Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, December 17, 2021

Getting it Right

 “Wow! That has to be the most amazing tree we’ve ever had!”

Sally grinned at me. “Right?” She moved forward and adjusted one of the lights. “I knew as soon as I saw it that it had to be ours!”

Mort spoke up, “And what makes it truly amazing is the fact that it fits in here like it was made for the space!”

Mom, Peter and I looked around.

Mort had a point. This front, ‘living room’ part of Sally’s house (well, technically, it belongs to her, but the rest of us, except for Peter, also call it home.) with its 30-foot vaulted ceiling, is perfect for a 29-and-a-half-foot tree.

Which is what we were looking at.

A tree that, according to Sally, was just sitting there at the Tree Corral (astute business name) at the end of the block, surrounded by boxes and packing crates and largely being ignored by the passers-by.

Mort and Sally opened the nearest box of decorations and pulled out our tree star.

“Hmmm . . .” Mom said. “Perhaps it’s time for a new one?”

I probably don’t have to say it—that star has been through a lot.

“Mort and I will do that later!” Sally said.

Mom nodded as she also opened a box. Then she looked up at the tree. “I think this is the first tree with enough space for all of our decorations.” She looked at Peter. "Could you fetch the ladder?"

He nodded and disappeared.

Sally’s mouth was a round ‘O’ of excitement. “Seriously?! ALL the decorations?” She dove for another in the stack of boxes. “Even these?” She began to pull out the decorations that were . . . less than perfect. And far from the quality found in your average dollar store at Christmas time. These were the nearest and dearest to her heart. Those she and I had made during our years of school. The flocked, tattered snowmen that had spent as much time in our hands during the season as they had on the tree. The penguins, Santas, angels, farm animals and puppies, ditto; each painstakingly crafted from toilet-paper rolls, wire, string, pipe-cleaners, the occasional light bulb, and tons (and tons) of glue.

Happily, Sally and Mort began to find places for them in the grasshopper-green boughs.

“It’s pretty amazing that you managed to get a pre-lit one,” Mom said as she began stringing endless swaths of garland around the wide girth of the tree.

“I know!” Sally giggled. “I have to keep pinching myself to know that this is real!”

“Well, if you get tired of pinching yourself, I’m happy to help,” I put in.

Sally stuck out her tongue at me. Then reached for another handful of ornaments.

It took the better part of an hour, but, eventually, the five of us managed to empty every. Single. Box.


All that was left was the star at the top.

We were standing, looking from our tattered veteran to that one empty spot when the doorbell rang.

Peter, who had just stepped into the kitchen for a glass of water hollered from the front entryway, “I’ll get it!”

The four of us stayed where we were, enjoying the sight of the oversized tree in the oversized spot.

“I thought you might be able to use this,” a deep voice said.

We turned.

Our Peter’s Uncle Peter was standing in the doorway, holding up an oversized star.

Huh. How did he know . . .?

Mom hurried over to him, hand outstretched. “Pete! I’m so glad you could come!”

You have to know that the rest of the household has been watching this developing friendship for over a month now. Let’s face it, when a man’s first introduction to a family includes being covered from tip to toe in paint—and he returns—there is something going on.

He set the star down, took Mom’s hand in both of his and smiled at her, his sun-browned face crinkling at the corners. At times like this, his resemblance to his nephew, our Peter, is remarkable.

“A little bird told me you might need this.” He picked up the star.

I looked at Peter, who winked.

“It’s perfect, Pete!” Mom smiled at him and, for just a moment, my heart turned over. I mean, how awesome would it be for Mom to find someone after all these years alone? My eyes turned unwillingly toward Sally. Well . . . nearly alone.

He and Mom moved toward the tree. “The only challenge is how to get it up there.”

“I can do it!” Sally sang out.

My heart stopped. Please, no.

“We just need the right tool,” Uncle Pete said. “And the talent! I think Mary’s trusty step ladder, here, and a couple of men named Peter can get the job done.”

I started breathing again.

Three minutes later, it was done. Uncle Pete plugged the star into the top string of lights and his nephew plugged the other end into the wall and we were in business.

The tree lit up from bottom to top.

It was . . . magical.

Uncle Pete grinned down at my mom, then turned for a final look at his star before beginning the climb back down. His eyes were drawn to something outside our window. “Huh,” he said. “Why are the cops here?”

