Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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



Friday, November 24, 2017

A Girl's Life

Just plain busy...
Immersed in Mom's journal today.
We're born into the era we can handle, I'm convinced of it. I never would have survived in my mom's!

In her words:
As I grew older, I sometimes felt a lonely girl in a family with eight brothers.
It wasn’t enough to be able to do the things they did, work or play, as well as they.
You were still a girl with responsibilities that the brothers didn’t have. You had to be Mama’s helper.
Mama and I, being the only females in a family of eleven, were responsible for the household chores as well as the outdoor chores—the chickens and the garden at harvest time, milking cows, feeding pigs, carrying water and chopping wood.
There were also emergencies like chasing pigs out of the garden and running after stray cattle.
We also killed and plucked chickens for dinner.
We had to have meals on time, clothes washed and mended, errands run, the home tidy and clean, and to know where everything was, from shoes to letters, and hammers to halters.
We did not sit with the men at the table but ate after they were finished.
Mama was completely dedicated to her role in life. She never complained but got her satisfaction from seeing members of her family develop and achieve at work, at school, at play and ultimately reach their goals in life.
To her, her family was her life.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Twice Hit. Many Times Shy.

It's snowing. Again. I'm already nostalgic about summer.
Almost . . .

Blair in a less threatening situation. A bit less . . .
The calving field (aka: the tree field), was a half mile from the ranch buildings.
Not so great a distance if you wanted a good walk, or a short ride.
But a marathon when you were pushing sick, weary stock.
Dad, always the thinker, came up with plan 'B'. Metal corral panels that could be instantly set up anywhere.
Genius.
In the corner, next to the road and immediately adjacent (good word) to the main gate, he assembled his new acquisition. Shiny green panels of tubular, green-painted steel.
Heavy-duty. Solid.
And set up at a moment's notice.
The answer to all of our prayers.
Okay, we hadn't been praying about it, but you get the picture.
Moving on . . .
We rounded up the herd and pushed them into the corrals which had magically appeared in their own field.
I can't tell you how easy it was.
Okay, I probably could, but . . .
Ahem.
All was going well.
Never say that when ranching. Because the God of Ranching, immediately begins to get creative.
And sends all sorts of 'challenges'.
On this particular day, he sent Nature.
Capital 'N'.
Now, ordinarily, I love storms. The bigger and noisier, the better.
But this storm was a bit different.
There wasn't any wind. A miracle where we lived.
Or rain.
There was only lightning.
And we were standing immediately adjacent (that word again) to metal corrals.
I needn't tell you that lightning likes metal.
My Dad, my younger brother, Blair, and I were busily engaged in . . . cattle stuff.
We really didn't notice the approaching storm until it broke, quite literally, over our heads.
The air suddenly turned a sort of greenish colour.
Then a deafening ZZZZZZZZZZST!
There was a transformer on a tall power pole immediately outside the main gate of the field, not 30 feet from where we were working.
It exploded.
No, really. It was there one moment. Then gone the next.
A curl of smoke rose from the place it had been. Rather hard to ignore.
We all froze in our various positions. Dad and I outside the corral.
Blair stuck in the middle.
With several head of cattle.
Instinctively, he started towards the corral fence.
“Freeze!” Dad barked.
Blair did.
The cattle weren't as obedient.
Now that I think about it, cattle never are.
Obedient, I mean.
But I digress . . .
Let's just say that they were nervous, shall we?
They immediately began to move around, jostling Blair and each other.
“Blair! Don't move!” Dad said. “The next strike will be close!”
Sometimes I hate it when people are right.
Again, the greenish colour.
Again the loud ZZZZZZZZZZST!
Again the exploding.
But what I can remember most is Blair, staring at me from inside that metal corral. That green lightning magnet.
Completely helpless.
I know I did do some praying then.
That second strike hit the next power pole, just down the road from the first one. And then the storm moved away from us.
We started breathing again.
Moving.
I probably don't need to describe Blair's sprint across the corral. And vaulting of the fence.
Let's just say that the Olympics committee would have been impressed.
For several minutes, we just stood there. Breathing.
Outside the corrals.
Thankful to be alive and safe.
It was some time before Dad could convince us to get back to work.
Not an unusual challenge.
But this time we had a good excuse.
You get the idea...

