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Growing up I was fascinated by stories of a distant ancestor, Doc Brown, and his encounter with a mysterious woman from the sea. My grandfather first told me the tale, that he had learned of it from his own great-great-grandfather. Doc’s first name was Lee, which interestingly is the Celtic word for “healer,” and legend has it that he was an unsurpassed yet whimsical naturopathic physician of the high seas during the 1600s. A tattered ship’s log discovered in an old sea chest describes him as having knowledge of medical mixology and potent concoctions of cure-alls and whatnots.
Lee “Doc” Brown was a much-sought-after healer who could stitch up a cutlass wound, fit a peg leg after a shark bite or concoct a potion to ease seasickness—or even love sickness. He was known among seafaring men as the man who had knowledge and remedies to cure “really bad ” shipboard afflictions. He also was known to cook up a feast as well as he would concoct a therapeutic potion.
It’s said he would baste wild boar or game fish with his special sauce and roast them over a driftwood bonfire as he regaled his shipmates with stories of pirates, fierce magnetic storms, hurricanes—and a beautiful mermaid he claimed to love. The sailors enjoyed Doc’s tales nearly as much as they relished the feasts he prepared. No one could decide which was more satisfying. We were lucky enough to find his barbecue sauce recipe in the old sea chest, and we use Doc Brown’s secret ingredient to this day. With his knowledge he worked tirelessly to perfect his concoctions and mixology so that he would perhaps gain the widespread fame he secretly craved.
According to the lore, a turning point for Doc came on February 26, 1669, after a three-month expedition during which more than just treasures had been found. While his shipmates eyes were only on the chests of gold they were carrying, and their thoughts turned to schemes for pilfering a few precious coins, “Doc” had his sights on a much larger treasure. As the crew prepared to return to the ship after gathering coconuts and other food provisions on land, Doc followed a map to a nondescript spring hidden by the island’s thick overgrowth. He noted that it was surrounded by unusually vibrant plant and animal life, and its water was crystal-clear with a slight jade color.
A test of its crystalline waters seemed to confirm that this was the legendary fabled fountain that he’d heard had powerful healing properties. Doc Brown began to dance a jig next to the palm-shaded spring, elated at his discovery of what had eluded so many before him: The legendary Fountain! He stood still and thought for a moment. If the legend were true, then the only ingredient he would need to make the ultimate healing potion was the tear of a mermaid. Yet he had doubts about the existence of this mythical creature. Regardless, he quickly gathered samples of plant life and filled eight vials with water from the fountain. He tucked them away in his belt, keeping the discovery to himself.
The legend goes on to say that “Doc” never returned to the ship that day as a storm brewed and whipped up the seas. As his skiff turned toward the galleon, the skies darkened and the breeze transformed into a strong gale. A massive rogue wave tossed the small boat before it could reach the ship, and Doc’s mates were cast into the suddenly churning sea, never to be seen again. Suddenly he was alone on the raging tide, clinging to the sides of the small boat until the storm petered out. By then his ship was nowhere to be seen.
He drifted along for hours or possibly a day or two with no land in sight, until he heard a sad but lovely song off in the distance that was enchanting to his ears. Using the one oar he had managed to hang on to, Doc paddled in the direction of the sound.
The deep blue water turned quickly to turquoise as he approached an inlet, but the song ended abruptly. It’s then he discovered the source of the lovely notes. Even at a distance he was mesmerized by the mournful eyes of a beautiful woman lying on the sand. She averted her gaze and turned away, He quickly realized that she was like no woman he had ever seen before. Her long brown hair fell across a torso that merged with the body of a fish, with scales that hinted at the color of the sea as well as the pinks and oranges of its corals. But the colors were muted, “Doc” was mesmerized and realized that this was a mermaid – for that is surely what she was – injured on the beach just a few feet away from the high tide mark. Moving closer, he saw that she had been bound to an anchor high on the beach and couldn’t quite reach the water that is her home and her nourishment.
Just as his skiff hit the sand, an earsplitting scream broke his reverie, and Doc Brown nearly lost his balance stepping out of the boat. The mermaid thrashed her tail as she used her arms to ascend the beach, desperate to get away from the man. The rope tied around her tail cut deeper through her already wounded scales. He approached slowly and cautiously, and in his soft, healer’s voice said: “Calm down I can help you.” The screams stopped as abruptly as they had begun, and the mermaid let out a long sigh as she turned back to look at him. A single tear ran down her cheek.
In a voice made hoarse from her screams, she spoke:“Will you? Will you help me? Please?”
Doc Brown proceeded with caution, but, looking into her large brown eyes that seemed as deep as the sea, he couldn’t quite believe that this mermaid was the treacherous temptress of lore.
She spoke again, more urgently: “I need your help. I beg you.”
His mind racing from his astounding discovery of this creature, but also calculating how he might benefit from this find, Doc Brown told the captive: “I shall help you under one condition, that you share your healing powers and knowledge of the sea.”
The mermaid nodded and then whispered: “I promise to share my secrets” Doc carefully and cautiously cut her loose and carried her to the water.
