'Brighten The Corner Where You Are': Finding A New Way To Be Thankful In A Pandemic

Nov 13, 2020
Originally published on November 16, 2020 6:32 am

For more than three decades, Scott Macaulay, a vacuum repairman in Melrose, Mass., has been hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for people who have nowhere else to go — a situation he found himself in after his parents' acrimonious divorce.

His tradition started in 1985, when he put an ad in the local paper, offering to cook Thanksgiving dinner for a dozen guests. Macaulay, 59, realized his family most likely wouldn't get together for Thanksgiving that year, and he doesn't like to eat alone.

"I just thought, well, there must be some other people that are in the same boat and why should they have that rotten feeling? Why should they be stuck home alone?" Macaulay told StoryCorps in 2010.

The annual feast has blossomed since then. Last year, nearly 100 guests showed up at the church where it was held.

Loretta Saint-Louis, one of those guests, spoke with Macaulay last week for a remote StoryCorps conversation.

In 2017, Saint-Louis saw his ad in the Melrose Free Press with a phone number to reserve a seat at the table.

"I was new to Melrose and I didn't really know people here," Saint-Louis, 68, told him. "It took a bit of courage for me to just call you."

Macaulay was delighted when she called to make a reservation; he'd been searching for someone to do the grace for the meal, and she was a newly ordained American Baptist minister.

Macaulay asked Saint-Louis what her first impression was of, in his words, "this crazy guy on the other end of the phone."

"You were so friendly," she said. "I was blown away, all the care that you put into it. It felt like I was going to a family Thanksgiving event."

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Macaulay won't be hosting his normally large gathering this year.

Instead, he's giving a small number of people groceries to cook dinner at home. For those who have transportation, he's offering 100 guests a gift coupon for a local restaurant where they can pick up a full Thanksgiving dinner.

"It's nice to know that you still want to feed us, but it's the togetherness of it that's important," Saint-Louis said.

Macaulay reflected on the previous years' dinners, which he says have drawn people of all different ages and backgrounds.

"What I find always interesting is, despite the great differences, they all have similar things that they're thankful for," he said. "And some of them will make you cry. Somebody will say their son's now speaking to them. You know, no matter what your condition is — health-wise, financial, or newly divorced, or newly widowed — they focus for some time on good things. And I think that's wonderful."

Saint-Louis asked Macaulay for the advice he'd share with people who will be alone this Thanksgiving.

"I would say: Call everybody and anybody that you can think of to tell them, 'I love you,' " he said. "Connect with as many people that you think might be alone or would appreciate a call and tell them you're thinking of them."

Macaulay works a second job, cleaning and maintaining the grounds at a local country club to raise the money he needs to support hosting the dinner every year.

A small crew helps him move in some dining furniture at the church and later cook the dinner. But he doesn't take volunteers for the organizing and grocery shopping, preferring guests to simply participate in the dinners, nor does he solicit donations or ask for discounts.

"My philosophy is: I can't fix the country or the world or even the town, but I can brighten my own corner," he said. "It doesn't matter what any of the differences that we can divide ourselves with — if your neighbor's house is burning down, you run to help. You run to put the fires out. I'm not going to sit around, talk about it, I'm just going to do something about it. And that's sort of what the Thanksgiving dinner is all about.

"That would be my hope for America, that everybody would just brighten the corner where they are."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jey Born. NPR's Emma Bowman adapted this interview for the Web.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And it is time for StoryCorps this morning. For the last 35 years, a vacuum repairman in Melrose, Mass., named Scott Macaulay has been hosting a Thanksgiving dinner for people who have nowhere else to go. It was a situation he found himself in after his parents' difficult divorce. Here is Scott from a StoryCorps interview recorded in 2010.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SCOTT MACAULAY: I just thought, well, there must be some other people that are in the same boat. And why should they have that rotten feeling? Why should they be stuck home alone? So what I did was I put an ad in the local paper, and I offered to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 12 people if they gave me a call. So that's what I did.

GREENE: Yeah. And the tradition has just grown and grown. Last year, nearly 100 guests showed up and Loretta Saint-Louis was one of them. She spoke with Scott recently over StoryCorps Connect.

LORETTA SAINT-LOUIS: I was new to Melrose, and I didn't really know people here. And I saw the advertisement. I think it was in the paper. And it took a bit of courage for me to just call you.

MACAULAY: What was your first impression of this crazy guy on the other end of the phone?

(LAUGHTER)

SAINT-LOUIS: You were so friendly. I was blown away. All the care that you put into it, it felt like I was going to a family Thanksgiving event, and I'm going to miss that a lot.

MACAULAY: Yeah. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, I've offered people alternatives to us getting together.

SAINT-LOUIS: It's nice to know that you still want to feed us, but it's the togetherness of it that's important.

MACAULAY: You know, all the people that come, they are young and old, male, female, from different places, backgrounds and countries. And what I find always interesting is, despite the great differences, they all have similar things that they are thankful for. And some of them will make you cry. Some people say their son is now speaking to them. You know, no matter what your condition is, healthwise, financial or newly divorced or newly widowed, they focus for some time on good things. And I think that's wonderful.

SAINT-LOUIS: What advice do you have for people who will be alone this year?

MACAULAY: I would say call everybody and anybody that you can think of, tell them I love you. Don't talk with your mouth full. You know, we don't want spraying turkey all over the computer screen or the phone, but connect with as many people that you think might be alone or would appreciate a call and tell them you're thinking of them. My philosophy is I can't fix the country or the world or even the town, but I can brighten my own corner. It doesn't matter what any of the differences that we can divide ourselves with. If your neighbor's house is burning down, you run to help. You run to put the fire out. I'm not going to sit around, talk about it. I'm just going to do something about it. And that's sort of what the Thanksgiving dinner is all about. That would be my hope for America, that everybody would just brighten the corner where they are.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE DOT SESSIONS' "VITTORO")

GREENE: Scott Macaulay makes Thanksgiving dinner each year for those with nowhere else to go. He was speaking with one of his guests, Lorretta Saint-Louis, in Melrose, Mass. And if you are unable to gather with loved ones this year, you can record a meaningful conversation like Scott and Loretta did using StoryCorps Connect. Learn more at thegreatlisten.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.