Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste


Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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Switching Nationalities

December 31, 2012

My mother isn’t very happy with me since I refused to buy her a tube of hair removal cream so she could impress the young surgeon who operated on her a few weeks before Christmas. I visited her every day in the hospital and it didn’t bother her that she was starting to resemble Joseph Stalin, but enter good looking Dr. Fernando, who’s half my age, and Mom suddenly wants to look like Angelina Jolie.


Mom is depressed now that she’s out of the hospital, listless and lacking her usual piss and vinegar. I think she misses all the attention. Yesterday I decided to light a fire under her butt. She doesn’t read or do crossword puzzles to keep her brain active, so every now and then I engage her in a hot topic of to fire up her mental furnace. More often than not I get burned for my effort. I visited her yesterday and our conversation went something like this:


“Mom, I’ve decided not to be Portuguese anymore.”


“What are you talking about?”


“I’ve decided that it would be fun to be something else.”


She perked up on her corner of the couch. “Is this because of that big fight we had over who invented cioppino? It was the Portuguese!”


Mom is excessively proud of her heritage, attributing to Portugal all sorts of ridiculous accomplishments, such as the invention of cioppino—invented in San Francisco by Italian fisherman in the late 1800s. Telling mom that Italians invented this famous fish stew, or questioning anything having to do with Portugal, usually sparks a heated conversation.


“I don’t understand why you claim we’re Portuguese in the first place. Grandma wasn’t born in Portugal, was she?”


Mom looked down her sharp nose at me, the hairs on her upper lip bristling like a walrus. “You know perfectly well that your grandmother was born in Lowell, Massachusetts.”


“What about Grandpa?” My grandfather died when Mom was nine.


“Your grandpa was born on Terceira Island in the Azores, which is governed by Portugal.”


The Azores have been autonomous for years but I let it slide. “The Azores are in the middle of the Atlantic, a thousand miles from Portugal. Do any of our relatives actually come from Portugal?”


“Portugal owns the Azores; that makes us Portuguese.”


“Britain once owned the Bahamas, but people born there are referred to as Bahamian, not British.”


“It isn’t the same thing.”


“Of course it’s the same thing! The fact is we don’t know anyone who’s even set foot on the Portuguese mainland.”


“What’s your point?”


“My point is this: we aren’t Portuguese at all; we’re Azorean.”


“WE ARE NOT! And you should be ashamed of discarding your heritage so thoughtlessly.”


Actually, I’d given it a lot of thought. Being Azorean sounded much more intriguing than being Portuguese. I’ve seen the movie Amistad and the Portuguese did some really bad shit. “I’ve made up my mind; I’m no longer Portuguese. From now on I’m Azorean.”


What a good son I am, I thought. Not everyone would go this far just to keep their mother’s mind alert and active. This conversation would now travel the tracks I’d laid down; my words would be chum in the water and my mother would attack like a great white, teeth flashing, even though her teeth were in a glass on her nightstand.


To my surprise she refused to take the bait. Instead, she fondled the hairs on her upper lip and snapped, “I have a follow-up exam with Dr. Fernando on Friday, and I still need you to fetch me that hair removal cream.”


I’d failed to work my mother out of her malaise. But I’ve got a feeling handsome Dr. Fernando will stir Mom more than I ever could. I wonder if he’s Portuguese.


