What It Feels Like For a Girl To Leave The USSR

by Marinka on December 8, 2008

My parents were in their early 30s when they applied for exit visas to immigrate from the Soviet Union to America. It was the mid 70s and Soviet Jews were enjoying an Exodus, sans Charlton Heston. My father was immediately fired, my mother was denounced by her colleagues as being a traitor to her country and an unfit mother for taking her daughter out of the Motherland and they were facing the prospect of leaving their parents and extended family behind forever.

I had my own problems, however. I knew that in America gum was plentiful and I wasn’t sure how to maximize the bragging potential to my gum-deprived for the foreseeable future classmates.

It’s hard for me to explain the allure that a single stick of gum had for us back then. I was eight years old and I’m pretty sure that I would have shipped both of my parents off to the Gulog for a pack of Doublemint. I have no idea why the Soviet Union didn’t have gum. A Communist plot, perhaps.

My parents’ friends who came from trips abroad would bring back gum and I knew no greater joy. One of my very clear memories is sectioning a single stick of gum and dividing it among my friends. Fortunately, I didn’t have very many friends, so we each got a decent piece to chew. And by “decent” I mean tiny enough so that we could only chew it with our front teeth. If you’ve never chewed a piece of gum so small that you had to limit the chewing to your front teeth, you’ve had a charmed life and no reason to complain about anything ever.

One time I was at the Hermitage with my mother, bored out of my mind and indulging in my favorite fantasy that I was one of the lost Romanoffs (the resemblance is uncanny, especially if you add diamonds) when a foreigner approached me and handed me a pack of Doublemint. He didn’t speak Russian and I didn’t speak English, although I’m pretty sure he said “It is for you, because no one is more deserving.” Children in Russia are not trained to scorn strangers with candy because they have better things to worry about, like famine or freezing to death, so I grabbed it and proceeded to thank him. He nodded. That memory ranks right up there with the birth of my children, except a lot less painful.

I treasured that pack of Doublemint for months. I let my friends, whose numbers started to grow exponentially, look at it, but it never left my hands. A single slice I could pass around, but never the whole pack.

So the idea that I was going to a land where I could walk down the street and buy some gum, and so could everyone else seemed like a fairy tale.
People often ask me what it was like to immigrate to the United States. I know what they want to hear. They want to hear a story of my flight from religious and political prosecution to a land of freedom and opportunity. And it was certainly that. But more than anything, it meant that I could have access to gum. And I would have wandered around the desert for years for that.

One year ago ...

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{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Vodka Mom December 9, 2008 at 4:46 am

That was wonderful. I’m running out to buy you a SHITLOAD of gum. I’ll bring it up when I start stalking you.


Belle December 9, 2008 at 4:52 am

Oh I’m so with you on the gum thing. Being an immigrant in London. I have noticed that the Londoners aren’t into gum as much as I am.


Kylie w Warszawie December 9, 2008 at 5:12 am

This is a sweet post (ha! Look at me all punny!).

And I DO know about chewing pieces of gum so small you can only chew with your front teeth. Don’t ask. I don’t like to talk about my time in prison.


Ann's Rants December 9, 2008 at 5:42 am

Now why oh why didn’t you capitalize on this for the grown-up party game? Hello? Which Mother fled tyrannical persecution to birth her baby in the USofA?? Ok, to get her little mitts on some Wrigley.


OHmommy December 9, 2008 at 6:03 am

sigh. i wish i could have written this.

brilliant. all of it. except for me it was wrigleys.


WA December 9, 2008 at 6:06 am

You should move to the South. Some of the restaurants here have tables and chairs that are entirely made out of used chewing gum.
Great story.


Cindy December 9, 2008 at 6:52 am

You are brilliant.
Tonsils and gum, I can hardly wait to see what follows 🙂


Melissa December 9, 2008 at 7:42 am

I had a friend who come over from there at about the same time and her thing was M & M's. She was totally agog about them. She's still got a soft spot for them.


Comedy Goddess December 9, 2008 at 7:55 am

Drinks are being served over at my place!
You can bring Russian Vodka. Prosit!

Don’t mean to offend you with the Swedishy. Poor shivering gum-stick girl.


Petra a.k.a The Wise (*Young*) Mommy December 9, 2008 at 7:58 am

Beautiful story. I have always had all the gum I have ever wanted and know I feel a little bit guilty…

but just so you know, I would TOTALLY give you my last piece. That’s BIG.


AMomTwoBoys December 9, 2008 at 8:02 am

You crack me up! I’m glad you got your gum.

Now I know what to get you for Christmas!

Oh CRAP. You’re Jewish. Channukah. Or do you spell it Hannukah?


Kristine December 9, 2008 at 8:30 am

I had no idea that gum was such a big deal. But then I guess the lack of it would lessen the likelihood of stepping out of your car into a freshly spat wad, where it sticks to your shoe for the next 24 hours. Only a small pet peeve of mine.


Magpie December 9, 2008 at 8:31 am

And? And are you a die-hard gum smacker now?


Heinous December 9, 2008 at 8:47 am

We should start a charitable organization to bring gum to the gumless. You are truly an inspiration.

Note to self: Must add gum to Marinka shrine. Put next to the bottle of vodka.


Janie December 9, 2008 at 9:06 am

I love this! You’re such a good writer.

So visions of JuicyFruit danced in your head, huh?



Heather December 9, 2008 at 9:13 am

The one thing I went crazy on when I came to USA was tortilla chips and salsa. Mexican food in Britland is super expensive and I can’t get enough of it over here. I would have it every night if I could.


Wendy December 9, 2008 at 9:26 am

I will now think of you as The Poor Little Gum Girl, based on my favorite (and most sad) fairy tale.

