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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Sweet and Sour

February 17, 2016

Reworked from a 2012 post.


This picture was taken in Sorrento, Italy. Those sunglasses are large enough to fit around my big head. When I snapped this I was reminded of an incident I hadn’t thought about since fourth grade.


My Portuguese grandpa had a green thumb and could grow just about anything. He was hard of hearing and didn’t mind me shadowing him and pelting him with questions he either ignored or couldn’t hear.


Behind his house grew a small grove of fruit trees he used for making brandies. But another tree in his front yard always drew attention; one side yielded oranges and the other side apples—Grandpa had grafted two trees together. But what always caught my eye were his lemons.


They grew on a bush near the steps leading to the front porch. The bush didn’t look unusual in any way, but once a year lemons started growing…and growing…and growing. The lemons became so big that Grandpa would steal Grandma’s pantyhose and tie them around his precious lemons to keep them from dropping from the bush.


And they’d grow…and grow….and grow, until they were so heavy that Grandpa would place little wooden crutches under the branches to prevent them from bending. When I asked if these lemons had been grown from magic beans like Jack’s Giant Beanstalk, Grandpa pushed back his tattered fedora, swiped his sweaty brow with the back of his hand and shook his head. When I pressed he explained, “These aren’t really lemons.”


“They aren’t?”


“No. They look like lemons. They smell and taste like lemons, but they aren’t. This is a citrus plant from the island where I was born.”


“It must be a magical island,” I exclaimed. “Where is this island, and is everything big there?” A stupid question since Grandpa was of normal height.


“It’s called Madeira Island and it’s in the Atlantic Ocean near Northern Africa.”


I had no idea where this was, but it sounded wonderfully exotic.


I wasn’t one of the popular kids at school, probably because I was chubby and constantly being shushed for talking too much in class. One day our teacher, Miss Stremple, told us we had to give a presentation in front of the class. I had no idea how to tackle the assignment, but an idea came to me when the deadline arrived for us to reveal the topics for our presentations. I stood beside my desk and announced that I was going to make everyone lemonade.


The class’ lack of enthusiasm was matched by Miss Stremple’s. “I was hoping you’d pick something more interesting,” she said.


“I’m gonna make lemonade for the entire class,” I said, “and I’m only gonna use one lemon.”


Miss Stremple smiled. “I don’t see how that’s possible. There are twenty-six students in this class. It would take much more than one lemon.”


“Maybe,” I said, “unless you happen to have a magic lemon.”


She smiled at me. “I look forward to tasting your lemonade, Stephen.”


Fortunately, my presentation was the last one given, which gave Grandpa’s giant citruses more time to ripen. The day before my presentation, Grandpa helped me select the perfect one: it looked exactly like a lemon, except it was the size of a bowling ball. I pulled it to school in the Radio Flyer I hadn’t used since I was little. I also brought a pound of sugar taken from our pantry, paper cups and a plastic garbage sack to line the wastepaper basket I intended to fill from the sink in the janitor’s closet. When I pulled the giant lemon out of a grocery sack several of my classmates pointed at it in awe. The teacher had a knife and cut it into smaller pieces, and when the garbage sack was properly filled with water I asked for volunteers to help squeeze out the juice. Several hands shot into the air.


I gave a short talk about Grandpa and Madeira Island in the Atlantic near the African coast and explained that this really wasn’t a lemon at all but an exotic lemon look-a-like. Miss Stremple had ordered everyone to wait until my presentation was over before drinking from the paper cups on their desks, and as I wrapped up my talk I hoped Grandpa was right when he said this big yellow thing tasted like a lemon. If this drink tasted like underwear I’d probably get a bad grade and be even less popular than I already was.


She gave the signal and the cups were drained. My heart was in my mouth and I nervously forgot to sample my concoction. I shouldn’t have doubted Grandpa. Chants of more…more…more rang out. The drink did taste like lemonade. My presentation got a B+. I think I would have gotten an A except all the sugar made the class unmanageable for the rest of the day.





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This looks like witchcraft. I shall have to taste this myself someday.
By: Michael Offutt on February 17, 2016
That is one big honkin' lemon thang.
By: Rick Watson on February 17, 2016
Are you sure that's not a super grapefruit?
By: fishducky on February 17, 2016
What a great story and it must have personalized you to the teacher as she understood how proud you were of your heritage.
By: Tabor on February 17, 2016
Gosh . . . what a size and they look real cool with those shades . . .
By: Eddie Bluelights on February 17, 2016
Your stories always amaze me, your family sounds awesome!!
By: Hey Monkey Butt on February 17, 2016
That is one extraordinary citrus-whatever!
By: Tom Cochun on February 17, 2016
That was a definite A+ presentation. You wowed them. How could she only give you a B+?
By: Arkansas Patti on February 17, 2016
Are you sure that is not a radioactive lemon from Gilligan's Island? Wow! Your grandfather had a real green thumb. I wish I had a little of that but my thumb is black:) This should have been an A+ in my mind
By: Birgit on February 17, 2016
How i would love a green thumb! Your Grandfather sounds like he was an amazing person.
By: messymimi on February 17, 2016
I thought he was going to say it was a grapefruit but it's much bigger even than that. Amazing story.
By: Catalyst on February 17, 2016
Did Grandpa live near a nuclear power plant?
By: Pixel Peeper on February 17, 2016
Well, life gave you lemon-things, so you HAD to make lemon-thing-ade.
By: Val on February 17, 2016
I give you an A++. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on February 17, 2016
Amazing fruit! and I like that this had a happy ending for you :)
By: jenny_o on February 17, 2016
Extraordinary story! Drinking out of a garbage bag... B+
By: Daniel LaFrance on February 18, 2016
Wow! And only a B+. I think Miss Stremple could have used a bit more sugar! (I could understand a drink SMELLING like underwear, but how would you know if it TASTED like underwear?)
By: Mitchell Is Moving on February 18, 2016
Great story. All I can say is that Madeira Island must be some place!
By: Tom Sightings on February 18, 2016
Wow- just think of all the marmalade I could make from just one of these giants! What a great story! Have a sweet-tart kind of day!
By: Kathe W. on February 18, 2016
Delightful story! Alas, I have never had a sugar-high that I know of. Oh, I have tried--countless times, in fact.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on February 18, 2016
They would never allowed such a taste demonstration today, perhaps with good reason, who knows who might be allergic to such an exotic fruit. Still I would say this was easily worth an A+
By: cranky on February 18, 2016
Yow! A bowling ball sized lemon-thing! I am duly impressed! And thinking of lemon pie... Cat
By: Cat on February 18, 2016
Great story Stephen. I have seen pictures of ginormous lemons in Italy and my neighbors tree sheds some the size of a softball!! Delicious though.
By: Bouncin Barb on February 18, 2016
Brought back many happy memories of school from that age too, Stephen.
By: Michael Manning on February 21, 2016

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