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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Death by a Thousand Drips

April 6, 2016

My mother is extremely particular about her coffee. For years she swore the only coffee worth drinking was percolated. For those of you who haven’t checked recently, percolating electric coffee pots have become as illusive as dolphin safe tuna. My mother has a habit of cleaning appliances so aggressively that when finished they no longer work. A shelf in her walk-in closet is a mausoleum of fallen coffee makers no longer capable of providing her magic elixir. The oldest resembles a camping coffee pot designed to sit on an open flame. These are still available at camping gear outlets but fire and my mother are a bad mix since she often forgets she’s left the stove on. I’ve yet to impress her with the virtue of a single-cup Keurig.

           

My late father was capable of fixing anything and kept their appliances functioning. Unfortunately, I’m not handy with tools, so the best I can do is replace Mother’s coffee makers when they give up the ghost. For years, I’ve been campaigning to switch Mom to drip coffee makers and became successful only when other options were no longer available.

           

Over the last few years I’ve purchased half a dozen coffee makers for my mother, who Mrs. C. often refers to as Mrs. Voldemort. I’ve finally acclimated her to drip. This brings us to the series of events that took up much of my time this past weekend. My sphincter tightened when Mother called and said, “My coffeemaker isn’t working. Can you come and check it out? Maybe it’s clogged.”

           

Normally, I wouldn’t dash over to accommodate her and usually arrive at my convenience, but Mother without caffeine is an unimaginable horror so I drove over and poked at her coffee maker until pronouncing it dead.

           

“I guess you’ll have to replace it,” she said after a ten-minute diatribe about how the world is going to hell and they just don’t make things like they used to.

           

So I went to nearby Walmart and bought her a new coffee maker, a Krups since they didn’t sell Osters like her old one, but I figured it would do the trick. But Mother didn’t like the way it looked. “It’s dark and clunky, too masculine. Doesn’t match the ambiance of my home.”

 

I tried to forget how she’d ranted like a banshee in heat when I brought home the Oster. “Yes, but it makes coffee and that’s all you should care about.”

           

“Fine, I’ll give it a try,” she snapped.

           

The next morning was Sunday. She woke us by calling just as the sun was peeking over the mountains. “This new pot isn’t worth crap.” She swears “crap” isn’t a swear word and uses it often. “I can’t make it work, and don’t want it.” She paused. “But I have good news.”

           

My sphincter was now tight enough to squeeze a lump of carbon into a diamond.

           

“I found the receipt for that Oster in my closet. You purchased it eighteen months ago at Bed Bath and Beyond. I called Becky the store manager last night who said she’d exchange it for a new one with the receipt, even though it’s long past the time covered by their return policy.”

           

This was turning into a classic Mother-related nightmare. Now I was expected to drive across town to her retirement home (which serves free coffee she won’t drink 24/7) pick up the old Oster and new Krups, return the Krups to Walmart, drive the old Oster to Bed Bath &Beyond (which was back on my side of town) exchange it for a replacement Oster, drive it back to Mother and wilt beneath her basilisk gaze as she tells me it doesn’t make coffee as good as the last one.

           

I showed up to pick up the coffee makers. She had them both boxed and ready to go. “Where’s the receipt for the Oster?” I asked.

           

“Can’t find it. Must have thrown it out.”

           

“You said you had it.”

           

“It was the receipt for the micro oven, not the Oster.”

           

“If you don’t have the receipt, how do you know it even came from Bed Bath & Beyond?”

           

“It doesn’t matter. I called back and told Becky the manager I lost the receipt. All you need to do is show up with the coffee pot and the warranty.”

           

“Where’s the warranty?”

           

“I threw it out with the receipt.”

           

I shook my head, picked up both boxes and headed back to my car for the drive to Walmart. As I crossed the parking lot with the Krups, I felt something weird. Looking down, I saw water pouring out of the box, not a trickle but a gush. My pants were soaked, as if I’d whizzed all over myself. I opened the box and saw that the coffee pot was filled with coffee grounds as well as water.

