I have never been much of a gum chewer. It’s not that I don’t like gum, but I just never got into that habit. Recently my attention was distracted from the tabloids and magazines at the checkout stand and started gazing at the array of chewing gum choices available. I was a bit amazed at the number of brands, but what really caught my eye was the assortment of flavors and the mixing of flavors. Really? Lime-melon? Raspberry-mint? Who came up with these flavors, and why would I want to risk a sour stomach to try pomegranate mixed with any sort of mint? What’s next? Grapefruit-potato? Watermelon-rutabega?
Back in my day, there were the basic chewing gum flavors, and we knew all about them. There were the standard Wrigley’s gums - Spearmint, Doublemint, and Juicy Fruit. Five sticks in a foil pack. No questions. You knew what you were going to get. I went through phases when each of these were my favorite, usually doled out a half-stick at a time from my grandmother’s pocketbook. (Not a purse. It was her pocketbook. I’m not sure why.) As a kid, half of a stick of gum was barely enough to interest my mouth, let alone my taste buds. So many times, I would pass on the pocketbook gum. If I was going to chew, I wanted two pieces. Make it worth my while, Grandma!
Aside from the Big Three, in 1976 there was the addition of Big Red, a cinnamon gum that I didn’t like. There was also the stuff that nobody I knew would touch with a ten-foot toothbrush. There was Blackjack gum, and Teaberry, and Clove. I’m not sure I ever put an actual stick of either Blackjack or Clove in my actual mouth, but I suffered for less than a minute with Teaberry. I have no idea what the taste was supposed to be. I just knew I wasn’t going to wait until I had chewed the flavor out of it.
Lest I forget the gum that most every kid loved. We couldn’t wait to get a stick of Fruit Stripe gum. Maybe it was the stripes, but I think it was probably the fact that there was enough sweetness to allow me to pass up on chocolate cake if I had a stick of that good striped stuff. Give me a pack with the zebra on the outside, and I was good for the afternoon. Apparently, there were other striped animals on the packs for a while too. Maybe because there were five flavors, I don’t know anymore. But even if I could get a half-stick from Grandma, Fruit Stripe was worth the effort.
Of course there were a few others -- Trident (the one four out of five dentists approved for their patients who chew gum), Dentyne (with the sticks that gave you less gum than a half-stick out of Grandma’s pocketbook), and Chicklets (which I always accepted from the teller while accompanying my parents to the bank). And at some point, the hottest gum to have was Freshen-Up (the gum that goes ‘squirt’). That was the cubical gum with the liquid in the center. When you got a couple of good chews in, you would break open the center and the fresh flavor squirted all over your mouth. If you made a slice in the side of a piece of Freshen-Up, placed it on the floor and stepped on it just right, you could really get the school janitor upset!
For the most part, any other gums were bubble gum -- Hubba Bubba, Bazooka, Double Bubble, and the like. They could shred it like tobacco (Big League Chew) or make it as hard and dry as possible (inside packs of baseball cards), but it was all just bubble gum. There were no gums that changed flavor midstream or sticks that mixed fruit and mint or anything on that order. We peeled open the Juicy Fruit, the Doublemint, or on a good day, the Fruit Stripe gum, and we chewed. Then we begged Grandma for the other half of the stick.