Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Real Thumb Wars

Oh, sure. It looks harmless enough now . . .
Washing and scrubbing and blow-drying and trimming.
And brushing and brushing and brushing.
And clipping.
And trimming again.
And no, this isn't the local hairdressing salon on Prom day.
It's the local barn, as the local ranchers get their local cattle ready for show.
Oh, there are a few differences. The cattle have hair in more places, for one thing. They are a fair amount larger. They seldom cooperate.
And said grooming is sometimes dangerous.
Not things the average hairdresser worries about.
Moving on . . .
The first thing that must be accomplished before grooming can begin, is restraint.
Not us. Them.
Oddly enough, most cattle don't like the idea of getting wet.
And soapy.
And they like, even less, the sound of electrical gadgets in their vicinity.
They tend to head for the nearest far-away place.
With enthusiasm.
On the Stringam Ranch, restraint was accomplished by running them into a 'head-gate'.
A contraption designed to snap shut just behind the head and hold the animal, in an upright position, ready for grooming.
Picture a hairdresser, when she has tilted her patient back over the sink to wash . . .
Okay. Know what? Don't think of a hairdresser at all.
Because none of that applies here.
Back to my story . . .
With the animal thus confined, grooming can begin.
But the fact is that when one gets up close and personal with something that outweighs one by 15 times, things can sometimes get . . . interesting.
Case in point:
We were grooming the two-year-old bulls.
For those who might not know, they are the male cattle.
Don't be mislead but their age.
Toddlers, they aren't.
Most of them weigh anywhere from 1500 to 2000 pounds.
Most of that muscle.
And bone.
With just a touch of aggression.
And a bit of stupidity.
I should explain, here, that a head gate works because the animal coming towards it can see daylight through it.
They lunge for what they see as freedom.
Now I'd like you to imagine the force 2000 pounds of solid muscle and bone can create when it is properly motivated.
Force which is brought to a crushing, bruising halt by the solid head gate as it snaps shut.
I know what you're thinking.
Probably best to keep one's hands and feet and appendages out of the way.
I didn't.
Remember the 'dangerous' part?
It comes in here.
Unthinkingly, I had rested my right hand on one of the uprights of the head gate.
And was watching as the next victim customer approached.
With alacrity. (Oooh. Good word!)
The bull hit the gate.
Then, realizing that he couldn't get out that way, immediately pulled back.
It was the pulling back that saved my hand.
Which had been caught between the upright and the metal plate that it snapped against.
Absorbing the entire force from 2000 pounds of mass.
On the run.
If the bull hadn't reacted as he had, my thumb would have been neatly and completely removed.
With surgical precision.
By the sharp, metal plate.
As he reared back, I gasped and jerked my hand away.
Then slumped against the fence as blackness threatened.
Dad looked at me curiously.
Everything had happened so fast that he hadn't seen it.
Wordlessly, I held out my hand.
The imprint of the plate could be plainly seen in the heavy, leather glove that I wore.
Which glove was also instrumental in saving my thumb.
Gently, Dad removed the glove.
As I gasped and swore breathed heavily.
The skin hadn't been broken, though there was a lively line of red where the plate had hit.
I was rushed to emergency, but subsequent x-rays showed that the bones hadn't even been broken.
A miracle.
When the pain and swelling subsided several weeks later, I was left with a numb thumb (something that continued for the next two years), and though the skin hadn't broken, a scar, which I carry to this day.
I learned some valuable things.
  1. When a piece of equipment carries the warning: Please keep hands clear, there's a reason for the warning.
  2. Inattention begets injury.
  1. Two-year-old bulls look just fine the way they are.
  2. Fussing not required.
  3. Or appreciated
Mom always told me, and I quote, “You have to suffer to be beautiful.”
She never pointed out that I would suffer.
And something else would be beautiful.
I probably should have paid attention.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Carbon for Breakfast