           

When asked what was wrong with the Krups at the return counter (for this one I had the receipt) I pointed at the puddle growing on the counter and said, “There seems to be an issue with the water.” The issue was the result of my crazy mother not bothering to remove the water or coffee from the device before boxing it for me to return.

           

The customer service person glanced at the dark stain on the front of my pants, saying nothing as he handed back my money. Next, I drove to Bed Bath & Beyond and gave back the old stained Oster that was a full year beyond its warranty.

           

I asked for Becky the manager.

           

“Yes, I remember speaking with your mother,” she said.

           

I tried to look apologetic, as I usually do with people who encounter my mother.

           

“I understand she lost the receipt, but you have the warranty?”

           

“She lost that as well.”

           

I’d spent enough years in retail to know this poor woman couldn’t take back merchandise without proof of purchase.

           

“The best I can do is sell you a new one at a twenty percent discount.”

           

That seemed fair; the new replacement would only set me back thirty-five bucks. Before leaving to deliver the new Oster to my caffeine-deprived mother I asked, “Do you have anything that brews hemlock?”

 

It might have been my imagination, but I thought I saw sympathy in Becky’s smile.

 

 

 

 

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Comments

34 Comments
You are such a good son! Like your mom, I like perked coffee! We have one of those single serving coffee makers (which I didn't buy) so I have reusable filters that I use.
By: Sage on April 6, 2016
Oh what a nightmare! I recommend purchasing coffee makers in bulk - and keeping all the receipts yourself! :)
By: The Bug on April 6, 2016
You're a better son than I... And I'm really glad I don't drink coffee.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on April 6, 2016
You are a good son!
By: Linda on April 6, 2016
Your mom is a piece of work. I'd save the receipts and file them forever in a safe place. Sounds like you'll need them :)
By: Rick Watson on April 6, 2016
They are extra tough at that age. She s right about making stuff, they are disposable these days, but also cheep, and the old peculators were the best...still I feel your pain.
By: cranky on April 6, 2016
When I visit you on Friday, May 6th, I was saying to James that we need to pick you up in the morning and take you to breakfast at this place called "Mothers" that has some of the best coffee I have ever tasted. But now I realize that I actually know next to nothing about coffee. How can I be sure it is the best? Perhaps I can talk to you about coffee as I had no idea there were so many ways to brew it. I think I have a drip coffee maker, but I'm not sure now. And Stephen, I laughed out loud on your comment about your childhood. Your stories are the best, so perhaps my take on the C.S. Lewis quote was wrong. Then again, these days it seems that everything is either right or wrong depending on a certain point of view.
By: Michael Offutt on April 6, 2016
Oh my gawd...how do you keep your blood pressure in check? I was prepared to give her the "age related allowance" and say that returning the Walmart's Krups coffee maker and giving her the Oster that she was used to was a small price to pay for her to A.) be happy and B.) leave you alone...but then she had to pull the calling the manager and putting you in the position of having to back pedal over the "no receipt and no warranty" situation. I think Mrs. Chatterbox's nickname is probably pretty justified. Let's hope she appreciated the Oster that you made the extra trip for.
By: Cheryl P. on April 6, 2016
First off I really do appreciate what a horrid coffee maker episode you had but I must admit that I laughed all the way through. The only way to salvage a messy situation is to turn it into a funny post. Mission accomplished Stephen.
By: Arkansas Patti on April 6, 2016
Lordy lordy. You should have a First Prize Trophy for Patience.
By: Kathe W. on April 6, 2016
You are good to your mother and I am sure she knows that even when she does not show it. I have a Remington coffee maker which is as close as I can get to French press. It does require daily careful cleaning. I do not like the Keurig because they are so full of polluting containers and we have enough plastic killing the world.
