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Strawberry Fields

April 20, 2009

The Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever” was released as the flip side of “Penny Lane.” What is the meaning of the seemingly senseless lyrics? An answer can be found at 

Strawberry Fields was a Salvation Army orphanage in Liverpool, England. Having lost his father and his mother, John Lennon felt a kinship to the homeless boys. He had fond memories of the place, especially the garden that inspired this song.

In an interview Lennon explained, “Strawberry Fields is a real place. After I stopped living at Penny Lane, I moved in with my auntie, into a nice place with a small garden. Paul, George, and Ringo lived in government-subsidized housing.

“Near our home was Strawberry Fields, a boys’ reformatory where I used to go to garden parties with my friends.  I used it as an image. Strawberry Fields forever.”

John donated money to the orphanage before his death. One of its buildings is named Lennon Hall.

The title of the Beatles’ song reminds me of Strawberry Hill on Highway 11 in northern Spartanburg County. The strawberry fields near Cooley Springs are abuzz with activity this time of year. James Cooley reports that favorable temperatures, rainfall, and sunshine earlier this year give promise of a plentiful crop of delicious berries. Strawberry season has arrived! 

My mother was a master chef. Strawberry shortcake was among the many rich dessert offerings at Mama’s table. She constructed her masterpiece with either angel food cake or old fashioned homemade pound cake. The cake was sliced into layers. Each layer was saturated in turn with sweetened puréed strawberries and topped with a thick coating of real whipped cream.

  1. The chair held securely. When the last morsel of the dessert was consumed and the platter was licked clean, the man turned to me and said, “Now, preacher, that’s the way we’re gonna’ eat in heaven.”  

I thought to myself, “Probably sooner than later.”

In my childhood, my dad was, to me, the master strawberry grower.  Dad planted his own strawberry field, a long narrow bed of Ozark Beauties next to a stand of tall Yellow Pine trees.  The pine needles provided the mulch to protect the plants in the winter.  In the early spring, the pine needles were removed to allow the plant crowns to bud.  Delicate white blossoms gave a pleasing portent of the harvest to come.  When the strawberries were ripe, we took turns picking.  The family rule was, “Put ten in the bucket for every one you eat.” 

Thank goodness! Otherwise the bucket would never have been filled. 

When I was a boy, from late April until late June, fresh berries were on our table three times a day. Now as then, for a few weeks each spring, strawberries are a daily treat in our home. 

Strawberries brighten the flavor and the appearance of a bowl of cold cereal.  The red berries sparkle in a salad of fresh fruit.  Strawberries over vanilla ice cream are an outstanding finale to a summer supper. 

By the way, did I mention Mama’s strawberry shortcake? That has to be the all time favorite for our family and for many other folks as well.  Come to think of it, strawberry shortcake really might be served in heaven!

When Clare and I lived in Louisville, Kentucky, I wanted to plant my own strawberry field, a small patch in our backyard.  In the fall, I tilled several bags of composted cow manure into the garden plot to enrich the clay soil. In the early spring I set out twenty-five strawberry plants and side dressed them with more composted cow manure. My mom and dad came for a visit at exactly the time the strawberries were ripe.  Though few in number, the berries were plump and delicious.  I proudly put a bowl of strawberries in front of my dad, the master at growing strawberries. 

He admired the bowl of fresh, red berries, “Tell me what you put on your strawberries.” 

“Composted cow manure,” I said. 

He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and a playful smile on his face. “ I’ll have cream and sugar on mine.”

To each his own.


Kirk H. Neely
© April 2009




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