Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

An Enduring Romance: Part Two

If you missed part one, there's still time. Go here.
Do it now. We'll wait . . .

In her own words.
More from Grandma's journals:

Grandma Stringam watched George, the man who would later become her husband, as he rode away on his white horse, thinking he would one day make someone a fine husband. She was sure, however that he would be married long before she grew up.

Six years later.
I was nearly nineteen and he was still not married although everyone expected that he would marry his first wife’s sister because he had been taking her out.
It was about in June after I came back from teaching that there was a new baby in the home of my Uncle Walter. I went to their home to help. While I was there, George and two of his sisters came to visit my uncle and see the new baby.
After a while George left and went over to my home and asked my younger sister to go for a ride. He came back a short time later to pick up his sisters and said just as he was leaving, “Your sister tells me you’re having a dance Tuesday night.”
I said, “Yes. Bring a bunch down and we’ll have a good time.”
The next day, I went home and there was my younger sister letting the hem of her dress down. In those days if you wore a dress long it meant that you were older and I knew she was letting it down because she was going to go to the dance with George.
Tuesday, when it was getting near dance time, I went home to bathe and get ready. My sister was also getting ready and I said, “Maude, are you going to go to the dance with me?”
She said, “No.”
Then I was sure she was going with George, so I went on alone.
Right after the dance started, it started to rain and it kept on raining. By nine o’clock almost everyone was there, but George and his sisters hadn’t arrived.
About ten o’clock, when I was dancing with somebody quite near the door, it opened and there stood George.
He said, “Where is Gus?”
I found Gus for him and he asked if he could put his team in our barn. After he helped his sisters to get out of the rain, he and my brother took the team to our barn.
My sister, Maude, had come to the dance alone a little while before this so I knew he wasn’t bringing her.
At midnight we served lunch and it was still raining. Nobody wanted to go home in all that rain so we decided to keep on dancing. At four o’clock it quit and as I was ready to start for home, George came up and said, “Can I walk you home?”
Of course I told him yes so my brother and his girlfriend, George’s two sisters, George and I made our way to my home and waited until the horses were ready.
Just as he was ready to leave, he turned to me and said, “I’ll be down on Sunday and will very likely see you then.”

Monday, September 18, 2017

Suit(able) for a Birthday

Another of 

Daddy's favourite stories . . .

For years, she worked untiringly
In times of calm, or urgency,
In office work, traditional,
Her business place so integral.

Her husband was so proud of her,
His sweet, but strong entrepreneur,
So, for her birthday, he’d reward
The lovely woman he adored.

And straightway took her to the store
To blow all he did budget for,
For something pretty she could wear,
Unmatched by all who might compare.

And so received from her dear spouse
A lovely suit, with silky blouse.
A gorgeous jacket: shade of blue,
A pleated skirt of matching hue.

Then marched herself to work that day,
Receiving greetings on the way,
Confident in how she looked,
As pretty as a picture . . . book.

Her boss was in when she got there,
She checked her image with due care,
Then to his office, she did trot,
To show the suit her husband bought.

But just as she had stepped inside,
A customer with needs, applied
For entrance to their workplace there,
The boss sprang up from his wing chair.

“So sorry that I made you wait,
(Today my girl’s a fashion plate),
But she was looking oh-so-cute,
When showing me her birthday suit!”

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 in our neighbourhood,
We'll tackle 'underwear'. It'll be good!

