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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May 11, 2015


Saturday was my mother’s ninetieth birthday, and while she struggled to place a positive spin on the event, I was left feeling pensive. Mrs. Chatterbox and our son CJ joined me in attempting to create a festive occasion, but I’m not sure we succeeded. I’d have preferred treating her to a nice dinner in a restaurant, or bringing her to our home so Mrs. Chatterbox could cook some Portuguese favorites, but Mom has become reclusive; it takes a shoehorn to pry her from her retirement facility. She hasn’t been to our home in nearly five years.


Noticeably absent was my older brother David, who I’ve mentioned several times in stories about my childhood. You might have noticed that I don’t mention David as an adult. We don’t get the siblings we want; I was a disappointment to my all-star, over-achieving brother. David was always determined to be a big shot and succeeded, not letting anyone stand in his way. As a partner for Morgan Stanley, he became fabulously wealthy. Growing up, he and my mother often clashed. About twenty years ago, David and my parents became estranged.


Although I’ve never quarreled with my brother or tangled with him in any way, twelve years ago he decided he didn’t want me or Mrs. Chatterbox, or our son CJ, in his life. Frankly, we no longer fit in with the wealthy jet-setting image he insisted on projecting. The last time I saw my brother was eight years ago at our father’s funeral. He arrived after the service started and departed before it concluded. He said nothing to my mother, and had no words for me or Mrs. Chatterbox.


Ninety years is a long time and it would have been nice if Mom had been surrounded by a large family and dozens of friends, but we don’t always get what we want. Mom was the baby in a large ethnic family. When I was dating Mrs. Chatterbox, who’d come from a tiny family, she was amazed by the noise and excitement of my huge boisterous clan. Those people are all gone now. Only Mom is left—the bittersweet reward of living a long life.


Several days ago Mom mentioned she had a hankering for Chinese food, so we brought takeout to her apartment, but she claimed her dentures were bothering her so she didn’t eat anything. She doesn’t like cake so we brought her an apple pie and lit it with a single candle. Pie is soft and shouldn’t have been a problem for her dentures, but she refused it as well.


We brought a few gifts, such as books that inspired the Game of Thrones series so she could see what all the fuss was about. Mom has been a voracious reader, but I doubt she’ll read these books. We also brought a collection of spices, a box of her favorite See’s candy, flowers, and Mrs. C. baked her a batch of biscotti, her favorite cookie. I brought one of my paintings I thought she’d like. I wasn’t able to gauge her reaction when I hung it on her wall beside other paintings created when I was a teenager.


I’d wanted Mom’s birthday to be special; ninety years on Earth is worthy of a celebration, but this was a tepid event. Mom was very pleased with all we did for her, but it felt flat to me. My brother should have been there with his wife and children to help celebrate the event.


Sunday morning I called to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day. She was bubbly about her birthday celebration the night before, but like I said, I felt pensive about it.






