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

Prologue

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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A Wonderful Mother-in-Law

December 19, 2016

It’s strange, but as my mother fails my thoughts turn not only to her, but to someone who passed away from emphysema in 2000.

 

Joan, my mother-in-law, was a wonderful woman who accepted me into the family with open arms. In addition to her many abilities, she was a terrific golfer and master Bridge player, and she was an amateur painter, always claiming with a smile that what she lacked in talent she made up for in enthusiasm. Often, while working on a painting, she’d call and request help. We lived around the corner and when I showed up she’d hand me a martini and paintbrush and together we’d finish her painting.

 

When I first started dating the future Mrs. Chatterbox, I noticed the portrait hanging above her parents’ fireplace. Mrs. C. was an Army brat and this portrait of her mother was painted in Germany when the family was stationed outside Munich during the 60s. As the story goes, Mrs. C’s dad won the portrait as a door prize during a holiday celebration at the Officers’ Club.

 

A few weeks after the event, a white-haired artist arrived to take photographic reference shots from which he created this portrait. I remember staring at it and marveling at its unbroken brushstrokes and polished technique, and I was fascinated by the changes the artist made; Mrs. C’s mother wore a black dress which the artist painted blue, and she wore a fussy rhinestone necklace which the artist felt detracted from the face. He added pearls instead. I think he made the right decision. We didn’t have original art in my home when I was growing up and this portrait opened my eyes to the capabilities of oil paints.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This damaged image is all that remains of the reference photographs used for the portrait.

 

        

When I became an artist, I painted most everyone in the family, but somehow I never got around to painting Mrs. C’s mother. Eventually, she started introducing me as the son-in-law who’d painted everyone in the family except her. Finally, I stretched a canvas and got down to work.

        

At the time, I was under the influence of Mary Cassatt and the Impressionists and my portraits retained a sketchy quality (much of the bare canvas remains visible) adding to a more spontaneous, less “formal” appearance. Mrs. C’s mother loved her garden and was pleased with the painting, hanging it opposite the portrait painted when she was much younger.

 

 

 

My portrait of Joan

 

        

Mrs. C’s mother was a wonderful person and I was glad my efforts pleased her, and I was glad when she stopped introducing me as the son-in-law who’d painted everyone in the family except her.

        

Did you get along with your in-laws?

 

 

