Tuesday, January 23, 2007

History: Doris, 1927

Hmm. This one's been sitting in the Trading Post Story mailbox for about a week and a half while I tried to do some research on its authenticity. It seems a little unlikely that the first two responses we've gotten have been about people who were there eighty years ago.

Hi there,
I have TP story to tell and a small favor to ask. The story has to do with my Grandfather who passed away in December. His death was not sudden. He was 103 when he died, but we were close and you better believe that it has been hard for me to let him go. The story I have to share is his story. He told it to me over the week before he died.

My grandfather was fairly healthy and lucid right up until last September when suddenly his organs started failing. The doctors said he was one of the few lucky to actually die of old age instead of a disease or an accident. They predicted he would remain lucid but become more and more physically run down before just quietly drifting away. They were right.

He was bed ridden at the end and wanted me to read to him. The titles he requested were all pretty
heavy-duty reading, so I suggested something lighter - like your blog. He and I loved to discuss and
debate moral dilemmas and pick apart the human condition ad nausea, so I thought adventures at the Trading Post would be fun.

I was expecting him to laugh a lot and want to analyze the characters and story lines in detail, but instead he was very quiet and serious as I read. He was extremely attentive and often asked me to re-read certain passages without explanation. The more I read, the more worry I saw on his face. A few days into our reading he finally asked me to put down my laptop so that he could tell me what was on his mind. I think you know what is coming.

He took a small breath and proceeded to tell me that the Trading Post Inn was a very real place. He told me that many years ago, back in 1927, he visited the Trading Post Inn with three of his sisters. He explained that up until that visit, that he had been a woman. Not just a female version of the man I knew as my grandfather, but a completely different person.

He said that he was “originally” born as a woman in the year 1901 and was christened with the name Doris Brown. He said that he grew up with his “original” family just outside of Boston and that he had three brothers and six sisters. He said that they were strict Catholics and lived a typically happy close-knit family life.

It sounded like he was a lot like me in those days. He said that he looked a lot like me, was happy-go-lucky like me, and married young to a man named James Brown (no relation to the singer). The details around his life as Doris Brown painted a picture of a simple and content young woman, but the story took a turn when he described falling in love with a married man named Ralph McSweeny in the late winter of 1926. They met at church one day and though they were both married and devout Catholics, they quickly fell into an adulterous relationship together. They took their time getting to know each other before consummating their love under a cherry blossom tree on Easter Sunday, 1927.

The affair went on for several months and in August of ‘27, Ralph and Doris concocted a plan to get away for a weeklong holiday away from their spouses. Doris asked three of her oldest sisters to help facilitate the rendezvous by going with her to stay at the Trading Post Inn, while Ralph went to visit with his brother Lenny who lived just down the road from the Inn. The plan was for Ralph and Doris to spend as much time alone together as possible while their siblings covered for them.

My grandfather said that when he and his sisters arrived at the Inn that first day, they looked around for a few moments, but that he didn’t even bother to hang up his clothes before heading over to see Ralph. He spent that first day, night, and early morning with Ralph before he returned to the Inn and crept into one of the beds just before dawn. His sisters were fast asleep and he drifted off quickly.

It sounds abrupt, but when he woke up, he was transformed into an ugly little man. My grandfather never struck me as an “ugly little man”, but that’s how his new form must have seemed after spending so many years as the lovely Doris Brown.

I’m afraid that this is where his experience with the Trading Post Inn ends. He was so horrified by the transformation that he quickly pulled on a dress and some slippers and ran off into the woods never to return to the Inn. He never woke his sisters and never saw his home or any of his family ever again.

He hid in the woods, half naked for two days before wandering into someone’s backyard and eventually being picked up by the police as a vagrant. The next few days or weeks were a blur in his memory. He was in shock and unable to speak about what had happened to him. He was nameless and homeless.

The journey from that terrible period to his becoming my Grandfather was long and detailed. He found work, a place to stay, recovered from his shock, and eventually made a new life for himself in California, as far away from his past as possible.

