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Pilgrim Monument, line drawing by Ewa Nogiec

“Strawberries! Nice fresh strawberries!"

Strawberries story for iamprovincetown

by Monica Lee Bailey
Newport, Rhode Island

“Strawberries! Nice fresh strawberries! Come and get your nice, fresh strawberries!” was the resonating cry that was heard by native ‘Provincetowners’ from the 1940’s through the 1980’s.

Its owner was James “Peak” Souza of Provincetown. His nickname was given to him by the town locals because he had originated from Pico Mountain in Portugal.

As his granddaughter, I was privileged to be an active participant in his peddling trade. We would rise at 4 a.m. and drive either to Falmouth, Mass., or to Haymarket Square in Boston. Upon arrival my grandfather would haggle and negotiate with the fruit vendors. We then drove back to Provincetown with a truckload of berries.

Once home, we sorted the berries into quart baskets. Then we jumped into the truck and started at the east end of town. I would sit in the passenger seat holding, and eating from, the baskets of strawberries.

As my grandfather thundered his famous yell, while driving slowly down the intimate streets, the locals flocked from their homes.

They ran to hail my grandfather’s Carryall truck.

Often, a sociable street gathering happened as a result of the neighbors being on affable and bonded terms with each other. As the child passenger, I recall the berries being 75 cents a quart. The customers would often give my grandfather a dollar saying, “Give the quarter to the kid, Jimmy”. My presence must have been a positive one because I became slightly wealthy at the age of 7.

We would drive all over town until the berries were gone. Then we drove home and cleaned and prepared the truck for the next day’s work.

Meanwhile, my grandmother, Marion Lee Souza, a Truro native, had not been idle. For 40 years she ran “Marion Lee’s Guest House” for ‘roomers’, located on the corner of Center and Bradford Streets.

Rooms were rented nightly and weekly with guests often returning on a yearly basis. I helped my grandmother with bed-making, cleaning of bathrooms, floor washing and laundry. She had this business until the day she died; September 20, 1993.

Additionally, my grandparents worked off of the natural body of the land. Together, they picked sea clams, wearing their hip-length sea boots, and they searched through discarded refrigerators for copper to sell. They made Christmas wreaths from balsam, fir, and spruce boughs. They picked bayberries, Mayflowers and beach plums. I often accompanied my grandmother on the blueberry expeditions. She always admonished me about keeping my hat on my head in the hot sun. We would pick blueberries for several hours. Upon returning home, mine would go into quart baskets. Then they were sold to the former Bonnie Doone Restaurant.

The sea clams were cut and minced by my grandfather, who then sold them by the quart. The bayberries were transformed into Bayberry Bags to be used as sachets for the underwear/sock drawer; the beach plums were converted into beach plum jelly.

In the summer, I had a spool table in my grandparent’s driveway and sold many of the items to passersby.

I, of course, earned a small commission for each item sold.

In conclusion, I have always had the utmost respect for my grandparents and their pioneer spirit. They were hard working, determined, and employed ingenuity and creativity in earning a living during each season of the year.

Most importantly, they had fun and enjoyed the process of making a living together in a special partnership. As a result of learning from my grandparents, I feel proud and blessed that some of them reside in me.

-- Monica Lee Bailey
Newport, Rhode Island

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James "Peak Souza with his wife

 

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