Sunday, September 17, 2017


In Pat's part of Vancouver, BC of the late fifties, there were two options for attending school.
St. Helen, where she attended. And Seton Academy, for the well-heeled, which she didn’t. The nun sister teachers moved back and forth between the two.
Once a year, she and her fellow St. Helen(ians) were allowed to enter the hallowed Seton halls. On cleaning day. At the behest of a combination of parents/nuns/church.
Willingly—or slightly less willingly—these kids appeared at the gates of Seton Academy and awaited their assignments.
Pat and her crew were sent to the dorms to remove the light mattresses to the courtyard for airing/sun.
Now I should probably point out that said mattresses were currently residing in rooms at the top of a lengthy set of stairs. And that these mattresses had to be lugged. Both up and down.
Now, Pat, she of the quick mind surveyed the situation and, in a burst of inventiveness (inspired by a desire to do less, not more) suggested that, rather than lug, the girls should simply suspend.
And drop.
The stairwell was perfectly situated.
What’s the worst that could happen?
What indeed.
The first mattress or two made the drop with no problems.
And surprising accuracy.
Then, just as Pat released the next in a large pile, visiting Mother Superior opened the doorway halfway down the stairway and stepped to the landing.
Remember when I mentioned ‘surprising accuracy’?
Well, that becomes more important here.
The mattress met headmistress . . . ummm . . . head on.
The mattress won.
Wimple askew and senses rather scattered, the Sister was rescued from the landing by a colleague and whisked inside out of danger.
While Pat and her fellow mattress(ians) stood there, mouths agape in horror.
They were so dead.
In absolute silence, they continued with their job, abandoning their earlier cost-saving actions and creeping down the stairs, mattresses in hand.
Job finished, and using the same ninja-like stealth, they crossed back through the building toward the exit.
A path which led through the academy kitchens.
Two nuns were busy in the great room, stirring up lunch.
As the girls approached, one of them whipped around.
Many things went through Pat’s mind. Not the least of which was a reprise of: We are so dead!
But word of her latest escapade had not yet reached the kitchen. Rather, in the hands of the sister was a tray of cookies.
The girls partook. And then took themselves out of there.
Much to Pat’s surprise and delight, there were no repercussions.

However, a few years later, that same Mother Superior walked into Pat’s classroom on a visit. She looked around at the bright faces and smiled. Then she saw Pat. “Ah,” she said. “Pat. I remember you.”

Saturday, September 16, 2017

An Enduring Romance

From Grandma Stringam's journals
In her own words:
Grandpa. Taken shortly after this story.
 As I grew older, Mother would take us to what we called 'Dark Valley Ranch' for several weeks during the summer. The ranch was owned by one of her brothers, Alexander Coleman.
While we were there we would milk as many as 65 cows and make butter and cheese.
The cows did not belong to us.
They belonged to George W. Stringam [and his son, George L. Stringam] who pastured them on the mountain meadows next to the ranch.
George W. was willing for us to milk the cows if we would leave half of it for their calves. We would put the calves in a pen to keep them away from their mothers, and then we would tie the cow's legs and sit down on a one-legged stool and milk till we had about half. Then we'd let the calf out to finish the job.
There were always two or three of my brothers and sisters there to help.
The first time I remember seeing the man who was to be my future husband was at this Dark Valley Ranch.
This would have been in the summer of 1897, just a few months before he married [his first wife] May Snow.
He would come every two weeks to check on the cattle. He rode a white horse and led another white one which carried his camping gear.
He usually spent a night or two at the ranch when he made these trips. He was a good friend of my uncles and also my brother, Gus.
At the time, I was barely twelve, just a kid, and he was a man about to be married.
I can remember he liked to tease and gave me quite a time about a calf that was my special pet.
I can also remember seeing him ride over the hill at the ranch in the late summer, the next year, just after his wife died.
I thought to myself that he was a fine man who would make some girl a good husband.
I wished that I was a few years older and then I just might have a chance.
However, I put it out of my mind because I was sure he would marry again, long before I grew up.

Grandma and Grandpa Stringam were married in June of 1905. Their marriage lasted for over fifty years, until his death in 1959.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Sticking To It

