Ding dong. For more than four decades, when Avon has called in Provincetown, it has been in the person of Faith M. (Perry) Henrique (b 1927), who has lived in this house for nearly 80 years. A room full of Avon’s awards for her hard work — plates, cups, and porcelain Mrs. Albee dolls — is testament to her devotion, still evident when we met in 2013. “When my mother became an Avon representative, I helped her make deliveries,” she said. “Then, I continued as the Avon Lady when she became unable, due to age.” What she liked about the job, Mrs. Henrique said, was that she was giving her neighbors a chance to buy things they could not otherwise afford, like bottles of nail polish for 50 cents, instead of $1.25.
Mrs. Henrique is the perfect emblem of old Provincetown. Her mother, Mary M. Lee (b 1903), came from Harwich and married Lewis Perry (b 1900) of Provincetown, the son of Antone and Amelia Perry.
The Perrys were living at 34A Pearl by 1934 and had purchased this property by 1936. “In those days, East Enders stayed in the East End,” Mrs. Henrique said. “My father would not rent a house west of the railroad tracks. Standish Street was as far as you went.” In her mind, she said, the distinction had less to do with who one was (Yankee or Portuguese, Lisbon or Azorean) than with what one did. “Those in the east were teachers, delivery people, electricians, it seemed to me. In the west, you had more people who were fishermen.”
Perry drove a delivery truck for the Railway Express Agency [?]. His wife cleaned houses to supplement his income and worked in the kitchen for the restaurateur John Summers at the Hide-Away Club, 193 Commercial Street, where Joseph Ramos once had a blacksmith shop. “Mr. Ramos shoed horses there,” Mrs. Henrique said.
Faith was the second of two children. Her older brother was Warren L. Perry (1923-2002). In 1934, their mother was expecting again, but her pregnancy was complicated; so much so that the the family doctor despaired of being able to help. Instead, he ordered that Mrs. Perry be taken to Cape Cod Hospital. Then the family faced another crisis: no ambulance was available to transport her. “They borrowed the hearse and put bags of ice all around her,” Mrs. Henrique recalled. “And that’s how they got her to Hyannis. Talk about ingenuity.” The complications carried over into delivery, which was so perilous that Mr. Perry was told frankly that the doctors would probably have to make a choice between saving Mrs. Perry or the baby. “Save my wife,” he said. “She has two other children.” Upstairs, in the delivery room, the same choice was put to Mrs. Perry. “Save the baby,” she said.
In the event, both mother and child survived, but the parents were warned that Lewis Perry Jr. would not live long — his little heart was simply too week. On 22 November, as Mrs. Henrique recalled clearly: “Right in that living room, I heard a terrible cry. My mother said: ‘Your brother’s gone. He tried to stand up in his basinet.'”
Though she talks of such things without a trace of self-pity, it is clear from Mrs. Henrique’s story just how hard life could be in Provincetown. To help the family survive financially during the Depression, she and her brother worked as paper carriers for The Cape Cod Standard-Times. In 1939, the newspaper offered a prize to its best-performing carrier: a trip to Nantucket. As Mrs. Henrique remembered, she signed up customers by dropping off the paper for free two days in a row and then, on the third day, knocking on the door to inquire if the recipient wanted to subscribe.
Her father had given her a lift in the express truck to Cook Street on the morning of 12 June 1939. She was walking across Zorilda Smith’s yard to knock on the door when a German shepherd lunged at her. Young Faith quickly covered her face with her hands and the bundle of newspapers she was carrying. Her father slammed the door of his truck to startle the creature before he could run over to his daughter’s aid. But the dog nonetheless managed, in a bloody attack, to lacerate Faith’s forehead, cheek and fingers. The scars are visible to this day. But her mother would not hear of putting the dog down, as was widely proposed, because she did not believe it was at fault. “You don’t bring them up right, you don’t get the right result,” she said. Instead, Anthony “Phat” Francis spirited the beast off to North Truro.
None of this is to say that life on Pearl Street was without its charming distractions. One of them was young Frank Henrique of No. 42, the son of Manuel Henrique, a Coast Guard, and Pauline (Silva) Henrique. As children, Faith recalled: “He’d come down, come up to the hedge and make a noise. I’d come and look at him through the hedge. And he’d give me a tap. Every day.” It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that turned into a 59-year marriage.
As families are on the Cape, the Perrys and Henriques were intertwined even before Faith and Frank were wed. Mrs. Henrique recounted the death of Antone Perry in June 1904: “My grandfather and Frank’s grandfather were in the same boat. They went out in a dory together to pull in nets. The boat capsized and my grandfather went overboard. He had oil gear on and went straight to the bottom.” The schooner from which their dory had set out returned to Provincetown with its flag at half-mast, a sign to those waiting on shore that there had been a death at sea. Among them was Amelia Perry, who was pregnant at the time with Almeda (b 1905). Because of that, Mrs. Henrique said, no one had the heart to tell Mrs. Perry that the lowered flag was honoring her husband, who would never return and whom Almeda would never know.
