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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The Harrison Stamp Company

November 24, 2014

 

As if I haven’t already given you cause to believe I was a nerdy kid ( I was an artist, chess player, member of the Latin Club, poet, devotee of ancient civilizations and skilled puppet maker) I also collected stamps.

           

I got hooked when Grandpa gave me a dog-eared album with a few stamps from exotic places like India and China, including some German stamps from the ‘30s showing a stern man with a Charlie Chaplin mustache. My desire to travel was piqued by these stamps and I swore I’d one day trek to exotic places. I used birthday money to buy a new album and began collecting. The nice Guatemalan lady across the street gave me letters with stamps in bright tropical colors, and my uncle saved stamps for me from his pen pal in Spain.

           

One summer when I was eleven, Ricky Delgado and I were sitting under the sycamore in our front yard, reading a few new comic books Ricky had mysteriously acquired. At the back of a Fantastic Four comic was an ad from the Harrison Stamp Company, located somewhere in Pennsylvania. The ad offered hundreds of dollars worth of collectable foreign stamps on free approval. All you had to do was cut out the ad, fill in the spaces and drop it in a mailbox so they could send you your stamps.

           

To an eleven year old, especially one who didn’t understand the concept of “approval,” it sounded like a fine deal. Really, what’s better than free?

           

Ricky snorted his derision, “Stamp collecting is for weenies!”

           

But his derision turned to praise when I mailed in the coupon and a month later received a box of stamps from The Harrison Stamp Company, filled with packets of gorgeous stamps from around the world. An enclosed letter said the stamps had been sent to me on approval and I should mail back the ones I didn’t want. Since I approved of them all, I kept them all.

           

The most beautiful stamps came from a place called Monaco; they were huge and showed a picture of a smiling lady with blond hair. I later learned she was a movie star and honest-to-goodness princess, but she reminded me of my teacher Mrs. Urbanick who I briefly had a serious crush on in the fifth grade. Frankly, I don’t even recall seeing the enclosed price sheet. I glued the stamps into my album—a definite philatelic no-no that ruins the value of stamps.

           

When kids in the neighborhood, including Ricky, saw the treasure trove I’d received for free, they followed suit. By summer’s ended, half a dozen kids in the neighborhood had received shipments from the Harrison Stamp Company.

           

Then I started receiving letters demanding payment or the return of the stamps. I had no idea what they were talking about. They’d said the stamps were free, but now they wanted money. I didn’t know what to do; I couldn’t return the stamps since I’d glued them into my album. More letters arrived, each one sounding meaner than the last.

           

The letters finally caught my mother’s attention and she demanded to know what was going on. I showed her a Superman comic with the same ad. She read it carefully. When finished, she said, “Go ahead and keep the stamps. Don’t worry about it.”

           

When word got out that my mother had allowed me to keep the stamps, the other kids kept theirs, tearing up threatening letters when they arrived.

           

A letter landed in our mailbox threatening legal action. At the bottom was a phone number. Mother dialed it. She told the man at the Harrison Stamp Company that I was an eleven years old minor and not of a legal age to enter into any contract. She told him they were foolish to advertise in comic books designed for children, and she’d given me permission to keep the stamps.

           

At the time I didn’t understand what this meant, but it was beginning to feel like one of those rare moments when having Mom standing behind me was a good thing.

           

She also told the man that if we were contacted again she’d call her lawyer, and they could see how far they’d get suing a little kid.

           

I was shocked. I didn’t know my mother had her own lawyer. She must have meant Perry Mason on TV. I didn’t know she knew him.

           

We never again heard from the Harrison Stamp Company, nor did any of the other kids on my street. Their parents must have known Perry Mason, too.