By: Tabor on April 6, 2016
I think you should find a restaurant that makes good coffee & move your mother in!!
By: fishducky on April 6, 2016
Thank your lucky stars that it wasn't a more embarrassing appliance, or one that weighed in like a cruise ship anchor.
By: Val on April 6, 2016
Perhaps a percolator that is glass and works in the microwave would do it. Yes, i used to have one. That way, she can't leave it on the stove too long.
By: messymimi on April 6, 2016
Only you could handle this problem and only suffer a very tight sphincter!
By: red Kline on April 6, 2016
Bless you. My mom was not that bad but she would always complain about how things are not how they used to be. Patience is always needed
By: Birgit on April 6, 2016
Bless you. My mom was not that bad but she would always complain about how things are not how they used to be. Patience is always needed
By: Birgit on April 6, 2016
You made me laugh. But as you say, people are particular about their coffee. (Fyi, we still have a percolator, but hardly ever use it. I like instant.)
By: Tom Sightings on April 6, 2016
What an adventure! BTW, percolated coffee does taste better.
By: Tom Cochrun on April 6, 2016
What kind of woman doesn't want something because it appears "too masculine"? The kind that birthed you, it seems. *Sympathy look from Robyn.*
By: Robyn Engel on April 6, 2016
sainthood earned...
By: TexWisGirl on April 6, 2016
Well, your mom is right about one thing...they don't make stuff like they used to. I read an article some time ago that companies have stopped making their high end /quality products because people stopped buying them in their race to get the lowest price possible as well as the worst quality possible. next time the coffee maker quits working, try running vinegar through it a few times. and don't buy a one shot Keurig. the amount of trash which is not recyclable that it produces is enormous.
By: Ellen Abbott on April 7, 2016
All we ever had at my house while growing up was the foul instant coffee. The first time I saw a percolator/drip maker, I was amazed that there was something more in life than Tasters Choice. Related: I hope I don't end up like Mom. On the other hand, I hope I do. Talk about stories.
By: Al Penwasser on April 7, 2016
Oh, can I ever empathize. You do know, I assume, that Saint Stephen is considered the Protomartyr.
By: Mitchell Is Moving on April 7, 2016
I feel your pain yet you made me laugh ... sorry, and thank you!
By: jenny_o on April 7, 2016
Pretty sure my blood pressure went up just from reading this! Mrs. Voldemort, indeed. Now that's funny!
By: Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma on April 7, 2016
Has this come on with age or has your mother always been like this?
By: on April 7, 2016
Your mom is a HOOT! LOL!
By: scott park on April 7, 2016
I had this horrible habit of moving out of state once my parents hit an advanced age.
By: Brett Minor (Transformed Nonconformist) on April 9, 2016
What will Mrs. C do when you reach a certain age and show signs that you're very much like your mother?
By: Daniel LaFrance on April 9, 2016
Next time, have her purchase a very basic Mr. Coffee -- which I happily own. You can clean it to infinity and it will always work. Cost: $24.00 at Ace Hardware. It's basic and it lasts!
By: MICHAEL MANNING on April 12, 2016
I cannot say that my mother-in-law is all that particular about her coffee, but a coffee maker rarely lasts a year around her. Oh, and the old (an no longer working) ones get added to her collection of broken appliances in our very small house. I'll be put our on the curb long before that toaster-oven from 10 years ago makes it into the trash. Sigh.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on April 12, 2016
I don't suppose it would help to hit every garage sale in the area to pick up percolator style coffeepots? I have one, and that's where I found it... But you really need to use Arsenic, it gives the coffee that lovely almond flavor... Heh... ;D Cat
By: Cat on April 19, 2016
i've told you before how much i enjoy stories about your mum and this one involves coffee of which i am rather fond. i hope she is happy with her new one. i agree with some of the comments, buy them in bulk and keep the receipts yourself. you are indeed a good son and tell a brilliant story
By: Fran on May 13, 2016

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