I grew up hearing stories about when my dad was a kid on my grandfather’s dairy farm in Paris, Idaho, near the turquoise blue waters of Bear Lake.
My father made sure I knew all about how he would walk barefoot across frozen cow pies in the winter when he went out to milk in the mornings and never got any pie filling on his feet.
Or there was the time when an old cow decided she’d had enough of being milked that day, so she dragged her tail in the mud-and-cow pie mixture in the pasture just to whip some into my dad’s mouth the next time he went to milk her. Or how my dad’s family lived in a trailer while building my grandma’s dream home, only to have the farm go broke as they put the finishing touches on the house and say good-bye to their hard work.
But every time we went to Great-Grandpa Stucki’s house for a family reunion, I always wondered where they had fit a dairy farm on the small property. All the adults shared their versions of my dad’s stories with each other, referencing dairy geography in relative descriptions that only made sense if you knew where the barn or trailer was. If you were familiar with the property, as they were, you’d have no problem. I, on the other hand, might as well have been hearing descriptions of Switzerland and I wouldn’t have known the difference.
This summer, during the latest version of the Stucki family reunion — the smaller one without all the cousins — my uncle Robert gave his kids a tour of the Stucki-relevant sites in the Bear Lake Valley, most of which are in Paris.
I wasn’t at the reunion this summer, but fortunately Robert posted some pictures on Facebook. When I saw the one published with this column, I was shocked. Wait, there are still some remnants of the dairy? I thought the barn and other buildings would have been demolished by now. Where is this?
I had to find out. A couple of weeks ago, I went on a boating trip with friends to Bear Lake and convinced my girlfriend to come with me to search for this mythical building that had my name painted on the side.
I called my dad and he directed me to a place about a mile north of Bloomington, which is the next town south of Paris. There was a construction company that had made its headquarters in a brown house I can only assume was my grandma’s perfect home, and the roof of the barn had started to collapse — apparently from the weight of snow since there were no cows inside to keep the tin shingles warm enough to melt it.
But there wasn’t a trace of the painted barn wall I saw in my uncle’s photograph. The barn didn’t even look like it was made from the same material that I was looking for.
I called my dad again, frustrated I couldn’t find the barn, and was a little taken aback by his response.
“Oh, you’re talking about the old-old farm?”
Wait, there were two Stucki Dairy farms? Apparently the painted building I wanted to see was behind a different house on my great-grandfather’s street.
I was surprised to find the building next door to my great-grandfather’s house, on property that now belongs to the Matthews. They were nice enough to let my uncle Robert take a photograph on their land. There are houses up and down my great-grandfather’s street, and I had never thought there would have been a working dairy farm in the property beyond their backyards.
I don’t know the full story yet, and I’m still fuzzy about the details on which of my Stucki grandfathers left the dairy for a while to be a cop, which left to be a judge, which a school teacher — or if it was the same man who did all three — only to return and take over when his father decided he was done farming.
I’m fascinated with the stories — which is fascinating in itself — and I’m quickly learning that others in my family are also quite taken with our history. When I asked Robert on Facebook if I could run his photo with this column, the comment string suddenly came to life after months of inactivity, with cousins from all branches of my great-grandfather’s family tree asking how they could get a copy of this column.
I was proud to find this painted piece of history, proud to see it with my own eyes for the first time, to feel a connection with Stucki men who had long-since given up farming when they were lowered into their graves. I was also proud to feel like a part of me belonged to Bear Lake Valley.
I can’t help but wonder how long that barn wall will stand, giving life to the faded paint that physically symbolizes my family’s existence there. If it falls, I wonder if the picture will be preserved, or if a Facebook photo and the collected memories will be the only evidence of what was once the Stucki Dairy.