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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Cake Fight

November 15, 2013

I’m often asked if my childhood stories are factual and I always maintain they are. But I’ve withheld this tale until now because part of it is made up, a small but significant part. For those of you who can’t figure out where I let my imagination wander, I’ll reveal the fictional element at the conclusion.

 

In 1963 The Fights aired on Saturday nights. Any male worth his salt watched them. It didn’t matter that there was only one fight, the match up was always referred to as “The Fights.” At eleven, I wasn’t particularly interested in an event that highlighted how ill-prepared I was to defend myself on a playground. I only sat through it because Jackie Gleason came on afterward. One time a boxing match was so short that when my Grandpa returned from fetching a beer during the first round, it was already over. He couldn’t have ranted more if the heavyweight champ had burst through his TV screen and beat the crap out of him personally. Grandpa claimed the fight was rigged and threatened to leave the country if such a thing happened again. I don’t recall Grandma encouraging him to stay.

    

During those rare occasions when The Fights weren’t scheduled and Dad had convinced our mother to go out, my brother David and I spent Saturday nights at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. This was my step-grandpa; my mother’s father fell off of a church steeple he’d been dared to climb back when Mom was my age.

    

Both of my grandparents were blessed with a marvelous disease, an affliction that required them to have candy (Hershey chocolate bars) scattered throughout the house. Both were diabetics, and Grandma explained that the candy was needed when their blood sugar dropped below a certain level. I was elated to find out there was a disease that compelled you to eat chocolate, but my desire to acquire it lessened somewhat whenever I opened their refrigerator and spotted the chilled insulin needles.

    

Unlike my mother, who read everything except recipes, Grandma loved to cook. Her specialties did little to curtail her diabetes or my weight. For breakfast she would make incredible pancakes, liberally laced with pure vanilla extract. She also made mouth-watering doughnuts by dropping batter into hot oil and rolling them in sugar and cinnamon when they were golden brown.

    

Grandma’s specialty was Easter bread, even though she made it throughout the year. These sweet loaves were slightly larger that a squashed football, and sticking out of the soft, golden crust were two or three hardboiled eggs. Grandma explained the eggs were symbols of Jesus’ resurrection. At the time I thought this a wonderful idea. I never questioned how something squeezed from a chicken’s ass could represent a deified carpenter ascending to his heavenly Father.

    

I don’t know why it happened but one fall Grandma altered the recipe to her Easter bread. Maybe she was having a “senior moment,” or was just annoyed by my constant chatter (partially deaf Grandpa said I should be in the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s longest run-on sentence). My relentless talking must have been irritating enough, but on those rare occasions when my tongue was resting, my beloved transistor radio would be squawking loudly. It was with me at Grandma’s house that day, and at some point when I was distracted Grandma picked it up, turned it off and added it to her Easter bread batter.

    

Grandma always baked at least a dozen loaves, and although I enjoyed watching her in the kitchen almost as much as I liked watching my beloved Helen, Ricky Delgado’s mom next door, I must have lost interest because I didn’t notice my batter-covered radio being poured into a baking pan. When I later discovered my radio was missing and asked Grandma if she’d seen it, she just shrugged. David and Grandpa didn’t have a clue what happened to it.

    

Dad picked us up that Sunday morning, along with a loaf of Easter bread. He quickly tired of hearing me pout over my lost radio and assured me it would show up someplace. As usual, he was right. It was fall, around the time of our school’s Harvest Bake Sale. 

    

My mother didn’t like to cook. She had embraced the concept of frozen TV dinners as soon as they came onto the market. The only thing she hated worse than cooking was baking. Unfortunately for her, there was one time during the year when baking was compulsory. Even she couldn’t talk her way out of it. This was the annual Harvest Bake Sale. Just as a boy was a communist if he didn’t play Little League baseball, a mother was a communist if she didn’t bake something for the Harvest Bake Sale.

     

So my mother would bake her cake. And it would taste fine, but it was usually about as attractive as Quasimodo in the shower. Her cakes had humps and hollows that other cakes didn’t have, certainly not Grandma’s, which were made from scratch, or Helen’s, which looked exactly like the pictures on cake mix boxes. 

     

It was Saturday evening on the day of the Harvest Bake Sale, and already getting dark. Nobody was around: my mother was in her bedroom and Dad was at his mother’s apartment on the pretense of again repairing her record player. Actually, he was dodging my mother, watching The Fights and sharing a six-pack of Hamms with his mother.