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Relative Age

Pfff . . . kids!
Men really don’t pay much attention to age.
At least the men in my life.
Not like women do.
Cases in point:
I had just turned twelve.
An important milestone in my world.
I could now go to 4-H.
And youth activities in our church.
Of course, there were drawbacks.
The price of admission to any of our local movies doubled.
From twenty-five cents.
To fifty.
Yikes.
But I was twelve.
It had taken me twelve long years to get here.
And I wanted the whole world to know it.
Dad was taking us kids to the movies.
And was in the process of buying tickets.
“One adult, three youth and three children, please,” he said.
“Da-ad!” I said. Loudly.
All eyes in the theatre foyer turned to us.
“I’m twelve now!”
“Oh. Are you?” I’m sure he was embarrassed, but he covered it well. “When did that happen?”
“Da-ad!”
Kids aren’t tactful.
Even when they’re twelve.
Moving ahead several years . . .
My Husby and I were at the home of some friends.
Dinner was over.
The visiting had begun.
The conversation had turned to the inevitable - and painful - progression of old age.
My Husby and I were speaking from the advanced ages of twenty-nine and twenty-eight, respectively.
But our friends had both rounded the corner and were into their thirties.
Elderly indeed.
My Husby was teasing the wife. “Well, speaking from the advanced age of thirty-six, you would . . .”
I don’t remember the rest of his statement.
But I do recall that the wife turning an instant and remarkable shade of red. “Thirty-six!!” she said. “Thirty-six?!” She got up and looked in the mirror. “I just turned thirty-four!”
Oops.
Later I asked him what on earth he was thinking.
“Well,” he said. “I thought I was really exaggerating. You know? Over-estimating?”
Oh. Note to Husby. When over-estimating, REALLY over-estimate.
Decades.
Centuries.
Missing by a couple of years is . . . dangerous.
Because as it turns out, age, to women, is important.
See?

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Holiday Lunch

Guest Post by Little Brother, Blair

Blair on Holiday.
There was never a lack for work on the ranch.  I emphasize the word “never”.  Whenever there was a school holiday, I would initially think, 'Oh great then I can go biking with my friends or go hiking or tinker in the shop!' 
Then I would get home and dad would have a list of things that we needed to get done that day.  In my final years of high school I really didn’t care if there was a holiday, it was just  another work day for me. 

It seemed that many of these “holiday work” days were windy and cold.  Hey, it was Canada.  Most school holidays were in the fall, winter and spring.  We had lots of blustery days in the fall, winter, and spring.

Our school holiday would usually begin with getting up early and doing chores.  No sleeping in even on a holiday.  Then we would eat breakfast and talk with dad about what he wanted to do that day.  We would then go out to deal with whatever needed to be done.  If we were lucky, we got to work in the barn. Or the corrals where we had the fence to shelter us from the wind. 

The tasks were not usually difficult, just time consuming and cold.  We would work for a few hours in the morning. I learned to wear heavy coats and coveralls becausehe wind would blow dust into our eyes, ears, nose, down our backs.  

When it felt like I could not take any more cold, dad would say that it was time for lunch.  That was a very welcome part of the day.  

We would walk down to the house where mom had created many delicious things to eat. Usually it was a stew or something similar with other yummy stuff.  Whatever the delicious meal was, it had three important components.  It was warm, it tasted good and there was plenty to eat.  However we had to wash first (see above).  Mom made sure we washed before she fed us.  I didn’t argue, I just wanted to fill the void that was called a stomach. 

Mom also served plenty of homemade bread.  This was a wonderful complement to the tasty meal.  It seemed to make the main course taste so much better.  There was usually some homemade treat as well such as cinnamon buns or tarts or pie.  I realize that the cold weather and hard work enhanced the tastiness of the meal.

Now there was another benefit to having plenty to eat.  I could take a little longer and delay going back out to the cold blustery day.  However, all good things need to come to an end and we would put on our coat, coveralls, gloves, and hat and head back to complete our task.  Finally, we would finish, complete our evening chores then go back to the house where mom would have another wonderful meal.  Usually, I could go tinker in the shop after supper.

At least I was able to spend a little time and do something that I liked on my “school holiday”.

The following day, I would be back at school where I would hear about all of the fun things that my friends had done on the “holiday”.  I didn’t have much to say about my day.  If I tried to tell them what I did, they would look at me strangely.  

But hey, I got the fed the best.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Lights


We drove along, my folks and me,
And siblings, categorically,
I don’t know where we all had been,
Now we were heading home again.

Along the road, its twists and curves,
Dad drove along with care. And swerves.
And I, with nose against the glass
Was watching small poles that we passed.

