safety’s what it’s all about.
War’s been declared, fills us with woe,
The enemy’s a savage foe,
Some little soldiers we can’t see…
They’re out to damage you and me.
And if we’re not attentive, then
STATISTICS for some future pens!
So we stay home, or if we’re out,
We all are wise (without a doubt),
And do the things that we can do,
We wash our hands. Contact eschew,
And just to add that one last touch,
We wear our masks—it isn’t much
That we can do for safety’s sake,
(Now we’ve banned hugging and handshakes…)
And yes, there’s some will tell us that,
To don one proves we’ve brains of gnats,
They won’t protect us. They won’t heal.
And they look stupid? What’s the deal?
Who knew one insignificant act,
Would cause such ire? Opposing facts.
But though the mask’s so vilified,
That it can help can’t be denied.
(Well, for the wear-er, maybe not,
For those we meet, it helps a lot!)
So know as now my mask you see,
That I’m not doing this for me,
This mask I don through much ado,
I’m doing this, my friend, for you!
That future day when we ‘high five’?
We’ll be alive, yes. Still alive.

Cause Monday’s do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we all besought,
To try to make the week begin
With pleasant thoughts,
Perhaps a grin?
Have crafted poems for you to see.
And now you’ve read what we have wrought…
Did we help?
Or did we not?

Next week a special kind of theme,
We’ll talk of dreams. Yes. Special dreams.

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