Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Doing the Dance

More Bruce and Clara.

Wherein nothing is explained . . .
David Handschuh
Or something similar . . .

Her hair was down.
It was never down. Usually, she kept it scraped tightly back into a rusty, greying bun on the back of her head.
I admit it. I stared.
“It’s you!” She cooed.
Did you know people can coo? Well, they can.
“Umm . . . yes. It’s me. The same person as yester . . .”
“Don’t speak!” Her large, surprisingly statuesque body slipped around the end of her desk. She slid red-tipped nails across its gleaming surface and her fairly prosaic print dress actually swirled provocatively as she floated toward me. “Just . . . be.”
I felt my eyebrows go up. “O-okay.” I glanced around. “Umm . . . be what?”
She laughed. A soft, throaty little burst of sound. “Yourself, darling. Just be yourself.”
“Oh. That. I think I can . . .”
“Don’t talk.”
“But how can I be myself if I can’t . . .”
She placed gentle fingers against my mouth.
“. . . talk?” The word came out justifiably muffled.
“Feel the music, darling.” She was starting to sway.
I frowned. “Music?”
“Hush.”
“Hushing.”
Her arms came out, one wrapping itself about my shoulders, the other reaching for my wrist. For several seconds, we swayed to some music that only she could hear. I could feel the heat of her plump arm where it touched my back. Her hand felt slightly moist on the skin just above my hand.
“Oh, this is it, darling!” she whispered.
“What?”
Just then, showing more moves than a mime and catching me completely unawares, she sent me into a dramatic dip.
I admit it. I screamed.
Chuckling, she set me on the floor and stepped across me, heading back toward her desk. “Bring me something exciting today, Bruce?”
“Umm . . .” I thought about that one. “Well . . .”
She picked up the package I had dropped when she grabbed me. “Oooh! I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time!”
I laid my head back against the cool granite tiles and thought seriously about asking for a transfer. Then I lifted the hand still carrying my clipboard. “Don’t forget to sign . . .”

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Devil's Delivery

Before. 30-year-old kitchen
Today. Sigh.
 The work on our new kitchen continues.
But now all the cuboards are gone. And my sink.
But I have hope that all will--one day--be renewed.
So, because this is a busy week, I thought I'd revisit Bruce and Clara. My two most unlikely sweethearts.
Oops . . . spoilers . . .


My son works for Fed-Ex.
This is for him . . .

“Ma’am, would you be so kind as to . . .” I got no further.
The large woman seated behind the desk surged to her feet and pointed a plump, shaking finger at me. “Insubordination!” she shrieked.
I felt my eyes widen. I took a step back. “Ex-excuse me?”
“You miserable excuse for a man!” Her voice became even shriller. “What do you mean by coming here at this hour?!” She shot a telling glance at the nearby clock.
“I . . . what?”
Her eyes narrowed. “I see retribution for you! I see despair and a plethora of demons just waiting to grasp you in their claws and pull you down to where you will be properly inducted into those halls from which the wicked forever burn and never escape!”
I blinked and looked around, then indicated myself questioningly.
The finger came out again. “Yes, you! Demon-spawn!” She waved her hand, indicating the spotless corridors that lead off in every direction. “Watch and beware. The demons are preparing as we speak. Your time is at hand!”
I glanced rather nervously to the right and left. “Demons? C-claws? But I only . . .”
“Speak not! You will only seal your fate!”
“Seal my . . . but I came to . . .”
“Silence!” the voice had become a shrieking siren of sound. The small, watery, piercing eyes glanced down at my hands. “Hold! What do you carry there?”
I lifted an almost-forgotten package. “I . . . um . . .”
“Is it a potion? A talisman? Something from your master?”
“I . . . master? Well, actually, yes.”
“Give it to me little man! Before I set the denizens of hell upon you!”
“Ummm . . . here.”
She pounced, holding the seized package up and peering at it closely.
I lifted the clipboard in my other hand. “Erm . . . you’ll have to sign here. And here.”
“Ooh! It’s my samples from the museum!” The woman poked out a thick tongue and licked rubbery lips which had curved into the semblance of a smile. Then she grabbed a pen and scribbled next to my finger. “There! Thanks, Bruce! Next time, don’t be late!”
“See you tomorrow, Clara.” 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Mr. Sun


I give a smile to Mr. Sun,
With his appearance, Winter’s done,
The green and warmth from him are spun,
As life returns to everyone.

