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 21, 2014


We recently passed the sixth anniversary of my dad’s passing, although it seems like only yesterday when I received a call from Mom telling me Dad was gone. His death was totally unexpected and much that happened during that time is a blur. One incident does stand out clearly. It had to do with a painting.


I made arrangements to return Dad’s ashes to California so he could rest near his mother and where Mom’s family members are buried. Years ago I painted a portrait of Dad, and Mom asked me to frame it and bring it with us so it could be set on an easel during the service. I didn’t think it a good idea. Dad hadn’t really liked the painting. It wasn’t that he felt I’d failed to capture his likeness; he thought I’d presented him in a manner that wasn’t truthful.


I’d painted the portrait back when I had visions of becoming a celebrated portrait painter. My problem back then was I needed people to sit for me so I could create a portrait portfolio to showcase my work. In truth, my portrait wasn’t intended to resemble Dad; it was designed to look like a corporate CEO. I posed Dad in a sports coat he seldom wore, and had him lean against the front of a desk with a golf club in his hands. Dad had marvelous hands, strong and manly, a joy to paint, and I probably paid more attention to his hands than his face.


I think the classy treatment made Dad uncomfortable. He thought of himself as a simple farm boy from Modesto and wasn’t the sort to put on airs. My mother probably liked seeing her husband depicted as a CEO, a man capable of giving orders and inspiring people, unlike the self-effacing quiet man she’d married. I did show my painting of Dad to a few prospects and I did receive commissions because of it. This was the painting Mom wanted me to bring to Dad’s funeral.


I had the picture custom framed and wrapped so I could carry it on the plane. We drove to the airport. I set the painting on the roof of the RAV before helping wrestle Mom and the luggage into the terminal. I was about to reach for the painting when Mrs. C. and CJ drove off to park the car. I yelled at them to stop but they couldn’t hear me. I was still waving my arms when the RAV vanished around a curve in the road.


When they returned to the terminal in a parking lot shuttle I explained that they’d driven off with Dad’s portrait on the roof of the car. They felt horrible. CJ commented that they’d heard a sound on the roof but couldn’t identify it. I checked to see that Mom was okay in the terminal before we all started running in the direction of the parking lot, checking every inch of land bordering the road for a painting that must have blown off the roof in the breeze. It was as if a hole in a parallel universe opened and the painting fell through it. When we returned from California I called the airport’s lost and found every week for months to see if anyone had found and turned in the painting, without success.


I can’t help but feel that Dad played a hand in this. I was certain he didn’t want that big, pompous picture at his funeral. I’m glad he got his way, but I wish he’d figured out a different way to do it, a way that let me keep my painting. 




That's too bad about the painting, but I guess he got his way in the end.
By: PT Dilloway on May 21, 2014
Yes, I do agree that your Dad was having his way in the end.
By: Shelly on May 21, 2014
seems he did get his wishes, but sad that you lost it.
By: TexWisGirl on May 21, 2014
Stephen: My condolences on the passing of your Dad. I lost mine the week of Christmas 13 years ago and still miss him. I think all of your paintings are superb. A wonderful post.
By: Michael Manning on May 21, 2014
I am glad you and your dad had a good relationship. One of my greatest regrets is of not yet being mature-enough at the time of his death 33 years ago to fully appreciate all of the sacrifices he had made for his family.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on May 21, 2014
awww what a shame- I would have liked seeing that image- especailly his hands. But imagine where he might have ended up- you never know- he might be up on someone's walls and they love his face!
By: Kathe W. on May 21, 2014
It did occur to me that it was your father's (strong) hand that played a part in the painting's disappearance. Gotta love that.. despite your loss all around.
By: Hilary on May 21, 2014
How strange for it to just disappear like that! My thought would be that your dad reached down from heaven and snatched it off the top of the car.
By: Coloring Outside the Lines on May 21, 2014
I was hoping to see the picture, but yes, your dad got his way, and if he wanted you to find it, it would have been in the lost and found,
By: Cranky on May 21, 2014
Some things just aren't meant to be. You are right, it would have been nicer had it been returned to you.
By: mimi on May 21, 2014
Yeah your Dad's having a grin about your painting right now. :D Shame you lost your work though.
By: LL COOL JOE on May 21, 2014
Too strange not to be true. But it begs for you to post another painting or at least a picture of your dad. (I have a photo of my dad here on my desk (d. 2002). In the photo he is smiling. In real life he hardly ever smiled. But I prefer to remember him the way I want to remember him.)
By: Tom Sightings on May 21, 2014
I'm sensing his hand in this also. I was hoping to see the painting and wonder just where it did end up.
By: Akansas Patti on May 21, 2014
Yeah. That was no accident. I hope the scavengers who picked up that package appreciated your dad's (un)likeness. Maybe it led somebody from a life of roadside theft to a life as a CEO.
By: Val on May 21, 2014
awww, that's sad. i hope the painting found a good home.
By: Fran on May 21, 2014
I guess you will always wonder where that painting ended up...
By: Pixel Peeper on May 21, 2014
What a neat story! Accidents can bring about very unusual stories.
By: red on May 21, 2014
Things happen for a reason, I always say. At least you tried. :)
By: Scott Park on May 21, 2014
It seems you were able to satisfy both parents their opposing wishes! Well done!
By: The Broad on May 22, 2014
How frustrating! It's perplexing that such a big item would completely vanish unless...your dad was, and still is, a very powerful man.
By: Robyn Engel on May 22, 2014
Those hands were very strong, weren't they? Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on May 22, 2014
YES!!! Your Dad DID have a hand in THAT!!! I SO love that idea!! I know what you mean about that 6 years... just a blur... Mom has been gone 34... Dad...almost 18... Wow... I do understand... ~shoes~
By: redshoes51 on May 22, 2014
Your Dad´s portrait is probably hanging in someone´s house and makes a great party tale about how they came across this great painting lying on the road and how it must have been meant for them!
By: John on May 26, 2014
So sorry for your loss. You obviously loved your Dad a great deal and losing the painting was another part of him you admired.
By: Daniel LaFrance on May 26, 2014
What an interesting turn of events. So sad about the loss of your dad and all the pain that goes with that. I think that is an interesting idea that maybe your dad had a role in making the painting disappear.
By: Cheryl P. on May 29, 2014

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