CAPE COD, MA (1980)
As a boy Papa would often wake us at Four a.m.
He would rustle Mark, Jeff and I from our sleeping bags and we would scuffle from our tent.
I remember a snapshot moment of he and Great Uncle Jack hunched over a campfire, warming coffee, frying bacon and flipping eggs.
“They’re running today Jack,” Papa said. “We’re going to fill the boat.”
And we’d believe him. It was Bluefish season on Cape Cod and my grandfather and his brother had been fishing these waters their entire lives.
Raised as depression-era first generation Portuguese immigrants in a sleepy Southeastern Massachusetts farm town, my grandfather Lou and his brother Jack Katon spoke broken English, were always together and by all accounts were best of friends.
Early memories include countless hours exploring Uncle Jack’s barn and running through his fields. It was the home of Christmas night and invokes the smell of cigarettes and sounds of good natured cursing and laughter.Of my Uncle Norman and my Dad talking smack, holding court at the table with Papa, Tony, Manny, cousin Tommy, Lou, Jack, Bill and Cele.
All of us in a tiny spot of a room, with dated wallpaper and sounds of cursing where the men of the house were drinking liquor and homemade wine and playing our family card game of High, Low, Jack. My brothers and cousins and I crowded, standing along the back wall. Peeking over shoulders and into hands who were bluffing and dodging and weaving their way through a childhood of Christmas nights and birthday parties, cookouts and family reunions.
My cousin Scott still lives on the family farm in Dighton, where camping and fishing and harvesting fresh vegetables has always been a way of life.
We were raised in the family traditions of Madeira, the Portuguese archipelago located more than 600 nautical miles from Lisbon. The island is one of a series of oceanic volcanic islands dating back to the Miocene period about 20 million years ago, and constructed from a hot spot in the Earth’s crust of the African Tectonic Plate.
Historically, Madeiran immigrants in the United States mostly settled around Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts to participate in the flourishing American whaling industry. By 1980, the U.S. Census registered more than a million Americans of Portuguese descent, a large portion Madeirans.
The city of New Bedford, or “New Beige” as Papa called it, is especially rich in Madeirans, hosting the Museum of Madeira Heritage, as well as the annual Madeiran and Luso-American celebration, the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, the world’s largest celebration of Madeiran heritage, regularly drawing crowds of tens of thousands to the city’s Madeira Field.
Both Papa and Uncle Jack enlisted in the Navy and were stationed in the Pacific during World War II, with Jack returning to Dighton and my grandfather driving a vegetable truck to Taunton, twenty miles away.
When Papa met my grandmother Helen he exchanged farming for city life. They settled in a big house on a busy street and raised a fine family, she a housewife and him enjoying a long career in a Silver Factory on the outskirts of town.
I remember the day of his retirement sometime in the late-1970’s, when he and Uncle Jack bought a bigger boat and for a few years fishing on Cape Cod changed from a weekend pass-time to a way of life.
Both my parents worked long hours and so my summer was spent with Mark, Jeff and Papa, who would load us boys in his gold Cadillac and we’d have adventures for days on end.
We listened to the radio that Summer of 1980 when Ricky Henderson set the baseball world on fire. I was nine, almost ten. And all was right with the world.
Those morning we’d go fishing we’d be at the boat launch within a half hour after breaking camp. We put in down the road from the Buzzards Bay Railway Bridge and as morning broke we’d be on the water, trolling out of the Cape Cod Canal for a day at sea. For my brothers and I it was an exciting time. Our days were spent camping and fishing and hiking with our grandparents.
Did you know, I learned to drive a boat before a car? Or that I have long ago fond memories of camping and remember my lessons about how to fish for Blues.