It was the summer of 1977 and in the world of children and in the town of Arnold, Pennsylvania it was a bull market for candy. Throughout the town were several locally owned convenience stores that sold the main brands of sweets. Snickers, Three Musketeers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were all on the top of the lists of children throughout the town.
Then there were the secondary markets, the smaller stores that served the folks within a three block radius. These were the stores that sold the lesser known candies such as Watermelon Stix, Bottle Caps, and yes, even penny candy. For those of us who ran through our bi-weekly allowance, the stores that sold 1 cent Mary Janes and Sweet Tarts were critical in ensuring that elementary aged children were able to maintain their sugar fixes.
Because allowances were a finite resource, a child could not afford to buy every piece of candy in the store, even less if they wanted to purchase a bottle of Faygo or Pepsi. To make up for this lack of confectionery access, a trading market had been formed at the local playground. After a trip to one of the local stores, the children huddled together and tried to get the best deals for the candy they had on hand. Two Lick-A-Stix could be traded for one Reese’s Peanut Butter cup. A Twinkie could bring a return of a full Clark bar. Candies that had more than one piece in their package held a high value, as one could trade one or two pieces from the pack, and still have several pieces for later consumption.
At the top of the list of many children were the bubble gums. Bazooka Joes were acceptable, Bubblicious was respectable, but the King of Bubble Gum was a brand called Bubble Yum. And if you wanted to really impress your friends, Grape Bubble Yum was were it was at.
One piece of Grape Bubble Yum was a commodity unto itself. In the hands of a talented trader, it could return a Nestle’s Crunch or maybe a half of a bottle of Coke. When the kids started flooding the market with Grape Bubble Yum, new markets were explored. Children who had no allowance traded promises of inviting the Gum Dealers to dinner on Pizza nights. Those who had higher allowances invested in several packs of Grape Bubble Yum, with the plan of holding on to them until the day before allowances were given out.
It was a child named Donnie who ruined the market. He said he heard it from his older brother, but no one believed him.
“Craig said that Bubble Yum have Spider Eggs in them.”, he said. Since Donnie was a habitual liar, and his pants often being claimed to have been “on fire”, his rumor was quickly dismissed. But the next day when Angela, a straight A student whose reputation was beyond reproach, mentioned she heard the same report, the Bubble Yum Market crashed.
Suddenly Bubble Yum investors could not give their gum away. When when offers of the gum were made in the market, they were met with choruses of “Nuh-uh’s” and “No way’s”. Fears about spiders emerging from one’s nose after gum consumption, or waking up with spider webs plastered over one’s face meant that the Yum investors could not even eat their remaining stock. In less than two days, pieces of Grape Bubble Yum went from fetching entire Hershey Bars, to being almost as despised as Circus Peanuts.
Within this true tale of childhood consumption is a moral of some sort. Some may say that it has to deal with investing and the “putting all of one’s eggs into one’s basket”. Others may say that it has to do with the power of unsubstantiated rumors.
But in truth, the real moral to this story is as follows: In the late seventies, in Western Pennsylvania, Bubble Yum infested with spider eggs were more likley to be eaten than Marshmallow Circus Peanuts.