I looked through the frosted glass of the front door. The silhouettes of two people could be plainly seen, thrown into sharp relief by the setting sun behind them.
One of them was speaking. “We’ll get to the bottom of this real quick, Inspector.”
I rolled my eyes. Officer Saggot was back. And by the looks of it, had brought reinforcements.
One of them put a finger on the bell and left it there.
I jerked the door open, startling the two men standing on the front step. “Officer?”
“Oh, erm . . . Mrs. Sputterling, I mean Kayser,” the officer said. He hitched his uniform up over his too, too solid midsection. “Yes . . . well . . . um . . . I'm back.”
I nodded. I mean, he was standing right there. Hard to miss. I leaned against the edge of the door. “Yes, Officer?”
He waggled a finger at me. “And to make sure there are no more shenanigans, I’ve brought Inspector Wilson with me.”
The way the title rolled off his tongue, I almost felt I should be bowing. I glanced at the man beside him. About retirement age. Short. Lean. With a gleaming bald head and thick, bushy eyebrows. “So?”
Now, I know you know I’m really not a rude person. But I’d been accused of nasty things by this officer and I wasn’t feeling charitable. Plus, I still hadn’t found my sister. Okay, yes, I had spoken to her, but you also know that speaking to Norma without benefit of visual aid is usually . . . unproductive. Or downright confusing.
“Mrs. Kayser.” The Inspector had decided to get into the conversation. “May we come in?”
I stood back and swung the door wide. “Of course. But I don’t know what you are going to be able to do.”
The two men stepped into the front hall.
“My colleague informs me that you have been uncooperative on this investigation.”
I frowned sharply. “I have not!” I snapped. “It’s just that he didn’t believe me!”
The inspector’s eyebrows went up. They looked like two big, fat caterpillars perched above his eyes.
“Did you know your eyebrows look like big, fuzzy caterpillars?” someone asked.
I suppressed a smile.
“I . . . erm . . . what?” The inspector looked around. “Who said that?”
“It’s her! The sister. I told you!” The officer leaned toward his colleague, looking smug. “Still up to their tricks!”
The inspector narrowed his eyes and looked at me. “Would you be so kind as to explain this, Ma’am?”
I shrugged. “I will but you won’t believe me.”
He merely waited.
I sighed. “This house is haunted.”
The Inspector sucked in a quick breath.
I paused, but when he said nothing, went on. “My sister has been quite friendly with the spirit or spirits who live here. Christmas, BBQ’s. Weekends at the lake. She invites them to everything. Yesterday, she disappeared in the middle of a conversation about going to the ‘other side’ for a visit.”
Officer Saggot snorted. “See? And she expects us to swallow this!”
But the Inspector was looking . . . interested. “Go on,” he said.
I blinked. “Well . . . there’s not much more to tell.” I scratched my head. “I’ve talked with her. She says she having fun. Norma never really was much into details.”
“So she’s on the other side right now?”
I nodded.
The eyebrows again as he tipped his head toward me. “Could I talk to her?”
His colleague looked at him, a sharp frown on his round face. “Sir, I . . .”
“If you aren’t interested, go wait in the car, Saggot!”
“No. No, I’m interested,” he said hurriedly.
“Well, we can try,” I told him. I looked up. “Norma? Are you here?”
“Well where else would I be!” Norma sounded a little testy. “I live here, don’t I?”
“The inspector wants to talk to you.”
“I heard!” There was a pause. “So? What do you want to talk about?”
“Well . . . maybe you’d like to describe to me . . . erm . . . where you are?”
“I’m right here!”
He looked around. “I don’t see you.”
“Well, on the other side of right here.”
“Could you describe it?”
A sigh. “Foyer. Stairway. Doors to the front room and the outside. Hallway to the back of the house. My sister and two policemen standing looking around. I don’t know. What do you want to hear?”
“That’ll do.” The inspector was looking more and more  . . . happy? Excited?
“Sir, I really think we should be . . .”
“Quiet, Saggot!”
The officer pressed his lips together and took a step back.
“So you don’t have to wait for night or the light of a full moon or anything like that to talk to us?” the Inspector asked.
“Nope.” Norma was sounding a little more cheerful. “The lines are always open.”
“Are there other . . . people there?”
“Oh, yeah. Lots of them.”
“Any . . . young people?”
I looked at him. His expression had just gotten very intense.
“Oh yeah!” I could hear the smile in Norma’s voice. “They keep things hopping!” Her voice lowered a bit in volume, almost as though she had turned away from us.” “Yeah. Yeah. Okay.”
“What?” the Inspector asked.
“Oh, I was just talking to someone. I’m supposed to give you this.”
A hockey stick appeared out of the air, narrowly missing Saggot as it clattered to the floor between the two officers.

Enjoying this episode of the Sputterling Sisters?
Catch up with them here:

From Over There
Today’s post is a writing challenge. This is how it works: participating bloggers picked 4 – 6 words or short phrases for someone else to craft into a post. All words must be used at least once and 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.  
At the end of this post you’ll find links to the other blogs featuring this challenge. Check them all out, see what words they got and how they used them. 

