Back when I was a child in the 1960’s, my elementary school in Millburn, NJ hosted an after school festival in the spring time each year. It always involved all the students, parents plus Strawberries and vanilla ice cream. I lived just 2 blocks from South Mountain Elementary School and every year from Kindergarten on, I eagerly awaited this wonderful day in May. There were rides, cotton candy, games, prizes, pizza, crafts, snow cones, gold fish, the cake walk and spin art. We needed to buy lots of tickets to pay for everything (you could not pay with cash) and at the end, as it was about to get to dark, we had to redeem (reward tickets) to pick out our prizes. The more tickets you collected, the better the stuff. It was a big deal to compare which of the toys you and your buddies took home, but for the life of me I can’t remember a single thing that I won. I did have many goldfish over the years who lived from one week to several months.
Of course all of my friends ran around school that day, full of excitement and unable to concentrate in class. This festival was a BIG DEAL and everyone seemed like it was his or her own private party.
We competed for gold fish, or prizes or more junk food and we waited on line to play ring toss or to get the bean bag through the hole in the cut out in the big piece of painted wood. When the weather threatened to rain, we were all devastated. Nowadays there is a rain date for most of the festivals, but back then I do not remember an alternate day. When the weather was bad I recall thunder storms and tears shed for the party that never was or the one that ended early.
Once safely ensconced in Millburn Junior High (now Millburn Middle School) and Millburn High School, the Strawberry Festival was relegated to something that was just for babies. I was too grown up for that as a teenager and I did not attend. For those of my friends with younger siblings, they might have gone back to chaperone their brothers and sisters, but the thrill was no longer there once we towered over the little kids running all over the playground.
It was decades later when I had my own child that I finally decided I should venture back to my youth and check out the local festival circuit.
Each school had a unique setting but almost everything was the same, even though more of the kids and parents were now on cell phones and blackberries and blown up balloon jumping toys were now lining the periphery of the festivals. I never ate the Strawberries and ice cream but each and every school serves them. I relive my youth and feel very grateful that the lady with the hairy arms and the big mole is no longer in charge of winding the cottony pink or blue sugar around the paper cones that were the objects of my desire each year. For the last few years I have set aside time each week in May so I can take my daughter to the various festivals and relive the walk down memory lane.
I’m not sure how this wonderful event originated, but every single elementary school in Millburn and Short Hills held a Strawberry Festival on their school grounds and we all bragged that our school had the best one. I truly believed that South Mountain was special, but when I was ten, my parents moved to Short Hills and for both fifth and sixth grade, I then became a fan of the Deefield School Festival. It never occured to me that each of the schools had the exact same carnival. In recent years a big sign in the shape of a strawberry stands in front of the Short Hills train station announcing all of the dates for the upcoming festival.
If you want to check out any of the festivals for the 2012 season, here are the dates and locations:
Deerfield Elementary School’s annual strawberry festival has been postponed. The festival, which was scheduled for Wednesday, May 16th, will be held on Thursday at 3 p.m. because of rain.
Deerfield School – May 17, 2012 (this is the raindate)
Hartshorn School – May 22, 2012 (rain date May 23, 2012)
Glenwood School – May 30, 2012 ((rain date May 31, 2012)
South Mountain School – June 7th, 2012 – No rain date scheduled
Wyoming School – June 13, 2012 (rain date June 14, 2012)