The Battle of Gooseberry Neck

The Battle of Gooseberry Neck has not gone down in the annals of American military history and I may be the only person alive who knows of it, so I'm here to tell the story at last.

Gather round, kiddos, while Grampa knocks the dottle out of his pipe (I don't know how it gets in there; I've never smoked the damn thing), leans back in his La-Z-Boy, and does his best imitation of Joseph Conrad's Marlow.

It began for me on a summer day in the late 1960s, when Elmer Rodrigues, the city editor of the New Bedford Standard-Times and a proud, staunch Madeiran, suggested that I could get a good feature story if I went out with the guys who gathered greens to decorate the grounds and parade route for the Madeiran feast. (When Elmer was city editor, the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament was always called the Madeiran feast, never the Portuguese feast.)

I agreed that it could be a good story even after I found that I'd have to get up about 4 o'clock on a Sunday morning to do it. So, on the Sunday before the feast, I joined the expedition to Mattapoisett Neck, where I watched 40 or 50 men wearing camouflage outfits and combat boots as they used their machetes to hack away at bayberry bushes, which were then loaded into waiting pickups and dump trucks.

I pretty much stayed with the group's commander because he could answer my questions as they came up. He could also translate, when necessary, because the workers communicated mostly in Portuguese.

The work took most of the morning, and then we went back to the feast grounds for lunch. Other workers took over, cleaning the greens and tying them to arches that would be erected along the parade route later in the week.

As we ate lunch in the pavilion, I had a few more questions for the commander. I asked if they always went to Mattapoisett Neck and he said it was one of several places where they gathered greens but that they never went to the same place two years in a row.

"What are the other places?" I asked.

"Let's see … Gooseberry Neck, " he said, and chuckled.

"What's funny about Gooseberry Neck?"

He told me: A couple of years earlier, they had gone to Gooseberry Neck to gather the greens. As they hacked their way through the bayberry bushes, they came upon an encampment of 12 or 15 hippies, sleeping around the remnants of a fire. There was still smoke in the air and not all of the smoke was from the campfire.

One of the hippies woke up. Looking through red-rimmed eyes and a smoke-heightened imagination, he saw this band of men in camouflage and combat boots, brandishing their machetes and speaking a language that was not English, he quickly grasped what it meant.

"Wake up, everybody!" he yelled. "The Cubans are invading!"

There was no pitched battle. Badly outnumbered by the ferocious Cubans with their cruel machetes, the unarmed hippies surrendered, one by one, as they awoke.

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