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The Gum-Chewing Student or the Cud-Chewing Cow?

When I was ten years old, my dad bought our first family car, a plum-colored Nash sedan, made by the now-defunct American Motors Company. It had a broad back seat, big enough for the four of us sisters. No seat belts, of course. My dad would call out to me to stand up and look over his shoulder when the odometer was about to roll over to a new big number.

As the oldest, I claimed a window. Barbara, second oldest at seven, claimed the other window. Shirley and Peggy, ages five and three, were stuck in the middle.

Of course, there was poking and kicking. “She’s looking at me.” “She’s breathing on me.” “Barbie won’t let me look out her window.” Shirley was a very adept pincher, and she also could leave half-moon marks on our arms from her sharp little fingernails. Sometimes my parents let her sit in front between them, in hopes of a little more peace in the back seat. That made us even madder at Shirley. “Why can’t I ever sit up front?” “Why is it always Shirley who gets to sit up front?”

Sometimes, just when chaos was on the verge of breaking out, mother would call out, “Who wants gum?”

We all clamored for the gum, of course. Mother would give each of us a half stick of spearmint gum. (“Peggy, remember, don’t swallow that!”) We unwrapped the green outside paper, and then opened the second layer of foil, with its shiny triangular edges. There was the flat piece of tan gum, sprinkled with a dusting of white sugar. We smelled the minty aroma and then popped the half-stick into our mouths. There would be a few moments of peace in the car, as the four of us enjoyed the burst of flavor.

My dad was not a fan of gum. He recited this poem so frequently that I memorized it, too:

“The gum-chewing student and the cud-chewing cow

Look alike, yet differ somehow.

Wait! I have it now.

The look of intelligence on the face of the cow.”

As I grew older, I enjoyed the impossible luxury of an entire stick of gum. And I graduated from Wrigley’s Spearmint to the stronger tasting, licorice-like Black Jack Gum. I also liked the little white squares of candy-coated Chiclets.

Did you ever make a necklace out of gum wrappers? That was fun. Bubble gum was fun, too. There was the chunky kind that came with a comic, or the flat kind in baseball cards. You had to get the gum just right before you could start blowing a bubble. Slow, steady puffs got the bubble bigger and bigger, until it burst on your face.

However, my gum-chewing days ended in college. Another coed said to me, “Nancy, if you could see what you look like when you chew gum, you would never chew it again.”

I was mortified. But to hide my shame, I laughed aloud and continued chewing with exaggerated enjoyment, as she looked away in distaste. But when I got back to the dorm, I quickly went to the mirror to see how I looked. She was right. Gum-chewing was especially unattractive with my small mouth. I have never chewed gum since.

And now I don’t like to see others chomping away. When our athletes marched in the Olympic opening ceremonies, their gum-chewing seemed disrespectful to the pageantry. That’s how you knew they were Americans, though. Chewing gum is uniquely American. I remember my great aunt, who lived in England during World War II, saying chewing gum was something the GIs had imported into Great Britain. Children would go up to the soldiers and say, “Hey, Yank. Got any of that chewing gum?”

While I am ranting, let me mention the acolytes, adults and youth, who come forward in church to light the candles. They walk up and down the aisle with their jaws grinding away.


Our governor was giving the state-of-the-state address, when the camera panned to his wife in the balcony. Oh, my goodness, as she listened to her husband and carried on conversation with her seatmates, she continued forceful chewing and snapping. “She’s not going to like that video,” I thought.


I started out liking the gum my mother used to hand us, but I’ve gone over to my dad’s way of thinking, as I remember “The look of intelligence on the face of the cow.” Would I like a piece of gum? No, thank you. How about you?



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