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Store knits up mountain town

Dixie Earle pours coffee for customers at the Oregon Trail Store and Deli Aug. 7 in Meacham. The lone business in the community is also it's meeting place.

AP Photo/East Oregonian, E.J., Harris
Dixie Earle pours coffee for customers at the Oregon Trail Store and Deli Aug. 7 in Meacham. The lone business in the community is also it's meeting place.

MEACHAM (AP) — There is one store in the mountain community of Meacham, and it’s an important one.

Three years ago, Meacham’s sole business, the Oregon Trail Store and Deli, had closed. The volunteer fire department was foundering, politics divided pockets of the community and residents felt isolated without a gathering space.

“Let’s just say our community was, well, not a community,” said Dixie Earle, Oregon Trail store owner, of the estimated 150 residents. “Nobody got together.”

But on this week’s Taco Tuesday at the deli, 57 people showed up to bond over Earle and husband Randy Morford’s food.

Meacham has changed considerably since its Old Highway 30 store reopened its doors.

First, the Meacham Mountain Ladies Society — a group of about a dozen women — began meeting at the deli, bringing together some who had lived in the area for 30 years and didn’t know a soul.

Then, the volunteer fire department jumped from eight responders to 18.

Then, the chapel reopened, and Dutch oven cook-offs and yard sales brought hundreds of people out.

The deli is also home to the post office, concealed gun classes and two gallons of emergency gasoline, to name a few of its purposes.

Jan Caldwell owned the store for many years before closing it in 2010 after it became too much to handle. That time between Caldwell and Earle was a strange one.

Retired Hermiston police chief Grant Asher moved to the snowy community five months before the deli reopened. He’s called Meacham’s “Wal-Mart greeter” now, thanks to his friendliness, but that wasn’t always the case.

“We didn’t talk to people for about five months,” Asher said. “We had no interaction whatsoever.”

Three years ago, Ken Haggie said, he knew about five people in the area he lived in since 1998. Now he knows hundreds, making his way downtown three to four times a week.

More than just the isolation, residents say there were divisions between pockets of the community; people around Meacham Lake and those near Old Highway 30 kept their distance. The Meacham Lake area is regarded as more conservative, while those nearer the highway tend to be transplants and a bit more progressive.

“I can’t say it’s always been that way, but the people didn’t feel comfortable around each other,” Haggie said. “The best reason I could say was because of politics.”

But the barriers are crumbling. Residents all talked of good friends across dividing lines.

“I’m sure we still have people who feel the isolation or the divisions, but that’s a hurdle we can conquer,” Haggie said. “It’s a matter of doing positive things and getting out there and introducing the people.”

“We all have our Hatfields and McCoys, but even that I think is lessening over time,” said Karen Edmonds, who started the Meacham Mountain Ladies Society.

Edmonds, 63, grew up in Meacham, when the community had two restaurants, two taverns, a saw mill, bar and motel before Old Highway 30 closed down and much of the business dried up.

Edmonds knows and loves the town. She spoke of July 3, 1923, the day that Meacham was the capital of the United States because then-president Warren G. Harding stopped there with all of his cabinet members.

For Earle and Morford, the community has been — literally — healing. Morford suffered an aneurysm five years ago that resulted in seven strokes. Doctors said he would die, then he didn’t. They said he would be brain dead, but his brain woke up.

“Then for nine months he couldn’t talk,” Earle said.

He began to talk, but the creative part of his brain was shattered. Residents remembered him as quiet when he and Earle moved from Idaho to run the store, but six months later he was chatting up everyone.

“It was unbelievable, the change in him,” Earle said. “The locals just jumped in and embraced us. I think that’s made the most difference.”

Information from: East Oregonian,

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press


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