And in his light, with joy, I bask,
Surely, this is all I ask,
To close my eyes and tip my flask,
Forget the snow and Winter tasks.

Ooh. See the sunhat I have brought,
And salves. With burns, I won’t get caught,
I’ll do the things I know I ought,
Cause sun, you know, can be so hot!

So now I’m at the house herein,
Conditioned air that cools my skin,
So tell me why I wear a grin,
When Mr. Sun returns again?

Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we three besought,
To try to make the week begin,
With gentle thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So Jenny and Delores, we,
Now post our poems for you to see.
And when you’ve read what we have brought,
Did we help? Or did we not . . .

Come back next week, it won't be hard,
We three will spend time in the yard.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Archaeological Pockets

When my kids were little, I could trace their entire day in what they spilled on their clothing.
Or from what came out of their pockets.
Now to today's story.
A couple of things first . . .
I’ve taken to wearing what my grandkids call, ‘Grandma pants’. Elastic waist. Stretchy.
Comfortable.
There is one drawback.
They have no pockets.
None.
And I’ve looked.
So, inventive person that I am, I’ve also taken to wearing a vest.
That does have pockets.
Maybe not the most fashionable Grandma out there.
But certainly one of the most comfortable. And stocked, rather than stacked.
And that brings me to today . . .
It was time to throw today’s vest (and pants, etc.) into the laundry.
First is the ceremony of the ‘emptying-of-the-aforementioned-pockets’.
I laid the items out on the cupboard, ready for re-insertion into my clean vest.
I looked at said items.
And realized they say a lot about me.
First, the pen. As an author, one never knows when one will have to sign something. Preferably one’s books. Thus, I am never without a pen. You’ll notice it is a particular type. My personal favourite.
Next, the safety pin. We just finished a theatrical production imaginatively named, The Toy Box. As general odd-job person behind the production, I always found myself in need of safety pins. One never knows when a soldier, Barbie, Clown or stuffie might need a quick fixer-upper. The pin has simply not been removed. Yet. Perhaps in time for next year’s production . . .
Nail file. With the dry weather, my aged nails are constantly chipping, cracking or breaking. No more explanation needed.
Flosser and toothpick. Aged teeth seem to collect half of what I eat. True story.
Playmobile Lamp and Lego dot. In my household, one plays with Playmobile or Lego out of self-defence. One must always be prepared.
Missing: The used Kleenex. It was pretty self-explanatory anyways. And besides: Ewww.
So there you have it. The story behind the contents of my pockets.
So what do your pockets say about you?

