Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Masticating Memory

The Village Ladies are those in our subdivision who meet monthly for interesting programs and plan socials. Annually this group holds the egg hunt for all the kiddies in the neighborhood. After hours of "intensive" work one evening there was still a huge bag of candy remaining. I offered to carry the remainder home and purchase additional eggs to stuff. I was thinking deep within my soul that I could-- on the sly-- taste each type candy as a "reward" for my work. Today I was stuffing the last of the eggs with the assorted candies and gum, realizing how many more I could get into the larger ones. Digging down into the bag of candies I discovered a box that hadn't been opened. To my surprise it was my favorite chewing gum--Bazooka. Having given up this delicious gum eons ago, I had to have a piece to see if it still was easy to chew. It was, and I delighted in rolling it and pushing my tongue through it to see if I could still make a bubble.

Recently my dental hygienist warned me that my gum chewing days must end. When she found out that I was chewing Wintermint, a Wrigley sugar-filled gum, she tut-tutted that I should at least chew the sugarless type.

"But that stuff is like chewing sugar cane!" I moaned. I know the point of the gum companies is to sell their sugarless gum by making you exert your jaw muscles so vigorously that after 15 minutes of chewing you discover this chicle doesn't soften. So what? You just put in another piece of gum. At this rate, a pack won't last a day.

When that piece of Bazooka gum began to squirt its sugary taste, my memory bank tapped into a time bubble gum was so important in my life:

Summer camp in North Carolina during WWII. I was nearly 13 years old and getting mail had always been the highlight of any camper's morning. Parents knew how much packages meant to their camper kid. One camper, the biggest in our "tribe" opened her package one morning to discover a box of 144 pieces of Bazooka bubble gum. She shrieked, drawing the attention of the rest of us.

Manna from heaven. Food fit for little princesses. We salivated through our "ahh-hhs" as this suddenly Most Popular Girl rolled around in her mind how to leave the premises without dozens of starving-for-gum campers ploughing into her to grab a piece. She held the box above her head and announced "Anyone with a quarter can get a piece!"

In those days a quarter was almost unheard of. We thought in pennies and nickels. A few rich campers immediately assured MPG that they had the coins. The rest of us sighed, left to imagine the taste of this forbidden fruit.One of the rich kids, a little New Yorker who thrilled me with tales of her living in a high rise home in the city, was kind enough to split her piece of gum with me. She was to be my friend forever. Unfortunately, I never wrote her after that summer. But I did get to chew that gum for several days, being careful not to have it in my mouth at meal time.

Gum was a rare commodity during the war. Stick gum was always wrapped in aluminum foil, which was needed for the war. Eventually when we could get stick gum, it was wrapped in paper. Bazooka didn't come in aluminum foil. It's rounded shape, the size of a spool of thread, was always cuddled in waxed paper. Somehow the chicle in bubble gum became a commodity needed for the war. I believe more foreign kids got gum than any American kid during the mid forties. GI's gave away our gum. Photographs printed in magazines showed soldiers demonstrating to these kids how to blow bubbles.

Today, many years later, I carefully opened a piece of Bazooka, whose shape had shrunk considerably, and chewed it slow--ly. Ah, the juice was just as I remembered. As the juice disappeared, the pink gum became more pliable. And...I was transported to childhood.


CountryCouture said...

What an engaging story! I love how tastes and smells often bring forth buried memories. This last week the blooming sweet olives reminded me of walking through the quad at LSU. My daughter will attend DeSoto in AL, and I was shocked to read that anything other than a letter will be confiscated. I suppose she and her fellow campers will miss out on bubblegum delights simply because of past campers such as the greedy MPG girl!!!

mreddie said...

It's strange how memories from our youth can sneak up and surprise us. My uncle was stationed in Japan after WWII and sent us country bumpkins a care package one Christmas. This was the first time I had ever seen candy corn and thought it was amazing stuff. I don't eat it now but do think of the care package every time I see that confection. ec