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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The Fill Up

February 5, 2016

Reworked from 2012.


In 1942 he was a lanky sixteen year old and glad to have a job pumping gas, checking oil and washing windshields at a Texaco in Modesto, California. Most of the men had dashed off to war or he wouldn’t have landed this job. He had numerous brothers and sisters. Now he was able to contribute money to the jar on the kitchen shelf to pay for food and a roof over their heads.


He’d just finished filling the tank of an old farm truck when a shiny black Buick pulled into the station. He’d seen the expensive car a few times and recognized the man behind the wheel. An icy claw must have squeezed his heart—he’d never been this close to the driver. It’s easy to imagine him running a hand through his unruly black hair, fishing a rag from an overall pocket and wiping grease from his face. He approached the car. This time he intended to speak to the man. He felt he had the right, if only he had the nerve.


“Fill ‘er up,” the man said, scarcely looking at the kid.


The boy knew the man’s name—Miller. The Millers lived in a nice house a mile down the road from the rundown ranch the kid called home. The fancy Buick drove past infrequently, not that anyone in the car turned their heads to see the skinny boy in overalls watching from the side of the road. When the Buick roared past he would study the smiling lady in the front passenger seat, paying close attention to the children whose hands dangled from windows, laughter mixing with the sound of the purring engine. What were they like? he wondered. He’d never had a chance to speak to any of them. Until now.


Miller stepped out of the car once the boy started pumping gas. He pulled a pack of Lucky Strikes from his double-breasted coat and lit up, now looking more closely at the youth filling his tank.


“I haven’t seen you here before,” he said between puffs.


He should have expected Miller would one day pull into the station, but the sixteen-year-old was caught totally unprepared. Countless thoughts sprang to mind; there was much he wanted to say but he feared if he tried to speak he’d only hiss like a broken squeeze toy. He managed a weak smile and said nothing as his mind clogged with unasked questions.


Eternity probably passed in the few moments it took for the gas to gush into the Buick. When the tank had reached its limit the kid replaced the gas cap and accepted the money extended to him. Exact change; no need to jog to the register for change.


Mr. Miller crushed out his cigarette on the oil stained pavement and climbed back into his car. He paused, as if he had something more to say, at least it seemed so to the kid. But Miller remained silent as he turned the key, started his engine and drove away in a cloud of dust. The youth hadn’t spoken a single word. He watched as the car disappeared, his eyes locked on the road until another car arrived for a fill up.


Miller was found in a ditch behind the wheel of his Buick a few months later, dead from a heart attack according to an article in the paper at the time. Brief though it was, the kid never forgot this encounter. The teenager was my dad, and Mr. Miller was his father. Back in 1942, Miller had his gas tank filled by his bastard son.


The tank holding my father’s self esteem was to remain empty for the rest of his life. 






My dad unexpectedly passed away eight years ago today and I’ve reworked this post to honor him. He reluctantly told me this story after I’d had a child of my own. While a few of the details have been fabricated to paint a more vivid picture, too much of this is true. 




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Oddly, I'm searching for words to express my sense of loss and deep sorrow. Your father was a remarkable man... he raised you to be a remarkable man too.
By: Daniel LaFrance on February 5, 2016
A powerful piece.
By: cranky on February 5, 2016
Your dad must have been such a remarkable person- he did not nurse a grudge- he just became a thoughtful and kind man and father- and look at you and your son! Thank you for sharing this story with us.
By: Kathe W. on February 5, 2016
You have most definitely honored your father. I have no idea who my biological father is, and I fully acknowledge that this is better than being in a situation like your father was. I would still like to know (about my biological mother, too) though.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on February 5, 2016
What a fantastic tribute. I came expecting snark. I left with a feeling of gratitude that you shared this.
By: Al Penwasser on February 5, 2016
What a tragedy in life. I am sure this has happened far too often. I am always so sad for a child that has to claw his way into life because the parents were blind or ignorant or lacked enough self-esteem to help them. You are so lucky to have learned this story, because it does make you see why your Dad may have done certain things in his life.
By: Tabor on February 5, 2016
What a sad story. Mr. Miller's son was a better man than Mr. Miller was.
By: messymimi on February 5, 2016
Holy crap! I never expected that ending. And I figured it was fiction (beautifully written fiction). It's so heartrending, especially since it's the truth. My jaw is still hanging open.
By: Lexa Cain on February 5, 2016
That was a heavy load for a 16-year-old. I can understand why he remained silent. This story further demonstrates to me how your bond with your dad was so special.
By: Val on February 5, 2016
WOW. Did not see that coming. Your Dad would be proud of your account as you are obviously proud of your Dad. Mr. Miller really missed out.
By: Arkansas Patti on February 5, 2016
Holy cannoli. I just got goose bumps when I finished reading that story. Wow. I'm glad your Dad broke the cycle and was a good father who raised a good man. Still trying to get over that ending. My condolences about your Dad as well. My Mom's passing will be 8 years come July and it's still hard to believe how quickly the time has flown. Take care.
By: Mr. Shife on February 5, 2016
Great story. Man's inhumanity to man is what this story is about.
By: red on February 5, 2016
That's a very sad conclusion to your story, Stephen. I wonder, did either of them know who the other was at that time?
By: Botanist on February 5, 2016
This one took me totally by surprise. A sad but fascinating story. Life was very different then. I'm sorry that your father never got to confront Miller, and I'm so sorry that you lost your dad. This is beautiful and he would be so proud of you for writing it.
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on February 5, 2016
What a lovely but sad tribute to your Dad.Having lost my Dad last year I can tell from this that although time may heal the pain, the memories will stay as strong as ever.
By: LL Cool Joe on February 6, 2016
A fascinating and tragic story. I hope you're able to enjoy some good memories of your father today. (You are such an exceptional story teller.)
By: Mitchell Is Moving on February 6, 2016
Wow, a powerful piece of writing and an immensely sad story.
By: Sage on February 6, 2016
How very sad, didn't stop your Dad from being a great man though!
By: John on February 6, 2016
I remember this story. Well told, and it makes me appreciate even more what kind of man your father became. Your love for him shines through in these few short paragraphs.
By: Pixel Peeper on February 6, 2016
It was nurture, not nature that made your dad (& you) a fine man!!
By: fishducky on February 6, 2016
We are left with as many unanswered questions as answered ones. A remarkable story - thanks for telling it.
By: jenny_o on February 6, 2016
Stephen: I'm touched by this heartfelt story as I'm sure many others will be also. Thanks for sharing it.
By: Michael Manning on February 6, 2016
How awkward. What a great story. There are probably great stories everywhere we look if we just knew what to look for.
By: Scott Park on February 7, 2016
How sad Stephen. Truly a sad story. I can only imagine how sad your father must have felt when he realized he'd never have another chance to say something to his father.
By: Bouncin Barb on February 10, 2016

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