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Ersatz

Mom and Aunt Grace.
Making do. Even on holidays...
A friend told me a story.
A true one.
About his grandfather during the food rationing days of the Second World War.
The friend's grandmother had been to the grocery store and purchased, among other things, a new tin of pepper.
Which she set on the table.
Her husband picked it up and studied it for a moment. He looked at her and said, “This pepper is half peas!”
“Oh, for heaven's sake!” she said. “I thought I looked at it!”
I should explain, here, that, during the war, creative ways of extending food were discovered and explored. They called it ersatz. I'm not sure where the name came from, but it was expressive. Many different readily available foodstuffs were dried and powdered and added to other foods not so easily come by. Corn meal, for example, was widely used.
The use of dried peas, though not as usual, was not unheard of.
Back to my friend's story . . .
Another can of pepper was procured the next day.
Again, the grandfather picked up the little tin.
“Huh,” he said. “This one is half peas, too.”
His wife snorted in disgust. “Well, there's only one kind left,” she said. “I'll try that one tomorrow.”
She did.
She proudly set the third little tin on the table in front of her husband and proceeded to get his dinner.
He picked up the tin and peered at it closely. “Yep,” he said. “Half peas.”
“What?! I looked at it! Where does it say . . .” her voice trailed off.
Her husband was pointing at the 'Pepper' part of the label. “Here,” he said. “See? P-E-P-P-E-R. Half of the letters are P's.”
Oh. P's. Not peas.
She didn't upend the tin over him or anything drastic like that. I know I would have been tempted.
But I'm sure they had pepper to last until the turn of the century.
This story reminded me of my Mom . . .
Raised during the Depression years, Mom knew very well the days of rationing and going without.
She learned very early to 'make do”. And to purchase things quickly, when they became available.
She often spoke of a large, twenty-five pound tin of peanut butter, for example. Oil on peanut butter rises. The first two-thirds of the container were edible. The last third had to be run through a meat grinder to make it spreadable.
But they ate it.
Several large cans of cherry jam appeared at the local grocery. Her Dad quickly snapped one up.
At first, cherry jam was a treat.
Served at every meal, it became a bit tiresome.
Still, it disappeared.
In her own home, Mom tried to practice what she had been taught throughout her life. Waste not want not, she often told us.
Some of her attempts were successful.
Others . . . not so much.
When there was no milk cow on the place, she tried to extend the life of the milk container in the fridge by added powdered milk to it.
Fooling no one.
She tried purchasing the cheapest brand of peanut butter.
Unfortunately, her children hadn't been raised during the Depression and were finer-mouthed than their parents.
The cheaper peanut butter languished on the shelf.
Finally, in desperation, she bought the favourite kind. Which disappeared in a flash.
Coining the phrase, “I'm going to stop buying that peanut butter. You kids just eat it!”
She made her own roast beef sandwich spread by running cold roast beef through the meat grinder, along with some pickles. Then mixing in some mayonnaise.
That one was a hit. We kids loved sandwiches spread with beef and pickle hash.
I'm sure that, through the years, Mom saved our family a boatload of money with her careful ways.
Unfortunately, my children were even finer-mouthed than we had been.
One day, one of my kids saw her adding water to the ketchup.
I had seen her do that before. It made the ketchup a bit runnier, but still tasted okay.
The child was horrified and told all of his siblings.
And she became, forever, the grandma who put water in the ketchup. The lesson in frugality and making do was completely lost.
Pity.
P.S. I've been known to put water in the ketchup, too. Don't tell my kids . . .

In other news: The blog Tour for A House Divided continues.
Christine Till, world famous Marketing Mentress, joined the fun!
Review of A House Divided

Friday, April 20, 2018

Whiff


I popped the top off a bottle of guava juice yesterday.
I caught a whiff.
And that little whiff transported me, for just a second, to my Aunt Grace’s kitchen.
I’m not sure why. I’m fairly certain she didn’t keep bushels of guavas.
But nevertheless, that’s what happened.
My Aunt Grace wasn’t really my aunt. She was actually married to my Dad’s cousin. Which made her my dad’s cousin-in-law. And my second cousin-in-law? Sooo, Second-Cousin-In-Law Grace? ‘Aunt’ was just easier.
Aunt Grace and her family lived on the next farm to my family.
Which made us neighbours. A few miles apart.
I loved going to her house. Not only was her daughter, Jeannie, one of my best friends, but there were always good eats emerging from Aunt Grace’s huge kitchen.
Aunt Grace had a big bin that opened out from beneath her lower cupboards. A bin full of flour. I had never seen anything like it and thought it was the coolest thing ever. There also may have been a second bin full of sugar, but I’m not certain so you didn’t read it here.
Ahem . . .
She was what I call a ‘dump’ cook. She would take a bowl, dump a bunch of stuff in it (without measuring, I might add).
Stir.
Aunt Grace, Far left.
Bake.
Cake.
It would be burnt on one end because the oven wasn’t level. But delicious everywhere else.
On the wall opposite the table, where one was guaranteed not to miss it, Aunt Grace had a cat clock. I know you’ve seen them. A small black and white cat. With a tail that swings as a pendulum and great, staring eyes that go back and forth with every tick.
It was quite hypnotic.
Jeannie and I spent a lot of time in that kitchen. Eating that food. Watching that clock.
Second from right.
Or simply stealing foodstuffs (ie. eggs) to add to our own amazing culinary mud masterpieces out in the yard.
Aunt Grace was fun, funny and had the best, most infectious laugh. She was a talented writer, a hoot

