A St. Peter’s Fiesta Memoir as told by Joe Palmisano

4 06 2012

As this year’s fiesta approaches, memories of fiesta past come to mind. I think how lucky I was to grow up down the fort during the late 60’s early 70’s as a young kid. There was so much to do and so many kids growing up in one small Italian neighborhood surrounded by fishing boats in the heart of Gloucester waterfront. We were truly blessed to have so much in this tiny little place called “the fort.”

Pavilion beach, the Fort playground, close friends & family, fresh fish everyday and that one wonderful time of the year. No not Christmas but Fiesta. It all starts about 12 days before when the flat bed truck arrives from the North End of Boston with 40 to 50 red poles stacked on the back. As each kid awoke that morning in early June you would of thought it was Christmas and that Santa and his elves had arrived. No it was not Santa and his elves but the best fiesta decorators on the planet, Emilio Matarazzo & his sons. Excitement would stir in the neighborhood that morning. The first one to spot them out of our group, Peter Fronterio, Anthony Costanza, Steve Aiello , Tommy & Peter Favazza or me would be race
to each other’s houses to announce their arrival. The next 12 days our parents knew where they could find us. No not under the wharf at the town landing in ankle deep black muck looking for old bottles, not down Cape Ann fisheries fishing, or playing baseball in Mighty Mac’s parking lot or swimming at Pavilion beach. No we would be watching the Matarazzo brothers Tony, Sonny, Eddie Rudy and other family members string colorful lights up and down Commercial St.. We would carefully watch them build the alter piece by piece. After all, they were building our four-day summer wonderland. During these days Tony Matarazzo would call one of us over to go get St. Joseph sandwiches and cold drinks at Buzzy’s Bertolino for his work crew while the rest of us would be helping replace burnt out lights bulbs on the alter panels or on the strings of lights which would be hung in the streets. We didn’t get paid for doing this but at night when the crew left we would play on the alter for hours. You could say it was sort of the ultimate tradeoff that no one spoke of. Then came the rides. They would roll in one after the other, the Yo-yo Scrambler, Flying Bobs, Tilt The Whirl, the Spider, The Double Ferris wheel and of course the Sky Diver. Peter Frontiero holds the record to this day for going on it over 100 times. Fiesta was in full gear and before you knew it was Thursday night of fiesta and for the next four nights those bright lights hanging in the streets and the lights from the alter would turn the Fort nights into days. The mixed smells of grilled sausage, french fries, cotton candy & candy apples filled the night air from Main St. down to Western Ave.. Beach Court was consumed by clouds of white smoke from hundreds of bottle rockets and fire crackers going off. All the while voices of Dean Martin, Jerry Vale, Perry Como & Bobby Darin would echo throughout the streets singing Italian love songs from big round green speakers. On Saturday we eagerly awaited the pie and watermelon eating contest and then participated in the pinata breaking. Thank you, Busty Palazzola. You were the master of the kids games. When Sunday arrived, cousin Larry Biondo, Joe Scola and I would dress in our best fiesta whites to carry the St. Peter sign in the parade leading St. Peter himself through out the streets of Gloucester. As the evening closed, all my neighborhood friends & family would be part of the massive crowd that followed St Peter as he was carried around the Fort. We would all be screaming at the top of our lungs, ugi sumi tuti muti!! Viva San Padero! as fiesta would come to a close. On
Monday morning, we awoke to the sounds of the street sweepers and front end loaders scooping up mounds of trash from St.Peter’s Park. The carnival rides and workers were completely gone, disappearing quietly like gypsies in the night. The fiesta lights that were hung above Beach Court and Commercial St. were no longer there and all that was left of the alter was the stage platform. Our voices were hoarse from all the screaming. For the first time in two weeks The Fort felt empty, our four day wonderland was gone, but only for another year. How lucky was I growing up down the fort.
Bono Fiesta!



2 06 2012

I would have to say, being the daughter of someone who is VERY connected and involved in St. Peter’s Fiesta and it’s festivities, that I wouldn’t have had it any other way in my life. St. Peter’s Fiesta is in my blood, and when June first rolls around, and they begin to put the alter I still get all excited-just like when I was a kid.