Holding her in his arms gave him a sense of comfort after his ordeal at sea. Again he found himself lost in her gaze. “So beautiful,” he murmured, and she responded by wrapping her arms more tightly around his neck. Soon she released her grasp, and he feared she would escape, but she bowed beneath the water’s surface and, undulating her tail, slowly swam in a wide circle around him. She surfaced directly in front of him, and now, face to face, said: “Thank you for saving me. I shall now share my secrets of the sea and healing—and me.” They talked for days of healing and the sea,
Doc Brown found that, like the sailors of lore, he was being lured into the depths, but they were the tender depths of the mermaid’s dark eyes. He curled up on the beach at night as she swam off to her home beneath the waves, secretly checking in on him during the night. They reunite each morning.
As the days passed, the colors in her tail appeared more brilliant, but the gash left by the rope remained raw. Doc Brown fingered a vial of the liquid he wore under his tunic.
“I have a potion that could possibly restore your health completely,” he said, gesturing toward the wound.
She arched her eyebrows as if to say, “Really”
“But I want something more of you, Susanna,” said Doc. “I’ve heard of the power of a mermaid’s tears. If I provide you with healing waters, will you shed a tear for me?”
“I am happy. There is no reason to cry—unless you go away and leave me lonely. But there are no sails on the horizon, are you leaving me?”
“But when those sails do appear, don’t chase them away with squalls and turbulent seas,” pleaded Doc.
“You could leave that world humans and live under the sea with me,” said Susanna, locking her eyes onto his.
“Or you could come with me; you’ve told me it’s possible,” he replied.
She abruptly looked away.
“Drink this,” said Doc.
She reluctantly took a cautious sip, moments later and her eyes became bright with amazement. “I think I can feel it working,” she said and dove off the rock where she’d been sitting. Her fluke flashed in the sunlight before she submerged. Doc was amazed; it had been made partly whole again with a one sip from the waters of that fountain.
It was 1672 when Doc was eventually rescued by a returning ship,
And though she’d never promised to give Doc her tears, he had no trouble filling a flask as she lay weeping behind a boulder when a ship finally appeared on the horizon.
He held her in his arms and promised to return, but he made one more request of her: “Don’t forget me, and collect your tears until I return.”
According to the ship’s log he was reunited with his shipmates in 1669 only to return with notions that Really Bad can turn out really good — just like the Really Bad storm that stranded him on the island where he had the really good fortune of finding this mermaid and learning her secrets of the sea.
As with any good legend there is always a happy ending. “Doc Brown” did learn the secrets of the sea from this beautiful mermaid, whom he calls Susanna. He never forgot her beauty or her willingness to share her secrets, and he pledged to make numerous trips back to her and did so to collect her tears only to once again leave to prosper from the knowledge he learned from her as well as the bottles of tears he obtained to be used in Doc Brown’s Really Bad Rum!
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A tattered ship’s log once found describes him as an unsurpassed yet whimsical Naturopathic physician of the high seas with knowledge of medical mixology, of potent concocted cure-alls and whatnots. Combined with the wisdom of nature and the rigors of modern seventeenth century science, he was known as well to have a been steeped in traditional healing methods of the time, using only the finest rums of the Caribbean as the
main ingredient of his products he would mix various spices and citrus products as well as secret West Indian spices and oils to perfect his concoctions. His principles and practices and naturopathic medicines focused on holistic, proactive prevention and comprehensive diagnosis and treatments.
Doc Brown would then administer small amounts to crew members as needed for treatments of various ailments. No ship’s log entries have ever been found stating that anyone had ever complained that Doc Brown’s potions did not work. What is noted is that crew members would often refer to his concoction as a remedy to ailments such as Scurvy and a cure to other really bad stuff. Hence the name “Really Bad Rum”
A map obtained from a West Indian witch doctor, a kindred spirit in the healing arts, had led Doc Brown to the remote island where he discovered that fabled Fountain, which had entranced explorer Ponce de Leon a century before. Doc had helped to eradicate a smallpox breakout by teaching the witch doctor how to inoculate his people, passing along an idea taught to him by an escaped slave turned sailor, the map was his payment for saving the tribe’s people. With the addition of just the right potion to the captain’s grog, it had been easy to steer him in the right direction, skirting larger islands and thus making this the first land they’d seen after their voyage across the vast Caribbean sea.
It is believed that the real mermaid is capable of carrying a beautiful tune and sings in such a way that her voice literally enchants human ears. Numerous accounts tell that, when a person became enchanted by the magical voice of real mermaids, They become completely distracted and seem to lose track of their thoughts, what they were doing at the time, and even their actions. Several large ships have actually turned around to move closer to the mystical voice of a mermaid, and sailors have walked off a pier or even jumped from their boats while under the spell of a mermaid’s beautiful song.
Pirates and other ill-meaning mariners would tie mermaids just out of reach of the water—for fear of the mermaids’ powers or in an effort to collect their tears. Doc Brown found the practice reprehensible.