Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Friday, February 10, 2023

Jail Break

Okay, yes, this story is about Halloween. And yes we are far on either side of said Halloween.
But still, it seemed apropos.
The reason will become apparent…
Mom, Sally and I were spending a glorious two weeks in a small town in Maine. You have to know that this was several years ago, when Sally and I were sixteen.
Pre-Mort. (Or Peter or Pete.)
And Mom and I were still rather at the mercy of the loquacious and friendly and adventurous SALLY.
For those of you who know Sally, it will come as no surprise that she was already well-known to every single member of the community.
My indefatigable sister had saved a couple of little boys who had fallen into a cistern by jumping into the—fortunately—only chest-deep water and then holding both of them above the surface and screaming for help.
She had foiled an attempt at a boat theft by secretly tying a line to the pier.
And she had single-handedly saved the morning rush and many hungry tummies at the local diner when, upon seeing the single server collapse somewhere between the dining room and the kitchen, she threw down her napkin and pitched in.
Of course I—and sometimes Mom—was usually somewhere in the vicinity.
But Sally was the instigator.
Sally and I had long since given up the idea of going door-to-door and instead had taken to wandering around the darkened neighbourhoods making sure the kiddles were safe.
In costume, of course.
In our neighbourhood, we had become an accepted part of the Halloween landscape.
Here? Not so much.
Now the small-town sheriff, having dealt with mischievous teens in years past had decided, this year, to be proactive.
And dutifully gone about town picking them up before they could get into mischief.
Okay, yes, it was probably the most peaceful Trick-or-Treat night on record.
Sally had skipped across the street from me to help a dragon whose tail had gotten caught in a wrought-iron fence.
And that’s when the sheriff spotted me.
I did protest.
But was whisked away with five other kids about my age in his patrol car.
Good thing we were all skinny.
Okay. Part of me thought this was all rather exciting and, knowing I had done nothing wrong, I was quite ready to embrace the adventure.
I had lived with Sally for most of my life…
The sheriff duly delivered us to his station—a lonely little brick building halfway down the block and across the alley from the aforementioned diner.
And put us all into one of the two cells. A good old-fashioned one right out of the movies. With iron bars, a tiny window—now dark—and a toilet in the corner.
The other cell contained a snoring, scantily-clad woman with a whorl of pink hair and a police coat over the little she was wearing.
The boys in our group thought she was…interesting and I know my eyes popped just a bit.
Anyways, the six of us all found seats next to each other on the two bunks and prepared to wait for the parents the sheriff promised to call as he was disappearing down the hall to the office and reception area.
We had been chatting a bit and I was just getting to know them when the back door mysteriously swung open.
Okay, why was the back door of the police station unlocked? Anyone?
Of course, it was Sally.
We all stopped talking and stared.
My mind started going a million miles an hour. Do I admit she’s my sister?
Do I feign ignorance?
She glanced up the hallway and approached the cell we were in, then whipped out—I am not making this up—a hacksaw.
And yes, I know what a hacksaw is.
There was a collective gasp and a few chuckles.
She just grinned at us and went to work high up on one of the bars.
Faster than I would have imagined, she was through and attacking lower down.
When she was about ¾ of the way through, one of the boys—probably in an obvious bid to look…buff…pulled down on the bar, bending it inward toward us.
The space between the remaining bars was now considerably wider than before.
Remember when I said we were skinny.
Well, that comes into play here.
One by one, the kids slipped out through the opening and darted out the still-open back door.
I was the last to leave. I turned to Sally. “I wonder what the fallout will be from this prank?” I whispered.
Sally just grinned. “Let’s find out, shall we?” She slipped into the cell I had just left and laid down on one of the cots.
“Sally. What are you doing?”
“It’s no fun sparking something unless you want to see it go off!”
“Go! I’ll tell you how it ends!”
I didn’t want to leave her, but she insisted.
As a loyal sister, I waited just outside the back door.
There was the sound of footsteps. The sheriff’s voice. “Okay. Reed, your dad’s here to…”
I could see it in my head. The astonishment. The…unbelief.
"Sir!” Sally’s voice. “There’s been a jailbreak!”
Oddly enough there was very little fallout from this escapade. I guess a dozen disgruntled parents—one of them the mayor and her husband—upset over their kids being hauled off to the hoosegow without provocation made them all just a tad…well…disgruntled.
I’m sure the bar got replaced.
Maybe the sheriff also.
I just know that without Sally, things would have ended quite differently.
The reason I’m telling you this?
Mom and Dad want to take all of us out to Maine this fall to see the foliage. Dad actually booked us rooms at a B&B in the same town.
Wish us--and the town--luck. 