My words for September: bell ~ moon ~ hockey stick ~ real ~ car

They were submitted by: Karen at   

Now go and see what the others have done with the challenge!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Behind the Apron

Mom being Mom
My Mom was amazing.
She was the force behind:
Meals appearing at clockwork intervals.
Soiled clothes in hampers being replaced by clean, folded clothes in neat stacks in drawers.
Floors scoured to a mirror finish.
Dirty dishes disappearing from the table.
Clean dishes appearing.
Yummy snacks, (ie. Puddings, cakes, pies, pastries) showing up with amazing regularity.
Gardens stretching, lush and weed-free for miles.
Lawns being mowed.
Pets fed and cared for.
Kids travelling to and from school.
Deadlines met.
Bills paid on time.
New, hand-made outfits appearing.
Hired men cared for.
Doctor's appointments kept.
Sewing and other women's clubs attended.
Bedtime routines honoured.
Sicknesses nursed.
Arguments refereed.
Church attended.
In fact, she was the driving force behind every facet of our daily life.
Always there.
To me . . . just Mom.
When I was four, she bought me a pair of skates.
Sat me on our front step and strapped them on my feet.
Then took me across the yard to the ice-covered street and taught me how to skate.
Once I got my balance, she skated along behind me for a while.
Encouraging, instructing and safe-guarding.
Finally, when she was sure of me, she struck out on her own.
Swooping and spinning across the ice like a bird.
I stopped and watched.
This was the woman who spent her days 'looking after'.
For the first time in my four years, I realized that there was more to my Mom than what I had always seen.
Here was a woman who had been talented enough to skate competitively.
I later discovered that she had also been invited to play ball professionally.
Offered a scholarship to university.
And many other opportunities.
All of which she set aside for my Dad.
My siblings.
And me.
I watched her as she spun in a tight circle.
Going faster and faster.
Coming to a final, breathless halt.
And skating smoothly away.
My Mom.
She skated past me.
She spun and looked at me.
“I'm hungry.”
She smiled. “Time to go in, dear?”
I nodded.
Immediately, she stopped and reached for my hand, helping me carefully back across the yard to our front step.
Mom was just 'Mom' again.
But for an instant, I had caught sight of something else.
Someone else.
The woman inside.
That day.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

On Being Late

They liked the old retiree, though he was a little gruff,
They had hired him ‘cause he seemed smart and surely knew enough.
And they were right. He mastered all the work they gave to do,
And it wasn’t long till he became “the one who follows through”.
He did so well at all his work, for a while, they just ignored
His penchant for arriving late. ‘Cause he always kept his word.
One day, the boss had had enough and called him in to talk.
The man said, “I know why you’ve called, it’s really not a shock.”
“I know I’m late, I’m trying, but it’s harder than you think,
“I’ll do my best and I’ll improve, I’d rather swim than sink!”
His boss just shook his head and frowned. “What did they do before?”
“Did your boss just look the other way when you came in the door?”
The man just smiled. His grizzled face had turned a little pink.
“They said, “Morning, Admiral. What would you like to drink?”

Today is a poetry challenge from Karen of Baking in a Tornado.
The topic? Be Late for Something Day. Okay, yes, the official date was September 5.
We're late.
See what the other challengers had wrought!

Karen of Baking In A Tornado: White Rabbit and Me
Dawn of Cognitive Script: Better Late Than Never, Right?
Lydia of Cluttered Genius: Better Late than Never

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Drinks and a Show

Or you could do it that way . . .
There was no lawnmower in the early days on the Berg Ranch.
When the grass got long, the hay-mower could be used, but in smaller areas, this proved impossible.
One had to get creative.
The four-footed lawnmowers were brought out.
Usually, the well-trained saddlehorses would take care of the problem—filling their bellies and tidying the area at the same time.
But one year, three angus bulls were given the job. They spent their days tethered out among the trees, contentedly munching the long grass and growing fat in the cool shade.
For water, someone would untie them, lead them across the yard to the trough by the barn, then take them back to continue their ‘work’.
It worked well. Till the ‘incident’.
Anyone who has lived on (or near) a farm can tell you that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ day.
Usually the dust-ups and uh-ohs are just something to laugh at.
And that was the case here.
One evening, several of my Berg uncles were leading the three members of their lawn maintenance crew to water. Grampa Berg happened to be standing there beside the trough as they approached.
Meanwhile, across the barnyard, two salesmen in a car slid to a stop. Seeing Grampa out in the yard, they started toward him.
All went well to this point. Bulls. Uncles. Grampa. Salesmen.
Now the bulls were used to their Berg attendants. And knew all of them by sight.
But these salesmen were new.
The bulls decided they were worth investigating.
At a run.
Towing the boys.
The salesmen were understandably alarmed. And decided, individually and collectively, that their best course was to run.
Which they did.
Right into each other.
Resulting in two stunned salesmen trying to crawl away along the ground.
The bulls stopped short and stared. Yep. Here was definitely something new . . .
I know you'll agree with me that there is all sorts of entertainment for us humans at our local ‘watering holes’.
Turns out it’s the same for the four-footed variety as well.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Unexpected Nature

Our family took a nature hike.
The famed Banff Fenlands was our goal.
The ancient forest, shady trails
And ‘Pooh-sticks’ bridges. Lovely stroll.