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That's rather sad. Maybe she enjoyed it more than she let on. Real shame about your brother. He'll regret that one day.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on May 11, 2015
I'm sure your Mom appreciated all you try to do for her, in her own way. And you should be proud of yourself for being there for her. I was the youngest and I was always there for my Mom. My brother and sister swooped in and came to see her only when it suited them so I have some empathy pains with you and your brother's situation. You said is best though, "we don't get the siblings we want". Good job Stephen
By: Oma Linda on May 11, 2015
I think you did right by your mom, for some reason old people don't like to show that they like a fuss...I think they do. Sorry about your brother, my brother is also a high achiever who tops me in just about everything that says success, I am fortunate however in that he is not a dick...far from it.
By: cranky on May 11, 2015
I think she had a lovely time, and we celebrated as much as she would allow. She's lucky to have a son like you who has stuck around through thick and thin. At the end of the day, she felt loved and was surrounded by family, even if it was small. Celebrations of the heart can be as large as we want them to be.
By: CJ on May 11, 2015
Don't be so hard on yourself. Most seniors pull back as they get older. As my Dad who'll be 87 in July, he's changed somewhat and prefers staying home (retirement facility). As for siblings, I too have brother that I no longer interact with. I might sound cold... but as the saying goes we choose our friends not family. You did good Steve.
By: Daniel LaFrance on May 11, 2015
Awww Stephen- I'm sorry your Mom wasn't surrounded by all of her family, but you have been a great son: patient and loving. We cannot choose our relatives, and just have to make do with the ones we have. I'll bet ya that your Mom had a wonderful weekend and treasures these memories you, Mrs C and CJ have given her. She's a lucky Mom !
By: Kathe W. on May 11, 2015
AS we get older we get embarrassed about how we eat and do not want others to see this. We want to be close to our familiar bathroom, our familiar room temperature and are afraid we might get disoriented. These may also be something your mother thinks about. Your brother, on the other hand, got the bottom of the genes from the gene pool and we both know it is a great loss for him.
By: Tabor on May 11, 2015
You can only do your best Steve. It is a real pity about your brother, perhaps one day he will realize what he is missing.
By: John on May 11, 2015
Sorry, I forgot to say belated happy birthday to your Mom.
By: John on May 11, 2015
If she is anything like my mom, Steve, she is depressed. She has lost a lot, a husband, the ability to enjoy food, words which trickle out instead of rushing as they used to, fingers that no longer can thread a needle, eyes that hurt as they follow the pictures on TV, the lines of the newspaper, legs that used to carry her wherever she wanted to do. The only time my mom smiles nowadays is when her daughters make her laugh with a funny memory or when her caregiver tells her how beautiful she is. She is on a mild antidepressant and she is patiently waiting. We wait with her, knowing it's our turn next. JO
By: Jo on May 11, 2015
Thanks for sharing the story about your brother. It actually makes me feel better because my brother (as well) is consumed with being a big shot and for the most part just leaves me to deal with my parents aging care all alone. It's been hard and challenging. I've oftentimes resented him for it because I could use the help. Hearing you speak frankly of this made me realize (again) I have something in common with you. In my case, my brother has "FU" money (much like yours) and I was the object (as well as my parents) of the implied "FU." Ah well, we don't get to choose our siblings.
By: Michael Offutt on May 11, 2015
i'm sorry. you certainly tried your best. it seemed not a good day for her. i hope she was able to eat her treats later on.
By: TexWisGirl on May 11, 2015
For the most part, my family is WONDERFUL!! It was difficult, though, when I, too, had to become the parent to my parents--especially because I also have an "ex-brother".
By: fishducky on May 11, 2015
If she enjoyed it, that is all that counts. You can't make other people do anything, sadly. What a wonderful celebration, however - 90 years!
By: Cherdo on May 11, 2015
CJ said it well. I am sure the day meant a lot for her and she got to enjoy it and you in the comfort of her familiar surroundings. Comfort means a ton as you get older. Your brother is the one missing out. It is a shame and I hope he doesn't wait too long to become a son and brother. The day will come when he will realize what he has been missing.
By: Akansas Patti on May 11, 2015
Thanks for sharing such a poignant event. It was loving and caring of you to provide for your Mother's 90th birthday and very sensitive of you to share your thoughts. 90 is an extraordinary life. I hope she will enjoy your gifts. The information about your brother is so very sad.
By: Tom Cochrun on May 11, 2015
Well, i think your mother had as much fun as she can, and your brother is a sad, shallow person.
