Chewing Gum and Friendship

My friend Piti and I grew up next door to each other.  Our grandparents were friends as were our aunts and uncles.   Two generations above us tied us together.  Our families had become family.

Piti was a beautiful little girl.  She had alabaster skin, big brown eyes, and a gentle spirit.  But she hated her orthopedic shoes.  I was a chubby little girl with a crossed eye and curly hair courtesy of my mother who delighted in perming it.

When I think of Piti I never remember her shoes, because I didn’t “see” them.  I remember how beautiful and self -assured she was and how smart.  And I remember her dollhouse.

Piti’s dad Felo built us a life-size dollhouse in her back yard.  We played dolls with her dolls for hours on end, never tiring of one another’s company.  Sometimes we played at my house where a seesaw, a swing set and a slide provided a whole other world of play.  We learned to ride bikes and skate together and discovered chewing gum,.

When Fidel came down from the mountains we shared the excitement of the Revolution.  Quickly disillusioned we sat on our porch and watched the militiamen marching by.  Under our breaths we muttered:

“ Uno, dos, trés, cuatro

Comiendo mierda y gastando zapatos”

(one, two, three, four

eating shit and wearing out shoes)

There wasn’t much else to do any more.  We had seen too much to go back to our childhood games.  We had hurt too much.  We passed the time differently now- in a state of dread, and since all the industries had been nationalized, we couldn’t even de stress by chewing gum.

Many of our friends had already left and the day came when it was Piti’s turn.  We said goodbye twice.  Two heart- wrenching moments, the second made possible by a problem with paperwork that delayed her flight.  Then she was gone.  I was inconsolable.  The militiamen continued to march by almost daily, and I would watch them and pretend Piti was still by my side.  “Uno, dos, trés, cuatro”.   So many young men dressed in olive green wasting shoes.  A whole country dressed in olive green.  A never ending line of men that seemed to find no pleasure in anything but anger and envy, and hatred.

One morning my aunt Celia called me to her room.  She handed me an envelope.  Piti’s unmistakable handwriting spelled my name.  I opened it and got ready to read it as if I had been a dehydrated desert dweller, but I couldn’t start reading right away.  Taped to the paper was a totally unexpected treasure.  One piece of Juicy Fruit Gum!

After I read her letter I put the gum in my mouth and went to sit on the front porch, my heart warm from her words and my mouth in heaven.  Two militiamen passed by unaware of my antirevolutionary pleasure.   I chewed my gum feeling Piti next to me and remembered.

2 comments

  1. I remember during the 1960-61 school year, the last year that Catholic and private schools were open, marching with classmates during recess time down the hallways of the Ursulinas de Mirarmar, 4 or 5 abreast, in step to “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, comiendo mierda y gastando zapatos.” And I also remember receiving chewing gum from classmates who had already left. During that year I corresponded with many of them. My friend Ofelia saved the letters I wrote her, 32 of them, and her mom gave them to me many years ago. On March 27, 1961 I wrote to Ofe: “Eli wrote me and … she also sent me 1 piece of gum, I am living the good life ‘2 pieces of gum’ in three days. I am now eating half of Eli’s since I had the other half yesterday and the day before, since you also sent me some, I can splurge and throw away the gum after ‘two days’ there are some who when they send them gum chew the same piece for 2 weeks. Girl, such is life! Fidel has made us thrifty (it is good to be thrifty, but not that much).”

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    1. Elena I remember the marching at Ursulinas and I remember a girl who said she was going to tell her father about us. She was always watching what we did! I don’t remember her name, though. How great that Ofe saved your letters! I love going back and reading history as it was happening. And yes we made that gum last longer than anyone can imagine. Sometimes I would hold on to a piece and not open it for days. Just knowing I had it and could have some when I wanted was enough. I would offer the “suffering” for the souls in purgatory. Let me tell you, I must have sent a bunch of them to heaven!

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