In 1985, Scott Macaulay's parents split up and he said, "Oh gee, nobody's speaking to each other, everyone’s mad—" he pauses to laugh "—what’s going to happen for Thanskgiving?
"I don’t like to eat alone—it stinks!" he says, laughing again. "You really don’t want to read the real estate paper on Thanskgiving, eating your own food ... So I put an ad in the Free Press there for 12 people.
"That’s what I got. Been doing it ever since."
On Nov. 24, 2011, for the 26th year running, Macaulay will host, cook and serve a Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving, although it's a bit bigger now than it was back in 1985 when 12 people joined him. He requires reservations so he knows how much food to buy, and the dinner is now held at First Baptist Church, where Macaulay decorates the church hall to give it as homey a feel as he can.
"We have 55 reservations so far this year," he said, filing through the gray metal box where he keeps all the information about the dinner throughout the years, including a yearly log of who attended, what the weather was like, and notes on the food.
Macaulay's attention to history is evident in the front hallway of his Melrose business, Macaulay's House of Vacuum Cleaners at the corner of Tremont Street and the Lynn Fells Parkway, where the "Melrose Archive" lives—"My other nutty thing that I’m doing," he calls it, again breaking into a smile and his loud, punctuating laugh—a collection of Melrose memorabilia, newspaper clippings, photos and more he has collected through the years. Antique vacuums also line the walls, carefully tagged with the make, model and year.
He pulls a slip of paper out of the gray metal box. "And we had 62 reservations last year." He also produces a pad of paper; written at the top in blue ink and block letters is "2011 Thanksgiving." A list of dollar amounts and descriptions follows:
- $100.00 F.B.C.-Fix oven.
- $462.66 Stop & Shop-Food.
- $90.00 Peacuddy's-Desert w/disc.
- $81.25 iParty-Chafing supplies
- $234.08 Shaw's
Macaulay famously never asks for donations.
This Year, Almost Canceled and A Last-Minute Decision
The 26th edition of Macaulay's Thanksgiving dinner almost didn't happen.
As word of the annual dinner spread—last year, Macaulay's story entered the Library of Congress—City Hall stepped in to make sure all the food was being properly cooked and handled. Of course, that means paperwork and requirements: Somebody with a ServSafe certification, a Choke Saver class certification and allergy certification needs to be present during the meal. The dinner also requires a temporary food permit license.
"Last year, (Melrose Health Director) Ruth Clay came down and said you need to have a permit," Macaulay said. "She wants to make sure that everybody in Melrose is safely fed, no problem."
As Macaulay doesn't have those qualifications, last year he had a relative who works at Winchester Hospital—he wouldn't disclose anything more about the man—and does have the proper qualifications come volunteer at the dinner, meeting the city's health requirements.
This year, because Macaulay's ServSafe volunteer wasn't going to be available this Thanksgiving, for the first time in over two decades he decided not to hold the dinner. Instead, he planned to head to Tremont Temple Baptist Church on the holiday, where they feed 400 to 500 homeless people a year on Thanksgiving, and volunteer there.
"I guess churches are supposed to have somebody who’s responsible for their particular kitchen (meeting health regulations)," he said, adding with a laugh, "of course, nobody wants do that on Thanksgiving—I don’t blame them!"
Then three weeks ago, his erstwhile ServSafe volunteer popped in to ask how the dinner preparations were going, and Macaulay told him he wasn't holding the dinner this year.
"He said, 'Oh, you can’t do that! You’ve been doing this for 25 years. You have to do it, I’ll see if I can get the time off,"" Macaulay said. "So, he’s coming again."
Other volunteers from around Melrose with the proper certifications also stopped by last year to help with the dinner. Despite the extra paperwork and steps, Macaulay is quick to defend City Hall for following the health regulations to the letter.
"I hope I’m going above and beyond what’s required, because I respect Ruth Clay and what she’s trying to do," he said. "She has a girl down there by the name of Melissa Ripley, I believe her name is. Absolutely fantastic. Wonderful ... they ask a lot of questions so that they know what’s going on and then they give you a little instruction sheet so you know what you’re doing. Melissa was fantastic. She actually wrote out the whole thing for me because the first question was “Institution" and I didn’t know what to do with that. Absolutely fantastic girl."
He pulls out of the gray metal box a pink slip—the Temporary Good Permit License issued for Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011, signed by Clay and with no fee listed in the upper right hand corner.
"I'm actually going to get a frame from the dollar store, make sure we have it out on display," he says, looking down at the permit.
A New Family—And A Family Come Full Circle
A glimmer of satisfaction shines through as Macaulay continues talking about holding the dinner again.
"It is sort of a sentiment, because it’s my holiday," he said. "It’s my Thanksgiving memories, so to speak, and hopefully theirs, too."
"Theirs" being the people who have attended Macaulay's dinner in the past, many of them returning year after year. He recalls a "Mr. Mullen" who only died two weeks ago, according to Macaulay. After seeing his death notice in the paper, Macaulay turned to his records and saw that Mullen had attended each of the last five years with "a lady" that Macaulay always figured to be the man's wife.
"But it turns out it wasn’t," he said, laughing again. "His wife apparently had passed away. So, he had this little lady friend. They’d come every year, and they sit there in the two chairs, like little lovebirds, holding hands, looking at each other—mixed nuts, they were big on the mixed nuts."
Mullen would always dress in a suit and tie for the dinner, and would arrive and hour or two early, Macaulay said.
"It just looked like they were totally mad dash in love and enjoying each other," he said, as his voice quiets and becomes solemn. "Like I said, he died, I think in the paper there, about two or three weeks ago. It’s kind of a bummer, because you get used to them being there and they’re part of it. The year before, Mrs. Parker passed away. She had come since the beginning ... gee."
Macaulay perks up, saying, "something you get good things," as he remembers a call he received earlier int he day. A younger woman whose father had been diagnosed with a brain tumor the day before Thanksgiving two years had been visiting him at Mass. General that year and ended up coming to the dinner.
"She’s gotten married and she and her sister and her new husband are going to come to the dinner—and they’re coming from New Hampshire," he said. "So it’s kind of a reunion kind of a thing too, for me and other folks."
And as the dinner started with a split in his family, it also helped bring about a reunion in his family too. In 2000, Macaulay's mother attended the dinner.
"She was on the last end of bone cancer—couple of broken collarbones, broken ribs, caved-in spine, holes in her skull, pretty much semi-comatose," he said. "She laid on a couch the entire day. I don’t think she ate. I don’t think she opened her eyes too much."
Also attending the dinner that day: Macaulay's father.
"My father always adored my mother, despite the fact that they split up," he said. "He sat there holding her hand. He was a formal sort of a guy, suit and tie on. He ate his dinner next to the couch, holding her hand. That was Thanksgiving. It actually came full cycle. The family was actually there at one of them. And she died, oh, about a month and a half later."
He looks down with a small smile and nods. "It's definitely come around in a circle."