After our conversation with 97 year old John Merriman in his Keremeos home, Linda was reminded of counsel offered by the ancient Israeli King Solomon. In his Old Testament book Ecclesiastes, Solomon urged “whatever your hand finds to do, do it mightily.” John has certainly packed a lot of living into his years. He lived in a time when men doing physical work often needed to contend with daunting expectations and challenges. His lean, still robust frame and resolute attitude suggest the inner steel required in those early unforgiving decades.
John was born near Des Moines, Iowa, then at age 5 was taken by his parents to England. In 1927 the family emigrated to Canada and settled on a farm in Birch Hill, Saskatchewan. Here he developed a rugged work ethic. “I clipped sheep, castrated hogs and worked on machinery,” he said. “I was mechanically inclined.”
“Later, as a young man I got a job on a farm working for $100 a year.” According to “Stories by John Merriman”, a book written by a great grand daughter, he had a deep religious experience during this time and it shaped the rest of his life.
He subsequently worked on a road building operation. “We were cutting spruce timbers into cord wood, using swede saws, cross cut saws and axes. This is where I first saw a man working with a chain saw. Two men with a cross cut saw could buck logs faster than he could.”
They were working in muddy terrain and often up to 4 layers of logs needed to be laid down. “The earth sucked them under,” he explained. “Somewhere there is probably still a D6 cat buried in the mud out there.”
On a sawmill job he displayed resolve and steady nerves. “A man had his hand cut off by a big saw,” he remembered. “We applied a tourniquet and bandaged the wound. I put him in my car and we set off to the nearest doctor. Every few miles my car came to a stop. The points were corroded so I’d file them. When we met a police car, I stopped in the middle of the road so he couldn’t pass. We put the man in his car and I returned to the mill. All work had ceased because no one would go near the hand still lying there. I buried it.”
In 1942 he enlisted in the Canadian army and was assigned to the Signal Corps. “They paid me $1.10 a day. The food wasn’t so good though, mutton day after day.”
They were each given a “house wives” kit and expected to darn their own socks, or pay for new ones. “As a boy I had watched my mom darn,” he said, “so I could figure out how to do it. Most of the men smoked. I chewed snuff which cost me 10 cents a can. It damaged my teeth and gums though and when it went up to 75 cents, I quit.”
In Italy the truck he was driving was hit by German artillery. It burned up and he suffered burns to his face and arms. “They covered the burns with vaseline and put me in a tent with other disabled men. The tent smelled so bad the food was delivered to the door in a tub and left there. Some men had lost their arms and we helped them eat.”
While John was away, his father lost the family farm due to medical bills. John had saved his army pay, and upon discharge he bought another farm so his father could be on the land again. John began putting together a mill business and also a very successful trucking and construction company.
In March 1945 he went to the local improvement office to pay his taxes. Here he met Doris. “I never had time to fool around, so I married her in June,” he said. They had seven children, and enjoyed 60 years together before she passed away.
Now, deep in retirement he remains active. In 1989 he began driving for the Citizens Patrol. In recent years he has been driving people to medical appointments, to buy groceries, etc. He looks after the 50-50 draws at OAP functions. “After you’re 90,” he said, “they give you a free membership.”
Today John Merriman’s strong hands continue to find things to do, and he does them mightily.