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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An Arrangement in Amsterdam

April 1, 2016

Travel can be strenuous and taxing on the body, and Mrs. Chatterbox and I often share colds and other maladies while traveling. In 1976 on our first trip to Europe, I contracted the flu while in Dijon, France, and it was a nightmare. Dijon is the mustard capital of Europe and has been producing mustard for hundreds of years. Believe me, when you’re sick, your head is spinning and your nether region is leaking like the Exxon Valdez, the last place you want to be is in a city where everything, including every wall in your hotel room, is painted mustard yellow. But this isn’t a post about illness—it’s spring and this post is about flowers.

 

After regaining my health in Dijon, we loaded our backpacks and headed for the Netherlands. By the time we landed in Amsterdam, the flu had jumped from me to Mrs. Chatterbox. She was wheezing terribly when we climbed three flights of unbelievably steep stairs and checked into a pensione. Dutch houses were once taxed by width so buildings were narrow with lots of stairs. I explored the city on my own for the next few days while she recovered.

 

Amsterdam was alive with rainbow colors. It was spring and tulip season was in full swing. The Dutch go insane over the tulips for sale nearly everywhere. I figured a colorful bouquet would cheer up Mrs. C. Unfortunately, the tulips were only tight buds. We were leaving for Germany in two days and the tulips wouldn’t have time to open.

 

 

 

 

Back then, we were backpacking through Europe with our tattered copy of Frommer’s  Europe on Ten Dollars a Day and were already over budget for the day, but a splurge to cheer up Mrs. Chatterbox was money well spent.

           

I hunted everywhere for flowers that had already bloomed and finally came upon a vendor selling long-stem roses. They cost $20.00—a two-day budget—but I purchased them and carried them back to our pensione to surprise Mrs. Chatterbox. On the stair landing, I was met by the nice owner of the pensione. Everyone in Amsterdam seemed to speak English. When she complimented my long-stem roses I informed her that they were for my sick wife who needed cheering up.

           

“Let me fix them into a nice arrangement,” she said.

           

How nice since I didn’t have scissors or a container for them. I left the roses in her care and went upstairs to check on Mrs. C.

           

When the owner knocked on our door with the flowers I was shocked: she’d cut off all the leaves and stems, reducing my long-stem roses to a tiny bouquet, not much more than a clump of boutonnieres.

 

Her eyebrows raised at my expression. “You don’t like the way I cut them?” she asked.

 

I smiled. There wasn’t much I could do; it wasn’t possible to glue the roses back together. “You did a fine job. I just thought the arrangement would look a little bigger.”

 

She smiled at me in a motherly fashion. “Trust me. Your wife will appreciate having the thorns, stems and leaves removed.”

 

Mrs. C. was thrilled with the roses and never uttered a complaint about the cost or tiny size of the bouquet. Two days later we were on the road again, headed toward Munich. Mrs. C. couldn’t bear leaving the flowers behind and brought them with us onto the train. They looked like hell by the time we rolled into Munich, but our train cabin smelled wonderful.

 

I hope everyone is having a wonderful spring.

 

 

