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A Life Worth Living

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Violet Beauregarde’s life changed forever the year she turned seven because that was the year of her first love. 

It was a simple, sweet love, and it took Violet by surprise at recess one day in early spring.  Violet had been in the middle of a vigorous discussion with her best friend, Lizzie Dunleavy, concerning exactly whose turn it was to play the baby in their ongoing game of house.  The two girls’ debate had just heated up to the stage where Violet attempted to squeeze Lizzie into a headlock while Lizzie yanked at Violet’s curls when Cornelia Prinzmetel, the new girl in class, sidled up.

“Psst,” Cornelia whispered.  “Have I got something fantastic to show you!”

“Yeah?” Lizzie asked with interest, spitting out a bit of Violet’s hair.  Lizzie had been losing, so she was pleased to change the subject.

“Shhh!” Cornelia hissed, with a quick look around the schoolyard.  “I didn’t bring enough for everyone.”  She extended one grubby hand, and Lizzie and Violet leaned in.

Cornelia was holding out three small rectangles wrapped in shiny foil.  Violet and Lizzie exchanged glances.

“These,” Cornelia said proudly, “are genuine sticks of Peppermint-Swizzle Gum!”

“What’s that?” Violet asked doubtfully.

Cornelia sighed at this shameful ignorance.  “Peppermint-Swizzle sticks,” she told them patiently, “are only the most awesome, the most mintiest, the most magnificent gum on the market!  Andrew Young in third grade once used a pack of this very gum to blow a bubble big enough to land on when he jumped out a second storey window and escaped from Crunchem Hall.  Peppermint-Swizzle sticks are brought to you by the Proud Prodnose Products Corporation, the nation’s foremost producers of world-class gum.”

“That’s stupid,” Lizzie objected.  “Everyone knows the best candies are made by Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.” 

“Not since Wonka disappeared,” Cornelia pointed out.  “Proud Prodnose Products has been turning out the best gum ever since.”

“Lame,” Violet scoffed, but there was a thread of uncertainty in her voice.  “Anyway,” she said in an even smaller voice, “I’ve never had gum before.  My parents say it’ll rot my teeth.”

“Are you some little goody-goody who always does what her parents say?” Cornelia asked scornfully, starting to pull the gum back.  “Everybody chews gum.  Only babies can’t have any.”

“We’re not babies,” said Violet.

“Yeah,” said Lizzie.

“Just try one,” Cornelia coaxed.  “The first one’s free.”  Violet and Lizzie tentatively reached out, unwrapped the gum and popped it into their mouths.

“Oh,” said Lizzie.

Wow,” said Violet.

Cornelia smirked and then offered to teach them to blow their gum into bubbles the size of their heads in exchange for all the dessert from their lunches for a week.

Forever after, Violet had only to catch a whiff of that delicate minty scent and her face would develop a wistful smile quite unlike her usual fierce expression.  After all, one never forgets one’s first love.

*          *          *          *          *          *

Not long after, Lizzie’s parents discovered that their daughter had promised Cornelia Lizzie’s younger sister Gertrude as a slave for the rest of the month in exchange for advanced chewing lessons and a year’s supply of Peppermint-Swizzle sticks.  Her parents did not take it well.

“Mum and Da are making me take ballet lessons,” Lizzie said glumly.  “Mum says that ballet is a fine activity for a growing young lady.  She says I spend too much time thinking about gum.”  She wouldn’t meet Violet’s eyes.

“Pfft,” Violet said.  “My mom said the same thing, except with embroidery lessons.  I told her no way was I wasting my time on something that stupid when I still haven’t even developed the jaw strength to do a proper Double Chomp yet.”

It had been an interesting conversation, conducted at high speed and high volume.  Violet’s mother argued the point strongly and stubbornly, but in the end Mrs. Beauregarde’s convictions on the decorum appropriate for genteel young women had proved no match for Violet’s own shrill stubbornness and deep-seated rage concerning her parents’ years of deception concealing the wonder of gum.  Ultimately, during the sixth hour of debate, Violet’s unremitting determination combined with Mr. Beauregarde’s desire for five minutes of quiet, for Pete’s sake, just five minutes; this alliance forced Mrs. Beauregarde to concede that if she couldn’t have a lady for a daughter then she could by golly-gum have the best gosh darn gum-chewer child in the whole gosh darn world.

Obviously, Lizzie’s talk with her parents had not gone as well as Violet’s.  Well, Violet knew that Lizzie sometimes had problems communicating and expressing herself.

“Did you tell them that you’re going to become the second best gum-chewer in the world?” Violet asked.  Adults could be surprisingly thick at times, but even grownups could occasionally be reasonable if a child only explained in small enough words.  Repetition helped, too.

“Yes, I told them,” Lizzie said.  “They said they didn’t care.  And that it’s, it’s a stupid goal, anyway.  They said I can’t chew gum anymore.”

“All right,” Violet said.  “Don’t worry.  Come over to my house after school and I’ll help you think of a plan.  We’ll figure out a way to keep your parents from cutting too far into your gum practice.”

“I can’t,” Lizzie said.  She’d been avoiding Violet’s eyes all along, but now her gaze seemed locked on to her shoes.

