Once in a Lifetime

Chapter 1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6 . 7 . 8 . 9 . 10 . 11 . Dedication of Castle Valley farm

More than three decades ago, a family left their home in Salt Lake City and began the adventure of a lifetime that changed their world then and still continues even now. This living journal divulges in detail the phenomenon that occurred there to realize a mother’s dream and the continuing miracle in that family today.

Preface

The reminiscing of former times has a great ability to influence one’s current activities. Such is the case as I recount these events of days gone by. But the essence in which these accounts are conveyed is important to understanding their impact. When I contemplated writing down these anecdotes, a host of questions became apparent. Since I felt my approach would be viewed by many different people who find themselves in very different circumstances from my own, it is important to understand that I am about to reveal these events from my perspective. I hope to convey the great lengths and reasoning behind why I felt it important to share these experiences. I wondered how I should refer to my parents (eg as mom and dad or mother and father or granny and grandpa etc). After considerable thought, I decided to refer to them in the context that I felt was normal for the times through which we lived. I called my parents mom and dad on the farm, but when I spoke about them with my friends or acquaintances, I used mother and father. Regardless of the terminology, they have always been worthy of my highest respect. I have tried to follow the same strategy in this book. Today they have come to be known as Granny and Grandpa, by their more than 54 grandchildren and counting, so I have adopted that terminology as well. It is important the reader understand their centrality to this decision and feasibility of the experience. Welcome to our life.

Foreword

Certainly, I am not retelling the Stucki story because I am the most qualified. On the contrary, other family members are much more eloquent and capable. Nor am I relaying this account to boast or gloat. Quite the opposite, some unsavory details about my fears and insecurities as a child and perhaps those as a man are less than admirable and likely going to be broadcast far and wide. Yet I record these memories because I know of the enormous loss it would be to allow these treasures to slip undisclosed into history. The positive impact this experience has made in my life and that of my family can also benefit the reader just as these unique opportunities nurtured us. In fact, just as we have all been molded and shaped by our experiences, I hope to share these anecdotes to help others face challenges and overcome hardships in their lives as we did in ours. My lot has been to rub shoulders throughout my life with some of the finest individuals to grace this planet. Largely, they have been unheralded publicly, but within my heart and among family, friends, and acquaintances, we know of the privilege it has been to cross paths with these amazing people. At times, we worked shoulder-to-shoulder, and on other occasions I have had mere glimpses of their greatness, yet for a moment in the grand scheme of things, I have truly walked in the shadows of giants of our day. But for the most part, these folks have no idea I am talking about them. They are humble, stalwart, and unwavering. Yet from my perspective, they have altered the history of my world and others’ for the better, just as they changed my life for good and turned even the most mundane tasks into glorious, cherished memories. I will someday stand guilty if I fail to do my part to record these events, though it’s only a hundredth part of what could be written. I have the ability to chronicle this experience and am duly called to witness of this truth. And perhaps some of the experiences shared here and the conclusions drawn from life’s lessons and benefits of making correct choices will provide light, hope, and even direction to my posterity as they face obstacles in their own lives, just as my challenges shaped mine.

In one way or another, I have recounted my experience as a boy growing up in the rugged country of southern Utah a thousand times and in at least a hundred different ways. Sometimes it was for the purpose of relating what really happened after our life in Salt Lake City. Sometimes I was describing my upbringing in the stunning backdrop of southern Utah’s canyonlands. At times, I shared stories of growing up on the farm or lessons learned in my youth. But it never occurred to me at the time how astonishing our Castle Valley experience really turned out to be. I knew it was unusual for an American family to leave the city and make a new home in the country, undeveloped and raw, as we did late in the 20th century. But not until I reached the age that my parents were when they instigated this adventure so many years ago did I begin to understand its full impact nearly three decades later. Certainly it was unusual, but how extraordinary I knew not. We are of course familiar with similar occasions when people are motivated by their dreams and aspirations, but few actually get the chance to experience it to the degree that we did. Perhaps that is one reason this story is so unique. We were able to live the dream that we imagined years before and fully realize its fulfillment. Everybody has ambitions, visions they hope and plan for the future. But we actually lived the dream. Our dreams. Mom’s dream. Sometimes our imagination conceives something so phenomenal we can only live it in our minds or experience a small portion of the whole—sectional aspects of a picture-perfect reality. At these times, we handle the situation by saying that it’s too good to be true or perhaps this really only happens in storybooks, and rightfully so. Because these situations occur so infrequently, the opportunity truly becomes one in a million. That makes our story even more remarkable, because indeed we had the chance to experience every tantalizing, invigorating detail. Time can alter the way we perceive history. We magnify the good things and minimize the challenges. Indeed, life is full of opposites. But it is also true that on occasion we experience something so remarkable that we cannot justifiably put it into words—a beautiful song, a breathtaking sunset, an instance that cannot be reproduced any better than the original. Is it possible that a lifetime can achieve that kind of solidarity? I didn’t think so then, but I do now. If there is any problem or discrepancy with this account, I take full responsibility. This is a true story and my version of the miraculous events that took place there; others may remember it differently, but this is my recollection of the way it went down for me. So, we sincerely welcome you into the most intimate aspects of our family and life growing up on this modern-day homestead in the remote outskirts of a southern Utah community called Castle Valley, a place we all loved. And we want to be sure everyone gets an opportunity to hear the remarkable story of this seemingly typical family during an era that was quite literally the chance of a lifetime.

Prologue

It’s strange that our whole family was born and raised in Salt Lake City, because to think about it now, we have all had an affinity for the country. While the metropolis of Salt Lake City is rather small when compared to the rest of the nation, it nonetheless is a city. This passion to live in the country burned ever so brightly in the heart of my mother.

My family lived in the same house in Holladay for 23 years. The rambler was built while mother was pregnant with Leslie, and even though it wasn’t finished, my parents and their infant son Brent moved into the new house when Leslie was brought home from the hospital. By the time I came around, there had already been multiple additions and plenty of remodels completed. The house would continue to grow with our family. Though it started as a nice three-bedroom home, we soon outgrew the accommodations. Frequent renovations occurred: a new room here, remodeled kitchen there, or an updated basement quarters. At one point, when I was just a boy, my parents planned and carried out a considerable makeover that included a new family room, front entrance, master bedroom, and an equally massive increase in the basement, including a game room, fruit room, wood shop,lesliedadrobyn and multiple storage rooms. We converted the garage into a family room with an indoor BBQ, which I am not sure we ever used much. The point here is that the house grew right along with the family. The facilities outside matured over time as well. A play house was built for the girls and a tree hut for the boys. We had a swing set and slide, a patio and outdoor BBQ. There was a large undeveloped field behind our house, which separated us from the outside world and more traffic. We were not isolated, but we enjoyed the wide-open spaces around us. I remember the older children gathering asparagus from the field behind the house, and I rode my bike on the trails or made forts in the dirt. We often cut across this expanse to get to church or the swimming club.

Life was good.

Then an interesting phenomenon happened over a number of years. The transition was so slow that to me, it was imperceptible. But looking back with hindsight now, it appears to have been orchestrated from the very beginning. We nurtured a compost pile, numerous flower gardens, fruit trees, and a decorative landscape including pines, rock work, fences, shrubs, and a wisteria tree—the fragrance from its blossoms blanketed our front yard. Yet somehow, it wasn’t enough. Mom and Dad frequently let us have pets: rabbits, dogs, fish, and various other outside animals for the most part but no cats. After a while, we began raising some hens. I think Randy was largely responsible for the chickens, but I believe that Mother was just as excited for them as the rest of us. He took care of them as I remember. Sometime during this period, we began growing a significant garden in the backyard of a brother in our ward, Mr. Gigi. He was old and decrepit, so he couldn’t raise vegetables on his own. But we could, and with his nice plot of land and irrigation water, we shared the produce with him. And we learned something about raising a garden, irrigation, and lots of hard work, which all came in handy later on.

Not long after this, a developer started building homes in “our” field behind the house. Of course, it took years to complete, but soon these changes began encroaching on the lifestyle and traditions we held dear. Gathering wild asparagus was less common and eventually no longer possible. But as a child, I found new opportunities for excitement. When the construction workers dug holes for the basements, it left mountains of earth where we played, rode bikes, and dug forts. It was an exciting playground for a young boy. Soon foundations were completed and workers built the cinder block walls. We would play amid the construction, knowing that leaping from wall-to-wall was risky above the re-bar, cinder block, and cement. I remembered the story my father told me when his mother warned him not to play on construction walls. He fell and broke his collar bone. That story didn’t deter me, however. Best I remember, there were close calls, but I never did fall and hurt myself badly. But perhaps the lesson I should have learned would have prevented much more serious situations that occurred later in my life.

I will always remember when the development had finally reached our side of the field. A cul-de-sac was planned adjacent to our yard and one of the new homes was built “eight feet from our back fence.” Those were Mom’s words, and I remember them as though they were spoken yesterday. Mom couldn’t let it go…our need for a plot of land in the country became much more fervent. Well it was about this time that mom and dad started openly looking for a farm.

Finding Castle Valley

In our pursuit to “move to the country,” Mother searched many advertisements and newspaper articles for land. Most descriptions in the paper portrayed hidden paragons of splendor with majestic landscapes, a beautiful country home, and a crystal-clear lake with a stream. Except for a few spots, what Mother usually found when exploring these “treasures” were lifeless hills, junky wooden sheds, and a large mud hole at the end of a ditch. But that didn’t stop her. She didn’t give up! As a family, we visited a few of the most promising locations, but none of the parcels we examined ever felt right. Our expectations were high: long growing season, good water and abundant resources, large enough to satisfy our needs and supply room to grow. As with some of the other family endeavors, this one seemed doomed to failure. Or was it? Early in the year 1976, Mother responded to an advertisement for land which she had read about in the newspaper. While the rest of us went on with our normal lives, Mother, Robyn, and Kimberly took a trip to Southeastern Utah to get a firsthand look at the offerings. This venture seemed to me pretty much the same as the others, except this one lasted a couple of days. But when they returned this time, there was definitely something different. As Mother told us about what she had seen and heard, we saw in her eyes and heard in her voice the trembling of excitement and glimmer of hope that this was the opportunity for which we had been searching. She described a beautiful green valley, large Cottonwood trees, towering red rock cliffs, and even nearby ponds and a stream. The land was affordable, and nearly the entire valley of parcels was available for our choosing. “This time is different,” she promised. Robyn and Kim glowed with equal excitement, which soon radiated to all of us in the form of unbearable anticipation. A trip was planned; provisions were made; and a chapter in the history of the W. Richard Stucki family began to unfold. Our lives were to be changed forever.

Climbing into the car for our journey to go see the valley was like boarding a time capsule to discover our future. Somehow, as our car passed through the streets and houses of our neighborhood on our way to explore the ‘promised land’, I knew that the neighborhood we left that day, the place where our family had worked and played and lived for nearly two-dozen years, would soon no longer be the backdrop to the stage of our lives. We traveled south past Orem and Provo and into Spanish Fork Canyon. We continued up and over Soldier’s Summit to Price, Green River, and on toward Crescent Junction. At this time, the main highway flowed directly through the center of these small towns. I remember thinking then how little and remote they seemed. We turned south at Crescent Junction, moving directly toward Moab (pronounced MO AB, not MOBE like I first thought) and the entrance to the Arches National Park. Mother explained that we were nearing our destination and our anticipation soared, but quickly the sun plunged toward the skyline. It was early evening when we passed Arches and crossed the Colorado River bridge. “Just 25 miles up this windy road, and we’ll be there,” Mother encouraged.

Now, I’m not too proud to say that although I wanted to believe in this ‘promised land’ about which Mother had spoken so highly, I had only seen desert, dirt, and cactus for the last 150 miles of our trip. My faith in a beautiful green valley was waning just a bit, but when we turned on to the Colorado River road for the last leg of our journey, I noticed the terrain indeed did change–from red sand into red rock! Our doubts soon turned into comments like “This is it? You brought us all this way down here to see these rocks. I thought you said there was green!” but Mother’s excitement only increased, “Wait, just wait. We’re almost there.”

The sun had fallen below the red rock cliffs and the shadows were tall and long. Interesting shapes filled the contours of the landscape, stretching across the winding road and down to the river. Often the water crept very close, and other times it fell out-of-sight far below the highway. The anticipation increased as the car wove back-and-forth on the river road. At last we rounded a corner and gazed upon the beautiful White’s Ranch beside the Colorado River, our doubts and jests soon turned into unbelief and amazement. “How could this green ranch lie here in the middle of the desert?” Cattle and horses covered the acres of green alfalfa. Large Cottonwood trees surrounded small cabins and a mobile home. And nestled beside corrals, tack sheds, and a tractor flowed a small, clear-running stream. Mother told us that this same creek coursed through the valley we had come to see. The sun had fallen beneath the horizon and dusk was upon us. Our surroundings grew darker rapidly now, except for the mammoth, solid rock cliffs directly in front of us. The towering, red rock crags glowed fiery red like a burning bush. The sun had dropped far beneath the horizon behind us and now the only formation tall enough to catch its rays was this tremendous ensign before us. The red rock spectacle burned more vividly and brightly that night than any other time I can remember since. Mother said then that it was a sign from God welcoming us to our new home. I believe that to be true. Soon we came to the bridge at White’s ranch which crossed over the small stream. We continued along the river road until we reached the Castle Valley turn off. As we drove along the steep and narrow, one-lane road, our anticipation and excitement intensified. The winding road traversed back-and-forth until, at last, we reached the summit of the hill and slipped down into the valley. The feeling I experienced at that moment, I will never forget. Seemingly from nowhere, a beautiful, green valley stretched before us. Enormous Cottonwood trees, rich green pastures, and rustic cabins and barns appeared below. Hundreds of acres of ground were surrounded by a red cliff fortress. The rock bluff extended up to the La Sal Mountains at the top of the valley and was swallowed up in the luscious, green foliage. Toward the East of the valley stood a small mountain with the characteristics of a volcano, called Round Mountain, and the little stream meandered for miles down the length of the canyon. Admittedly, dusk had nearly turned into night, but that’s nevertheless how I remember it.

With nightfall quickly approaching, we stopped at the sales office and were told we could set up camp near the old homestead at the bottom of the valley. It was dark by now, and we found bats living in the old cabin, so we chose to place our sleeping bags under a canopy of trees. Exhaustion soon overcame anticipation, and we promptly drifted off to sleep. Morning came quickly and when we awoke, a herd of horses had wandered carefully into our camp and surrounded us. They sniffed our sleeping backs, and snooped around curiously. The horses remained calm until we awoke and arose from our bags. When we started to get up, they galloped away. The children were elated. And although this encounter with the horses was brief, little did we know it was just the beginning of many hours of fun and excitement with them.

CastleRockMorning

Myriad of misconceptions

Our new experience farming was the beginning of a lot of firsts. It was the first time we ever owned farm animals like pigs and goats. Each of us had preconceived ideas of what these animals were like, usually from little things we had heard or read and usually wrong. For instance, there is a widespread rumor that goats will eat anything—not true. Goats are actually fussy eaters. They are demanding and selective in the hay they choose to eat—unlike cows that are not so particular. Goats are probably perceived this way because they like to nibble on most everything—coats, sleeves, ropes, tin cans—They don’t really eat these things, but they nibble on them incessantly and pretty much everything else. I suppose that’s why people say goats will eat anything.

Next example, everyone knows that pigs are, well just that, pigs! They are a messy, dirty, sloppy, and disgusting—everybody knows that. They live in a filthy pen, eat rotten food, and wallow in the mud just to be messy, right? Wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pigs can be incredibly attentive and are particularly smart animals. Naturally, if they are put in a pen with mud and muck, they will root and wallow in it for food or to cool off on a hot day. However, the inside of our pig pens were cement, which was easily cleaned by spraying it off with a hose. The outside portion of the pen was reserved for wallowing. Given the opportunity, pigs are strong, solid, and smart.

What I noticed first about pigs was their insatiable need to be recognized and given attention. We purchased our first sow while she was still young and brought her to the farm in the back of a moving truck, which we borrowed from Harmons. We gave our new pig the name Petunia. We thought that was the perfect name for the mother of our forthcoming litter of pigs. She was a young, but pretty good-sized sow by now. She would oink and grunt when we talked to her, as though we all understood everything that was being said. We scratched her side, and she would roll over on her back so we could stroke her tummy—she loved that. And so did we! A 300-pound pig responding to our prompts was an exhilarating feeling for us city folk. Petunia was playful and kind, and she kept an immaculate home, which was orderly, clean, and organized. But, like others do, we were wont to throw scraps in the pig pen so she could eat them up, and that made things messier, I suppose. We had many other animals, too. Of course, the goats, like the pigs, were brand new for us, too. So we learned how to milk our goats by following the instructions in a book. Nicky, a French Alpine doe which had been milked before, was our first experiment. Lucky for us, she already knew the routine and was patient while we learned the process, which was quite an ordeal: give her a can of grain, wash the udder, pinch and squeeze from top to bottom until the foamy white milk quickly filled the bucket. The goal was to drain the milk from the udder before the goat stepped-in or kicked the milking bucket, which destroyed or spilled all the milk. The objective to accomplish this was to complete the milking quickly so the goats were still nibbling up the grain, which was like candy to them. It both helped sweeten the milk and satisfied the goat during milking. As long as the goat had grain to eat, it was happy. But if it finished the grain before milking was completed, things got interesting. Though I was not the primary milker—the girls seemed to connect with and took care of the goats—I certainly had plenty of opportunities to fill in. All the family members needed to learn how to complete the chores, so we could help hold down the needs of the farm. We also had another goat, Marmee, a young white Saanan. We learned that goat’s milk was more nourishing than cow’s milk. We often repeated the little-known fact “you can feed a calf on goat’s milk, but you can’t raise a kid (baby goat) on cow’s milk.” It was interesting and made us sound like authorities on the subject. Dad built a milking stall that held the goats in place and provided a clean, level spot for the milking pail. We milked twice a day, morning and evening. The goats each produced about 1-2 quarts of creamy white milk per milking. Later, we bought a beautiful Jersey cow. We soon came to appreciate the important role a cow played in the lives of our forebears. Janey produced gallons of creamy, rich milk every day. In addition to having all the milk we could use, Mother made butter, cheese, sour cream, and buttermilk from Janey’s delicious milk. I also learned to appreciate the work involved in milking a cow.janey Dad did nearly all the milking for Janey, but the times I assisted with that chore, the cow helped me appreciate the hard work that went into the task. Cows produced a lot more milk once freshened and that meant the task took much longer during milking. Though the teats were larger and easier to grasp, the milk was still extracted rather slowly. Though Jerseys are not known for producing high quantities of milk like Holstein or Guernsey, which may produce 11 or more gallons a day, Janey still produced between 2 and 3 gallons per milking, which meant 4-6 gallons a day. Naturally, milk became a staple for us, and we became accustomed to using it to make cheese, yogurt, sour cream, buttermilk, and whipping cream. We loved Janey and her milk was known all around the valley. We could sell the milk when we needed extra money, and Janey’s milk was the best for being rich and delicious.

Though cows and goats were a lot of work, they brought delicious food and much happiness to our family and many others around the valley. Milking was probably the most heartwarming task of farming. Cows and goats loved to be milked and were grateful. Though it was not always apparent to me then, as I think back now, it was a bonding experience for both man and beast. I remember Dad talking or singing to Janey while milking. It took considerable time, even when the milker became proficient. I think my dad enjoyed reflecting on the activities of the day and making plans for the upcoming projects. We never used milking machines, but carefully and patiently extracted the milk in the same way farmers have been doing it for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years—all by hand. Dad would plan for the day, enjoy the sunrise, and sing to Janey while miking.

Mom and Dad let us have cats on the farm. They proved valuable friends for controlling the mouse population and were easy to care for, yet they always lived outside. Frequently, the cats would gather around during milking in hopes of finding some spilled, warm milk to relish. And occasionally during a light moment, dad or whomever was milking would direct the stream of frothy, warm milk toward the cats that were secretly hoping and anticipating such an event. The milk filled their tummies, and of course they savored the warm, sticky liquid. This tradition didn’t just make the cats happy, but looking back, it really warmed our hearts as well to share this blessing with creatures that were all a part of this wonderful experience. Let me describe just one of perhaps hundreds from which I could choose.

Years later, Linda and I purchased a video tape recorder. This was a brand new technology at the time, and the particular camera we had chosen fit an entire VHS cassette and looked something like a news camera. Though it was massive when compared to the little, hand-held devices of today, at the time, it was the peak of technology, and we were delighted. We brought the camera down to Castle Valley with us when Steven and Camilla were still small children–not knowing exactly what we were going to capture. But we knew we should begin filming something for our history. Well, it happened that I had the camera out just as Grandpa was preparing to go milk Janey, so I started filming.

Grandpa saw what I was doing and played along. Rather than just, completing the steps as he prepared for milking, he began narrating the incident in behalf of those that would soon be watching the video. “So first, we get the milking pail and put grain in this bucket for Janey to munch on–one, two, three cans, like that.” He scooped the grain from a large metal garbage can, and in his charismatic, animated way he performed the task with a smile on his face and warmth that radiated to his audience. “We keep the washing bucket and rag here, so we will bring that along with us as well.” I loved being with my dad and capturing this experience on video cassette was really great. He continued with his daily routine, entering the milking shed, positioning Janey and speaking softly and affectionately to her as he sat down on his three-legged stool and washed her udder before milking. As the streams of milk flowed into the pail, the steel of the bucket resounded with vibration until the milk shortly began filling the container. His hands were moving rapidly and never slowed to rest his weary muscles. After years of milking, dad’s grip was firm and the strength of his hands and forearms now lasted longer than the milking. It wasn’t always that way, as I well knew. But over years of milking twice a day, 7 days-a-week, 365 days-a-year, dad’s endurance, consistency, and strength shown through.

Then he began telling a story about his life. I continued recording as he told about his mission in Nova Scotia where he served as a young missionary without purse or script. Dad said that back then, missions had the option of choosing that method from among others, and that meant he depended on a kind soul to give him and his companion a room and a meal in exchange for preaching the gospel. Most days that worked fine, but occasionally he and his companion went hungry and even spent some nights under the stars. He shared with us many other experiences, as well. Grandpa had the uncanny ability to draw people in with his stories, especially when they were about real-life events and included fun and interesting observations about life’s lessons. This was no exception, and not surprisingly, this became the favorite tape for our children. They watched it constantly, literally every day. That way, they were able to enjoy the farm, the animals, and Grandpa from long distance. Eventually the tape became so worn and battered that it began showing signs of wear. Before long the sound on the tape faded in-and-out until it altogether ceased. Later, the video was misplaced before I had a chance to transfer it to a DVD. But in our memories, we will forever cherish the numerous moments like these.

Our Castle Valley homestead was all about experiences, which if we were to attempt to capture them all, I suppose they would fill volumes. We remember highlights that warmed our hearts and provided satisfaction then and continue to buoy us up now as we reflect on these choice experiences living off the land and fulfilling a life-long dream for mother. Her dream became our dream, and the life we lived there provided hope and joy then and solace now.  We will continue to treasure and share these memories for generations to come. Life was hard and sometimes seemed unfair, but looking back with hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. We can easily see the multitude of blessings that came from our Castle Valley experience, and what’s more we are able to relive them through our memories.

Roads to relief

Melons played a significant role in our history in Castle Valley. The hot sun, long growing season, and sandy soil of Southeastern Utah provided excellent conditions for producing melons. In fact, Green River was famous for its melons. After a long, hot day’s work, we usually needed water, rest and energy. Incredibly, melons provided each of these for us in abundance. The first summer we lived in Castle Valley, we spent many days working in the hot sun, digging fence post holes, clearing rocks, gardening, and tending to animals. I remember with fondness returning home from some activity and finding fresh melons left for us by the Seventh-day Adventists. What a blessing it was when these good people would share their melons with us. In the early years in valley, the majority of lots at the base of Castle Rock were still available. A farmer from Green River raised melons on 10-15 acres of these vacant lots in the valley. He grew watermelons, honeydew, cantaloupe, and other types of melons, and when it came time to take them back to Green River to sell them, he had more than he could use, so he offered the remaining melons to those living in the valley. We ate more melons that summer than ever before or since. It was common for us to choose a large, beautiful vine-ripened melon when we would visit the patch, slice the fruit down the middle, then cut out and eat the heart of the melon and move on to the next. It’s hard to believe now, but we ate and enjoyed the very best part of the watermelons without seeds until we felt that we could eat no more, or we’d explode. Sweet juice dripping from our hands and chins, we would walk back to the truck, slide into the seat and with a few groans of delicious pain, start back for home. This continued through the summer and into the fall. Finally, once the weather started freezing, we pulled back and left the remaining melons for the cows that ran wild (e.g. grazed) through the valley.

