My mother grew up in a tiny town west of Fort Worth, aptly named Mineral Wells, Texas. My grandparents bought about 70 acres of farmland by the Mineral Wells airport, and there he farmed during the depression. He often held an extra two or three jobs to support his family.
Mom graduated from Mineral Wells High School at the age of 16, and eventually she landed a job at the local newspaper, the Mineral Wells Index, as the society editor. A job she took very seriously.
She was raised very strict Baptist. It came as no surprise to anyone who knew her, that as soon as she was on her own, she was going to let her curly black hair down. She saved her money and bought a red convertible. I have more than a few pictures of her sporting the latest in bathing suits, something she was forbidden to wear under her parent’s roof. And she took a liking to leopard print.
I believe it was about this time that her father took to praying for her salvation. My grandfather was a devout praying man. I remember whenever he hit his knees and began to speak with eyes closed, I just knew that he had God’s ear.
He prayed for me in much the same way when I became an actress. Those prayers were heard, and I became a Christian while living in the City of Angels, Los Angeles, years after my grandfather died.
My grandparents lived together in wedded bliss for nearly 63 years. I use the term “bliss” loosely, because they carried on like bickering siblings for most of their elderly years. Enhanced by a loss of hearing. But they loved one another dearly, and after my grandfather died while in his 80’s, my sweet nanny followed him. No doubt from a broken heart.
We sold the farm many years ago, and their precious little house was moved off of the property some years later. I returned to Mineral Wells in 1999 to bury my mom in the same cemetery that held my grandparents, my great-grandparents, and many dear relatives.
Including my great Aunt Annie’s two husbands. Who lay side by side. When Uncle Scotty died, Aunt Annie planted him next to Uncle George. In a plot that had been reserved for her. She figured she would save a few dollars, since the spot was already paid for. This is the same Aunt Annie who used to rinse out her Depends for a second use. Enough said.
When I was home in Mineral Wells, I tried to find where my grandparent’s old house had been moved, but couldn’t. Finally I stood on what had been the old dirt driveway and closed my eyes, breathing in the Texas fragrance and listening closely to all the sounds of that space. Willing them stay in my memory. I could feel the house, even if I couldn’t see it.
I haven’t been back since.
But Mineral Wells holds a place in my heart. The town has fallen on some very hard times, beginning with the closing of the Air Force Base many years ago. Mineral Wells was once a bustling resort community, and at the center of town is a monolith hotel built in 1929. The Baker Hotel is a 14 story structure, that was once the heart of Mineral Wells. It was frequented by dignitaries, politicians, and movie stars. Performers at the Baker included Lawrence Welk, Pat Boone, Mary Martin, and Judy Garland.
The hotel closed in 1972, and stands vacant in the center of town to this day. As a sad reminder of what once was. Many windows are broken, the pools stand empty, and the doors are boarded shut. I often visited the Baker as a child to swim in the pool, and before closing, my parents stayed there overnight one last time. I came with my grandparents to see their room, and I remember as a kid being awestruck by the rich dark woods, ornate carvings, and beautiful decorations of the lobby and corriders.
Because I’m a sentimental sap, I’ve followed the demise of the Baker closely, making light note of all of the ghost stories and promises of restoration.
Tonight I happened upon a you-tube video, while perusing the Mineral Wells Index online, that spoke of a developer who is putting his entire life into seeing that the Baker is restored. The video opens with a pilot taking off from the very same airport, that sat adjacent to my grandparent’s farmhouse, and then flying over the downtown area, showing the aerial view of the Baker.
I’ve often hoped and prayed that this beautiful historic hotel would one day be brought back to its original grandeur. Because of the rich mineral waters, it was once a place of peace and healing. It could be that again. And draw people from the world over, transforming a small dying town into a robust and thriving city.
That is my hope for Mineral Wells. Which in my heart, is still home.