Each one lit up when we drove by,
When passed, went dark. I wondered why,
And how they knew just when to light,
To keep us safe, when out at night.

Then all at once, there in my brain,
I had an im-pres-sion, again.
Quite suddenly, for sure, I knew,
What lit the poles there in my view.

Each pole was lighted just for me,
By little ‘pole men’ I can’t see.
Their lighting was a perfect mix,
Of strength, agility, and sticks.

‘Twas kind of them, I’m sure you know,
To flip that little switch below.
And light the pole for us to see,
So we could navigate safely.

I thanked them, each and every one,
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” Done.
My mom looked back inquiringly,
“What are you doing, Dear?” asked me.

“I’m thanking all the pole guys, Mom.”
Confused, she frowned at me, said, “Ummm…
Okay. If that’s what makes you glad.”
Then turned and shook her head at dad.

All this was many years ago,
And I learned fast. (And sometimes slow.)
And whether old, or youngest waif,
That life has lights. They keep you safe.

And when you've safely passed on through,
Please thank your little pole men, too.

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 . . .

And next week, cause we've seen the light, 
We tackle 'PEOPLE' with our might!



Sunday, November 19, 2017

A World of Creation

You see food. I see . . . possibilities.
The headquarters/chief residence of the Stringam ranch, like most ranch houses then and now, was centred around a large, family kitchen.
Everything important happened in that room.
Eating, visiting, business, playing. More eating.
It was, quite literally, the soul of the house.
Mom reigned supreme over its scrubbed surfaces and gleaming appliances.
All traffic came through it, stopping either briefly, or of longer duration.
I lived there.
Whenever Mom was in residence (and Mom was always in residence), I could be found.
Underfoot.
Dragging out stacks of plastic ware or pots and pans.
Or, even more exciting, the dozens of Jello packages that Mom kept in a corner cupboard.
Just for me.
It was amazing what one could construct out of those small, cardboard boxes.
Castles. Forts. Corrals. Houses. Barns. Apartment buildings. Stores.
Even schools.
Infinite hours of fun and creativity. Infinite possibilities.
I should mention, here, that Lego hadn't reached my little world.
Yet.
But it would.
Moving on . . .
And my Mom, moving about the kitchen, had to step carefully to avoid disaster.
To both of us.
How lightly she moved, dancing and weaving around the complicated constructs that, to me, were edifices of genius and creativity.
Occasionally, we came to grief. Something I had made would have meandered a little too far across the floor and Mom would trip over . . . it.
But not often.
Mom should have been a professional terpsichorean (real word – I looked it up).
Or Superman. She could certainly leap any building I made with a single bound.
Looking back, though, I have to wonder why Mom kept so many Jello packages in that cupboard.
Certainly, we ate a lot of it.
But that still didn't justify the number of boxes stored there.
Maybe, like Moms everywhere, she knew . . .
Just how much fun assembling castles out of sweet-smelling boxes could be.

There is a codicil . . .
My grandchildren were playing on the floor of the kitchen as their mother and I were preparing supper. They had a complicated construction of Tupperware, old yogurt containers, pots . . . and Jello packages.
I stepped over it.
“Careful, Gramma! You'll knock down the princess' castle!”
And suddenly, I was four years old again.
Creating worlds on the kitchen floor.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Princesses of the New Age

Not just another pretty face!
Our family was together.
Because we do everything in a group.
Or in our case, a herd.
We do it often. With almost everyone living close, it's an easy thing.
On this day, we were at our local church building.
We had been eating and visiting. My two favourite things.
Now, while some of us continued with that, Grampa and a couple of mothers/aunties had gathered several of the younger kids together in the gym.
They were in a circle to play some games.
Most of which included loud noises.
Clawing, scratching and biting gestures.
And animal sounds.
They were . . . involved.
One of the two-year-old girls came out of the gym.
Stomping.
And with both hands raised in her best clawing-the-neighbours-or-anyone-else-who-might-get-in-the-way position.
Auntie stopped her.
“Are you a bear?” she asked.
The little girl looked at her indignantly and sniffed. “I’m a princess!” she stated. “See my pretty dress?!”
Auntie and I looked at each other. “Not the sort of princess I was raised with, but . . . okay,” she said.
It’s a new world.
Princesses now have claws, stomp around and growl a lot.
But still wear pretty dresses.
Just FYI.

Friday, November 17, 2017

(B)EEK!

