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Ole Time Breakfast Revives Sense of Crucian Community

Dec. 4, 2007 — They came. They tramped. They ate.
The third annual ole time Crucian breakfast drew hundreds Thursday morning to the Christian "Shan" Hendricks market in Christiansted.
This year it was billed as a "CrucianRican Tramp & Breakfast," and Stanley and the Ten Sleepless Knights kicked things off with a mini j'ouvert tramp from Pueblo Supermarket in Golden Rock, down King Street and up Company Street in Christiansted, before ending at the market.
"I am enjoying myself," said Edwin Thomas, with a bowl of souse in hand, just before 9 a.m. "It was very good, it brought back memories. It's good to have something in Christiansted."
With the annual Crucian Christmas Festival in full swing, Thursday was j'ouvert day in Frederiksted and in past years, festivals alternated between the two cities. However, since the area near the D.C. Canegata Ballpark, reserved for Festival Village, is now home to the Housing, Parks and Recreation center, the festivals have been staged in Frederiksted for about three years now.
Thomas said that on Thursday, Christiansted, which is normally a ghost town at this time, came alive with revelers tramping down King and up Company Street.
Residents are happy with the event, he said, which was the brainchild of former St. Croix Administrator Gregory R. Francis.
Francis, who is now lieutenant governor, was sworn in Monday along with Gov. John P. deJongh. Although Francis did not take part in this year's event, he and deJongh showed up at breakfast and praised the event in brief remarks to those in attendance. They both called on organizers to keep cultural traditions such as the ole time breakfast alive.
"They are pleased," Thomas said of the hundreds who converged on the market Thursday. "It's a big family reunion — people they haven't seen in years are here. And you have people from all three islands … and people from both cities, Frederiksted and Christiansted, together — and lots of food."
George "Bagoon" O'Reilly and a 35-member roster of volunteers pulled out all the stops this year to ensure that the third time was the charm. Many suggested that the tramp drew a much larger crowd this year, but he disagreed.
"It's not the tramp but the people involved. I have more committee people involved this year," O'Reilly said, adding that he and some members — including Johanna Bermudez Ruiz, Gloria Joseph, Eleanor Johnson, Wanda Belardo and George Farchette — were at the market from 10 p.m. Wednesday until the wee morning hours. And then they were back just before sunrise to make sure all went as planned.
O'Reilly, who hosts a four-hour talk radio show on WSTX-AM 970, recalled Thursday how the ole time breakfast got its start.
According to O'Reilly, Francis (then St. Croix administrator) "was a regular guest on my show and he said that he and someone had been reminiscing about Christmas long ago, when people would get together and have breakfast."
Francis suggested holding one, and soon residents were calling in to the program wanting to donate items. The first breakfast was held in 2004.
Thursday morning, breakfast kicked off at 7:30 a.m., and two hours later, a line was still snaked halfway around the market as people waited for whatever was left. The menu at one time included all of the following: smoked herring and saltfish (offered "stew," "pick-up" and "gundee), corn beef, ham, boiled and deviled eggs, pig souse, beef tongue souse, crab salad, raisin-rice pudding or arroz con dulce, oatmeal, cream of wheat, cornmeal pap, banana fritters, titi bread, johnny cake, dumb bread, saltfish cake, bene, red grout, bush tea, cocoa tea, Brow sodas and Island Dairies drinks, including passion fruit.
About 9:30 a.m., Angie Thurland Ferdsehneider and her friend, former Calypso Monarch Nikki Brooks, were leaving with what was probably the last of the saltfish and smoked herring and stopped to speak with Angie's cousins, sisters Karen and Anne Thurland.
Angie's plate was loaded with corn beef, saltfish gundee, roast smoked herring and smoked herring in tomato sauce (stew), a piece of ham, and two "pieces."
Pieces got its name because it was leftover pieces of pie dough that parents would give to their children, explained Karen. "Everything was used, people were very practical back then," she said.
Brooks, who now sings with Image Band, said next year she will do more than just tramp and eat. She said she will suggest to other members of Image Band that they take part in the mini j'ouvert.
Nearby, the Nunez sisters — Jailene, 6; and Clarissa, 8 — were there with their mom and aunt and feasted on red grout, a mixture of custard and jello that long ago was also a breakfast staple.
A shy Jailene muttered, "It tastes really good," while Clarissa said she enjoyed the tramp.
Louisa and Carmen Saldana said they took part in the tramp with the girls and welcomed the chance to stay in Christiansted. The girls' mother, Carmen Saldana, said it made it easier to drop them back home before she has to head to work in Christiansted.
"It was convenient and something different and very nice for the whole community to get together," she said.
Former Government Employees Retirement System Chairman Raymond James, Frederiksted Health Clinic Administrator Vivian Ebbesen-Fludd, Claude Gerard of Planning and Natural Resources, and Maren Roebuck, a prevention specialist at the V.I. Health Department, were among those enjoying the breakfast Thursday morning.
St. Thomians Jean Greax, Kenneth Blake and Buddy Kennings chatted with former Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen and husband, Esdel, as they awaited veggie omelets. Former Agriculture Commissioner Arthur Petersen Sr. had set up his camp stoves nearby and was cooking on order. The savory smell of onions, green peppers and tomatoes wafted in the air, as residents awaited their turn. Petersen said that between 9 and 9:45 a.m., he'd had 100 requests for omelets. Nearby he had a plastic container with 120 eggs, whipped and ready for the smoldering frying pan.
During a lull in the crowd, a tiny voice could be heard asking for a "fry egg."
"Mister, can I have another fry egg," 7-year-old Shakiem Crossley piped to Petersen, who happily obliged.
"You can get all the fried eggs you want," he responded, adding that he had a basket of eggs for those who opted for fried eggs instead of omelets.
Petersen, who also donated 300 hard-boiled eggs, praised the tramp and breakfast.
"There is no one complaining or going away unhappy," he said. "And, the great thing about this is that all of the food was donated.
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