We’d quite an age range, I’ll agree,
From newborn babe to Gramma, old.
Saw ravens, squirrels, chipmunks, elk,
Nine burrows, nests and lichen mold.

Two had fallen, skinned their knees.
One got moss/bugs in her hair.
Three had roamed, chased back by me.
One rammed a tree, his eyes . . . elsewhere.

Two slipped and soaked at least one shoe.
One needed nursing. Mom! Right now!
Our favourite sort of family fun,
While jumping roots and dodging boughs.

Beside the trail, a rotted tree.
‘Twas taller than the other plants,
Was struck by lightning long ago,
Then finished by car-pen-ter ants.

Our son, Erik, explained it thus,
To cousins ages five and six.
He reached and grabbed the ancient trunk.
The four kids simply stared, transfixed.

“This happened once the tree was killed.”
He pulled on it to illustrate.
The tree split down the middle then,
A giant felled by its own weight.

Our son stared at the crushed remains.
A wee bit stunned by what he’d done.
The kids were happy, they’d not foreseen
Such a show when they’d begun.

Your Dad just ripped that tree in half!”
They said in their vernacular.
His young son grinned and “Yup” he said.
“My Dad, you know’s spectacular!”

There’s lots of things for you to see,
With all your family. In the woods.
Not all of them about nature,
But each and every one is good.

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 in our neighbourhood,
We'll tackle 'working'. It'll be good!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Pig Problems

The Berg farm, in its heyday, was a truly ‘mixed’ operation, with pigs, horses, chickens, turkeys, geese and cattle.
From 10 to 30 sows (female pigs) generally had the run of the farm for most of the year, causing no problems unless they got into the garden.
Which then generated a whole chain of corresponding (and exciting) proceedings.
But that is another story.
One of these sows was a prolific red (Tamworth), hereinafter known unimaginatively as Old Red. Every year she produced a littler of healthy, vigorous piglets. Piglets that, due to their ultra-attentive mother, were seldom approached by beast. Or man.
Enough background . . .
Old Red’s newest litter was due. Eschewing the man-made comforts of warm pen and clean straw, she headed out in her best piggy fashion across the railroad tracks into a nearby pasture to hunt out a place to farrow (give birth).
All went well to this point.
Now one of the biggest problems vis-à-vis being out by yourself and away from the farm buildings is the fact that you are out by yourself and away from the farm buildings.
All sort of shenanigans can take place.
In this case, a wandering coyote smelled those newly-born, helpless babies.
You should  know that piglet is probably a coyote’s favourite meal and this coyote wasn’t about to pass up on something so . . . available.
Before you start to panic, remember that those piglets all had a mother.
A 300 pound, snorting, stomping, whirlwind of a mother.
Who instantly began her snorting, stomping and whirlwind-ing.
The Berg family was alerted to the fact that Old Red had disappeared and, assuming what had taken place had actually taken place, Uncle Bern and Uncle Roy were sent to bring Old Red and her babies home.
Having dealt with the cranky old sow before, they wisely took a team and hay rack to aid them.
When they arrived, the sow was on the fight and charging after the coyote, who kept out-maneuvering her and heading back toward her babies.
I probably don’t have to tell you that, by this point, the sow was somewhat irate—champing and foaming at the mouth—and not about to tolerate any interference by . . . anything.
Accomplishing their design was going to take some strategy.
When the sow charged off on another attempt to rid herself of her coyote invader, Uncle Bern scooped the 10 piglets into a burlap sack.
I don’t know if you know this, but pigs squeal. Even newborns.
A lot. 
The resultant noise brought Mama frothing back.
Did you ever have one of those days?
She immediately went after this new interloper.
Uncle Bern took off. As he was hot-footing it around the wagon, bagged piglets in hand, he turned his head and realized he was looking past a row of sharp teeth right down into the sow’s gullet.
Understandably, this sight added an incentive that spurred him into high gear.
Rounding the hay rack, he tossed the bag of squealing piglets into the back, but with the sow hot on his heels, he had no time to jump in himself, so continued high-stepping.
The two, man and sow, continued to circle the wagon until Old Red realized, by the aforementioned squealing, that her babies were no long in the hands of this human.
She turned her attention in the direction of the wagon and Uncle Bern used her momentary distraction to gain the wagon himself. Uncle Roy stirred up the team and they all headed toward home.
Men and babies safely inside the wagon.
Disapproving mother snorting and grunting along behind.
Using her piglets as a decoy, the two brothers managed to entice the still-irate Old Red into a warm, dry stall. One remarkably free of coyote menaces.
In moments, the sow was laid out in the stall, grunting happily as her ten piglets nursed contentedly.
Calming the two brothers took a tad longer . . .
But I just had an idea.
Being chased by an angry sow spurred Uncle Bern to new land speed records. What if we unleashed something similar during the Olympics or other foot races.
No steroids or other enhancements to help the athletes reach new heights.
Just sheer terror.
I think it’s worth a thought . . .