Today’s post is a writing challenge. Participating bloggers picked 4 – 6 words or short phrases for someone else to craft into a post with the understanding that all words be used at least once. All the posts will be unique as each writer has received their own set of words. That’s the challenge, here’s a fun twist; no one who’s participating knows who got their words and in what direction the writer will take them. Until now.

Today, I’m using: scantily ~ popped ~ whorl ~ indefatigable ~ cistern ~ loquacious
They were submitted by: Jenniy of  Climaxed the Blog
Thank you, my friend!
Now check out my fellow bloggers! 

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Going Boom

A Guest Post by Blair Stringam

(Who miraculously survived this story...)

At one point in my youth, dad’s ranch headquarters were a mile down the road from my uncle’s farm.
My cousin who lived there was always tinkering with something so I would walk to his place and we would build/destroy.
One day my cousin taught me how to make gunpowder.
It turns out it’s quite easy. Only 3 ingredients.
One of which was sulfur(?!)
Easily picked up where the Sulphur-laden trains passed over a bridge just south of our town. There was a slight bend before said bridge where bits of sulfur bounced off of the train cars.
We picked up several pieces and headed back to our black powder processing facility (shack behind my uncle’s house).
We started grinding up sulfur and charcoal then combined our mixture with saltpeter—my cousin knew the approximate proportions. (One should probably wonder about that kid!)
We were ready.
From that point on, we would make little gunpower bombs and blow up old toys (sister’s toys but we’d never admit it) or blow holes in the ground. It was fascinating to see bits of dirt fly into the air as our little bombs ignited. 
One time, we even made a little rocket.
That started to take off and then fell over on its side.
Thinking back, it’s a wonder we didn’t start a fire or destroy something at my uncle’s home.
Or blow a finger off or burn ourselves.
Well, except for that one time…
We drilled a hole in a brass tube and inserted a fuse. Then packed gunpowder in the tube and plugged both ends.
We had the perfect homemade mega-firecracker.
Now all we needed was a safe place to light up.
My cousin had built a double story fort. We went to the upper floor and set the firecracker on the floor.
Then my cousin lit the fuse.
I was gazing at it happily when I realized my cousin was making a fast exit from the upper floor and out the door below.
This wasn’t one of our small firecrackers that we had previously made!
I decided I had better follow.
I was almost out the lower door when I heard the loudest BOOM! I had ever experienced. My ears were ringing and my cousin had to speak loudly so I could understand what he was saying.
We returned to the upper floor and found a deep black hole in the floor. There was also a slight dent in the wall.
I was immediately grateful I was able to exit the upper floor.
But wished I had made it all the way out.  My ears rang for 2 or 3 days.
I don’t recall making any more IFEs (improvised farm explosives).
Probably a good thing.
If we continued in that activity there is no telling what might have happened. The law of averages dictates that sooner or later, there is going to be an incident. Am I right?
Many years later, I’m glad that we lost interest in the activity. Who knows how many fingers I might be missing or the expensive hearing aid I might need to use if we had continued.
Some boyhood adventures are best as memories.
As seen here. Hair going, but limbs intact...

