Texansunited.com recently featured M.C. Merlin Davis for racking up yet another trophy as the oldest rider in the Comanche Rodeo Parade. Today, I want to tell you the rest of the story, and it is quite a story.
Merlin Davis is my cousin. He is also almost 93, has lung cancer, and was supposed to die months ago, but Merlin never has been good at following orders. In fact, during his entire life, Merlin has laughed in the face of anyone who told him he couldn’t do something…wasn’t able to do something else.
His story is one of inspiration and yet it is a story that I can’t seem to do justice to as I type and remember just how much this man has touched my life and the lives of so many others in Comanche County….just by being Merlin and nothing else.
On the day I went out and sat with him there in his little shop where he was building a swing exactly like the one he had just built for me, I slipped in unannounced and stood shamelessly watching this man doing such intricate work and doing it all with only one arm. And I suppose that is where today’s story should begin…on the day Merlin lost his arm, as we say in our family.
In 1944, Merlin and Hattie lived in the community of Roch, Texas where they lived “right between the forks of the road.” Then, what would have been tragedy for most of us happened.
“I was right down the road at Oscar Cox’s place where we were grinding peanut hay. There were three of us together, and we’d grind for each other. I had the mill, and Oscar had the tractor, and we’d go to one barn and then the other and grind.
“What happened was I got a block of wet hay. The barn had a spot that had leaked, and I shoved that hay up in there and it locked the motor down. I opened the lid and raised it up, and he started the tractor and blowed it out. I had on a pair of high-cuffed gloves to keep that old peanut hay off of my hands and when I looked down in there, I could see a groove with hay in it, and I just reached a finger down to loosen that hay, and when I did it caught me and it was all over.”
Merlin got himself out of the machine and off of the platform and the men took him to the Dublin hospital. Believe it or not, the doctors took the arm off right there in Dublin, Texas. Doctor Guy is the only name Merlin can remember but there were several doctors who actually worked on him.
“How long did it take you to get adjusted to one arm?”
“Well, I was young and it didn’t take me long. I did that on Valentine’s Day, and in May I went to hauling milk in my pickup for the cheese plant.”
Now…just so you understand…that does not mean that Merlin Davis was a driver only. Not at all. That means that at each stop he lifted what he says were about 110 pound milk cans into the back of his pickup. Remember those old cans? They were huge!
“Merlin, how in the world did you lift them with only one arm?”
“Well, Fredda Lee, you only need one hand to lift something,” was the way he answered what he seemed to think was a silly question.
By 1946, Merlin had bought a “brand new truck, first new vehicle I ever owned. I bought it right down here from Ira Clemons for $1,708.71.”
With this vehicle, Merlin broadened his route, traveling farther and picking up more milk.
Sixteen years later, Merlin Davis was through hauling milk and had become a dairyman, running about 90 cows through his one-man barn where for the next 20 years he did his own work.
After selling the dairy, Merlin spent the next sixteen years running what we used to call a filling station, first Exxon and then Fina. “I sold more tires down there at the Fina than the whole town put together.”
Somewhere in the conversation, I told Merlin just how amazing I believe that he is, saying, “People today would get disability and quit.”
“You know I had a guy come in when I was at the Exxon station one day. Robert Petty (first owner of Sonic) and I were standing there talking when he walked up, and he had an arm off about like mine except that he had a little longer stub that I do.
“He followed me around and talked there a good bit while I waited on customers, and directly he said, “How much disability do you draw?”
“And I said, ‘I don’t draw any disability! I’m not a disability!”
The man went on to tell Merlin that he was crazy not to draw disability and that he certainly drew it.
“I don’t care what you’re on. I don’t want your disability; I’m not a disability. I got him shut up and he went on.”
Merlin “retired” after 16 years in the station. And I suppose it is his latest career that amazes me the most…a man with only one arm…and he became a builder of furniture!
He started by building some doll furniture. After all, Merlin is from that generation who would never consider buying something that could be made at home. Sooo…he made the dolls some furniture.
“All I had was a little old jig saw, and that’s what I started with.”
Then Hattie, Merlin’s wife, decided that he should build her an office chair.
“I worked half a day trying to get me two back legs. They had to have an angle in ‘em, and I couldn’t get it, but I finally did and I started putting the chair together. There were 21 pieces to it to put together. So I went to putting it all together, and it would fall apart. I finally learned how to put one side together at a time and then I could put the two together. I learned the hard way, I guess.
“While I was building that chair, there was a guy came in and wanted six of them. And just as I was finishing up those six, somebody came in with his brother from south Texas, and he wanted eight of the chairs and his wife wanted two rocking chairs.”
It’s been 21 years since Merlin took that first order for six chairs and orders have continued to flood in for rockers, tables, chairs, swings, and benches, keeping him very busy for a man who was already past 70 when he took his first order.
Then…he received the diagnosis. Cancer in both lungs, no more building, no more riding, no more tractors, no more anything except a rocking chair. The prognosis? With treatments, maybe six months.
Merlin followed orders for about a month, and that was the end of that. He demanded to be brought back home. He is at worship every Sunday, and he has picked up three more trophies for being the oldest rider in the Gustine, Comanche and De Leon parades. He is also still building furniture, sawdust be danged. In fact, I’m heading out there right now to see just how far along he is on my rocking chair. Of course, on this one I’m behind Amy Cullers who needs two more benches completed in time for her wedding!
What a lovely, lovely, stubborn, and inspirational man is M.C. Merlin Davis.