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 Smell of Cut Grass

May 4, 2015


On Friday morning I took a moment to enjoy the Spring weather while waiting for the pool to open where I swim laps. The light glistened like an Impressionist painting, and the air was heavy with the scent of grass being mowed at the adjacent high school. Few things trigger memories better than smells, and the pungent scent of cut grass reminded me of all the lawns I’d mowed over the years.


To be clear, I’ve always hated mowing lawns. When I was a kid we had a big lawn and the cheapest lawnmower on the block. Even though my dad was a master mechanic, our lawnmower was always covered in rust and when pushed shrieked like a banshee in heat. We eventually purchased a power mower, but by then my disdain for mowing lawns was fully developed.


In spite of my dislike for yard work, when Mrs. C. and I married and started purchasing houses we usually ended up buying corner properties with big unruly lawns. I mowed, edged, aerated, and fertilized, all to grow the healthy grass I harvested and threw in the trash.


In 1998 we sold our home and moved into a townhouse. One of the benefits was having a gardener. I’d never again mow a lawn. That first Tuesday after moving in, I was excited; it was gardening day and I played hooky from work to enjoy the thrill of watching someone else mow my lawn. I brewed a pot of coffee, pressed my nose through the blinds of our front window and waited…and waited….


It was late afternoon when a pickup loaded with lawn mowers and gardening equipment parked in front of our townhouse. The show was about to begin. I expected to see a strapping young guy jump out of the truck and show my lawn who was in charge, but like most fantasies, this wasn’t the case. Instead of a burly Brawny paper towel dude, my raggedy gardener looked like Bernie Sanders; a bent Methuselah with white hair and thick glasses.


Guilt turned the spit in my mouth to sand as I watched the wizened old man remove a lawnmower from the back of the pickup. It didn’t take long for him to mow my small lawn, and in spite of my anticipation at having my own gardener I couldn’t wait for him to finish and be gone.


After mowing, he edged the lawn, trimmed bushes and pruned three Japanese maples, all the while working with the precision of a barber. I felt terrible peering at him from behind my blinds; I had to be thirty years his junior. I felt like a heel watching him labor in the sun, cutting my grass. I should have lent a hand, brought him a cold drink, but I didn’t. He finally pulled a leaf blower from the truck and blew the driveway and sidewalks clean. The day was warming up, and his wrinkled brow was beaded with sweat by the time he finished.


Instead of pitching in, I reflected on my life, comparing the person I wanted to be with the cold reality of who I truly was. I considered telling the old man not to come back; in the future I’d mow my own lawn. But this senior citizen was probably struggling on a fixed income and needed the extra cash. Then and there I made a profound decision—never again look out the window on gardening day.


But I faltered, and one day saw a younger gardener mowing my lawn. I couldn’t resist inquiring after the old fellow who’d appeared every Tuesday for years.


“That was my grandpa,” the young fellow said.


“Is he alright?” I asked, expecting to hear he’d keeled over in the sun and died with his hands clenching the handle of a lawnmower.


“He’s fine. He turned eighty last week and retired to his spread on the coast near Puerto Vallarta.”


I couldn’t believe it; the raggedy old man had a spread in Puerto Vallarta?


“Gramps has been mowing lawns for sixty years. We’ve been trying to convince him to retire, but some people aren’t happy unless they’re busy.”


I’ve always wanted to see Puerto Vallarta. Perhaps I’ll visit my old gardener one day, and maybe I’ll mow his lawn.



Are you a gardener? Do you enjoy yard work?