at parties and a warm and giving friend.
I loved being at her house. And I loved her.
She’s been gone nearly four years, but, for just a moment, she and her kitchen were as clear as if I had just seen them moments ago.
Amazing, isn’t it, what can flash through one’s mind from one. Single. Whiff.

Aunt Grace

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Grrrr

They're getting more and more clever!
And not in a good way . . .
Yesterday, I received a call from 'Fed Ex'.
I put in the quotes because it really wasn't them.
Although it took a moment or two to realize it.
First, a little background . . .
A few months ago, Husby and I were floating about in the Caribbean in a tall ship.
The very best of all the world has to offer.
I accept no other opinions.
Ahem . . .
Two people on board that sailing were noted for their outstanding good sense, good humour, and outright willingness to make our trip the best ever.
Just FYI? They succeeded.
In an effort to try to repay just a little of what they had given us, we asked if we could send to their children (far, far away at home) a couple of my Christmas books.
Our offer was graciously received and addresses duly exchanged.
Move forward a couple of months . . .
I sent off my two little packages of books via my son, who works for Fed-Ex.
The real Fed-Ex.
All was well.
Yesterday, I received a phone call from someone claiming to be from that popular shipping company.
The conversation went something like this:
Her: "Hello, Mez Tolley. I am phoning to tell you that your package sent to xxxxxxxxx was deliverable because the recipient could not afford to pay the import tax and duties."
Me: "Whaaat? Why were there duties? It was a gift."
Her: "I don't know why there were duties."
Me: "How much is the bill?"
Her: "We need the amount of $560.00 East Caribbean Dollars."
Me: "For $15.00 worth of books?! That were a gift in the first place?! That's nuts!"
Her: "So how would you like to make the payment."
Me: "I wouldn't. Just send them back. This is stupid!"
Her: "I'll have someone call you tomorrow to see if we can clear this up."
Me: "Do that."
I'm still waiting for my call . . .

On a better note:
The book tour for my newest book, A House Divided, starts today!
Here is a link to the first reviewer, Minette of  Southern Belle Charm.
Thanks so much, Minette!
I'll love you forever!
Southern Belle Charm