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Hay! ing

Yeah. That year.
The hay is being put up here in northern Alberta.
Great, fragrant swaths of it are lying in the field. Great round or square bales of it awaiting transportation to the stack.
Monster machines cutting or binding or hauling.
How different from the days of my Berg uncles in the 50’s.
One winter in the late 1950’s there was a large accumulation of snow. That spring, with the abnormally heavy runoff, the Berry Creek was running higher than normal. About six feet higher.
Now normally, this wouldn’t be a problem.
Except it was haying time.
And my uncles (consisting of eldest--Glen, second--Bern and youngest--Leif and a hired man--Zoltan) had to cross that creek six times a day to get to and from the home place.
Not having a boat or barge, they were left with themselves. Uncle Glen had broken a leg earlier, and with it in a cast, was the only one consigned to riding a horse, who did the swimming for him.
The rest had to rely on their individual ability. For Bern, no problem. For Leif and Zoltan—well, let’s just say that looking at the 40 feet or so of lazily-moving water appeared to those two as a raging torrent of a half-mile or so.
Now, none of them wanted to swim in their clothes, understandable because then they’d have to work in said wet clothes. Their solution? Strip off naked, stuff everything into a burlap sack. Have Bern throw the sack across the river.
And swim across in the buff.
It worked.
Most of the time.
Then . . . THAT day . . .
Bern was swinging the bag around, trying to get up momentum to toss it the forty feet to dry safety.
When he slipped.
The clothes, shoes and everything landed in the creek.
Zoltan was nearest.
Remember when I mentioned his swimming ability? Or lack thereof.
Well, that would matter here.
He decided to alter his course through the water to grab the bag.
And disappeared.
In a churning mass of arms and legs, he managed to resurface, but the currant pushed him along and entangled him in a tree.
In the meantime, the bag of clothes was floating merrily down the creek and was starting to sink.
Picture it.
Three naked men, one seated on a horse and wearing a cast, standing on the creek bank, staring in horror. A fourth man, also naked, caught in a tree in the creek.
A bag of much-needed clothing disappearing rapidly from both view and accessibility.
I just wanted you to catch a glimpse.
Before I told you that Bern, he of the better swimming ability dove into the murky water and managed to save both the man and the clothes.
And they were able to continue their haying, noticeably damp.
But alive.
The cleanest haying crew ever in the history.
And the luckiest.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Cleans Like A White Tornado