Having a father who carried the statue of St. Peter for years, and walked the pole so many times makes the tradition of “Fiesta” come out more and more in me. Other people think it’s just a day to get all messed up and to have a good time. I guess that has become part of it, but it goes a bit deeper than that. At least it does for me.

Just experiencing this tradition, and knowing your family has been a part of it for years and years, makes you almost feel proud in a sense-‘ya know? It’s four days that I feel PROUD to be from Gloucester and to be the daughter of a fisherman. I am proud to come from a family who has instilled Gloucester’s traditions and values into generations of family…from the beginning…not that I’m not proud of that everyday.

Everyone knows you living here in Gloucester, and people have a level of respect for you; at least that’s how I feel but I’m sure that’s because of my father.

My father has not walked the pole for the past two years. I can’t begin to tell you how strange it was to watch my first ever Sunday pole with him by my side, instead of having to close my eyes as he walked half-way out onto the pole. If he hurt himself I wouldn’t have to see it. Last summer he was by my side hootn’ and hollerin’ for his friends out on the greasypole.

The older I get the more I appreciate St. Peter’s Fiesta and what it truly means. It makes me very happy and warm inside when I get to see all my Dad’s friends and people I haven’t seen that whole year come together like nothing’s changed…like a whole year has not even passed by.

Now that I’m done ranting I can give you a short story.

I remember watching my Dad on the beach when he had just won the greasypole in 2000. He had just become the oldest guy to win the event!

I was seventeen years-old in the summer of 2000. My best friend Amanda and I were on the beach during Sunday of Fiesta getting ready to watch “Samo” (my dad) walk the pole for his millionth time. He had left the house earlier that day saying in a mighty hoarse voice “this is the year Samantha, that flag is mine!”
“Yeah ,yeah”, I said, and waved him off-kissed him on the cheek and wished him good luck. Every year since 1987 when he won the greasypole for the first time, he says to me “I’m gonna win it this year Samantha!…”This is my year!”.

Needless to say thirteen years later and I still didn’t believe him.

My friend and I walked down toward Pavillion beach. We were hiding our keg cups so that we could drink a cocktail while we watched the events of St. Peter’s Fiesta.

I was hiding in the middle of a crowd of friends so that none of my family would spot me (good luck with that on a Sunday of Fiesta!). All of a sudden the crowd cheers in an uproar that led me to believe that someone had just won the Greasypole. I looked at the person next to me and then asked, “Who grabbed the flag?”. He responed, “Your father did!”.

I looked at him and laughed. Then all of a sudden the WHOLE ENTIRE beach started chanting, “SAMO! SAMO! SAMO!” I looked at my friend Amanda, threw my cup into the air, and bolted to the beach. Just then I heard my cousin Sam announce over the loud speaker “SAMANTHA, MONIQUE WHERE ARE YOU???!!!!”

As I emerged from the crowd I saw my Dad proudly holding his flag up in the water. He was climbing onto the Coast Guard boat because he couldn’t breath… he was crying too much. He threw his hands in the air, gripping the flag with all he had left.

I remember seeing the whole crowd on the beach going NUTS! I remember I could see everybody on Stacey Boulevard going crazy too. Everyone was just seemed to be so happy that Samo had won!

He met my friend and I on the beach and covered me with a tight, greasy hug. He was screaming in his loudest and hoarse, “Fiesta-voice”, that HE DID IT!

“I DID IT SAMANTHA!” He screamed again!

My friend and I walked back to my house shortly after. We lived down the Fort at the time. People were hugging me left and right- shaking my hand and congratulating me like I was the one who won the pole!

I walked into the house and could hear my Dad in the shower. He was sobbing. I yelled into the bathroom to see if he was okay. He stuck his head out and with tears rolling down his face, screamed, “I WON SAMANTHA, I F-ING WON!!!!”

It was a really proud moment. I could not quite understand why it meant so much to him until he said to me that his friend Larry, who had died a year or two before, was out there on the Greasypole with him today, and that his old friend had given him that last “push” he needed to get to the flag, and grab it.

This is my favorite story. I have many memories of watching my father, “Samo” Frontiero walk the greasypole, but this is one story that I will never forget.