Youngsters at the Elder Hotel

Scientists may question whether time travel is possible, but I know for a fact it is because of the vacations my family took in the 1960s and 70s to the Elder Hotel when I and my three brothers were still youths.

The Elder Hotel was a three-story white frame building in Indian Springs, Georgia, built in 1903 after its two-story precursor (built in 1851) burned down. It had what oldsters would consider old-world charm, including a wrap-around porch with plenty of rocking chairs. The rooms had no TVs or phones in them; there were no elevators; and even though the rooms opened onto a hallway, they had screen doors, probably a vestige from before the rooms had a single window air conditioner added.

The hotel was located in Butts County. The county line sign always occasioned sophomoric humor that my brothers and I never tired of. Well, at least I always jumped at the chance to say to my youngest brother, “Hey, Kelly, we just crossed into your county. Hahaha.” We were younger then.

The several times my family went to this aptly named inn, we were by far the youngest people there, the only ones without gray hair. It was quiet, restful, slow-paced, with little to do but eat and sleep. In other words, kids hell.

Sure, we rocked on the porch, and that killed about 15 minutes. There was also a one-TV TV room, glassed-in so that the noise didn’t disturb anyone outside the room. The channel selection was controlled by the hotel desk, so whenever we checked to see what was on, it was almost always the same thingLawrence Welk, the music and dancing variety show that everybody’s great-great-grandparents loved in those days. The show featured singers, waltzes and polkas danced by Cissy and Bobby (clean-cut dancers with big smiles), as well as accordion music. Once you’ve heard Myron Floren on the squeeze box, you know why the Beatles and the Stones never really caught on.

We eventually noticed the leaf-littered shuffleboard court and asked the desk for the pusher poles (cues), pucks (discs), and a broom. Shuffleboard became our favorite Elder Hotel pastime, despite the fact that our parents enjoined us to be on our best behavior so that no loud taunts or raucous celebrations of good shots would cause any TIAs or cardiac infarctions in the onlookers above us on the porch. No trash talking? No outraged outcries when our puck got knocked off the “10”? No loud, frenetic victory dances? Exactly how was that supposed to be fun?

For change-of-pace entertainment, we’d walk down the hill and across the street to look at Aboothlacoosta Creek (a Creek name for a creek). Yes, our big excitement was watching water flow over rocks.

We also could go to the stone spring house and watch dumbfounded as elderly folk actually filled whole bottles and jars with mineral-rich spring water. Imagine the pungent stench of putrid rotten eggs, and you’ll get a rough idea of what the spring house smelled like. If Ponce de León and his men had actually found the Fountain of Youth and it had smelled like Indian Springs sulfur water, I’m pretty sure they would’ve decided, “Ya know, gettin’ old isn’t all that bad.”

Alas, in 1984 the building that we knew, like its predecessor, also burned down. I went to see the site a couple of decades later, just to see where the hotel had been, to help me recapture how it had felt to be so youngand so bored. I guess, in a way, I was searching for my own springs of youth. But the place was too overgrown with woods for me to see it. I couldn’t even get anywhere near where it had been. Nothing, not even debris, to confirm the image in my memory.

But not everything tangible from that time is lost. I do still have my brothers (all of us gray-haired now), and I can still watch reruns of Lawrence Welk on PBS. I’ve heard the Lennon Sisters are “wunnerful, wunnerful.”

(Bill Spencer is author of Uranus Is Always Funny: Short Essays to Make You Laugh.)

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8 thoughts on “Youngsters at the Elder Hotel”

  1. Nice little article. Nice to have that down homey touch. It reminds me of large, grand places in deep woodsy places that I have come across as well.
    There are probably some regional magazines around the country that might like an article like this too if you want to send it around. Grit perhaps.

  2. Thank you for an excellent and humorous essay on the Elder Hotel! As your brother, I can verify your story as very accurate and nostalgic! My favorite thing to do besides playing shuffleboard and watching the Lawrence Welk Show in the TV room, was ordering a New York duck meal at the dining room area for dinner. Quack! quack! It sure was delicious!

  3. It sounds like somewhere a spiritual leader might stay and looks like something Edward Hopper would have painted.
    Butts County sounds like somewhere you would sit and apologies for the big child, I continue to be.

    1. It did look pretty close to Hopper’s “The Mansard Roof.”

      My answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is “a child.”

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