On Wednesday morning, the Portuguese-American (P.A.) Club in Oak Bluffs is nearly unrecognizable: It’s quiet both inside and out, a far cry from the exuberant bustle that will surround the modest building on Vineyard avenue this weekend during the annual Holy Ghost Feast. The only sign that the Feast will take place soon are two small tents standing in the parking lot.
In the next couple of days, the tents will be joined by booths, scrubbed clean and pieced together for another year’s festivities. The food will start to come in: dry goods later on Wednesday; frozen foods on Thursday; fresh produce, bread and meat — 100 pounds of both linguiÃ§a andchouriÃ§o sausage and 140 pounds ofcaÃ§oila (marinated pulled pork) from Lisbon Sausage in New Bedford — on Friday. There’s sopa to make, and about 2,000 people are expected to attend the two-day festival honoring Queen Isabel of Aragon, the 13th-century ruler of Portugal renowned for her generosity toward the poor, and later canonized as a saint.
It wouldn’t do to run out of food.
“I’m sitting here going, is everything ordered?” Patricia (Tricia) Bergeron, 56, said, seated next to a stack of composition books and note-laden, yellow Post-it pads. “I’ve had dreams in the past of waking up Friday morning [the day before the Feast] and going, ‘I forgot to order the food!’”
“They’re actually nightmares,” she corrected.
But Ms. Bergeron, who is the current P.A. Club president, has 22 years as head organizer of the Holy Ghost Feast under her madrÃ³n sash, and despite any pre-feast frets, she’s pretty sure this year’s will be a success.
“We’ve got it down — knock on wood — to a good science,” she said.
Ms. Bergeron took over as madrÃ³n in 1991. The term, she said, eyes glinting behind her glasses, “has been confused with ‘moron’ many times.”
“My summer begins after the feast,” Ms. Bergeron, a 37-year unit coordinator of the hospital’s emergency room, said. “I take vacation to run this.”
“I’m doing it because it’s my family heritage,” she said. Ms. Bergeron’s grandfather, Bill Amaral, was a founding member of the P.A. Club when it opened its doors in 1930, and aunts Catherine Deese and the late Bobbie Ann Gibson were both presidents of the organization and involved in countless feast preparations. This year, Ms. Bergeron’s son, Thomas Wilkins, will carry the flag at the start of Sunday’s parade from Our Lady Star of the Sea Church to the club; daughter Kristen will be manning the frozen drinks booth; grandson Benjamin Peters is working in the hamburger booth, where all young volunteers get their start.
The Holy Ghost Feast is as much a time of remembrance as one of celebration. As has been the case for the past 11 years, Ms. Bergeron will pause during the parade’s stop at Oak Grove Cemetery to lay a wreath at her son Eric’s grave. Eric died in a car accident when he was a senior in high school.
Another wreath is laid at the base of the Jesus statue in Oak Grove in memory of all P.A. Club members, beginning with the first group that gathered at Manuel deBettencourt’s farm in 1910 to host the inaugural Holy Ghost Feast in the new country.
“There’s a lot of emotion [during the feast] because it’s about our people,” Ms. Bergeron said. “I think every year it gets more emotional for me.”
Each year, she looks forward to the ceremony following the parade, after the First Communion girls from the Catholic church have reached the grounds. This year, Taybor Estrella will carry Queen Isabel’s crown, a symbol of the presence of the Holy Ghost, and a representative of the church has blessed the feast. During the ceremony, Ms. Bergeron hardly notices that it’s typically one of the hottest weekends of the year. But she does notice the familiar faces in the crowd.
“Really, here, it’s the locals that come—it’s an Island thing,” she said. “It’s families; it’s all families.”
She keeps food and game tickets low in cost for that reason: “I don’t want to charge $5 or $6 for a hamburger. We really want to make things available to the everyday working person.”
Ms. Bergeron says she is “a very small part of a core group. It takes a whole lot of other people to make it work,” she said. That includes everyone from co-chair Gina deBettencourt to the Dough Boys who roll and fry the golden brown malasadas to P.A. Club manager Charlene Alley to the owners of the New Bedford Fast Ferry, who charge nothing to ship all of the Lisbon Sausage cargo across the channel and the adult volunteers who still cook up hamburgers years after their first stint in the booth.
She admits that organizing the feast is a bit tiring, but “it’s hard to give things up.”
The Feast can’t be passed along to just anybody. “As soon as I can find someone that’s moron enough,” she said.