Written and Illustrated By Stephanie Mesler
Agatha’s Kitchen was closed for thirteen days following her son’s birth. Ag spent those thirteen days adoring her boy and wondering how anyone could think any child too demanding or too finicky. Her boy, Jems as she had already started calling him, was the most good-natured and beautiful being on Earth. From the day he was born, Jems slept through the nights, never once waking to be fed or changed. Each morning, it was the sun peeking through her shutters that awakened Ag from the most restful sleep she ever had. She would roll over to check on Jems, who slept in a bassinet beside his mother. Each morning, she would find him laying there, smiling, just waiting for his mama to wake up. Then he would happily submit to the morning routine, which included feeding, a bath, clean diaper and clothes. Then, the boy would lay quietly on a blanket beside his mother while she read a collection of poems she had always loved.
Somewhere around mid-morning, Nancy Carvewhinkle would arrive at Ag’s home to marvel at how rested the new mother appeared and to see what help she could be, always expecting to find some level of chaos in the home of the widowed mother of a newborn who eschewed the hiring of servants. Ag's home never was chaotic though.. Somehow, the dishes were always washed and the floors neatly swept. There was never a lack of food in the pantries or ice box. The new mother was calm, collected and seemingly without any need of assistance with the new babe. It all seemed to come easily to Agatha Jones.
Mrs. Carvewhinkle was happy to see such smooth sailing in the life of this woman and happy to be allowed just to hold wee Jems for a couple of hours each day while his mother cooked, because other than the days of the labor and birth, Agatha never missed a day at her stove. She took advantage of the days Agatha’s Kitchen was closed to try out new recipes. There was a butter bean and rosemary pie Mr. Carvewhinkle said was the best meal he’d ever eaten that did not contain meat; also a tomato tart topped with the mildest of smooth white cheeses, served hot with yeasty rolls and braised beef; there was steamed salmon over rice with broccoli, all topped with a creamy pink sauce. There were new deserts too, the best of which was rosewater ice cream that brought tears to Winey Whybrew’s eyes.
“You have a real gift,” she said to the cook. “You are a real chef, a great wonder.”
“Why thank you, “ said Ag, touched by the woman’s kind words.
“Seems to me,” continued the midwife, “your food is too good to be sold at the counter of a butcher shop.”
When Ag did not ask what she meant, the woman continued, you should shut down that take-out kitchen you are operating. It attracts the wrong types!”
Ag did not need to ask what Winey meant by that comment. The woman had already made known her opinion of Agatha’s Kitchen’s current clientele. Somewhere between hours 6 and 9 of her labor, Ag had endured a scolding from Winey Whybrew about attracting the “wrong sorts” to her business. "A young mother should not be associating with those whose children would be a bad influence on her own!"
“Open a restaurant, you should! A cafe or a great dining hall,” the old woman continued. “You could hire staff to serve the food and help in the kitchen. I bet your new restaurant would put Whitby on the map. We could give those smug snoots down to Scarborough a run for the tourists’ money. Might even teach those muckety mucks over in Leeds a thing or two!”
Ag wasn’t interested in showing anyone anything, but it did occur to her that a town such as Whitby was always in need of new industry and the jobs it created. She liked the idea of employing some of the townfolk who need employment. Of course, she’d never consider closing the take-out business she operated at Carvewhinkle’s. In fact, she had every intention of expanding it.
Day thirteen of her recovery from childbirth, Agatha walked beside Nancy Carvewhinkle to the butcher shop, where Mr. Carvewhinkle jumped right over the counter to hug the new mother and greet the new baby boy. “He’s a big one!” the man cried. “A real bruiser! I’ll have him slinking a cleaver in no time!”
“You’ll do no such thing,” growled Nancy Carvewhinkle stepping between her husband and the babe, preventing the big man from scooping the child right out of its mother’s arms. “You’ll wait ‘til he is full grown before putting a tool in his hands. Even then I hope he shows no interest. This boy will be refined, as refined as his good mother! She reads poetry to him already, you know!" Then, pushing her husband toward the wash basin, she said, "Go wash your hands and put on a clean smock before you hold him!”
Mr. Carvewhinkle did as he was was told while his wife sat in a rocking chair she had bought and placed in a corner by the front door for the sole purpose of rocking Jeremy Jones while his mother worked. Agatha herself started cleaning the shelves and counter where her meals were sold each day. When Mr. Carvewhinkle appeared to take his own turn holding her son, Agatha made an announcement.
“Agatha’s Kitchen will reopen tomorrow. This time next month, we’ll have expanded the business to include a full-service dining room, which will be open for tea and for supper. I am hoping I can count on you two for help.”
Of course she could! There was never any doubt.