Last week, I bought the kids a pack of grape gum. Anna asked for it, and hoping that she would behave in the line at the grocery store, I said okay. Outside I gave her a piece.
“Don’t you want one?” she asked.
“Nah,” I said. “I hate grape gum.”
“Why?” she asked.
“It reminds me of being a kid,” I told her. I doubt that made any sense to her.
When I was growing up, I lived with my mom in a crummy apartment building. Not the worst type of apartment building – it was in good condition, it had all of its shutters – but nothing fancy. Nearby there was a McCormick spice factory. On certain days when you walked outside that heavy grape smell hung in the air. It would almost choke me.
We were poor. My mom bought our food with food stamps, and my clothes were gifts or from the Salvation Army. I certainly never asked my mom for gum at the grocery store, and if I had she would have said no – and not because she wanted to. I grew up watching my mom add up the price of groceries on a piece of paper, carefully calculating all the costs before getting in line. I remember walking with her to and from the grocery store every week alongside a busy major street without sidewalks. Cookie cutter suburbia towered around us and oblivious people in cars would zoom past. And sometimes that overwhelming, cloying grape scent would make breathing impossible.
I grew up happy. My mom was always there, and she made me feel special. She taught me a lot about the important things, and she showed me how to have a lot of fun with whatever was right in front of us. But I always felt something was missing. I always felt a little bit scared at the grocery store. So now, I’m glad that I can buy Anna gum and have it just be gum. I’m glad it doesn’t dump her on a busy street behind an old lady cart like it does for me.