Mass. man hosts free Thanks­giv­ing din­ner

Ma­caulay in 33rd year of his tra­di­tion, feed­ing 60 to 100 peo­ple an­nu­ally in north­west sub­urb of Bos­ton

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Connecticut - By Cathy Free

For his first Thanks­giv­ing alone in 1985, Scott Ma­caulay was think­ing that he would have to heat up a frozen turkey din­ner and turn on a foot­ball game to sti­fle the si­lence in his apart­ment near Bos­ton.

With his par­ents re­cently di­vorced and “no­body talk­ing to any­body,” he said, “I was look­ing at a pretty rot­ten Thanks­giv­ing. And I ab­so­lutely hate to eat alone.”

Then Ma­caulay, a di­vorced vac­uum cleaner re­pair­man, had an idea: What if he took out an ad in his home­town pa­per, the Mel­rose Free Press, and in­vited 12 strangers to join him for Thanks­giv­ing din­ner? It seemed like a man­age­able num­ber to host at the First Bap­tist Church he at­tended — and, yeah, it was a lit­tle crazy, but it had to be bet­ter than be­ing lonely.

“I knew that I couldn’t be the only one in this sit­u­a­tion,” he said. “There had to be at least a dozen peo­ple out there who didn’t want to spend Thanks­giv­ing Day alone.”

Ac­tu­ally, more.

Since those 12 strangers gath­ered around his ta­ble for turkey, stuff­ing and pump­kin pie 33 years ago, Ma­caulay has made his free feast an an­nual event, invit­ing any­one to make a reser­va­tion by call­ing his of­fice phone num­ber that’s printed in the pa­per. He does not own a cell­phone or com­puter. Through the years, he has fed plenty of wid­ows, wid­ow­ers, home­less peo­ple, col­lege kids who can’t make it home — even the guest who crawled un­der the ta­ble a few years ago. All are wel­come.

In the town of 27,000 about 10 miles north­west of Bos­ton, Ma­caulay feeds 60 to 100 peo­ple ev­ery year.

When the oven broke at his church one Thanks­giv­ing, he moved the repast to the base­ment of Mel­rose’s Green Street Bap­tist Church, which now do­nates space for the din­ner ev­ery year.

About a week be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, Ma­caulay, 57, who owns and lives above Ma­caulay’s House of Vac­uum Clean­ers, goes gro­cery shop­ping and buys ev­ery­thing him­self, though he prefers not to say how much it all costs him be­cause “that would take away the spirit of it.” Asked again, he said the to­tal ex­ceeds $1,000.

The menu in­cludes four large tur­keys, five kinds of pie (pump­kin, ap­ple, mince, cherry and the ever-pop­u­lar Her­shey’s frozen sun­dae pie), sweet pota­toes, stuff­ing, mashed pota­toes with gravy, but­ter­nut squash, cran­ber­ries, fruit cups and rolls with but­ter. He stores it all in re­frig­er­a­tors at the church un­til the morn­ing of the feast.

A few days be­fore­hand, he hauls in so­fas, re­clin­ers, ori­en­tal rugs and even a cou­ple of fake fire­places, and dec­o­rates a rec hall to re­sem­ble a cozy liv­ing room.

Can­dle­sticks and cloth nap­kins are placed on ta­bles, cur­tains are hung in the win­dows, and ad­join­ing rooms are set up for guests to re­lax and get to know one an­other over ap­pe­tiz­ers: chips and dip in one room and cheese and crack­ers in the next.

“This isn’t about the food, though,” Ma­caulay said. “It’s about hav­ing a place to go. Si­lence is un­bear­able, es­pe­cially on Thanks­giv­ing. My goal is al­ways to repli­cate the feel­ing of hav­ing a nice din­ner in some­body’s home.”

Reser­va­tions usu­ally come in at the last minute, he said, “be­cause ev­ery­one is hop­ing for a bet­ter of­fer.” Af­ter 32 Thanks­giv­ings, Ma­caulay can laugh about it and never takes of­fense. He’s made dozens of friends and an equal num­ber of mem­o­ries.

“There was a guy one year who’d just lost his wife,” he said. “And af­ter din­ner, he put on her old apron and helped me to do the dishes.”

One year, he said, an el­derly woman paid $200 for an am­bu­lance to drive her to the church from her nurs­ing home. She ar­rived decked out in fancy clothes and told Ma­caulay she hadn’t been out in seven years. She cried when din­ner was over.

Then there was the time his par­ents both showed up. Ma­caulay’s mother was dy­ing of breast can­cer and wanted to be with fam­ily. So did his dad.

“There they were, sit­ting on the couch to­gether,” he said, “hold­ing each other’s hand, years af­ter their di­vorce. I can still see them sit­ting there. That’s a happy mem­ory.”

Some peo­ple re­turn year af­ter year to re­lax with strangers in front of a faux fire­place.

Ge­off Shanklin, 65, who lives alone and has at­tended ev­ery din­ner, said he watches in ad­mi­ra­tion each year when Ma­caulay makes the din­ner hap­pen.

“He pre­pares it all, and we bring our­selves,” Shanklin said. “He re­ally en­joys pass­ing it on to lonely peo­ple in Mel­rose. For peo­ple like me with nowhere to go, Scott is fam­ily.”

Last year, Loretta Saint-Louis, 66, was feel­ing down be­cause she couldn’t make it to Ohio for her fam­ily’s an­nual gath­er­ing. Then she spot­ted Ma­caulay’s news­pa­per ad.

“I had no idea what I was walk­ing into,” she said, “and I was sur­prised at how fancy and well­done it was. Scott re­ally goes all out. It’s ex­traor­di­nary that he does this, but he sees it as a gift to give to ev­ery­one. He re­ally pulls the lit­tle com­mu­nity of Mel­rose to­gether.”

Be­cause Thanks­giv­ing wouldn’t be Thanks­giv­ing with­out giv­ing thanks, Ma­caulay al­ways asks peo­ple to write what they’re thank­ful for on a slip of pa­per and leave their thoughts in a bas­ket. He saves the sub­mis­sions and reads them through­out the year, long af­ter the ta­ble has been cleared and the dishes washed.

The top thing peo­ple write about is be­ing thank­ful for their health.

“Some­times, they’re grate­ful they no longer have can­cer or that they fi­nally found a job or have a place to live,” he said. “One year, a guy wrote that he was thank­ful his son was speak­ing to him again. That one was a tear-jerker.”

Ma­caulay has a son, Wal­ter, 22, who helps serve and clean up. He’s the des­ig­nated turkey carver.

Nei­ther fa­ther nor son bat­ted an eye a few years ago when Ma­caulay’s ex-wife strolled in with her new hus­band and of­fered to play the pi­ano while ev­ery­one ate.

And as for the woman a few years ago who hid un­der the ta­ble?

“I don’t ask ques­tions,” Ma­caulay said. “She got served the same as any­one.”

PAT FISH/WASH­ING­TON POST

Scott Ma­caulay takes in a faux fire­place to pre­pare for his Thanks­giv­ing 2017 free feast in Mel­rose, Mass. A few days be­fore the meal, he also hauls in so­fas, re­clin­ers and ori­en­tal rugs and dec­o­rates a rec hall to re­sem­ble a cozy liv­ing room at Green Street Bap­tist Church.

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