New Rockford Transcript - Official Newspaper of Eddy County since 1883

Eyes that see the good in things: Nov. 18, 2019


November 18, 2019

"Brighten the corner where you are, brighten the corner where you are. Someone far from home may need a guiding star. Brighten the corner where you are."

This song, which I loved to sing with my grandpa when I was a little girl, is one that keeps Scott Macaulay's annual Thanksgiving tradition going year after year. The now-annual Thanksgiving tradition began when he faced his first Thanksgiving alone in 1985. 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, he asked himself what was going to happen at Thanksgiving? And he just didn't like the thought of being home alone – or anywhere alone – on Thanksgiving.

That's when the divorced vacuum cleaner repairman had an idea. He put an ad in the local paper and offered to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 12 people. "I knew that I couldn't be the only one in this situation," he told the Washington Post. "There had to be at least a dozen people out there who didn't want to spend Thanksgiving Day alone."

Macaulay said he was nervous about making the food that first year but said he didn't burn anything, and everyone seemed to have a good time. Since that year when 12 strangers gathered around his table for turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie over 30 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. Last Thanksgiving, he hosted a party of 84 people.

Through the years, he has fed widows, widowers, the homeless and poor. Old people and college kids who can't make it home. He's fed people who were new to the country and didn't speak much English. He also feeds the police officers on call that day. All are welcome.

Now, Macaulay feeds 60 to 100 people every year. The feast has now been moved to a larger space in order to accommodate more people, but his guests are amazed when they come to his dinner for the first time.

About a week before Thanksgiving, Macaulay purchases the groceries himself. The menu includes four large turkeys, five kinds of pie (pumpkin, apple, mince, cherry and Hershey's frozen sundae pie), sweet potatoes, stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, butternut squash, cranberries, fruit cups and rolls with butter.

A few days before, he hauls in sofas, comfortable chairs, oriental rugs, even a couple of electric fireplaces, to decorate the church's recreation hall to resemble a cozy living room. "We use cloth napkins and tablecloths and eat by candlelight," he says. "The whole idea is to make our dinner feel like home, he said. "I have Norman Rockwell's famous Thanksgiving picture framed and hung on the wall for our Thanksgiving dinner. And I gauge my success by how long they stay."

He's in the chapel kitchen by 4 a.m. to roast the turkeys, boil and mash the potatoes and bake several trays of butternut squash. This isn't about the food, though," Macaulay said. "It's about having a place to go. Silence is unbearable, especially on Thanksgiving."

Though his goal is always to replicate the feeling of having dinner in somebody's home, he says that reservations usually come in at the last minute because he knows people are usually waiting for a better offer. Macaulay can laugh about it and never takes offense. He shares many of his memories of those Thanksgiving dinners. "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 of his long-held Thanksgiving traditions."

One year, 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 had a great time, cried when dinner was over and didn't want to go back again.

Another year, Macaulay took a plate out to a woman who was living in her car and was too ashamed to come inside until almost everyone had gone home. "She came in to get some leftovers," recalled Macaulay. "And she sang 'Amazing Grace' with this incredible voice. What a year that was."

A particularly memorable Thanksgiving for Macaulay was the year his mother was dying from breast cancer and wanted to spend Thanksgiving with family. She came to the church and rested on one of the sofas. "I looked over and there was my dad, who had also shown up and was sitting on the couch, holding her hand," says Macaulay. "I can still picture them sitting there together. Thanksgiving memories don't get any better than that."

Infants have spent their first Thanksgiving with Macaulay, and more than a few elderly people have shared their last. 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 since the tradition began, said he watches in admiration each year when Macaulay makes the dinner happen. "He prepares it all and we bring ourselves," Shanklin said. "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 well-done it was. Scott really goes all out. It's extraordinary that he does this."

Because Thanksgiving just wouldn't be 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.

"Sometimes, they're grateful they no longer have cancer or they've 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 was a note that touched Macaulay. His own son, Walter, pitches in as the designated turkey carver and helps clean up. 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 during dinner.

"Most of the people who come don't know who I am. They know that there's some skinny guy in the kitchen, but they don't know my name," Macaulay mused. "I think the theme of my life, and everything I do, could be summed up with the name of an old hymn called 'Brighten the Corner Where You Are.' I hope my legacy will be that I came into the world, I brightened the corner, and then I quietly left the world unnoticed."

We would love to share local stories about the good things your eyes are seeing. Stop in to share your stories with us, give us a call at 947-2417 or e-mail us at [email protected] Or send a letter to Eyes That See the Good in Things, c/o Allison Lindgren, The Transcript 6 8th St N., New Rockford, ND 58356.


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