Mom’s face went pale and her eyes went, out of habit, to Sally. “C-cops?”

Sally shrugged and wandered back to the tree, adjusting a couple of ornaments. 


She propped her hands on her hips. “Why does everyone always think it’s something to do with me?”

“Because it usually is,” I said.

Sally sighed. “All Mort and I did this morning was go to the lot. Throw some money at the man. Push the tree over onto the car. And drive home!”

Mom scratched her head. “Really?”


Just then the front doorbell rang.

I clutched Peter’s hand. A reflex thing.

Sally hopped happily to the door and swung it wide. “Hello, officers! Come in!”

“Hey, Sally!” one of the officers said. “We’re here to investigate a theft.” He and his partner stepped into the foyer, which opened directly into the front room—in full view of our new tree. He looked up at it. “Of this tree.”

“Wha-at?” Mom looked like she was going to faint. Uncle Pete put an arm around her.

Sally spoke up. “I didn’t steal it! I bought it!”

The officer frowned. “The tree-lighting coordinator reported it stolen.”

Sally stared at him. “What does she have to do with it?”

“Apparently she and her crew were in the process of decorating. Then they took a break. When they came back, it was gone.”

Sally blinked.

I stared at her. I think it’s the first time I’ve seen her actually . . . react to one of her own conflicts.

 “Well why was it at the lot?”

“It was beside the lot.”


Mort spoke up. “Sally just threw $200.00 at the man and he told her to take any tree.”

Sally shrugged. “I thought that included this one.”

The officers looked at Sally. Then at the tree. Then at Sally again.

“I’m happy to pay the extra,” Sally put in.

One officer stepped back and looked at the great front doors. Then at the tree. Then back at the doors. He grinned at Sally. “How about we come to an agreement?”

It took all of us. We managed to peel off our more precious decorations and speed the tree out those doors and onto our lawn, where it was set up in lonely glory for all to see.

The neighbourhood celebrations were moved to the area of the park across the street and, by the time they started, no one even remembered that Sally (and Mort) had mistakenly stolen Christmas.

The neighbourhood donated a much smaller tree to the Hart household, which was duly decorated, in the shade of its much larger brother in the front yard.

And you know what? In spite of Sally—or maybe because of her, all was merry and bright.

Proving that, sometimes--not often--she gets it right.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Use Your Words is a writing challenge. Each month we participants donate several words and/or phrases to our noble leader, Karen, who then re-distributes them.

The catch is, none of us knows who will get our words and what will be done with them.

Totally fun!

My words this month were: conflict ~ grasshopper ~ peel ~ speed ~ tool And given to me, by my friend Rena at:, Rena! :)

You've read mine, now hop over and see what the other participants have created!

Links to the other “Use Your Words” posts:

Baking InATornado

WanderingWeb Designer


What TFSarah

Part-timeWorking Hockey Mom




Thursday, December 16, 2021

Eighth Grade Education

My Grandma Stringam.
A few years after this story . . .
It was 1903 and my Grandma Stringam, just turned eighteen, was asked to teach school in Aldrich, Utah, forty-five miles from her home town of Teasdale.
Possessing only a grade eight education, she felt ill-equipped for such a task and hesitated to accept, but the family who had approached her were insistent, even going so far as to secure a special teaching permit.
Suddenly, she was a teacher.
Her fourteen students from grades one to six - some of whom were even taller than she was - gave her numerous experiences in her little one-room school house.
This is one . . .
In March, the weather was still quite chilly and she had a lively little fire going in the fireplace. Class had just been called to order and she was busily putting work on the board.
Suddenly a shot rang out.
The bullet took the corners of fourteen pages off the reader held by her first-grader, then ricocheted and parted the teacher’s hair before burying itself in the blackboard behind her head.
For a few moments, all was quiet in the room. Then, realizing that someone had to have tossed a bullet into the fire, she scanned the rows of children until she spotted the one with the most frightened look on his face.
She glared at him. “Arthur! Come up here!”
“I didn’t do that!” he said, refusing to get out of his chair.
Again, she asked him to come up.
Again, he refused. “I had fourteen bullets in my pockets when I came to school this morning and I can show you all fourteen!”
She had him turn out his pockets. Sure enough, there were only thirteen.
“That’s all right,” she said. “Give me those bullets and come with me. I’m going to take you home to your parents.”
She told the rest of the class to keep on with their work and she took Arthur home. Handing the bullets to his mother, she said, “I want to see the school board before this boy comes back to school. He can’t come back until I do.”
Arthur never returned.
A few days later, she spotted him out on the hillside, cleaning out a ditch. Punishment meted out by his father for a boy who wouldn’t behave in class.
Grandma wasn't tall. 
But she certainly had, for want of a better term, control.
When I grow up, I want to be just like her!