Daddy at 5.
Background: his brother, Bryce.
Ignore the gun . . .
Dad was the youngest in a family of 11 children.
He had never been anywhere.
When Dad was five, his father decided he was old enough, finally, to go along when he took supplies to one of the family cow camps - about 35 miles away over roads that were mostly trails across the prairie.
The two of them started out.
Though the day had started out beautiful, the weather quickly turned sour.
As often happens in Southern Alberta.
And before they could start for home, a blizzard had blown in.
Travel quickly went from difficult to impossible.
Granddad decided that he and his youngest son would have to bunk with the rotund keeper (who also served as cook, bottle washer, chore boy, range rider and chief spinner of horrendous tales) of the camp.
Dad was beyond excited.
It was his very first time sleeping away from home.
The next morning dawned bright and clear.
Something else that often happens in Southern Alberta . . .
And Granddad decided that travel home would be attempt-able.
Before the two of them left, however, they were offered breakfast by the keeper.
He made bacon and eggs and, because the old, wood-burning, camp stove was rather unpredictable, biscuits that were burned black.
At first, Dad turned up his nose at the sight of the large, black lumps, but, after seeing his father eat a couple, he decided to try.
They weren't too bad.
He even got through a second.
Safely back at home a few hours later, as they were sitting down to lunch, his mother asked how he had liked it at the camp.
Dad was quite excited about the whole experience and talked about it enthusiastically.
He wished he could have stayed.
His Mom asked what he had eaten for breakfast.
It had been great, he enthused.
And he had eaten all of it!
"What did you have?" his mother asked.
"Bacon 'n eggs 'n coal!" Dad said proudly.
No wonder people were hardier back then.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021



The room of learning.
One of my favourite classes in high school was Biology.
We did exciting things in Biology.
Dissected worms.
Hid the teacher's notes.
Dissected deer eyes.
Checked each other's blood pressure.
Dissected frogs.
Typed each other's blood.
Gassed a bat and then drowned it, mistakenly thinking it was already dead. (One of the more traumatic days in Biology.)
Watched our teacher try to blow up the lab.
Slept through informative movies.
Watched our newly-engaged teacher try to remember what he was supposed to be teaching.
Dissected rats.
Grew weird things in petrie dishes.
We had fun.
And we were a good class.
Didn't cause too much trouble.
I will admit that we had a 'lost and found' board in our Biology lab.
But I'm sure that everyone has at least one of those.
Where else would you tack the frog tongues, frog legs, rat tails, and other things guaranteed to gross out the more squeamish members of the classroom?
But there is one thing that I remember vividly from all of my years in biology.
And only because of the unfortunate way in which my teacher chose to say it.
Maybe I should explain . . .
We were studying something very pithy: friction.
Did you know that friction is responsible for a lot of things?
Traction, for one.
In fact, if it weren't for friction, we would simply slip and slide around everywhere.
I know that sounds like fun, but it's really not. (Think Canadian streets for 9/10ths of the year.)
Our teacher explained it very well.
And yes, this was the teacher who was newly-engaged and only visited our planet for very short periods of time.
He told us, and I quote, “Friction is caused by two bodies rubbing together.”
Did you know that?
We didn't.
But you can be sure that we, and especially the boys in the classroom, never, ever, forgot it.
After that, not a day went past without someone making the selfless offer to help someone else study friction.
True story.
Biology class.
What would school life be like without it?
And . . . ahem . . . where would life be like without it?

Tuesday, June 15, 2021



Okay, yes, modern housing has reached the heights of ridiculous-ness. But, you know what? Things have been worse…

Years ago, a couple lived in a fine house in the countryside and were blessed with many children.

But one semi-average day, their lives were forever changed when a giant destroyed their beautiful home with a club.

And to add insult to injury he took the father/husband, who was a talented wood-cutter, as his prisoner.

I know what you’re thinking. Rude. Cause they weren’t bothering anyone with their quiet lives and 18 children.

But he did what he did and left the poor wife/mother with no home and lots mouths to feed.

Now he did leave something behind. A shoe. Strange, and can I just say: weird? Nevertheless, it’s true.

The shoe, being about size 1,000,000EEEEEE was the right size for a poor fatherless family of 19.

They added a roof, a couple of amenities like a window and doors. And a boatload of deodorizer.

And moved right in. I totally get their reasoning. Giant takes father/breadwinner. Family takes shoe. Completely equitable. Right?

Now other versions of this story suggest the mom had tyrannical tendencies. All those are simply not true.

She was kind and just and her children did all they could to contribute to the family fortunes.

One day, the eldest son and his eleven brothers decided it was their duty to rescue their father.

Armed with swords none of them knew how to use, they started off. Following in the Giant’s footsteps.

Let’s face it, the print of a 1,000,000EEEEEE shoe is definitely not going to be hard to follow.

Soon they came to a huge castle. (Because, why not?) The eldest brother banged on the front door.

A strange man with a big head answered. (I know, it’s an unkind description. It’s all I have…)

The young man demanded his father. The doorman nodded and took the young man to the dark dungeons.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? If it was this easy, why didn’t they do it months before?

The man with the big head (sorry, again) disappeared and the young man went alone into the dungeon.

There he found a great, sleeping dragon. What happened next was a direct result of dozing on duty.

