Red in the Head

I don’t always get auras with migraine episodes, and the only kind I get when I do is a strong but fleeting scent. One from not too long ago that’s stuck with me is the aroma of Big Red gum.

Close-up of pack of Big Red gum in someone's hand with stick being pulled out in a blur
Ad screenshot © 1979 Mars Wrigley via Bionic Disco.

I’m pretty sure I haven't chewed or even thought much about it in close to 40 years. I certainly didn’t remember it being such a distinct sort of cinnamon — and that surprise of specificity is a recurring theme with the smells, be they a brief reminder of the brand of cigarettes Dad’s parents smoked or the musty, vinegar-ish scent of the wood in parts of Mom’s parents’ house. I’ve smelled garlic, not as prepared with any particular dish that I recall, and the breath of my late cat Pebbles.

I associate Big Red, as well as Fruit Stripe gum, with a store owned by my Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Bill on the boardwalk at 26th Street in Wildwood. For decades now it’s been a videogame arcade, Gateway 26, presumably so named because it’s right where North Wildwood becomes Wildwood proper and the boardwalk zags. The old store was at least in my memory an uncommonly large variation on the sundries shops that were plentiful in the area, selling towels, suntan lotion, mass-market paperbacks, and snacks, but with a considerable selection of toys as well, from water pistols to creepy collectible Madame Alexander dolls. The nostalgia hit would, of course, have been a lot more welcome minus the suffering it heralded.

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