Celebration Traces Portuguese Heritage

Feast of Holy Ghost Draws Hundreds for Sopa Ritual

By BRIEN HEFLER

Anyone who came to this weekend's Feast of the Holy Ghost, whether for food or community spirit, didn't leave hungry.

The annual event once again drew hundreds to the Portuguese-American Club in Oak Bluffs for music and festivities. The two-day celebration honors Queen Isabella of Aragon, who in the 13th century donated her jewels to feed the poor. As in years past, the tasty Portuguese sopa was available by the bowlful - first for sale on Saturday, and then for free on Sunday, in honor of the queen's noble aspiration to feed the less fortunate of her country.

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The feast began Saturday, and by 6 p.m. cars lined both sides of Vineyard avenue. People stopped near the entrance to purchase the event's currency - tickets - only to be seen doubling and tripling back for more as the evening wore on. Peals of laughter came from the children playing games and winning prizes. The tempting aroma of malasadas, or fried dough, sizzling shish kabobs and sopa wafted through the sweet summer air.

Steaming bowls of soup were everywhere: on picnic tables under the bright white tent, balanced precariously on knees and held chest high while people walked along the midway. More than 700 gallons were served, and a glimpse inside the sweltering kitchen proved it took more than just linguica and kale to make a good soup: dedication and a strong sense of community were also necessary.

John Powers stirred the giant cauldron of soup with a wooden oar. His wife, Linda, along with Shirley Toscano and Paul and Barbra Humber formed the assembly line, ladling beef, mint and the sopa into bowls. Lania Bonito was the impromptu head chef, pinch hitting here and there, while Keith Enos handed out bowl after bowl to eager hands.

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"It's got to be a cooperative effort," Mr. Powers explained as he stirred the bubbling soup. Mrs. Bonito echoed his sentiment, adding that the oldest members of the club were hard at work on Friday, dicing the vegetables and beef for the crowd favorite.

Outside, more volunteers manned the numerous booths. Edgartown police Sgt. Tony Bettencourt collected tickets for the malasadas, urging people to pick the biggest piece of the fried dough, dredged in two kinds of sugar. On Sunday he was relieved by Edgartown police chief Paul Condlin, who pointed out that it takes a law enforcement official to know a good pastry.

On both days of the feast Dave Araujo played auctioneer, gently prodding (some might say badgering) bidders into buying lobster and sweet bread.

"I've got to make plenty of money for the PA or they're going to beat me," Mr. Araujo pleaded to the audience, raising the price for a combo to $45 in mere minutes Saturday. By the end of the feast, more than 270 pounds of lobster had been sold, along with donated goods and countless loaves of sweet bread. In keeping with the club mission, all of the proceeds will go back to the community. Last year the event raised more than $49,000, which was put toward scholarships.

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The outpouring of volunteers is what makes the feast possible, said Tricia Bergeron.

"I might be the organizer, but all the people make it work," said Ms. Bergeron, now president of the Portuguese-American Club and in her 17th year as feast planner.

"My favorite part of this is Sunday. It's really Vineyard Day," she said. "The whole community comes out."

As the sun slid lower Saturday, the festivities continued. Children fenced with brightly colored inflatable swords won at the game booths. Tickets flew off the coils as latecomers scrambled to join in the fun.

By nightfall, the atmosphere grew more raucous. Fueled by the energetic music of the Stingrays, three people broke out in spontaneous line dancing on the midway. The party stretched well into the evening, lasting past midnight.

Sunday morning brought apprehension, as cloudy skies seemed to promise rain while the parade cued up at the Steamship Authority wharf. Starting at 11:30, the long line snaked down Circuit avenue as people crowded the curbs to watch.

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In the procession were members of the Dukes County sheriff's department in dress uniforms. Portuguese dancers from New Bedford rode in a trailer, strumming and singing traditional folk songs. The Bay State Band from Wareham kept the tempo for the parade, led by the enthusiastic conducting of Frank Noonan. Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake led a group of officers in march, and fire trucks from Oak Bluffs and Tisbury lit up the gray day with flashing lights and screaming sirens. Army Sgt. Michael Blake, back from his second tour in Iraq, proudly carried the American flag for the color guard.

The parade traveled down Circuit avenue and stopped at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church for the traditional blessing of the club's crown, a symbol of Queen Isabella.

Each year one lucky girl who has received her first communion carries the crown, and this year a glowing Sydney Davies, 8, had the honor. Dressed in her sparkling white communion dress and parade-savvy sneakers, Miss Davies was flanked by her court: John, 9, and Thomas O'Shaughnessy, 8, Aaron Teves, 7, Olivia Ogden, 8, Ashlyn Tattersall, 8, Diamond Araujo, 8, and Heidi White, 8. The children lined up at the steps of the church for the blessing by Deacon Fred LaPiana, and stayed in perfect repose - even when sprinkled with a healthy does of holy water.

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"When people look upon you in the crown, people will remember St. Isabella," Mr. LaPiana told Miss Davies. "She was an example to all of us."

The marchers continued on, waving to crowds and distributing candy on their way to Sacred Heart Cemetery. There, wreaths commemorating past club members were laid by Ms. Bergeron and the oldest member of the club, Joe Nunes, 95. Afterward, Ms. Bergeron, accompanied by Chief Blake, laid another wreath in honor of her son, Eric Bergeron MacLean, who died in 2001. A two-gun salute was fired and taps was played crisply on two trumpets, one far away and one close.

The parade ended its journey back at the club grounds, where the feast was blessed. After a rousing rendition of the Portuguese and American national anthems by the Bay State Band, the merrymaking commenced again and the line for free sopa quickly formed. By 12:30 p.m., it snaked around the building, and scarcely three hours later the last bowl had been served.

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Undaunted by the warmth of the afternoon, the crowd-pleasing Portuguese dancers from New Bedford, a staple at the event, once again danced and sang. More malasadas were fried, burgers grilled and games played. The last of the lobsters and sweet bread were auctioned off. And through it all, the familiar and familial feel of an Island come together could be felt.

"It's very emotional for me," Ms. Bergeron said of the feast. "Sunday is what the club and the crown is all about: community."