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Comments

28 Comments
Joan looks like a great person to know (and drink martinis with!) And yes, I did get along fine with my in-laws.
By: Catalyst on December 19, 2016
Yes indeedy- I loved all my in-laws- even if they sometimes acted like outlaws!
By: Kathe W. on December 19, 2016
Lovely portraits, both. We had a large portrait of my (long deceased) grandfather in our house along the lines of the first you show. I prefer the more relaxed feel of your work. I had a great MIL, rest her soul. :)
By: Kelly on December 19, 2016
I love both portraits but definitely prefer yours. I also was blessed with great in-laws.
By: Mitchell is Moving on December 19, 2016
Sounds like a great person. She definitely knows the right way to ask for help!
By: Botanist on December 19, 2016
You did a wonderful job with the painting. I'm fortunate my wife and I both get along with our in-laws.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on December 19, 2016
She sounds like a terrific lady and your portrait shows her to have been wise and humorous.
By: Jenny W on December 19, 2016
I love your portrait of your mother-in-law. For many years, I did not have a good relationship with my in-laws. X told me repeatedly that they hated me. When I called to tell them that he was mentally ill and we were getting divorced, they were so understanding and sympathetic that I realized their son had wanted me to believe they hated me. They didn't. My father-in-law died a few years ago. I'm still in touch with my mother-in-law, who continues to be very kind to me. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on December 19, 2016
Your MIL was beautiful. And both portraits reflect that.
By: jenny_o on December 19, 2016
I certainly like your portrait better as it catches more of how you describe Joan as a warm supportive happy , calm person. My mother-in-law died long before I met my wife.
By: red Kline on December 19, 2016
I tolerated my father-in-law but loved my Mother-in-law. I wish we had had the time to be closer. I am amazed at how artists capture the warmth of the person behind the painting.
By: Tabor on December 19, 2016
Your portrait looks like a woman anyone would want to spend time with. Such a kind and beautiful face. I adored my in-laws and they me. They always took my side and were fun to be around. I missed them and wish I had gotten custody of them in the divorce.
By: Arkansas Patti on December 19, 2016
Bud & I started dating shortly before I was 16 & married when I was 20. We became engaged when I was 18. Many mothers feel that no girl is good enough for their son. We spent many nights at his folkâs house watching TV. Audrey would say, âYou shouldnât just sit around the house. Why donât you go to a movieâgo bowlingâget married?â Do you remember hope chests? She gave me a gift for my hope chest every month that we were engaged. She gave me almost all of our sterling silver & I have service for 12.
By: fishducky on December 19, 2016
None of my in-laws ever give me martinis. Or anything really.
By: PT Dilloway on December 19, 2016
Sweetie's parents were already long gone when i met him, so i don't know if i would have gotten along with my in-laws. What i do know is that Sweetie's brother, Brother-in-Law, The Mouth, has more than made up for it.
By: messymimi on December 19, 2016
These 2 portraits are lovely and the one you painted shows her warmth come through. Yes, I did get along with my in-laws and, even after the divorce, my mom in law called me her 2nd daughter. This always touched my heart and I will always remember that
By: Birgit on December 19, 2016
I'll never know. They had both passed away before I met Hick.
By: Val on December 19, 2016
WIth in-laws that don't drink, they'd be no martinis. Great paintings. WHen I left my last position, there was a portrait painted of me (I have a reproduction of it, but the original remains there). The woman who painted it made about 300 photos of me, from all sizes, different expressions, different light, some with just hands, etc. I was pretty happy with who it came out.
By: Sage on December 19, 2016
I love your portrait of your mother-in-law and that you got the chance to paint her. I love my in-laws - I always joke that if my husband and I were to get divorced, I'd want to get his parents, and he'd get the house.
By: Pixel Peeper on December 19, 2016
Your portrait carries a relaxed dignity. I got along well with my in-laws. Lana's father Kenneth was in the newspaper business and had an extraordinary curiosity and an ease in meeting people. Lana's mother was a talented woman and master gardener. She never seemed anything but happy that I was with her daughter.
By: Tom Cochrun on December 19, 2016
Interesting differences in styles. You do the hands very well, I've heard that was the most difficult (probably from you.)
By: cranky on December 20, 2016
It's sad, but neither one of us knew our mothers-in-law (both tragically died from cancer in the early 80s). And Mrs. Penwasser's father-in-law was a POS who died in 2010. However, MY FIL (her dad) is a wonderful man. Therefore, it's sad to see him decline (he turned 88 last month). I'll miss him terribly.
By: Al Penwasser on December 20, 2016
Those are both remarkable portraits. The one when she was younger looks ethereal but I think I like the one you did even Moore.
By: Rick Watson on December 20, 2016
We shared the same Motherin-law and I concur with all the wonderful attributes you have acknowledged. The painting you did is a perfect reminder of the warm, loving woman she was. I especially love her hands in the portrait. I can just see her and remember her humor, love and warmth. You did her justice Steve! I know you miss her as I do. What a wonderful thing we've shared!
By: Laurie on December 20, 2016
Stephen, these paintings are fabulous. The artist certainly captured and enhanced your mother-in-laws beauty. The painting of her that you did looks so much like the style of the portrait Ray did of his parents. I so enjoyed this post.
By: Bee BB Bee on December 20, 2016
I'm glad that your version captured her with a little smile. She seems lovely but a bit cold in the other.
By: Lexa Cain on December 20, 2016
Both paintings are wonderful and very much resemble the photograph. I think that's pretty amazing that you and your MIL had the artistic connection you did.
By: Robyn Engel on December 20, 2016
I particularly appreciate the manner in which you painted your mother in-law. It reveals charm and a wealth of character.
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 21, 2016

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