I never knew him, but he has impacted my life consistently over the last 25 years.
He was born in 1862 and died long before I came screaming into the world on a hot summer August morning in 1947. At 29 years of age, with just $32.00 in his pocket, he went to Chicago with ambitions to start a business of his own. With a distinctive talent as a salesman, he was selling baking powder when he got the innovative idea to offer a bonus item with each can of baking powder sold. He soon realized that the incentive product held more promise than the baking powder he was hawking, so he began marketing it. His name: William Wrigley Jr. His product: chewing gum.
I remember getting diamond stud earrings from my husband on my 35thbirthday. For another, even more significant birthday, my husband surprised me with a new station wagon. And for other occasions, I was sent flowers, given perfume, whisked out for a candlelit dinner. And every couple of years, a shimmering gift appeared encased in a light blue Tiffany box.
Years ago, when all my children were still living at home, I awoke early one morning, long before daylight. It was raining and cold and I could hear the wind howling around the corners of the house. Wanting to put the covers over my head and fall back to sleep, nevertheless I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed and stumbled down the stairs into the dark kitchen. I turned on the coffee maker and leaned, shivering, against the counter while I watched its quick drip.
I was not thinking of the diamond stud earrings stored upstairs in a small velvet box. I was not thinking of my station wagon – no longer new and fashionable – even though in just a few short minutes I wouldl be climbing in it, warming it up, scraping off the frost, and driving away. I was not thinking of any luxury items in fact. What I was thinking of was the pressure-filled, jammed packed day ahead of me and how tired I’d probably be by the end of it.
And then I saw it – setting beside the basket of bananas – unopened. A brand new pack of Juicy Fruit gum. And suddenly, my whole mood shifted. I felt as if I was getting ready for a relaxed day of planting geraniums under a warm spring sky, Mozart playing softly in the background, and a glass of wine sitting on the patio table.
And still, through lean times and fat times, through lovey-dovey times and coolly, indifferent times, little golden yellow packages have followed me anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes on the dining room table adjacent to the unopened mail. Sometimes upstairs on my dressing table next to the baby oil I use to take off my mascara. Sometimes on the passenger seat of my car. Or buried under a couple of lipsticks in the deep recesses of my purse. Or in my suitcase as I unpack in a strange hotel room in an unfamiliar city.
I can’t tell you what market share Juicy Fruit gum commands. Nor it’s direct competition. Nor its calorie count per stick. Nor the sugar content. I don’t know where the Wrigley Company is located, who runs it, if their stock is inflated, their employees satisfied with their benefits.
All I know is that when I see that familiar bright gold wrapper, my heart takes a lurch. I know that my husband once again has been thinking of me in a very special way – and remembering how much I love that distinctive, sweet tasting gum. As I unwrap each individual stick and pop it in my mouth, I realize that I am cherished and loved and thought of each day. Not for just a significant birthday. Not for a mile-marker event. Not for a holiday marked on the calendar. Just remembered for an ordinary, everyday, common place moment.
And that’s the most special feeling of all.