Black Jack, Clove, Beemans, and Clark’s Teaberry sold in five stick packs and cost a hard-to-earn nickel. For a pack of gum pleasure, I would polish my dad’s shoes at a nickel a shoe. A sure bargain for him, knowing I would do a good job, but he had to remind me to make sure I polished 3 pairs of dress shoes, not two and a half, which I often did in times-table confidence: five x five is a quarter and that’s all I needed for five packs. I always resented that extra shoe, despite the fact its revenue bought me a pocketful of penny candy or lemon popsicle at Master’s corner store.

*

It was hard keeping that desired soft and smooth chew to a once-in-a-while treat. It was all I thought about, which made me itchy because shoe polishing wasn’t job security. What else? Babysitting. Everyone had 4 or 5 children, and needed to go out without them. 50 cents an hour. I cleaned the house, folded baskets upon baskets of laundry, took care of children, whose ages were skipping stones 5, 4, 3, 2, months old, including a set of twins; prepared meals, put them down for naps, changed diapers, gave baths, and waited for the mother to come home. With each hour passing, I thought I was getting rich. An eight hour job equaled $4.00 dollars paid in quarters and counted out as if the charge were highway robbery.

*

Unfortunately, I was a good babysitter, and word got out among the Edgemere mothers. I was suddenly quarter rich and gum poor. There was no time at the end of the day to hop on my balloon-tire bike and ride the mile up to the corner store. I had a curfew of sundown, and it was getting late, I knew I would never make it. Deflated, I sat down on the rock maple chair that was positioned under the wall phone and next to the breakfront that caught our family’s clutter as they entered the house. My older sister Karen’s purse was there, half-open, with several packs of gum showing. No one was around to see me filch an unopened pack. Because of this, I thought better of my sneakiness and left her a note wrapped around a nickel. I thought ‘even-steven’ but I was wrong when she found me with pepsin breath and screamed at me: “I can’t chew a nickel!” I stopped chewing long enough to take her sharp fist punch to my shoulder without choking on the gum. I knew the pain was coming, but what I didn’t expect was my father’s reaction, which was nothing. He had stopped reading long enough to realize I had paid for the gum. He looked at Karen, then at me; shook his newspaper in a short snap and returned to his sport’s page. With that, Karen left in a huff; and I, I giggled, knowing I still had the opened pack tucked in my back pocket.

Photo by Lusheeta (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.