The hardest substance known to kids 

January 25, 2024   ·   0 Comments

By Keith Schell

They say that diamond is the hardest natural substance known to man. And supposedly, graphene, carbon fiber and Kevlar are the hardest man-made substances ever created. 

But we kids who grew up in the 1960s and the 1970s know better.

While spending our allowance in our youth, we kids accidently stumbled upon this rock-hard substance. And for all us kids, nothing will ever usurp this substance from its number one position as being the hardest man-made substance of all time.  

And that substance was: O-PEE-CHEE HOCKEY CARD BUBBLE GUM!! 

I remember looking forward to our Friday afternoon shopping trips into town through the winter and getting my allowance from Dad. And when I wasn’t buying comic books, I would blow my entire weekly allowance on packs of hockey cards most weeks through the winter. 

We would park on the main street of our small town in our usual place, and I would duck into the local convenience store to buy as many 10-cent packs of hockey cards as I could afford. 

And when I got back to the car with my purchase, I couldn’t wait until I got home, so, freezing my fingers, I would open up each of the hockey card packs in the back seat of our car by the light of the street lights to see what cards I got! (I don’t know who was in charge of packing the hockey card packs at O-Pee-Chee back then, but someday I would sure like to have a word with them. It was particularly annoying for a kid to get two or more of the same card, sometimes even in in the same pack, when all you could afford was a few packs of hockey cards every week!) 

And after I was finished looking at all the cards I bought, the next thing I had to do was chew the gum. 

The horrible, horrible gum. 

When you originally opened a pack of O-Pee-Chee hockey cards back then, the bubble gum smell was very appealing to a little kid; a sweet confectionary candy smell that no normal kid could resist. You could see the confectionary sugar on the slip of gum and see the sugar staining the top hockey card in the pack as well.

But that sweet smell only belied the awful truth about the gum.

That same gum was also inserted into other O-Pee-Chee non-hockey card sets as well. The gum was thin, flat, pointy on the corners, hard as a bloody rock, and when you chewed it, if you could chew it, it was like glass shattering inside your mouth! 

After buying the packs of hockey cards, some smart kids I knew back then just threw the gum away and kept the cards. I was not amongst that group. And incredibly, some demented kids back then actually bought the packs of cards just to get the gum (Never understood that one)!   

I can’t count the number of times it felt like I cut the inside of my mouth on that horrible gum when I stuck a stick of it in my mouth! I’m not sure if I ever broke a tooth trying to chew it, but sometimes it sure felt like it! 

After seemingly doing injury to the inside of my mouth several times on those horrible slips of gum, I finally figured out to first break it in half and let both pieces soak in my mouth to take the hardness away before I tried to chew it. That snapping sound the gum always made sounded like breaking a ceramic tile in half. And the gum would begin to crumble in your mouth before it started to form a chewable wad you could do anything with. And the taste! Seductively sweet, like sugary stale cardboard.  

Well, duh, you ask, if the gum was that terrible, why did you keep chewing it? 

Because kids and bubble gum, no matter how bad it is, have a natural affinity for each other. Also, it was drilled into us by our parents to get value for your dollar when you bought something. Because of that, I had paid for that horrible gum out of my own money, so I had no choice but to chew it. Plus the fact that after blowing my entire weekly allowance on hockey cards, I didn’t have any money left over to buy any decent bubble gum!

So I was stuck chewing that horrible, horrible gum. 

Mercifully, O-Pee-Chee finally stopped putting gum in the hockey card packs at the end of the 1991-92 season. I know the gum powder would sometimes stain the top card in the pack and maybe people started complaining about it. Or maybe it was just to cut costs at O-Pee-Chee. 

Had we known how to back then, we kids probably should have organized a massive letter writing campaign to get O-Pee-Chee to insert softer and safer slips of bubble gum into their trading card packages because that petrified bubble gum of theirs probably cut the insides of thousands of young mouths and most likely broke countless numbers of children’s teeth. 

But those rock-hard slips of sugary sweet O-Pee-Chee bubble gum were all part of the Canadian childhood hockey card experience, and I smile about them now!

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