with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

The Story of the Magical Mystery Door

Originally published on Google+

Shashi Bellamkonda took this amazing photograph of my magical mystery door when he was visiting our home outside of Portland, Oregon. Here’s the story of the door.

The crossing of the Cascade Mountains from the luscious greens of Western Washington to the dry, harsh desert side of the mountains to visit family was a long and boring trip until the early 1960s when the Marlin family opened The Alps, a three story A-frame cabin featuring a private home upstairs, candy shop on the main floor, and a kitchen filled with all the sweet aromas of handmade fudge, taffy, and candies from the mountains of Europe. Dragging two hyperactive children across the mountains wasn’t much fun until this way station opened, providing access to sugary delights and a bathroom, much appreciated when we gained independence from diapers.

We kids were dazzled with the handmade candy in every shape and taste imaginable in a shop that filled our senses and eyes with funky paintings, postcards, key chains, Happy Rock fairies, and the occasional batch of puppies kept in the bathtub until they could fend for themselves. Best of all was the amazing yard filled with magical and mysterious handmade structures to explore.

There were the usual swings, slides, teeter-totter, and other playground equipment, but what held my fascination was the sight of the door.

It was just a normal door. A door you might find in any home. Wood. Set in a wooden frame and bolted to the ground. Nothing special. A door in the playground. It grew gray and weather-worn over the years of visiting, but it was just a door.

It was a closed door. That is what made it special.

An open door means little to a young girl with too much imagination packed between her ears. A closed door offered mystery. Who knew what lay beyond that door. What adventures, what vistas, what strange and wild people, what path would I travel if I opened that door and passed beyond.

As I grew older, The Alps meant more than the best fudge you’ve ever slipped between your lips. On the long rough ride up and over the mountain pass, boring trees whizzing by at high speed, I’d think about that door and imagine what I would find when I opened it. I’d paint great cities, unchecked wilderness, vast deserts, jungle gardens, strange planets…all unfamiliar and exciting terrains. I’d see people wearing colorful flowing outfits, dozens of gold rings in their ears, noses, and arms like the aboriginal women of Africa or Australia I’d read about in National Geographic. Or tall slender blond people dressed in silvery tight-fitting clothing like I saw on science fiction television shows and movies where everyone was perfectly healthy, strong, and ready for action. I would walk with graceful and gentle animals eager for my affection, race through rugged terrain on the back of an alien wild beast, or pass through a brightly lit corridor on my way to my personal spaceship ready to take me to a distant world at my command.

By the time we arrived at the candy shop, the vision of what lay beyond the door was clearly fixed in my head, the sights, sounds, colors, smells, sun on my face, alien wind across my skin. I was there already. I only had to open the door.

I’d race through the shop and down the stairs to the kitchen and out the back door to the yard with barely a wave and a German greeting in response from old Mr. Marlin stirring up a pot of brittle, caramels, or penuche in my wake.

I’d head straight across the grassy lawn for the door, my hand out stretched, then pause as I felt the cold handle under my fingers. My door to another world.

What if it wasn’t there? What if the door would let me down? At an early age I’d learned that the world offered few favors to the young. I knew what it looked like beyond the door. I knew the reality. It was the same old river with the same bank of trees woven densely up the mountainside in a quilt of zigzag greens. A postcard view to the thousands pausing along this spot annually to admire. It was just the same old scene I’d grown up with, familiar, safe, and boring. Rivers, rocks, mountains, gray and green stuff. I wanted to see where this door could take me, to a magical place beyond my imagination.

I knew it was there. I knew I’d find it. Just beyond the door.

As I slowly opened the door, I swear for an instant – a fraction of a fraction of a second – I could see my wondrous vision. I’d see the flash of colors, the swirl of movement, the exotic sounds, the smells of cardamon, cumin, and cinnamon – then I’d see the old river and trees. Same river. Same trees.

But I’d seen it. Magical places are like that. They appear in the corner of your eye in a split second. If you look directly at them, they disappear.

As I grew up, and family on that side of the mountains died off or moved, college, work, travel, and life took me away from the candy shop door for longer and longer periods of time.

Somewhere in my early thirties, the older Marlins slowed down and the son took over. The shop changed and began to fill with religious icons, books, and trinkets. It was a little larger, having been rebuilt after fires destroyed the buildings several times. It was cluttered with cheap toys and tourist crap from China and Taiwan. The candy seemed to take a back seat, as did the upkeep of the playground down below by the river.

The door was gone. I’m sure it washed away after one of the many floods along the river or collapsed under snow or tree fall.

In my heart, the door was always there. It didn’t go away. It is still with me.

Today, I find that door on airplanes, buses, taxis, and RVs as I travel the world visiting places once held only in my imagination.

When we finally traded in our life-on-the-road in a trailer to move into a real house on a small tree farm outside of Portland, I told my husband I wanted my own door.

“Honey, you have many doors now.”

“No, I’m looking for a magical door, one that will open the world of adventure to me again.”

It took a year but I found it.

I walked into a rebuilding store, a place where the pieces of salvaged homes and buildings are resold. I was looking for a faucet when I noticed a sign that said, “All doors $30.”

As I walked towards the back of the building, I saw my door. It was on the end of dozens and dozens of doors in four rows, all tilted every which way. My door stood tall and straight in its own frame.

It was an exterior door. It was weathered on one side and perfect on the other. All heavy solid wood, decades old, built back when they made doors to last. The frame was in great condition but a bit weathered, the paint chipped and peeling. It was my door without a doubt.

An hour later, I drove my truck down toward the bottom of our property and managed to drag the incredibly heavy door to where I wanted it among the tall fir and pine trees.

My door. My own door to my imagination.

If you are ever visiting my Coast Range foothill forest, you’ll be invited to take a walk through our woods. Along the path you will be surprised to find a door. You are welcome to open it. What you find on the other side is up to your imagination. Start planning what you will see ahead of time. You might get lucky and get a peek as you open the magic, mystery door.

PS: I still have some Happy Rock Fairies somewhere in a box. As soon as I uncover those, they are joining my door, another way I honor the magic that was the entire Alps Candy Store for so many people.

Thanks, Shashi, for reminding me to share this story with everyone. I love my door! You are a very special friend. Thank you.

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