I remember on one occasion in particular taking the old pickup truck to the watermelon patch. We picked enough melons to fill the bed of the truck and then drove less than a mile home to share them with the rest of the family. When we arrived at the farm, all the melons had broken and were scattered through the truck bed. The pigs had a feast that afternoon. We took the old pickup truck to the watermelon patch many times that year. It would be hard to equal today the healthy and delicious food we regularly enjoyed in Castle Valley. Heaping bowls of strawberries relished daily, tender ears of fresh Silver Queen corn picked and husked only moments before steaming them. I can remember Mom saying “Get the water boiling before you pick the corn,” and attention to this detail proved to make a favorable difference in the quality of the delicious corn-on-the-cob prepared for our meals. Still amazing to me even now what a difference it made. Tart, savory tomatoes. Fresh and lean, choice meat from both farm-raised and wild game filled our freezer and gratefully we recognized the Hand from which all our blessings came.

Work started early. We found it much more comfortable to begin our day when it was still cool outside and toil until noon or a little thereafter. Then often we would take a break in the heat of the day and return to complete some tasks in the evening once it cooled down. Days were filled with multiple work projects and could be overwhelming if we tried to do everything. On the other hand, dad would make extensive to-do lists to help him focus on the most important tasks at hand. I think he liked crossing items off the list as it gave him a feeling of accomplishment. I have adopted dad’s strategy for myself and some for the children. Both on the farm and in life dad outworked everyone I knew. He started earlier than all the rest of us and worked all day and late into the evenings. When we were coming in to escape the heat, dad was at the height of his day’s work. In the winter, dad started the fires every morning and bundled up so he could work throughout the day in the cold.

The evenings in Castle Valley were comfortable and beautiful. As the heat of the day diminished, the shadows stretched across the valley floor and grew longer and taller. Soon, only the majestic, rock cliffs were tall enough to catch the final rays of sunlight. The red sandstone cliffs burned brightly as the sun sank beneath the far-off horizon. With the cool of the evening and the approaching darkness, the fireflies would begin to appear. What a remarkable sight to behold! When we would look across the creek bed, thousands of blinking lights made by the fireflies would fill the basin carved by the creek, as though it were a passing milky way of stars. The fireflies were awe-inspiring and, like nature’s little candles, would wander up into our fields at night and share their beauty with us all. I didn’t know fireflies were even real before that time. I thought perhaps they were imaginary, conceived to produce wonder and amazement in the storytellers’ tales. But it turned out their beauty, wonder, and splendor were real—even better than the storybooks. Amazingly, that’s just how Castle Valley was turning out, as well.

Hardship

The first summer we lived in Castle Valley brought with it a flash flood the size of which hadn’t happened in the valley for more than 16 years, at least that’s what we were told.  Incredibly, two more enormous flash floods occurred the next summer. We actually had a total of three of them in just two years, so we must have broken a record of some kind for the area. In the 30 years we lived there, I don’t ever again remember the incredible flood of water that filled the creek bed and overflowed its banks as it did that first year. It washed out the bridge to the valley and changed the course of the creek bed forever. I remember the torrent just behind our property was as wide and ferocious as the Colorado River. It’s hard to believe without seeing it, but it nevertheless is true. We saw these torrents and the resulting annihilation for ourselves. One of the reasons we loved this particular piece of property was that it was bordered by this windy little fresh-water creek, which flowed into small waterfalls, through rocky banks, and into beautiful pools of water. It was a garden amid the hot and rocky terrain of southern Utah. The stream gave the thirsty Cottonwood trees life. But after the floods, the majority of creek-bed was destroyed. The trees were all knocked down, and the brush was stretched out on the banks of the creek and covered with red mud. The path the little creek followed after the flash flood was much different then and uncharacteristic of the windy little stream we had come to love. The lily pads, water cress, skater insects, and wildlife were all gone now in the formerly lush creek bed. Red, slippery mud replaced our once beautiful little stream bed, fauna, and flora. We were sick. At least when we hiked back up to the fields and house, we left the remains of the tragic flash flood and its destruction behind us for a while. But in time, the foliage returned and soon after the fauna. It took time, but before too many years, it had completely returned to its formerly magnificent form. Certainly this was a lesson for overcoming hardship and facing the challenges that are sure to come in life.

That reminds me of an experience a long time ago when we were just starting the farm, and we had our first flash flood in Castle Valley. As I remember, long-time residents told us that a major flash flood hadn’t happened in the valley for sixteen years prior, and then we had three enormous flash floods during the first two years.

As I recall, it was Gregg who held down the fort when the first flash flood occurred. We were up in SLC getting supplies and left Gregg home to watch the farm. I remember when we came home everything was drenched, and Gregg was surviving in the bunk house, which was just a tent back then. I recall all of that with a sort of amazement.

Gregg StuckiI remember the harrowing experience of being alone during that first storm. I ended up sleeping in the “kitchen” structure because the tent was not keeping the water out and everything was wet. That night was a fierce lightening storm, and I was sure a bolt of lightening was going to hit one of those big cottonwood trees and topple it right on top of me in the kitchen.

I remember well hearing the noise when the flash flood was approaching. It was light (dawn or dusk I can’t remember), and I don’t recall that it was raining much at the time. It was like a delay between the height of the storm and then the arrival of the water. I could hear a low rumbling noise and ran to the ledge overlooking the lower area. All of a sudden here came a wall of muddy water with rocks, tree limbs and debris rolling and crashing as it moved along. Oh to have had a camera running at the time! After the initial wall had blazed its way through the underbrush engulfing everything in its path, the water quickly began rising higher. Within a minute it had spread across the entire width of the lower area, which was fairly wide in the area behind our property (30-40 yards?). To see the water rushing by from cliff-wall-to-cliff-wall made it appear as though the Colorado River had been diverted into the creek bed.

Eventually the Ehlers came to check on me, and I went with them to their house where they gave me something to eat, and I had a nice place to relax, dry out and wait for the family to return from Salt Lake. I don’t remember if I spent the night there or the family arrived later that night. After all I had been through the night before (lightening storm and torrential rain), and that day (flooding), it was nice to be somewhere dry, safe and comfortable.

I don’t remember much about how long the water kept running high before it settled back down to more normal levels. The image and memory that is burned into my brain is that initial scene where the wall of muddy water was crashing its way through the creek bottom.

As I remember it, we had a major flood that first year and it happened twice more the next year. But I don’t believe they were quite as large as that first one. That’s what I remember, 3 large floods over a two year period.

Of course, in the heat of the moment, I did not have the foresight, knowledge, or patience to see that the creek bed would once again become the beautiful treasure it once was in its own right. But hindsight has given me a perspective I didn’t have then. It occurs to me that this situation is not an exception. In fact, it’s a rule and is naturally repeated over-and-over again throughout the world and our lives. We face terrible hardships that surprise, and perhaps overwhelm us at the moment. But as we learn to accept the changes in our condition and grow to understand and appreciate our circumstance even when the present seems discouraging, depressing, and dark, we will soon find joy in our journey, hope amid hardship, and strength from our struggles to buoy us up and carry us through the difficult stages of our lives. Love will see us through.

I was probably a pretty normal kid but grew up in an unusual environment with incredible opportunities and experiences, changing schools, raising animals, and helping build our homestead and farm from scratch. I can only capture the smallest portion of this story. But that’s what this book is all about…

Click for slide show...
[Click the image above for a slide show of Castle Valley and southern Utah region]

Chapter 1

Life in Salt Lake City

My son writes music and originally performed his songs solo. He played the piano in our home and sang the lyrics that he wrote. He learned the drums and the guitar and his musical productions grew. I listen to his songs and marvel at his talent. He eventually started a band and performed in many different venues for multiple audiences. Over time he invited others to perform with him. Their talents and contributions made his music even more amazing.

Like Steven’s band members add depth and completeness to his music, my cast of contributors has enhanced my life’s song adding interest, opportunity and hope in the performance of a symphony of a lifetime. The melody started small and insignificant at first but grew into an opus of joy and fulfillment. As a result, musicians and artists contribute to its climax, yet the baritone of hardships has also been represented. But I am getting ahead of myself. The first stanza of my composition started in the city long before Castle Valley, so let’s take a look at life before we moved to the country.

My childhood was carefree and eventful. I loved my family and enjoyed being a young boy. Although I never thought of myself as one who was always in mischief, I had my share of lively experiences. Take for instance the time I was cutting an onion with a kitchen knife. I cut the onion all right but didn’t stop there. The blade continued right through the tendon on my left index finger. Dad wrapped my hand in a white cloth and rushed me to the hospital. After an operation and numerous stitches, I was left with a finger that wouldn’t bend on its own. Despite considerable effort of what seemed like hours of practice exercising that finger for candy rewards, it never healed completely so that I could bend it without assistance. The limited movement made it difficult for me to do some things (like learn to play the guitar).

Fortunately, that didn’t stokingPagep me from pursuing other adventures nor impact my self-esteem. Though admittedly I felt self-conscious or embarrassed as a child, I learned that many people had it a lot harder than I did. And that helped me learn to appreciate my situation.

Some of my earliest memories include entering the contest for king of the East Millcreek Fourth of July parade. I was five-years-old at the time, and it seems it was held at the Sherman Elementary. I don’t really remember a whole lot about the contest, except that we were in an auditorium that seemed filled to its capacity. The judges watched the children interact as they were waiting before being called to the auditorium. One-by-one the contestants came to the front of the stage where a couple questions were posed. The panel of judges asked me to tell my favorite television show. I answered “The Fugitive.” I have forgotten the other questions, but I guess I my answers were ok because I won. They dressed me in a purple robe with a crown and gave me a kingFloattrophy. A girl by the name of Kimberly Ball was selected to be queen. My friend, Roger West, and a girl Karen Mendenhall became the attendants. We all rode on the royal float at the head of the East Millcreek Fourth of July parade, had numerous pictures taken, and received coverage in the local paper.

It wasn’t long after I started kindergarten that we learned I had a condition called lazy-eye blindness. My eyesight became very weak in my left eye, and this condition threatened the vision in my right eye. The doctor placed a patch over my good eye to force the use of the weaker eye. Then I was fitted for glasses, and soon wearing my glasses became the challenge of my childhood. Frequently I broke them. I was too rough and not careful enough, and so my glasses were often the casualty. I remember I went through glasses like they were socks and that is no exaggeration. It seemed that every week or so I would set my glasses down as I played ball or some other activity with the intent of keeping them from getting broken. Then forgetting to retrieve them before leaving, I would lose them. And the weeks I didn’t lose them, I usually broke them. I really can’t remember how many glasses we went through during this time, but I remember having a shoe box full of them in the kitchen cupboard, and I think I have a different pair of glasses on every time my picture was taken.

But my childhood was full of fun, too. My family had a membership to a swimming club in our neighborhood. We spent many hours as a family swimming there, and we would occasionally take a picnic dinner. I remember it with such fondness. Mother tells the story about the time they couldn’t find me anywhere. They searched the neighborhood, but it was all in vain. I wasn’t found until somebody thought to check at the swimming club (even though children were not supposed to be admitted without an adult). And sure enough, that’s where I had been by myself the whole day. There were also tennis courts there. I think Gregg and I used to serve up balls just for fun. Maybe that had to do with my playing tennis later on.

And I was excited to play Little League baseball when I turned 8-years-old. I joined the United Fence baseball team with my older brother Gregg. I admired Gregg and his friends so at the time. They knew how to play sports well and were really good at it in my view; playing on the same team was a dream come true. I used to pride myself by saying that short-stop was my favorite position. It was, but I probably played right field more often. But that’s ok; right fielders have their glory days, too. Mine was in a big game. Mom and Dad were in the bleachers, and the league’s big, infamous left-handed hitter on the opposing team came to the plate. The pitcher threw a perfect strike toward home plate. Crack! The ball headed straight for right field and the crowd erupted. Excitement and fear hit me all at once, like an electrical current surging through my body. I fought the temptation to run forward. I considered that I might need to shift back. The ball seemed to just hang in the air.  I don’t remember moving too much, maybe not at all. Providence in heaven must have carried that ball hurling through the air to its destination for the hopes of a small boy. Before I knew it, the ball dropped directly into my mitt. No one could have been more surprised than me when I caught the ball. In fact, I was so happy; I wasn’t going to let it go, until everyone started yelling because the runners on base tagged up and began sprinting around the bases. I loved practicing baseball, playing in the baseball games, trading baseball cards, and going to 7‑11 after every game for a Slurpee—win or lose, and doing it all with my big brother Gregg. Life was so magical and wonderful as a child.

Our whole family was born and raised in Salt Lake City. We lived in the same house for 23 years. The three-bedroom rambler was built while mom was pregnant with her second child, and even though the construction wasn’t entirely finished, they moved into their new house when Leslie was brought home from the hospital. By the time I came around, there had already been multiple additions and remodels completed. The house would continue to grow with our family. Though it started as a nice three-bedroom home, we soon outgrew the accommodations. Frequent remodels occurred: a new room here and refurbished kitchen or updated basement quarters there. We converted the garage into a family room with an indoor BBQ, though I am not sure if we ever used this method of cooking much inside the home. Perhaps it’s just my memory, but I don’t remember eating steaks as a boy. We ate delicious food and frequently had roasts, turkeys, and a Capricorn of delicious items—we never went hungry. But steaks were too lavish for a family of eight children.

At one point, when I was just a boy, my parents planned and carried out a considerable remodel that included a new family room, front entrance, master bedroom, and an equally massive increase in the basement, including a game room, fruit room, wood shop, and multiple storerooms. The point here is that the house grew right along with the family. The facilities outside matured over time as well. A play house was built for the girls and a tree hut for the boys. We had a swing set and slide, a patio and outdoor BBQ. Our home and yard were practical yet copious. And we recognized the Source of our abundance. We were grateful and always taught to extend thanks and give back where possible.

There was a large undeveloped field behind our house, which separated us from the outside world and more traffic. We were not isolated, but we enjoyed the wide-open spaces around us. I remember the older children gathering asparagus from the field behind the house, and I rode my bike on the trails or made forts in the rough. We often cut across the field to get to church or the swimming club. Life was good.

During that time, my parents purchased a cabin in Victor, ID with ten doctors, including other chums from medical school and classmates from Lowell Bennion’s institute class. This became an escape and a vacation home for these families at their scheduled time during the year to use the facility. To me it was a large, white old house from which I have glimpses of great memories. I remember shooing flies out of the attic before we could sleep in there, at least that is the way I remember it. Since I couldn’t piece together the details, I asked Brent if he remembered exactly the way things went down there, and his response shed more light on the memory:

It was flies by the millions. I even remember closed jars of peaches sitting on pantry shelves in the basement that had flies in them. Maggots must have been able to crawl under the lids, which must have become slightly unsealed when contents fermented a little, then the maggots grew inside, turning into flies. Many jars of fruit in the basement had broken or exploded, encouraging fly growth and a huge expansion of the population. It was horrendous, like a bad horror movie. Dad sprayed cans of Raid or similar “outdoor” insecticide throughout the whole house to kill the flies. The insecticide smell was strong thoughout the whole house for days. Then Mom and Dad opened the windows and swept up and vacuumed up piles of flies. Finally they decided it was safe to go inside and sleep, yet the smell of Raid was so strong that I’m not sure it was really safe to even be in there.

I was much older and have many memories about that experience and that old farm house. It really was an old farmhouse, not a cabin. I remember getting the farmhouse ready for other families to use when visiting the ranch. I remember cleaning out the basement full of junk, finding an old electric butter churn and bottle there that fascinated me, fishing in the stream and pond, playing in the pond, getting in the stinging nettle, hiking alone up the trail along the creek and running directly into a deer there, etc. I remember it all very well.

I recall washing up in the small bathroom with a pedestal sink and otherwise plain decorations. There was a lot of thistle on the property up there, and we would come back from playing in the fields with scratched arms and legs. The only relief came from a good hot cleaning and vigorous scrubbing with soapy wash cloths. We were happy children with loving parents and a good life. We made memories every day. The escapes to the country were regular but not frequent enough. I remember that Randy got to attend a boy’s ranch up in this fairytale environment, started by the renowned institute teacher and humanitarian Lowell Bennion. Randy spent four weeks living at the ranch, participating in service projects, working hard, fishing, and occasionally swimming.

Our vacations included traveling in the wide open country in the West and enjoying nature. Trips included camping and water-skiing at Bear Lake, traveling all along the West coast from Canada to Anaheim, spending time up at the cabin on the Weber River, and boating at Rockport. We visited Yellowstone, and regularly stayed with our cousins in Las Vegas. We would check out the strip once during an evening, but the majority of the visit was spent at our cousins’ home riding their bikes, swimming in their pool, or just hanging out together. Uncle Keith and Aunt Geri were the best, and so we played with Jan, Russell, Leigh, Curtis, and Gayle. We loved to visit them and enjoyed having them come and stay with us in Salt Lake City, UT, which they did frequently. Great memories. Great times.

Then an interesting phenomenon happened over a number of years. The transition was so slow that to me, it was imperceptible. But looking back with hindsight now, it appears to have been orchestrated from the very beginning. Mom did not watch television except for an occasional football game; however, she did enjoy The Waltons—a story about a family living on the farm in the olden days and dealing with challenges quite foreign to most people in our day. She loved the classic and our family followed suit. In fact, watching old-time movies became a sort of tradition to the point that I remember someone would drive down and get shakes from a great little burger joint with tall, thick malts, and we would savor them while we watched old black-and-white movies called Gaslight Theatre. Robyn really got into it as I remember. She helped instigate the tradition. And when I found out that there would be shakes, I was definitely in. We nurtured a compost pile, numerous flower gardens, fruit trees, and a decorative landscape including pines, rock work, fences, shrubs, and a wisteria tree—the fragrance from its blossoms gladdened the heart and blanketed our front yard. Yet somehow, it wasn’t enough. So we made arrangements with Mr. Gigi. He was an old man that lived in the same general neighborhood and had a large piece of property with irrigation water. My dad talked with him and made a bargain: We would till and plant his land and grow a garden of vegetables. We would take care of the planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting, and he would be welcome to take whatever produce he needed and could use. As far as I know, it worked out great. We had a wonderful plot of land nearby our home, irrigation water for the plants, and plenty of children to help tend the garden. Irrigation schedule had us watering during the middle of the night, as I remember. I was a small boy at the time, and not sure how much help I really was, but my parents persisted. And it was a riot. I’m sure I wasn’t always happy when it came to irrigating in the middle of the night, but I remember it fondly. This was the beginning of many good things to come.

Mom and Dad frequently let us have pets. Rabbits, dogs, fish, and Randy had a terrarium with frogs and lizards, and stuff. For the most part these were outside animals; no cats, however. But soon, we began raising chickens. I think Randy was largely responsible for the chickens, but I believe that Mom was just as excited as the rest of us. At times during this period, my dad would take us boys to the church orchard to work, and we began witnessing a life of service in our father. Dad’s arrangement to grow a garden in the backyard of the elderly brother in our ward turned out to bless our family I’m sure much more than him. But we were able to share our produce nevertheless, so he was grateful. And we learned something about raising a garden, irrigation, and hard work, which all came in handy later on.

The large, vacant field behind our home became a resource for many happy hours gathering wild asparagus and berries, building forts, riding bikes, and essentially stretching our legs and our minds. We would often cut across the field to get to the swimming club, and we spent many happy hours there.

Not long after this, a developer started building homes in “our” field behind the house. Of course, it took years to complete, but soon these changes began encroaching on the lifestyle and traditions we held dear. I will always remember when one of the new homes was built “eight feet from our back fence,” Mom would say. She couldn’t let it go. Our search for a farm became much more fervent.

The family business had blessed our family for many years. I didn’t understand the challenges that my father and mother faced. I was reared in a good home with loving and supportive parents and siblings. Home life was happy and carefree. But in the midst of the good that was happening all around us, LaRies (the company for which my father worked) began to falter. Retail stores dotted the landscape of the Wasatch Front. The original store started in Sugar House, and others appeared in Bountiful, Murray, and in the Cottonwood, Fashion Place, and Valley Fair malls. A large, well-positioned distribution center dispersed the goods.  The company experienced years of growth and prosperity, but times changed and it soon found itself on hard times and eventually went out of business. We tried other professional ventures such as Group Apparel Specialists and Sunflowerhill Antiques, but these were met will limited success at best. Our hunger for a remedy intensified.

Well it was about this time that mom and dad started openly looking for a farm.

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The Paradox

As I recall these events, I realize now that we were totally happy where we were in Salt Lake City. We owned all the things one could ever need and want in abundance. There was no reason for us to ever move. We had a beautiful home, great neighborhood, and fine friends that made our lives exceptional. I remember hearing as a boy that there were 22 deacons in my quorum at church. I had tons of friends, and so did all of my brothers and sisters. We had our hardships, but life was good. The quality of friends there in our Valley View 7th ward was legendary. I realize that sounds like a massive exaggeration. The funny thing is that it’s not at all. I would guess if anything, it’s an understatement. Our network of friends included dozens of the finest people and families we have ever known. Though there are many instances where their friendships changed our lives and improved the world all around us, one brief example illustrated this for me. I thought about what I could say about them that would shed some light on the quality of friends that they are. Any one particular experience would seem inadequate to convey the quality of character and friendships of these allies.

But it hadn’t been more than perhaps five years since we had left our Salt Lake City neighborhood. We had a particular need to extend the size of our home in Castle Valley but lacked the money, resources, manpower and time necessary to complete it all before cold weather set in that year. Somehow, our friends in Salt Lake got wind of this need, and they showed up on our farm with trucks, tools, men ready to work, and a cache of money to help pay for the improvement. I honestly don’t think I recognized everybody who came, and an attempt to list the names will surely risk leaving numerous out. But to refuse the attempt to acknowledge the army of participants that showed up on our farm that frosty Fall day would be an even greater deficiency.

cabinToblers, Vandinakers, Oliphants, Brewsters, Wests, Riches, Webbs, Tanners, Wrights and numerous other friends were eager to help us. Trucks pulled up and a number of fathers and sons converged on our family farm to help us complete construction and get a roof on the building so we could spend the upcoming months finishing the inside during the winter time. It was like an Amish barn raising, if you have ever seen that. (sample) Searles, May and Jean James, Mary Jane and Kent Davis (Michael Davis delivered our fridge to Castle Valley), Don Childs (neighbor and Boy Scout leader for more than 36 scouts), Emilou and Stan Ward, Burton and Lori Tew, and Nellie…good people, good friends, and good memories.

This is just a drop in the bucket. My memory of numerous experiences in our Salt Lake City neighborhood includes so many more notable advocates during our growing up years in Holladay…like the Gobles.

Just up our street hardly a block from our house lived a kind old woman and her son—right across the road from the Webbs. The Gobles were welcoming and friendly to us children. Back in those days, children could visit adults in their homes without fear of abuse, and I visited Mrs. Goble frequently. I enjoyed cheering her up. She was always so happy to see me. She obviously enjoyed having company, and I was 4-5 at the time and filled that need wonderfully. As benevolent as that may sound, I admittedly was there for the treats. Sometime during my visit after introductory pleasantries and probing questions about my family, Mrs. Goble brought out the cookies, and I was allowed to take whatever I wanted. Imagine that—a whole tray of sugar cookies, pecan pralines, lemon drops, and shortbread-like Mexican wedding cakes. Actually, I had no idea the actual names of the variety of delicacies. I just remember savoring every bite. She must have known how much I liked the cookies, because she kept them coming as long as I would sit there and visit. And I expect that she knew I never got such a prize all to myself in a house of eight children, so we kept having regular visits for some time, until my mother found out. Then I was gently rebuked not to solicit treats from poor old Mrs. Goble. You would think I would have been crushed, but truth is I was getting too old for this kind of engagement, and I didn’t know how I was going to break it to my elderly friend. So it all worked out in the end, but I will always remember with fondness my wonderful visits to Mrs. Goble’s.

Our neighborhood was full of big, kind families. And with the abundance of great adults came a plentiful number of equally-fine children. So after school and minimal chores, our days were filled with visits, playtime, and games. Now I suppose we played board games occasionally, but honestly, I don’t remember that we did that much. However, sometime before dinner we would play kick-the-can and other night games. This involved the entire neighborhood, and for a short time ages didn’t matter. I guess many times I felt like the kid that was too small to be included in the typical games, but kick-the-can was a neighborhood affair, and it so happened that the street in front of our house was the perfect place for game night activities. It wasn’t official or anything like that. It’s just that we were central in the area and the neighborhood roads converged in front of our house. There was also a tall telephone pole with a street light atop, which came in handy when the evening games went late. So that’s where everyone came to play night games. Tony Freeman, Blair Oliphant, Scott Warenski, Chip Searle, and many others gathered in a sort of truce to play. Around this time, most of the kids in the immediate neighborhood were my senior and good friends with my older brother Gregg: Marty Ore, Scott Webb, Kent Greenfield, and others. Of course, I had my posse as well David Smith, David Jenkins, Roger West to name a few.

