At the age of 10 I realized my parents were crazy. It was that year they bought a ramshackle and run-down old hotel in North Alabama. Today, the Mentone Springs Hotel is lovely, functional, not very haunted even. But our first act of family ownership involved re-roofing it and its 25 or so roof leaks. Five crews were needed because they all kept quitting on us. No wonder with the turrets and steep pitches. The final crew was inebriated and I’m convinced that false fortitude is the only thing that got them through the job.
My parents sold it in 92 when they relocated to Vienna, Austria and I have not spent the night in it since, until last weekend when mom, dad, and I drove up for a cold visit. Andy and Marc, the current owners and the ones mother likes to say “finished her dream” have turned the old thing around. Heated rooms, beautiful linens, beds, wonderful food. It truly is not the same place, well, except one very large detail. The fireplace. In the lobby there is a 3-sided fireplace which has always been a gathering spot and I happily noted this is still the tradition. It reminds me of the way things used to be. Travelers and locals mingle and discuss the state of things. They gather news from each other and of course talk politics, weather, religion and the meaning of life. And so we did. Of course now we did it as guests— a more affordable alternative to ownership— and it makes the whole thing surreal. Hearing newcomers talk about the building, the town. Reliving old histories and rumors. It was a wonderful weekend. Lucy was there with her lilac soup, Marc and Andy hosted and entertained, a lady named Sue shared stories of her life, there was even a beautiful puppy Pepe la Pew.
I rotated around the fire and thought of all of the gifts my parents have given me — magical chaos, entertainment, multifaceted fellowship of friends — and all elements are still lingering there; next to a kept fire and out of the cold air. Go there, you’ll understand and be better for it.