Welcome back to our Festival!

THE FESTIVAL really took off in 1963 with helicopter rides (GGSFA photo).

It’s amazing the things one can take for granted.

As Joni Mitchell sang (and wrote), “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” 

Gone for two years was the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival, knocked down by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. What’s been an annual “landmark” in the year since Dwight Eisenhower was president left a big hole in the rhythm of the local calendar when it disappeared.

Frankly, for those of us who grew up in Garden Grove (or nearby), the festival was taken for granted. It was as perennial as  the grass and was organized and realized with such regularity and precision that its comings and goings almost seemed to be as inevitable as the changing of the seasons.

The 2022 Strawberry Festival will be back this coming Memorial Day weekend (Friday through Monday). Will the crowds come back as usual after two years gone? We won’t know for sure until the event happens, but I know what will return.


In a sense, those carnival rides – in retrospect – turn into time machines. My first date with Marilyn Lewis (now my wife) took place at the 1969 festival, back when it was held at Garden Grove Park. We shyly held hands and I tried to win a prize at a game booth, not quite realizing what a prize I already had at my side.

We went our separate ways (for 20 years) and the festival moved, too, relocating to the Village Green park in the downtown area. And so did I, living right across the street, first in an apartment complex and later at a condo.

The music, the chatter, and smells of the festival were part of my routine for a generation of my life. I took dates there, worked in booths, cruised the area for journalistic photo opportunities, ate too much of really tasty but too-fattening food.

I wasn’t always thrilled with having the carnival so close, especially when the carnies cranked up loud country music at 7 a.m. as they set about getting ready for the day’s business.

But that was a minor annoyance. The return of the festival was not only the harbinger of summer, it was an opportunity to rekindle memories, to travel back in time and recall the experience that – in so many ways –  defined the progress of my life from callow youth to … uh … let’s say local observer emeritus.

I’ll be there this weekend, taking photos of the Saturday parade and more. No doubt I’ll run into old friends, local dignitaries and new reasons to go off my diet. 

And I know as soon as I step onto those grounds, hear the calliope music and inhale the aroma of a dozen kinds of treats, I’ll be taken back into the history, and very glad the festival is back, too.

Jim Tortolano’s “Retorts” alternates with “Usually Reliable Sources.”

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