Strawberry Fields Forever

by Manny Gamallo


Back when I was a kid growing up in the Central Ward, my parents would fix a very good noontime Sunday meal, and afterwards we would trudge out together and walk the three blocks or so to Prince Street so my parents could buy their dessert.

We always went to the same Prince Street bakery; I think it was called Wrigley's, or something like that. I can still remember the aroma of that place, and the oodles of pastries, cookies, pies and cakes. For me it was the Toys 'R' Us of bakeries.

In a short time, however, my walk to and from that bakery became more of an act of penance for the sins I had committed that week. The Sunday journey became the stations of the cross.

You see, my parents were possessed by some sort of weird, evil-spirited sweet tooth. They were like the "Stepford Wives" of Sweetsville.

Every single Sunday - and I mean every single Sunday, over and over again - they would walk into that bakery like zombies, plop their 59 cents down on the counter and walk out with a strawberry shortcake. And on the few occasions when the bakery was out of strawberry shortcake, they would leave empty-handed, despite my protests to "buy something else."

Eventually, my parents bought a house in Vailsburg in late 1957, and the nearest bakery they shopped at - Royal Cake Box - didn't have a strawberry shortcake that suited their tastes. Mercifully, I was let off the hook, and it reaffirmed my belief in the deity.

However, to this day I cannot eat strawberries in any shape or form - not even strawberry jelly or strawberry ice cream. As soon as I eat strawberry, my tongue begins to swell and it gets itchy to the point that I have to claw at it with both hands - somewhat of a disgusting, nauseating sight.

I'm sure my strawberry reaction is not a naturally occurring allergy - that it's a psychological thing having to do with my childhood.

Over the last 34 years, my wife has compiled a hefty list of my psychological problems - none of which I knew I had until I married her - but this strawberry thing befuddles even her.

My wife has become a victim here as well, since she likes the nasty little fruit. Every spring, when strawberries come into season, she has to hear this same tirade from me.

I have many good memories of growing up in Newark, and the bad ones I have dealt with. But getting beyond this strawberry thing, well, it's no cakewalk.

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