Admit it. This strikes terror into your heart.
For three years, we lived in the ‘Little House on the Prairie’.
Really.
It was a little house. (Just over 300 square feet.)
And we lived in it.
My Husby had built it as a dog kennel.
Then turned it into a chicken coop.
Finally, cleaned it up, insulated and finished the inside.
And moved his family into it.
But that isn’t what this story is about . . .
Our little house was heated with a wood stove.
Toasty.
During the summer (ie. July), that stove sat cold and unused.
Once August rolled around and temperatures started to cool, however, it was pressed back into use.
And that’s where this story starts.
Oh, and I should probably mention that I‘m afraid of chickens.
Just FYI.
Moving on . . .
My Dad was over for a visit. Which invariably consisted of trying to carry on a conversation with three little boys playing between us in the only available space in our little house.
It was nearly suppertime. The room was starting to cool.
Time for a fire.
I checked the damper. (I want you to know that I knew what I was doing . . .)
Opened the door of our little stove.
Piled in wood and kindling.
And lit a match.
Flames licked up immediately.
And that’s when we heard it . . .
The scratching and clawing and fluttering of something inside the chimney.
We both stood there, stunned. What on earth . . .?
“You must have a bird caught in the chimney,” Dad said.
What?! How was that possible?!
The poor thing!!!
I grabbed a bucket and doused the small fire, then began pulling out bits of blackened wood and setting them back into the box.
Finally, the stove was clear.
Dad and I knelt down and peered inside.
“Oh, I see it!” I said.
It was a blackbird.
The poor thing had obviously been overcome by smoke and dropped into the back of the stove. Quite clearly dead.
I reached out to grab what I thought was a foot in the uncertain light.
It wasn’t.
“EWWWWW! A BEAK! A BEAK! A BEAK!!”
Dad shook his head and stared at me as I did the dance of disgust. *Shudder*
Eventually, he got the bird out and we gave it a proper burial.
Later, my Husby checked to see how it had gotten inside in the first place. Ah. A loose screen. Quickly remedied.
I can wrangle the most dastardly fur-bearing animals the barnyard can offer.
But chickens and I give each other a wide berth.
Turns out that it’s really their beaks I’m afraid of.
And a beak is a beak.
No matter whom it’s on.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Gathering

A couple of victims clients.

Action.

