We don’t remember days, we remember moments. ~ Brook Noel
I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve made my mother-in-law’s baked spaghetti over the years. It’s become my signature dish and my kids’ favorite. Whenever a friend has a baby, I host a large party or I have to feed a group of hungry teens, I pull out the recipe. It always satisfies–and takes me back to New Year’s Eve 1979.
I was 14 years old that New Year’s Eve, attending my first youth event in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. We’d moved to the town just six weeks earlier. Our new neighbors next door were youth leaders at their church and invited my 13-year-old brother and me to a progressive dinner to meet some of the kids who lived nearby. Even though I was a painfully shy introvert and the thought of going terrified me, I managed to gather up my courage, as well as my little brother, and go–praying we’d be accepted in this new peer group.
Our first stop that evening was for salad at a home just down the road from us. Their garage- turned-pool room was our designated dining area and a perfect place for teens to hang out. I started to feel a little more comfortable until everyone left to fill up their salad plates. Since I didn’t like salad I found an empty stool and sat there awkwardly, waiting for them to return.
Oh God, I prayed, I don’t know if I can do this.
Just then a guy in a plaid shirt came up and introduced himself. “Hey, I’m John. Where are you from?”
I smiled shyly. “Just up the road in downtown Greenville.”
As we talked, I noticed John’s wavy brown hair. It looked just like the most popular guy’s hair at my old school. I wondered if he permed it like Mr. Popular did. John’s blue eyes smiled at me. He had the manners of a gentleman, even though he was only 16.
We were so engrossed in conversation, we barely noticed when the leaders called out that it was time to load back on the bus. We headed to the next house for the main dish. I managed to snag a seat near John on the bus as we continued to talk. I learned a few important facts about him—he’d been born in our little town and lived on a farm that’s land was an original tract given to his ancestors by a Lord’s Proprietor in England. Wow, this guy’s family roots ran deep.
Walking into the kitchen of our next host home, I asked John where he lived. He gave me a quizzical look, as if I should already know, and said, “Right here!” We were standing in his kitchen while his mom dished out the main course–baked spaghetti. I was so embarrassed.
While standing in line to get our plates, I realized I’d never heard of baked spaghetti. Asking John to describe it, he grinned, promising I’d love it. He said it was served at most youth functions. It was everyone’s favorite. He was right. It was delicious, some of the best spaghetti I’d ever eaten. We continued getting acquainted over heaping plates of his Mom’s special dish.
We ended the evening at another farmhouse, enjoying dessert and finally ringing in the New Year. The night had been magical for me. I hated to go home, having had a guy’s undivided attention all night.
A few days after the dinner, John called. “Hi Carol. I was wondering if you’d like to go out sometime.”
I cringed. I knew my father wouldn’t allow it. “I can’t,” I replied reluctantly. “I’m not allowed to date until I’m 16.”
“Oh. Well, do you think it’s going to snow tonight?” was his quick response.
“I dunno. I doubt it.” It was such an awkward moment. I’d never been asked out before.
“Yeah, me too. I guess I’ll talk to you later,” he said as we hung up.
I was disappointed, wishing things could be different. I thought that would be the end of his pursuit. I was wrong.
The next day he caught up to me in the hall at school and asked me out again. I brushed him off once more with the same excuse, but he was not one to give up easily. After the third request I went to my dad, telling him what a nice guy John was and “could I please go”? He made some inquiries about John to our new neighbors, who vouched highly for him and his family. My dad relented, finally.
“Ok, Toots (his nickname for me), you can go, but there’s one stipulation. I want John to come to the house and meet me face to face before I’ll let you go.”
I shuddered. My dad is 6’2”, an intimidating Yankee truck driver who served in the Vietnam War. I was scared of my dad. I was sure John would turn tail and run at the prospect of meeting him.
He didn’t. I told John the requirement for our date. “I’ll be there Saturday afternoon,” he said as he smiled confidently. I couldn’t help but admire him.
Saturday came. To my dismay, Daddy decided to cut down some trees around our house. Poor John, not only did he have to meet my dad, but he had to do it while Daddy wielded a chainsaw. I’m still unsure whether that was a planned strategy.
John got right in there with Daddy, helping him finish pulling one of the trees down after he’d cut it. I nervously sat in the house, not wanting to get in the way, but hoping they would hit it off.
John was pretty clever. While they worked on the trees, he suggested picking me up for church Sunday morning and taking me out to lunch afterward. That sealed the fate of our relationship, and our Sunday afternoons for the next five years.
When John was about to leave, I anxiously ran outside to tell him bye, hoping for good news. It was. Daddy had said I could go.
My dad says he made the right decision 35 years ago. John and I will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary this year and have built our home on his family’s farm. We have a beautiful curly-haired daughter (John didn’t have a perm) and a strong son who helps out on the farm. John has a good bit less hair now, but he’s still just as handsome with those steel blue eyes.
Every time I gather up my ingredients for baked spaghetti, I cherish the memory of that special New Year’s Eve so long ago–the day I was first introduced to John and baked spaghetti.
Sunday is Father’s Day and I’d like to say thanks to Daddy for always looking out for me, even now. I’m blessed with three wonderful fathers in my life: My dad, Don Limoges, my father-in-law, Bob Roper, and my husband, John. Thank you for the godly influence you’ve brought to my life and the lives of our children.
Happy Father’s Day!
16 oz. spaghetti noodles
3 cans tomato soup
3 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 onion, chopped
6 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
3 soup cans of water
2 lbs. ground hamburger
1-1/2 lbs shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350. Put water on to boil for noodles. In a large skillet, brown ground beef and onions together until hamburger is cooked through. Drain. In large stock pot, mix soups, Worcestershire, and hamburger meat. Once mixed, add cheese a handful at a time, reserving ½ cup. Stir in water. Simmer on low until cheese melts.
Meanwhile cook noodles until tender. Drain. Add to the rest of the ingredients and simmer 5 minutes. Pour into 2-9×13 baking pans. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Pull foil off and sprinkle remaining cheese over the top of spaghetti. Continue baking, uncovered, for an additional 15 minutes. Serves 12.