People remember the bannock man.
Johnny Decker – as he is also known – has been selling bannock in the South Cariboo for ten years now. He began when he started doing bridge work across the province.
“I would sell bannock for five days in Forest Grove and that would give me like maybe $1,000,” he said. “So I’d have gas money and food money for me and my friends and my brother going to work, right?”
He recalled one day when he was selling bannock in Forest Grove. A big travel trailer pulled up and a boy around 15 years old jumped out and said, “Oh my God, you’re here. I made my parents turn this way just to see if you were here.’
The teenager told Decker he and his family had travelled through the area when he was five years old and they’d bought some bannock. The teen said he had been everywhere since then and never tasted bannock as good as what he ate that day in Forest Grove. He went on to tell Decker that they were in the area and he told his parents, ‘We have to go see if the bannock man is there.’
“I bragged about that for days,” laughed Decker.
His journey to that moment began as a boy growing up at Canim Lake. They lived with his grandmother. “My mom was only 15 when she had me,” he said.” My mother was just a young girl.”
He said he didn’t see a lot of his father. When he did see him around he would feel so happy. He said he would be grinning he was so excited when he went home.
“Gran, I seen my dad” he would tell his grandmother. “He said hello, he gave me a little hug. I know he’s going or come see me today.” Decker said as soon as he said that, his grandmother would pull out all the ingredients to make cinnamon buns.
“Because she knew he wouldn’t be coming.” Decker said. “It was my comfort food.”
From there it went to goodies and sweets and Decker began to watch, learning how to make it right, under his grandmother’s watchful eye. His grandmother would point out little things, like how the dough was sticking to his hands. “Let’s put a little more flour on there,” she’d say.
While she is no longer with him, Decker’s grandmother is an integral part of who he is and not just because it is her bannock recipe he serves at his food stand around the South Cariboo. As a young girl, her foot was run over by a horse and buggy with steel wheels and she wore an orthopedic shoe. She was also almost legally blind.
“So she was blind and partially crippled, but she would still do all these things for me,” he said. “And that’s one of those things I do when I’m having a bad day. I say “Your blind grandmother, your crippled grandmother would do this.” He paused. “She’s been gone for a while. Before the 10 years. Before I even started. She didn’t even know I started selling bannock, she was gone before then.”
Food was always a part of his life. In his youth, if you visited five different houses on the reserve you ate five times. “Nobody would let you leave without eating,” he said. “Have some soup, have some bread.” As he got older, he wound up looking after his sister as his mom was always at work.
“All we were eating was spaghetti and sauce and mac and cheese and soup,” said Decker. “I didn’t know how to make anything else.” In Grade 9, he began to take food and nutrition courses so he could cook better for her. “It went on from there.”
Food wasn’t the only constant. He was 38 years old when drinking almost cost him his life. He said on his last bender, he was drinking 10 mickeys a day for three months.
“I went in (to the hospital) and they told me if I never went in by lunchtime I would have had a heart attack and I went in at like 10:30,” he said, adding, “I was very close to losing my life there.”
Decker said he did not care and planned to keep drinking. But something happened to change him that day. One of his aunts lost both her sons within three months of each other. The first died of pneumonia and the second of loneliness missing his brother. “He was doing what I was doing, drinking.”
He was heading home from the hospital to drink when he saw his aunt crying on the porch. “And that was my last straw. I said, if my auntie’s doing that then I’m doing the same thing to my mother and I have to quit. And I turned around and went home and that was it.”
It was at this time Decker decided to go work on bridges while he tried to figure out who he was. And how he wound up selling bannock in Forest Grove.
One day, he’d been selling bannock at the Williams Lake store at the gas station and stopped at McDonald’s on the way home. He was waiting for his food in the parking lot when he heard somebody yell, “Hey, it’s the bannock man.” He pulled out $5 and Decker whipped out a bag of bannock.
“As soon as I got home, I said, I’m so good, I can sell bannock at McDonald’s.”
These days Decker is staying close to home so he can spend time with his partner, April Truran. He is content to be back in Canim Lake and enjoys spending time with his nieces and nephews. Over the winter he built an outdoor skating rink beside his house.
One day in the future he thinks he would like to run for council. He would like to become a leader for his people. It’s one of his goals.
In the meantime, he helps out those around him and spends time with his uncle. They go to rodeos and skidoo in the backcountry.
Even there, in the middle of nowhere, Decker can’t escape it.
“It’s the bannock man.” Decker pulls out a bag of bannock and hands it over.