P.S. Grandma had an eighth grade education. That may not sound like a lot, but here is an example of an 8th grade exam from about 8 years before this story took place.
I couldn't pass it . . .

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Fifty Day Wednesday #18

A game Q and her mama played. Q donned her little firefighter’s hat, stepped into her trusty car, then, using patented ‘finger-and-thumb’ communication, responded to Mama’s ‘emergencies’ around the front room.
Gramma wanted to play. Speaking into her ‘phone’ she 'called' for help.
A flat look. “Gramma. I right here.”

Today is Fifty Day Wednesday!

And that means another challenge to tell a story using ONLY fifty words.

Thank you so much, Adela, for opening this new world to me . . .

Sooo fun!

This is an uber-fun, uber-challenging exercise.
Join us!

Leave your contribution in the comments...

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

To Recite

Me. Swinging. And reciting.
Words are amazing.
And I love them.
I learned at a very early age that they could be assembled in ways that were truly magical.
Let me explain . . .
My Dad loved to recite.
Poems, mostly.
On long car trips, he would inevitably break into song.
Or verse.
I especially loved the rhythm of his chosen poetry.
Always there was a story involved.
The boy stood on the burning deck
His feet were in the fire.
The captain said," You're burning up!"
The boy said, "You're a liar!"
The telling was truly magical.
And often educational.
Little Johnny took a drink.
But he shall drink no more.
'Cause what he thought was H2O,
Was H2SO4.
I should mention that that particular verse earned all six of my children kudos in high school chemistry class.
Moving on . . .
I determined that, when I grew up, I would be JUST LIKE DAD.
When I was five, my oldest sister, then just entering junior high, was labouring over a Language Arts assignment.
Memorizing a poem.
She had chosen, for her effort, the Hillaire Belloc poem, Jim. A cautionary tale of a boy who runs away from his nurse at the zoo and is eaten by a lion.
What better poem for a young girl to start with?
As my sister laboured over the lines, so did I.
I should probably point out, here, that I couldn't read yet.
My patient sister rehearsed each line to me until I had it.
I should also mention that I really didn't understand what I was saying.
Apart from the whole “boy eaten by a lion” bit.
I followed her around for days.
“What's the next line, Chris?”
She would tell me.
And I would repeat it, ad infinitum, for hours.
Or until Chris got home from school and gave me another.
I'm sure my mother heard, “And gave him tea and cakes and jam and slices of delicious ham” in her dreams.
Moving on . . .
By the end of a week, I had it.
All of it.
Then, the fun began.
For months afterwards, my parents would trot me out at family reunions and local bridge parties to show how their young daughter could recite heart-stopping tales of misbehaviour and woe.
In perfect rhyme.
It could only lead to a career in writing.
Or the stage.
P.S. I still love poetry!

Monday, December 13, 2021


Her man and she were getting on in years, I’m forced to say,
The two of them were speaking with a friend the other day,
Explained to him that they had problems with their memory,
And he said writing notes would help the wife and her Husby.

They decided they would try it out, and write things faithfully,
Improve communication ‘tween him and his Honeybee.
I’m here to say the trial could be labeled a success,
For though they spurned their friend’s advice, they were happy, nonetheless.

When sitting watching ‘telly’ Husby got up for ice cream,
Politely asked his wife if she would like to share the dream,
She said, “I’d like a bowlful, Dear. But you should write it down.”
He shook his head, “No I’ll remember. What am I, a clown?”

She shrugged and said she wanted toppings on her frozen treat.
Some whipped cream and a cherry, both, would make her bliss complete.
“And please, my dear,” she said again. “You’ve simply got to write.”
He said, “I think that I’m detecting just a note . . . of spite.”

And off he went, quite message-less, into the kitchen there.
And she heard fridge and cupboard doors as something was prepared.
When he’d spent some time, she thought, an inordinate amount,
At last returned. She looked at him. “What have you been about?”

