Retorts: Love among the game booths

KIDS and strawberries have been sharing the fun for 60 years at the Strawberry Festival in Garden Grove (File photo).

Garden Grove owes a lot to the Strawberry Festival. I owe it my wife.

The 60th annual event, to be held for four days over this Memorial Day weekend at the Village Green Park at Main and Euclid streets, is a community unifier and fund-raiser that leads to an untold number of memories.

In my instance, it’s nearly a lifetime of nostalgia and gratefulness.

Most of my life has been in some way connected to the festival. In seventh grade my Boy Scout troop had a booth at its original location at Garden Grove Park, wherein contestants paid for the chance to win a prize by tossing a hoop over a pyramid-shaped block of wood.

The catch, of course, was that there was a clearance of about 1/1000th of an inch between the hoop and the goal. If the same existed in a basketball goal, the NBA finals seventh game would be decided by a score of 5-4.

We bought a lot of tents with the profits from that booth.

In 10th grade, I had my first date with a pretty blonde named Marilyn Lewis. We rode some of the rides, held hands and she watched while I vainly tried to win her a prize (I had forgotten the reason why those games are so profitable).

I was happy as a clam, but as slow as a sloth. I didn’t follow up quickly enough with Date 2 so by the time I’d worked up enough courage for that, she had moved on. Dumpkoff!

Although we were both graduated from Garden Grove High in 1971, I lost track of her, but not of the festival. It fact, it seemed to follow me around.

In 1977 I moved into the Daisy Apartments on Main Street, right across from the Village Green, which was the new location for the festival. Later, in 1990 I bought a condo in the Lake Grove complex just a few yards further north but still close enough to see, hear and visit.

My ties to the festival came full circle the next year when Marilyn and I connected at our 20th high school reunion. There were 20 years between our first and second dates and we married two years later.

Since our reunion we’ve been festival-goers annually, sometimes as patrons, often as workers. For years we manned a food booth for Shakespeare Orange County, selling “strawberry royales.”

This year I’ll be taking photos of the festival and parade for the Tribune, while Marilyn is working as an associate with the Strawberry Festival Association.

A romance that began in the cotton-candy corridors of a Sixties-era carnival is going strong a half-century later. I think I deserve some credit for that, but I’ll never forget that it all started when the festival, like me, was still young and new to life’s possibilities.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears on alternate weeks.

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