Our parents made our home and yard beautiful and usable for us children. A basketball standard in the front car port was a favorite of mine. Dad built a tree-hut for the boys and a playhouse for the girls. We used both structures frequently with our friends. A large apricot tree stood beside the tree-house, and a ladder climbed to the hatch that enabled entrance into the den. It was our hideout. Closing the small door on the floor and locking it shut meant no one could enter. Open-air windows on either side of the hideaway allowed us to detect adversaries before they attacked. Mom took great care decorating, painting, papering, and designing the play house, but the tree hut was left more rustic for the boys. We also had a swing-set and a metal slippery slide. I remember that because in the summertime, it would get very hot. We had a solution. Placing a running hose at the top of the slide cooled the metal and increased our speed considerably.

It was a great neighborhood and my mom and dad enjoyed being a part of it. I remember that we sponsored a carnival one summer. My siblings dressed up in various costumes. I was a clown. Robyn was a flapper. Randy was magician. And the playhouse became the candy store; lollipops, suckers, cookies and licorice lined the table and shelves. Randy performed magic tricks in the tree hut. Games. Prizes. Food and treats galore.

The whole neighborhood came. Everything was free. It was just for fun. What great times we had as children.

Other fun memories I have include spending time with my father on a night out with dad. Of course with seven siblings, spending one-on-one time with dad was rare. To alleviate this problem, dad instigated Dad’s night out, which was simply a regularly occurring time when one of the children would get to spend an evening with dad doing something we liked. I’m not really sure what others did with dad on their night out, but I was young and we kept things simple. I remember going to Fernwood’s for ice cream on 23rd East. Just being with dad was a treat.

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We had big, extended family Christmas parties on my dad’s side of the family. That’s where I came to know and love my cousins. For the most part, I have great memories of the Christmas dinners and Santa Claus visits. We would get all dressed up for these activities. There were literally dozens of us at these family get-togethers. Though most of my cousins were considerably older than me, they were accepting and friendly and made me feel important and loved. I was a pretty small kid back then, but I always felt included and valued. Most my memories of these parties occurred at Margaret and Lynn’s (aunt and uncle on dad’s side). But I remember that one year we held the event out at the distribution center in south Salt Lake. That year, Kim, Jeff, and I dressed up like the three chipmunks and performed. These get-togethers have continued off-and-on throughout the years and still happen even today with an annual Stucki Cousins Family Reunion and family website. Santa Claus would make his appearance and distribute gifts to each of the children. I was young enough at the time it was all magical and mysterious. Somehow, I think I knew my Grandma Stucki was behind all of it. One year we did it at our house, and I was the ten-year-old jolly old man.

Mom and dad used to dress me up like Santa when I was a child to deliver the family Christmas gifts to our friends, as well. I’m not sure I really liked doing that, but my family was persuasive and our friends complimentary, so I couldn’t refuse.

My childhood memories are filled with occasions of fun activities and vacations that have been milestones in my life. The experiences together during family activities shaped my life then and continue to fashion the direction of my own family and our lives now so many years later. For example, going up to Grandpa and Grandma Curtis’ cabin on the Weber River in Wanship was a highlight for me and my siblings when we were children. It was a small thing really, but oh how I loved that. Grandma Curtis always had a tasty Vitamin C pill for each of us, and fun activities were plentiful. The river, fishing, snakes, and frogs in the nearby swamp were highlights of the trip. I remember Gregg and I found a baby Magpie. I don’t recall if it was abandoned or had fallen from the tree, but Gregg and I planned to take it home and try and raise it. Unbeknownst to our parents, we somehow hid the animal in the back of the car and hoped it didn’t make too much noise. The attempt was valiant, but the results were ineffective. As I remember, we took it to the tree hut. It wouldn’t respond to our good intentions feeding it worms and providing water. Despite our best efforts, it slipped away.

We enjoyed vacationing at Bear Lake. Early on, I think we borrowed Grandpa Curtis’ boat, but later we purchased it from him. Bear Lake was a great place to water ski. I was too small to try my hand at waterskiing, but I could ride in the boat. All the older children got a turn, but the best part was when mom skied. She was really good, and dad said that she never fell. So I was always on the lookout for the first time. I never remember seeing her fall, however. And dad gave her a fair ride with plenty of opportunities to crash, but she out skied the best of all of us.

We traveled down the West Coast on vacation two separate times. I suppose we did this twice because it proved to be so much fun with tons to see and do. I remember clamming early in the morning. We watched what others were doing and soon learned that we needed to extend our fingers down holes in the sand on the beach. If we felt something move away, we started digging as quickly as we could. The typical find was large clams. We filled garbage bags with them. Occasionally we would secure razor or cockle clams, which gave us a delicious variety. I remember we had a license to allow us to harvest these animals for food. It included crabs as long as they were 6 inches in diameter. We amazingly found and caught a crab, but it was only five-and-a-half inches in diameter. Most people would probably call that close enough. But not my dad. It went back into the ocean, because it did not meet to the size requirement. I always remembered his integrity then and throughout my life.

This vacation provided numerous fun and memorable activities: the World Fair in Seattle WA, beautiful coastlines and beaches, the redwood forests, Disneyland, and Knottsberry Farm.redwoods

Boy Scouts with Dad

When I was 11-years-old, my dad was called to be the scoutmaster. What I remember about that back then is that the troop went on monthly overnighters, and naturally I wanted to go. They went to really great local campsites and Boy Scout facilities, like Tracy Wigwam. Thinking it would upset the boys or leaders or something, he resisted my appeals, but I continued asking. Not sure if the rules were different back then, but scoutmasters are allowed to take their own 11-year-old boys on camp-outs, so my dad said “OK Mathew. I know you want to go on a camp out with me and the scout troop, so I will make you a deal. If you help us earn the necessary money for our super summer activity, I will let you come on our two-week-long trip to the Grand Canyon.” Of course, I was elated.

We earned money that summer by trimming the grass around headstones at a local cemetery. That in-and-of-itself was quite an experience…creepy. Then for the camping trip, we visited Bryce, Zions, and Hoover Dam on our way down to the Grand Canyon. We setup camp, had flag ceremonies, cleaned up the camp sites, and always left the area better than when we arrived. We played games like steal the flag, had uniform checks, and enjoyed scoutmaster minute every night. Interesting how the things one remembers are not what you would expect recalling at the time. It was fantastic. I was with the older boys I admired and the trip to and from the canyon was also a highlight singing camp songs, having fun, and laughing the whole way. We packed dehydrated food for the 26-mile, three-day hike from the north rim to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I will always remember how big the Colorado River is at the bottom of the canyon. It’s enormous. We flew back from the south rim to the north rim 3 or 4 at-a-time in a small propeller plane where we parked our cars and continued our journey home. What a great trip, and I got to do it with my dad.

There were others. East Fork of the Bear comes to mind and of course the Arches National Park. Back then I remember leaving the Arches and going into Moab for some supplies. I distinctly remember stopping at City Market and thinking what a small hick town and store this was. Little did I know that in a few years I would work at that store and call this town home.

Chapter 2

Finding our dream

I never imagined having five daughters. That wasn’t a scenario I had ever played out in my mind. Yet after my first daughter was born, our next child was a boy. So when Amy came along, I was delighted. Naturally, I expected that the fourth would be another boy, but I was wrong. Alyssa. Certainly with three girls and one boy, our fifth child would be a…Melanie. Our last child was another girl. Emily rounded out the family.

What I could not have comprehended at the time was how my daughters would fill our home with joy and happiness. I never imagined a family of five daughters and one son, but reality was different than my projections and turned out much better than I could have ever imagined. Similarly, as we faced challenges when we moved to the country, everything didn’t go the way I had imagined it. There were many twists and turns that we never expected, but looking back, it was different from what I had envisioned in my mind. It was better—far surpassing my wildest expectations.

In our pursuit to “move to the country,” Mother searched many advertisements and newspaper articles for land. Most descriptions in the paper portrayed hidden treasures with majestic landscapes, a beautiful country home, and a crystal-clear lake with a stream. Except for a few spots, what Mother usually found when exploring these “treasures” were lifeless hills, junky wooden sheds, and a large mud hole at the end of a ditch. But she didn’t give up! As a family, we visited a few of the most promising locations, but none of the parcels we examined felt right. As with some of the other family endeavors, this one seemed doomed to failure. Or was it?

Early in the year 1976, Mother responded to an advertisement for land which she had read about in the newspaper. While the rest of the family went on with our normal lives, Mother, Robyn, and Kim took a trip to Southeast Utah to get a firsthand look at the offerings. This trip seemed to me pretty much the same as the others, except this one lasted a couple of days. But when Mother returned this time, there was something different.

This time, the description didn’t do justice to the real thing. It was even better than advertised. As Mother told us about what she had seen and heard, we saw in her eyes and heard in her voice the trembling of excitement and glimmer of hope that this was the opportunity for which we had been searching. She described a beautiful green valley, large Cottonwood trees, towering red rock cliffs, and even nearby ponds and a stream. The land was affordable, and nearly the entire valley of parcels was available for our choosing. “This time IS different,” she promised. Robyn glowed with equal excitement, which soon radiated to all of us in the form of unbearable anticipation. A trip was planned, provisions were made, and a chapter in the history of the W. Richard Stucki family began to unfold. Our lives were to be changed forever.

Climbing into the car for our journey to see the destination for which we had been searching long and hard (called Castle Valley) was like boarding a time capsule to discover our future. Somehow, as our car passed through the streets and houses of our neighborhood on our way to explore the ‘promised land’, I knew that the neighborhood we left that day, where our family had worked and played and lived for nearly 25 years, would soon no longer be the backdrop to the stage of our lives.

We traveled south past Orem and Provo, into the Spanish Fork Canyon. We continued up and over Soldier’s Summit to Price, Green River, and on toward Crescent Junction. At this time, the main highway flowed directly through the center of these small cities. I remember thinking how tiny and remote these little towns seemed. We turned south at Crescent Junction, moving toward Moab (pronounced MO ‘AB, not MOBE like I first thought) and the entrance to the Arches National Park. Mother explained that we were nearing our destination and our anticipation soared, but quickly the sun plunged toward the skyline. It was early evening when we passed Arches and crossed the Colorado River bridge. “Just 25 miles up this windy road, and we’ll be there,” Mother encouraged.

Now, I’m not too proud to say that although I wanted to believe in this promised land about which Mother had spoken so highly, I had only seen desert, dirt, and cactus for the last 150 miles of our trip. My faith in a beautiful green valley was waning just a bit, but when we turned on to the Colorado River road on the last leg of our journey, I noticed the terrain indeed did change—from red sand into red rock! Our doubts soon turned into comments like “Is this it? You brought us all the way down here to see these rocks. I thought you said there was green!” but Mother’s excitement only increased, “Wait, just wait. We’re almost there.”

The sun had fallen below the red rock cliffs and the shadows were tall and long. Interesting shapes filled the contours of the landscape, stretching across the winding road and down to the river. Often the river crept very close, and other times it fell out of sight far below the road. The anticipation grew as the car wove back-and-forth on the river road. At last we rounded a corner and gazed upon the beautiful White’s Ranch beside the Colorado River. Our doubts and jests soon turned into unbelief and amazement. “How could this green ranch lie here in the middle of the desert?” Cattle and horses covered the acres of green alfalfa. Large Cottonwood trees surrounded small cabins and a mobile home, and nestled beside corrals, tack sheds, and a tractor was a small clear-running stream. Mother told us that this was the same creek that ran through the valley we had come to see.

It was growing darker rapidly now, except for the mammoth, solid rock cliffs directly in front of us. The towering, red rock crags glowed fiery red like a burning bush. The sun had dropped far beneath the horizon behind us and now the only formation tall enough to catch the sun’s rays was this tremendous ensign before us. This red rock spectacle burned more vividly and brightly that night than any other time since. Mother said then that it was a sign from God welcoming us to our new home. I believe that to be true.

Soon we crossed the bridge at White’s ranch which extended over the small stream. We continued along the river road until we reached the Castle Valley turn off. As we drove along the steep and narrow, one-lane highway, our anticipation and excitement grew. The winding road traversed back-and-forth until at last, we reached the summit of the hill and slipped down into the valley. The sensation I experienced at that moment, I will never forget. Seemingly from nowhere, a beautiful, green valley stretched before us. Enormous Cottonwood trees, rich green pastures, and rustic cabins and barns appeared below. Thousands of acres of ground were surrounded by a red cliff fortress.

Round MountainA mount stood as a sentinel far up the valley toward the La Sal Mountain range. Down from the harsh conditions of the peaks into the valley, deer and mountain goats climb the steep incline and graze in the shadows of the rocky crags and balance atop the sheer cliffs of igneous rock. In many ways the precipice represented the massive challenge facing early residents of the area. Similarly, once the wildlife conquered the crags and overcame the abyss, the valley opened up into a much tamer, pleasant and welcoming homestead. Lush pastures, fresh water, mildly sloping hills, and tall, sheltering trees provided peace, solitude, and refuge.

The rocky cliffs extended up the basin and were swallowed up in the luscious, green foliage of the high mountain range. At the upper end of the valley stood a small mountain with the characteristics of a volcano affectionately called Round Mountain, and the little stream meandered for miles down the length of the valley. Interestingly, for 35 years I experienced that same feeling of euphoria every time I entered that beautiful oasis and realized I was home.

With nightfall fast approaching, we stopped at the sales office and were told we could set up camp near the old homestead at the bottom of the valley.  It was dark by now, and we found bats living in the old cabin, so we chose to place our sleeping bags under a canopy of trees. Exhaustion soon overcame anticipation, and we quickly drifted off to sleep.

Morning came quickly and when we awoke, a herd of horses had wandered carefully into our camp and surrounded us. They sniffed our sleeping backs, and snooped around curiously. The horses remained calm until we awoke and started to get up, then they galloped away. The children were elated. And although this encounter with the horses was brief, little did we know it was just the beginning of many hours of fun and excitement with them.

Once we awoke, we found the sales office and learned that they had just opened the lower end of the valley for purchase. How great is that? We essentially got our pick of the new lots and selected the finest two five-acre lots available. It all happened amazingly quickly, and we felt we had just found the end of a rainbow. We did. It was the best decision we ever made and became the answer to many heart-felt prayers and sleepless nights. But we were just beginning.

We moved to Castle Valley in June of 1976. Rather than hiring a moving company to pack up all our belongings, our move to Castle Valley was accomplished by hauling truckloads of our belongings to our new home. Since we didn’t yet have a place to put our things on the farm, we stored the majority of our belongings in a warehouse in Moab until we had a chance to build facilities on the farm.

One of the most memorable trips was when we loaded our old Chevrolet pickup and a large moving truck with our belongings and preparations for the farm, leaving enough room in the back of the moving truck for the animals we purchased and planned to pick up on our way down to the valley. Since the entire family would not fit in the front of the trucks, the younger children crawled into the back of the moving truck and found places to relax during the ride. We stopped along the way at various farms to get a couple goats—Marmi, a Saanan, and Nicky, a French Alpine. We stopped to pick up Petunia our pig, and crates and crates of chickens.

The journey progressed fine until just outside Green River, Utah. The old pickup truck had engine trouble and refused to go any further.  Stranded on the side of the road, we arranged to have the truck towed to a garage inside Green River. The mechanic examined the engine and explained that it had thrown a rod. We stayed the night in a motel and pulled the pickup behind the moving truck the next day to reach our destination.

We moved the truck to the back of the property and used it with a truck top as a shelter. We erected tents around a fire pit, and our new home looked vaguely like a pioneer wagon train. We slept under innumerable stars at night. The starry night sky was remarkable. The Milky Way displayed billions of stars. Many nights since we spent studying the countless stars and awe-inspiring heavenly bodies.

As remote and isolated as it seemed in Castle Valley, we were not alone. There were many significant people that played a part in shaping our experience in the valley. The cast was diverse, numerous, and interesting.

We met people in the most unusual circumstances. We were visiting up at the Officers when there was quite a commotion about something. I wasn’t sure what was going on at the time. But soon they asked me if I had seen the little old woman walking up the valley and went on to explain how she had visited their home and done some very unusual things. I don’t remember what they were now, but they said it was funny and we had to meet her. I’m not sure I ever actually met the woman, but they had taken pictures of her and they were eager to show them to us. The small woman wore a hat of sorts. She had a ruffled blouse and a skirt with a long petticoat and boots. The pictures were plausible, but the general laughter made the story hard to believe. It turns out that Guy Officer, a 22-year-old had dressed up and walked around the immediate area talking and acting like an old woman with an attitude. I don’t know if the prank fooled anyone, but it was cause of a lot of laughter and a good introduction to Guy, who was always looking for fun and willing to play the part. He was likable and funny, with a keen sense of humor. He instantly became our friend.

Years later, Guy began courting my sister. But I knew he didn’t have a chance, because he was too goofy for Robyn. But it turned out the silly was an act. He was a down-to-earth gentleman and a sincere person of high character. Yet Guy always kept us laughing and turned challenges into games and soon the whole crowd was following Guy’s rollicking goings-on. And Robyn fell for him. They were happily married and excited to plan and share their lives together. And it was great! They made a perfect match: Guy’s boisterous and playful attitude was tempered by Robyn’s firm and steady demeanor. Guy’s animated character added a good dose of fun and playfulness to their relationship. And Robyn always kept Guy going in a direction that mattered. It was a match made in heaven (because there was no way I ever would have guessed it happening here on earth). Robyn was serious on the outside, but occasionally she would reveal the funny, goofy side as well. Like the time, she helped me with my advertising project in high school. I was struggling putting my thoughts on paper, and thankfully Robyn began talking with me about my assignment. We figuratively put our heads together, and soon we had great ideas that tumbled out as side-splitting laughter onto the lines of the paper. It was fun to write and even more fun to read. I like to think that my teacher enjoyed devouring my paper the most. I definitely had a ball writing it.

So our activities on the farm were varied, and we had new opportunities the likes of which we had never experienced. One of these occasions was enjoying the “wild” herd of horses in the valley. Now to be honest, they weren’t actually wild, but they were broken horses that had been left in the valley to pasture. We didn’t know this at the time, but because they didn’t run at the sight of us, we realized that the animals had once been Horse runningbroken. I was probably 13-years-old at the time and Gregg was 17. They ran the length of the valley eating and grazing, and for all intents and purposes had become wild horses, again.

During our move to the valley, a neighbor gave our family a small Shetland pony that we could take care of. Of course, this was a dream come true as animals like this made our farm legitimate and gave us opportunities for fun. We secured a saddle for the pony and did our best to attach it properly, and then each of us took a turn to get on the horse for a ride. Mounting the animal was harder than it looked. The pony was easily spooked, and frankly none of us really knew that much about riding horses anyway. When it came my turn, before I knew what was happening, the pony trotted and bucked a little, and I ended up on my back. The fall further spooked the animal, and it escaped up the road. We learned that it would usually go find and join the herd of wild horses in the valley.

I stood up, brushed myself off, and tended to my bumps and bruises—nothing serious—wounded pride mostly. We finally found the pony with the rest of the horses in the valley and persuaded it home with fresh hay. We thought about figuring out ways of mounting the pony and having delightful rides around our property, but it never really worked out, so we tried another tactic for high adventure. I’m not really sure how we got this into our heads, horse facing toward the rightbut Gregg and I decided we wanted to get on the backs of the horses in the wild herd and ride them around the valley. This was quite an adventure for two young men and has become one of the choice memories of early days on the farm. At first we sort of made friends with the animals with hay or an apple and would slowly mount a certain horse by cautiously pulling ourselves to its back by grasping the mane and jumping across the withers of the back. Now when you visualize our mounting these horses, if you picture the Lone Ranger and Tonto leaping to the backs of their stallions and riding off into the sunset, you would be mistaken. I usually couldn’t jump high enough to swing my leg over on my first try, so after my attempt I would lay on my stomach, perpendicular across the horses back and try to lift my leg over without upsetting the horse or startling the others. If I made too much of a racket, the herd would start running, and we would have to bail off before the stampede got moving too quickly. Of course we always rode bareback and only occasionally placed a rope around the horse’s neck. We never used a bit and reins—that was too complicated and we didn’t own any or really know that much about them then. When things went right, we found ourselves atop the massive horses riding bareback squeezing the animal with our knees, grasping the withers and holding on to the mane for all our lives. When we were victorious and sat high and proud on the backs of our favorite horse, the rides were the best of times. Before long, however, something spooked the herd or their natural desire to run got them galloping up the valley. Again, for our own well-being we bailed off before the herd got running too quickly. But for a brief, thrilling moment, we had tamed the West, and all our hard work and preparations paid off big time.

Once I remember things were going well and both Gregg and I had mounted our favorite horses; mine was a beautiful, brown quarter horse and Gregg’s, a tall white mare. As we crossed the road above our property and continued up the field to the Ricketts’ acreage, all seemed to be going fine. Then suddenly without warning something spooked the horse Gregg was riding, which caused the animal to rear up on its back two legs then bolt. Naturally without a saddle or reins, Gregg flew off the animal’s back and this time landed hard on the solid ground. His torso hit first, which knocked all the air out of his chest. For a few brief moments, he couldn’t get a breath. It seemed like an eternity to Gregg. He attempted a groan still on the ground but hadn’t air enough to make a sound. It took a few minutes, but at last, his lungs resumed filling with air. He dusted himself off and went looking for the horses. Though memorable the fall is not what I remember most about this event, however. What sticks in my mind is the picture-perfect shot of that white stallion standing on its back legs pawing high into the air with Gregg atop its back. That was an exquisite moment and for me will always be the most memorable image of our horse riding days.

Everything on the farm wasn’t so glamorous, however. We had our fair share of monotonous chores and distasteful activities as well, but I tried to have a good attitude and be an asset. Such was the case when we needed to haul manure or clean out chicken coops or pig pens. The tasks surrounding animals never seemed to end, but even before we had these things to take care of, someone had to dispose of the latrine. Early on we used a green tent and a large hole for our latrine. Kimberly affectionately called it the green house, because it was located in a green tent. Somehow, the name stuck. Later, we relocated down below to the bunk house and this unsavory task became mine, so I served as john-boy for some time until we moved into our home in the valley. I’d carry and discard the contents of the bucket by burying it alongside the grated roadway that led down to the bunkhouse. I wasn’t proud of this job, and the task went on for months until we had made other arrangements, such as a hole surpassing the height of a man atop which we placed a wood shed including an outhouse. We eventually installed and completed plumbing in the home we were building, but that included digging, building, and connecting a septic tank and drain field, which is a story all of its own. Before long, we were able to link the sewage lines to our home, and the modern life conveniences returned at last. Lesson: Sometimes one’s got to do what must be done. Enough said.

Coyotes
Early on in our Castle Valley endeavor we experienced startling and miraculous activities just from the fact that we were in this unique valley, including a nightly serenade of excited coyotes which came just as the sun was going down. Their message was clear and concise…”this is our valley, and we aren’t relenting to newcomers without a fuss.” Truly their bark was worse than their bite. Infrequently, one would hear that a predator had somehow gotten into a neighbor’s chicken coop, but I never remember it happening to us. I think stray dogs were more often the culprits. Nevertheless, one could set his watch to the regular, nightly howl of the coyotes…definitely one of my favorite memories of the early years in the valley. Before long, the influx of people drove the coyotes to more remote locations. But on occasion when hiking in isolated canyons or camping on the high desert, we would be serenaded with the lonesome howl of a pack of jittery coyotes. I have come to appreciate these desert wanderers and will never hear that sound without a flood of fond, poignant memories of Castle Valley.

Wild horses running through the area upon which Gregg and I would attempt to ride bare back and the spectacle of a milky way in the starry sky at night and fireflies all across the lower fields are exceptional memories. These little miracles were all around us.

Though vegetable gardening was not foreign to us, the size of the endeavor surpassed all previous attempts prior to Castle Valley. Long rows of corn, tomatoes, peas, beats, lettuce, zucchini, potatoes, spinach and Swiss chard was just a start. I still remember raiding the garden for delicious morsels at night—sweet victory—or so we thought. Cherry tomatoes, Silver queen corn, baby carrots, peas, green peppers, and strawberries. It was all a feast. Jeff was my accomplice.

Those were the days.

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The word monotony took on a whole new meaning on the farm. While some jobs were interesting and even fun, others were simply painful for a 13-year-old boy. Among these were cleaning out manure from animal pens, weeding endless rows of newly-planted vegetables, raking fields of hay because we didn’t yet have a tractor or bailer, and milking. cabinThis is only a sampling of mundane jobs that had to be done regularly on the farm, of course. Breaking the ice on the watering troughs every morning in the winter, endlessly hauling and chopping wood, digging ditches, fence post holes, and waterlines all across our property come to mind as well. But I don’t recall these with distaste. On the contrary, I remember them fondly and with a measure of pride that I got the chance to participate in this adventure. The farm has all kinds of jobs and many of them are interesting; some are even fun. Granny was always good at making the difficult jobs enjoyable, which was quite a feat I didn’t fully appreciate at the time, back then as a boy. Going on picnics, visiting the irrigation pond up the valley to go swimming, baking delicious food and her famous chocolate cake—these were the best of times.

