DRISCOLL — If Norm Meland had a dime for every pound of meat he butchered, he’d be a rich man.
He isn’t, but he is wealthy, at least in friends, the kind who value the everydayness of a long and constant acquaintance.
Norm Meland is closing Norm’s Grocery on Driscoll’s tiny main street after 57 years of selling groceries shelved in a few aisles with squeaky wood floors, and butchering meat the old-fashioned way, boning by hand and wrapping the cuts in thick white paper.
Everything in the building will sell at auction Oct. 10: the coolers, the counters, and the coffeemaker that was always full. He owned and helped operate the adjoining cafe for 32 years, too. He closed the cafe three months ago, and the soup pots and the pans that baked the best caramel rolls anywhere also will be sold at the auction.
As if that weren’t enough loss for one small town, the Driscoll Post Office that occupies a small front corner of the store will close, too. Donna Meland is the postmaster and, when she goes, so goes the mail, with rural delivery throughout town instead of a small personal box at the store.
Norm Meland feels just terrible about the triple whammy to his beloved Driscoll, and his large, expressive eyes fill and redden to talk about it.
But he is no spring chicken anymore and, at 81, his shoulder hurts like the dickens and his back troubles him, too. He gave most of the years of his life to the town and his body, too.
“My back is shot, my shoulder is shot. I’ve got to move on, that’s all there is to it,” he said. “Lifting a quarter of beef, that’s 250 to 300 pounds now.”
He might go on at the store, if not for that.
“I hate to see it all go. It’s the end of the town, you might say," he said.
When Carol Christenson, a local, walks into the store, she needs his attention on a few details regarding a recent benefit in town that raised $14,000. They do their business and Christenson says afterward she doesn’t know what she’ll do without the store, that one place where town business gets discussed and decided.
“It’ll be a learning experience for us, but it’s not going to be pleasant. We’ll say goodbye with tears in our eyes,” she said.
Next, Daniel Wald stopped in for a pack of smokes and says he’s known Norm Meland since he was just knee high to a grasshopper.
“We’ll all be here for the sale. Everybody who knows him will be, which would be everybody,” said Wald, adding he’ll miss stopping by for coffee and catching up with his old friend. “He’s like a dad, really.”
Norm Meland can still picture the old days, when everybody came to the store to shop, when every quarter of land around supported a family, when the women enjoyed the store being open Wednesday and Saturday nights to socialize.
“Those first years were just wonderful,” he said.
Times changed. People became more mobile, the big supermarkets opened a half-hour away in Bismarck and the town’s population declined. As of July, there are 98 people living in the town, according to N.D. Home Town Locator.
Donna Meland said her husband’s decision, when he made it, was quick and decisive, like that whack that cleaves apart a joint on the butcher table.
“He decided right now, this is it,” she said.
She’ll put out her last mail Thursday, and they’ll spend the next week getting everything organized for the sale.
Norm Meland will suddenly be one of those guys who wake up in the morning with no responsibility to the day except for how he decides to spend it. It’ll be a strange feeling for a man who’s worked so hard for so long, something that may take some getting used to.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I guess I’ll figure that out,” he said.