In Money in the Jar, an aging restaurant owner named Doug is set in his ways, which explains why the new place up the street is stealing all his customers. The story poses a familiar question: Can you teach an old Doug new tricks?
About the Author
Henry Mitchell and his wife, Jane Ella Matthews, reside in Saluda, NC (pop 720) in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. His family has lived in the Southern Appalachians for eight generations.
Henry has written three novels and a book of short stories, all published by Alfie Dog Fiction and available on Amazon. You can learn more about Henry’s work at his Amazon Author page, or at his website: henrymitchellbooks.com
Peruse beautiful photos and consider Henry’s daily thoughts on his blog: droversgap.com
Money in the Jar by Henry Mitchell
Doug flipped the sign to Open, unlocked the door, and once back behind the counter, set the pint jar on top. It caught the light from his front window, flashed him an image of the street outside, curled and furled like a new leaf by the arc of the glass. A dog-eared scrap of paper scotch-taped to the side warned Tips. The invitation went largely unheeded.
The letters painted on the window still spelled Wardlow’s Lunch, although it had been years since Doug bought the place and Jackson Wardlow dead since winter past. Doug had never done the business Wardlow had. He blamed the new cafe that opened three doors up the street. They had a real chef up there, and the summer folk packed it out May to October. Few by few, the old regulars had gravitated up to the new place. The owners, a young couple from over to Asheton, had put a lot of money into it. The husband had a degree from a culinary institute down east, and they advertised the fact, which seemed to impress the tourists no end. Doug had to admit the food up there was in another world from his. They invited him for a free meal, and Doug never passed up anything that didn’t cost money. He felt like he was eating in a movie. The wife served him a dish as pretty and neat as a birthday cake. Doug felt almost sad to put his fork to it. Everything on his plate tasted like half a dozen other things besides. They gave him a glass of wine to go with it, and a glass of another kind to go with his dessert. Doug didn’t serve wine or even beer at Wardlow’s. He couldn’t afford the license. The restaurant had been crowded even though it was a Monday night. Apparently, they took reservations. It surprised him that so many people in Drovers Gap could afford to eat in such an establishment. He left thankful they didn’t serve breakfast. Wardlow’s was hanging on by a breakfast thread.
Doug did what he could. He cut back on his help. Just him and a part-time cook now. In the mornings, Doug did all the cooking himself. He switched to paper plates and cups and washed his own pots and pans. He still served his coffee in glass mugs though. He took pride in his coffee, didn’t want to serve a drink that tasted like plastic.
A handful of old-timers in town still drank their first coffee of the day at Wardlow’s. Their mugs were named and hanging on the wall behind Doug’s counter. They’d be straggling in soon now, shuffling and wheezing, leaning on their canes, flabby and stooped, their muscle long since gone to string and fat. Mostly men, but a few lean and weathered women too, who tended straighter than the males, also older. The women had long since laid their burden of ailing husbands to earth or had avoided the ravages of marriage altogether and so were entitled to live as they pleased, a kind of second youth that only the aged and unencumbered ever come to know.
Most of these survivors had been part of the Drovers Gap scenery forever. A new face always inspired a flurry of greetings and questions from all present and speculation and gossip as soon as they left. Doug participated in these discussions and examinations as much as any of his patrons.
. . .
Twenty to seven. The morning tribe was running late. The sun had not quite cleared Warrior Bald when Doug came in, but now black clouds scudded in low over the ridgeline, dropping their shadow over Drovers Gap like a hawk coming down on a rabbit. A gust of wind rattled the signs outside. Rain squalled by in a burst, blurring the street and drumming loud on Doug’s awning. A Hummer’s headlights came on as it passed, wipers leaping across the glistening windshield. Doug marveled that anyone would buy such an ostentatious monstrosity even if they had the money for it.
“Well, I’m hungry if nobody else is,” Doug said to his empty tip jar. He turned up the gas, put a couple of slices of bacon on the grill to fry, and began to whip up some eggs.
“That for me?” said Amelia McTeer as she slipped through the door. Before she closed it, Ned Truelight’s old pickup swished past on the drowned street, sounding a curious echo of the sizzling bacon.
“Yours if you want it,” said Doug. “Eggs or pancakes?”
“How about an omelet?”
Doug liked that about Amelia, though he didn’t mean to take her bait. Amelia had a strong inclination to be contrary to anything usual. She wasn’t from around here. Her husband ran Hillhaven Inn up in Asheton. He wasn’t from around here either, but his family was. He’d inherited the inn from his grandmother Alice, and Amelia had come all the way from California to marry him and take him back there. Like a lot of folk who came here on their way to somewhere else, she’d stayed. A year ago, she’d opened a real estate office in town and seemed to be doing pretty well selling summer homes that got left behind when their aging owners returned to earth or got too feeble to venture this far from their doctors.
“I don’t do omelets, Amelia. You know that by now. This is breakfast. Grits or hashbrowns, bacon or sausage, and eggs scrambled, poached or fried.”
Amelia dropped her coat and briefcase on the end of the counter and came around back. “I make a mean omelet, Doug. Let me show you.”
“You’re not supposed to come back here, Amelia,” Doug growled unconvincingly while trying to strangle a smile.
“No,” she said with her little laugh that always sounded to Doug like mischief on the hoof, “I’m supposed to be getting rich in California, but instead I’m here, so I thought I’d start my day with you.”
Doug tended his bacon and stirred his grits while Amelia diced onion, tomato, and sweet pepper.
“I was saving that pepper to go with the steak at lunch,” he protested.
“Just the one,” Amelia reassured him.
Out of the corner of his eye, he watched her lift and turn and fold it all together, and just as she slid it onto her plate, Clyde Edgerton, the postmaster, came in and pointed. “Looks delicious. Give me one of those. With grits.”
The coffee went without saying. Doug took down Clyde’s mug, filled it, and put it in front of him, along with Amelia’s omelet. “This is special, Clyde. It’ll cost you a quarter extra.”
Amelia was already making another one for herself when Bruce Holt, the barber, ambled in and sat down by Clyde. The rain had moved on by then, and the passing cars scarcely whispered on the damp pavement when the door opened. Bruce pointed at his cup, and while Doug filled it, Bruce eyed Clyde’s omelet. “What youns eating there, Edgerton?”
“It’s special, cost you extra,” Clyde mumbled around a mouthful of omelet.
“Looks worth it.” Bruce nodded approvingly. “I’ll take one of them myself.”
“It’s an omelet,” said Amelia, turning her second onto a plate and setting it before Bruce.
Six omelets later, Amelia left without ever getting one of her own, although she carried away two of Doug's biscuits sliced and loaded with bacon. By then she had given Doug enough instruction that he was getting the hang of omeletizing and was able to fake his way until he had enough practice to be confident at it. If any of his customers noticed his shortcomings in the omelet department, they didn’t complain.
During the lull before lunch, Doug revised his chalkboard. He wasn’t sure exactly how to spell omelet, so, below Eggs – fried or scrambled – $4.50, he wrote Amelia’s special – $5.00. He’d have to figure on it, but offhand, considering the work and how popular it was, Doug didn’t think a quarter was extra enough.
Though there was nobody to tip but Doug in the mornings at Wardlow’s, today, the jar was already half full.
About the Story
Money in the Jar was written by Henry Mitchell.
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