On one of these occasions, Mom suggested we place a swing off a cliff area just beyond what would someday be the playhouse. This was not just any swing but was hung from a large bough of a cottonwood tree. The location made the swing memorable and thrilling. While many long swings are fun and exciting, this one was particularly breathtaking as it soared off a cliff. I think it was Gregg that climbed up the tree and shimmied across the massive limb to secure the ropes to the branch with chains and hang the swing just above a ledge that we called Red Ant Hill. I’m not sure who first called it that name, probably Jeff or Kim. This was aptly named because when we first found it, the red cliff was covered with ant hills. The insects soon relocated, but the name stuck. Then and forevermore, the cliff where the swing rocketed into the trees ten-feet or more above the ground was affectionately known as Red Ant Hill. The swing chains were long and secure, and the ride, memorable and breathtaking. This activity provided hours of fun over the 30 years we spent in Castle Valley. Everyone tried it one time or another: children, grandchildren, friends, and family. Years later after the children moved on, the trunk split and the branch crashed to the ground—that swing was forever gone.

We read from the book A House of Many Rooms by Rodello Hunter about a dreamy farm with luscious fruit and vegetables and berries and home baked goodies. It spoke of animals scattered about the property and the good life it brought to all involved. It was difficult work, but the anticipation of such a place helped motivate us, and we worked hard to make it a reality.

Now years later, I look back over our experience there and realize that we not only achieved but surpassed my fondest dreams of having a similar homestead that was described in this book. What we envisioned in fact had become reality and though the farm is something that commenced and concluded long ago, the recollection and benefits from this life-changing experience can never be taken from us. The memories and benefits of Castle Valley will live on in our lives and for generations to come. Though time has compressed the 35-year stint into a relative brief series of memories, the incidents are poignant, valuable, and cherished.

We were still young children at the time, so mother read many other books to us for enjoyment as well. I remember fondly how her steady and charming voice would soothe our hardships and mend wounds. Besides enjoying the stories in Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Little House on the Prairie there was compassion and love in her voice. We felt the blessings of acceptance, security, and hope that filled our home. We were on a mission to make and enjoy the good life.

Living in the country

There really wasn’t a typical day on the farm. Life was varied and duties changed with the seasons of the year, but my memory clings on to the fond events that represent a typical day in the valley. Of course, depending on the time of year, each day was different, but I lived through this dozens of these times, week after week. So I have mentioned below what could be a typical day:

Wake up promptly to dad’s early-morning call. Go outside to the berry patch and pick ourselves a large bowl of fresh strawberries to eat. Pour fresh cream and sugar. Our first work project started before breakfast, which gave us something to look forward to once the farm came to life. While we worked, the sun still had not reached the horizon, but the banty chickens awoke early and scurried from the undergrowth in the trees to walk proudly around the farm yard. An occasional pheasant announced its presence and then frequented the fields. Gathering eggs, picking vegetables, milking goats and our beloved Jersey cow, Janey—these were daily tasks. Soon the infamous Stucki dinner bell rang signaling to all that breakfast was served. We devoured fresh eggs, omelets, rich jersey milk, and homemade granola, fresh apples, and delicious yogurt with honey. Soon we went back out to the fields to work until lunch. Digging holes to plant trees, clearing ditches, building pens, collecting wood, finding and moving rocks, and clearing land were all common chores. By midday, the heat of the day was upon us, so further work when possible was continued in the shade of the trees or delayed until evening. Dad, however, never stopped working. We would escape to cooler circumstances. He would dip his hat cabinin cool water and place it back on his head, then continue his work the entire day through. He was grateful for our help and never complained that we stopped to rest or play during the heat of the day. Work projects often lasted the entire day or multiple days, but the benefits and memories of working hard on the farm with parents and siblings has lasted a lifetime.

The memory of the heritage we enjoyed because of the dream that burned in the heart of mother Margie will truly outlive my parents’ generation and that of my own and bless the descendants of my children and their children’s children for many future generations to come—heirs of the treasure found there so many years ago.

In fact, the stage has changed and the cast is new, but the dream of the good life started by my parents in the wilds of Castle Valley will continue to live on in their posterity.

As I look back now and recognize we had lofty goals for the life we pursued and prospects to achieve in the country, we too desire those qualities for our own families. Our imaginations and high hopes we had for living on the farm and homesteading to our hearts content in Castle Valley, I would say were all surpassed. All our expectations and even my mother’s lofty dream of living in the country were exceeded. True, things turned out differently than we ultimately planned, no doubt. But I am also confident that this experience played out better than we were capable of imagining. That’s humbling to remember and exciting to recognize now this many years later. But so is the simple truth that the best is yet to come. This realization in no way diminishes what we accomplished in Castle Valley or the beautiful experience we shared there. On the contrary, this experience living in the country truly prepared and enabled us to enjoy what we had then and to recognize and appreciate what will yet come as a result.

So often we set goals that do not stretch us to the point that we are able to see of what we are truly capable. But in our case, the fact that my parents set expectations for themselves and the family to reach unheard of heights of accomplishment and quality family life have set a standard for the rest of our lives as their children. We know that we can do the impossible, and we are sure, because we did it in Castle Valley many years ago. I have no doubt that even in the midst of this remarkable experience—despite this incredible opportunity and the beauty we have already enjoyed—for all of us the best is yet to come.

Chapter 3

Working the farm

Incredibly challenges can be life’s most valued experiences. Undoubtedly, such was the case for my sweet wife who lost her father at the tender age of eleven-years-old. She and her widowed mother lived independently and courageously for years pulling together to face life’s hardships and overcome insurmountable obstacles. And the two of them persevered, and their tenacity paid off. With their persistence and Divine help, our entire family has been blessed.

Enduring life’s hardships in and of itself doesn’t produce happiness, but undergoing life’s hard spells helps us appreciate the good times and count our blessings. Those things we treasure sometimes escape us at first until we experience the true measure of their value and real worth. And other times challenges mask the significance of the experiences until sometime later in life. In either case rather than making this discovery effortlessly, we are compelled to dig deep until we recognize their appeal.

A favorite poem of mine illustrates this very principle, speaking of perspective and appreciation.

‘Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile. 

“What am I bid, good people”, he cried,
“Who starts the bidding for me?”
“One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?”
“Two dollars, who makes it three?”
“Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,”
But, No,

From the room far back a gray bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as the angel sings.

 The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said “What now am I bid for this old violin?”
As he held it aloft with its’ bow. 

“One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?”
“Two thousand, Who makes it three?”
“Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone”, said he. 

The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
“We just don’t understand.”
“What changed its’ worth?”
Swift came the reply.
“The Touch of the Masters Hand.”

“And many a man with life out of tune
All battered and bruised with hardship
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin 

A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone. 

But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Masters’ Hand.

– by Myra Brooks Welch

For a 12-year-old boy, the unusual lifestyle we soon adopted that first summer in Castle Valley was more an adventure than an inconvenience. For instance, living in a tent and in the back of our broken-down pickup truck, cooking our meals on a fire, slumbering under the stars in sleeping bags, and hearing the nightly howl of coyotes in the hills at dusk were dreams-come-true for a young boy like me. And that’s just the beginning of the fun things we did every day that summer. Catching and riding the horses, exploring the creek bed, swimming in the pond, and climbing the huge Cottonwood trees were daily activities.

Our new home in Castle Valley was simple that first summer, comprised of a tent, the back of a broken down pickup covered with a truck top, a fire pit, and the hopes and dreams of a better life and a beautiful country home. A small, green tent provided the outhouse accommodations and was affectionately called the Greenhouse—a term coined by Kimberly.

At that time there were eight of us living on the farm (Kim, Jeff, Mat, Gregg, Robyn, Mom, Dad, and our cousin Russell).dadPruningTree

Getting started early in the morning provided a comfortable working environment, before the heat of the day. We spent long hours working in the hot sun, clearing and excavating ditches, digging dozens of fence post holes, and scooping dry, hard dirt and rocks from the earth to plant countless bare-root trees in the orchard and around the farm. We hauled buckets of water to fill many of the holes as we dug them in an effort to loosen the hard, impenetrable soil. We erected animal shelters for the pigs, goats, and chickens and fed and watered the animals daily. Since we didn’t have a well, we hauled water from our neighbors for the animals and trees. We learned to appreciate and cherish cold, refreshing water. Just as the family rose early in the morning with the sun to begin the day, we retired with the sun at dusk. The cry of the coyotes ushered out the last rays of sunlight and welcomed in the serene glimmer of the moon. Since we didn’t have much light, except for flash lights and perhaps the fire, our activities concluded quickly at night fall. But we didn’t mind; our bags were a welcome sight after a long day’s work.

The brutal heat of the summer days soon convinced us to move our camp down the property to the shade of the large Cottonwood trees. Soon, a power pole was installed and the availability of electricity now gave us the opportunity to build better living conditions. Dad erected a wood surface of rough floorboards on which the tent was placed, a welcome change from the dirt floor we were used to. Other improvements were also made. Although Mom had done a remarkable job cooking on the fire, the process was understandably inconvenient and difficult, so the kitchen facilities were the next project. Three walls were built atop a wood floor, and the truck top was placed on the walls to form the roof. Inside the kitchenette, Mom arranged the refrigerator and stove, and Dad built a counter and installed a sink without running water, because we didn’t yet have a well. The next improvement was a bath house. Although the framework and roof of this building was erected, the sinks and walls were not yet completed. The bath house gave way to more important projects. The function of the “Greenhouse” was moved to a small room in the corner of the bath house. I soon earned the title of “John-boy” because it was my responsibility to bury the bucket set aside for this purpose. I didn’t enjoy this duty at the time, but it had to be done, and it was my job. So I did it until we moved into the farmhouse just before Christmas.

Although we had seen wells being dug around the valley from a distance, when Dad hired a man to begin digging a well on our property, we had an opportunity to learn the process up close. The large rig pounded a hole in the earth with a heavy, metal pole. The rig lifted then dropped the pole repeatedly. Each time the heavy bar hit the ground, the hole was made an inch or two deeper. As the hole grew, the man began pounding a pipe into the well. Then, each time the hole was extended the length of the bar, the man welded another pipe to the end that protruded from the ground and continued pounding the pipe into the hole of the well. We hit water at 14 feet, which was good, especially considering that some of the other families up the valley didn’t hit water until they had dug more than 150 feet or more. The well needed to be at least 100 feet deep to ensure that the water was clean and safe. Although this process seemed slow, it was also consistent, and soon cool, delicious water was flowing seemingly effortlessly from the well.

What a relief that was when compared to the effort of lugging containers of water from our neighbors. We appreciated our neighbor’s kindness sharing their water with us, but admittedly it was difficult to haul and nasty when the water became dirty and warm. But there was one drawback I suppose. Our less frequent visits to the neighbors meant we saw less of their girls! … Now remember, I was only twelve-years-old, so I didn’t admit to this being the case, but deep down I felt it, though I never articulated this frame of mind. Of course, I recognize it more now as a man than something I was willing to admit as a boy. At the time, we were glad to have water. Life just got a whole lot better and sweeter. Our truck top kitchen soon had running water and bunkhouse bedroom took a step toward modernization now, as well. And with school starting soon, it was just in time. As the summer concluded, the evenings progressively became darker earlier. Since our home was under construction and only limited electricity and lighting were available in the bunkhouse, we engaged in different entertainment activities based on our limited resources.

Mother began reading A House of Many Rooms by Rodello Hunter to the family in the evenings by lantern light. She read about fields of bounteous produce, delicious meals, beautiful home and large, handy barn. They produced a bounty of produce and trained, gentle farm animals, which was the realization of the dream we came to Castle Valley to experience. My mind would entertain fanciful imaginations about the time when our farm would produce these blessings. We knew it was only a matter of time before we would have all these things. But perhaps I didn’t appreciate then the amount of time and work required getting to that point. Actually, I had no idea.

The construction of the shop continued, but the summer was quickly turning into Fall. Before long school started and without a shower, I resorted to wetting my head under the faucet before school. It sort of served the dual purpose of hair wash and shower, I suppose. But our real bathing took place elsewhere. Early on in our move, we went to town and used the showers at the local camp ground, perhaps once-a-week, but that didn’t last long. It was time-consuming, costly and inconvenient. So for us boys, mostly we went up to the irrigation pond toward the top of the valley. It was cool, clean water and semi-remote, so we had a measure of privacy assuming no one came to swim at the same time we did. It worked for a bunch of boys. Mom took the first shower in our new, partially completed home. Though for that first shower, the plumbing wasn’t all hooked up. So we heated a pan of water on the stove and poured it over the top of the stall. It was still a marvel to actually have our own shower. Hot and cold water piping came soon after.

Construction of our home progressed and when we had just about finished the kitchen on the main floor, we decided we should have dug a root cellar out below that room. This could accommodate the well tank and provide a place to amass our produce, retain other storage, and keep our preserved items. Mom was religious about canning our crops for use when fresh produce was not available. So we decided to start digging out the basement for a root cellar. But since the home was already built above this spot, we did it one bucket-at-a-time. It was a massive task. One bucket-full-at-a-time literally took months, but we persisted, and before long we had a root cellar the height of a man and the length of the house. Later, we built rock walls to support the exposed dirt sides and added a stairway outside to provide easy access.

This taught me that anything is possible even in the event that planning and foresight fail to realize the ideal situation, which is often the case in life. Plans change, challenges occur, and life may throw curve balls that were never expected, but if we pursue what is right and faithfully endure, great blessings await the persistent. These obstacles give us opportunities to stretch ourselves and develop hidden talents. Overcoming our trials cultivates strength and confidence in the midst of hardship, which is when we need a boost and the courage to continue. This applies to most areas of our lives.

I imagine changing schools is stressful for many children, though at the time it felt abnormally difficult. When I began attending middle school in Moab, I felt like a fish out of water. To begin with, the middle school system seemed odd, but since I was an eighth grader, I should have felt a measure of seniority since we were the oldest grade. I didn’t. Instead I was an odd ball, different, and lonely. I don’t really remember my classes that first day. Now it is all a blur, but what I do remember was lunch time. Much different from what I was used to in Salt Lake City, the schools in Moab were open campus. I’m not sure I even knew what that meant at the time, but I learned soon enough that there was no lunch room and students were encouraged to leave campus during lunch hour. Some would go out to eat; others would return home. Gratefully, my mom had packed me a lunch, so when the bell rang, I collected my brown bag from my locker and looked for a place to eat my lunch. Of course, the school was deserted. No one remained in the halls, on the school grounds, or anywhere in sight for that matter. Since I couldn’t find a lunch room, I sat on the grass in front of the school and pulled out my lunch from my bag. First, I noticed the bread for my sandwich was brown (whole grain) and homemade. Instead of a package of chips, I withdrew a baggy of carrot sticks. And at last to my horror, in place of a Ding-dong or Twinkie, mom had packed a few nuts and raisins for dessert. As children began returning to the school ground from lunch, my unusual selection of foods became my nemesis. The fact that I was the only student eating from a brown bag on the front lawn of the school didn’t help either. For an impressionable, concerned eighth-grader, this day and those that followed weren’t going so well. I had no idea at the time, but residents of Castle Valley were seen as weird. It turned out there was a stigma being from Castle Valley, which the other students thought was a community full of hippies or hillbillies. What if the students found out that I lived in a tent? I thought my life was nearly unbearable. I had no idea of what was yet in store.

I also learned that because the middle school started earlier than the other schools, there was an hour or so after school before the bus came. It doesn’t seem like it should have been a big deal now, but at the time I dreaded it. How could I look normal and cool hanging around the school for an hour every day with nothing to do? There was a candy store up the road a little. I could hang out there after school even though I didn’t have any money. This lasted for a time until one day M. and his thugs came strutting up and asked me for money to which I responded truthfully “I don’t have any.” But that wasn’t good enough, so during one encounter, M. wound up and struck me across the face.  I was an easy target, and he and his friends just laughed and thought they were so funny. Of course, I did nothing to solicit this, but waiting for the bus became a burden—I needed to look cool, avoid the bullies, and maintain my semblance of an image (whatever that was). Then one day while trying to juggle these objectives, I missed the bus home. I’m not sure I ever considered what a predicament that put me in, because we didn’t have a phone, so how am I supposed to get home now?

But who am I kidding? Even if we had a phone, we didn’t have the money to spend on gas for an extra trip down to Moab, so I started walking toward Main Street. Maybe by a miracle somebody I know will drive by. No one I knew did, so I kept walking toward the end of town in the direction of Castle Valley. There were plenty of cars going past but few if any were headed to Castle Valley, so I just kept walking. After about two miles, I reach the river bridge and turned onto the road that wound alongside the Colorado River for the eighteen-mile drive up to Castle Valley. At that juncture I looked ahead and wondered what was in store for me then began walking up the river road. There was no sidewalk, but that didn’t really matter because at that time hardly anyone drove the river road. I realized if I was going to get home that night, I would have to start hitch hiking, and I couldn’t be too selective on which vehicles I chose because there were so few cars to begin with. Finally a car headed in my direction. I put on a happy face and stuck my thumb up in the air in hitch-hiking fashion. Well, it turned out to be a man and his wife, and they slowed their car down just few feet past me. I looked in their window and asked if I could catch a ride. Of course they said I could, so I climbed in the back seat. They were continuing up the road past Castle Valley so they dropped me off at the bottom of the valley, and I walked the final mile to our farm. Somehow I made it home in one piece. I was only 13-years-old at the time and couldn’t have been happier to see my family. Of course, there were many questions about what I was doing that caused me to miss the bus and amazement that I had actually hitch-hiked home as young as I was, but no ridicule. It was necessary given the circumstances. But that was only the beginning.

Future hitch-hiking bouts involved many other incidents over a number of years. Most people were just trying to help, and I appreciated their willingness, but there are a couple that stand out in particular. One time I stuck out my thumb and was happy to see the oncoming car slow and stop. As I think back now, it was kind of an old vehicle, but I thought nothing of it at the time. The man inside told me to hop in the back seat, and we started up the river road. He mumbled something unintelligible; then I got a whiff of the alcohol on his breath. I realized he was drunk. He held a beer in his hand, plus the fact that he was weaving around the road as we drove, confirmed my suspicions. Well that was probably the longest ride to the valley that I ever remember. But needless to say, I made it home in one piece. I didn’t even mind that he dropped me off on the river road a couple miles from my house. Curiously, I felt both empathy and appreciation.

harleyAnother time, I was not getting too many takers and the afternoon had turned into evening. So when a group of Harley riders sauntered by, I raised my hitch-hiking hand not really thinking they would stop. To my surprise they did. And following instructions, I hopped on the seat behind a burley, white-haired dude. When I climbed on the bike I was thinking what I should do with my hands. There wasn’t anything obvious to hold onto, but I had barely swung my leg over the seat and sat down when he gunned it. Without thinking, I grabbed around his waist and held on for dear life. For the first 30 seconds, I couldn’t even breathe. Eventually I loosened my death grip and moved my hands to a more appropriate position on the bike. As I remember, the seat back curled up behind me so that he didn’t lose me altogether when he accelerated. Thinking back to the experience, I bet he was smiling broadly. Anyway, it was a great ride and the fastest I ever got home before or since. I can’t remember for sure, but when he got to the valley, I think he offered to drive me to my door, and I would have said “yes” if we really had one at the time. But considering his offer now, I wish I had taken him up on it. Can you imagine the scene I would have made driving down our country road with a pack of Harley-Davidson bikes and riders in their black, leather garb? I would have given a million bucks to see my mother’s face when I climbed off the bike as a 13-year-old. “Yo, Rico. Thanks for the ride home. You HOGs are the best. Catch you later, bro.” People would still be talking about that day.

If there was one skill we developed in Castle Valley, we learned how to work…daily tending to animals, throwing hay, hauling logs for firewood, digging hundreds of fence post holes and ditches, taking turns irrigating in the middle-of-the-night and planting 300+ trees  on our ten acre farm and orchard come to mind. Dad insisted that the holes we dug for these trees were 2-feet wide and 2-feet deep. But even with all these everyday jobs, there were ever so many more tasks that needed doing. We heated our home with wood burning stoves, which meant during the summer, we would gather enough wood to burn all through the winter. Now this wasn’t for cozy fires in the fireplace. This was our single source of heat for our home throughout the long, wintry weather. It meant cutting, drying, stacking, and if necessary covering the wood to keep it dry and ready to throw on the fire. For the most part, it worked well and was exceptionally cozy. I still remember standing alongside the warm, wood-burning stove in the cold mornings. The heat radiating from the fire in the stove was mesmerizing, probably because the rest of the house early in the morning was still cold. I will always have fond memories of saddling up alongside the stove to absorb the heat from the burning wood. I briefly considered earning money by cutting and selling loads of wood for people in the valley and even down in Moab, but since we had our fill of gathering, cutting, chopping, and stacking our own wood, I decided that wasn’t for me. We did have to earn money, however. And the valley provided, many opportunities, but most people had lots of work and few funds. Nevertheless, we tried our best to make the living we needed, and there wasn’t always hay to throw or opportunities for paid labor, so we needed to think up other interesting and creative ways to earn money. For example, one year I needed $30 or $40 for youth conference. I presented my problem to mother and solicited ideas for making that much money in a short time. Someone suggested selling pizzas from door-to-door in the valley, kind of like a pizza delivery operation. This sounded like a pretty good idea, so we made order forms with two or three different kinds of pizza and solicited people in the valley. We told them we would bake the pizza fresh and deliver it to them while still hot, and we got a landslide of takers. So we planned the strategy and timing so we could prepare, bake, and deliver freshly-made pizzas all around the valley. And with the help of the family and our old white Chevy truck, we brought this backward farming community into the present by giving them a taste of the 20th century—hot, out of the oven, and delivered to their door. There were no fast food restaurants in Castle Valley and certainly no food delivery services. But for one evening, long ago on the dusty roads of old-time Castle Valley, there was a pizza delivery service that rivaled Dominos and quality pizza that blew people away.

cabinWell things changed substantially over the next few years. Our home and living situation improved with a lot of hard work and effort. I got a job working for a man up in Castleton, which was great because I could throw my bike in the back of the truck and someone could drop me off for work in the morning. Then, I could coast down the mountain road on my bike in the afternoon when I got off work. He paid me $2 an hour, and I was glad for it. While working for Mack McKinney, I did odd jobs around his home and worked on projects important to him. I think more than anything, I kept him company and listened to his outlandish stories. And that was fine with me. I enjoyed working for Mack. It gave me extra money for doing something I would have been doing at home anyway (work), and the time spent with Mack was fun and often exciting. One project I took on was disassembling a log cabin in Moab and with a trailer moving it up to Castleton for reassembly. Of course, I was too young to drive at the time, so Mack was behind the wheel. It took multiple trips to move the logs and roof and was an enormous task with plenty of unexpected incidents. Like the time we just started driving up the river road with a fully loaded trailer behind us. We were nearing the top of a hill and before we actually reached the top, Mack noticed a van following us and motioned for the driver to pass. The trouble was that we hadn’t reached the top of the hill yet nor seen the oncoming vehicle in the other lane until the van had already started passing us from behind. For a brief moment tragedy surged through my blood veins realizing that there was going to be a head-on collision beside us. By the time the driver of the van noticed that the oncoming lane wasn’t clear, it was nearly too late. He applied his brakes with full force and screeching in an attempt to reduce his speed enough that he could get behind our truck and trailer to avoid the imminent head-on collision. Luckily he just made it. He was able to slow barely in the nick of time to get behind the trailer and turn back into our lane before the oncoming vehicle collided with him. It was an innocent mistake. Nobody meant any harm. But the driver of the van behind us was fuming. He must have felt that he narrowly escaped death. I was just regaining composure when I heard the van speeding by us on the left and just before it completely passed us, the driver cut us off clipping the back of the van against the front of our truck. The impact was great, and before I realized what happened, he sped off at a high rate of speed. Mack was livid, but there was nothing he could do. About ten more miles up the river road, the driver of the van had suddenly had a change of heart and pulled over to apparently get our attention and apologize for his thoughtless actions after the incident. He waved us down, and Mack stopped the truck. The man walked toward our vehicle apologetically. Perhaps he was going to say that he was sorry for over-reacting and offer to pay for the damage, but he never got the chance. As he approached the truck, Mack reached beneath his seat and pulled out a long revolver. He cursed at the man’s actions cocked the gun, and was ready to make his point. I don’t remember that he discharged the gun into the air. He didn’t have to. The driver of the van thought he had drawn his last breath, which is what I think was Mack’s intent. He was never actually going to shoot him, but Mack wanted to ensure this man knew never to make such a foolish gesture like that again. Mack lectured him for his stupidity and told him to get on his way before he changed his mind, and that was the end of that incident. I didn’t say two words the entire time. Such were the days working with old Mack.

Later, I unpacked the multiple loads of logs, windows, and roof work, formed and laid footings, poured a foundation for the re-located cabin and began assembling the cabin log-by-log. The job was never finished in its entirety. I got another position working in Moab before it was complete and Mack McKinney passed away. But he helped me when I needed it, and I hope that what I did for Mack was worth it to him. I think it was. These were wonderful experiences with a man I admired and great memories for a boy.

