Loss of interest gumming up life

BY BOB WACHS, Columnist
Posted 3/24/21

There was a story in a Sunday paper not so long ago that hurt my heart.

Seems, according to that piece, a bit of America is on the way out. It also went on to say that the movement had been going …

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Loss of interest gumming up life

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There was a story in a Sunday paper not so long ago that hurt my heart.

Seems, according to that piece, a bit of America is on the way out. It also went on to say that the movement had been going on for quite awhile. So what hurt my feelings was not only that it was happening but that I had missed out on realizing it. The fact it was national in scope and not relegated to my small corner of the world explained my ignorance in part, but still it was painful.

All this news came from a large manufacturing firm — Mars Inc. They’re not an outer space exploration company but rather the folks who make Milky Way candy bars and other similar basic food groups. Unbeknownst to yours truly, they also own Wrigley, the folks who not only gave us where the Cubs play baseball (Wrigley Field, now under the lights like every other team) but also the folks who make chewing gum, as in Doublemint and Spearmint.

It seems, the story says, that since peaking in 2009 U.S. gum sales have dropped 11% — down to a paltry $3.7 billion recently. Math and economics were never my strong point (lunch and break were) but that seems like more than just pocket change to me. Maybe it’s not enough for the company and it’s an indicator of dark days and bad times ahead for them.

The story also mentioned that such a poor record was achieved over the same period of time that overall candy sales — which included gum, chocolate, mints and licorice — were up 10% to $31.5 billion. Furthermore, it pointed out that an additional drop of gum sales is expected.

At this point, I’m in over my head. So I’m going to leave the dollars and cents to sharper individuals and instead dwell on something else about gum, namely the question of whether all this a reflection of a change in our culture.

If it is, I don’t like it.

Where would this great country of ours be without gum? What would baseball be like without it? When speakers stand to speak or preach or teach, what would the audience or congregation look like without some open mouth gum-chompers? I’ve officiated at funerals and weddings to the beat of four-part gum harmony, even by the bride and groom. While it’s not especially attractive and violates all sorts of rules of etiquette, it’s a big part of life ... or was, according to the story in question.

Gum-buying was one of my early rites of passage into adulthood. Mama would give me a nickel and let me walk the 100 yards to Sam White’s store, even though it was across busy U.S. Hwy. 64. By the time she let me make that trek, she had drilled into my acorn that I needed to stop at the edge of the road and look and listen both ways ... and on both trips.

Chewing gum, especially in school, occupies a large part of my childhood memory. You weren’t supposed to do it in class; doing so could get you sent to the principal’s office. That’s why when I was in the 4th grade and Mrs. Sears would ask, “Bob, are you chewing gum?” that I would swallow it and thereby not lie to her. If I were caught doing the unpardonable sin, usually the teacher would say, “I hope you brought enough for everybody.” One time I did; she was not impressed.

As a smooth young teen, a pack of chewing gum always occupied a place in my pocket. That way you could whip out a piece to give your sweet patooty when you wanted to impress her. Even when it got up to a dime a pack, Spearmint was still worth it; ditto for when it went to a quarter.

Gum made its way into larger parts of society. In the 1975 movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the heretofore silent Chief Bromden doesn’t speak until given a stick of gum. Given a piece, he says, “Mmm ... Juicy Fruit.” That’s the same brand my Uncle Frank gave me every time I left his house (that, and a shiny new dime).

Maybe economics is the reason for the decline — prices keeps going up. I must admit that at our house we still have packs of gum, the traditional five-stick pack lying here and there as well as the larger ones for the little folks who come by. Same as in the car and trucks. But it’s getting harder and harder to find those small packs because the 15-20 stick size now occupies most of the space near the checkout counter and it gets harder and harder to shell out two bucks for a nickel pack of gum.

The folks who study such tell us that part of the decline is not only price but the habits of the 20-somethings segment of society which drives so much of our larger ways and habits. Those folks are more into Altoids and fruit snacks as their thing.

For the life of me, however, I can’t see my favorite pitcher chewing away on a thin mint or fruity chew.

Do your part, America.

Go out and buy some gum.

And then buy some more. Don’t let this go down without a fight — or a chomp.

Bob Wachs is a native of Chatham County and retired long-time managing editor of the Chatham News/Chatham Record, having written a weekly column for more than 30 years. During most of his time with the newspapers, he was also a bi-vocational pastor and today serves Bear Creek Baptist Church for the second time as pastor.


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