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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The Running of the Grunion

December 14, 2012

Update: Grandma Chatterbox is still in the hospital after her surgery and will probably be released in a day or two. I’ve been busy trying to arrange home care for her and haven’t been able to write or respond to many of your posts. If you haven’t heard from me please know that I look forward to catching up with my reading as soon as I can. In the meantime, here’s one of my favorite posts from last year....


Christmas is a time of great expectations, and most of us set the bar far too high. At this time of year I always think of grunion.


For those of you in the dark about grunion, they are a small slender fish that ride the waves onto Southern California beaches in April and May to lay their eggs in the sand. Their arrival is usually as predictable as clockwork and they arrive in the thousands, shimmering in the moonlight like puddles of liquid mercury. They make good eating, I’m told, but by law they can only be caught by hand, and if you have a fishing license. They’re slippery as Jell-O and tend to wiggle through your fingers.


Years ago Mrs. Chatterbox and I were living on the beach in Oxnard, California. I heard on the radio that the grunion would be running that evening between ten and midnight. Until then I’d never heard of these fish, but it didn’t take long for my enthusiasm to build. By sunset I was sitting in a folding chair waiting for an inspiring spectacle of nature, along with a few hundred other people.


It was too brisk for Mrs. Chatterbox to venture out but I enjoyed the carnival-like atmosphere of other Grunion Greeters, as we called ourselves. Beer and wine flowed freely as we waited…and waited…and waited. At midnight the crowd unleashed a torrent of hoots and boos and it began to sink in that the grunion were going to be a no-show. The crowd dispersed. I was made of sterner stuff and decided to hang around for awhile. I was a believer, and like a kid struggling to stay up for a glimpse of Santa I wrapped my arms around myself, snuggled deep in my folding chair and waited.


At one a.m. Mrs. Chatterbox woke me with a tap on my shoulder. “It’s time to come inside,” she said. “The grunion aren’t coming tonight.”


“I’m not willing to give up,” I said. “I’ll give them another hour.”


“Suit yourself, but you’re on your own. I’m going back to bed.”


I watched as her silhouette grew smaller and smaller until it disappeared.


I promptly fell asleep again, and dreamt about waves of grunion riding into shore for their reproductive orgy, their glinting bodies painting the sand the color of mercury. I woke aching from sitting for so long. My watch read three a.m. It was time to go home to my bed. I stood and stretched. It was a beautiful night and I inhaled the salty air one last time before heading inside. That was when I saw it. Something shiny in the water.


The wave deposited it onto the shore where it flipped about like a Mexican jumping bean. It was a grunion. Just one. It reflected the glow of the moon and was as beautiful as a custom-crafted piece of Mexican jewelry. I crouched down to get a closer look and watched as it burrowed into the sand to lay its eggs. It was hard to imagine a brain, probably no bigger than a grain of rice, compelling this exhausting action. Time and again the surf washed over that grunion until she freed herself from the sand and allowed the waves to pull her back into the sea.


I was left alone to contemplate the beauty of what I’d just seen. It seemed to me that I’d received a special gift, and I couldn’t help wondering if this experience would have felt as intense had it been shared with thousands of these fish, and witnessed by hundreds of bystanders instead of just me. I doubt it, and tend to think this experience was for me and me alone.  


On Christmas I think about that greatest of all expectations—the arrival of a warrior Messiah who was supposed to lead an invincible army. This Messiah was going to paint the ground red with enemy blood, liberate his brethren and make them a great people. Well, that Messiah never came; what we got was a baby born in a stable because there was nowhere else to go, a single life as insignificant as a single grunion, flailing in the surf to bring forth the promise of new life. And salvation.


At Christmas I’m reminded not to set the bar too high. The season doesn’t need to make us leap from our chairs as if Handel’s Messiah were being played for the first time. It’s often the tiny miracles that have the best chance of spawning in the human heart.


This post is being submitted to my friends at Dude Write.