Later when I applied for a job at City Market as a courtesy clerk (bagger), I did not have a car at the time, but traffic on the river road had increased considerably, so catching rides to Moab wasn’t as difficult as in years past. Somehow, I got to work and back home using the school bus, friends, and occasional rides from strangers. My financial situation improved and before too long I hoped to be able to purchase my own vehicle. This would help a great deal and enable me to work more shifts. Before long I was promoted to stocker, and as my responsibilities increased, so did my paycheck. I was on top of the world.

But remember I was still in school, and actually just a freshman. Being in high school had its ups and downs like always. Because we were in a small town and a relatively small school (2A), I had many opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have. Even a mid-sized fish is large in a small pond. I played tennis, wrestled, played football, and competed on the debate team. These were all new and fun opportunities. Though attending daily practices was difficult with my living in Castle Valley, it was doable with a lot of help getting rides and support from others.

While attending high school, I was enrolled in the normal schedule of classes: math, English, history, civics, business courses, PE, and wood shop. These were all pretty standard classes and nothing extraordinary, but one particular teacher was surprisingly effective. Many thought him strange, yet he connected with me as much as a high school teacher can. His name was Mr. Merritt. He was interesting, funny, and entertaining. He taught 9th grade English, and he would read to us. His instruction was incredibly effective. Mr. Merritt told me answers to my questions immediately, rather than requiring me to struggle trying to figure out adverbs, modifier placement, and dangling participles, for example. This worked impeccably well for me, and English became a strength for me rather than something I really couldn’t and didn’t want to deal with. In fact, I started getting great scores on my assignments and began a trend of straight A’s all through my high school English courses.

He would walk around the room while reading to us and occasionally raise his foot and rest it on any desk and keep reading as though nothing had happened. He remained relaxed and continued reading without missing a beat. I think we thought he was trying to be funny. Some jokingly said he was crazy. And now after many years I think I know why he did this: it kept our interest. We were 15-year-old kids. Our attention span was all of thirty seconds, and so he recaptured our interest in these small ways without our even knowing it was happening. But unfortunately, everybody didn’t get along with Mr. Merritt. He was intelligent and articulate, but he was also non-confrontational, and for that reason certain students took advantage of him. Let me use an example to illustrate. One normal day we were in class when there was a knock at the door during his lecture. He walked from the chalkboard where he was writing to answer the door. When I looked up, I saw the door open, and he was immediately drenched with a bucket of water. As you might imagine we were shocked and awaited a livid response of some sort. He said nothing, pulled a handkerchief from his coat pocket, removed and dried his glasses, walked back to the chalkboard, and dripping wet continued teaching. That was it. The students reported the event among themselves and to others, I imagine. But I never heard mention of the incident again from Mr. Merritt. As far as he was concerned, it never happened. I suppose some would attribute this reaction to fear or insecurity, but to me it demonstrated composure, control, and superiority. He didn’t let a cowardly act like that impact or ruin his day. He proceeded and did just what he had planned.

I thought he was outstanding.

I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.
-Thomas Jefferson

First Christmas in Castle Valley

We moved to southern Utah to a new farming community and began developing the land, digging a well, building roads, fences, out sheds, and of course a house. Our home in SLC didn’t sell right away and our funds were running short, but to us children we were in the country, raising farm animals, and connecting as a family like we never otherwise could.

We worked through the summer, but when school started we found ourselves still living in the bunkhouse. The fall brought cooler temperatures.

Our first Christmas down in Castle Valley was different yes, but probably my most memorable Christmas ever. When we moved to this southern Utah farming community and began developing the land, digging a well, building roads, fences, out sheds, and of course a house, life was tough. Our home in Salt Lake City was bigger than most others in the neighborhood. We easily had eight bedrooms, and that size of house doesn’t sell immediately. Our funds gave us a short runway, and we were quickly running out. But I don’t remember hearing mom and dad discuss money concerns constantly. We were in the country, raising farm animals, and doing what we came there to do. I’m sure my mom and dad were carrying the burden of Christmas gifts, however. One year Grandpa made a collage with a sort of prayer etched on its face. Essentially, it said worldly possessions this year are few, but real treasures like family, home, strength, health, gospel truths, and eternal covenants are abundant. I have included a copy of his Christmas message below:

W. RICHARD STUCKI TO HIS FAMILY

This Christmas your worldly gifts are few,
And not as much as we’d like for you.
Though each made, through a labor of love,
Presents cherished, as gifts from above.
But, you have other blessings of greater worth,
Like the love of a family and noble birth.
A knowledge of God as He is, and the Savior,
His church and gospel complete in full measure.
A country that’s free and blessed above all,
Knowledge of science at your beck and call.
So, as we consider our possessions in ’74,
Let’s not complain that we should have had more.
Worldly treasures are soon grumbled and gone,
But the blessings mentioned go forever on.
Cherish, use, and keep these at any cost!
The’re dearly purchased and so easily lost.
The future, remember, YOU’RE going to decide.
The gifts your children get, you provide.
So if you’ll have their earnest adoration,
Pass these blessings on to the new generation.

Life had been hard for several years and the abundance we were accustomed to diminished some. But though some might say we were in dire straits, we never wanted for the essentials. I think mother and father handled the pressures so it didn’t trickle down to the younger children. Certainly, the other children knew the challenges we were facing, and I’m certain I was not oblivious to the need, but perhaps I did not comprehend the magnitude of our predicament. Castle Valley for us was a fresh start, and it happened to fulfill a life-long dream for my mother and what she and dad wanted for our family. So rather than a rash decision, the move was an answer to countless prayers and one of the great blessings of our life.

We had worked through the summer, and for a good part of that time lived in a tent, but after a while we built and moved into the bunkhouse. That was a lot better. It was down below where it was much cooler during the hot summer. We built a truck top kitchen and started a bathroom facility, so we were moving up in the world. I never thought of it as destitution. It was an amazing adventure and our choice. But when I think about it now, it’s nothing short of amazing that mom and dad and all the kids went for it. When school started we found ourselves still living in the bunkhouse. The fall brought cooler nights and eventually freezing temperatures. The cabin home was coming along, but wasn’t going to be finished by Christmas. Yet we had our own shower for the first time in six months (which was wonderful), once we moved into the partially finished home.

We had always had so much for Christmas in years past, but this year was going to be different. Granny and Grandpa had been giving up everything to secure the farm, build a home, and pay for improvements. It left precious little for gifts. We knew that and had accepted the fact that there would be no Christmas presents this year. We already had so much anyway–perhaps not in worldly measures–but in love, family, good land, food, and the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Granny and Grandpa sincerely appreciated the bounty the Lord had given us and taught us to recognize and thank the Lord for all our blessings.

One evening we were sitting in the single heated section of the house, and there was a loud knock at the door. Before we could answer it, a vehicle sped up the driveway and off into the night. When we did open the door, a large cardboard box sat on the porch. We pulled it inside and opened it. To our surprise, there were presents, and food, and canned hams, and much, much more. For Christmas we were the recipients of a sub-for-santa project and because of others, we ate delicious foods, opened gifts, and thanked an unknown giver for presents we could not have purchased ourselves that year.

A new experience

Our new life homesteading was the beginning of a lot of firsts. My parents had the courage and confidence that we could pull this off even though this kind of life was brand new to us. It was the first time we ever owned farm animals like pigs and goats. Each of us had preconceived ideas of what these animals were like, usually from little things we had heard or read, and usually wrong. For instance, doesn’t everyone know that pigs are, well just that, pigs!  They are a mess; everybody knows that. They live in a filthy pen, eat rotten food, and wallow in the mud just to be filthy, right? Wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Pigs are incredibly clean and smart animals. What I noticed first was their insatiable need to be recognized and given attention. We bought our first pig while she was still young and brought her to the farm in the moving truck we borrowed from Harmons. We named our new pig Petunia. She was young but a pretty good-sized sow (250-300 lbs would be my guess, maybe more). She would oink and grunt as though you understood everything she was trying to say to you. We would scratch her side, and she would roll over on her back so you could scratch her tummy. Petunia was playful and kind, and she kept an immaculate home—orderly, clean, and organized.

Goats were new for us, too. We learned how to milk our goats by following the instructions in a book. Nicky, an Alpine goat which had been milked before, was our first experience. Luckily, she already knew the routine and was relatively patient while we learned the process: wash and dry the udder, don’t be too slow, pinch and squeeze from top to bottom until the foamy white milk quickly filled the bucket. We also had another goat, Marmee, a young white Saanan. We learned that goat’s milk was more nourishing than cow’s milk. Dad built a milking stall that held the goats still and provided a clean place for the pail. We milked twice a day, morning and evening. The goats produced about 1-2 quarts of creamy white milk per milking. But goats could not reproduce the cream like cow’s milk.

So later, when we bought a beautiful Jersey cow, we affectionately called her Janey. She was the most beautiful animal we had ever known. Dad milked her regularly and tended to her every need with pride and affection. We soon came to appreciate the important role a cow played in the lives of our ancestors. Janey produced 2-3 gallons of creamy, rich milk every day. In addition to having all the milk we could use, Mother made butter, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk from Janey’s delicious milk. I also learned to appreciate the work involved in milking a cow. Dad did nearly all the milking, but the times I milked the cow helped me appreciate the hard work that went into the task. One of my favorite pastimes was to listen to Dad talk as he milked. He had many stories to share with us, and he visited with Janey as though she understood his every word. He praised her for sharing her delicious milk with us and commended her. I honestly think she could understand him. She loved Dad. I believe he enjoyed caring for Janey, as much as she enjoyed the attention.

Melons played a significant role in our history in Castle Valley. The hot sun, long growing season, and sandy soil of Southeastern Utah provided excellent conditions for producing melons. In fact, Green River was famous for its melons. After a long, hot day’s work, we usually needed water, rest and energy. Incredibly, melons provided each of these.

The first summer we lived in Castle Valley, we spent many days working in the hot sun, digging fence post holes, clearing rocks, gardening, and tending to animals. I remember with fondness returning home from some activity and finding fresh melons left for us by the Seventh-day Adventists. What a blessing it was when these good people would share their melons.

In the early years in Castle Valley, the major portion of lots in the valley was still available. A Green River farmer raised melons on 10-15 acres in Castle Valley. He grew watermelons, honeydew, cantaloupe, and other types of melons, but when it came time to take them back to Green River to sell them, he had more than he could use, and he offered the remaining melons to those living in the valley. We ate more melons that summer than ever before or since. It was common for us to choose a large, beautiful melon when we would visit the patch, slice the melon in half, and cut out and eat the heart of the melon. It’s hard to believe now—eating the best part of the watermelons without seeds until we felt that if we ate anymore, we’d explode.

I remember taking the old pickup truck to the watermelon patch. We picked enough melons to fill the bed of the truck and then drove gingerly less than a mile home to share them with the rest of the family. When we arrived at the farm, all the melons had broken and were scattered through the truck bed. The pigs had a feast that afternoon.

It would be hard to equal today the healthy and delicious food we regularly enjoyed in Castle Valley. Heaping bowls of strawberries handpicked daily, tender ears of fresh Silver Queen corn picked and husked only moments before cooking, and lean, choice meat from both farm-raised and wild game. Mom used to say “Get the water boiling before picking the corn,” and attention to this detail proved to make a favorable difference in the quality of the delicious corn prepared for our meals. Silver Queen was one of my all-time favorite varieties then, and it remains so today due to its sweet, tender kernels and that fond memory of typical life on the farm.

Many of the experiences we had in Castle Valley were foreign to us “city folk” and some would qualify as amazing. Take for instance the ordeal when Petunia was nearing the time to deliver her litter of pigs. While I was feeding her one evening, I noticed she was acting unusually anxious. We tried to help make her comfortable by spreading straw in her pen and preparing for the inevitable delivery. She labored and strained and eventually delivered one pig, but we couldn’t believe that was all. She continued to exert and appeared uncomfortable, but no more pigs were delivered for what seemed to me an awfully long time. We could see that something was wrong. So we went to the book we used to look for answers to questions we could not resolve.

We read that a pig usually has a litter of 8-10 or more and that there should not be an extended length of time between the birth of the pigs. This, and the fact that she acted like she was trying to deliver more pigs, persuaded us to investigate further. The book described a situation where one of the baby pigs may die and obstruct the birth canal so that the others cannot be born. To resolve this problem, it indicated that a person could wash his arm and reach up and into the birth canal to dislodge the obstruction. Dad was selected by default to attempt this task. Not knowing quite what to expect, he followed the instructions that we had read in the book, and low and behold, he felt an object inside the birth canal. He carefully grasped the object and pulled it to free the passage for any other pigs. It was a partially formed baby pig, and as soon as Dad had successfully removed it from obstructing the birth canal, Petunia resumed giving birth. She delivered eleven more pigs!

As I contemplate on this experience, I realize we can learn a lot more from this story than initially meets the eye.

First, I think how as a young man I thought my dad could do anything. Though this experience was frightening for all of us, my father and mother moved forward boldly and didn’t let the fear of the situation overcome them. I imagine my father was terrified having never attempted such a task in his life. But I never felt that from him. Instead, he showed faith and courage, and this is just one of many experiences. When he felt helpless and inferior to the task at hand, he put his trust in God. And that was something we all learned from him.

Second, this is just one example of how the Lord smiled down on us in His wisdom and helped us to accomplish a seemingly impossible task. We spent many years in the valley working on projects I never anticipated, facing obstacles for which I felt unprepared. But Mom and Dad always faithfully moved forward despite their seeming limited knowledge of farm life initially. My nephew, Ryan Stucki, relates an instance when he was helping “Grandpa” complete some roofing on our home in Castle Valley. He shares his admiration then tells about the following experience about a time he worked with Grandpa roofing our home. Ryan states “I will never forget the lessons you taught me about the gospel, such as the time I climbed on the roof to find you praying for help with a problem you were having with laying new shingles. You have always been my hero…”

This was typical of my dad. I particularly like this anecdote because it is so reminiscent of him. We faced many new obstacles which seemed daunting to us at the time, but Grandpa knew the Lord would always see us through and turned all things for our good that occurred in Castle Valley.

I remember well spending time down below in the creek floating boats, building dams, swimming, splashing, and exploring to my heart’s content. Every day was an adventure climbing, inspecting, and discovering: hills to conquer, secret passages to discover, and numerous isolated spots throughout the property and up-and-down the valley to enjoy. The first summer we spent afternoons investigating the river bottoms both up and down the valley. We usually ended up in the water stemming from the hot days during that part of summer. Because the creek was a small stream, we engineered dams and constructed diving platforms. Our pools weren’t deep enough to legitimately dive into the water, but we maneuvered obstructions that let us play in the water and swim.

Another remarkable event occurred during the first summer we lived in Castle Valley when the family left Gregg home in the bunkhouse for a few days to tend the burgeoning farm while we traveled to Salt Lake City for supplies and building materials. A flash flood surprised property owners in the creek at the back of our property the likes of which hadn’t happened in the valley for more than 16 years the old-timers said. I remember the incredible flood of water that filled the creek bed and overflowed its banks. It washed out the bridge to the valley and forever changed the course of the stream. I remember the torrent just behind our property was as wide and ferocious as the Colorado River. Incredibly, two more enormous flash floods occurred that summer.

The beautiful, winding little creek bed, trees, shrubbery, and wildlife were all gone. Thick, red sand and mud coated everything in the path of the torrent. Where once we had a scenic creek bed with pools and waterfalls, lily pads, fish, frogs, and water skitters, now there was thick red muddy water and lifeless remains.


Flash floods in Southern Utah were not an infrequent occurrence. They appeared on the hills and cliffs near the river road frequently following a cloud burst. The otherwise dry and desolate desert turned into a raging river or waterfall that both looked spectacular yet brought with it dangerous circumstances. The water would loosen rocks from the cliffs that would fall to the river road placing obstacles in our path, which further created challenges for residents, complicated the situation, and made the journey even more precarious. Sharp turns hid these objects from the view of drivers. But admittedly, there was a strange beauty and fascination in these incredible manifestations of nature’s power. We would often drive the length of the 19-mile river road at times like these spotting unbelievable water falls that suddenly appeared in the midst of the desert. Slick roads and surprise objects in the path of the roads were not an infrequent occurrence. This often appeared at the most unexpected times. Gratefully, we were able to avoid tragedy.

Perspective is an interesting phenomenon. Today as I reflect on some of the challenges we faced in the valley, I see them entirely in a different way than I did at the time they happened. Time has a way of softening the blows and sharpening our understanding. At the heat of the moment, however, acuity is probably not my strong point. And so it was when we came to the farm, or as we called it, the homestead. So many new and exciting activities helped me make it through the mundane and monotonous; and believe me, farming can be the most repetitive, boring, and tedious series of chores one can ever imagine. Take for instance, preparing to pour the cement in our new home. Normal folks would prepare the forms and have a cement truck deliver the concrete. Obsessed people would make the cement by hand with a cement mixer and bags of ready mix concrete. We, on the other hand, had neither sand nor gravel delivered. We took a truck up the valley to the then dried-up old river beds and filled the bed with the sand and rock mixture. Then we returned to the farm and heaved the load a shovel full at-a-time onto a slanted screening contraption, which Dad constructed to separate the sand from the gravel. As the mixture was not completely dry and pliable, we had to run water over the screen to get the sand and rock to loosen and clear the debris from the screen for the next batch. Then once the sand and gravel had been divided into distinct piles, we had the makings for cement. We determined the proportions of each and began mixing them with concrete and water in a borrowed cement mixer. In this way, we made the cement mixture by hand for the footings, foundation, slabs, and mortar for the cinder block. Sometimes I wonder if we did it that way to save money or Dad planned it all along to build character, increase wisdom, and develop stamina. It doesn’t really matter. I didn’t know any better, and it accomplished both—plus we got the cement that we needed.

Another example of our eccentric strategy was 300+ fruit trees purchased from Starks, shipped bare root, and planted all across our property. None of this was easy and often it was tedious, boring, and difficult. Hauling manure, changing schools, building our home and farm from scratch, living without running water, and finally getting electricity and digging a well were all wearisome but necessary.

Frequently, I stayed with friends in Moab for various reasons, and occasionally I had a friend come to the farm, like the time KC came and stayed with my family. It was just one night, but he saw things quite foreign to even the small town folk.  One fun memory was when I introduced him to our pig Petunia. She was a large 300lb sow who loved attention and responded to a scratch on her tummy or behind her ears, but KC didn’t know that. So I thought to have some fun. “Petunia understands everything I say. Watch this?” as I walked up to the pen. “Now come here girl.” Petunia came right to where I was standing, and I scratched her head between the ears. She grunted her approval. “Like that do you? Well, turn over and I will scratch your tummy.” My scratching moved from her head to her side and soon she was on her back, feet up in the air grunting with affection and delight. Each time I asked her a question, she would grunt a response. The truth is that she learned to make these sounds when we approached. I just used this to my advantage and hammed it up. “So tell me that I am you favorite person on earth.” Grunt grunt. “Yes. I know. I love you, as well.” Grunt “Goodbye to you, too, Petunia.” She is the smartest animal. “So we are considering sending her to college. What do you think?” KC wasn’t sure whether to believe me or not, but he told everyone at school that I could talk to my pig, and that it answered me right back. So I became known at school as the kid that talked to pigs. Cool. Just what I needed.

My brothers were my best friends. We had grand old times. But before long, Randy and Gregg both left on their missions. I remember the stake president saying how fortunate our family would be having two missionaries serve at one time and promised that we would be blessed while they served their missions faithfully.

Life in the valley couldn’t have been much better. We had a sweet piece of property, we lived the dream of a lifetime every day, and we had each other. What more could anyone want? Well that is not to say that we were satisfied with the status quo. On the contrary, our mission was to make our slice of the world a more beautiful place…constantly. I think we did just that.

Sometimes our lives in Castle Valley were unbelievable. We would go to the garden every morning to gather heaping bowls of fresh strawberries—the best we ever tasted. Mom would send us to the strawberry patch to pick fresh strawberries for breakfast. We would literally fill our bowls to the brim with ripe, sweet strawberries, and we did this repeatedly day-after-day.

Another interesting fact is that Granny would teach us that 30 minutes after corn was picked, the sugar started turning to starch, so she would actually start boiling the water before asking us to go out and pick the corn. It was as sweet as candy. Silver Queen was and still is one of my favorites. Our garden, berry patch, and orchard were combined probably a couple acres in addition to the fields of grass and alfalfa we used for grazing our horses, cows, and other animals. Incredibly, we learned that those with water rights had to prove their use in order to retain the rights. To fail to do so meant loss of water rights, which we found out too late. We actually more than adequately improved our land with the acquisition of property wide water piping. But in actuality, once water rights were lost, the next state received them so you could never retrieve lost water rights. You could only purchase other water rights from existing property owners.

Water was life in Castle Valley. To lose the right to water your land meant devastation to your property and an immense loss of value. We were fortunate to have both well water and irrigation rights. Only select properties at the lower end of the valley had both. But as important as water is in the desert, it’s the difference between life and death for plants, animals, and property.

Interestingly, it was digging of a well that was the source of our next tragedy.

Chapter 4

Enjoying Castle Valley

cslewis“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”                                                              – by C.S. Lewis

Every theater requires a group of actors, and it was no different in the red rock auditorium of Castle Valley. However, this cast was made up of the most unlikely of individuals from all across the country in a perfect harmony of young and old including numerous Church members. Everyone in the valley was not a member of the Church, but a major portion of the people living in the valley during the early years were members and that made for interesting church meetings held in some of the most unlikely places. We first used a little two-story building as our primary room early on and later we met for sacrament meeting in Jerry Ehlers field. After attending wards in Moab for about a year, the numbers of Church members in the valley climbed in significant number that we were enough to organize a Castle Valley branch and hold our meetings in the valley. After the Ehlers field, we met in the Seventh-day Adventists church building, since they used the building only on Saturday. We used this facility for a couple years, before finally the Castle Valley branch building was built. This was most convenient of all.

Dad was branch president and played an intimate role in people’s lives. The diverse group of eclectic people that assembled there was interesting at the time and amazing as I reminisce the experiences we had there. Their names will forever live in my memory and their character always warms my heart. Take for instance Ernie. He lived up the valley in a little basement house he built with his own hands. It was small, and the stairs that went down to the doorway entrance. Maybe he did this to provide cool in the hot of the day, but this was amazing because Ernie was confined to a wheelchair. A rodeo accident left him crippled, and without family, spouse, or help, he built this home and navigated hardship every day. He seemed to enjoy visits from my family and father particularly. Dad had a way of reaching people a making them feel valued and important. It was his gift and calling card. The Ehlers were probably the next people we met in the valley, and they turned out to be essential help to us as we homesteaded our land. But that’s not how we met initially. We traveled to their home to introduce ourselves and probably borrow some water. They had a family of girls; the oldest was just a year younger than me. Jerry instigated many fun activities and invited us along: a trip to Miners Basin in the LaSals, Fourth of July picnics in the mountains, visiting at his home, and working for him on the farm. Jack Cluff and Jeff Whitney came later, and they too were other very good friends. I was still a young man, a boy really, but they treated me as equals and made my experience there even more enjoyable.

Jeff befriended me and we did a number of activities together. He taught me rock climbing and how to rappel with homemade gear and brought the ropes and carabiners to ascend the cliffs. Jack, too, became my friend and trusted me to care for his property and animals one year while he was gone out of the valley for a time with his family. Jack left his four-wheel drive truck for me to travel to the top of the valley where he lived so I could feed and water his animals and do a few chores to take care of his place in his absence. Later Jack began drilling deep wells in Arizona. He asked me to drive his truck from Castle Valley to a small town in Arizona where he was working. I had never driven that far before and never by myself. But he trusted me and paid me to do it. It was probably an all-day drive, and he paid me and put me on a bus back to get back to Castle Valley. Funny thing happened, however. Turns out this bus was headed to Grand Junction, CO and going nearby but not passing through Moab. I had the bus driver drop me off at Crescent Junction, and I hitchhiked the 30 or so miles back to Moab and then back up to the valley.

Other cast members in Castle Valley included many more people, and particularly the old men influenced me. Things they accomplished and obstacles they overcame were amazing. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to recognize their wisdom and take advantage of it though I was a relatively young man at the time: Brother Bowthorpe, as I called him back then, was a kind old man, who lived with his wife just a few lots up the valley. He had a nice home and five-acres of land. He needed help occasionally doing chores around his place, in particular one summer he wanted sand and gravel from up the valley. He said that he would pay me to help. I kindly consented and thought it was the best deal ever—getting paid for the kind of work I would be doing anyway. Besides, he was fun to be with and frequently invited me back to his home for refreshment. Bowthorpe had diabetes, so the invitation usually went something like “Mathew, why don’t you come back to the house with me for a sugar-free root beer,” another win for me since root beer was an infrequent visitor on the farm for my family. So we would return to his home and after unloading the truck, sit and visit over bottles of ice cold root beer.