He never tried to investigate what had happened to him that day in August because in those first few moments when he woke up, he wracked his brain to make sense of the situation and his mind almost instantly found its way to the only possible explanation it could produce at the time - God. He decided then and there that his transformation was a miracle produced by God to punish him for his sins. It was firmly cemented in his mind, heart, and soul that this was his retribution for the affair with Ralph and for all of the deceit and lies surrounding the affair. There was no need for him to consider any other explanation until I started reading your blog to him.

I saw a look of profound guilt and worry cross his face as he considered the possibility that his sisters could have also been transformed. He imagined how scared his sisters would have been in the situation, and how sorry he was that he was not there comfort them. Your suggestions that there may be a cure to the transformation left him wondering whether by running off that day, he might have left his sisters stranded in their new masculine forms.

Though my grandfather’s story is incredible and I should be drawn to the mystery of the supernatural events of the Inn, what troubles me most is the huge number of profound questions that clouded my grandfather’s mind in his final days on earth. I feel responsible for wrecking the peace he had made with the experience.

He had always viewed his transformation as absolute evidence of God’s existence and took every blessing of his new life as proof that God had punished him and forgiven him. I’m devastated to think that his faith was crushed in those final days when he must have realized the source of the “miracle” that cemented his faith in God all those years ago, was no longer clear.

I believe for the first time ever, he was allowing himself to question his faith and think that maybe what had happened was not a confirmation of the existence of God, but something else entirely. I could see the wheels turning in his mind as he reevaluated his understanding of the universe.

Did he have a soul and where would it go when his body failed? Was the heartbreak of losing his first family all his own doing? If he had returned to the Inn that day would he have been able to stay with his sisters and maybe even find a way back to their old forms? I tried to assure him, as he always assured me, that God worked in mysterious ways and that what we read on the blog did not discount God’s hand in the events at the Inn. I said that maybe he and his sisters were transformed not as punishment for sins, but in order to send them down a path that they were destined to travel. I offered him the constant refrain he offered me over the years, “Everything happens for a reason, never doubt that and you’ll always find peace.” I’ve been repeating that to myself since he died, but still feel confused and in shock by all this.

Now I must ask my favor. You mentioned that there were sets of photographs on the wall at the Inn showing groups of four people with distant or sad expressions. When you are next at the Inn, could you look for a photo of my Grandfather and his sisters? I don’t know what the existence of a photograph on the wall will prove, but I feel it is something that might bring me some closure.

My grandfather, Doris Brown, would have been hard to miss. She was only 5’2” tall and weighed over 250 lbs. I am unclear on how that weight was distributed, but given your experiences, I’m guessing that she was extremely busty. His sisters were Thelma, Helen, and Margaret. Margaret was the youngest at 19 years of age, and Thelma was the oldest at 32. I’m guessing that the sisters were all similar in height if not weight.

Thank you for your help and good luck to you on your efforts to get your old lives back. I will continue to read your blog as I try to find the understanding and peace that I stole from my Grandfather in his final days.

I will pray for you often. If you are ever in San Francisco, feel free to look me up. I’d love to chat
and make you some sandwiches.


CeeCee Davies

Ashlyn finds it interesting, and maybe I'm just falling prey to whatever part of the curse makes it hard for people to believe, but I don't know about this one. There seem to be contradictions ("the lovely Doris Brown" carried a lot of weight on her tiny frame, for instance), and what are the odds that someone would recognize one of the few details about the place's decor we mentioned? And this just happens to be in my home town?

If true, this letter does solidify the idea that this has been going on a long time, but I'm still curious about what's been going on since then. Are we looking at disaster by trying to get back, has it been done without incident. And, just, information. Jake (I'll start calling her Ashlyn when I start thinking of her that way) is planning to assume someone else's life in progress. How has that worked out for other people? Which parts were the biggest problems over the long term?

Ah, well. I imagine she'll figure it out on her own.


1 comment:

Scott said...

Re-read your last full paragraph. Then re-read the beginning of the second-last. It's starting, Art...

BUT in any case, this case food for thought and yeah, frought with moral questions. If nothing else, Doris' story suggested that the hang-ups and fears and insecurities of the former life are not left behind in the new... perhaps they are even magnified.

I'll be reading more of the History posts with great interest...