He’s 73, feels like he’s 50 and calls himself a storyteller.
Omer Cormier of Vernon has plenty of stories which he likes to put on paper, but he has some catching up to do.
For it was only 14 years ago that Cormier said he learned to read and write.
“I started writing when I was 59,” said Cormier, a former labourer, born and raised an Acadian in Campbellton, N.B. before making his way west as a young adult.
It was while laying pipe with a company in the Okanagan that Cormier began a life-changing transformation.
Unaware, said Cormier, that he couldn’t read or write, the company made him a foreman. This would require him to work at a computer, a machine Cormier couldn’t turn on, let alone read what was on the screen.
“Guys would come in at 8 a.m. for their shift, I’d been there since 4 a.m. getting my stuff ready,” said Cormier. “I ended up having a nervous breakdown.”
And, he admitted he was having problems with alcohol.
So Cormier, son of an alcoholic father, was sent to see a doctor at an office building. The problem was, Cormier couldn’t read the doctor’s name and ended up in the office of a psychiatrist, who ended up convincing Cormier to attend Alcoholics Anonymous.
“If you can’t read in the program, you don’t do very well,” said Cormier, who moved to Vancouver Island to be with his daughter, one of his four children.
In Nanaimo, Cormier was completing AA’s 12-step program when he applied for welfare. The problem? He couldn’t fill out the form.
Again, he asked for help and, again, Cormier said he was told he was in the right building. There was a literacy centre in an upstairs office.
Cormier registered, wanting to learn how to read and, more importantly, how to write so he could fill out his forms.
“I told them I wanted to watch CNN so I could know what was going on in the world,” laughed Cormier. “That was for three months.”
He wanted to write stories, and Cormier said he had a ton of material to choose from.
There was the alcoholic father who once promised him $720, a bike and a pair of shoes, but left on a hunting vacation and came back broke with a pair of black eyes, falling on the family floor. Cormier said that’s when was planning to kill his dad before his mom intervened.
He could write about his four children, which he talks about with pride.
He could have written about spending 20 years on a First Nations reserve and a neighbour named Jack, who first told Cormier he had a drinking problem, and credits Jack with saving his life.
But no. The first thing Cormier did after learning to write was pen a letter to his sister, who did not know her brother was illiterate.
This was the sister who made him a pair of cardboard box boots after dad reneged on his promise.
“My sister was in Moncton – she’s still there – she phoned me after she got the letter and was crying,” said Cormier.
After the letter, Cormier wrote his first story, about a crow named Mona.
He’s written many stories since about his life and people he’s met in his 73 years.
One of his stories, The Legend of the Little People, was included in Maple Ridge’s Polar Expressions Publishing’s collection of short stories book called The Sun Shall Rise.
His goal now is to publish his own book and help others.
“I want to publish a book about a person that could not read or write,” said Cormier, a clear reference to himself.
“I want to donate portions of the money to people that need help to do the same things I did.”
Helping people and writing are cathartic for Cormier, who pans for gold and fixes watches as hobbies.
“I want to never stop helping people,” he said. “I’ve been helping them since I was sober.”