Further up the valley, Brother Montague had several acres of alfalfa fields. He also owned a tractor and hay baler, so he could tend to his fields. But what he didn’t have was a bunch of sons that could throw his hay into the truck and stack the bales for winter. That’s where I came in. During the summer once the hay grew tall and was just beginning to blossom, farmers would hook-up their tractors and pull various implements through their property to cut the fields and rake the plants in rows. After a week or so of drying, the farmer would bale the rows of dried hay by this time pulling a baler over the rows of dry hay. Montague had that all done and asked me if I would like to help him move and stack his hay. He said that he would pay me. Of course, I said yes. This was repeated several times over each summer year-after-year, I continued to help Brother Montague throw his hay. It was hard work, but I was young, and it helped make me strong—physically and emotionally.

The Kusels were another elderly couple in the valley. They lived high up the valley on one of the roads that extended up near the cliffs. They claimed to be white Indians as I remember, and I spent time visiting them and listening to their stories of which they had many. Humor and laughter were frequent companions to our conversations. They also made beautiful Indian blankets and moccasins, as I remember. These folks and many others came to Castle Valley to fulfill a life-long dream of living in the country.

Best Buddy

I have always looked up to Randy. He has many qualities which I’ve always wanted to emulate. He has been a mentor for me. He is fun and has a fresh sense of humor. I have many choice memories of experiences together with Randy. We did lots of things together, even when I was just a small boy in Salt Lake. I remember the weekend we stayed at Grandpa Curtis’ cabin along the Weber River. We spent the days hiking and fishing the river. Whitefish and trout made a most delicious dinner that evening. We went on fishing trips together often, and sometimes we took Mac, my dog, along too. Randy and I have always had a close relationship together as brothers and a unique friendship.

When we moved to Castle Valley, our kinship continued. We worked together, played together, and experienced the good and bad together. Because we lived in a remote and sparsely populated area, there weren’t lots of other friends in the valley. My family became my best friends.

One afternoon late fall afternoon, Randy invited Jeff and me to come along with him to do some bow hunting in the La Sal Mountains. We were delighted. Since it would soon be dark, we quickly, put our camping gear together, climbed in the Randy’s truck, and hurried on our way.

The mountains were covered with deep snow, but Randy’s old truck climbed the hills without much problem. As we drove, night fell. We continued up a windy road and as the incline steepened, we began to have a little difficulty climbing a spot here and there on the road. We’d try and get a little momentum and make a run at the hill, and usually we’d get up it. By this time we were quite a ways up in the mountains.

We reached a slightly steeper spot in the snow-packed road which curved toward the left, and we lost traction when we tried to climb the hill. So Randy attempted to back down the hill to give it another try, but the truck had slipped right up against the bank on the right side of the road. We had difficulty steering the truck properly since the front of the truck could not swing to the right to direct the truck back onto the snow-packed road. We inched down the road in this predicament. We tried to get the truck to go back onto the road surface, but eventually the back wheels of the truck slipped off the road and down into a depressed area. At this point, we just wanted to get the truck back on the road so we weren’t stuck anymore and get to camp. We tried building a road of branches to give the tires something to grip on, but the incline was too great and the wheels just spun. So we jacked up the back wheels and placed stones under the wheels. We took the time to build a rock road path for the wheels to follow, but still the tires would not grip, and we couldn’t drive back onto the road. It was very late now and I felt we were beginning to get desperate.

We still hadn’t tried the chains yet, so Randy got the chains for the tires. We jacked the back of the truck up again to put the tire chains on the wheels. When the chains were in place, I stood toward the rear of the truck as Randy attempted to drive back onto the road, but the wheels just spun. Sparks shot from the tires as the chains ground against the rocks we had placed under the tires, but the truck didn’t move.

We had tried everything within our power to get the truck out at this point, but we couldn’t do it alone. Randy suggested that we say a prayer. I agreed that would be a good idea. He offered the prayer, pleading with the Lord to intervene and help us free the truck.

Following the prayer, Randy climbed back into the truck, started the engine, and again tried to drive back onto the road. I stood to the rear of the truck to watch. This time the tires didn’t even spin, and the truck moved forward and back safely onto the road. Randy got out of the truck, and we held each other and shed tears of gratitude. We knelt and thanked Heavenly Father for answering our prayer.

The most amazing part of that story to me was not being rescued in the midst of potential tragedy. It was seeing Randy choose to solicit divine help to extract us from the problem we were having. To me, that was a changing point in Randy’s life and mine.

We had gone to the mountain to do some deer hunting, and that’s exactly what we did after catching a few hours rest before the day’s light appeared. Bright and early the bow came out and the face paint went on, then we didn’t see Randy for hours during the hunt.

Some hunts we came home with trophy catches; others we returned empty-handed, but regardless we came away winners.

Enough and to Spare

I never remember thinking that we were poor. But, of course, I realized we exercised principles of thrift and frugality. But I thought that was more a way of life than a consequence of the economy. To my knowledge, we never wanted for food or necessities. It seemed we always had the essentials when we needed them. That’s not to say that we didn’t get help. Many guardian angels on both sides of the veil assisted us and ensured we had all the necessities. One specific incident does not come to mind, but dozens of separate notes combine into a majestic chorus of fiscal success orchestrated by a Power superior to our own wisdom.

Robyn_bustWoven through all my memories of Castle Valley is the constant of Dad and Mom. I can hear Mom’s voice reading to us during the long evening’s, and Dad’s voice praying or blessing one of us. I remember, and appreciate, Mom’s talent in making a garage/work building into a comfortable and attractive home. I think of the never-ending supply of fresh bread she made, the many meals prepared. I think of Dad cheerfully milking the cow, twice-a-day, in the heat or cold. I can picture him rattling down the drive in the yellow school bus at the day’s end. I recall how he loved to work in the orchard and contemplate sharing the harvest. I remember them both working back-breakingly hard, seemingly tirelessly. I think of them persevering in adversity and always going forward in faith. I recall their delight in sharing their home and farm with their children and grandchildren. It was a favorite family gathering place. The significance of Castle Valley wasn’t the location, as beautiful as that was. It was in the shared experiences and love of parents and family. That is what makes the memories so cherished.

It didn’t happen all at once. In most cases, the progress was slow and sometimes imperceptible to a struggling family with hopes of prospering from all the hard work someday. But persistence paid off, and project-by-project the ten acres transformed into a useful, beautiful farm. Fenced fields, out sheds and animal enclosures, pig pens, chicken coop, turkey hutch, and cellars were completed over years of hard work and dedication. My father was the lead engineer and figured out how to build the homestead we envisioned. My mother was the designer with the vision to make the dream a reality and truly treasure this experience. I have many choice memories of fresh vegetables from the garden, fruit trees laden with produce covering the property: peaches, apples, plums, pears, and nectarines, strawberries, currents, grapes, berries and more. We never bought prepared food from the grocery store. Whether it was because we couldn’t afford it or liked homemade better didn’t really matter. Many folks bought pies from the bakery; others purchased pie shells and fillings to make them at home. We did it all from scratch. My mother made and formed pie dough, rolled it out and crimped the edges, then put the delicacies into the oven to bake. The filling was homemade, too. Apple, cherry, mincemeat, pumpkin, and occasionally cream pie were frequent fare at the Stucki home to all our delight, but none of it happened without hard work and exceptional effort.

Take for instance the fresh-squeezed apple cider. That is one of my favorite memories on the farm. We would gather bushels of fallen apples, wash and prepare them as needed, then put them in the grinder of an apple juice press. The sweet, fragrant meat of the apple was shredded and fell into the juice net, and soon we began turning the press down until it compelled the natural, syrupy apple juice through the cloth, trickling down the cedar press into bottles. Frequently, we slipped glasses in their place long enough to fill them so we could drink the heavenly nectar. I remember turning the press and enjoying the work, thinking this really isn’t work at all.


Chapter 5

My accident

Our hardships have steeled us for challenges of life. I see that the struggles overcome when the cost was manageable have helped me endure when the cost was dear. Further, these circumstances allowed me avoid situations when the price was too much. And in those infrequent situations when all one can do is endure, I have.

As I set out to complete the awesome task of recording a few meaningful experiences in my life which occurred during my senior year in high school, I am overwhelmed by the task at hand and wonder “Where do I begin?” With that said, I begin now to write these experiences as I remember them.

My sister Robyn lost her husband to a car accident when their first child, Levi, was but a month old. She moved from her house temporarily and back in with the family. The small room adjacent to the family room became her bedroom. This room barely fit a twin bed and a cradle for Levi. I believe she had a rocking chair, also, and a few shelves on the wall for some belongings. Because this room was so small, however, she left most her things in the attic of her home on her property. She never complained about her circumstances, and I felt she was truly grateful she had her family to rely on. In many ways, we relied on Robyn. Despite her tragic loss, she was grateful for her son and for her blessings. She brought much joy into our family, as did Levi.

I was blessed to obtain a good job at City Market as a bagger when I turned 16. This company had the reputation of paying their employees well and providing excellent benefits. I was excited about these prospects but had no idea how important this would be for me. Although I could not drive when I was first hired, I soon arranged to buy a 1970 Dodge Challenger from Brent. It was a good car and had been well-cared for. I always said that I never put an entire can of oil in the car as long as I had it. Though it was 10-years-old at the time, it was a great car and never burned oil. It provided the much needed transportation for my new job, and as a young boy, I was thrilled to have my own car, especially this one. Of course, it needed the typical maintenance that cars do, but it was in great condition, and I was on top of the world.

My job at City Market allowed me to earn enough money to save for my mission, pay for the maintenance of my car, help Mom and Dad out with the finances at home, and have spending money to do the things I wanted to do. I felt greatly blessed to have this job.

The summer of 1980 was an eventful season to say the least. I started for home after a regular day’s was work and was nearing home. When I reached the turn off from the river road and headed up towards Castle Valley, Jerry White flagged me down as he was coming down the road from Castle Valley. He had a concerned look on his face and began to tell me that there had been a fire up in the valley earlier in the day. He indicated that no one had been injured but there had been some damage. He said he wasn’t sure but thought that maybe the fire had burned down Robyn’s house. I thanked him for telling me and headed home quickly. My mind raced as I hurried up the road to the valley. As I rounded the final curve before reaching the valley, I met Robyn in her Volkswagen Rabbit coming the opposite direction at a high rate of speed. Her eyes were red and her face was white. I reduced my speed hoping she would stop. She didn’t slow down at all but passed right by me and continued down the mountainside. I didn’t know what to do, but my fear not knowing where Robyn was going or what she might do induced me to quickly turn around and pursue her.

I drove quickly after her, but she had gained a fair distance from me. I saw her turn up the river at the bottom of the hill, and I followed. When I caught up with her, I honked my horn and blinked my lights to get her attention and persuade her to stop. I knew that she saw me, but she wouldn’t slow down. I accelerated and passed her. Once I was in front of her, I applied the brakes and we both slowed down and came to a standstill. I got out of my car and walked back to where Robyn had stopped. She rolled down her window when I reached her, but I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see and feel. Robyn’s look of hopelessness and tear-stained faced gave me a small glimpse of the pain and suffering she was feeling. Levi was buckled in his seatbelt in the passenger seat, wide-eyed and placid. Up to this point, I had been so concerned with overtaking the car that I hadn’t considered the emotions I was feeling. Tears flowed freely as I leaned in through the open window and put my arms around Robyn. At first I couldn’t talk but held her tight in my arms. Finally, I gathered my emotions enough to whisper “I’m sorry, Robyn. I’m so sorry.” I asked her if she would be coming back. She said she needed to be alone for a while. Unsure what that meant, I got her to promise that she would return. I expressed my love to her again, and she and Levi sped away up the river road.

It was a long drive home, and it hurt all the way thinking about the Robyn’s suffering. She of all people didn’t deserve it, I thought. But I knew she would return, because she had promised.

I decided to play football during my senior year in high school, just months following Robyn’s tragic fire. Football practice was scheduled to begin at the end of the summer. I was thrilled with this opportunity and enjoyed practice a great deal. During the final week of summer before school started, we held two-a-days, full practice twice a day: once early in the morning and again the same afternoon. Although this schedule was strenuous and presented some hardship since I lived 25 miles from town in Castle Valley, I knew it would last only a week and the anticipation of our first game carried me from day-to-day.

It so happened that Mom and Dad had arranged to attend Education Week at BYU in Provo that week also, so Brent was staying with the family in the valley watching over us while Mom and Dad were away. My memory of the events of that week and the months that followed is sketchy. Most of what I know or remember about that time, I’ve pieced together from things others have told me. Anyway, football drills were going well all week until on the morning of Thursday, August 18, 1980, I arose, dressed, and left for practice just as I had done every day that week. Although I can remember nothing of that morning, my car that I was driving apparently slipped on the dew in a new stretch of black top near the bridge at the White’s ranch. My Challenger skidded sideways and hit the cement buttress of the bridge directly. The car was torn in half at the middle. Incredibly, I was thrown to the floor and remained in the front portion of the car while the front seat broke away and went with the back half of the car. Some neighbors were following not far behind me and witnessed the accident. They rushed back to our farm to alert Brent of the emergency. Brent hurried to the site of the accident and found me lying in a pool of blood. He cradled my head with his hands to stabilize my neck and held me that way as I was placed in an ambulance and the entire drive to the Moab hospital.

Once the doctors in Moab saw my condition, they decided that it was more serious than they could handle, and they put me in another ambulance and rushed me to St. Mary’s Hospital & Regional Medical Center, a larger facility in nearby Grand Junction, Colorado. Upon arrival Brent called BYU and had Mom and Dad paged so he could inform them of the situation. A campus loud speaker notified them to contact security and they were told to call Brent as soon as possible. When Mom and Dad called, Brent told them about the accident and that I was being transported to St. Mary’s Hospital. He said that I was still alive, but that my future was unsure. Mom and Dad left for Grand Junction immediately. They stopped once in Helper to call and get an update on my condition. They learned that I had been placed in the intensive care unit and was still holding on. Mom and Dad again left immediately to hurry on to the hospital in Grand Junction to see me and get regular updates on my condition.

When they arrived at the St. Mary’s Hospital, Mom and Dad found that I was unconscious and had been placed on a rotating bed. I had been stripped naked except for a girth around my loins and was strapped in and the bed which would tip to the left side and then to the right and back to the left continuously. The doctors shaved my head and embedded a screw in the top of my skull. A cable was fastened to the screw and run through a pully. A weight on the end of the cable kept my neck taught and allowed the bed’s rotation. I reportedly thrashed about and gritted my teeth as though I was in tremendous pain, but the doctors told the family this was normal for an individual that received a head injury like I did. Gratefully, I can’t remember any of this, so I can only repeat what others have told me. I remained in a coma for two weeks.

Of course, the family members could not stay at the hospital, and we didn’t have money to pay for a motel. Dad contacted the bishop of a local ward there in Grand Junction for help. The bishop sought the assistance of an elderly woman, Sister Olsen, who lived right beside the hospital. She graciously consented to allow the family to stay in her home as much as needed. She welcomed them to come or go as they pleased and often shared a meal or offered them some kind of convenience to make their stay more pleasant.

Someone in the family—Mom, Dad, or Robyn—stayed with me at all times during the day. Dad came on the weekends, and Robyn and Mom would divide up the week. I didn’t comprehend at the time the dedication and patience they consistently displayed. I know that I wasn’t always pleasant. Often I was uncomfortable and my patience was short. Yet my family was always kind, helpful, and supportive. They were patient, though I realize now that I was demanding. Somehow in this helpless situation I felt again like a young child totally dependent on the members of my family to protect me from the doctors or nurses or something—I’m not really sure. I am amazed now to think back and realize the commitment Mom, Dad, and Robyn had traveling back and forth between Grand Junction and Castle Valley three or more times every week. We never could have afforded these trips without the generous contributions of others, many whom I never knew or met. Other family members were certainly impacted by these events, but I never heard a complaint.

Since I would be in the hospital for some time, I received a tracheotomy when I was first admitted, so our communications, once I woke up, had to be creative. Any form of communication was limited to lip-reading. Later the family devised a process for me to point at a letter in the alphabet to try and spell messages, or choosing the statement from a common phrases board. The first memory I have of this time was one day when I was in my hospital bed and Robyn was there with me. I must have said something which indicated to Robyn that I thought we had just arrived. I had no idea the amount of time I had been at the hospital. She said “Mathew, how long do you think you have been here?” to which I responded a day or two. “You’ve been here two-and-a-half weeks. Don’t you remember?” I didn’t. It felt strange like I’d just woken up from a long nap (2 ½ week coma).

The nurses and therapists got to know us well because of my extended stay. Although I don’t remember the nurse’s names anymore, I do remember their kindnesses were plentiful.

At my request, the family member staying with me tried to leave after I’d fallen asleep and return before I awoke in the morning. Although they were exhausted from a long day tending to my needs, they were always willing to do this for me. I remember well my father writing his testimony inside the covers of Book of Mormons to give to the nurses. He would do this late at night while I rested. He’d turn on the light in the bathroom and open the bathroom door, and then he could write by the light coming through the open door without disturbing me. He would express his appreciation for all the care the nurses so skillfully gave me and offered to share with them something that had brought great happiness into our lives—the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In many ways, this trial was a spiritual experience for me and my family. We knew that my recovery was more than a lucky break. It was deliverance. Great pain and depression forced me to seek spiritual strength. My father frequently gave me blessings. My grandfather Rulon pronounced a blessing on me, and though I don’t remember it at the time, my grandmother frequently told me he promised me a full recovery, and that gave her hope. Although my family rallied around me and blessings were given to lift and sustain me, the experience was hard and painful. I slipped into a state of depression despite these efforts. I’ve forgotten exactly when during my hospital visit this took place, but I remember excitedly telling Robyn when she came to my hospital room one morning that Gregg and Randy had come to visit me the previous night. She asked if I was sure. And I motioned “Of course I am.” So she said “Mat, do you remember where Gregg and Randy are? They are still on their missions.” But that didn’t make any difference to me. I was convinced. “They did come!” I maintained. This was at a most difficult time during my hospital stay when I needed additional love and strength from the family, and I am confident that I was given this privilege in my time of need. Years later, when talking with Randy about this experience, he commented that he had a dream one night while on his mission during the time that I was in the hospital in which he saw my room exactly as it was in great detail. Whether I saw them that night in the spirit or in the flesh I don’t know, but when I needed their strength the most, I was given the privilege. And they were there to help me.

I had several operations during my stay in the hospital. Foremost, my neck had been dislocated. To repair this problem, I had a couple of different options: first, the doctors could immobilize my neck giving my tissues time to heal. This would require that I have a halo secured to my skull to help hold my head and neck in place while the tissues healed, or second, they could take chips of bone from my hip and use them and wire to fuse the vertebrates in my neck together. The second option would get me back on my feet more quickly, but the operation to my hip would be quite uncomfortable and the fused vertebrates would affect the motion in my neck some. We discussed these possibilities and chose the second option, and the surgeries were successfully performed. The pain to my hip was extreme and any movement was excruciating and created a great deal of discomfort.

Since I was constantly in bed and had been for some time, physical therapists would come to my room daily to help me stretch, beat on my chest to help me breathe properly, and suction the buildup from my lungs ─ three activities I did not enjoy. Since I remained in bed for so long, my tendons would begin to tighten and cause the joints to contract. This effect would become increasingly worse unless physical effort was made to resist this tightening. So the physical therapists would come exercise me every day, stretching my muscles and straightening the joints in my legs, arms, and hands to resist this tightening. Then a different therapist would come into my room and beat on the sides of my chest to loosen the build-up of flem in my lungs so I could breathe properly. Beating on one side of my chest wouldn’t have been so bad, except they had to turn me and pound on the other side of my chest, as well. Because of the operation to my hip, this turning was extremely painful. At last, the therapist would insert a tube down my throat and into my lungs to suction the build-up out of my system. This caused me to gag and choke severely. I came to detest this procedure. I realize now that there are numerous people that deal with physical limitations and conditions that require these and much more sever procedures daily. My experience was limited and certainly not as extreme as many others, but it nevertheless was a great challenge at the time.

For the first few weeks at the hospital, I was hooked to an IV from which I was given liquid nourishment to keep me alive. The doctors later placed a tube in my abdomen which went directly into my stomach. The nurses would pulverize my food in a blender and then feed it to me through this tube. The nurses all carried out this task pretty much the same, except for one. One particular nurse couldn’t bear the thought of mixing all the foods together and giving it to me in that form, even though she was inserting through the tube that went directly in to my stomach (rather than by mouth). So she blended the various food items separately and inserted each into the tube one-at-a-time. Funny as that may sound, for me it represents the immense length these caregivers went for me and emphasizes their dedication and concern for me. It was humbling to say the least.

At one point, I began throwing up everything that the nurses tried to feed me. When this complication appeared, Dr. Tice gave the nurses the order to stop feeding me through the stomach tube. Then he had to go out of town for a time, and he turned over my case to a different doctor while he was gone. Dr. Tice gave the doctor strict orders to keep an eye on me. As I remember, this doctor visited me once, I think, but he didn’t really check on me to see how I was doing. In fact, the nurses were continuing to follow Dr. Tice’s order not to feed me through the tube, and because this doctor didn’t come by to check on me or give the nurses new orders for me, they continued to allow me to go without food. They continued the nourishment provided to me through an IV. Although this gave me, I suppose, the minimum daily requirement, it didn’t fill my stomach or lessen my hunger pains. I cried to have something to eat and wondered how long I could survive this. I lost weight drastically. While I was playing football before my accident, I weighed 155 lbs. When Dr. Tice returned, I weighed 98 lbs. Another operation ensued, where he found that my intestine had “telescoped” and would not allow digestion. The doctor corrected the problem and sewed my stomach back up. After the operation, I was able to eat and keep my food down, but the discomfort I experienced from the “wound” in my stomach caused so much pain, it was almost more than I thought I could live through. I fell into a deep state of depression, and if it weren’t for the love and support of my family, I never would have made it.

If there was a pleasant memory from this time it was that this hospital had great menu selections. That probably seems minuscule, I realize, but for a 98-pound 17-year-old, it was heaven. I remember ordering lobster one evening and steak the next. But that still wasn’t enough so I convinced Robyn to order two entrees each meal, and they responded with the food I requested. So for a young country boy with an insatiable appetite, I pretty much got everything I wanted to eat. That was a small victory at the time, so I remember that part with fondness. As I recall, the hospital prided itself on a changing menu with relatively spectacular fare. For a country boy that was healing, happy, and always hungry, selecting from the menu was a daily highlight.

I stayed in the hospital for a total of two-and-a-half months, including a week at a rehabilitation center. Every day was exactly the same and I barely knew when it was morning or night. I never got to go outside, and I don’t remember noticing whether the time of day or night was visible from within my room. Nonetheless, I would go to my weekly therapist session and the woman would ask me what day of the week it was. By this time I could talk, as my tracheotomy had been removed and I would respond with something like “How should I know? I lay in my bed all day. Never watch television. And I don’t have a calendar. I have been doing this for weeks on end. How could I possibly know what day it is?” It probably wasn’t nearly as articulate, and I may have actually responded “huh?” but that’s pretty much the way I remember it.

When I was about to be released from the rehab center, the therapist expressed some concern as to whether or not I would be able to remember my school studies adequately so that when it came test time, I would be unable to pass examinations. Gratefully, I was healed so that I could function normally. When I graduated from high school, I sent a letter to Dr. Tice to let him know of this accomplishment. Periodically through my life, I have sent him letters to let him know of my progress: completion of mission to Finland and ability to speak the Finnish language, marriage and children, graduation from BYU, professional success etc. Through his accomplished medical knowledge and skillful hands, the Lord was able to perform a great miracle in my behalf, giving me a full recovery and enabling me to live a long and fulfilling life.

Others in similar circumstances haven’t been so fortunate. I thank God every day of my life for this blessing.

Chapter 6

Providence

And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.
Doctrine and Covenants 84:88

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Matthew 6:19-21

Looking back over my life, the Hand of God has very visibly assisted our family through struggling times and provided for our future needs. The Castle Valley story is replete with examples. I remember one such instance was when we left to pick up Randy and Gregg from the airport after their missions. Both Randy and Gregg served missions during the same period of time. Conveniently, they were scheduled to return home the very same day. I recall preparing to go to pick them up from the airport and bring them home.

The problem was that the truck only had a half tank of gas, and we were out of money. I don’t remember the circumstances of why we did not have any money, just that we didn’t. We all got loaded in the car to leave, had a prayer, and started on our journey. I’m sure I wasn’t feeling the pressure of the situation like mom and dad must have been, but still I remember being concerned.

At that time, our mail was delivered to post office box in Moab, so when we reached the turnoff at the river bridge, we turned toward Moab to check the mail before continuing up to Salt Lake City.

When we stopped at the post office and collected the mail, it contained a letter from a group of people in Moab who had organized a fund raiser dinner in behalf of our family due to the medical hardships we had experienced as a result of my accident. The envelope contained a check for $200, which of course provided more than enough gas money to get Randy and Gregg from Salt Lake City.

