Annual Feast of Holy Ghost Celebrates Spirit of Giving, and Glories of Sopa

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By ALEXIS TONTI

At this weekend's Feast of the Holy Ghost, Sunday after the auction was under way and the lobster and sweet bread were going for $40 each, while the auctioneer harassed the bidders and the bidders inched upward in $5 increments - right after a woman offered to buy a stranger a hamburger - the spirit of the festival became clear: generosity itself, in sharp relief against the haze of the muggy afternoon.

The Island's Portuguese-American Club holds the festival every year to honor Queen Isabella of Aragon, who sold her crown jewels to help the poor of Portugal. All money raised over the course of the two-day celebration, held at the club in Oak Bluffs, supports the organization's charitable work.

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The festival began Saturday night, and by 6 p.m. cars already lined both sides of County Road and Vineyard avenue. Within half an hour the grounds were crowded with families, a balance that shifted as the night went on.

The first order of the evening for any arrival was to purchase tickets, the festival's currency. Fried dough went for three, a hamburger for four. Six tickets bought a pound of meat for shish kebabs or the traditional Portuguese sopa, a stew of linguica, chorizo, potatoes, kale and cabbage.

PA Club members Cee-Jay Jones, 87, and Mel Clanton, 70, manned the ticket table for the first shift. People approached slowly, stopped to consider the menu and the relative value of each item. Not that it mattered, at least not this early in the evening. Later it would come down to singles and spare change. Now was the time to lay out $20 or $40.

"We are a benevolent organization. We do a lot for kids, a lot of scholarships," said Mr. Jones. "They make a good sopa." He tugged slightly on the brim of his cap and lowered his voice, adding: "Although it depends on who makes it."

Two small boys came over from the game area, one armed with a stuffed caterpillar, the other with a toy ice cream cone. The first handed Mr. Jones a bill. "Can I have 20 tickets?"

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"You're a big spender," said Mr. Clanton.

"This is only a ten," Mr. Jones told him. The boy handed over a fistful of crumpled bills, which Mr. Jones began to count one at a time. The second boy started chewing on the cone. "We have a lot of money," he informed Mr. Jones.

"You've got $14."

"Then we'll take 14," said the first boy. They ran back toward the games, where the big winners took home an inflatable Spider-Man. For those who threw a ball with less accuracy, the prize was a plastic dinosaur.

As Night Falls, Music

By 7:30 the edge had come off the day's heat and the sun hung pink and low in the sky.

On stage the Ray Band had started its first set.

Facing the stage, under a large tent in the middle of the parking lot, rows of picnic tables were filled with people eating and talking; their collective conversation echoed hollowly beneath the canopy.

Others sat on steps, spare ledges, anywhere a plate could be balanced.

For those still waiting for food, the longest line was for the fried dough. The sweet-smelling booth was crowded with workers: four to shape the flour-covered dough into discs, one to fry them, another to cover them with sugar, and two more to serve.

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"I cleared my weekend to do this. We're having a lot of fun for a good cause," said Tony Bettencourt, an Edgartown police officer, who cracked jokes with the customers while waiting for the next batch to finish. "Look at our line, we're the most popular line here - it's because of our chefs."

Theresa Baptiste turned around from the vat of hot oil. She wiped her hands on her green apron. "Are they waiting for us?" She nodded at the line and raised her eyebrows. Before getting an answer, she had turned to the prep table, grabbed two raw discs and dropped them into the vat. "It's impossible to keep up with the demand."

The night ran on, and still people ate. Plates of chicken and corn on the cob. Shish kebab, carefully skewered and roasted over hot coals. More sopa.

By 10 the rhythm of the festival had changed. The band was audible several blocks away, down dirt roads and from back porches. At that distance, the music beckoned. At the club itself, it overwhelmed. People shouted rather than spoke, or danced rather than say anything at all.

On Sunday, the Parade

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Sunday morning the annual parade started at 11:30 from the Steamship Authority terminal in Oak Bluffs.

The wind swept in off the water and the sun tried to burn through the haze. Both the Bay State Band and the Grupo Folclorico Madeirense, a troop of Portuguese dancers, had come from New Bedford to participate. But as the parade turned up Circuit avenue all eyes were on the little boys and girls who were celebrating their first communion.

In the middle was Katherine deBettencourt, 8, who carried the crown of Isabella of Aragon. All in white, she was flanked by Megan Bettencourt and Kenya Peters, who walked with a scepter and a smaller crown, symbols of the day's tradition. The other seven children followed close behind.

The parade stopped at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church, where Father John Ozug gently placed the crown on Miss deBettencourt's head. Miss Bettencourt and Miss Peters each put up an arm to steady the heavy crown while Father Ozug sprinkled holy water and gave his blessing.

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At the parade's conclusion back at the PA Club, Mr. Ozug gave his second blessing: "In honor of Queen Isabella, let us demonstrate the same zeal for helping the poor in our midst and in our day." That spirit carried the day. The sopa was free. Lobsters and Portuguese sweet bread went at auction for $40 or more, all for the benefit of the Island community.

Auctioneer David Araujo told the crowd: "Last year we gave more than $30,000 in scholarships. We help people, and we hope you'll help us." Mr. Araujo himself set the example: He jumped into a bidding war for a frosted cake, finally purchasing it for $115, only to donate it back to the auction "in appreciation of all of you." The bidding then began anew. The cake went for $70 and was immediately served to the little kids.

"We are a giving organization, that is it, that is what we are all about," declared Kaye Manning, who watched the auction from her seat behind the volunteers' table. "We see new young couples come every year, and that is important. It's the next generation, and they understand the cause and the importance of carrying on the tradition. Mothers and daughters. Fathers and sons."

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The auction stopped for the folk dancers' performance, a swirling circle of color and dance.

Watching, Oak Bluffs residents Linda and Frank Murray spoke about the importance of the feast, which takes place directly across from the street from their home. "Its flavor captures you. It makes you want to be here every year, at this time, just to take part in it," said Mrs. Murray.

Mr. Murray nodded and said, "This festival is about the diversity, the laughter, the happiness and the high moments." He encompassed the crowd with a sweep of his right arm. "There are the elderly and the youth, everyone moving about, everyone as one big family, as an extension of one another in a larger sense. You leave with a sense of ‘Wow.'"