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


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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Mother and the King

September 1, 2014

My mother wasn’t content keeping house and drinking coffee with the other housewives. In 1962 when I was ten years old she shocked the neighborhood by setting her sights on finding a job. Back then gas was cheap and Sunday drives were a popular pastime. Mom, Dad and I piled into our Packard and drove into the foothills near Los Gatos. We ended up at the bottling plant for Almadén Vineyards and noticed a sign offering free tours of the facility.


We were escorted through vineyards, warehouses and bottling plant. I can still recall the massive three story oak barrels brought to California a century earlier by clipper ship. We were fascinated to learn that Almadén was the oldest vineyard in California, although most of the company’s wines and champagnes were marketed in the South where they were highly esteemed.


Years later Almadén would be sold to United Distillers of America who would raise its West Coast profile to compete with Paul Masson and Gallo, but in the early sixties the company was the pet project of a San Francisco millionaire named Louis Benoist. As it turned out, Almadén was hiring at the time and my mother seized the opportunity to go to work in the bottling plant.


Benoist enjoyed bringing his famous friends to admire his prestigious vineyard, and he was fond of bragging that his wines were served at presidential inaugurations. Many times my mother, while scouring bottles for defects, would glance up from the conveyor belt and spot a famous face observing them from the viewing platform. One day Benoist brought a dour-looking couple with polite smiles who watched the workers.


My mother turned towards Maria working beside her and said, “See that man standing beside Benoist?”

“Yes, I see him. I wonder who he is. I don’t think he’s a movie star.”


“No, he isn’t a movie star. But once upon a time he was the King of England.”


As my mother tells the story, Maria shook her head and told her she was crazy.


Mother, the history buff, said, “That’s the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. He’s the king who gave up the throne to marry the woman he loved.”


“That hawk-nosed creature with the sharp eyebrows? He gave up the throne for her?”


My mother nodded.


The next time Mother glanced at the viewing platform, the Windsors were gone.


A half hour later my mother felt a presence behind her. It was the Duke; the duchess was nowhere in sight. “You look like you’re enjoying yourself,” he said over the roar of the machinery.


My mother, a staunch Anglophile, told me about this encounter years later when I was fully aware of the low regard in which she held Edward VIII. I’d heard Mom call him an opium addict, a womanizer who preferred dalliances with other men’s wives, and a Nazi sympathizer. I could only imagine what she might say to him.





 She claims she merely smiled…and said nothing.


I would have loved to have been present, not to stare at a former English king, but to stand in the presence of someone who could make my mother hold her tongue.    





Best last sentence to a post ever!
By: Cranky on September 1, 2014
Wow the closest to royalty I've gotten is eating at Burger King.
By: pt Dilloway on September 1, 2014
laughing. that's great.
By: TexWisGirl on September 1, 2014
LOL! That's a great story!
By: Eva Prokop on September 1, 2014
Have I ever told you that I love your mom?
By: fishducky on September 1, 2014
He was heard to defend Hitler at a dinner once, so your mother may have been right on that count. Either way, it's nice that she figured out, that time, that silence can be golden.
By: mimi on September 1, 2014
What Cranky said!!! :-)
By: Pixel Peeper on September 1, 2014
Gosh, what a great story. I would have loved to have been there, too.
By: Shelly on September 1, 2014
I'm laughing at your last line. An opium user is much more benign than a Nazi. And an unfaithful husband is, by my estimation, somewhere in between. Your Mom gives you countless good stories.
By: Robyn Engel on September 1, 2014
Great story. Maybe your mother could have stopped Hitler in his tracks too!
By: Tom Sightings on September 1, 2014
Great closer.
By: Catalyst on September 1, 2014
Goodness, did not know all that dirt about Edward. Wonder if he had his eye on your Mom to make that special move. I always thought he was the most romantic sort. Loved the description ot the Dutchess. How funny.
By: Akansas Patti on September 1, 2014
Your mom is one sharp cookie. I daresay she even knew all along that England was an island, and it didn't take her tenth-grade son to tell her that when she was well past middle age.
By: Val on September 1, 2014
Such encounters will remain in family discussions for a long time. It was lucky that she went out and got a job or this would never have happened.
By: red on September 1, 2014
hah! Your mother was right on! The Duke of Windsor was a coward and a traitor- thank goodness for his brother- George VI - lord knows what damage Edward would have done to England seeing how sympathetic he was towards Hitler. He was an idiot and a dolt.
By: Kathe W. on September 1, 2014
Edward, called David by his family, wasn't cut out to be king. As his father, George V, lay dying, he said he prayed nothing would come between Bertie, Lillibet, and the throne. Bertie became George VI when his older brother ran off. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on September 2, 2014
hi Stephen, i haven't read your blog lately coz i've been away. imagine my pleasure when i did so today and your mother featured. and that ex king no less. i wish i could have been there too. i agree with her thoughts about him. don't get me started :) i'm reading through your posts just in case i missed something good, which clearly i have. :)
By: fran on September 2, 2014
A great post (as usual).
By: John on September 2, 2014
Stephen: I could see a book with your wonderful recollections: "Confessions of an Artist", or something along these lines. I loved this!
By: Michael Manning on September 2, 2014
Your mother speechless! From what I've learned from your previous posts, this occurrence most have been as rare as hen's teeth!
By: Bryan Jones on September 2, 2014
In the early sixties I regularly drank myself sick in the vineyards, mostly because they didn't charge for samples. I never saw an ex-king, though. Only a couple in a Packard with a little kid in the back seat. Is it possible we could have met way back then? Fate brought us together, then and now. Or maybe wine.
By: Jo Barney on September 2, 2014
Cranky nailed it!
By: Uncle Skip on September 2, 2014
Rewarding anecdote all the way to the end!!
By: Tabor on September 2, 2014
Great story with a perfect finish!
By: Mitchell is Moving on September 2, 2014
When I first saw the title of this post, I thought your Mom had met Elvis Presley. This was way cooler.
By: Al Penwasser on September 2, 2014
Al beat me to it. I was expecting her to gush about Elvis. Oh well, I guess a real king would be the next best thing. :)
By: Scott Park on September 2, 2014
Your mother was a lady ahead of her time and worldly. Best though is her savvy to simply be polite during her brief encounter. :)
By: Daniel LaFrance on September 2, 2014
Wonderful story- your mom sounds like a hoot! I love the last line..LOL!
By: Coloring Outside the Lines on September 3, 2014
I made several pick-ups at a warehouse in Oakland to haul cases of wine back east, but since I never developed a taste for wine, I did not pay much attention to, nor remember, the brands of the wine. I do remember one of the warehouse workers being a member in very good standing of the Oakland Raiders "Black Hole" bunch, with a van made up to show his Raiders allegiance.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on September 4, 2014
Your last line cracked me up. You could not call your mother dumb.. she knew how to keep a job.
By: Hilary on September 5, 2014

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