He handed her a plate containing ham and scrambled eggs.
She stared at it, then up at him, and calmly crossed her legs.
And reaching for the plate, she said, “Your mind’s a sieve, at most!”
“And, my dear, you’re getting old, ‘cause you forgot the toast!”

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, we will dance and shout,
Cause MUSIC's what it's all about!

Thinking of joining us for Poetry Monday?
We'd love to welcome you!
Topics for the next few weeks (with a huge thank-you to Mimi, who comes up with so many of them!)...

Ice Cream (December 13) Today!
Music (December 20)
Fruitcake (December 27)

Sleep (January 3)

Peculiar People (January 10) 

Ditch Your New Year's Resolutions (January 17)

Opposite Day (January 24)

Typo Day (January 31) Celebrate those funny (autocorrect) mistakes. 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

A Sputterling Christmas: Conclusion

Welcome to the Sputterling Household!
If you missed:
Part One, it’s here!Part Two is here!Part Three!Part Four!Part Five!And now to the conclusion of Christmas with the Sputterlings!

“Turn on the stereo, Hun!" Norma said. "Let’s bake up a storm and really fill this place with good smells. Mmmmm . . . baking and pine!”
“Okay, Sis.” Obediently, I hit the button on the remote and strains of ‘Christmas in Killarney’ in Crosby’s magical voice drifted through the room.
Now you have to know that, normally, this song can totally get my holiday gears running. Within seconds I’ve been known to be dancing along to the tune and kicking up my heels.
So to speak.
But, let’s face it. With everything that has gone on, this year has been . . . different.
I'm missing Norma.
I have no doubt that she is still living. I mean, I hear from her often.
A little too often in fact.
In the living room when I’m attempting to meet the needs of Reggie, her certifiably mad macaw. (In my defense, he has never really taken a liking to me. The feeling’s mutual.)
In the kitchen when I’m trying, once again, to make something edible out of one of her recipes. (Again, I will cite justifiable confusion here. Her writing is illegible and her instructions . . . well, the word ‘nutty’ comes to mind.)
In the bathroom when I’m . . . powdering my nose.
On the stairway when I’m vacuuming. (Now that’s a story!)
In fact, she seems to pop up (in a manner of speaking) at the most inconvenient times.
But I’m finding that now, as Christmas approaches, I’m . . . missing her. Her physical presence. The goofy things she does . . .
I sighed and got back to my feet. Better to keep on moving. I picked up the recipe I had set out before my sister’s voice told me to turn on the stereo. ‘Swedish Meatballs’. A family favourite since there was a family.
“Norma,” I said, pointing at one of the ingredients. “Is this a pinch of pepper? Or a pound?”
“Have you never made anything?!” my sister’s exasperated voice came from somewhere near the corner of the ceiling above the stove.
I shrugged. “You know I don’t cook. I explore the freezer.” I set the recipe down and turned toward the door. “I tell you what. I’ll go over to Costco. They have it all. And I won’t have to do anything more than open and reheat!”
I sat down again and folded my arms. “Well, I don’t know what else to do!” I shouted at the corner.
“I’m over here.”
I swiveled my head. Sure enough, the voice now emanated from the small patch of peeling paint in that corner of the room. “Stop doing that! I’m getting whiplash!”
Norma laughed. “You can’t get whiplash from turning your head from side to side. If that was so, tennis audiences would be in a lot of trouble.”
I rolled my eyes and reached once more for the recipe. “I’m just so . . . lost, Sis.” A tear blotched the ink on the card, effectively erasing the oven temperature and baking times. “I . . . miss you.”
A hand gripped my shoulder and I spun around.
“Your door was open and I called and I called. I even used my ‘foghorn’ voice. But you didn’t answer.”
I let out my breath and brushed self-consciously at my cheeks. “Hi, Edith,” I said. “You startled me.”
She eyed me for a moment--my reddened eyes. The obvious tear tracks down my cheeks. “You did invite me. Didn’t you?”
I nodded.
“I could hear you talking to someone, so I knew you were here.” She looked around, puzzled. “You were talking to someone, weren’t you?”
I sighed. Okay, I know that Cousin Edith is my closest relative apart from you-know-who. But let’s face it. Hers wasn’t the face I was hoping to see.
“Oh, this is for you.” She held out a basket. “I’m assuming, anyways. It was on your front step.”
I peered at it suspiciously. “On my front step?”
“Yeah. I figured someone must have left it there. It was in a pretty obvious ‘trip-over-me’ location.” She looked around. “Where do you want me to put it?”