The young man stabbed that sleeping dragon right through the heart. (Hands up all you who guessed it.)

The dragon died without a whimper and the young man moved on and, of course, found his father.

(This story practically writes itself, wouldn’t you say?) The young man returned with his father to his brothers.

You’re right. The siblings didn’t have much to do in this story. The eldest brother just needed company.

Meanwhile, a witch/confirmed Giant hater, stopped by the shoe. Over tea, she convinced the Mom to come a-giant-ing.

Not quite sure how. I guess the Mom was still a bit miffed over the whole destroyed-house-abducted-husband scenario.

The two of them started out, only to find said Giant sleeping in a field not far away.

Probably he needed the rest after crushing the hopes, dreams and dwelling of yet another family. Seeing a pattern here?

The witch, being very powerful, cursed him with corns and tender feet. (Because what could possibly be worse?)

When the giant awoke, he groaned in pain. (Anyone feeling sorry?) and thought of his uber-comfortable lost shoe.

A short time later, he found it. Because it’s rather hard to hide a 1,000,000EEEEEE shoe. Right?

Ignoring the large number of children fleeing and running for their very lives, he put it on.

I don’t know about you, but I always shake my shoes before donning in case there’s anything inside.

Something disgusting like spiders. Or crawly bugs. It never once occurred to me to check them for children.

Just then, the boys/dad arrived and started shooting at the giant with the bows and arrows they carried.

…?! The bows and arrows that haven’t been mentioned till right now. I guess we needed the surprise?

Wounded, the giant fell to the ground, where he was quickly and easily dispatched by Eldest Son’s aforementioned sword.

Father, Mother and children were reunited to the joy of all and began plans to re-think their housing.

Because, how on this green earth were they going to pry giant shoe off said corn-y giant foot?

And who would want to. Ewww. Nope. Their exciting new plans were for something a little more conventional.

The witch faded quietly/happily into the landscape, her own personal vendetta against the giant well and truly over.

Now you know the real story of the woman/children who lived in a shoe. You’re welcome . . .

Today’s post is a writing challenge. This is how it works: each month one of the participating bloggers pick a number between 12 and 50. All bloggers taking part that month are then challenged to write using that exact number of words in their post either once or multiple times.


This month’s word count number is: 18

It was chosen by: Mimi of Messymimi’s Meanderings           

Check out these other participating blogs!

BakingIn ATornado


Monday, June 14, 2021



He’s not a  mean or nasty lout,

In fact, were you to ask about
Our Paddy Craig O’Connor boy,
You’d find that he’s just hoi polloi.

He’ll shoulder in, with work to do
He loves his wife, and kiddies too,
He’s loyal, almost to a fault,
A fisherman--a seasoned salt.

But after a long day at sea
He’ll meet the boys occasionally,
And, of the good stuff, have a dram,
Then get himself into a jam.

‘Cause Paddy, when he’s had a few,
There's not that monkey will not do,
Though he draws the line at lawless stuff,
It's hard for him to say, "Enough!"

He’s mixed the pigs in with the sheep,
And upset everybody’s sleep,
Howled with dogs and sang with cats,
Joined Ladies Aid with a box of bats.

Dropped a pig in the local pub,
Took chickens to the senior’s club.
Yes, Paddy really has a knack.
For monkeying 'round the 'mischief' track.

Until that time e’en Paddy knew
He’d knocked the Universe askew.
He had to make a major change.
Frivolities, he’d rearrange . . .

It’d started harmlessly enough,
With Paddy swimming ‘in the buff’.
Just floating out there in the bay
Till the Archbishop came his way.

I must admit: How could he know
An august visitor would show?
But there he was upon the sand,
With formal robes and raise-ed hands.

Well, Paddy rose out of the sea,
His clothing somewhat absentee,

Advanced to ask him “What's the craic?”
And give His Grace’s hand a shake.

And right there on the sea levee,
In frank and simple way, did he
Beseech His Excellence to leave.
A blessing for one who believed.

The small request no sooner said,
His Grace’s face turned slightly red,
T’was only then Pad realized
They were the focus of all eyes.

The village, whole, was there to see.
Pad sobered up immediately,
And in the mayhem that ensued,
Vowed he would be more subdued.

So if you’re staying here to sleep,
Hear pigs and chickens, dogs and sheep,
Know, with those feats of fun and brawn,
That Paddy’s clothes are staying on.

Photo Credit: Karen of
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 KarenCharlotteMimi, me
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's the day past Father's Day,
Let's Honor Dads once more--what say?

Thinking of joining us for Poetry Monday?
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