One of your best...that should be a Sunday sermon...maybe I would stay awake!
By: cranky on December 14, 2012
I would have waited up with you!!
By: fishducky on December 14, 2012
There's no doubt that moment would have been far less special if thousands of other people had been around as well. It's often the little things that make the difference. I hope all goes well with Grandma Chatterbox.
By: PT Dilloway on December 14, 2012
Well done. Really captures the spirit of Christmas which is os overwhelmed by everything else these days.
By: Tabor on December 14, 2012
Of all of your wonderful posts, this is one of my very favorite.
By: Shelly on December 14, 2012
You should send this story to the CEO of Wal-Mart to get them to remember what the real reason for the season is and not just to sell shit on Black Friday.
By: Michael Offutt on December 14, 2012
This will become my favorite, too. Nicely done!
By: Eva Gallant on December 14, 2012
I'm hoping you get your mom squared away. Hubby's mom is 92 so we can relate to the issues that arise. What a delightful post. I'm glad you reposted it. It made me smile. You're showing up in my reader just fine now. Have a terrific day. :)
By: Comedy Plus on December 14, 2012
ah Stephen- this is such a beautiful write....one of your best!
By: Kathe W. on December 14, 2012
Lovely. You're such a good writer. I'm jealous, and being jealous makes me very pissy. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 14, 2012
Here I was thinking there can't be anything else to make me cry today and BAM I click on over to read this wonderful post! Hoping Grandma is doing well :)
By: Hey Monkey Butt on December 14, 2012
What a lovely post. You are right, of course. We over spend, we over do, we overwhelm ourselves seeking a perfect Christmas. I think for a nice Christmas (nothing is perfect) simpler is better. Glad your mother is on the mend. Hope you get it all worked out on home care for her. Good luck with all of that.
By: Cheryl P. on December 14, 2012
thank you so much for this. and given the heartbreaking news coming out of CT today we need the seed of hope of a tiny miracle taking hold in human hearts and growing to something healing.
By: lime on December 14, 2012
She arrived just for you. Absolutely beautiful post! Glad Grandma Chatterbox is doing well. Merry Christmas!
By: Rita McGregor on December 14, 2012
We lived down there for years and never made it out for a run, nice that you could catch view of one.
By: joeinvegas on December 14, 2012
A beautifully written and inspirational piece. It is marvelously told and full of light. Thanks.
By: Tom Cochrun on December 14, 2012
Very well put, your stories do inspire. Your mother will continue to be in my prayers.
By: messymimi on December 14, 2012
This post is full of humanity and good advice for a season often fraught with stress and high expectations. Loved it. Best of everything for your grandmother's health.
By: mindy on December 15, 2012
Sending healing thoughts and prayers for Grandma Chatterbox, Stephen.
By: Michael Manning on December 15, 2012
It's all about faith, isn't it? :) S
By: scott park on December 15, 2012
I love this! Thinking good thoughts for Grandma Chatterbox!
By: Mitchell is Moving on December 15, 2012
Inspirational story, superbly told (as always).
By: Bryan Jones on December 16, 2012
Hi Stephen, I hope that you get all of the issues with Grandma Chatterbox dealt with, with the least amount of stress there can be. This was a really nice story Stephen. Sometimes we overlook the important thing to try to see the grand spectacle that we are promised. Glad that you persevered to catch the moment. Just a side note, your mention of the grunion run, triggered an old memory of an episode of Three's Company that I watched as a kid. I can't remember the plot (not that they ever had much of a plot!) but all I remember is some wacky shenanigans revolving around the grunion. Funny how that happens.
By: Ken on December 17, 2012
Beautifully said, sir. Merry Christmas!
By: Daniel Nest on December 17, 2012
Beautifully written CC. I wish G-ma Chatterbox a speedy recovery.
By: Michael on December 18, 2012
I am continually in awe of your life experiences. This is a great story and very well told.
By: Who Woulda Thought? on December 18, 2012
Awe inspiring stuff. It built slowly and unleashed at the end. WG
By: WilyGuy on December 18, 2012

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