After Faith and Frank figured out their common relation to the 1904 tragedy, it even occasioned a little morbid humor, on the premise that Henriques survived capsizings that Perrys did not. When Frank once offered to take Faith out on a boat, she replied, “I’m going to ride with you only as far as I can swim back to shore.”
The house at 34A Pearl Street was modified to allow both the Perrys and the Henriques to live comfortably apart under the same roof. The ground floor is divided between two discrete residences, each with its own front door. There is no connection between the quarters except through the attic, which is common to both.
Frank Henrique spent most of his life with the First National grocery store chain. “He worked in every store from here to Hyannis,” Mrs. Henrique said. The highpoint of that career was helping lay out and set up the First National in Wellfleet. He then worked for B. H. Dyer & Company, 171-173 Commercial Street, where “he always had at the ready a joke or two or three to entertain customers, making sure they left the store with a smile.” (“Frank S. Henrique, 80,” The Provincetown Banner, 2 March 2006.) He was also a volunteer firefighter, attached to House No. 4 at 4 Johnson Street, and a member of the Rescue Squad and the Board of Engineers.
A legacy of Mr. Henrique is the police scanner that Mrs. Henrique keeps on constantly. (“Male patient with altered mental status,” was one of the communiqués that came over the air while she and I were talking.) “It’s part of the household,” she explained. “I don’t buy the newspaper. I get my news from that. It talks to me all the time.”
For her part, Faith Henrique attended Provincetown High School until her junior year. “I decided I’d wasted enough time,” she explained. In those hard days, time that wasn’t spent earning money was time wasted. She went to work as a waitress at the Lobster Pot, then owned by Ralph Medeiros. Following that, she was a hostess and waitress for John Summers. Next came a turn managing the shop at Rivard Electrical Contractors, 444 Commercial. The Summers-to-Rivard connection was through John Summers’s daughter Kathryn Edith, who married Herman “Tiny” Rivard, brother of Tom Rivard, who ran his father’s business. “You see,” Mrs. Henrique said, “this is how Provincetown used to work.” Wrapping meat at the A&P, 32 Conwell Street, came next. Then she worked at Thayer’s Flower Shop, owned by Gordon Thayer, whose family had been neighbors of the Lees in South Harwich. After that, Mrs. Henrique managed Arnold Dwyer’s bicycle shop, 329 Commercial.
In the early 1970s, Mrs. Henrique took up her seventh or eighth calling, as an Avon Lady. Every other week, Avon sales representatives receive as many copies of the current catalog as they think they’ll need. They drop off catalogs to their customers and then call them a few days later to ask what products — if any — they’d like to order. They then place a bulk orders with Avon. The products are sent to the representatives by U.P.S. In Mrs. Henrique’s case, she breaks the orders down and delivers them personally to her customers. She makes a commission on each sale. She said she did business on a handful of unvarying principles:
• “I don’t push people to buy what they can’t afford. If you’re going to buy from me, I’m not going to give you a hard sell.”
• “If I say I’m going to be there, I’ll be there.”
• “If you have a question, I’m there to ask.”
• Cash on delivery. No exceptions. No credit. “The old rule is: if you want to lose a friend, lend him money.”
At one time, Mrs. Henrique said, she had about 80 customers in town. In recent years, many of them have been Jamaican women who come to town as seasonal workers, often year after year after year. She won’t say how many customers she has now, but acknowledged that business is lousy these days. “There isn’t any money in town,” Mrs. Henrique said. Of course, the sad paradox is that Provincetown has probably never been more awash in money, really big money. But it’s in the hands of the second- and third-home crowd, not the people who live here, not the people who would benefit from buying nail polish for 50 cents a bottle instead of $1.25.
The Henriques’ son, Dana (b 1953), was graduated from Provincetown High School in 1971 — that’s his Long Pointer portrait — and served for a time as a patrolman with the Provincetown Police Department before moving back to the ancestral home in Harwich, where he works in electronics and plays keyboard in a rock-and-roll band called The Most. Mrs. Henrique said her son showed an interest for and aptitude in the piano and keyboard at a very early age. When he asked if he could have an organ at home, she said, her answer was: “If you’re going to play, you’re going to take lessons. And the first time I have to tell you to practice, out the door it goes.” Needless to report, the organ is still in place.
It’s comforting to think that Mrs. Henrique will be, too, for many years. She is a lively, engaging and seemingly indefatigable woman. I like her secrets of longevity very much: drink a lot of coffee, have a Hershey’s bar every day and be sure to eat butter (not margarine) and sugar (not artificial sweeteners). But she’s also in her mid-80s, so thoughts of mortality cannot help but intrude. “My family is all at the cemetery,” she told me. “When I say, ‘I think I’ll visit the cemetery,’ people ask, ‘What’ll you do there?’ I tell them, ‘Visit my family.'”