Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Gum Tree

I don’t chew a lot of gum these days. I chew gum like the gentleman caller in Tennessee Williams’ play The Glass Menagerie: I take it out as soon as the flavor is gone. But when I was a teenager, I chewed gum all the time. In fact, I think the only time I didn’t chew gum was when I was eating or sleeping and during band practice. I remember the band director’s wife once commenting that every time she saw me I had gum in my mouth. I recall wondering what was wrong with that.

I liked chewing gum when I was a little kid too. Mama used to let me have chewing gum, usually in the car on the way to town—probably to keep me busy and from thinking too much about McDonald’s. Mama’s choice of flavor was Wrigley’s Doublemint, which I liked just fine, but my favorite was Juicy Fruit. I loved its flavor—instead of tasting minty like toothpaste, Juicy Fruit was sweet like candy and slightly exotic. It was a taste like nothing else, and I craved that unique mouthwatering sensation. Mama hardly ever bought Juicy Fruit, but I knew where I could get a fix.

Uncle Dean almost always carried a pack of chewing gum in his shirt pocket, and it was almost always the coveted Juicy Fruit. Back then, much of the extended family lived right there within a mile of each other, so it was a regular occasion to find family members at each others’ houses for whatever reason. This situation enabled my Juicy Fruit addiction because I might see Uncle Dean at any time. Whenever he was around, I wouldn’t leave him alone until I got my hands on a precious stick of that juicy, fruity treat. Sometimes, however, Uncle Dean’s pocket would be empty, and severe disappointment would set in. Every now and then, he would have taken his pack of gum out of his pocket and left it in his truck, so my temporary disappointment would be alleviated, but every now and then, no amount of begging would produce a piece of that wonderful treasure. “Gum doesn’t grow on trees,” Uncle Dean would say. (Actually, I don’t remember if he really said that—I wouldn’t have known what that meant, much less remember it—but it goes so well with the next part of the story, that I’m going to believe he did.)

One afternoon during the early spring or late fall—I don’t remember when, just that there weren’t many if any leaves on the trees—several of us were gathered in Uncle Dean’s front yard. It seems to me that there were lots of us there, but like I said earlier, there was always lots of family around, so nothing seemed out of the ordinary to me. I don’t remember the exact events as they transpired or what all was said, but what happened next was a momentous event for a young Juicy Fruit addict. Uncle Dean pointed me toward a tree on which were growing, miraculously, slender stalks in the familiar bright yellow hue. When I got closer, I saw that packs and packs of Juicy Fruit gum had been painstakingly tied to the tree, and they were ripe for the picking. My hand took hold of one the golden fruits, and my heart leaped for joy. I unwrapped a stick of my harvest and quickly savored its deliciousness. My brother Michael and my cousin Rachel helped me gather the bounty, and I was exceedingly happy even though I had to share with them. It was a wonderful day.

It must have taken hours to tie all those packs of gum to that tree. Looking back on it now with nieces of my own, I think I can see why Uncle Dean might have done that. I’ll never forget the pleasure I got that day, the day that for just a little while, in Uncle Dean’s front yard, gum really did grow on trees.


Tony Arnold said...

That is a fabulous story. And, I never really thought about the flavor of juicy fruit specifically, but now that you mentioned, it was truly unique. And my favorite gum flavor too.


Jana said...

Thanks for sharing such a sweet, sentimental story. Made me happy. Blessings to you in 2006!

JMG said...

I was asked to write this for my aunt and uncle's 50th wedding anniversary.

Ironically, my mom doesn't remember this.

jettybetty said...

Great story!
Juicy fruit was my fav, too.
Guess we could start the Juicy Fruit blog club or something!

Amy said...

What a sweet (literally) story! I too had a gum addiction and was touched when my father-in-law, the dentist, gave me a tub of Super Bubble one Christmas.

Tony Arnold said...

Amy, that was promoting job security. :-)


JMG said...

My dad brought me a pack of Juicy Fruit today. Husband and I got food poisoning last night (from something I cooked) and we feel like we've been beaten up and down with a big stick. We've been sleeping most of today.

That Juicy Fruit smells so good, but I can't stomach it right now. Thanks, Daddy. I'll enjoy it in a couple of days.

Tony Arnold said...

JMG, what a trooper. You still found time to blog.

I pray you and your husband feel better quickly.