 

           

 

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Comments

23 Comments
Your mother was much tougher than mine. My mother would have made me send them back. My father would have paid for them.
By: Mitchell is Moving on November 24, 2014
Love it, a great tale.
By: John on November 24, 2014
Well done mom! I did the same when my 16 yo daughter ordered lipsticks which just kept coming every month. THen the threatening letters came. I returned them as fast as they came with the same comment. "You want to sue a 16 YO? Give it your best shot, And I cvan throw these away as fast as you can send them" Then the letters came from a collection agency and I answered the same, "You bought a bad debt, and it is bad because you will never collect! Just keep trying, a 16 yo has no credit rating to ruin!" I may have used some salty language. I imagine those stamps were worth about 1/1000 of what they wanted to charge you.
By: Cranky on November 24, 2014
Do you still have the stamps? My husband is an avid collector of pre 1950 British Commonwealth -- spends lots of time on the e-bay checking out what's being auctioned...Good for your mother! She was absolutely right.
By: The Broad on November 24, 2014
GOOD FOR YOUR MOM! I only wish my father, Mal, was as tough with those sea monkey guys when they sent Sal and Guido the Knife to collect payment. I mean, they didn't have to break his legs. And, I wonder whatever happened to my little brother. The sea monkeys were crap, too.
By: Al Penwasser on November 24, 2014
wow! that's awesome! score one for stubborn mom!
By: TexWisGirl on November 24, 2014
Moms are always good to have!!
By: fishducky on November 24, 2014
It was so good of your mom to have your back. Although, I am now deeply ashamed of how many albums I received from Columbia and similar record offers before I reached legal age. My parents did not get involved.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on November 24, 2014
Your mom came through for you in true Janie Junebug style. I think I would have handled it exactly the same way. It's okay to be a nerd. One of The Hurricane's extra-curricular activities in college was a Latin poetry reading group. She called it a gathering of nerds, but she enjoyed it. She's not a nerd at all, and neither are you. You are a cool dude. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on November 24, 2014
What a cool, smart Mom you had. Pretty sure mine would have put me to work to pay for the stamps after grounding me for life.
By: Akansas Patti on November 24, 2014
Oh your mom was great! Way to go! Those sneaky stamp folks knew what they were doing putting the ad on the back of a comic book! Good for her! Do you still collect stamps? Have a great Thanksgiving!
By: Kathe W. on November 24, 2014
When I take the free trip advertised by phone I'l have to remember your Mom's tactics. I imagien you get the same calls to tell you've won a free trip...just send 50 bucks!
By: red on November 24, 2014
Your mother was legally correct, and i hope the company learned their lesson! Good for her for not backing down!
By: mimi on November 24, 2014
Same thing happened to me with cassette tapes. remember when they'd let you pick a whole bunch, and send them for free but then every month more would arrive -- with a bill. You could pay to send them back or pay for the tapes. I'm sure all those dopey companies knew they were dealing with kids. I can't imagine they made any money.
By: Lexa Cain on November 24, 2014
Great story! Love the way you wrote about the guy with the Chaplin moustache and the pretty blonde! Your Mom is my hero in this story!
By: Bouncin Barb on November 25, 2014
Sitting here laughing at how thrilled you were with your FREE bounty :) Kids...
By: The Bug on November 25, 2014
Thank goodness you didn't send away for a baby alligator like Beaver Cleaver. Though your mom might have let you keep it, since it was flushable.
By: Val on November 25, 2014
Oh, that's spectacular! What a Mom! And I meant to capitalize that. I'm a fan.
By: Catalyst on November 25, 2014
Stephen: I can hear a frustrated Lt. Tragg: "Ah, Mason. So you're defending this young man?" Great story! Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving!
By: Michael Manning on November 25, 2014
Wow, good for your mother! Great story.
By: Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma on November 26, 2014
Great story! The next time your mother frustrates you, just remember this episode. It will help you get through it!
By: Pixel Peeper on November 26, 2014
Yeah what we do without our mothers. Actually don't answer that. My brother collected stamps and was a chess player and listened to Joan Baez. As you tell, we aren't very similar. :D
By: LL Cool Joe on November 26, 2014
Playing catch-up... your mom was/is tough as nails and not to be messed with.
By: Daniel LaFrance on December 7, 2014

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