Saintly Intentions

Labor Day. Here in Taos it’s a rare long weekend. Earlier in my life, it meant the three-day Our Lady of Angels Feast at the bottom of our street.

At the start of the last century, the Portuguese migrated from the Azores and Madeira islands, an often treacherous trip by ship to the land of opportunity. Many found work in the textile mills or fishing industry in New Bedford, Mass. My grandparents on both sides of the family were among them.

Four Azoreans started the feast in North Fairhaven — across the harbor from New Bedford — to show their gratitude. They raised $800 to commission a sculptor back in the old country to carve a statue of Our Lady of Angels from wood. The 11-foot statue of Mary with cherubs at her feet arrived August 1930 and the first feast was held the next month.

The feast has Portuguese food, music, games of chance, and auctions. (We kids hung on hoping someone would buy a large sweetbread and say “cut it up for the kids.”) We could hear the feast from our home, only three houses away, but we were at the feast grounds most of those three days.

During the parade held Monday, men carry the statue from St. Mary’s Church up and down Main Street. The statue is adorned with wreaths of money given by the faithful as part of the promises they’ve made. My father and brother, Tony, have carried the statue for years. This will be the first my father, who is 90, will not. You can see him in the undated photo getting his left shoulder under the statue.

As a child, I marched in the parade. I was dressed as Saint Teresa, a costume my mother made. My sisters, Christine and Kij, went as angels when it was their turn. My brother fittingly was Saint Anthony.

When we were older Christine and I sold soda, candy, and ice cream in one of the concession stands at the feast. We were stationed next to the women who were in charge of the malassadas — deep-fried, yeasted dough that was rolled in sugar. People stand in long lines to buy them. Our father worked in the beer shack. Late at night, we sat on the beer cartons stacked against the wall rather than go home just yet.

I haven’t been in years but I hear the feast is still going strong. 


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