by David Cecelski
I was in Grays Creek, in a rural part of Cumberland County, when I saw this sign for a spaghetti plate sale at the Charity Baptist Church. I was too early to stop for dinner, but the church’s sign reminded me that I’ve had some of my nicest meals this year at community spaghetti suppers.
We’ve never had many Italian immigrants here in North Carolina. But during the Second World War, Italian boys stationed at our local military bases—and their visiting girlfriends, wives, and mommas—taught us to appreciate a good spaghetti dinner. Ever since WWII, we’ve made spaghetti with marinara sauce, Parmesan cheese, and (sometimes) meatballs probably our single most popular dish for community fundraising suppers.
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed nice spaghetti dinners at schools, volunteer fire departments, VFW posts, and lots of churches. My favorite this past year, though, was probably in May in a little community in the foothills. I was on a 10-day trip away from home and was eating by myself most nights and getting a little lonely. One night, though, I saw an announcement for a Rotary Club spaghetti supper that was posted at the grocery store. I thought the location was a little strange—an old people’s rest home—but I went anyway.
That night I learned that the Rotary Club was holding its spaghetti fundraiser at the rest home cafeteria because it was the only space in town that was big enough to hold the crowd. The spaghetti was great—the few Italians in town were obviously strutting their stuff—and I loved the company. The Rotary ladies fawned over this stranger from afar (I was the only diner they didn’t know), which I didn’t mind at all. And the rest home residents sat with us and ate spaghetti, too. They told stories about mountain life and ways that I’ll never forget, the same way I won’t ever forget their kindness to me that night.