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He retired to Puerto Vallarta? Who knew you could make so much money mowing lawns? Next time I mow ours, I'm demanding my wife pay me.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on May 4, 2015
Your sentimental comment about visiting Puerto Vallarta should be done toute de suite. After all, your retired gardener is 80! I have 12 acres to manage. Zero turn riding mowers... enough said. ;)
By: Daniel LaFrance on May 4, 2015
A very lively story (as usual). Now that I've seen the climate in Portland and have seen all the green, your grass must grow twice as fast as it does here. Which means that the mowing business is probably very healthy. Trivia: did you know that the fresh cut green grass smell is a defense mechanism from the actual grass because it is being attacked and is essentially crying out in pain?
By: Michael Offutt on May 4, 2015
I find gardening pretty therapeutic although mowing lawns is pretty low down on my list of fun things to do.
By: Jenny Woolf on May 4, 2015
Isn't it amazing how things rarely turn out exactly as we thin they will.
By: Tabor on May 4, 2015
the smell of freshly cut grass is always a trigger for me as well. I leave the house so I don't have to listen to the curses that accompany the event.
By: Oma Linda on May 4, 2015
Love gardens--HATE gardening!!
By: fishducky on May 4, 2015
Since i can't grow anything but crab grass, we just have Mike-Next-Door mow the lawn.
By: mimi on May 4, 2015
I was proud the day my Dad let me push our mower. Few people did the edging in the Midwest neighborhood where I was raised.
By: Michael Manning on May 4, 2015
Love gardening. Mowing is the least strenuous part and offers the biggest reward. The evidence of your labors is clear. Enjoying the view and lovely smell while lazing in the hammock when done is so worth it.
By: Akansas Patti on May 4, 2015
I always dread the idea of cutting the grass, but I have to say once I start, and get into it, I quite enjoy it. It burns a few calories and I enjoy how the lawn looks once I've finished.
By: LL Cool Joe on May 4, 2015
i LOVE mowing yard (of course, the majority here is with a rider mower, but i love it). i'd rather mow yard than do anything in the house.
By: TexWisGirl on May 4, 2015
Puerto Vallarta would be a very nice place to retire. I'll bet he's still mowing grass down there.
By: Catalyst on May 4, 2015
I used to mow the yard of the $17,900 house I bought in town. It was on the corner, a double lot. I could knock that thing out in one hour flat with a push mower. The summer I was five months pregnant, my husband decided people might think less of him if they drove by and saw me pushing the mower. He became the lawn-mower. It took him two hours each time, on a riding mower.
By: Val on May 4, 2015
I am 75 and I enjoy yard work. I don't think I'd want to do it for a living. I don't have the motivation for that.
By: red on May 4, 2015
I like this happy ending. Who knew gardening could be so lucrative? The main reason I'll never choose to be a home-owner is because I have no clue about gardening. If I get rich someday and decide to own, I'll go to Puerto Vallarta to seek out your gardener.
By: Robyn Engel on May 4, 2015
We finally found someone to mow our yard. I hope he lasts longer than the others have.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on May 5, 2015
What a great tale, you describe it so well I felt there were two noses pressed through the blinds.
By: John on May 5, 2015
just goes to show you can't judge a book by it's cover. I did my best to get rid of the grass when I lived in the city, giving the yard over to bushes and ground covers, Out here in the country though on this half acre of grass I have my work cut out for me.
By: Ellen Abbott on May 5, 2015
I just mowed our lawn yesterday - I like the opportunity to get more steps in (someday I'll hit 10,000 in a day!). But our lawn is pretty small - it only took me about half an hour :)
By: The Bug on May 5, 2015
I've only hired gardeners for spring and fall cleanups when we lived in the Portland Metro area.....I can describe the growing climate up in the NW in one word: OVERGROWN! and that includes the blackberry! ps I actually enjoyed mowing when I had a lawn back in the 70's.
By: Kathe W. on May 5, 2015
I used to mow the lawn when I worked part-time hours. Figured it was only fair. Once I went back to full time work, the mowing went back to my husband. It's a pain...takes about an hour, and here in Florida we mow almost year-round.
By: Pixel Peeper on May 5, 2015
We removed our lawn here in Cali. BUt being a farm girl, I agree with the whole smell of grass being mowed as a simple pleasure. My brothers had that as their chore, and they hated it too.
By: laurel on May 6, 2015

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