On Friday July 3rd, 1998, Fabio Cominotti stepped outside around 10:00 am to putter at his normal routine on his twenty acre plot outside of Blackfoot, Idaho. He used to have much larger acreage, but for the last six years, this was all that he had. Twenty pitiful acres that he only irrigated to avoid fire and to provide some sustenance for the ten or so dairy cows that he boarded during the summer. He walked to the old chicken coop that he now used as a dog kennel and fed his three remaining dogs that had moved from Clayton with him. After that he grabbed his shovel and threw it in the back of his green horse (a five-wheeled John Deere utility vehicle with a dumping bed and a maximum speed of twenty miles per hour) he drove out to the ditch. By noon he died. Even though there was no autopsy, upon embalming, the technician discovered that Fabio died due to a blockage of his aorta by a massive blood clot. The coroner concluded that he did not suffer and that his heart attack caused him to collapse into the ditch and drown. Later, his grandsons found him like that after he was late for lunch. This was how death caught Fabio Cominotti.
Six years earlier, Fabio sold his two-hundred acre ranch near Clayton, Idaho. He didn’t want to sell it according to his oldest son, Fabio Daniel or Daniel as he the family called him. “That ranch was his life. He never was the same after he sold it.” Daniel claimed that Fabio sold the ranch because of pressure from his wife Cesira and his youngest son, Antone. Antone wanted his parents closer to him so he could help them more. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter why he decided to sell. He did and moved to Blackfoot. When he went through his shop and decided what to keep and what to truck away to the dump, recycling plant, or Antone’s house. It was a sad time. The process took weeks. Fabio had a lifetime of equipment, tools, and scraps to go through and decide. As truckload and truckload of metal, tools, and machinery rolled away, he sat on the fence, head down maybe crying. No one knows. He wouldn’t let anyone get close to him. A life’s work summed up in a couple of week’s worth of hauling things away. The twenty aces in Blackfoot would never be home to him. Daniel felt that these days cleaning out his shop and ranch were his. Any days after that were just days spent waiting to die.
He didn’t sell his ranch for money. He only received $395,000 for his two hundred acres. That may seem like a large sum, but ten to fifteen years before, the local mine offered $2.5 million for the same land. No, it wasn’t for the money. He was seventy-nine years old and he couldn’t handle the work anymore. It was hard and he had no help. He was too stubborn to hire anyone. After steady pressure, he sold. It was, probably, the hardest thing he ever had to do. He had spent his entire life in that area, on that creek, on his land.
Fabio was born on Squaw Creek near Clayton, Idaho in 1913. His parents, Giovanna and Antone both emigrated from Italy and settled in the cradle of the Salmon river. Fabio bought the land for the ranch when he was a young man and unmarried. It sat just down the creek from his father’s land and the land on which Fabio was born. He wanted to raise cattle and hay and raise a family. Constant bickering and rivalry with his two brothers Ercole and Leo always intruded upon his life so he purchased his own land and started to build his life.
On December 3rd, 1950, Fabio married Cesira Alfieri whom he had never met in person. They had only corresponded via letter after she had emigrated to the U.S. from northern Italy. No one alive can say if the marriage was a happy one in the beginning, but four children came from the union and the marriage never dissolved or suffered adultery or other destructive forces. Fabio’s children were Edna, Fabio Daniel, Martha Giovanna, and Antone Stephano. Martha died six years after her birth due to insulin shock from a poorly administered diabetic injection. No one really knows how his youngest daughter’s death affected him. He was a man of few words and even fewer displays of emotion. It was rare to catch a smile on his lips. Fabio knew of death. His father died in 1927 only fourteen years after his birth. Shortly after his daughter’s death, his brothers died in separate years. Although death had hit him in the past years, he was going strong with cattle and hay. His life, although hard, was what he wanted it. Fabio had his land, and a family. He had children to help him tend to the cattle and grow the hay. This was his American dream and he was living it. He imagined that he would pass his land on to his oldest son, or youngest if the oldest didn’t want it. This was the way of things. This was tradition. This was what was supposed to happen but didn’t. Never did he think that he would sell his land. But when the time came, the youngest son didn’t want it and the oldest was not able to take it.
He was a hard man to get close to. He was quiet unless he was angry. He was hard-working. He never took a day off that didn’t make him angry. You couldn’t argue with him and win. Even though his exterior was rough, he had a warm heart and he cared. Often, you could watch him playfully teasing the dogs. He loved his dogs. He always had a whole pack of them running around. He loved his horses too. After my youngest brother was born, he named a horse after him, Scotty. He was proud of both. He loved both.
I have a picture of him sitting next to my grandma holding me when I was a baby. I’m fond of the picture because he is smiling in it. It’s hard to see, but he is. The corners of his mouth never point up as much as in that picture.
I can also see pride in his eyes. It’s a pride that I don’t feel worthy of. I don’t feel that I met his expectations. I was the first grandchild. I’m nothing like him in many ways. I remember the look on his face when I filled his shop with thick, greasy gasoline smoke. I thought fire would be a good way to clean a gas spill. His look told me—even if the smoke didn’t—that I was wrong. I remember the anger I saw in his eyes and the fear I felt when I cut the twine on a large number of hay-bales in the stack. I didn’t know that it could have toppled the stack or that it would make using those bales so much more difficult. I probably should have. I wasn’t that young. I have many memories of moments like this that I look back on fondly now. It’s all because of that picture. When I look at that picture, I know he loved me. It’s written in his eyes.
Even though I remember his moments of anger and stubbornness; his yelling and clamoring; and his stares and my fear, I do also remember that he was always there when I needed help. I lived with him and my grandmother for three years while attending college. He pulled me home when my car broke down on so many different occasions. He found chores for me to do when I would visit so he could give me money to spend when I was in high school. He was a good man who didn’t want anyone to know he was a good man and I loved him for that and so many other reasons.
In the end Fabio drowned face down in a ditch. He didn’t have the strength to lift himself from the water and call for help. Maybe he didn’t have the desire. Even if he had, he might not have been heard. He died a quiet death six years after his spirit died. But it was a noble death. He died working in the field doing what he had always done. His absence leaves a hole, but he left a legacy. He left three children, ten grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and more great-grand-kids to come. He left a spirit in his children and memories in his grandchildren. He left love even though he could seldom show it. My memories of him are often fond. He was a hard-assed old man who yelled and screamed much of the time. He had his strange ideas—at least strange to me—like driving at forty-five miles per hour on interstate roads. He laughed once when he lured me into petting a calf that he knew was about to poop so that it would land all over my shoes. That was the only joke I ever remember him playing. I was just a kid so I didn’t see it for what it was then. Now that he’s gone, those moments—those memories are what I hold onto.
Fabio Cominotti left in this world his spirit of hard work and stubbornness. He left the Italian flair and spunk in all of his descendants. But above all else, he left memories. Some are fond while others were not at the time, but those memories are his legacy, not his land or his ranch. The ranch was his dream, but in the end that same life dream fades with age, time, and death and all that remains are memories and stories.