I blinked. “What’s in it?”
She set the basket on the table and we pawed through it together.
“Huh. Pre-cooked turkey. Pre-cooked potatoes and vegetables. Pre-cooked everything!” I held up a small, stone crock. “Even pre-cooked . . .” my voice caught, “. . . Swedish meatballs.” I felt a bright stab of . . . something that approached both pain and happiness. “Whoever sent this definitely knows me. This is my idea of Christmas dinner!”
Cousin Edith finished sorting through the packages. “Look! Some nice, rum-filled chocolates to end with.”
“Or start with.” I reached for the box, deftly slit the cellophane wrapping and flipped the lid to the table. Yes. I have to admit, I’ve done this before. “Want some?”
Cousin Edith balled up plump fists and waved them excitedly. “Ooooh! Maybe just one.”
You have to know that, for women like us, ‘just one’ could mean many things. Just one chocolate. Or, more likely, just one row or, better yet, one layer.
Half an hour later, I foiled the last chocolate's escape attempt, catching it before it could roll to the floor. Cradling it in my hand, I sat back and muzzily surveyed the room. My cousin nearly comatose in the chair opposite, the empty chocolate box upside-down on the floor between us, and Reggie looking at both of us in patented bird-disgust.
He ruffled his feathers, clicked his beak and croaked out, “Smelly old broad!”
I threw the chocolate at him and he squawked and said something rude.
I turned away and slumped down comfortably in my chair, certain I was supposed to be doing something. But not caring one whit if it ever got done.
“Ohhhh, my head!” Edith said.
“My stomach!” I said in much the same tone.
Party animals, we’re not.
“I’ll get the Tums.” I got to my feet, then gripped the arm of the chair I had been sitting in as the room assumed a parabolic swing.
“And maybe a cool cloth for my head?” Edith said, hopefully.
I nodded carefully, then with equal care, started toward the kitchen. Halfway across the room, I stopped. Listened. I looked at Cousin Edith. “Did you hear that?”
She looked up at me a bit blearily. “Hear what?”
“Never mind.” I continued across the room and flipped the door back.
Norma straightened from in front of the oven and glared at me. “When I sent this food, I didn’t mean to see it left here on the table to decompose!”
I stopped breathing and just stood there, staring, the effects of my recent close encounter with rum draining away.
She lifted the chocolate box lid and looked around for the chocolates. “I see the most important things got taken care of.”
“Norma?” My words had a hard time getting past my tight throat. “Norma?”
She smiled and spread her arms wide. “Surprise!”
My legs felt rubbery as I gingerly crossed the kitchen. I reached out and touched her shoulder. “Norma?”
“Merry Christmas, Sis!”
I wrapped my arms around her plump form and squeezed. “Norma!”
She hugged me, patting my back as I took a sobbing breath. Then I gripped her by the shoulders and held her away so I could look at her. “Are you all right? Do you need to bathe? Are you . . . hungry?” Okay, yes, I guess you could say my mind was justifiably firing in many different directions.
She laughed. “I’m fine, to answer your first question. Yes, I could use a bath. They don’t have them over there, but they don’t really seem to be needed. And I’m planning on sharing this . . .” she glanced over the pre-prepared dinner sitting on the table, “. . . erm . . . feast with you and Cousin Edith.”
We both turned. Cousin Edith was standing in the doorway. The expression on her face must have been a mirror image of mine.
“Hi, Cousin Edith!” Norma said, brightly. “Merry Christmas!”
Edith isn’t made of the same stern stuff as me.
Edith fainted . . .
Christmas dinner happened. Probably not as fancy as feasts in other homes.
Or as plentiful.
But, though at least one member of the party was rather peaked-looking, I don’t think there was another celebration that was as happy.
Funny how you don’t really appreciate something—or someone—until they are taken from you.
Fortunately for me, Norma was returned.
Much the same as she had always been.
“Mama’s home, Baby!” she said brightly as she reached into the cage for her looney handful of beak and feathers.
Reggie danced up her arm to her shoulder, sat there a moment, blinking and bobbing, then reached out and bit her on the ear, drawing a bright drop of blood.
“I love you, too, sweetie,” Norma crooned.
Yep. Much as she had always been.
Weird old bird.

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What could be better than a second Christmas story?!

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