Uncle Bern and Aunt Eva Berg
As with many rural families in Southern Alberta in the 1950s, Uncle Bern and Aunt Eva Berg carried on without the benefits of indoor plumbing.
They made do with the little building out back also known as (but not limited to): John, backhouse, outhouse, privy, johnny, two-holer, little house, one-holer, crapper, biffy, can, garden house, outdoor library, reading room, toilet, shanty, white house, rest room, big John, half-moon, outdoor plumbing, dooley, half-moon house, jo, little house behind the big house, Roosevelt, stink house, baggy, bank, bass house, bath with a path, biffy, Big Bertha, boonie, bughouse, Casey Jones, comfort station, corner house, courthouse, cribby, depository, does and bucks, doll house, dollar house, first national bank, going out back, going out to mail a letter, going to see the president, going to take a walk, gooseberry grinders, gramma's house, head, hers and his, hooter, hoover, Jones house, jug, latrine, little brown shack, little house out back, little shack out back, opera house, path house, privy house, queen's throne, roost, sears-roebuck library, shanty house, sheriff, superintendent's office, Uncle john, Uncle Sam's roost, dunny.
And many more too numerous (or PG) to mention.
Back to my story . . .
Also, as with other rural families of . . . (see above) Uncle Bern and Aunt Eva built onto their house and added a (gasp) modern bathroom with (bigger gasp) indoor plumbing.
Their day had come.
No more quick dashes along a frozen path in the middle of the night in the middle of winter. No more Uncle Gordon warming up the car so he could drive as close as possible to the privy and then warm up as soon as possible when the ‘chores were done’.
But now, with installation off the ‘new and improved’, Aunt Eva was determined to get rid of the ‘old and outdated’. And the sooner the better. According to her, it was an eyesore.
Uncle Bern agreed in principle. But turning that agreement into something more proactive took time. After all there was a lot of nostalgic history attached to the little shack. To quote him: “Much important planning had been carried out in silent, undisturbed contemplation in that quiet, dark space over the years.”
But in case you're wondering, Aunt Eva won out.
Apparently her friends are a little more influential than his.
One day, a tornado touched down on their ranch.
Exactly on that little house.
It plucked the little building from the ground and carried it a quarter-mile away—finally dropping it near the canal.
When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Horse's Assets

Stewart Cameron
Another valuable cow pony
Big Enough proved to be a good cow horse. A valuable asset in a large ranching operation. This story is almost about him.
One day, my Uncle Stein was riding Big Enough when he checked the herd. The two of them came upon a large, young bull in considerable pain. The bull had caught his navel on some rose bushes (Yes, they are pretty, but even beauty has it draw-backs) and it had become badly infected.
They were about three miles from the ranch buildings, but Uncle Stein decided his best choice was to bring the bull in.
Now you should probably know that he was dealing with an animal who weighed roughly a ton, was sick and sore, and who wasn’t happy about the 100 degree (F) heat.
They made it about a half mile before the bull protested.
He tried four times to get away, but that little reliable cow pony, Big Enough just wouldn’t allow it.
Finally, winded, and so furious he was foaming at the mouth, the bull turned.
And charged.
Big Enough froze. He’d never seen anything like this!
Closer and closer the bull came and still the horse didn’t move.
Finally, just as the bull made contact, Big Enough reared.
Fortunately, the bull had no horns, but the combination of one-bull-power and one-horse-power succeeded in tipping Big Enough and his rider right over backwards.
Uncle Stein jumped off just in time. And he hit the ground running.
Fortunately for the man in the picture, the bull still had his attention on the horse, who had rolled over and was back on his feet in a flash. Away across the pasture, the two went. The horse running flat out and the furious bull butting him in the hind quarters.
Finally, the horse pulled ahead. The last Uncle Stein saw of him was the flick of a dark tail as he disappeared over the furthest hill, well on his way to the barn and safety. Leaving Uncle Stein stranded in the middle of two miles of prairie with no mount, no trees, no fences and no cover.
And one mad bull.
The bull stopped.
Then turned.
And it was Uncle Stein’s turn to freeze. Not from fear, but because he knew if he moved a muscle, or made the tiniest flinch, it would be the signal for the steaming, pawing bull facing him to charge.
For a full ten minutes the two faced each other.
Finally, the bull lost interest and sauntered off.
Uncle Stein, sweat dripping from his face, began the long trek home.
Yep. A good cow pony. Such a valuable asset.
Except when they’re being butted in the assets.
Ahem . . .