Some will say that God is silent or really isn’t interested in us and our welfare when hardships come, as though challenges were evidence that God isn’t real or that He doesn’t love us. But we have seen the very opposite. My perspective is that when challenges come, when life is too hard to handle alone, God has prepared resources at our disposal to strengthen us, lift us, and enable us to reach out to others and receive help from them. And in so doing, we are made strong and all are blessed. I have repeatedly seen evidence of this principle in my life and the lives of those around me. God’s silence is our opportunity to show faith in Him. To resist or decide to outright ignore His abundant blessings in our behalf is pretentious. Rather than removing obstacles, the Lord provides opportunities for us to grow and overcome the hardships that we face.

I remember reading a beautiful poem, Footprints in the Sand, which depicts two sets of footprints in the sand representing God and a man. During difficult times in life, the scene changes to one set of footprints. The question is asked why he was left to travel alone during the hardest times of life. The poem relays the reply that the single set of footprints are the times when God carried him. And so it has been in my life.

I will go...

One of my favorite scriptures of all time can be found in Doctrine and Covenants 84:88. This scripture has often been linked to those serving in missionary work, and rightfully so because indeed the Lord protects and guides his emissaries. But I have found that the blessings of the promises recorded there extend far beyond missionary work alone. My life has been filled with frequent instances that were providential help, protection, and sustenance. These occasions rather than being infrequent and occasional have been more continuous and ongoing in my life and those of my loved ones all around me. I wrote earlier about the love and support which I needed so badly from Randy and Gregg granted to me while they served on their missions. I have also spoken many times about meeting Linda, driving home safely during all hours of the night from City Market as a young man, finding work, relocating to Washington, and daily occasions when my family has been protected and kept from harm or mishap. Our efforts are rewarded in the midst of tremendous challenges all about us, and all things turn to good for them that love and serve God. Romans 8:28

Brent and Debbi left their home in Alaska for a few weeks to come down to the lower 48 and visit family and friends. They stayed with Rachael and Alan part of the time and also went to Colorado to visit Debbi’s boys’ families. But after a period of time, they chose to stay with Mom and Dad down in Springville. We had an opportunity to visit with them, go on some fun outings together, and work with them helping Mom and Dad. A couple weeks later, they returned to Alaska. I received an email from them that they had arrived home and found everything in order there.

We had the chance to help Mom and Dad clean their crawl space and cover the lower level with black plastic to prevent condensation from accumulating and passing into the home. Steven and Levi worked alongside me and Brent. We finished the task and were rewarded with a delicious lunch made by Mom and Debbi.

During our visit, Mom and Dad related the following experience:
Following a regular health assessment for Dad’s condition, Dad and Mom were wrapping up their visit with the doctor and they soon realized that they didn’t have someone to take them home. Apparently, one in the family had driven them up to the Huntsman Center but hadn’t stayed because the appointment ran longer than scheduled. They needed somewhere to be while they waited for Brent and Debbi to come and get them.

It crossed their minds about at the same time that Lynn and Margaret were not so far away, so they decided to call them and ask if they could wait at their home until Brent and Debbi arrived. Sure enough, it was fine with Margaret and Lynn and they came and picked Mom and Dad up from the hospital.

As they began leaving, Mom recalls asking Margaret if she knew the directions for how to drive them off the campus. She responded that she did—that it hadn’t been that long since she had been up in those parts. But after a few moments, it became apparent that things had changed enough, she really didn’t know how to exit the campus. They did some driving around without a lot of success, until as Mom relates the story, they were in an unusual part of campus wherein the rode they were on seemed to lead them off of campus.

Mom and Dad were in back and couldn’t see very well over the high seats anyway, but eventually Margaret stopped the car and put it in park to assess the situation and whether the road they were on was going to get them where they wanted to be. As the couple spoke in the front seat, Mom saw out the window of the car that a parked policeman toward the front appeared to be trying to get their attention, but failing to do so, he turned on his lights and siren. This caught Mom’s attention and so she looked out her backseat window to see a train (TRAX) heading directly toward them. Unbeknownst to the party, Margaret had stopped the car directly on the TRAX rails, and the policeman seeing the pending tragedy was trying to get the car to move. Mom yelled at the top of her lungs, “Margaret! Move the car. A train is coming!” Margaret threw the car into gear and plunged forward, narrowly missing being hit by the train. After the incident, the policeman came to the car. He asked them to explain why they had stopped on the tracks, and Margaret admitted trax1that they had been lost and confused and they didn’t realize that the tracks were there at all. He said “I’m not going to cite you for this although we normally would, but I want you to know just how close you came to a tragedy.” He explained that the TRAX trains cannot stop and that it had just narrowly missed them.

Gratefully, they were spared and soon found their way home to Lynne and Margaret’s. Not long after, Brent and Debbi came to get Granny and Grandpa and take them home. I am continually reminded of the protection and long-suffering of our Heavenly Father. He prevented an enormous loss that day, for which I will be eternally grateful.

Dad also tells about another experience when he was a young man going to market to shop the clothing vendors for LaRies with his mother. Grandma always reserved her hotel accommodations several weeks prior to her trip, and although she usually went alone, this time she took my dad with her. Like usual, she received the confirmation from the hotel, where she regularly stayed, well before they left on the trip. When the time for the trip came, they flew to Chicago and went to get their room at the LaSalle Hotel. The woman at the desk could not find their confirmation for a room. She called upon a supervisor to help find the reservation, but they simply had no record of the booking. Grandma showed them the confirmation the hotel had sent her verifying she had reserved a room, but tonight the rooms were full and regrettably the hotel could not accommodate them. This was upsetting particularly in light of Grandma’s thorough preparation. Trying to be helpful, the woman at the counter said that she had a friend in the lodging business, and she gave Dad and Grandma the address. So they followed this suggestion and rented a room from this other person and soon went to sleep for the night.

In the morning when Grandma and Dad awoke, they saw on TV and heard news reports that the LaSalle Hotel had burned that previous night. Many people had been killed or injured, and it was a dreadful scene, but one that had not involved Grandma and Dad because the Lord had caused their confirmation to be misplaced for the room in the hotel which tragically burned.

These are but a sampling of the numerous times the hand of God has prolonged our lives and protected my family.

Chapter 7

Healed

Perhaps the greatest miracle of all from our moving to Castle Valley and living in the country wasn’t anticipated at all. The influence this experience has had on all of us is just now becoming clear. We were each affected individually and personally, not as we expected but nevertheless impacted for good. The experience changed our lives.

The longer I live, the more I have come to realize what an incredible experience we had in Castle Valley. To me, our life in Castle Valley was orchestrated to accomplish a greater good. Every day I learn more about how this experience has helped prepare us for life’s challenges.

There was always plenty of fun and excitement in our home. Though our family makeup spanned many years; we were best of friends.  Perhaps, that was because there were not too many other young people up in the valley. Perhaps it was easier. But nonetheless, it was true. A bond between us was a weld that superseded egotism. That’s not to say we were perfect—far from it. But we counted on one another and that proved our most valuable asset. It’s changed a lot from those days when brothers and sisters were our best friends. Today, cell phones dominate daily life. Texting is so common that it has replaced face-to-face interaction in many instances. And I’m not against technology or the use of media to propagate values and communicate positions, but I mention the change because for many, our time growing up in Castle Valley and interacting without technology and many of the modern conveniences sounds ancient. I suppose it was in some regards, but the quality of life was not hampered due to our down-to-earth approach. Just the opposite—our quality of life was a function of breaking out of the inhibitions that prevented close, tight-knit relationships, trust, and joy. I certainly didn’t know it at the time, but I can see its impact with hindsight.

This is not to say that we didn’t have our fair share of struggles and hardships. In fact, Castle Valley was just the beginning: we faced enormous obstacles, many adversities, and distinct challenges that would break the best of us, but for the most part, we made it through.

Brent moved down to the Moab area and bought a piece of property up in Castle Valley. Robyn and Guy also purchased a five-acre lot about half way up the valley. They were determined to do it for themselves, and Guy built a small two-story cabin. Incredibly, he did it without electricity and a well. Later, they hired someone to dig a well and then erected a windmill, which would pump water to their home. Robyn decorated their home and joy was thick at their place. We all loved to visit up at their home and marveled at their ingenuity and courage. Their way of life was tough then, but they were making a life together, and that’s all that really mattered.

Before long there was news of a baby, and the excitement and anticipation only grew as the months passed. This was long before ultrasounds, so the gender of the baby was unknown, but I think Guy was hoping for a son deep down. Without going into detail, the pregnancy was fairly typical and late one summer a baby boy was born. Robyn glowed, and Guy beamed. He was proud of his brand new son and even prouder of his beautiful bride. Guy worked at the Rio Algom mine, and he helped Gregg get a job there as well. They worked a rotating schedule that included swing and graveyard shifts. I think the companionship made the drive bearable, though it was a demanding schedule nonetheless.

At the time, grandpa was picking apples at an orchard in Moab. The owner allowed him to collect the apples that had fallen to the ground. And grandpa picked up boxes of apples after hours, which we used to make apple juice. We had an apple press and grated the washed apples into a press where the pulp was squeezed with a plunger allowing the fresh-squeezed apple juice to escape through the wood slats and run down the slanted wood and into bottles. We would often place a cup in the spout and fill it with the syrupy fluid. I would think there is no way fresh apple juice could be any better than what we had on our little farmyard porch in the most beautiful little valley in Southern Utah.

It was only weeks after that when we were in Moab at a high school football game. The fun evening turned sour with the talk of a fatal accident just on the outskirts of town. At first, we didn’t know who had been involved in the tragedy, but then I learned that it was Guy. He had been driving our truck up the river road with a load full of boxes of apples when a large truck hauling an industrial engine crossed the median and hit his truck head on.

Grandpa had the difficult task of breaking the news to Robyn, who was working out in front of our home in the flower garden. Hearing the news her knees collapsed, and holding her head she fell to the ground sobbing. I don’t know how I would have responded at that moment. What can you do to comfort someone who has learned such news? Somehow we all made it through the funeral, but that wasn’t the end. There was a lawsuit, trial, and recompense. It wasn’t easy, but the Lord strengthened Robyn and saw her through this necessary ordeal.

Robyn stayed with us up on the farm. She left most her belongings in her home and moved back into a little room in our home with her baby boy, Levi, who was only one-month-old.  It was barely large enough for a twin bed and a crib. I think she had one small dresser. Of necessity, that was her home. She left all her other belongings up at her house on her property up the valley: all of Guy’s things, the majority of her clothes, antiques, and other precious keepsakes. But Robyn never complained. She was grateful to be able to move in with the family, and we were glad to have her.

We all hurt for Robyn and wondered how something so tragic could happen to her of all people. Though the circumstances were difficult, I remember enjoying having Robyn back in our home, and we thought finally for now the trials would subside.

I was working at City Market at the time and had a great job that paid well and gave me tremendous benefits. I was hired as a courtesy clerk and later worked into a night-stocker role. The circumstances were ideal. And though I worked some night shifts, I was paid well for my work and extra for my inconvenience. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation. I was driving home from work one evening when Jerry White flagged me down as I was starting up the road away from the river. He needed to talk. And concern was written all across his face. After stopping, we both climbed out of our vehicles.

“What’s going on?” I asked. Jerry said there had been a fire in the valley, and it was pretty big. I asked if it had hurt anyone or damaged any structures. He said that he hadn’t heard of any injuries but then responded “I think it may have burned your sister’s house down.” At that moment, I realized why he had looked so troubled when he stopped me. I thanked him for letting me know and immediately headed up the road to the farm to see the status of things. “How could this happen to Robyn?” I thought as I drove.

It’s taken me 30 years to answer that question, and I’m not sure I have a clear understanding of the immensity of these events even now, but a sentiment revealed in scripture John 14:2,3 and through his living oracles on earth may help explain the significance surrounding these events. But their importance and the confidence that they will play a crucial role in our everlasting happiness comes from our hope in Jesus Christ. We don’t need to have all the answers. He has them, and for now our trust in Him sustains us.

I interviewed Robyn much later, years after these events. I asked her some questions about their impact in her life. My journal captured the following account of what happened next:

“I have two questions to ask you. I would like to share an experience with my children that happened to us in Castle Valley about the time of my accident and your suffering the tragic destruction of all your belongings and home in the fire.

“The particular part of this experience I want to tell them about is the quick succession of events around the loss of your house and my accident which shortly followed. You told me afterward that when your house burned down and all your possessions essentially vanished, including Guy’s things and all your keepsakes, you were devastated and felt overwhelmingly burdened at the loss. Then, I had my accident. Suddenly out of necessity, you focused outward at my life-and-death situation. The particular experience I want to share is your telling me later something like you thought your life was too burdensome and had more obstacles then you could handle, but when I had my accident, it helped you focus outward on me and the family, and your problems became manageable.”

In response, Robyn wrote the following “I don’t remember my exact words, but I do remember my sentiments at the time. It is true that I did feel a huge sense of loss when I lost all in the fire. I felt that it was hard enough to lose Guy, but to then lose everything that I had of his and all that we had accumulated together felt overwhelming at the time. However, following your accident my perspective changed immediately and dramatically. I didn’t care so much about what I had lost in the way of possessions. That really didn’t matter anymore. Working with you in your critical situation and assisting the family in dealing with this trial caused me to put my own burdens out of my mind. It did cause me to focus outward (and upward, again) and that made all the difference.” I can’t read those words without experiencing a flood of emotion and appreciation for a loving Heavenly Father, who is able to turn all things to the good of them that love and serve Him.
Moroni 7:13

I am not entirely sure why we are called to go through challenges in mortality. Certainly, I realize that we are strengthened and can be steeled by faithfully facing life’s struggles. In concept, it makes sense, but living through the experience is often much more difficult. I have made reference to the phrase “easier said than done” frequently during my life and surely I realize that good can come from hardship. But often, it is much more difficult to have that kind of perspective in the heat of the moment. Such was the case with the year in Castle Valley we were deluged with grasshoppers. It was a plague. A “bad year” for grasshoppers in Southern Utah resulted in more than annoyances. For some residents and us in particular, we lost “tons” of produce and risked losing acres of newly planted fruit trees, berry patches, shrubbery, flower beds, and gardens. It was more than just an inconvenience. The infestation of locusts threatened our livelihood and even the viability of our farm. We couldn’t recover from a loss of all our hard work. I shudder to think of what could have become of our dream due to this plight. Others have experienced similar plagues:

“The grasshoppers did not depart as quickly as they came but often stayed on for weeks, even through disagreeable weather. Benjamin LeBaron, describing the visitation of 1868, reported that when it rained “the (crickets) would gather on the tree trunks, fence poles and posts, and every other object that might afford shelter for them, until they literally covered all such things.” reference

We remembered the story of the miracle of the gulls is often credited by Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”) for saving the Mormon pioneers’ first harvest in Utah. Even the US Library of Congress references the devastation that can be caused by this species:

Locust swarms also once threatened farmers in the western United States. In one famous case in 1848, an enormous swarm of long-horned locusts descended on fields tended by new settlers near Salt Lake City, UT. But just when the farmers feared they would face starvation, flocks of gulls arrived, making a meal of the tasty insects. The settlers were so grateful to the bird, called the California Gull, that Utah eventually named it the state bird and erected a monument in its honor in a city square.

Today, farmers no longer rely on birds to keep locusts in check. They use everything from pesticides to germ warfare to kill the pests. And they even rely on sophisticated satellites to keep an eye out for the weather conditions that can promote swarming. Still, locusts remain a significant threat to farmers in many parts of the world. When they see the sky darken and hear the buzz of wings, they know a hungry menace is on the move. reference

We, too, needed relief greater than what we ourselves could provide. My mother recounts the events of that nearly tragic summer in Castle Valley…I imagine we used pesticides, but we relied on God to help us. And looking back now, that was just the foreshadowing of greater need for the hand of Providence to come.

My dad was in amazing health (especially for his age), probably due to the fact that he ate right, worked constantly, and religiously took vitamins and was ever mindful of consuming healthy food. I enjoyed helping dad on the farm…constructing buildings, hauling hay, and turning the soil. Even the tedious jobs were more fun with dad. He often told stories, shared life’s lessons, or listened to your concerns. One day when we were visiting down on the farm, he and I were moving a roll of fencing together. We both bent down to pick up the wire and throw it in the back of the truck. Oddly, this time dad wrenched his back while we were doing so. I thought nothing of it at the time, but the pain seemed to linger longer than normal, at least that’s what I remember. Soon the incident was forgotten.

We had a fun outing this week I shall always remember with fondness. Dad & Mom came up to go with us out to dinner and then to the play Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Donny Osmond at the University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall.  We went to dinner together at Market Street Grill, and then we drove to University of Utah. Mom and Dad pointed out sites such as the sorority and fraternity houses, things that had changed and things that were the same, and they shared experiences with us of how and when they first met. I remembered the stories vaguely but it was good to hear them again. Dad told how he had first seen Mom, or rather a picture of Mom, while he was serving his mission. His missionary companion had her picture. He later met her briefly at a skating party, but they were both with other dates on that particular evening. So it wasn’t until after this that Dad actually dated Mom. On his first date with Mom, she had invited him to her home for Thanksgiving dinner. That was the time the turkey hadn’t been fully cooked. Mom remembers it with abhorrence. Dad just smiled.

One year the family shared monthly letters. It was the one year we kept abreast of everyone’s activities in the family before the miracle of technology brought us all together…send, photo copy, disburse.

It’s incredible to look through the Stucki Family Newsletters from 1991. They are fun to read and informative. This will always be a year we can remember well because of the family’s dedication to contributing to the newsletters. Now, email, Skype, Facebook, cell phones, and the colossal social media groundswell have become the predominant media to communicate online.

Chapter 8

Integrity

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.  It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think, say or do.  It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.  It will make or break a company… a church… a home.  The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

– by Charles Swindoll

Commitment involves responsibility, dedication, and persistence. We often learn it from our parents, work to emulate it in our own lives, and strive to teach it to our children.

Mother always told me that integrity is one of a person’s most treasured characteristics in life. Her exact words I have unfortunately forgotten, but the message will long be remembered. My lexicon is not nearly as eloquent as her example, which has been a brilliant illustration that I shall never forget. I embrace the benefits of these lessons to guide my family and life’s decisions even now.

Some memories are forgotten soon after the experience while certain events are etched vividly in our minds for years to come. Such is the case for a lesson taught by my dear mother when I was a young man—a memory I have always cherished. While I was still a small boy in SLC, Mother stressed the importance of having integrity and enabling others to always be able to count on me. I remember as a child that there were many things she was passionate about. Delicious food, comfortable, but simple home, and focus on the family stand out as vivid sentiments held by my mother. They were all obviously her passions. But I especially remember she was determined to teach me the importance of integrity. Enabling people to count on her because she would always come through was high on her priority list, and she expected the same from us. That lesson has always stayed with me.

My terminology lacks the eloquence or power of articulation she had and that I remember. So I have asked her to briefly teach the lesson again in her own words.

Family, good food, and an attractive home are memories I treasure of Mom. “The eye eats first,” she would always say. With mom, these were obsessions—not in a bad way. Quite the opposite, we benefitted greatly every day because Mom is fanatical about the top three. But she was passionate about teaching us the importance of being honest, true, and reliable, as well.  Fulfilling our responsibilities and being true to our word were lessons she taught by word and deed. I could always count on mom, and I realized as important as that was to me it was even more important to her, and that example is forever lodged in my memory. “If I tell somebody I will do something, I will kill myself off to keep my word. I hate to be late. Other people are habitually late, and I don’t hate them for it. I just couldn’t do it. It’s a habit, and I need to make sure that I begin early so I can get to my commitments on time. I feel absolutely bound to do it. I expect that from other people as well. I think that over and over. I believe people and expect the same from them as well. Integrity is a most important quality. I have this engrained in me. At Dunford Bakery I worked really hard and well. I appreciated when my boys had the reputation of being hard workers. I need beautiful things to feast my eyes on, but even that was not enough,” she would say.

In the eve of my mother’s life, she chose to leave home and family to fill a mission with my father in Louisiana. Later, upon returning home, she and grandpa served as ordinance workers in the Monticello, Utah Temple. She completed all this while continuing to mother her family and nurture her grandchildren. We always knew that we were paramount on my mother’s to do list. And the example and legacy she has left in life were often done for all of us—her family.

“If we haven’t chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will make no difference in the end what you have chosen instead,” said Elder Neal A. Maxwell, General Conference Oct. 1974, quoting William Law.

~ ~ ~

I recall many years ago when my son, Steven, wanted a pet. He was just a small boy at the time but talked excitedly about his desire to have an animal in our home. We were living in our first home in Orem, Utah at the time, so his request seemed doable, and it was hardly a surprise. Of course, we knew that Steven would desire a pet someday, and that day was now. He wanted a turtle and chattered excitedly and often about his chances of securing one. Maybe his excitement was partly because ‘Ninja Turtles’ were the fad of that day; maybe it was just boyhood enthusiasm. Whatever it was, it was real and intense.

Of course, we had the father-to-son discussion. And though I was a relatively new dad, I knew what was required in my role. So I explained all the important stuff dad’s say—responsibility, commitment, dependability, and reliability—he got the whole enchilada. Kids naturally don’t like lectures, but Steven wanted a turtle so badly, he gleefully sat through this one. Remember, Steven is five-years-old at this point. He assured me that he was ready and mature enough to take care of a pet. I thought a turtle couldn’t be that hard to take care of, and there are a lot of things he could be asking for that are much more difficult and intrusive, so I consented. Shortly thereafter, the day came to go to the pet store to look at the turtles. To say that he was excited talking about the possibility of getting a turtle would have been a gross understatement. But that was nothing compared to the day we went to look at them. Steven got up early, put on his very best ‘Ninja turtle’ t-shirt, and ran to the car. Luckily, the drive to the pet store was short.

There were snapping turtles, box turtles, and miniature green sea turtles. We found a darling little specimen. Steven was thrilled. I was fulfilling the ‘great dad’ role. Everything was perfect. I thought raising a turtle had to be a lot easier than other things he could and eventually will want. How hard could it really be? Then I asked the pet store owner how long one of these turtles lives? “Approximately 150 years,” he said. I guess I didn’t expect that. Steven was perhaps five at the time—old enough to be really excited, young enough to not know what any of those words I had just spent twenty minutes lecturing him about really meant. At that point I realized the turtle would out live childhood, last longer than youthful fancies, and perhaps extend beyond mission, marriage, or grandchildren. I’m not sure I was ready for that kind of commitment, and frankly, if I wasn’t then my five-year-old son, Steven, certainly wasn’t. But in the heat of the moment, I didn’t have adequate time to analyze the situation at hand, or so I felt. Those big blue eyes were pleading with me and the anticipation was obvious in the expression on his tender little face. This was it. All eyes were on me now. “So dad, can I get it?”

When I thought about the burden of raising and keeping animals, I remembered the pets I was granted as a child and the inconvenience they must have been for my parents. Always willing to support me in my endeavors, Mom and Dad made sure we had the animals we wanted as children and not just the four-legged kind. In addition to dogs and rabbits and chickens, Brent and Randy had snakes, fish, and spiders as boys—and that was while we were still in Salt Lake City. Our transition to the farm brought a whole other dimension to animal husbandry, however; and the children were fully engaged in those prospects. Goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, dogs, cats, banty hens…the list was endless. I remembered the great lengths my parents went to enable us children to raise animals and experience the responsibility and patience of working now for a reward in some future day. I recalled the sacrifice of my mom and dad to give us children opportunities to have pets, small as it may seem in the grand scheme of things. However, it didn’t seem so small now as I calculated the cost, commitment, and risk associated with this decision. This turtle would outlive all of us. Then, I considered the trees my father planted on the farm from which he would never enjoy the bounty. He was meticulous analyzing and preparing for them, planning the way they should be established, guiding us to carefully plant them, tending to them and teaching us how to care for them especially when the going was rough. We carried dozens of buckets of water to slake their thirst. My mother also instilled lessons in us children of courage and solidarity for which she would never really see the fruits. She taught us horticultural, culinary arts, and that a worthwhile life was to enjoy while still being productive. I didn’t even know what all those words meant back then, but she made sure we experienced them in our early years and did it faithfully for all of her children and grandchildren. What started small grew into a legacy that will pave the way for life’s choices, its obstacles, and the decisions we make the rest of our days.

Building a homestead meant work and a lot of it. But gratefully, Mother never let us forget that it meant fun as well. I have such fond memories of getting all bundled up on a wintery morning to travel to the La Sal Mountains to cut down a Christmas tree. What seemed a relatively small task turned into a day-long event. After donning winter clothes, we gathered sleds and snow flings along with the saws for the tree. Mother packed a lunch of thick-crusted bread, thermos of warm, homemade soup, fruit, and her famous chocolate cake and placed it all tenderly in a picnic basket in the back of the truck where the lot of us was sitting for our fifteen minute drive to the mountains.

Or perhaps after a hot day’s work in the fields on the homestead, Mother pulled us all together to go for a swim up at the pond near the top of the valley. Our activities did not have to be elaborate and were never costly, but they united the family and brought joy to otherwise tedious chores, duties, and responsibilities we really were just learning about. Mother always made work fun and gave us something more to look forward to. I didn’t knowingly appreciate the importance of that ability then, but I knew it was more than a stroke of luck. It was Mother’s capacity to make difficult situations turn into exciting adventures. Let me emphasize that it was not money or lavish opportunities that enabled this. It was perspective and attitude that turned a simple drive around Canyonlands into a treasured, life-long memory. Picnics on the farm, carnivals for the children, regular work projects in summer’s heat with pitchers of fresh lemonade, and homemade batches of bread, yogurt, buttermilk, and treats—Mother made everything better.

