Most of the fads of my youth have gone the way of goldfish swallowing and phone booth stuffing, and good riddance. Although it’s too bad we didn’t save our “gum wrapper chains of love.” The recycled aluminum foil could produce enough beer cans to supply the next five years of Super Bowl parties.

Gum wrapper chains were made with the chewing gum’s silvery inner wrappers, which were joined into a long, zigzagged chain by a complex pattern of folds and tucks. The usual custom was for a girl to make one the exact length as her boyfriend’s height. We worked on them during study hall or at lunch, and carried a tape measure to guage its length. Just being seen working on a gum wrapper chain was enough to stir a flurry of gossip that a girl was “going steady.” If the boy allowed the girl to hold the chain up to him to see if she had the length right, that was considered very serious; tantamount to an engagement.

Often, after working on the chain for weeks, the couple broke up, and the chain would be found shredded in the school parking lot, a forlorn symbol of rejection.

Some of the more competitive girls would get carried away in their chain-making skills and would form chains many yards long, rolled into spheres the size of bowling balls. Come to think of it, though, maybe that represented the total heights of all their many boyfriends, added together. I was pretty naive back then.

The owner of the local Five-and-Dime Store could’ve retired on the proceeds of his chewing gum sales alone. The tons of subsequently chewed and discarded Juicy Fruit Gum could have puttied the windows of every store in town.

One of the more damaging fads of the 1960s was the collection of so-called “fruit loops.” These fruit loops had nothing to do with the breakfast cereal of a similar name. Most boys wore dress shirts to school. At the back of each shirt , where the pleat joined the yoke, was a small cloth loop. Girls collected these “fruit loops,” stolen from the shirts of the most popular boys, or from a boy on whom you had a crush.

The usual procedure for snatching them was to sneak behind the boy during class changes and violently yank the loop off the shirt. It seldom tore off cleanly. If the boy was lucky, it left just a small tear. Sometimes it left two long jagged tears down the back, making him look as if he’d been mauled in a tragic zoo accident, and infuriating his mother, but keeping the local seamstress in business.

Everyone remembers “cootie catchers,” which I believe have been around since the dawn of time. I think they may still be a fixture in grade schools. According to grade school folklore, cooties are invisible parasitic insects which inflict the unpopular, and are highly contageous.

To make a cootie catcher, a piece of notebook paper is folded into a pattern of four upright points clustered together. On each outer point is written a number, and on each inner point a color. The points are worn over the thumb and first finger of each hand. The wearer of the cootie catcher chases down the intended victim during recess and hounds him to, “pick a number; any number,” and then, “pick a color; any color.” When the paper is unfolded at the chosen spots, the victim’s descriptive insult is revealed, to the guffaws of his classmates.

I heard a rumor that when the tomb of Egypt’s King Tut was revealed in 1923, a panel of reknowned scholars was intrigued by a representation on his sarcophagus, believed to be that of a warrior chasing down his enemy. They spent decades translating the accompanying hieroglyphics, only to find that it read, “pick a number; any number. The king is a rat-sphynx.”

4 thoughts on “Goofy Fads of My Youth: Gum Wrapper Chains, Fruit Loops, and Cootie Catchers

    1. That’d get you in trouble in school. How’d you get away with that? I had a teacher who (if she caught you chewing gum) would make you stuck the wad on the tip of your nose. I still do that every once in a while. It’s very nostalgic. Haha

      Liked by 1 person

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