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Breaking Name

Ever wonder how names are chosen for the average working stock (horses) on a Southern Alberta ranch?
I know it's kept me up a night or two . . .
Berg Family

In Southern Alberta, between the communities of Millicent and Duchess nestled the Berg family ranch. There, in the fertile, wide open acres, the family raised crops and cattle and horses.
And eight strapping sons and one daughter, my mom.
The family usually ran about 150 head of brood mares which were left to roam the open spaces with their colts. Each fall, the horses were rounded up, the colts weaned and the mares released. Those colts were kept till spring, then they, too, were ‘turned out’ and left to roam until they were three years old.
Then, the fun started.
The three-year-olds were brought in, carefully inspected for soundness of feet and legs, temperament and spirit.
And then broken to ride.
And now we get to my story . . .
A deep chestnut coloured horse appeared in one of the spring roundups. He wasn’t tall, but was chunky and muscular and though his looks weren’t spectacular, he demanded attention by running alongside or ahead of the herd, revealing rare character in his movements as he reached full flight.
When the cowboys were making their first inspection, this three-year-old was noticed and selected as one of the first to be broken.
Picture it: A noose snakes out and snares the young horse around the front legs, sweeping him off his feet. The instant he hits the ground, a cowboy pounces on his neck, twists his head back and clamps strong, white teeth into the horse’s ear, distracting him. A halter is installed by another cowboy and a gunny sack blind fitted snugly over his eyes. Then the rope is removed and the horse springs to his feet. Two men hold the halter shank as the saddle is buckled on. The bronc buster (hereinafter known as BB) mounts.
Now in this young horse’s case, one of the cowboys advised BB to get ready for a tough ride, but BB just laughed. “This little runt ain’t big enough to give me a bad ride.” With that, he set himself into the saddle, took the halter shank in one hand and gave the signal to turn the horse loose.
In the moment the blind was yanked off, the horse stood, startled, and blinked once.
Then he exploded in every direction. So complete was his frenzy to remove his unwanted load that even the muscles in his eyeballs worked! No one could have stood that punishment for long. BB’s long legs gradually lost their grip. Then space showed between he and the saddle. Then, in two or three more bucks, BB was airborne.
When he hit the ground, the cowboy who had warned him laughed and said, quietly, “Yeah. I guess he is ‘Big Enough’.
Ever wondered how ranch horses get their names?
Now you know.

Uncle Roy when he was just 'Roy'

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Irrigation for Dummy

Water, water, Every(No)where
Irrigation. So simple, a child could do it.
The Stringam Ranch sits in a bend of the south fork of the Milk River.
In the driest part of Southern Alberta.
The driest.
Now, I know that residents from Medicine Hat will try to argue the point but don't listen to them.
After all, they come from a place named 'Medicine Hat'.
Enough said.
Most of the land around the ranch is used as pasture.
Nothing else will grow there.
But the acres immediately beside the river, the 'hay flats', have much more potential.
They can be irrigated.
I'm sure you've seen the giant wheel-move irrigation systems capable of watering an entire quarter-section of land in one pivot. Enormous constructions that transport themselves in a wide arc from an end point and effectively bring the gift of life to whole crops at once.
All at the push of a button.
It's fascinating.
It's wondrous.
It wasn't what we Stringams had.
Our system was . . . erm . . . modest.
And connected, disconnected and moved by hand.
Twice a day.
Our favorite chore.
Morning and evening, the pump would be silenced. The 16 foot lengths of aluminum pipe disconnected and drained one-by-one. And then moved to the next position 40 feet away and reconnected.
It was Dad, Jerry and George's job, mainly.
But I helped.
And therein lies a tale . . .
Early one summer evening, because Dad and Jerry were busy doing other things, Dad asked me to go and help George move pipe.
I stared at him. Me? Do you know what you're asking? Are there horses involved?
Dad turned away, so I shrugged and followed my brother into the lower hay flat.
He shut off the pump.
I watched.
He walked over to the line.
I followed.
He unhooked the first pipe.
Again I watched.
He unhooked the second pipe.
He was really good at this.
He unhooked the third pipe.
I noticed that my light-blue pants looked white in the fading light.
He unhooked the fourth pipe.
We were having a beautiful sunset. Wonderful shades of red and orange against the clear blue of the sky.
He unhooked the fifth pipe.
I stopped looking at the sky and noticed a gopher nearby. Cheeky little guy was just sitting there. Watching us.
He unhooked the sixth pipe.
I chased the gopher into its burrow.
He unhooked the seventh pipe.
I tripped over the sixth pipe on my way back.
He unhooked the eighth pipe.
"George, is this going to take much longer? I'm tired."
He unhooked the ninth pipe.
And beat me with it.
He didn't, really, but I'm sure he wanted to.
By the time 'we' were done moving pipe and had the pump going again, one of us was sweating profusely.
I'll give you a hint.
It wasn't me.
After that, George never allowed me to come with him to move pipe.
Something about me being worse than useless.
Go figure.

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