By: mimi on May 11, 2015
That's strange, on your mom's 90th birthday, my Dad died. I wish may dad had lived to be 90, that's an amazing age. Well done for making the effort to celebrate.
By: LL Cool Joe on May 11, 2015
Stephen, no lie...I was contemplating how to write my next blog post about the disappointment I felt with my mother on my visit to NJ when I took a break and read this. I guess I'm not the only one with family issues! You did the best you could for your Mom's birthday, given that she's an age which can be difficult. Know in your heart that you wanted nothing but the best for her. Don't beat yourself up for it either. As for your brother...he'll get his fair share of Karma!
By: Bouncin Barb on May 11, 2015
Happy Birthday to the new nonagenarian! I'm sure your mom enjoyed the celebration in her own way. I'm not one for showing much emotion, but that doesn't mean I'm not tickled pink when people do nice things for me. I think those folks who say she likes the comfort of her surroundings are on the right track. Kudos to you for throwing your mom a party, and letting her enjoy it on her own terms.
By: Val on May 11, 2015
I am so sorry that you are having to endure such. I think it has been at least ten years since the last time I actually talked and seen my younger brother. As far as he is concerned, I messed up, and according to our raising, there is no true forgiveness to be had. Open hostility can fade over the years, but nothing is ever truly forgiven. Thankfully, Arlynda and his wife talk over the phone from time to time, which allows me to keep somewhat up with what is going on with their family. Sigh. By the way, they say that they liked me a lot better as a devout drunk. Curious--huh?
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on May 11, 2015
So sorry about your brother. We're periodically estranged from Dr. M's brother (he has a difficult wife). Your mom probably had as much enthusiasm as she could manage at her age - but your melancholy is definitely understandable.
By: The Bug on May 11, 2015
I'm rather concerned about her not eating. Is this a regular thing? Have you noticed any significant weight loss? If she's not eating, I think she should see her doctor, but you know best. My four older sisters hate me. I hate being hated. I don't want to hang out with them. It would just be nice if I were included in things such as being tagged on Facebook. It's everyone in the family except me. Stephen, your brother sucks, just as my sisters suck. It hurts, but I try not to think about it. I was very grateful that Favorite Young Man joined Willy Dunne Wooters and me for dinner on Mother's Day. Not having you and other family members in his life is David's loss. I hope your mother doesn't dwell on it. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on May 11, 2015
That's sad about your brother. I'm not sure why folks choose to forsake families. Rick
By: Rick Watson on May 11, 2015
The bittersweetness of your mom's 90th oozes through your words. You expressed it strongly - very well written. It's one shocking and painful thing when our siblings estrange us for no logical reason. When they estrange their child relatives (e.g., your son), too, that speaks to an complete lack of character. I'm sorry for you and your mom.
By: Robyn Engel on May 11, 2015
my mother-in-law is also reclusive. she's in her mid-80s and I don't think she has left her house since her 80th birthday. 90 years is a long time. I imagine by then birthdays would be ordinary. too bad about your brother who has cut himself off from his family. he may come to regret that some day. my father-in-law (husband's parents divorced) stopped speaking to his son and I and the kids 18 years ago, cut us off completely for a reason that dumbfounded us. it wasn't until he was on his last legs that he indicated he wanted to see his son who went to see him but there was really no reconciliation as he was too far gone to be able to communicate. and lastly, like your wife, I came from a tiny family and married into a huge rowdy family. quite the adjustment.
By: Ellen Abbott on May 12, 2015
I read today about a nurse turning 90 who is still working after 70 years in her career. Amazing what some people can do.
By: Catalyst on May 12, 2015
Wonderful that you made this effort for your Mom. Happy Birthday to her, Stephen! ;)
By: Michael Manning on May 12, 2015
Your Mom is lucky to have a son like you!
By: Pixel Peeper on May 12, 2015
That is indeed sad. I'm always shocked by people who make it "big" and then turn on all their friends and family. Money comes and money goes, but some things are forever. Tsk. I suspect your mom is just hard to read in her senior years. She says she had a good time. I'd accept that and be happy for her. :)
By: Scott Park on May 13, 2015
Maybe your mom didn't feel much like celebrating because it reminded her of her age ... or maybe as someone else said, she just doesn't show much emotion. Whatever the reason, you and your wife and son did a good job of thinking of her needs when planning the celebration, and from there it was out of your hands. Too bad about your brother's attitude. He is the poorer for it, although he probably doesn't think so ...
By: jenny_o on May 15, 2015

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