Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Money & Me : Walk and chew gum (2/12)

My middle school was a good mile away from home. By the end of my daily classes, I would be tired and hungry. Breakfast was long digested and forgotten, recess snacks were not a big part of Eastern European culture. But thank God for the gypsies! Most school days, when the weather was nice enough, a voluptuous gypsy woman was waiting by the schoolyard’s gate, selling sunflower seeds and packs of chewing gum.

The sunflower seeds were home-roasted, generously salted, and packed in long, narrow cones from a tightly spun newspaper. Salt clumps and hygiene standards aside, sunflower seeds were a treat! Especially after six lessons in math, literature, and whatnot. I just needed something to tide me over until I got lunch at home.

Back in the day, gypsies would trade with the Turkish seasonal workers across the Bulgarian border. That was their secret to stocking and selling Turkish chewing gum. Turkish chewing gum was way superior to the Bulgarian one. It was bigger, flavored, colored, and sweet. Most importantly, under each wrapper was a second wrapper - a photograph of a Western car, and that’s what the boys wanted. A chewing gum’s cost was twice that of the sunflower seeds, so I had a tough choice to make - get some seeds for the half-hour walk home, or buy a chewing gum and appeal to a boy I like by offering him my car photograph. Not that money savvy at my age, most days hunger won, but on a love-ridden day, I would spend twice the money and learn to walk and chew gum, on an empty stomach. Because who said money can’t buy you love?