The scene at the Portuguese-American Club Saturday night smelled of fresh fried dough, sweet bread, marinated shish-kebabs over the fire, Cacoila (Portuguese stew), and of course, of sopa, the soup that Islanders of all heritages associate so much with this annual celebration of the Feast of the Holy Ghost.
“It takes a lot of people to make it all work,” said longtime coordinator Tricia Bergeron. And a lot of people volunteer, year after year.
“They’re police officers, lawyers, bakers — they’re the world famous Dough Boys,” she said, noting men who were ceaselessly molding dough into shape in unison before tossing sugar on top and frying it to perfection.
“This is my fourth year, I love it!” said proud Dough Boy Bobby Brown.
“We made it Thursday — these guys pound it out,” said John Magnis, another Dough Boy.
“Some of this dough was donated and some was made ... there is 150 pounds of flour,” added Dough Boy Tony Bettencourt.
It was enough for Leah Pepe, from New Haven, Conn., who said with a laugh: “The fried dough was very, very, very sugary. In fact, I think I still have sugar in my pockets.”
Ms. Bergeron couldn’t recall exactly when she began organizing the two-day event — “this is either my 18th or 19th year” — nor could she really explain how it comes together. “It happens. Food, friends, community, that’s what it’s all about ... That’s the Portuguese people’s way, they want to help.”
Older generations guide the younger to participate every year. “That’s one of our old-timers,” she said as she waved to Marge Grimmet, whose husband is George Santos, a proud honorary member of the Portuguese-American Club; four generations of his family have volunteered at the event.
Mr. Santos explained the history behind the Feast. “At one point, the people were starving — and Queen Isabella fed them.”
So every year, people gather at the back door and wait in line for the sopa. It is freely offered to the public and represents the hospitality of the Portuguese culture. The Oak Bluffs club organizes a feast on Saturday night and a parade and festival on Sunday.
“The band comes from New Bedford,” said Mr. Santos, recalling his teenage trips with his own father to New Bedford for the feast, where sometimes five bands would be competing with each other. “The parade goes over to the Catholic Church, they place wreaths on the monuments, and later they play the Portuguese national anthem.
“We have a band that comes later. There will be dancing, an auction, Portuguese goods. Then [Sunday] the same thing again, [until at] 4 o’clock, they wrap everything up, and everyone goes home with a full stomach.”
Chefs prepare the sopa, a traditional Portuguese soup made with potatoes, cabbage and onions, starting early in the morning and cooking it all day.
Over a large bowl of sopa, Martha Post, an Islander of Portuguese descent, said, “I just wanted to see people, and new friends, too . . . and the food is delicious!”
“It’s a huge membership,” said her husband, Michael Post.
“It’s more of a community thing . . . they do such good things for the Island,” chimed in Martha. “If you ask the club for help, they help. They give scholarships to kids.”
“It should be a good night,” Mr. Bettencourt said of the turnout as he peered out into the line extending from the fried dough stand. “It’s all local people here. I see people sometimes I don’t see all year,” he added.
“Every year we’ve been here, since the day we were born,” said stroller Angie Estrella.
What were the kids’ favorite parts? “The games!” exclaimed youngster Taylor Hughes, in a colorful silver wig. “Yeah, the games!” said Olivia Rogers, who added: “I liked the fried dough.”
As the sky grew darker, the party continued. “Things go a little bit cuckoo after dark,” said an eager participant as he entered the club late.
Sunday morning’s parade featured more music, folk dancers, marchers, cars, floats, fire trucks, police cars, and ambulances with sirens blaring in celebration. It began at the Steamship Authority, moved to the Our Lady Star of the Sea church and then to Vineyard avenue, briefly pausing for the Portuguese-American Club to bestow a wreath at the cemetery honoring members lost before proceeding to the Portuguese-American Club.
“It’s not just a Holy Ghost parade,” said spectator Nancy Phillips. “It’s an Oak Bluffs parade,” .
What was the best part of it all? Depends on whom you ask. “The fire trucks and the ambulances,” says 92-year-old Betty Rose, who has watched the parade outside her Vineyard avenue home her whole life. “The whole family works on the ambulance,” explained Janice Rose. “And the kids love the candy,” she added.
“Probably just everybody around celebrating,” said Kelsey DeBettencourt.
“The crowning of Mary,” says Ashley Moreis, who this year had the honor.
As the parade ended, Father Michael Nagle spoke of the hospitality Queen Isabella provided to the poor in Portugal centuries ago and the astounding, thriving benevolence in the Portuguese culture. Crowds gathered around the club’s wooden benches, as police officers lined up in formation for the Portuguese and U.S. national anthems. After the crowning, dancers in traditional Portuguese costumes took the stage.
And long lines formed again, waiting to be served the savory sopa, still distributed for free in honor of Queen Isabella.