The Norseman

April 26th, 2016 by

Bryan, Sharon, Don, Thelma and Ron Wilner celebrating the opening of The Norseman in 1971

"The Norseman" building in Hawley, MN is slated for destruction tomorrow.

You can never go home again.

When I was 6 months old my parents bought a building in Hawley, MN and called it “The Norseman." My grandparents, Thelma and Don Wilner, helped them to get it up and running. They themselves owned a diner in North Dakota, so the restaurant business was already in my father’s blood.

I ate my first solid food (thank you Perry Burnside), took my first steps, learned to dance with help from the juke box and numerous live bands, fell asleep on the black vinyl booth seats, had multiple birthday parties and met and ate my first snapping turtle (again, thank you Perry Burnside) there. There were so many hiding places that hide-and-go-seek was always an adventure. The huge sand dunes in the back lot were the source of many hours of dangerous afternoon play as were the gargantuan icicles that clung to the side of the building at the back entrance.

When I was 13 we were forced to close because the police made it impossible to continue our business. I was actually grateful, I was finally able to see my parents in a less stressed, more-present state. In high school we had prom dinner in the “back 40” and also a reunion dinner in the basement many years later. Both events initially gave me excitement and ended with disappointment. After 1984 it was never “The Norseman” again. It was the same structure, different furniture and decoration, different food and wrong. It was like revisiting your childhood home after 20 years with a different owner. Things had changed.

I loved the many years of experiences there, the memories that cling in the back of my mind and truly appreciate what I learned from The Norseman. I now own my own restaurant to continue the Wilner tradition. Thankfully, I also own the two carved wooden doors that once proudly stood at the formal entrance of that once-grand castle. Every time I touch the wooden crests that adorn them I’m 5 again and THEN I smile, I am home again.

Photo courtesy Richie Burnside

The Norseman