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 Unholy War: The Conclusion

February 13, 2015

 

You can check out Part I (here), and Part II (here).

 

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The Final Battle

                  

It might’ve been easier to feel sympathy for Father Hinklemeyer if he’d been a nice man, which he wasn’t. He was only friendly when he was trying to solicit money for his various projects. Otherwise, he was a humorless, self-righteous person, without any patience for kids. Not even altar boys were safe from his temper. More than one of us got a tongue lashing for not looking pious enough during the elevation of the Host, or if our postures weren’t ramrod straight as we exited the church. Several times I considered quitting the altar boy business, but in truth I was afraid of Father Hinklemeyer. Besides, I’d practically defied my mother to become one.

                  

Father Hinklemeyer was notoriously short tempered while teaching catechism on Saturday mornings. There must be a secret school where they send priests and nuns to learn how to rap inattentive children’s fingers because it’s a skill many of them possess. Father Hinklemeyer’s weapon of choice was a yardstick. If he didn’t think you were pursuing your catechism diligently enough, he would silently appear from behind and let the yardstick fly. The loud whacking sound was nearly as disturbing as the pain. He caught me daydreaming on several occasions. But the time came when we were all avenged.

                  

Our champion was huge Bobby Arujio, a twelve-year-old troglodyte who already needed to shave. Father Hinklemeyer was famous for his “feet of silence,” yet they somehow betrayed him as he approached Bobby from behind. The yardstick began its swift descent, but in the blink of an eye Bobby snatched it midair. He rose from his desk and turned to face the stunned priest. The classroom was absolutely still—no one took a breath. With his hands on both ends, Bobby held the yardstick horizontally before Father Hinklemeyer’s surprised face; then he crushed it like a toothpick in a vice. A splinter of wood shot from the yardstick and imbedded in the pastor’s bald forehead. A trickle of blood oozed downward, but Father Hinklemeyer was forced to control his rage because Bobby Arujio had a Get-Out-of-Jail Card—the Arujios were Three-Percenters.

                  

The final battle between my mother and Father Hinklemeyer was rapidly approaching. Our pastor was building an enormous swimming pool on the Church lot.

                  

Bulldozers reappeared and more pear trees bit the dust. Giant earth movers arrived to remove the tremendous amount of dirt required to build an Olympic-sized pool. If Father Hinklemeyer had gone mad, there was method to it. After all, we lived in a Mecca of swimming; two-thirds of the U.S. Olympic swim team practiced in our community. The city had built a magnificent swim center and was making a fortune from kids hoping to become Olympic champions. I was a marginal swimmer with fantasies of my own about standing on a podium, receiving the gold for the hundred-meter freestyle while millions of fans cheered.  

                  

Father Hinklemeyer must have coveted all that money going to the public swim center. He probably dreamt of all those admission fees and expensive swimming lessons, so he built his pool. Unfortunately for Hinklemeyer, Saint Lawrence the Martyr pool was considered “uncool.” Kids preferred the public swim center. This issue was addressed from the pulpit in what came to be known as Hinklemeyer’s Holy Water Sermon. He announced that “good Catholics” only swim in holy water, and since the water at the public swim center wasn’t blessed, it certainly wasn’t holy.

                  

His warnings became something of a joke in the community. For a while, it was said that Catholics only swam in holier-than-thou water. Some of the clever children in the parish refused to take baths on Saturday night unless reassured the tap water was blessed, a ploy that wasn’t likely to work at my house. For a short time, Father Hinklemeyer made house calls; for a fee he’d bless the water dripping from his parishioners’ faucets.  

                  

This was the last straw for my mother. Charging people to bless water was absurd. She was convinced parishioners needed to be protected from this man, and she assigned herself the task. She launched her offensive by attacking Father Hinklemeyer’s pool. “On my father’s grave, this priest’s tyranny shall not stand!” she proclaimed in a tone evoking Henry II, with Hinklemeyer as the stand-in for Thomas Becket.           

                  

The Delgados had no problem swimming in holy water. As a matter of fact, Ricky turned into a good swimmer. As a chronic bed wetter, he might have been inspired by spending all those nights floating in pee. He even joined the high school swim team, but his aquatic pursuits were cut short when he was shipped off to Juuuuvy, which taxpayers had failed to provide with a decent swimming pool.

                  

My mother was curious how Hinklemeyer managed to construct such a large pool with limited resources; there weren’t that many Three-Percenters in the parish. Like the “Mystery of Faith” proclaimed during Mass, Father Hinklemeyer tried to keep the source of his money a mystery.

                  

I can’t positively attribute it to my mother, but around this time a rumor began circulating that public funding, not church money, had been used to complete the pool, even though it had been built on private property. She never explained herself, and acted uncharacteristically secretive. She’d taken to shooing me out of the kitchen while she made hushed phone calls, most during working hours, some late at night.