    

David, as usual, was off somewhere with his friends. He was partially responsible for the Harvest Bake Sale being bumped from Friday evening to “fight night.” His Little League team had won the state championship, causing the school auditorium to be appropriated for an impromptu Friday night rally and celebration.  

    

The Delgado contribution to the bake sale had already been delivered by one of Ricky’s sisters, and he and I were alone in the kitchen with my mother’s donation. Her cake was on the counter and it was my job to carry it to the sale—my mother would never think of going herself. It looked like something produced in a cow pasture. The top layer would have slipped off if Mother hadn’t stabilized it by adding a sizable number of toothpicks. The cake leaned precariously.

    

“Holy crap! What’s that?” Ricky asked, as if he didn’t know. This was his way of sticking it to me—we both knew that, unlike his mother, mine sucked in the kitchen.

    

“It’s a cake, smart ass.”

    

“Does it taste as bad as it looks?” Ricky fingered a lump of dark frosting that resembled a miniature mudslide. Mom should have used even more toothpicks, maybe even nails and spikes, because Ricky’s touch caused the top layer to slip from the rest of the cake. It headed for the ground like something pinched from a grizzly bear’s behind, making a disgusting sound when it splattered on the floor. Ricky and I stood with mouths ajar. When things went wrong Ricky could be just like that asshole Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver. He quickly sized up the situation and, without another word, dashed out our front door.

 

 

Conclusion on Sunday.





Comments

23 Comments
So your Mom wasn't Betty Crocker; she sure loved you and continues to provide your funny bone with comic relief.
By: Daniel LaFrance on November 15, 2013
I think if we go back another few generations you and I would find we came from the same gene pool. My mom never quite figured out how to boil water. To her it was one of life's mysteries. Looking forward to Sunday's finale.
By: Scott Cody Park on November 15, 2013
baking a radio? come on!
By: TexWisGirl on November 15, 2013
I would think the plastic radio would have stunk up the kitchen.... My mom was a great cook except for baking- she left that up to me and Betty Crocker when I discovered in a Ladies Home Journal ( or one of those homemaker magazines) a variety of ways to decorate cakes making them look like trains, or butterflys etc- so she "let me" have fun and she got out of baking! Looking forward to Sunday!
By: Kathe W. on November 15, 2013
A delicious story, for certain!
By: Shelly on November 15, 2013
Cakes are hard. Your mom should have made cookies. Way easier. :-)
By: Lexa Cain on November 15, 2013
Did your mother's cakes (even those without a radio) ever sell?
By: fishducky on November 15, 2013
I'm hooked...can't wait for the conclusion.
By: Bouncin Barb on November 15, 2013
Oh, this is gonna get good!
By: mimi on November 15, 2013
Oops. I bet it didn't taste that bad before it took a tumble. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on November 15, 2013
The tales of my childhood are always true (e.g. we really DID have a shag carpet covered toilet), but I do sometimes add a fictional twist here or there (e.g. my sister KNELT in a pile of elephant poop instead of falling FACE-FIRST into a pile of elephant poop). P.S. My mother could only make "Snackin' Cake."
By: Al Penwasser on November 15, 2013
I knew it. I just knew you would make me wait for the rest. It's like being interrupted in the middle of making love. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on November 15, 2013
You do this all the time. I'm completely absorbed in the story and then poof! Wait until tomorrow. Okay, I have time to think what part of the story is fiction.
By: red on November 15, 2013
My personal opinion is that cake doesn't have to look good as long as it tastes good (and is chocolate). Can't wait for the conclusion...and I'm trying to figure out which part of the story is made up.
By: Pixel Peeper on November 15, 2013
Too bad you couldn't just get an Entenmann's.
By: Val on November 15, 2013
How did you get a picture of my cake???
By: jenny_o on November 16, 2013
... and I don't mean the first picture :)
By: jenny_o on November 16, 2013
That Delgado boy is trouble; you should stay away from him, Stephen as he clearly leads you astray!
By: Bryan Jones on November 16, 2013
The part that's made up? That you could possibly annoy your grandmother!
By: tom sightings on November 16, 2013
Where I am living now, they often have good old fashioned bake sales, with plenty of various cakes. Unfortunately I can't eat any of them but I enjoy watching the "club" of women who bake and share. Your story is intriguing. I can picture you as a boy talking non-stop and wearing out the grands. I remember Saturday nights too.
By: CiCi on November 16, 2013
What's "snackin cake" I wonder...?
By: Jenny on November 16, 2013
Well you certainly have my taste buds going for the rest of the story!
By: John on November 17, 2013
A cool cake and a compelling story! Eddie Haskell's name made me laugh! :)
By: Michael Manning on November 21, 2013

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