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Bringing Families Together

Husby and our Middle Son, Duffy.
Spinning music.

Every weekend for over twenty years, Mikey’s Music Machine entertained groups of families.
It was a DJ company.
Catering particularly to school, church, community or family reunion groups and trying to re-create the barn dances Husby and I grew up with.
My Husby spun the music and the kids and I danced.
Teaching as we went.
Everything from the old time Virginia Reel, Butterfly and Schottische to the modern line dances.
What our family did, other families followed.
It was . . . marvelous.
Through the years, we had many, many wonderful experiences.
But one stands out.
Let me tell you about it . . .
We had been booked by a school in Canmore, Alberta.
Near Banff.
We were setting up.
A matter of twenty minutes or so.
During that time, a man stood watching us.
Finally, he approached.
“This’ll be a fun evening,” he said sarcastically. “Why on earth did the school invite the kids?” His mouth twisted. “How can the adults have any fun if there are kids running around?”
I stared at him.
Mikey’s was all about adults and kids.
Having fun - together.
How could I answer that?
“Ummm . . . we encourage the parents and children to dance together,” I said.
He snorted. “Oh, that’ll be fun!”
He walked away.
I turned and continued to run wires.
A few minutes later, a young girl (about 10 or so) came up.
“Well this dance is going to be a total loss,” she said.
I looked at her. “Really?”
What else could I say?
“Well, we’re not going to be able to have any fun with all of the parents here!” 
Her lip curled daintily over the word, ‘parents’.
“Oh, well, we’ve found that, actually you can have lots of fun,” I said, trying to be hopeful.
She rolled her eyes and turned away.
I finished what I was doing.
And walked over to my Husby.
“This is going to be a tough crowd,” I whispered into his ear.
“Yeah. I’ve already had two complaints and we haven’t even started yet.”
He grinned. “Let’s change attitudes, shall we?” 
He flipped the switch.
My kids and I walked to the middle of the gym and started dancing.
Usually, we had the dance floor to ourselves for that first song, our Mikey’s Music signature song.
Grant spoke over the music, explaining, briefly, how the evening would go.
Then he moved into the Twist.
The first of many contests for the evening.
“Okay” he said, his voice loud over the speakers, “Now this is a dance that everyone knows. The Twist! It’s also a contest song. We will give a prize to the family (he emphasized the word) who can do the very best twist!”
I should point out that we usually gave away suckers and other wrapped candies.
People would dance themselves silly for one.
Moving on . . .
The floor was immediately crowded.
Families forming small groups, all twisting madly to earn a prize.
The song ended.
The prizes awarded.
And Grant moved into our second contest of the evening.
It began by teaching everyone the Old Time Waltz.
“Okay grab a partner for this one. Once we learn this dance, we’ll have another contest. All you have to do is count: one, two three; one, two three!”
My kids and I were already demonstrating. 
People watched for a moment.
Then joined in.
The song ended and they were ready for the contest, which began with each couple receiving a sheet of newspaper and spreading it out on the floor.
“Now all we want you to do is dance the Old Time Waltz on the newspaper,” Grant would say cheerfully. “Carefully! There are no prizes for torn papers!”
Okay. That’s easy.
They began.
The music floated around for a few moments. A Strauss Waltz.
Happily, the couples, mostly a parent and a child, danced carefully on their piece of newspaper.
Grant stopped the music and everyone looked at him.
“I forgot to tell you one last thing,” he said. “When I stop the music, you have to jump quickly off your paper . . .”
People did so.
“. . . and fold it in half.”
A groan from the crowd, then laughter as they complied.
“Now hop back on and we’ll dance some more!”
Everyone continued to dance on a rapidly shrinking ‘dance floor’.
“There are no rules,” Grant added, “other than both of you have to be on that piece of paper. No heels or toes can touch the floor!”
People got more and more creative. Usually resorting to one carrying the other, or employing other supporters to . . . support.
Slowly, couples dropped out as they succumbed to gravity.
The awards were given.
And Grant drifted into another old time dance, the Heel-Toe Polka.
And that’s when we got our touching surprise.
Remember the man who had approached us as we were setting up?
And the girl?
The two of them danced past me at this point.
Working out the steps to the polka and laughing.
I watched them go by, then glanced at my Husby and raised my eyebrows.
He looked at them and grinned.
That father and that daughter spent the rest of the evening on the dance floor.
I will never forget the look on their faces as they, perhaps for the first time, became friends.
Mikey’s Music Machine.
We had so much fun and created so many memories.
Good ones.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Musically Inclined

