Better get rid of that gum right this minute

Sharon M. Kennedy

Remember when you were a kid and your teacher caught you chewing gum in class?

Remember how you felt when she told you to stick the gum either on your nose or behind your ear? Can you imagine any teacher in today’s school system saying such a thing? Not on your life. The student would complain and the teacher would immediately be sent to the principal’s office and told to hand over her keys and clean out her desk. Then she would be escorted out of the building. Her teaching career would be over.

Ah, the good old days when teachers had authority over every child in the classroom and obedience was the rule instead of the exception. Some teachers made us shudder with fright. Others made us tremble at the mere thought of being called upon to stand and read aloud. A few made us feel good about our lopsided drawings during art class. Our music teacher might have praised our feeble attempt at getting something other than squeaks or silence from our clarinet or flute.

When I think back to my school days I recall some teachers who were kind and showed compassion to kids having trouble with art, music, long division, or antonyms. If I dig way back in my memory bank I’m sure I’ll remember feeling warm and fuzzy when a teacher wrote “good” on my paper. If a gold star appeared next to a well written sentence, I’m almost positive I floated on air for the rest of the school day.

However, a few memories of sheer terror linger in the hidden recesses of my mind. After all these years, I’m still trying to figure out how anything as innocent as a stick of Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum could bring us to our knees with humiliation. It was just chewing gum. It wasn’t anything subversive or dangerous. It didn’t take away from our concentration on geography or the Weekly Reader. It didn’t fill our mouth with sweet juices like Bazooka did. True, we loved Bazooka Joe and his jokes, but we didn’t dare blow bubbles in class. And finally, most of us had no idea how to make gum pop and snap when we chewed, so noise wasn’t a contributing factor to our insubordination.

Why, then, were teachers so adamant about barring gum from the classroom? Was it because as kids we were, for the most part, obedient little souls who never gave our teachers a moment’s disrespect so they had no reason to pick on us except for a gum offense? A few boys acted silly in the fourth grade, but that was during recess when we all acted a little silly. I remember building snow forts and throwing snowballs at each other and one kid getting hurt because someone put a chunk of ice in his. The thrower got in less trouble than the kid who chewed gum in class.

If we knew our teacher was in a sour mood, those who dared chew a stick of Juicy Fruit in class quickly swallowed it or rolled it into a ball and stuck it underneath the desk. Some kids even reached for it when the last bell rang and it was time to go home. In those days nobody worried about getting germs from such an enterprising endeavor. Kids thought they were clever if they had the good sense to pick the fresh gum instead of a piece left over from the previous year.

It was the same if we were lucky enough to go to a restaurant in town. In the old days, gum was a treat because we didn’t get it very often. If our parents gave us a quarter to buy a hamburger at Woolworths were we going to spit our gum into a napkin and throw it away? Of course not. We stuck it on something, anything. It didn’t matter what it was as long as we could pick it off after we finished eating. Unwrapping a new piece was unthinkable when there was plenty of chew left in the old.

Kids were thrifty in those days. We saved things. Sometimes I put my wad of gum on the bedpost. Some of you will recall a ridiculous song that asked “Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost over night.” Of course it didn’t because it was made with sugar. It wasn’t the sissy sugar free stuff of today. The flavor of Doublemint lasted for days, maybe even weeks. It was so strong it might have lasted for a month if stuck underneath a desk or the kitchen table and forgotten.

My favorite flavor was Black Jack. I loved that gum, but I didn’t get it very often because my siblings weren’t fond of licorice. Another one I liked was Cloves. It was spicy, but it, too, wasn’t popular and rarely landed in our candy sack. In the tenth grade I discovered Teaberry. It wasn’t the wintergreen flavor that intrigued me nearly as much as the fellow who offered me a stick and eventually offered me his class ring.

Give a kid a piece of Dubble Bubble today and watch his jaws wag and his tongue push until he blows a bubble the size of a basketball and wins a trophy. No longer considered an enemy, gum has found its rightful place in the modern classroom.


Editor’s note: Sharon M. Kennedy of Brimley is a humorist who infuses her musings with a hardy dose of matriarchal common sense. She writes about everyday experiences most of us have encountered at one time or another on our journey through life. Her articles are a combination of present day observations and nostalgic glances of the past. She can be reached via email at In addition, Sharon has compiled a collection of stories from her various newspaper columns. The title of her book is “Life in a Tin Can.” Copies are available from Snowbound Books on North Third Street in Marquette.