(For me it was Juicy Fruit and I was caught chewing it in 5th grade. Don’t ask about the punishment involved. But her name was Mrs. Bowles and I never chewed gum in school again.)


Kirsten / Mama Ginger Tree December 9, 2008 at 9:32 am

I think my kids might be having a similar childhood here in America. I refuse to allow them to have gum. All their friends chew gum and they think I am the meanest mom in the whole world. I’ll just tell them I am trying to broaden their life experience by letting then experience what it’s like to grow up in Soviet Russia.

This is a great post by the way.


Kimberly December 9, 2008 at 9:58 am

Awe, this makes me want to buy a case of gum and mail each pack to random addresses in Russia.

But I think they have gum now.


Kimberly December 9, 2008 at 10:03 am

also, they don’t give little girls gum because they just get it stuck in their hair. And they don’t have peanut butter, so actually they were looking out for your best interests.


That’s what they told me in Catholic School anyway.


La Belette Rouge December 9, 2008 at 10:21 am

What a beautiful story. The stick of gum being so loaded with association is really so very lovely. You are a great writer.


anymommy December 9, 2008 at 10:28 am

Fabulous. I’m a spoiled American brat that hates gum. Funny also, when my mom went to Russia in the eighties, she took pantyhose with her (new, I swear) as gifts. Someone told her that Russian women were pantyhose deprived?! Guess her tour guide didn’t get the gum memo. Sorry.


Sophie, Inzaburbs December 9, 2008 at 11:40 am

I wasn’t allowed gum as a child. I remember hiding under a blanket on the front lawn, away from my mother’s beady eyes, so that my friend could give me her gum – after she had chewed it.

I still don’t encourage gum at home, but recently my husband gave some to my daughter and found the sight of her so cute! (“look! she looks like a real little American!”) that he can’t resist giving her a stick every time she asks.
And yes, this morning I found gum in the carpet 🙁


Z December 9, 2008 at 11:49 am

I’m afraid I don’t hear you on this… Gum? Not my thing. Now, if it were some Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups… Mmmmmm!


mo.stoneskin December 9, 2008 at 12:49 pm

Well it makes sense. Gum is IT.


Carolyn...Online December 9, 2008 at 2:25 pm

That’s the greatest peek through an 8 year old’s eyes.


*Akilah Sakai* December 9, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Great read! Absolutely had my attention from point A to point B. You will probably get a shitload of gum within a couple weeks from your readers. Ha!


Anna See December 9, 2008 at 2:49 pm

Beautifully put. Save this one for your next grown-up party game.


kia (good enough mama) December 9, 2008 at 4:57 pm

I’m still trying to figure out if it was generosity or stupidity that made you SHARE the gum. Hmmmm…… Sharing IS over-rated, you know. If you’d come to Canada instead of the U.S., you might have learned this. 😉


rightonmom December 9, 2008 at 5:04 pm

You know, its the little things in life that count, right? Freedom, shelter, gum…
Love your writing. BTW, my daughter once blew her entire $25 allowance on gum.


Temple December 9, 2008 at 6:44 pm

I would have loved to see your 8 year old reaction to Chiclets! (which are each big enough to chew with only your front teeth but thankfully come in bulk in each packet!)


Deb December 9, 2008 at 7:32 pm

What a great story. I, too, was thinking I should send you gum, but I imagine you’ve had quite a lot by now.

Of course, if you would like me to, your wish is my command.


Tooj December 9, 2008 at 8:07 pm

I’m glad you have gum now, and I’m glad you like it. But I just realized why I need to move to Russia/USSR/Soviet Union or whatever it’s called today. No gum would be heaven-sent for me. I can’t stand listening to people chew/chomp/slurp/pop their gum…it’s the most annoying things I have ever heard. LOL


Marinka December 9, 2008 at 8:10 pm

Thank you, everyone. Your support for my gumless youth means a lot to me.

I don’t chew gum anymore, because when I got to the US, I pretty much chewed it exclusively for five years and then the novelty wore off. I was going to move back to the USSR, but then I got hooked on “General Hospital”. Go figure!


nonsoccermom December 9, 2008 at 8:32 pm

Huh. You learn something new every day, it never would have occurred to me that the Soviet Union was a gumless society.


Heather December 9, 2008 at 9:29 pm

Just wanted to let you know I am doubling (double insanies) the award given to you from Rachel at Reservation for Six on my blog.


Smart A$$ Mom December 10, 2008 at 6:59 am

I can’t think of anything witty…..so thanks for sharing your story.

Lame, I know.


Tracey December 10, 2008 at 12:13 pm

🙂 That is a fabulous story. It’s things like gum accessibility that make our country great.


ShallowGal December 10, 2008 at 12:50 pm

Religious persecution and gum. Just like when Moses led the Jews out of Egypt.

xoxo, SG


the mama bird diaries December 10, 2008 at 2:04 pm

I don’t chew gum. Really never have. Will you still read my blog?


Tracee December 11, 2008 at 3:17 pm

well written good read. Mazeltov


Annje December 12, 2008 at 7:05 pm

OMG. Your blog is hilarious! I remember miniscule pieces of gum that an old neighbor man gave us. I still love gum and single-handedly keep the gum companies in business.


Briana December 14, 2008 at 2:55 pm

My mom is from Ireland and whenever my sisters and I chewed gum, she told us that we looked a cow chewing its cud. It had the desired effect. None of us chew gum. A twist, though, is that my mom’s cousin worked as a home nurse taking care of THE Wrigleys until they died. When she came to visit, she brought gum.:)


Briana December 14, 2008 at 3:10 pm

By the way Marinka, my sister, Charmaine, referred me to your blog. My major in college was Soviet Studies. I am currently trying to brush up on Russian. (It’s not going well).


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