I’m a writer.
Since Mrs. Hainsworth’s grade six class a millennium ago, I’ve authored books, plays, songs, articles, stories and whatever else strikes me.
It’s what I do.
And what my kids saw me do.
It probably shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that most of them are also writers.
Far better than their mother!
A couple of them—one in particular—in addition to composing stories, also composes music.
And that’s where this story starts.
You knew I’d get to it eventually…
In an effort to keep small children quiet during church services, it’s not unusual for parents to bring quiet toys for little hands.
Many also bring paper, pencils and crayons.
Well, I did.
Drawing and colouring is customarily a quiet occupation.
It wasn’t uncommon in the past for a story to be written in the 40 minutes or so of sermonizing. A couple of the kids were pretty good cartoonists, as well.
So when my eldest son’s second youngest sat down between Gramma and Grampa with papers and pen, I really didn’t notice, at first, what she was working on.
You should know, this little girl is five.
“Gramma!” she said in what she fondly considers a whisper.
I looked down.
“Gramma, look!” She held up a sheet of lined paper covered in…figures.
I blinked. Were those…yes. Those were notes. Music notes!
“What are you making?” I asked in a true whisper.
“I’m writing a song for Brother Woolley.”
Just a note: Brother Woolley is the extraordinarily-talented and magnetic and just downright fun leader of the (eighty or so) three-to-eleven-year-olds’ singing time.
Back to my story…
I leaned over, looking more closely.
Sure enough, she had all sorts of notes drawn across the whole page.
She slid another, similar page out from the first one. “I wrote a second verse!”
I couldn’t stop smiling.
Children do what they see their parents do.
She had obviously seen and ‘taken note’.
I’m still smiling.



Monday, February 6, 2023


The young boy and his Mama had been out the whole day through,

Running lots of errands, and then baseball practice, too,

The last thing on their list was stopping at the grocery store,

Both anxious to go home and get their feet up off the floor!

“Can I have Frozen Yogurt, Mom?” the boy asked anxiously,

He was hungry, hot and tired—put his heart into his plea,

Mama told him, “No, son,” as she pushed her cart along,

“We’re going home to dinner so to eat now would be wrong!”

But still the boy persisted, he was hungry, he was tired,

And frozen yogurt would prevent his spirits getting mired,

But his mom was firm and her son would not get his treat,

She told him to get in the car and buckled in his seat,

The boy tried one last time to sway his mama to his side,

By now it wasn’t hunger driving. No, it reeked of pride,

“Pleeease, oh pleeease!” he begged his Mom, his voice as sweet as honey,

She shook her head, said, “What d’you think? That I am made of money?!”

The boy just turned and looked as he was headed for the door,

“Gosh!” he said. “But isn’t that what M-O-M stands for?”

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?

Be kind! Be kind! That’s how you were designed,
Be smart, be fun, be fast on the run...but best of all, be kind!

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!)...
Frozen Yogurt (February 6) Today!
Random Acts of Kindness (February 13)
Be Humble (February 20)
Pineapple (February 27)
Cookies (March 6)
Butterflies (March 13)
Buzzards (March 20)
Celebrating Earth Day (March 27)
Maps (April 3)
Golf (April 10)
Safety Pins (April 17)
Pigs in Blankets (April 24)

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