                  

I later learned an investigation was demanded by a taxpayer association. Results of the investigation were never made public, but it was assumed Hinklemeyer had coerced the all-Catholic members of the city council to subsidize the pool. I can only rationalize that the city’s expectation was that anyone could swim there, not just Catholics. In his defense, Father Hinklemeyer was too good a businessman to actually forbade non-Catholics from using the pool, he simply charged them an exorbitant fee to use it.

                  

Local newspapers got wind of the story. I’m all but certain calls to the newspapers could be traced to our phone. A scandal ensued when Father Hinklemeyer’s Holy Pool Water sermon was printed in the paper. Throughout all this, my mother wore an inscrutable smile on her face.  

                  

The fight ended not with a bang but with a whimper. Father Hinklemeyer informed the parish he was leaving on sabbatical. He was gone a long time.

                  

Several weeks after Father Hinklemeyer departed, my mother lifted the pool ban. David and I were enjoying one of the last warm days of summer at the Saint Lawrence pool. Suddenly, I saw something so outrageous I thought the heavy chlorine in the water had clouded my vision. My mother, stylishly outfitted in a black swimsuit, was heading toward the pool. After climbing up to the diving board she paused, and from this elevated position she gazed at all below her. Then, looking like Esther Williams—Hollywood’s Queen of Wetness—she plunged through time and space, disappearing beneath the surface of the water.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

25 Comments
She succeeded in her quest to get rid of him, didn't she? I wonder if he's ever recovered from the incident. And blessed tap water? Really?
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on February 13, 2015
A "don't get mad, get even A "don't get mad, get even" kinda lady! Love it!
By: Cranky on February 13, 2015
Good for your mother for throwing out the trash.
By: Daniel LaFrance on February 13, 2015
The problem with a swimming pool at the church was that you could never go underwater. Everyone had to walk on top. Oh, dear going to Hell for that one. At least I'll see Dad.
By: Al Penwasser on February 13, 2015
What a great story- so well told! Enjoyed all of it~
By: Shelly on February 13, 2015
Wow, quite an amazing baptism! I grew up Catholic, and the worst I got was a scowl from Sister Mallory for annoying the girls.
By: Tom Sightings on February 13, 2015
to the victor goes the splash!
By: TexWisGirl on February 13, 2015
You are a great writer--well done!!
By: fishducky on February 13, 2015
That is hilarious! I'm so glad your mother got the last laugh plus a nice dip in the pool, and the tyrannical priest got his tush kicked - all the way to another parish. And I'd have loved to have seen Bobby Arujio break the yardstick! I hope you and Mrs. C have a wonderful Valentine's Day! :)
By: Lexa Cain on February 13, 2015
What a delightful story Stephen and I love a happy ending when the evil get their just rewards. Your Mom was quite the lady to be reckoned with. Be proud.
By: Akansas Patti on February 13, 2015
The best revenge was swimming in his pool and making it her own!
By: mimi on February 13, 2015
What a wicked web he wove. All for naught, as your mom dove.
By: Val on February 13, 2015
What a great story! I had to laugh at "blessed tap water" - it reminded me of this joke: How do you make holy water? - You boil the hell out of it.
By: Pixel Peeper on February 13, 2015
Thanks for a great series and a terrific story! Your mom was a force to be reckoned and never trifled with.
By: Tom Cochrun on February 13, 2015
Did that shyster ever dare show his face in the neighborhood again?
By: Catalyst on February 13, 2015
I'm sure much of this could be true in some places. I was waiting for something to happen to the priest. I didn't think it would be as low key as him just disappearing.
By: red on February 13, 2015
Oh, Esther Williams (Mom), I love you. You scare me, but I love you. I like Bobby, too. I think Father H. was related to my mother, but we aren't Catholics. I bet he wasn't a real Catholic. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on February 13, 2015
I just cannot' 'fathom' how he got a way with it until your Mom stood up to him. Good for her!
By: John on February 14, 2015
Oh man your mother was (and is) quite a piece of work!
By: The Bug on February 14, 2015
Bwa hahah that priest met his maker... looking a lot like your mom! Gotta love her revenge!
By: Kathe W. on February 14, 2015
I can't even imagine a church with a swimming pool in the back yard! Your mom got the last word and sealed it with a swan dive into the pool. Your mom sounds like a hoot!
By: Coloring Outside the Lines on February 14, 2015
You are very good at the twists and turns of religious coming of age stories. The Catholic Church is certainly going to be less masochistic, less pedophilia oriented and more gay with this new Pope.
By: Tabor on February 14, 2015
I've never understood the yawning gulf between the Church's teachings and the behavior of its appointed representatives. Loved how your mom stood up to this petty bully.
By: Botanist on February 14, 2015
Sounds like the Father had it coming to him. I'm sure your mother thought "Good riddance".
By: Scott Park on February 16, 2015
great story. we need more women like your mother.
By: Ellen Abbott on February 17, 2015

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