Audience










Branding.
First a little lot of background . . .
Branding, at the Stringam ranch, invariably took place in high summer.
And lasted forever.
Okay, I was six. Everything seemed to last forever.
Except Christmas, but I digress . . .
For the entire day prior, every rider on the place would be involved in gathering the herds. With an operation the size of ours, this was no easy task. The fields were a section (640 acres) in size and, normally, two riders would have to work together, collecting the animals in their assigned area. Then those smaller herds would be gathered, one by one, into the main corrals.
The sun would be high and hot, baking the wonderful scent out of the sage.
There would be glorious vistas of open, wind-swept prairies where one could see, literally, for miles.
Heat and dust and sweat.
And an unbelievable din.
Picture this: Hundreds of cow and calf pairs, which, when herded together immediately become . . . unpaired.
They start bawling for each other. ('Where are you?' in cow, invariably sounds the same, 'Mooooah') They aren't smart enough to actually . . . look . . . for one another. And everyone looks the same anyway.
The cows merely sniff any calf that happens in their vicinity. 'Sniff', nope. 'Sniff', nope. 'Sniff', nope. 'Mooooah'.
And so it goes . . .
Slowly, each herd is driven to the corrals and penned. Hay is thrown into the mangers. The cows finally find their babies. Peace is restored, somewhat.
Then, another herd is brought in and everyone immediately becomes separated again.
More bawling. Then they get sorted out. Then another herd.
This goes on all day and into the evening.
Things are quiet for the night.
Then, the big day dawns. The most exciting, but noisiest day of the year.
Cows and calves are separated and the cows are moved into the largest pen.
The calves go into pens which connect to the chutes. One by one, these smaller, though not necessarily easier to work with, animals are pushed down the chute and into the squeeze (an apparatus which captures the calf and then converts into a table by tilting sideways).
And then, with the noise, come the smells.
Hot metal of irons in the fire.
Burning hair as those irons are briefly pressed to the tough hide.
KRS, a disinfectant.
Manure.
One by one, the calves are branded. Inoculated. Then released.
One by one, they find their Mamas. And slowly, ever so slowly, order is restored.
Then the entire herd is released and driven back out into the pastures.
More noise and confusion.
Then all is quiet . . .
 Every year, on the ranch, this is a highlight. For us humans, anyways. (I have to admit, it probably isn't quite as exciting for the cows, or their babies.)
Enough background . . .
This was the most exciting year of all. This was the first year I was able to participate. Well, as something more than just 'Diane-get-out-of-here-you're-going-to-get-trampled!'.
The excitement was palpable.
A crew had been assembled. (As branding is such a big job, invariably, neighbors come in to help.)
My oldest sister and I were given the smallest, and nearest field. We left the chatting, laughing, gesticulating crowd and headed towards our assignment.
The two of us gathered our herd and pushed them toward the 'New' corrals. The pens that had been constructed across the Milk River from the ranch buildings, within the actual fields. Somehow, that name just stuck. Even after said corrals had been there a number of years. A great number of years.
My sister and I chased our little herd into the corrals. Then we sat back and watched as the others' herds came in.
There were a few tense moments, but mostly, everything went off well.
The herd was tucked in for the evening.
The next morning, the real work began.
I was assigned to be the 'pusher'.
And no, it's not what it sounds like.
I was the person inside the chute with the calves, pushing each of them into the squeeze so they could be branded.
It was hot, heavy work, especially for a 6-year-old.
And I loved it.
Push. Push. Push. Gate closes. Squeeze squeezes. Tilts sideways. Branding. Shots. Tilts back. Squeeze unsqueezes. Front gate opens. Calf bolts.
Push. Push. Push . . .
And so it went throughout the day. At noon, Mom appeared with lunch for everyone and we abandoned our posts to gather in whatever bit of shade we could find, and gorge.
Have I mentioned that Mom was a great cook?
Two brothers, neighboring ranchers noted for their pranks and hijinks, were on hand to help us out.
They had found a comfortable spot for lunch on one side of the car Mom had driven up in.
Mom and Dad had relaxed on the other side.
Mom had made the mistake of supplying sliced watermelon for our dessert.
The two brothers, as they had finished each piece of watermelon, launched the rinds up into the air over the car, aiming for my hapless parents.
Two rinds had been met with silence. Obvious misses.
The third rind went up.
"Hey!" My Dad's voice.
Bingo.
Dad got up and stalked, playfully, around the car, but the brothers were already gone. He shook his head, turned towards the corrals and walked over to stand next to the chute.
It was the signal for the rest of us to get back to work.
I crawled up the side of the chute and prepared to drop down inside.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alfred, one of the brothers, sneaking up behind my Dad. I turned to watch.
Alfred was carrying a pitcher of ice-cold water, which he proceeded to empty into my Dad's back pocket.
"Hey!" Dad spun around. But by then, Alfred had, once more, disappeared.
Everyone, including Dad, got a real laugh out of that one. Fortunately, with the hot, dry air, his soaked pant leg soon dried.
By sunset, the work was finished and the herds sent back out to pasture. Everyone who had been involved assembled at the house for supper, feeling sunburnt, windblown, tired . . . and happy.
That year, as in previous years, we all sat around the table, talking and laughing.
And it was then I realized that branding was a time of gathering, not just of cattle, but of  family and friends. Because of the vast distances between settlements in this prairie country, people would go months without seeing each other.
So branding, in addition to being the apex of the year regarding the work, was also a time of visiting. Re-acquaintance and exchanging of news.
Perhaps that is why it was so important to all of us who lived there.
More crew. And the squeeze.

In case you missed the announcement, my newest novel, A House Divided is now in stores!
Find your copy at these fine stores;
Chapters/Indigo
Barnes and Noble
Deseret Book
Cedar Fort Publishing (Books and Things)
Amazon.com
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A House Divided

It's finally here!
The long-awaited sequel to Daughter of Ishmael, A House Divided!

Hannah has proved her faith.
And her strength.
But now she must survive her greatest test.
To turn her back on everything she holds dear and somehow build something new out of the ashes of the old.
It's a journey that will try her physically, mentally and, perhaps most of all, spiritually.
Will she survive?
And as war between brothers threatens, will her people?


See the worlds of the scriptures through the women's eyes!
A House Divided is the newest in Biblical fiction by author Diane Stringam Tolley. 
It is available at all fine stores in the US and at Chapters/Indigo in Canada. 
It is also available through Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Meet the Author!
For those living in the Edmonton area, Diane will be featured at a book launch party on December 5, 2017, from 6:30 to 9:30 PM at 1061 56 Street, Edmonton.
Come and meet the author. Stay for a reading and treats.
Copies of both A House Divided and Daughter of Ishmael will be available at special prices.
Take a signed book home with you!


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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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