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Going

Ready to go.
Pictured L to R: Anita, Blair, Dad, George, Jerry,
Missing: Mom, Chris, Diane and the potty.
Traffic has slowed to a crawl. Not a usual thing for a small, semi-hard-topped, two lane, secondary road twisting through the foothills of Southern Alberta.
The Stringams join the end of a line of cars.
Dad peers ahead through the windshield. "Huh. Weird." 
"What on earth could be causing this?" Mom spits on a Kleenex and starts to scrub the face of her youngest son. "Careful with that chocolate bar, son, you're getting it on your father."
"Can't see, yet. But the line will be straightening out soon and . . . ah!"
The line has done so and disclosed the culprit.
A house.
White clapboard.
Two storey.
Not something you see in the middle of the road every day.
Usually that's reserved for bungalows . . .
The house creeps along. The Stringams creep along behind it, more cars joining them every minute or so like the growing tail of some large, unwieldy monster.
"Mom! I have to go potty!" Little brother, Blair, is standing on the front seat and has started doing the dance.
"I wonder if he knows we're here." Mom pulls the potty out from under her seat. "You'll just have to go while we're moving, dear. We don't want to lose our place in line."
Right. Because the Stringams will be left behind as the rest of the line of traffic moves off at 10 MPH?
"Mom! I hate going when the car is moving!"
"Well, try not to miss." She turns to Dad. "How long till the turn?" 
"At this rate? About three days."
The family is heading to the relatives for dinner. Mom and Dad are beginning to hope that their food tastes 'just as good the second day'.
Mom opens her car door and dumps out the potty, then wipes it out with the spit Kleenex, stuffs it back under her seat and drops the used tissue into her handy-dandy paper bag trash receptacle.
She glances around at her brood. Four are scattered across the wide back seat.
Important note: Seatbelts and safety measures haven't been invented yet.
Jerry and George are arguing over a car magazine. Chris and Diane are reading. Diane is getting rather green around the gills.
Mom frowns. Might be a good time to distract Diane. She glances out the window, hoping to spot some horses. The only thing known to pull Diane from a book.
Blair is now happily parked in the front seat between Mom and Dad, looking at the pictures in one of his brother's comic books.
Anita is perched on Mom's knees, nose against the window and half-filled bottle of cream soda in her lap.
"Mom! I wanna drink!" George has given up trying to wrench the magazine from his older brother and is now sitting with his arms crossed on the back of the front seat.
"Okay. I just get one here . . ." Mom mimes taking a glass and turning on a tap. "There you go!"
"Mom! A real drink! Of Pop!"
Dad glances back at his second son. "There'll be plenty of pop in the well when we get there!" 
"You can have some of mine!" Anita offers her bottle.
George looks at the pale-pink liquid that started out a brilliant red and makes a face. "That's okay. I can wait."
"Mom? I'm car sick!" Diane has emerged from her book on her own.
Not a good sign.
Again the potty comes into play. Diane now sits with it on her lap.
"How much further?" Chris has come up for air.
"A year or two," Dad again leans forward and peers through the front windshield.
"I'll tell a story!" Mom volunteers. She proceeds to drag out her Reader's Digest and regale the family with a humorous gem about being raised in the ghettos of New York.
The story winds down and she closes the magazine.
George sighs. "I'm bored."
Mom blinks. That was fast. Then her face lights up. "Let's play a game! How about 20 questions?"
Jerry drops his magazine to the floor. "Okay! I've got it!"
"Animal, vegetable or mineral?"
"Animal."
"Is it dead?"
"Maybe."
"Hey! You can't have maybes! Only 'yes' or 'no'!"
The game is played to its usual conclusion.
Elvis.
And another round starts.
Blair and Anita have fallen asleep.
Mom rescues the offensive cream-soda bottle just before it tips over. She again opens her car door and discretely empties it out onto the road.
Diane imagines, for a moment what it must be like to follow the Stringam's car at 10 MPH. Heads bobbing about. Car door opening periodically to expel various fluids.
"Oh, look!" Dad grins and points. "The house is pulling over!"
Mom laughs. "Now that's not something you hear often!"
Mom always manages to keep her sense of humour. It's a gift.
Slowly, the line of cars begins to pull out around the house like a stream finding its way around a large, recently-dropped stone.
Dad pulls up beside the house driver and gestures to Mom, who rolls down her window. "Why don't you get a travel trailer, like everyone else?" he shouts with a grin. 
"I'm so sorry!" the driver shouts back. "Were you following me long?"
About four years, three months, twenty-one days, and thirteen hours, Dad thinks. "Oh, no. Not long!" 
They wave to each other and the Stringam car moves off.
Just another family car trip.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Bobbi Cow. And Me.

Spring!
The best season of the year when one lives on a ranch.
And as seen through my mother's eyes.
A poem by Enes Stringam . . .

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

God planned to make things new and bright,
That's why He made the spring.
When birds and creatures everywhere,
Their sweet new babies bring.