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Comments

32 Comments
It is interesting to learn how different countries do flowers. In Munich, for instance they do lovely hand bouquets with a doily framing the flowers. In Germany, unlike the UK and America, it is considered a 'no-no-' to present someone with flowers with the paper around them still in tact!
By: The Broad on April 1, 2016
It was the thought. Right? I think you handled it well. R
By: Rick Watson on April 1, 2016
You're both true romantics, then and now.
By: Daniel LaFrance on April 1, 2016
I can see removing the thorns, but the leaves? Hey, if your wife enjoyed them, that's what matters.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on April 1, 2016
I LOVED Amsterdam. One of my memories include the time a barmaid kicked the crap out of me in "Connect Four." I could NEVER beat her. It may have something to do with the fact that she was a barmaid. In a bar.
By: Al Penwasser on April 1, 2016
Mt wife just wrote about her trip to Amsterdam today. I hope to get to see the city sometime.
By: Brett Minor (Transformed Nonconformist) on April 1, 2016
so sweet.
By: TexWisGirl on April 1, 2016
she got travel-size. :)
By: TexWisGirl on April 1, 2016
You are a sweetheart and I am sure she was really cheered as flowers like music can change a whole mood instantly.
By: Tabor on April 1, 2016
Amsterdam is certainly a city we would love to visit. Alas, I am not sophisticated enough to appreciate Dijon Mustard as much as I [ probably should. It's French's Classic Yellow all the way for me.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on April 1, 2016
Did I read that right??? The Dutch go insane?? Just kidding...my husband is Dutch and we try to get to Amsterdam every few years. It is one of our most favorite places in the world..although there are a few others that I dearly love as well. That was sweet of you to buy Mrs. Chatterbox the roses. I suppose the Dutch aren't quite as excited about roses as we Americans are.
By: Cheryl P. on April 1, 2016
It was probably good Mrs. C didn't see them before they were "arranged." You were a neat guy to think of her in the first place but also for not getting upset.
By: Arkansas Patti on April 1, 2016
Your story (for some reason) reminded me of Morticia Addams from "The Addams Family" that used to snip off the flowers and just keep the thorns.
By: Michael Offutt on April 1, 2016
I thought you were going to tells us that Mrs. C was allergic to roses!
By: Catalyst on April 1, 2016
What an interesting story! The more I learn about other cultures, the more I realize how different they all are. It was a lovely gesture to give your wife flowers. I like how you thought with your heart and not your wallet. ;)
By: Lexa Cain on April 1, 2016
I guess either way, you were in Dutch! Interesting about the houses, unintended consequences of taxes, unless the dutch just don;t like wide houses.
By: cranky on April 1, 2016
A sweet story. Also a variation on the concept of "going Dutch." Amsterdam is an extraordinary city and seeing it in Tulip season is indelible.
By: Tom Cochrun on April 1, 2016
Sorry I'm in the States and have been feeling really sick for five days now and this damn iPad likes to be as difficult as possible too!
By: on April 1, 2016
You tried so hard and lost. there some days like that.
By: red Kline on April 1, 2016
Nice story. I, too, traveled with Frommer's guide, but in 1969 it was titled Europe on $10 a Day. Not sure when he had to change the title, but prices were beginning to rise and it was sometimes hard to do a day on only $5. "The Olden Days," I guess.
By: Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma on April 1, 2016
Shr probably still fondly remembers how much you tried to cheer her up.
By: messymimi on April 1, 2016
"...every wall in your hotel room is painted mustard yellow..." Wait - was that your idea of sneaking in an April Fool's joke?
By: Pixel Peeper on April 1, 2016
Well, thank goodness you weren't staying in Poupon!
By: Val on April 1, 2016
Nothing sucks more than to be sick in Europe..been there and done that. No matter what happened, flowers are always a way to a woman's heart. That was very sweet of you to do. I also was surprised at how well the people from Amsterdam could speak English so well.
By: Birgit on April 1, 2016
A lovely story, Stephen, and I'm glad I closed out my blogging rounds by visiting your site. You always seem to bring a smile to my face with your anecdotes. Thank you, and I hope your spring is going well also.
By: Mr. Shife on April 1, 2016
I fell ill in Europe, but was surprised that doctors and pharmacists had me back on my feet quickly! This was a fascinating story about the unexpected floral arrangement. I too agree that you were gracious with your reply to the lady who cut the flowers.
By: MICHAEL MANNING on April 2, 2016
ah well, sometimes what we think we want is not what we should have. the smaller 'bouquet' allowed the Mrs. to take them with.
By: Ellen Abbott on April 3, 2016
I am glad that she liked them or at least appreciated your efforts to cheer her up
By: sage on April 3, 2016
Well, it was a lovely thought and even if it wasn't what you envisaged it sounds like it had the right effect. Being ill while traveling is not fun!
By: Botanist on April 3, 2016
I'm always attracted to stories about Amsterdam. Strange that - I can't for the life of me understand why!
By: Bryan Jones on April 4, 2016
I for one would prefer my roses without thorns, so I tend to agree with the lady who arranged them!
By: jenny_o on April 5, 2016
Oh, that would not have been fun... I guess that if Mrs. Chatterbox liked them, that was the point of the matter, she hadn't seen them before, didn't know that anything was not as you'd planned, so all is well, right? :) Cat
By: Cat on April 19, 2016

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