And now I realize a large part of what my parents did every day was not for them at all. It was for me and my siblings. Perhaps that was the most important lesson I learned from Castle Valley after all. The blessings that leapt from our experience there did so because of Dad and Mom’s great fervor, commitment, and sacrifice. And they did it all for us.

Oh yeah. We bought the turtle.

http://youtu.be/fz4MzJTeL0c

Chapter 9

Lessons learned

“Technical skill is the mastery of complexity, while creativity is the mastery of simplicity.” – Erik Christopher Zeeman

I could fill volumes with the lessons we learned by living off the land, exercising thrift and frugality, and learning to appreciate the wealth of blessings we received regularly. Dad and Mom made sure that we recognized the Hand from which all good things come. And we knelt daily in prayer to thank Him for our blessings both seen and unseen, seek guidance, and solicit protection from any harm. But we soon learned that His blessings don’t always come in the recognizable form of gifts of plenty and lives of fun and ease. They often come disguised as difficult problems, unbelievable hardships, and enormous trials that we never would have imagined.

But perhaps the greatest lesson of all learned in Castle Valley was the knowledge that despite the hardships we are called to bear in life, we are not alone. We can be successful if we do our best and endure to the end. The challenges we faced help steel us for those yet to come. And though at times in life we were sure to suffer, this lesson would help us overcome these obstacles and be fortified and strengthened in the process.

CamillaDuring the years in Castle Valley, mom and dad were busy in the growing community and working with the family to build a stronger income. This included Sunflowerhill Pantry in Moab—a lunch spot on Main street in town. This was after years of baking bread and rolls for people in Castle Valley, the co-op, and various businesses around Moab.

We setup our bakery and a sitting area with tables in a shop on Main Street in Moab. We also sold popcorn balls, home gifts, hand-made sundries, and eventually items from others on consignment.

Anything was possible.

Though life can be hard, God will not forsake us and will see us through. We learn honorable qualities like patience, tolerance, and perspective through the difficulties that we face.

Kindness and tolerance were qualities that enabled friendships though we were much different than others in the valley. I believe my father’s reputation preceded him, and much to our benefit he and mother’s rapport developed with neighbors came to bless us there in the valley and for many years thereafter.

Country life gave us an opportunity to enjoy the simplicity of the country, learn the benefits of hard work, and nurture the joy that comes from strong family relationships.

The importance of family was always stressed in our home. Though the lessons were frequent and often poignant, the words I remember about family first were relatively few. Rather than discourses, we were taught by the examples of my parents and family. Mother and father stressed the concept of love at home and their examples and efforts proved valuable. Don’t get the idea that we did not succumb to the typical challenges between family members, sibling rivalry, and getting along with others. We certainly had our share of struggles. But our family also professed Stevena deep and abiding commitment to and love for one another that has extended into adulthood and blessed our siblings and families. It will most certainly continue in our posterity for years to come.

Dad learned how to accomplish great tasks that were set before him. Electrical wiring, plumbing, roofing, cement work, gardening, and animal husbandry.

So naturally, our future families congregated down on the farm in Castle Valley every chance we could. From a very young age, the children loved it. Exploring acres, tending animals, playing with cousins, and experiencing the old, rustic ranch and farm life was exhilarating. The excitement of being with granny and grandpa are choice memories my nieces and nephews will cherish for years to come. We all will.

So much effort is expended in becoming professionally successful. Years of one’s life are dedicated to learning and preparing for life’s work. However, we must remember the sentiments repeated by President Boyd K Packer, who said “You will do no greater eternal work than that within the walls of your own home.” These are expressions of what is truly important.

Fortunately, our family ties were strong, and despite we were no longer proximate to one another, we made an effort to stay a part of one another’s lives. This we did by annual family reunions, occasional letters or phone calls, and for a time regular family newsletter. During the Christmas holiday in 1990, we agreed to write monthly to contribute to this medium and for one year, we were true to our word. During that year, every month the family members wrote letters to update the rest of the family and sent these letters to a particular person, who would make copies and distribute these letters to the others in the family. Then we would rotate the next month. Remember this?

StuckiFamilyNewsletter  StuckiFamilyShedule

I have copies of all the newsletters that year. What fun it is to read what was happening in the family at that time. Remember, this was all pre-Internet, so the fact that we did it for a full year was rather remarkable. I have selected a couple excerpts of my personal favorites from that year’s collection of memories…

Dat Sum-un Ahd Lahk ta bee Lahk

Dat wan ah wuud lahk ta bee lahk
iz hansom slim an tahl
wiss da en-du-ans of a wok hoss
ana manah of gen-nel-ness ta ahl

He dun cahm an pay-shent an ker-tias
an un-usa-ly so kahn
da soht of pusan wen ya round o bout
makes ya feel evah to fahn

He ben a suk-ses-fo eg-zek-a-tiv
but aba ta drahv a bahs
da kina guy dat can duu mose ani-thahng
an not apt ta make a fahs

A bildah a teechah a bay-kah
da lists too long in sahz
a frend fo sheh-in ya pro-blems wiss
ba-cahz he iz so wahz

An wen it com ta chuch an thahngs
an pus-way-den evil men ta stop it
he ra-mahnds me of da soht of gai
us moh-mins cahl a prahfit

Ya mite think I iz krazy
an dun made an ewoh so badly
but ya no I iz raht if ya only node
dat dis sum-un iz mah daddy

by Randy and Family

Mom and Dad’s mission

Temple service

Springville

Cancer

http://www.angelfire.com/wa/webuniverse/phmainframe_dad.html#top

Raking fields – have you ever raked your leaves from your home in the neighborhood. What’s that ¼ or perhaps and 1/8th of an acre. Try five acres of hay fields…

First Christmas beneficiaries

Prudence and thrift

Heritage****

Funerals (Gm. Stucki, Gp. Stucki, Gm Curtis, Gp Curtis, Grandpa, Granny, Gma)

Chapter 10

Enduring love

Having been born of goodly parents, therefore, I was taught somewhat in the learning of my father; and having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, having been highly favored of the Lord in all my days; yea, having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God, therefore I make a record of my proceedings in my days.

During the summer of 2005, Robyn called to speak with me. I noticed from the tone of her voice that a serious discussion would ensue.

She acknowledged that I was aware of Dad’s back injury and began to explain further that Mom and Dad had sought the opinion of a doctor in town (Moab). During the visit, a sample of Dad’s blood was drawn for analysis. What they found concerned them, and the doctor ordered another more conclusive test. The protein level in the blood was higher than normal suggesting the possibility of multiple myeloma, or cancer of the blood. The results from the second test would take a week or so but further confirmation of the diagnosis was needed.

Mom and Dad anxiously awaited the test results, and indeed, the second test seemed to confirm the conclusion of the first. The doctor suggested that they seek the expertise of a specialist to either confirm or deny the prognosis. Robyn said that Kimberly had arranged an appointment with a top doctor in this field at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, and Mom and Dad would be coming up for these tests in the week to come. Tears filled my eyes and ran down my cheeks as I considered the implications of what I had just heard. Questions filled my mind: “How could this have happened to Dad? He has been so careful to eat right and keep the Word of Wisdom his entire life. He follows in the footsteps of the Savior in everything he does. How could this be?”

Then I remembered the Lord exacts allegiance from His faithful. From Abraham who preached against pagan rituals and human sacrifice, God required the son he had sought for his entire life and whom was granted in Abraham and Sarah’s old age. Yet Abraham was faithful and consented. The Lord required all things from Job: his health, his friends, his family, and all his wealth, but he too was faithful and followed the Lord praising Him. And so I didn’t expect anything less from Dad. When I called him, he related a story to me about the occasion when he found out about this prognosis. Dad went down into the trees down below on the farm. He knelt and offered his thanks to God for His many blessings. He said “You have spared me Father in times past, and I won’t ask you to do it again. I ask only that Your will be done. I faithfully accept any outcome.” Dad’s attitude and faith reminds me of a favorite hymn that for me is the epitome of Dad:

“Come, follow me”, the Savior said.
Then let us in his footsteps tread,
For thus alone can we be one
With God’s own loved begotten Son.

“Come, follow me, a simple phrase,
Yet truth’s sublime, effulgent rays
Are in these simple words combined
To urge, inspire the human mind.

Is it enough alone to know
That we must follow him [here] below
While trav’ling through this vale of tears?
No, this extends to holier spheres.

Not only shall we emulate
His course while in this earthly state,
But when we’re freed from present cares,
If with our Lord we would be heirs.

We must the onward path pursue
As wider fields expand to view,
And follow him unceasingly,
What’re our lot or sphere may be.

For thrones, dominions, kingdoms, pow’rs,
And glory great and bliss are ours,
If we, throughout eternity,
Obey his words, “Come follow me.”

Of course, blessings were given. Dad’s name was put in the temple. And prayers were incessantly offered in his behalf. He was promised that his time was not yet, but that the Lord still had a work for him to do. We read together the verses in Matthew 7:20-22 and were comforted knowing the Lord is in control and our confidence waxed strong in our Father in Heaven (D&C 121: 45,46).

This was no longer an isolated affair for immediate family members. My siblings each had children of their own, and our children had warm relationships with their grandpa. This obstacle came at a time when we were both surprised and unprepared for such alarming news.

The tests were administered and the following Thursday, the prognosis was to be made available. Not a lot of fanfare or big announcements. We simply received the following email from Dad:

Dearest Family,                                    June 23, 2005

Today at 4 pm Margie, Jeff and I sat down with Dr. Glenn to hear the results of the tests and x-rays I was given to see if I have multiple myeloma.

The results were, in my judgment, very good news. The evidence was there, but so small that it did not meet the criteria used to diagnose myeloma. However, I seem to have thinning and weaker bones from what is a minimal problem with myeloma at this time.

No harsh treatment is recommended for now. Instead, a monthly intravenous solution of a recently developed drug will stop the harmful effects of myeloma, that is bone destruction, and encourage bone growth, making my bones slowly stronger. And no side effects from the drug. The doctor will do frequent checks in case the myeloma begins to accelerate. The plan is to not do more damage to my health by treatment than the disease left alone would do.

Monday another doctor will determine what steps to take to fix my damaged vertebrae “for good,” as we anticipated.

We’re making fast progress toward our moving, and we’ll keep in touch about that from time to time.

I’m operating under the plan I have used all of my life that “the next two years are going to be the best two years of my life.”

Thank you, everyone, for your love, help and prayers through this experience.

May God be with all of you in your needs is my sincere prayer.

My love,

Dad/Grandpa

So I read Dad’s word with thanks and appreciation to God for hearing our pleas and blessing my father with an uncanny positive attitude of faith and appreciation and love. The respite from serious and devastating treatment for now has been granted. I know the disease may accelerate in due time, but He truly has answered our prayers and for now, we shall continue to love, support, and learn from Dad. I thank the Lord for a father who I know will stand true and faithful through whatever hardships and pains he is called to bear. ”Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13: 15).

Another one of Dad’s favorite hymns speaks volumes at times like these:

How Great Thou Art

Oh Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the works thy hand hath made,
I see the stars, I hear the mighty thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed;

Refrain:

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees;
when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
and hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze;

Refrain

And when I think that God his son not sparing,
Sent him to die – I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin:

Refrain

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home- what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art!

Refrain

I am eternally grateful for a father and mother who have withstood many hardships with faith and gratitude and a resolute commitment to God and His teachings. I know now that they will overcome this challenge and will continue to wear out their lives in the service of God and their family and fellowmen. I now have the blessed opportunity to succor them in their old age as they have supported and sustained me throughout my life.

That I might be true to their legacy and equal to the task is my prayer.

A journal entry during this time of reckoning follows. The realization of what was happening despite my desires for a different outcome was both surreal and emotional. I wrote a few words to try to articulate and evaluate the reality of what I was feeling…

How can I capture the events of the last several weeks? I can barely think about it without a flood of emotion. The Lord has been very good to us. We have been showered with numerous blessings. Yet we have also faced challenges I have dreaded my whole life.

A week ago tomorrow we buried my father in a cemetery in Springville, Utah. As I remember the events of the last two weeks, it’s nothing short of a world-wind of activities and events that strain the best of us. I look back now with wonder, admiration and respect for a man I was privileged to call father.

Dad was always there. Though he faced challenges and hardships of his own, he was always available to lift and help those around him. He was my support system. I could always go to Dad with any concerns I had, and he could help me resolve them. That’s the kind of relationship I have always had with Dad from a very young age, I have gone to him for strength, wisdom, and acceptance. He shared joys with me when I had small triumphs. But to him, they were never inconsequential. They were important to him because they were important to me. He understood my pain. He had compassion for my difficulties. When I lost a job or faced a challenge, Dad was always there to bear me up. Truly, he was a living angel in our midst. With him at my side, I was confident and at peace. I always felt like I was his most precious child. But the great thing about Dad was that we all felt that way. He treated each of us like we were his favorite, because all of us were, and he took opportunity to express his love often. Sometimes when we needed a sounding board, he would just listen. I want to be like him for my children.

I had the chance to give back in a small way during the last few months. It was a pleasure to do so, and I treasure every moment I was with him and Mother. These will always be cherished memories of being with Dad during his final days on earth. The hope I have in Jesus Christ sustains me through the challenges that I face. His strength gives me courage and assurance and peace in the midst of storm. I am grateful for the confidence I have in Christ. I know I will see my father again, and with joy we will once again rejoice in the gift of the Father through His Son.

Dad loved the song You Raise Me Up by Josh Groban. Tears would run down his cheeks as he listened to it. I knew he was thinking about Christ and his relationship and appreciation for Him. When I first heard the sentiments of this song, I thought of Dad. Even today, feelings for Dad reverberate through my memory as I hear the words of this beautiful song. In fact, I was first exposed to it in a program at Legacy where Emily and her classmates performed the song. It so touched me then that I found the lyrics and wished for the music. Later, when Camilla, Steven, and I were in New York, I saw Josh Groban’s cd at the music store. I purchased it then, and later shared it with Dad because I knew he would like it just as I did. He was so moved by the music and the lyrics that I gave it to him. I found great joy sharing songs with him that lifted and edified. I learned of another song that brought him great joy when I was completing his and Mom’s histories on the Internet in 2005. This was before Camilla had left to go to Alaska and I wanted the children to have access to Mom and Dad’s words all the time. They were living in Castle Valley at the time. I asked them to provide me a favorite song or two for the web page. Dad’s was How Great Thou Art, and Mom’s choice was I Often Go Walking. Mom also said Bette Midler’s The Wind Beneath My Wings was a favorite of Dad’s. So I put these all on their personal history website. Dad selected these choice songs for his funeral. They are evidence of his love and adoration for the Lord Jesus Christ. His service was organized according to his wishes centering in the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Atonement, and the Savior’s perfect plan for all men.

With His stripes, we are healed…

Chapter 11

Perpetuity

I rejoice that I am born to live, to die, and to live again. I thank God for this intelligence. It gives me joy and peace that the world cannot give; neither can the world take it away. God has revealed this to me, in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know it to be true. Therefore, I have nothing to be sad over, nothing to make me sorrowful.

Children, grandchildren, and family are the primary endeavors of Granny and Grandpa that will live on forever as their legacy in their children and posterity. I saw it throughout my life, and even still their reputations attest to that truth. What Granny and Grandpa started even long before Castle Valley blessed them and their children back then, continues to bless them now, and will continue to profit them and their posterity long into a future day.

And perhaps that is the greatest gift of all from Castle Valley. I realize now that like a good book with an interesting perspective and a grand introduction, the paradise we called home for a few years in Castle Valley was just the beginning to something remarkable, uplifting, edifying, and motivational, but the keyword here is beginning. The extraordinary life we enjoyed as a family in the virgin fields of Castle Valley, a beautiful oasis in Southeastern Utah, was just the grabber.  Living in Salt Lake City, struggling together through hardships and reveling in peace and tranquility of family despite an uphill battle, we learned that happiness is in the journey—not only the destination. Finding the valley was a beautiful chapter in the book of our lives together, and with the companions of warmth, laughter, tears, and joy that surely saddled up beside us to make life fun, challenging, glorious, and wretched—all at the same time—but that’s ok, because when we realize that we are still in the middle of the book is not the time to provide our final assessment of its ending. This perspective changes everything. True. During hard and challenging times, we look for respite and hope for relief. There is nothing wrong with that. But knowing it’s temporary, realizing we are not alone, having hope in a miraculous solution and a sure knowledge in the justification to come, we can move forward without fear, anxiety, or despair. I think an analogy is appropriate at this point.

My wife loves good music, the arts, and the dainty, but during a football game, she becomes a rabid fan and instant cheerleader. There probably is no bigger BYU football fan on earth than my sweetheart. She loves the idea of sitting with 65,000 people in a packed stadium cheering on the team at the top of her lungs. Never mind that it’s barely over zero degrees Fahrenheit and deep white snow or rain is engulfing us. Watching the game on television or listening to it on the radio are alternatives slightly better than a toothache. Her football antics are passionate, but it is interesting how things change when we watch a re-broadcast. When we know the outcome, we turn on the re-broadcast and watch it with ease and unruffled composure.

When a fumble or a blocked kick happens or the competitor runs up the score at the beginning of the game, it’s easy to get discouraged and lose hope in our team. However, it all changes when the sporting event, say football, that we are watching is a re-broadcast on television. If you already know the outcome of the game, like in the case of a re-run, you needn’t fear or even get nervous, because you know the result in the end. We know the end. Christ’s team is already victorious!

Every hardship, every vice, every challenge or addiction or failure is temporary and will be overcome as we align ourselves with Him as part of this perfect plan. Our confidence grows, our worries are eliminated, and our fear turns to faith, because we know that He will not forsake us, and as long as we are on His team, our victory is assured. That’s the hope we have in Jesus Christ!

We know the outcome. “How can you be so sure?” one might ask. Experience. Demonstrated evidence over a period of 50+ years of my life and hundreds of combined opportunities over the years from my family and others have shown me that the proof is in the pudding, as my mother used to say.

Matthew 7:20

Joy

What appeared to some to be a step backward turned out to be our greatest blessing in all of life: bus driver, farmer, overcoming the challenges that came with country living. Who would have thought? We experienced both the redeeming and enabling power of Jesus Christ in our lives. The gospel has the power to heal the body, the mind, and the spirit. And in the midst of our Castle Valley experience, we learned that lesson firsthand.

My dad would often tell me as we enjoyed the bounty the Lord had provided for us that we ate better than kings, and we did. All the wonderful Jersey milk, yogurt, buttermilk, cheese, and fresh butter, delicious farm-fresh eggs, natural home-grown vegetables—lettuce, peas, corn, tomatoes, spinach, Swiss chard, zucchini, cucumbers, pickles—and abundant fruits like apples, peaches, plums, pears, strawberries, melons, and so much more. The farm provided the best-of-the-best. And those were just the things that we grew. We also savored freshly baked bread and rolls, pies, cookies, cakes, farm-raised beef, pork, lamb, and perhaps the appreciation and satisfaction of really enjoying these things because they were the fruits of our labors.

The homestead in Castle Valley didn’t come together all at once. We spent countless hours, summer after summer preparing the soil, planting the ground, and weeding and watering until at last, the abundance we hoped and dreamed about was realized. The values and lessons learned there have proved to be blessings throughout many years following. And I believe the same is true for my siblings.

Our experience in Castle Valley was truly a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity—a life lesson that has application in many situations—not just farm life. And perhaps that is the single greatest blessing coming from Castle Valley: by the grace of God, our dreams can and will be realized.

And that is only the beginning…

Appendix:

Dedication of the Richard Stucki Family Farm
in Castle Valley, Utah

Our Father In Heaven …

On this sunny, warm fourth day of June, 1977, on the first anniversary of the arrival of our family on this Castle Valley farm, we come before thee to dedicate our farm to specific purposes.

Being descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and recipients of the blessings of the House of Israel, through Joseph, our possession of this property, clear and paid for, without encumbrances, surrounded by magnificent mountains and red cliffs, and cooled by huge old trees, with deep fertile soil, and clear air to breathe, is our portion of the good things of the earth with which thy chosen people are blessed.

Being here is a fulfillment of a dream. And as the scriptures express it, we found a pearl of great price for which we have sold all other possessions to obtain. Particularly, we sold our lovely, spacious Salt Lake City home with every convenience; we terminated Group Apparel sales; and our Salt Lake City antique and gift business, Sunflower Hill’s first location. We have departed from relatives, friends, and former life styles for this new life on the good earth, by the sweat of our face.

May the story of the new beginning be remembered: cooking over a fireplace, hauling water, sleeping in tents, our tent-top bedroom and camper-top kitchen, crate-end chicken coop, and the broken-down truck motor Russell helped us replace in a field; the cold mornings and nights before we moved into our partly finished shop building just in time for Christmas; the gratefully eaten cold plates of Thanksgiving dinner eaten at our unroofed construction site; Mathew, our john-boy; the unusually nice winter weather which allowed our construction progress.

May the dream that burned in the heart of mother Marjorie, which started the search, and her search which found the farm, be remembered, also. And may the 25 years of regular work by father Richard which provided the equity in our Salt Lake City home, which paid for the farm, also be kept in remembrance as the benefits are enjoyed over the years.

We are grateful to new Castle Valley neighbors; particularly the Jerry Ehlers family, for help that first summer with the garden spot, use of wood and his bench saw, and logs for the shop building; to parents for loans to keep us going until our Salt Lake home sold; to Salt Lake friends and 7th Ward members whose many kindnesses put food on an otherwise bare table through that first winter; the High Priests group of the 7th Ward that collected funds so we could have a place to winter in; and Harmons, whose truck brought so many loads to the farm in building and moving programs.

Particularly we are grateful that in each hour of need, from week to week, when no solution seemed possible for some obstacle in our way, particularly financial worries, that thou Lord opened a way for us and provided the help we needed to continue in our program to establish ourselves at Castle Valley. We are mindful that only because of the demise of LaRie’s and failure in our several earnest efforts to continue on with that business and pay LaRie’s debts, were we freed to do what has been done here in Castle Valley. Thank you for saying “no” when it was for our best good, and something better was in preparation for us.

We thank Thee for each of our sons and daughters: Brent, Leslie, Robyn, Randy, Gregg, Mathew, Jeffrey, and Kimberly; and for the help and support each has given, one in one way, another in another way; without which help we would not have succeeded in our transition to Castle Valley; nor would we have accomplished what has been achieved with buildings, gardens, fences, trees, and animals, without their help.

Having had our farm bought and made a place to live at a very dear price in sacrifice, sweat, and tears, we now dedicate it to Thee and Thy purposes as stated herewith:

A place to learn the skills of animal husbandry and agriculture.

A place to develop hobbies, interests, talents, intellect, and other wisdom and skills in an atmosphere of peace.

A place to learn the creative, functional, and practical aspects of building and to acquire skill therein.

A place to raise and provide the necessities of life in times of economic calamity in the world and nation.

A place for those of our posterity who live elsewhere and engage in other vocations, to come and be supplied with stores for winter, and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, and find rest for their souls near the land.

A place to provide the monetary needs of the family through money earning projects allowed for here.

A final resting place for the earthly tabernacles of those who wish it.

A place to work, love, play, learn, and be engaged in Christian living among family, neighbors, and friends while life lasts, and find refuge from worldly cares.

By power of the Priesthood, I bless the land, wells, springs, ponds, orchards, vineyards, shrubs, and gardens; the animals and fowl; with that vitality and productivity, and the resistance to drought and disease that will fulfill the purposes to which all are dedicated.

We thank thee Father for our health; our opportunities; the rich earth here, and ideal climate for growing produce; for the multitude of delicious, interesting, and useful plants and animals Thou has created for our use and enjoyment; and for this farm.

We pray that all who come here to live or visit or find birth here will catch this spirit, gain in wisdom, and have a desire to care for what is here, dressing the buildings and grounds as a place of cleanliness, order, and beauty.

May all learn the proper balance between work and play, and remember that what we have, or yet will have, is only through study, and work … that the desert only blossoms as a rose for those who labor.

May we learn from history that only those people, nations, and farms prosper who live righteously and keep thy precepts.

May we preserve our intellect, health, energies, and resources, by proper rest and care of our bodies, avoiding all harmful stimulants, indulgences, and practices.

May we here appreciate our greatest blessings, the family and gospel, and incorporate into our lives those traits of character and principles which will fit us for Thy eternal kingdom.

May we have a spirit of cooperation and love, and of Christ, increasingly, in all things, and be protected from serious illness, accident, or harm.

We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

W. Richard Stucki

Mission Letters

Personal Histories

Mission Experiences

Journal

Stucki Family Blog

More pictures of the valley

1 thought on “Once in a Lifetime

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