Bobbi Cow, some years before,
Was born on icy ground;
Froze her tail and ears right off,
Before the calf was found.

We called her Bobbi...family pet;
She had a fearsome face.
Now she and I were bound here in
An anxious, awesome race.

All through winter, cold and dark,
Mother creature’s bellies grew.
Embarrassed, but a little proud,
I blushed for mine did, too.

All of the cowboys' bets were on,
As to who would win the race;
The boss' wife or Bobbi Cow—
The milk cow on the place.

One by one, the days groaned by,
As I suffered all their cheer.
"Bobbi Cow will win, you'll see!
Her time is very near!"

Every day I stroked her side,
Lamenting the ways of women.
She switched her tail and tossed her head,
Her only thought was winnin'!

On that night, I tossed and turned,
There was no thought of resting,
Within the womb, the baby stirred,
The time had come for nesting.

We fired up the four-wheel-drive,
Just at the crack of dawn,
With wheels spinning and sparks a-fly,
The mighty race was on.

Each of us was sure she'd win,
The adrenaline flowed all day,
Me, in the delivery room,
And Bobbi in the hay.

Bobbi, then, received her cue,
(The same as her archrival,)
Urged on by a wildly cheering crew,
As they watched her calf's arrival.

And in the bright delivery room,
I pushed with all my might,
Afraid the babe would not be born,
And choke to death this night.

My hair and gown were soaked with sweat,
My strength began to fade,
And then one last colossal push,
Out popped our howling babe!

Then, suddenly, the race was done,
But who really cares who wins?
As I cuddled my darling baby girl,
And Bobbi licked her twins.

There were no losers, only champs,
It was a tie, you see.
A miracle and a Mother's love,
Transformed the cow. And me.

Bobbi and I declared a draw,
Both wiser and both thinner;
The light of love shone in our eyes,
Each one of us a winner!

Mondays do get knocked a lot,
With poetry, we three besought,
To try to make the week begin,
With gentle thoughts--perhaps a grin?
So Jenny and Delores, we,
Now post our poems for you to see.
And when you’ve read what we have brought,
Did we help? Or did we not . . .

It's warm! 
Come back next week for fun,
When all three welcome Mr. Sun!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Grunt

Dad and 'The Help'.

In the cattle world, when animals are ‘taken to market’, it’s usually advisable to get them there the night before the actual auction.
That way they can ‘shrink up’ (lose some of their water weight) before the auctioneer’s gavel is raised.
Enough background . . .
The heifers were due at the auction market that evening.
And there was only Dad to get them from pasture to corral.
Then from corral into truck.
With two people, it would be an easy procedure.
Dad gave it some quick thought. Then walked quickly to the ranch house and conscripted Mom, who was just slightly pregnant with their first baby.
It was actually easier than it sounds. Mom, though usually busy with the household chores, was always eager for a breath of outside air and a chance to spend time with Dad in the barnyard.
She pulled on her boots and followed him happily.
Mom stared longingly at the saddle horses as they walked by, but shrugged and continued to follow Dad when he said, “This’ll be easy. It should only take a few minutes. We can do it on foot.”
Later, after three hours of galloping around, trying to follow Dad’s shouted instructions as the ten heifers ran in ten different directions, a sweating and exhausted Mom flopped down on the cool grass and decided she’d just stay there forever. Those wretched heifers had outfoxed, outwitted and outrun her for the last time.  “Stupid animals!” she said to no one in particular. “I hope they drop dead!”
When she heard nothing from Dad, she sat up.
Seated on his favourite horse, he was gently bringing the little herd into the corral. Man and skillful horse accomplished the impossible task in seconds.
Seconds!
Mom groaned, stood up on rubbery legs and walked over to where Dad was struggling to lift the stock rack on the truck. “Need some help?” she asked hesitantly.
He gave her an eyebrows raised ‘what could you do?’ look.
“Ummm . . . I could help you grunt,” she whispered.

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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