The Whitehall Ledger - Serving Southern Jefferson County in the Great State of Montana

By Jack H. Smith
Whitehall Ledger 

Column: The Currency of Gum


December 18, 2019

I was watching a television show about how stuff is made, and they had an episode about gum. While I still enjoy a piece every now and then, it brought back memories of my childhood.

As a little kid, I would always try to get a pack of gum at the store. If I found out I would not be getting one, I would throw a major tantrum which usually didn't help, but every once in a while, it would result in a brand-new pack or two.

I'm still not sure why to this day I would oftentimes prefer gum over candy, especially because I never seemed to chew it more than a minute. I can vividly remember getting "Fruit Stripe" gum and going through an entire pack in less than an hour because although the flavor was amazing it only lasted for about a minute.

Having gum at elementary school was a big deal. Not only could it make you popular in a hurry, it also was a way of rebellion. There was not one teacher in Westridge Elementary school that allowed gum and there was not one student who at one point of time that didn't bring it. Along with currying favor with "cool kids" it was a way to stand up to the authority which is a really big deal when you are 10. I can still hear several of my teachers yelling and discussing the consequences of bringing gum and yet more showing up the next day. Going to sharpen your pencil was an amazing way to trade a piece of "Bazooka" for "Hubba Bubba" like it was some illicit black market good.

I wouldn't even mind the gum that came with baseball cards. Back in the day I was quite the collector and always cherished the gum that came with a lot of packs. I'm not quite sure because it was foul-tasting, harder than a cracker, and didn't last long. But it was gum and that made me happy.

Recess would often times when the gum shenanigans would reach a fever pitch when we would gather together near the giant tire, that for some reason I still haven't figured out always seemed to have a giant piece of poop in it, and try to see how much "Big League Chew" we could fit into our mouths. I think at one point I was able to get half a pack in my mouth at once and one time saw a kid put an entire pack in his mouth. This seems very stupid at the time, but it was worth a lot of recess cred at the time.

I never saw what the big deal with teachers was at the time, but I learned why they were so against it later. Having kids, you realize that gum never seems to make it into the garbage can and instead ends up on the floor, under a desk or coffee table, someone's hair, or on the bottom of a shoe. Growing up I was always told that if you swallowed gum it would stay in your stomach for seven years and didn't realize until recently this was just a fable. But it worked and I understand the reasoning behind it.


By the time I got to junior high most teachers would let us have it and this kind of took the fun away. I did, however, have one teacher that was allergic to even the "smell" or watermelon gum and for some reason, this made the kids in her history class very naughty. Five or six kids would all get some watermelon gum before class and all "hell" would break loose. The teacher on one occasion threw up and then escorted the entire class to the office.

When I hit high school, gum wasn't really a big deal, and the kids that wanted to rebel were too busy outside smoking.

I think one of these days I might get a pack of "Fruit Stripe" to see if they somehow managed to make the flavor last longer or if it is just a way to get people to buy more gum. I may also try a "Big League Chew" contest with the kids, although I'm pretty sure gum would probably end up everywhere, including on the cats.


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