“Why not?”

“My parents think you’re a bad influence,” Lizzie whispered.  “Violet, we can’t be friends anymore.”

What?  Lizzie, what are you talking about?”

“My parents say,” Lizzie told her shoes, “that you’re a, a bad girl and a bad seed, and that if I stay friends with you no one will like me and I’ll never amount to anything.”

“So you’re just going to stop being friends with me?” Violet asked in disbelief.  “You can’t do that!  What about that new spearmint flavor gum Proud Prodnose Products puts out next week that we’re going to try?  And what about our plan to finally attach Super-Sticky Strawberry Bubblegum to Mrs. Hendrick’s chair without her noticing until after she sits down?  What about our promise to become the best gum-chewers in the world?”

Lizzie wouldn’t look up.  “It doesn’t matter.  I’m sorry.”

“Lizzie,” Violet said grimly, resisting the urge to reach over and shake some sense back into her companion, “if you won’t be my friend anymore, that makes Cornelia Prinzmetel my best friend.”


“Cornelia. Prinzmetel.”


“And you’re actually giving up gum?  You can’t be serious!”

“I’m sorry,” Lizzie burst out.  She ran away without looking back.

Violet spent the rest of the day in a daze.  She had, of course, run across people who didn’t understand the importance of gum; people whose jaws were weak, or who lacked tongues that could fully appreciate the splendid taste of gum, and even people whose lungs were too empty to blow bubbles the size of their heads.  Some of these people, like Lizzie’s parents, even believed that gum-chewing was a waste of time. 

Violet didn’t get angry at these people.  She knew these poor souls were to be pitied.  Violet could remember her life before she’d had that first taste of Peppermint-Swizzle, and she remembered how small and bland her world had been.  And all those people without a proper appreciation for gum were doomed to live in that sad, dull, gum-less world forever.  Honestly, Violet couldn’t think of a worse punishment than that.

So the fact that Lizzie was voluntarily going back to that pathetic, empty existence made no sense at all to Violet.  Lizzie knew better, she knew how astoundingly glorious gum was.  Lizzie didn’t have a weak jaw, or a tasteless tongue, or even lungs that couldn’t blow bubbles.  All Lizzie had was parents who didn’t like Lizzie’s friends or future career.

And that, apparently, was enough to make Lizzie shut herself back into the horrible box of a world without gum.

Violet asked her father about it when she got home.

“I’m sorry this happened, dear,” was all he said, hugging her tightly enough that Violet’s bubble-blowing lungs squeaked.  “Lizzie probably felt that she had to.  Sometimes people are happier going with the flow than following their own path.  You’ll understand when you’re older.”

But Violet never did understand.

*          *          *          *          *          *

Violet got asked a lot of stupid questions, once she came back from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

Early on, several rival candy companies sent agents to offer her huge sums of money to describe what she’d seen inside.  Violet always accepted their money and told outrageous lies in exchange.  This was fair on the grounds that the agents were annoying and anyone dumb enough to fall for that trick deserved what he got.  Eventually, the candy companies wised up and left her alone.

On the other hand, Violet enjoyed answering, “Why are you bright blue-purple?” because it allowed her to explain about how she was part blueberry (the only human blueberry in the world!) and brag about how she’d eaten a special, experimental piece of gum at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory that no human in the world had ever tried before.

The follow-up question “Does it bother you, being purple-blue?” grew a bit more tiresome, because obviously Violet didn’t mind, it was just the price she’d had to pay for being the first.  What was the big deal about being blue, anyway?  Besides, being part blueberry gave Violet extra energy on sunny days.  She suspected it was some kind of chlorophyll thing, now that she was part plant.

“Are you angry that Wonka didn’t pick you as his heir instead of that Charlie Bucket kid?” was trickier.  Violet had to admit that it would have been neat to own a factory as fun and as wild as Wonka’s.  However, Violet already had her life planned out and there simply wasn’t going to be time to run a business and set all the gum-chewing world records.  Mr. Wonka needed someone who loved chocolate as passionately as Violet loved gum, and Violet’s heart was already taken.  Charlie was really a better choice.

But the stupidest question by far that Violet ever got asked after she left Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory was when Charlie asked her, “Would you be interested in taking a job as Chief Chewer of Gum and Quality Control at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory?  We’ve also developed a new type of gum that can be used as either moonwalk shoes or a parachute in the event of a plane crash, and we need volunteers for testing it.”

*          *          *          *          *          *

At age eighty-three, Violet finally died.  She choked to death on sixteen sticks of Willy Wonka’s finest Meal-to-Go Gum while attempting to demonstrate the secret behind the successful performance of the Triple Whipple Bubble Burst to a gifted gum chewing novice. 

The funeral was a lovely affair, perfumed by the faint odor of gardenias and sugar.  It was attended by friends, admirers, professional colleagues and by absolutely everyone who was anyone in the Professionals’ Extreme Gum-Mastication Association.  Violet, her rich purple skin tone artfully enhanced by her bubblegum pink casket, was laid to rest at noon with her favorite piece of gum wedged loyally behind her left ear. 

Although it was a solemn occasion, there were few tears.  Everyone agreed that it was the way she would have wanted to go.