Happy New Year



Hey, why not? I guess I'm Scottish, then. I mean, I did trace one lone ancestor back there, and as I recall they assissinated him. Still, it counts, right? ;) Wouldn't it be a hoot if the Good Doctor really was Azorean.? ;) S
By: scott park on December 31, 2012
I adore the "lacking her usual piss and vinegar" quote - I will pinch that one, if it's OK with you? Your vivid observations makes me feel like I know your mother very well. And don't be mean, buy her a lady-shave; one is never too old to flirt. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be Portuguese; Eusebio was one of the greatest footballers (soccer players) on the planet. Happy New Year.
By: Bryan Jones on December 31, 2012
I suppose, since my maternal grandfather was born in Tegucigalpa, I could say I'm Honduran?
By: Uncle Skip on December 31, 2012
Just get the poor woman the cream and let her dream. Mindy
By: mindy on December 31, 2012
I like your mom. She's got spunk and now she's got the hots for Dr. Fernando. You go girl. Have a terrific day. :)
By: Comedy Plus on December 31, 2012
You are a great son and a great man. I look forward to reading more of your stories in 2013.
By: Michael Offutt on December 31, 2012
By: fishducky on December 31, 2012
My mother-in-law was a certain flirt when she went into the rest home. She had been a nice little old lady prior to the hip surgery and then during her therapy she flirted shamelessly with the doctor. He was cute. I think in the name and power of that great habit...sex...you should call in a traveling beauty parlor and get her so dolled up that even you will admit she has style. I hope my son does the same, I think I will put that in a letter somewhere right now.
By: Tabor on December 31, 2012
i used to know a guy from the azores and he never called himself portuguese. sounds like you may need to up your game if you want to light your mom's fire. who were portugal's historical enemies? maybe the dutch and spanish in the days of the explorers/colonizers? declare yourself spanish or dutch....or just buy some ciopppino for mom...
By: lime on December 31, 2012
I have you pegged. You ENJOY arguing with your mother. My son loves pissing me off. The only thing one of us has to mention is The Hurricane's college graduation and Judith Butler and we're off and running. The two of you should get together, as long as I don't have to hang out with your mom.And for God's sake, just get the woman the hair crap. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 31, 2012
yes, Stephen, get the hair stuff for your mum. if she's looking forward to her appointment all is not lost. i like your mum. she's feisty. wishing you and your family a very happy new year and i hope 2013 is a good year for us all
By: Fran on December 31, 2012
The only person I've seen on TV who claims to be Portuguese is Emeril Lagasse. He looks pretty hairy to me. I might have to side with your mom unless I see a hirsute Azorean.
By: Val on December 31, 2012
Every woman should feel good about how she looks. Make her New Year, get the cream. Your talk with her reminded me of the family named Fontaine who were convinced they were of French descent. Looked into it, and found out their ancestor came through Ellis Island and his name was VanDane, which is Dutch! Through the accent, the immigration worker wrote Fontaine, and it was easier to change the name than the papers.
By: messymimi on December 31, 2012
Ooh, you're a brat! But a good son, anyway :) But why won't you get her the hair removal cream? Or maybe you could take her to get her face waxed? That would liven her up, I'm sure :) Have a happy and blessed new year!
By: Kianwi on December 31, 2012
There's nothing better than a good argument so you might as well help your mom's brain out at the same time.
By: Jeff Laws on December 31, 2012
Oh, Stephen, this is spectacular! I just wish your mother could appreciate it as much as I can. Happy New Year, compadre!
By: Bruce/Catalyst on December 31, 2012
You certainly have a knack for keeping yourself from falling into depression. You don't even need crossword puzzles. Happy New Year to you.
By: Red on December 31, 2012
Not to be a downer, but depression can become an issue after surgery. You may want to watch this or speak to her doctor if she is not her usual self. You do want her to get her piss and vinegar back, don'tcha? And yes, just get her the cream. I promise, nobody will call for a price check!
By: Pixel Peeper on December 31, 2012
You are very funny. I love the Joseph Stalin reference. Have a wonderful New Year, Stephen. I linked to you in my blog post; you've been one of my most loyal, and I appreciate it. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on December 31, 2012
Stephen- get her the cream plus a visiting beautician- she'll love the attention. And no matter how old you are you still feel fire in the belly. Humor her! and A Big Happy New Year to all!
By: Kathe W. on January 1, 2013
Azorean, eh? Well, why not. But add my vote for getting her the hair removal cream. When a woman still wants to look good for her public, she hasn't given up hope.
By: BLissed-Out Grandma on January 1, 2013
A great piece. A terrific exercise there for your mom, to get her charged up, but I think you are right. Dr Fernando is likely to have a higher amperage for her.
By: tom cochrun on January 1, 2013
Oh, my. I think perhaps you might get the cream for your mom, then check if the doc is perhaps of Portuguese persuasion. Or just tell her you are Gaelic next week. (However, pronounce it clearly, or you will have a totally different discussion on your hands!)
By: Cat on January 1, 2013
my uncle claims to be Welsh, despite all the evidence to the contrary - i think we had a welsh ancestor some generations back, so on that ground i'm going to be a viking from now on
By: don\'t feed the pixies on January 2, 2013
I shall claim to be Czech. I'm thinking that if I ever need to go into hiding, there are plenty of people who wouldn't mind caching a small Czech. Pearl
By: Pearl on January 2, 2013
What a fun post today and some great fired up comments! Definitely get her the cream, and tell her your French! (Like me!)
By: Eva Gallant on January 2, 2013
I don't for one moment believe that you neglected to get her the cream,
By: Hilary on January 4, 2013
Good gracious, get her the cream and let her dream. LOL By the way, the San Diego zoo just acquired an adorable baby panda who snacks, cuddles then pees on himself. Enjoy your New Year you Azorean you.
By: Venita Louise on January 10, 2013
A belated Happy New Year to you, Stephen!!! Always an interesting post.
By: Michael Manning on January 15, 2013

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